Tag Archives: Renaissance

Queen of the Nerds

January 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Amanda Fehlner has some opinions about superheroes wearing spandex.

“You’re about to go into battle, and what are you going to put on? A spandex suit? That’s not going to help you at all. So, I made the Rogue [costume] out of leather,” says the Omaha costume designer, explaining how she constructed a bodysuit for the X-Men character.

Fehlner says it was one of her earliest forays into the increasingly popular world of cosplay.

“First of all, cosplay is just a combination of two words. It’s costume-play. So it’s really any opportunity that you as a person get to dress up as someone that you’re not, and you get to play while you’re in that [costume] and have fun with it,” she explains.

amandafehlner3Fehlner is more than a hobbyist. She’s an associate costume designer at the Omaha Community Playhouse. Skills useful for her day job benefit her hobby, while the reverse is also true. For instance, a cosplayer might work with plastic to fabricate armor—techniques that translate to theater.

Cosplayers are typically spotted in places that celebrate nerd culture, such as comic book or sci-fi conventions. Fehlner explains that cosplay is similar to attending Renaissance fairs in costume or dressing in genre-inspired outfits such as goth or steampunk, but that cosplayers tend to portray specific characters in movies, comic books, cartoons, or Japanese anime.

On Facebook, where she goes by the name “Ezmeralda Von Katz,” there are photos of Fehlner’s diverse creations including an elaborate Ursula costume from Disney’s The Little Mermaid and the computer game character Carmen Sandiego. Because of her theater background, Fehlner explains that she sometimes enjoys getting into character when she’s in costume, but it isn’t required.

Her passion for constructing costumes started early. While growing up in Tabor, Iowa, she learned to sew Halloween costumes to meet her exacting specifications and participated in theater at Fremont-Mills High School.

“It started with Halloween. It was my very favorite holiday, still is my very favorite holiday, but as a kid that was my big thing,” she says.

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Before heading off to study theater and anthropology at the University of South Dakota, Fehlner was cast in a Mills Masquers community theater production of  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. She begged them to let her make the coat.

“Of course being in theater now, I’m sure they were like, ‘Some person just wants to do this, and we don’t have to handle it. Done, done, and done!’”  Fehlner says with a laugh.

She likes a good challenge; her latest cosplay projects include an elaborate ball gown for a character from the anime series Vampire Hunter D and a hand-stitched Sally costume from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Not to mention the spring productions at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

“I’ll be working on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, so I’ll get to do some fun Western stuff,” Fehlner says. “Of course, our closer is Beauty and the Beast. It’s exciting and a little terrifying at the same time.”

Fortunately for the playhouse team, Fehlner says she has already been experimenting with a Beast costume thanks to her cosplay side projects.

Visit omahaplayhouse.com for more information.

Fighting Misogyny (updated)

December 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Fighter” is a very connotative word. People hear it and think of large, brutish men knocking each other out for money. They think broken homes, difficult childhoods, and a last resort. Women are an afterthought, usually in the form of the devoted and completely dominated girlfriend or as the victims of domestic violence. The occasional person, when prompted, remembers Ronda Rousey’s infamous loss to Holly Holm—or how hot they both are. Typically, people respond so negatively to the idea of women in combat sports that I don’t even bring up the topic. Upon mentioning an upcoming fight or my training for the first time, the initial question people usually ask is not where do I train, or what’s my record; they ask what my boyfriend thinks of it. The readiness of this question, of the mindset that prioritizes the manner in which I relate to men as the most important part of my identity, is a big part of the reason I fight. The implication of that question answers the usual follow-up question of how I got into mixed martial arts.

I had my first cage fight in January of 2016, at 110 pounds. I invited only four people outside of my team to watch, three of them women. I defeated my opponent via unanimous decision, meaning the fight went the full three rounds but the judges agreed that I was dominant throughout. It felt like a victory for not only myself and my team, but for all the skinny little girls around the city who are constantly being told they are too small or cute to get into any sport rougher than tennis. Afterward, I felt a little better equipped to handle the frequent instances of random men deciding to follow me on a run or asking me to get into the car as they drove by. My only battle wounds were bruised knuckles and a small bump to the left of my eye that quickly faded into a minor, reddish bruise. I loved having the visible symbol of my victory on my face. In part, because combined with the right amount of “resting bitch face,” it seemed to deter creepy strangers from approaching me in coffee shops or while walking down the street.

To me, “fighter” means being relentless, indomitable, dedicated, nurturing, receptive, empathetic, soft spoken, and even-tempered.

But I wasn’t quite able to wear even my minor injuries, symbols of a well-earned victory and a major milestone in my life, with pride like the male fighters can. I remember my boyfriend coming out of his first fight, his only loss to date, with a badly broken nose and blood in his eye. Everyone’s first assumption was that he had been in a fight; I know because strangers approached him, excited to talk about how he had engaged in the most masculine of sports and emerged in reasonably good shape. Where he was met with excitement, I was handed cards with hotline phone numbers from sympathetic gas station employees who didn’t believe my story. For the week or so that my bruise was noticeable, any boy I happened to be walking around with that day was on the receiving end of accusatory glares, head-shaking, and lots of poorly muffled whispers. Outside of the martial arts community in the area, it was like my victory was something I should have hidden behind closed doors. Apparently, even after all those days of getting up at 5 a.m. to train and then spend hours at the gym, I still looked like an easy target. It wasn’t my first time being silenced about something I was proud of. Gradually, I realized that MMA will not change how most people see me, but it has changed how I see myself.

During the month leading up to my second fight—this one at 115 pounds—I still encountered the stereotypical ways that women are perceived in relationship to the word “fighter.” But impositions of societal norms were not my concern during that time. Four weeks out, being a fighter means nothing about gender roles; it means constantly eating. Specifically, it signifies the consumption of a constant stream of protein shakes, eggs that I am beginning to accept will never taste good no matter how many different ways I cook them, supplements, vegetables, and what feels like gallons of water. I have put on close to 10 pounds of muscle since my first fight, in order to be able to cut a few pounds of water to make 115 pounds before weighing in, and then rehydrating back to a heavier weight the night before the fight. Beyond my diet, being a fighter means balancing the commitments of a full-time student working toward a double major, an internship, and a job while doing everything I can to win in the cage.

As a junior in college, fighting means training at an offensively early hour so I can get all my studying done before morning classes, so I can get school and work knocked out before maybe having time to eat an actual dinner, all so I can focus on working out and night training. It means trying to get to bed around 10 p.m. so my body can recover and I can do it all again the next day with a little more weight added to every lift and a little more of a push to get my 3.57 GPA up to a 3.6. It means discipline, and making adjustments when I need to study. I love my routine right now. I love training and then letting whatever Jiu Jitsu or kickboxing techniques I learned simmer in the back of my mind while I study, then letting my brain process information about Renaissance Europe and sonnets while I lift. My interests in academia and in sports complement each other, and I have heard the same from other fighters—contrary to the myth that fighters tend to be uneducated.

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With all of these things considered, people wonder why I would choose to be a fighter. I grew up playing softball and soccer, and have no formal background in combat sports. I am attending college on full academic scholarships and do not fit the stereotype of a cage fighter. So why would I, at 19 years old, decide to add cage fighting to my resume alongside mission trips and semesters on the dean’s list? I guess I can see how on the surface the choice might seem a little incongruous, but to me mixed martial arts is the most natural thing in the world to pursue. The long answer as to why I fight is that I live in a world where I once didn’t get hired because I wasn’t “willing to consider leaving my boyfriend” (according to the man who was interviewing me). With such experiences in mind, I don’t get how becoming a fighter could be anything but a logical course of action. In a world where women are still considered annoying if they speak, people listen to me when they see MMA on my resume. The short answer is that I like it, just as I like soccer and softball. The sport fits my personality.

Random men still follow me and yell rude comments if I’m downtown at night. Realistically, I don’t think there’s much I will ever be able to do about that. Even as I’m writing this, there’s a boy I’ve never met at the table behind me yelling “hey” every time I stop typing, but no matter if they’re a heavyweight (205 pounds and up) or a third-degree black belt in taekwondo, almost everyone I have encountered in the MMA community has shown me nothing but respect. Yes, I train ground game and standup with men, but I have never had another fighter follow me to my place of work, stand outside the door, and yell for the girl in the dress. Even if I do look like an easy target, instances of disrespect I have experienced in this most “masculine” of sports are nothing compared to the disrespect I get from men on the street on a daily basis. I think there’s a lesson there, with regard to our society’s skewed perception of what it means to be masculine. The guys I fight with are not the same guys who are treating women like inferior beings on the street or in their relationships.

The fundamental message that fighters fight to convey is simple: “I will not be dominated.” To me “fighter” is not a word synonymous with troubled home life or hyper-masculinity or misogyny. To me it means being relentless, indomitable, dedicated, nurturing, receptive, empathetic, soft spoken, even-tempered—I think all of these words describe most fighters better than whatever people think of when trying to come up with reasons I shouldn’t be one. With all due respect to those trying to look out for me, I don’t see how it’s unsafe for me to be locked in a cage with another woman my size compared to how dangerous it is for me to walk down the street. Or to, in general, be a woman who physically exists and takes up space in the world. Silencing my interests won’t fix the real problem.

“Hey” boy just invited himself to have a seat at my table. He has started talking to me despite having been pointedly ignored for at least 10 minutes and the fact that I am obviously in the middle of something. I am not polite in response. I have no interest in being dominated by a culture that puts women in boxes and has taunts at the ready in case they try to fight back. I have no interest in being quiet about my sport in order to protect people from a discomfort that I’m guessing doesn’t compare to the discomfort of a 14 year old having her ass grabbed by a stranger. I don’t care if it’s “inappropriate” for me as a “young lady” to be excited to get into a cage and physically beat another girl. I’d rather autonomously lock myself in a cage than be folded neatly into a gender role. I don’t care what your perceptions are of what it means to be a fighter, or what you think it means to be a size 0 and 20 years old with blue eyes. As my coaches and training partners are constantly reminding me, I’m not here to apologize. I’m here to dominate.

“Fighting Misogyny” was originally published Friday, Oct. 14 online at omahamagazine.com.     

Postscript

At Ralston Arena (on Friday, Oct. 14), I lost my second career fight via TKO in the final 10 seconds of the final round. The following Saturday morning by 8:30 a.m., I was back in the gym and on my way to becoming a stronger fighter.

I am not happy about losing, but I am also not devastated by getting punched in the face. I’m not fighting for perfection. I’m not perfect, and an imperfect record does not end my ambition in the cage. Rather, I’m fighting for all the girls who have contacted me to give support or share their story of fighting misogyny in their lives. I’m fighting for everyone who has told me it empowers them to see me get in the cage at all.

I want to take this opportunity to thank my incredible coaches, Mauro Siso and Sergio Rangel, and everyone at Legacy Martial Arts for supporting me on this journey. With lessons learned from defeat, we are making changes in my training regimen for the next fight.

Visit facebook.com/pg/lmaomaha for more information.

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Karen Linder

November 27, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

According to dictionary.com, a Renaissance woman “has acquired profound knowledge or proficiency in more than one field.”  Karen Linder has nailed it as a scientist, business leader, author, and artist.

Linder’s dream to become a music teacher received little encouragement from her teachers at Lincoln Northeast High School. So when she learned that a biology class was being held in the school’s only wing that had air conditioning, she wandered into a “cool” vocation as a scientist.

Her career as a cytotechnologist studying cells at the University of Nebraska Medical Center included founding and directing the UNMC School of Cytotechnology. That experience gave her confidence to start her own company, Heartland Pathology Inc.

She sold Heartland Pathology in 2011 after 10 years to pursue other activities. She later founded Tethon 3D with her husband, Dr. James Linder. The 3D printing company began commercial operations in March 2014.

But Dr. Linder had little time for their new company after he was named interim president of the University of Nebraska system that year. She took the lead as president and CEO of the 3D printing company.

A look at printing that makes three-dimensional objects shows abundant possibilities. 3D is used for fine arts, medicine, in manufacturing prototype parts, and by architects to recreate retro items no longer available.

A prime example of how 3D printing works comes from an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Creighton University archaeologist and professor Erin Averett unearthed rare objects in Cyprus that could not be removed from the country. Her problem was solved when Tethon 3D recreated them in three dimensions from digital photos provided by the innovative archaeologist.

An entrepreneur herself, Linder is an “angel investor” for other entrepreneurs. She and her husband seed startup companies through their investment company, Linseed Capital. The Linders look for innovative ideas with high-growth potential.

“One in 10 startups gets to the level to be successful enough to make up for the other nine, according to national statistics,” she says. “We hope to do better than that for our companies.”

One of the first investments for Linseed Capital when the business started in 2008 was in SkyVu Entertainment, a company that makes video games. Linder serves on SkyVu’s corporate board.

Linder discussed the company with B2B over a latte and a vanilla Diet Coke in Aksarben Village, just a few doors away from where the start-up company is now housed. Ben Vu founded the company with his brother, Hoa, in the basement of their Vietnamese immigrant father’s home. At press time, SkyVu’s Battle Bears game had 36 million downloads.

Linder says Ben Vu is the type of entrepreneur they are looking for, one with a good education, skill sets, and experience in his field—he once worked on Hollywood animation projects.

“We like him,” she says. “Ben Vu is very talented and has the level of common sense that we seek to make an investment.”

Linseed Capital also has persuaded companies to move to Nebraska by offering funding and less expensive startup costs. Bulu Box moved from San Francisco and Travety moved from New York City.

The Linders are members of the Nebraska Angels, a network of investors that meets and evaluates applicants.

She also serves on a committee that reviews grant proposals for Women Investing in Nebraska (WIN), a philanthropic organization initiated by the University of Nebraska. Funded by members, grants of about $80,000 each are earmarked every year for a Nebraska nonprofit and for a University of Nebraska project.

The lack of encouragement and a “cool” biology classroom that drew her away from music in high school hasn’t stopped Linder’s love for the arts. She is a painter, a sculptor, and a writer.

She serves on the board of directors of KANEKO and the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney. Linder also serves on the board of governors for her alma mater, Nebraska Wesleyan University.

What would successful businesswoman Karen Linder tell her 16-year-old self?  “Don’t worry about what others think. Don’t dumb yourself down. If you’re strong in math skills, don’t be afraid people won’t like you.”

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