The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "The Ferrett" journal:

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June 2nd, 2015
10:13 am

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Polyamory’s Not Your Vacation Villa

The problem with polyamory is that it’s often sold like a vacation getaway. “CAN’T GET YOUR KINKY SEX AT HOME?” the advertisements thunder. “THEN COME AWAY TO FANTABULOUS POLYAMORYVILLE, WHERE YOU CAN FIND THE BEATINGS OF YOUR DREAMS!”

It doesn’t have to be kinky sex, of course, and often it’s not. Sometimes the poly-billboards are as innocuous as “Hey, you like going out to flower shows, and your wife doesn’t! So let’s sweep you off to this Relationship Getaway, where you sniff roses with a person who likes the things your partner doesn’t!”

And you’ll see that Vacation Villa model of polyamory a lot: you’re a dynamic fun person with many interests, and no one person can fulfill all those interests, amiright? So when your partner gives the big shrug to doing something fun with you, find someone else who is interested! And fuck them! Fuck the shit out of ’em and Do The Thing!

Problem is, that often backfires subtly in poly models that have a primary center to them.

While on the surface, it seems logical – “Hey, my partner doesn’t like going to Magic tournaments, why drag them along?” – what happens in practice is that, well, you treat the new partners like WHOO VACATIONTIME LET’S POP SOME MARGARITAS.

Like any vacation, it’s great at first. You’ve got these new partners to go have all the exciting adventures your old partner didn’t want to do! He didn’t want to windsurf? Hey, you’ve got a windsurfer in your boudoir! She doesn’t want to try fireplay? You’ve got someone to stoke the flames with!

But slowly, if you’re not careful, you start thinking that Old Partner is the one you do Old Things with, and New Partners are where you do all your growth. It doesn’t help that Old Partner may be reluctant to try the new things that you’re evolving into, and so what you get at home is a stammering hesitance – “I dunno if I want to go on a road trip” – whereas new partners are all like “FUCK YEAH LET’S DO THE ROAD TRIP THING.”

Sometimes, it’s not even a refusal. It’s just a natural, stupid uncertainty. I know Gini and I have had these incredibly stupid moments where, fifteen minutes after we’ve decided we’re going to settle in for the evening and watch CLONE WARS reruns, someone comes running into the house with an amazing party we could attend with fireworks and ponies and otters.

And stupidly, we have a surly reaction: “We had plans! They weren’t good plans, but… now we have to put on a hat. Man, that hat seems like effort…”

Usually we shrug it off, because what we realize is that for a lot of people, “Change” takes a bit to acclimate to. There are those free spirits of you out there who are up for any adventure even if they’re flipping you out of bed at four in the morning – but for most of us, you gotta give us a minute to wipe the sleep out of our eyes.

So what happens starts to look like this:

“Hey, I wanna fly to Hawaii on a kite-string, whaddaya think?”

“Huh. I’m not sure if – ”

“Okay, fine, g’bye!” And they’re off sailing to foreign lands.

Eventually, you forget to even ask your partner, because you know what That Partner does, and that’s not the fun stuff, and so you quietly compartmentalize your life into WHEE WITH FUN PEOPLE and Oh Yeah, That Guy, and….

…it doesn’t work out so well. Your lives splinter apart, because you’re no longer sharing experiences. You evolve in different directions, because in the worst of cases they may even stop telling you what they love.

And when their love mutates and you don’t even understand what’s getting them off, it’s hard to keep it together.

What you gotta remember is that in a quote-unquote “primary” poly model, it’s perfectly fine to go off and do other stuff – don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! But never forget to give your partner the right of refusal. (Not the first right of refusal – that way leads to the abuse of quote-unquote “secondaries” – but a right.) If you decide you wanna take up target-shooting, or nipple torture, or the Paleo diet, ask them if they wanna come along. Give them space to decide, too, time to work past that initial reticence of STRANGE AND SCARY and possibly into lands of “Okay, so…”

And if it turns out you really really love something, even if they refused doing it with you the first time, tell ’em how important this is becoming to you, and ask ’em to give it a shot. The goal’s not to rope them into being joined at the hip with you – if they try target-shooting and it leaves ’em cold, great – but rather, to say, “This is a window to what I love right now. You may not enjoy it the same way I do, but can you see it? I want you to know me, even the parts you don’t fathom.”

Because the real danger with poly-as-vacation is that you start treating your old partner like the job. You condition yourself that the good times happen elsewhere. And when you start thinking of your partner as the thing you do in between the happy times, well, you’re doomed.

Any good relationship involves a set of shared experiences. You don’t have to – and in fact, probably shouldn’t be – doing everything together. But you should let ’em know what you’re doing, and what jazzes you, and even though they may say no ninety-nine times, maybe that hundredth time they’ll come along and you’ll find something neither of you thought you could love doing, and deepen the relationship instead of shrugging it off.

That ancient sage Snoopy once said that “Dogs don’t eat dinner, but we like to be asked.” And that act of asking can be powerful in letting your partner know that they’re welcome, and loved, and even if they sit on the couch while you’re off whapping each other with foam swords in a medieval reenactment, they’re still a part of your good times.

Even if those good times are as simple as “When I get home, I am gonna have so much to tell them.”

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/484427.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(6 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

June 1st, 2015
10:08 am

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So What Was It Like To Read WATCHMEN Back In 1986, In Real Time?

There are currently thousands of kids who have no idea what it was like to wait years for the next Harry Potter installment.  They just arrived, conveniently, in a world where all seven books were waiting for them.  If they’re a fast reader, during a summer without much to do, they might mow through all of Harry’s adventures in less than a week.

Those of you who lived through the Harry Potter series, though, know that the experience of reading a series is changed significantly when you have to wait  years to find out what happens next.  It’s a far more interactive experience, because you can only get so far in the story before your mind whirls with theories on what might happen next.  You re-read the existing chapters, searching for clues.  You form deep and doomed attachment to relationships in the book, wanting, needing these two people to end up as friends, knowing that the next installment might shatter all your dreams.

Watchmen has been a unified graphic novel now for damn near thirty years.  So it’s easy to forget at that one point, people were waiting months for the next issue to arrive at the comics shop, dissecting individual issues, unsure how it was all going to end.

Thing is, Watchmen was an entirely different beast from Harry Potter, as the fandom for Watchmen took place largely in a void.  Harry Potter’s fandom was magnified by the Internet, where fans could gather in a virtual group to exchange theories, encourage each other to write fanfic; all we had in 1986 was BBSes, which weren’t nearly the same.

Basically, you’d talk over Watchmen if you had some comic-toting friends, but finding people as into it as you were was difficult at best.  Fandoms were isolated islands: I don’t doubt some people had social groups where they all got together and dissected every panel, but I had my friend John and a couple of buddies down at the comic shop, and then my fandom died.

Then there was the issue of availability.  If you wanted to get into Watchmen, there were no collected graphic novels, and back issues were hard to find.  I lent out Watchmen a lot, particularly as the series went on, because people would get into it around issue #9, but because it was a fine seller they couldn’t find issue #4 in the racks.

Some people had a bizarre take on Watchmen, simply because they couldn’t find issue #1, #3, or #6, so they actually didn’t know what had happened in the beginning and tried to fill in gaps.  Considering how continuity-heavy Watchmen was, that meant some people were really struggling to make sense of it.

Yet what I remember about reading the series in real time is disjointed:

  • The EC Comics homages (with the pirate ship) were largely considered irritating, because we wanted to find out what the hell was going on with Dan and Rorschach and Doctor Manhattan, and here was this stupid comicky storyline elbowing out plot we wanted to read.  It was as if you were desperate to find out what happened to Harry Potter, and instead was this cut-rate pastiche of Gilderoy Lockhart’s adventures taking up fifty pages in every book.
  • Because of that, it was widely speculated (“widely,” in this case, meaning “in the Norwalk/Westport area I lived in”) that there would be some meta-crossover, where the comic-pirate world would turn out to be another “real” world like Watchmen, because why the hell would Alan Moore spend so much time on this thing if it wasn’t plot significant?  (As it turned out, the answer was most likely “Because he only plotted six issues and needed filler.”  In retrospect I’ve come to like the EC comics storyline more, as it’s very thematically correct, but when you’re mad to find out What Happens then “thematically” really clogs up the pipeline.)
  • The reveal of Rorschach was, interestingly enough, largely met with a nod.  None of us saw it coming (though, as with everything in Watchmen, the clues were there), but though I’m told other isolated groups of fandom reacted poorly to their grim-and-gritty power hero being a homeless fanatic, we thought it quite fitting.  We also, correctly, saw Rorschach’s true nature as a critique of fandom – we noted our own poverty and dedication, and filled in the details.
  • The thing that shocked us the most, over time, was Rorschach’s humanity.  If you look at the early comics, imagine reading repeatedly for basically seven months (there were mild production delays, IIRC) and seeing Rorschach as this cold, callous element of destruction. He destroys his old enemy, albeit accidentally.  He even destroys his psychologist.  So when that first moment came when he apologized to Dan, offering the handshake awkwardly, that was like a bomb going off for us. The idea that Rorschach could evolve made the series feel like it could go anywhere – you may note that of all the characters, Rorschach is the only one whose non-superhero name I don’t innately recall – and so when he started to change, we felt completely at sea.
  • The truly weird thing in retrospect is how strong we believed the female characters were in Watchmen.  And this is what I call “Star Trek Syndrome,” where you have a work of fiction that’s groundbreaking and progressive at the time, and then as society evolves the original show becomes an embarrassment.  The Original Star Trek, with Captain Kirk, was actually really progressive – they let women on the bridge, and occasionally let them be doctors! – yet as the years passed and “women on the bridge” became an expected thing, all the other bits of Kirk slapping them on the ass and seducing all of them made him look like a troglodyte.  Likewise, you see that with Joss Whedon – Joss is getting so much flak for being “not a feminist” these days, but when Buffy the Vampire Slayer was made, it really was feminist-progressive for television.  It’s just that twenty years later, we’ve got higher standards.
  • So yeah, in retrospect, the “rape turns into love” plotlines are embarrassing in Watchmen, and Laurie’s ham-handed mother issues don’t hold up too well, but at the time having a woman characterized as equally as a man was so shocking to a comics industry that usually had women as walking plot devices.  Hell, having a complex relationship with her mother – a scene where they just talked! – was pretty groundbreaking to a bunch of nerds who were used to having women catfighting a la Lois Lane and Lana Lang.  And even now, Laurie’s being front-and-center as someone whose opinion matters, where in a very real sense the whole plotline involves Manhattan convincing her of the correctness of his vision and vice versa, is something you don’t see terribly often in comics. Even if Laurie doesn’t make her argument explicitly, convincing Jon by the sheer nature of her raw emotions.
  • The fan theories only really exploded once it was revealed that Adrian was the main villain – though we were all wildly incorrect as to how that would work.  Before Adrian, we were convinced the series was en route to a team-up, where they’d find the villain and punch him (which was, to be fair, the standard plotline in comics before that, and again, to be fair, this was the stunted fan theories of a couple of comics nerds in a sedate town).
  • Even back then, we also bitched extensively about Adrian’s super-crappy password and lack of biometrics.
  • After Adrian was revealed as the villain, however, we were unsure.  We correctly saw the nuclear destruction out there, and were half-convinced the missiles would fly with a nuclear holocaust. We thought he might be brainwashing politicians, as there was some evidence of his manipulating the media well.  We knew about the alien biology, yet didn’t understand what that meant.  We trusted that Alan Moore would bring it through.
  • Okay, and you can bitch about your cliffhangers -but after reading for almost a year, “I did it thirty-five minutes ago”  remains one of the most shocking plot twists I’ve ever seen anywhere, in any media. It’s good in the book; imagine waiting for eleven months to get there, convinced the protagonists were gonna save the day through luck and spunk, then realizing that a) they had failed, and b) we’d have to wait several weeks to find out what happened afterwards. Jesus.
  • And we felt like, well, he kinda didn’t. The annihilation of New York was shocking, and watching all the side characters we’d come to love get destroyed had the emotional effect, but I remember feeling at the time like, “That’s it?  That’s his plan?”  And it’s kind of like the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi in that we liked everything surrounding that – his motivations, the worldwide reactions, the fact that his plan actually succeeded – but the actual destruction itself felt like, really? Alien flops on top of Manhattan? Fine. I didn’t watch the movie, but when I found out they were changing that aspect, I remember nodding my head and going, Yeah, that’s probably for the best.
  •  At the time, we felt like Laurie’s “Let’s fuck” was really simplified, and not quite as beautiful as Moore meant it to be.  I thought that was because, maybe, I didn’t have a lot of experience with sex, or funerals, and with time I’d come to understand the fullness of it.  And nope; I know what he’s getting at with “Tandoori to go,” but the scene still feels a little creepy to me, Mister Alt-Sex Polyamory dude.  Maybe some love it.
  • We did, however, agree that the ambiguity of the ending kicked ass, and I think part of the reason Watchmen continued to have such an effect for years after is that you could always ask any group of nerds “So did he pick up the right package? Should he pick up the right package?” and get a spirited debate going.

Thing is, for all its flaws, Watchmen is deep in my writing-DNA. It hit me when I was growing up, and to this day when I plot I wish I had the clockwork finesse of Alan Moore.  Afterwards, I went on to read Swamp Thing (and if you think back issues for Watchmen were hard to find, imagine getting forty issues of a not-particularly-popular series that only had the first seven issues in graphic novel form), and that really turned me on to what good prose in comics could do.

I know, objectively, Watchmen has flaws. Realistically, however, internally, to me, it’s flawless, such an overwhelming cauldron of ideas that even its errors somehow attain magnificence.  And a large part of that is due to reading and rereading it obsessively, one month at a time, as the issues came out.

If you had your personal experience back in the day, reading it before the graphic novel, I’d love to hear them.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/484230.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(33 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

May 29th, 2015
09:32 am

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Two Pieces Of Beautiful Art, And A Chance To Meet Me!

1)  Because my Mad Manicurist Ashley staunchly refuses to create her own web page, I’ve devoted a page on my site to all of the fantastic nail art she’s done for me.  If you wanna see everything from Ms. Pac-Man nails to Flex-themed nails to The Amazing Spider-Nails, well, Ashley has pretty much “nailed” all of them.

(Ah HA ha ha.)

Anyway, it’s a pretty astounding gallery of hand-painted nail art, so go look.

2)  Remember Tormented Artist, who did that amazing Flex fan art a few weeks ago?  Well, he’s inked it!  Here’s the updated version as it wings its way to a fully-colorized piece:

Inked FLEX Fan Art From Tormented Artist!

3) And a reminder: Next Tuesday, the most excellent Side Quest Nerd Bar‘s June Book Club Selection is my Breaking-Bad-By-Way-Of-Scott-Pilgrim book Flex.  I will be attending, and giving away a metric ton of free books from Angry Robot.  They’re really good books. You want them. And the Side Quest has really good drinks. You want them. And they’ll be discussing my book Flex, which I’m told is really good, but even if it’s not, well, that’s still two out of three awesome things, so you should totally show up.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/483910.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(2 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

May 28th, 2015
10:18 am

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How To Make Largely Correct, But Rage-Inducing, Assumptions

So there’s this great Buzzfeed article about Spotify: “How Hip-Hop Conquered Streaming.”

In it, we learn that this current generation of kids does not understand purchasing music at all – which maps to watching my various Godchildren interact with music.  When they want to listen to a song, they go to YouTube.  For them, music is something you get by going to the Internet.

And hip-hop, the music that appeals to the youngest of demographics, reflects that change.  Spotify’s a service that has an extremely young audience – their core listeners tend to be 18-24, right in the pocket of hip-hop’s most engaged audience.   So when it comes to the intersection of streaming + hip-hop, Spotify multiplies and dominates.

Spotify is, largely, a young person’s phenomenon.  Here’s the most fascinating bit, to my mind:

According to a study by GMI Market Research provided to BuzzFeed News, the average age of users of major music platforms is as follows: Spotify, 28; Pandora, 32; iTunes, 34; SiriusXM, 42; terrestrial radio, 43.

(I love the way “terrestrial radio” sounded all space-aged to me until I realized it meant “Car radio.”)

But basically, there’s a huge age gap in who Spotify appeals to. The average age of users is 28, but the Buzzfeed article indicates that the most engaged Spotify users are teens and college kids.  And that doesn’t even map the audience sizes of each: I’d be willing to bet that if you’re over 40 (and particularly if you’re not hooked into the Internet beyond checking Facebook), the chances you’ve heard of Spotify are comparatively slim, at least compared to the widespread brand-name recognition of iTunes and Sirius Radio.

So Spotify has a marketing challenge.

So on Saturday, Spotify made a (now deleted) Tweet that said:

Ahead of #MothersDay, how would you explain Spotify to your Mom? There could be free Spotify Premium in it for her!

…And the cries of #Sexist and #Ageist rang out.

Sexist? Maybe. I mean, it’s an advertisement for Mother’s Day, so it’s going to reference women, and maybe it inadvertently stomps on the societal (and erroneous) undertone that “Women aren’t good at technology.” It may also have been that they would have clumsily asked you to explain Spotify to Dad if Father’s Day had come up first on the calendar, so I can’t say definitively.

But ageist? Absolutely! This Tweet assumes that mothers who are old enough to have given birth to people following Spotify on Twitter don’t know how Spotify works.

The issue here: statistically speaking, they are probably correct.

On average, a woman has her first kid in her mid-to-late twenties.  Adding in the average age of a Spotify user, that means the average mother is going to be roughly fifty-five – twice as old as the average Spotify user, and hence a statistical outlier.  (Being charitable, and assuming this Tweet was aimed at teens, maybe we’re talking about mothers in their mid-to-late forties.  Still above the curve.)  They may understand streaming in some vague sense, but not in the concrete sense that they can stream music in their car, with their cell phone, on a fairly crappy connection.

Spotify’s in a bind here, because they’re trying to avoid stating their real reason for this Tweet.  A more accurate version would be:

Ahead of #MothersDay, how would you sell Spotify to your Mom?

But then people would go “Crap, I don’t want to be a shill for Spotify” and tune out. (Not that the original Tweet was a mastery of the form, but it at least had some plausible denial.)

There’s more tone-clueful ways to dance around this issue – “Make a Mother’s Day Playlist for your mom, send it to her, get her to download this software she doesn’t use, and maybe she’ll win free Premium!” – but none of that gets around the central problem that this “Ageist” assumption is, well, probably likely true.

Not true for everyone.   But a chronic problem people have is in conflating “Well, I know someone!” with “This statistical data is wrong!”  I mean, there was that new study that shows that on average, people stop listening to new music at the age of 33.  And as we speak, I have the Spotify top 50 station open, because I like to know what the kids are listening to these days, and so I listen to a lot of new music.  (Here’s my favorite song of late, BTdubs.)

I could easily go, “Hey, I’m 45 and I listen to new music! That study is crap! My experience disproves it!”

Whereas the truth is that my experience neither proves nor disproves that study.  Yes, I listen to new music, but the study isn’t saying no one listens to new music after 33, just that most people do not.  Yet if I’m the sort of person who does, chances are good I’m going to get insulted by that accusation.

My saying, “My behavior reflects the behavior of everyone in my demographic!” is not particularly logical… but lots of people do it.

Likewise, yes, there are plenty of older people who do listen to Spotify, and understand perfectly how it works.  I’m 45, and the reason I listen to all that new music is because Spotify makes it easy for me.  Yet I can acknowledge that even as I do listen, if you were to take 100 45-year-old men and say, “So do you listen to Spotify?” the answer would largely be “No,” with a considerable portion of 45-year-old men answering, “What’s Spotify?”

And people can get angry at that assumption, but that doesn’t make the challenge facing Spotify any less true.  If these studies are accurate (I cannot attest that any of them are, but I’d bet dimes to dollars Spotify believes they’re accurate), then most mothers – and most people who are in their late forties to fifties – may not understand streaming, and certainly do not listen to Spotify.

And they have to find a way to sneak around that truth, because God forbid they imply anyone is ignorant.

Implying someone’s ignorant in something they’re informed of thumbs their rage button quicker than anything.

Which is why I’m not saying that Spotify was right to say what it did.  It was a tone-deaf Tweet that pissed off users, which is never a good thing.  But what I’m saying is that the tone-deaf Tweet pissed off users not necessarily because it was inaccurate as a whole, but because it got taken specifically.  If the study is true, then what happened here was that the outliers got really mad because they hated the way this assumption was incorrect about their personal experiences, even if that assumption may have been largely accurate for people in their age group.

So Spotify – and every other company on the planet – is now engaged in this weird dance where they know the truth, but dare not speak it. Yes, most 20-year-olds don’t vote, but if we say that we’ll piss off the ones who do. Yes, most people don’t know how Obamacare really affects them, but if we say that we’ll piss off the ones who do. (And always, always, we’ll piss off anyone who is actually ignorant, merely by stating the fact of their ignorance.)

How do we skitter around this ugly truth to inform the ignorant without annoying the people who are actually informed?

I wish I knew.  All I know is that I’m 45, and outside many demographics. I’m a weirdo polyamorous young-listening hypersocial introvert writer, and I see ads that assume bad things of me all the time.

Yet despite knowing what a demographic weirdo I am, I still get mad when corporations make awful assumptions about what I like in life.  Because while there are many things I’m an outlier on, “Being immune to anger when I’m miscategorized” isn’t one of them.

The embarrassing truth is, I’m okay with Spotify miscategorizing me, but only because I take it as a quiet proof that I’m living my life as I want to live it: Hey, these other older people haven’t a clue, but you are hip and young!  If there was an advertisement that suggested men my age and weight were sexually unattractive, even if that was statistically correct, I’d be furious.

Just like the mothers who have just been told that their technological skills are insufficient are furious.

So maybe I’m wrong to be angry when Budweiser assumes I love sports and hate clothes shopping simply because I’m a guy – a majority of American men fit that profile, and they’re merely playing the odds. But Budweiser’s job isn’t to correct me; it’s to sell their products and services, and that means ensuring that “correcting my bad assumptions” isn’t a wise move on their point.  If I’m angry for irrational reasons, far better to tiptoe around that rage and find some other, more clever, way to sell me things.  Or just pretend they didn’t hear my complaints, because hey, there are plenty of men who do love sports and hate shopping, and why not focus on this profitable cluster of dudebros where all the money lies?

This is why advertisements don’t make the world better.  They just find ways to sneak around our irrationalities or to marginalize us. Because that’s what sells.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/483590.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(20 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

May 27th, 2015
09:57 am

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Oh Yeah: Flex Audiobook Rights Sold! WHO WANTS TO LISTEN TO DONUTS?

I mentioned it on Twitter, but then promptly forgot to note it here for posterity:

The audiobook rights for Flex have been sold to Audible.com, my favorite books-on-audio site.

I have no details other than this. No, I don’t know who’s reading it. No, I don’t know when it’ll be out (though I hope it’s out by this summer).  No, I don’t know how much it’ll cost.

All I know is that it’s a two-book deal for both Flex and The Flux (Flex’s sequel, which drops in October), and someone will be tasked with reading that impossible prologue with all of the parenthesized numbers, and I’m as excited as hell to see how it sounds once it’s all out on digital.

So yay! Thanks for buying, and liking, Flex enough that they’re doing the audio production!

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/483423.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(2 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

09:49 am

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One Of My Favorite Stories, And Now You Can Read It Too: “Shoebox Heaven”

Yesterday, on Twitter, Alyssa Wong asked this:

To which I replied:

…which is a weird thing about writing that nobody outside the creative arenas quite gets: Popularity does not equal personal satisfaction. History is rife with musicians whose most popular song they wrote was one they couldn’t stand, and full of authors whose “best book” fell to dust while their toss-off novel went on to win awards.

Me, I’m lucky; as a short story writer, there’s two I’m known for, and I like them both. “Run,” Bakri Says is a great sci-fi time-travel story, and Sauerkraut Station (which I’m writing a sequel to) is a pretty decent riff on “Little House on the Prairie” in the stars.

But if I had to pick my top two stories, “Bakri” would be one of them, and “Shoebox Heaven” would be the other. Shoebox Heaven was printed in Andromeda Spaceways magazine, and then disappeared. Couldn’t get it reprinted, couldn’t get it put on one of the audio podcasts for a performance.  It’s like my hipster story in that occasionally my deep fans reference it, but mostly it’s vanished.

Yet when Alyssa asked about it yesterday, it occurred to me that I hadn’t actually reprinted that story on my site, even though the rights had reverted to me. And why not? It resonates with me.  I’m proud of it. It should be on the web somewhere.

So without further ado, I present to you: “Shoebox Heaven.” The story of a boy who flies to Heaven to rescue his dead cat.

I hope you like it as much as I do.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/483238.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(9 shouts of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

May 26th, 2015
10:19 am

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Why It’s Not As Simple As “Get Some Therapy!”

Gini and I were creeping up on a divorce, one angry fight at a time. “We need to get help,” we said, so we found ourselves a marriage counsellor.

Our marriage counsellor loved to watch us fight.

Every Monday after work we’d go in, and the counsellor would pepper us with variants of the same question: “So how do you feel your partner is being unfair?” And it would take a good twenty minutes before the room would heat up – but with unerring accuracy, the counsellor would home in on the exact places where I thought Gini was being a cold bitch and Gini thought I was being a whiny bastard.

Then, leading us on with quiet questions, he’d evoke all the ways we constrained each other. He’d ask Gini what her life would be like if she didn’t have to deal with my anxiety. He’d ask me how I’d feel if only Gini respected my feelings. His voice would never rise, but ours did, as he outlined all the crimes we perpetrated on each other.

We’d start yelling.

It’s not fair that you need me to call when I stay out late!

Yeah, well, how fucked up is it that all I need is a call and you can’t even pick up your fucking cell phone?

Maybe I don’t call because I know just calling won’t ever be enough for you! You’ll –

“Let’s bring this to a close.”

And just like that, our forty-five minutes were up. We were in the middle of a screaming fight now, but the counsellor had other patients in the waiting room, and we’d made some breakthroughs today, and we’ll continue this next week.

Like hell we would. We’d go home and fight for three hours, reiterating all the horrors of our marriage in detail until we were so tired all we could do was hold hands and try to remember what it was like not to hate each other.

We lasted four sessions with this counsellor. I don’t know whether he had a plan – maybe if we’d had more time, he would have guided us towards answers instead of raising all the ugliest of questions – but after session #4, Gini and I fought in the parking lot for an hour because the kids were home, and then finally said:

You know what? Fuck this guy.

Yeah. Fuck this guy.

And we left.

Now, I still believe in the power of therapy, and counseling, and professional aid. I’ve had friends who are still together today, only because they found a good therapist who gave them the tools to fix their marriage. Good therapy is empowering, brilliant, life-saving.

The problem is that you have to find good therapy.

And that’s something that doesn’t get discussed often enough. When someone’s in a suicidal depression, we tell them “get some therapy” like a therapist is a magic wand that gets waved in your face, and *poof!* your problems are gone.

And the truth is, therapy is a lot like dating. It’s not that there are good and bad therapists (though there are), but rather that there are good and bad counsellors for you.

Some therapists make a lot of suggestions, which is great for someone who bounces ideas off of people, but can be terrible for someone with poor self-esteem who won’t realize these suggestions are harmful to them. Some therapists are very hands-off, which is great for someone who’ll recognize their own problems if they talk it out enough, but can be terrible for someone lacking self-insight. Some therapists default to heavy medication, which can be great for someone who has a broken brain, but can be terrible for someone who simply needs to talk out a few issues and now is buried under a fog of medical side-effects.

Every therapist has their own approach, and not all approaches are compatible with yours.

And even that caveat ignores the issues you can run into finding a therapist who isn’t qualified to handle your lifestyle choices. There’s the obvious issue of a queer person getting a conservative therapist who thinks that homosexuality is a disorder, but it can be more subtle – a kink-ignorant therapist who sees all BDSM as self-harm, a polyamorous-ignorant therapist who quietly pressures you into finding a primary partner because she believes all relationships should have a core partnered center.

And it gets ugly. Because psychological professionals in all their stripes are good things, but often the people who need them most are folks who are dysfunctional enough that they can’t recognize a bad relationship when they see it. They’ll stay with a therapist who’s clearly not meeting their needs, maybe even a therapist who’s inadvertently doing damage.

I say this because I was talking to a good friend this weekend, and she told me how when she got therapy, she sat down with them and said, “Okay. I’m queer, deep into leather protocol, and polyamorous. Are any of those going to be a challenge for you?” And she could tell by the doctor’s reaction whether this was going to work out for her.

Which was, I thought, the perfect way to handle therapy. Those first few sessions are a job interview, to see whether this person gives you feedback that betters your life. If it’s not working, you leave, and find another therapist.

(An option that’s often sadly not available for the poor or those in court-mandated therapy or simply for those with narrow insurance policies, but in an ideal world it should be as simple as “Not this guy, find someone better.”)

Yet what happens in real life is that we often treat therapy as though it’s a singular thing – “Yeah, I tried therapy, didn’t work.” Whereas what really happened was that you went to two doctors, neither of which were helpful for your needs, and wrote off the entire approach.

That’s like saying, “Yeah, I dated two people, it didn’t work out, I’m not the sort of person who can handle intimacy.” Maybe that final statement is true, maybe it’s not, but there’s so much at stake here that you should probably try more than two people before writing off the entire process.

And like dating, you should be aware that while therapy is an awesome thing, a life-affirming thing, a totally transformative thing, it only really works when you find the right person to do it with.

We often say “Get some help” as though you get a therapist and it’s fixed. Yet the truth is that you need to get the right *kind* of help, and it *is* out there for you, but that getting help is the start of a process where you look over a bunch of options and try them out and see what you feel better after you’ve had a few sessions, and you keep trying until you click with someone who brings you to your happy space.

That marriage counsellor probably worked some miracles for some couples. He came highly recommended. And the fact that he didn’t work for us isn’t proof that couples’ therapy is worthless, it’s proof that we needed to fight the right person to help mend our differences.

And yes, it is totally unfair that when you’re at such a low point in your life that you need a professional to step in and aid you, you may need to do extra work to sort through various flavors of assistance to determine which ones are going to get you out of this mess. You’re tired. You’re depressed. You may not think life is worth living, and yet here you are having to put more effort into it?

But that’s how this works. It’s not a one-size-fits-all shop. It’s like shopping for clothing, and if you’ve got the psychological equivalent of stubby legs and a long torso, you’re gonna have to shop around.

Yet when you’re done, you’re gonna look fabulous. I promise.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/482825.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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May 25th, 2015
10:02 am

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My Memorial Day Traditional Essay And Donation: A Love Letter To Those Who Kill

Every Memorial Day for the past decade, I have linked to my Memorial Day essay: A Love Letter To Those Who Kill.

And inspired by Jon Stewart’s recap of our country’s long history of screwing over our veterans – seriously, watch it, it’s both amazing and damning how long we’ve called people to sacrifice and then abandoned them – I’ve decided to institute another tradition:

So I started thanking soldiers for their service with more than words, by actually donating to a charity that helps them.

This year I donated $75 to Fisher House (A+ rating on Charity Watch’s list of veteran’s charities), mainly because they fly families to injured soldiers and I think it’s important to help the folks in the field. If you’ve got the cash, it’s not a bad place to throw a few bucks.

A word on the essay: A few years ago, someone expressed concern about the gendered language of this essay, of the repeated usage of “our boys” when there are, in fact, a lot of women in the military risking their lives as well. She felt that using the term “our boys,” though traditional, renders women invisible. She asked me to revise the essay to change this.

Unfortunately, a combination of “this is a snapshot what I said then, no matter how dumb it may sound to me now” and “I’ve watched George Lucas edit his shit into horror” and “I’m not sure in editing I wouldn’t change the meaning/introduce other errors which would then also need to be edited” makes me have a rule that I don’t edit an essay at all once it’s been up for a day or two. (Otherwise, I would doubtlessly edit some of my more controversial essays into such well-reasoned processes that people would wonder what the fuss was about. And the job of this blog is not to always make me look good or enlightened.)

But she raises a good point. I also raise a glass (and lend a hand) to the women in our services.  Thanks to everyone, all genders and races and religions and beliefs, who serves.

In any case, flaws and all, here it is.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/482565.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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May 21st, 2015
10:29 am

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The Weird Thing About Shilling Your Books

So you prooooobably know my debut novel FLEX is out by now.  Probably.

There’s, like, a 40% chance you know the sequel, THE FLUX, is available for preordering as we speak and will be out in October.

Which is the weird thing about publicity, really: done properly, it punishes those who are paying attention. Because I’ve mentioned that the sequel is available for preorder at least five times on this blog, maybe more.  Those of you who were super-fans of me registered that fact, then committed that fact to memory.

Those who weren’t – and most of y’all aren’t – probably weren’t reading me on the day that I mentioned “Hey, the sequel’s dropping in October.”  Or you did read it, but you hadn’t read FLEX yet and didn’t give a crap about a sequel to a book you hadn’t even read yet.  Or you read FLEX and were vaguely interested in a sequel, but your cat was knocking over a glass of milk when you read me mentioning it and so you forgot.

The paradox of book-shilling is that to some, you’re talking about this book too damn much, and to others, you’re screaming PR at the top of your lungs and yet they have yet to hear you.  Yeah, it seems like The Avengers merch and advertisements were everywhere, but that’s because you were already keyed in to watch The Avengers movie: to the average joe on the street, they may not have even been aware the movie was coming out until the week beforehand.

And it’s not entirely a punishment, because if you’re Avengers-friendly, then you’re probably not too upset to see another Avengers trailer or another Avengers movie poster.  Still, the fact is, as an Avengers fan, you get pummelled with Avengers advertisements, all because someone who doesn’t care about the Avengers needs to see that damn trailer six or seven times before it triggers the “Oh, yeah, maybe I should see that” button.

(Truth: Most marketing studies show you need five to six impressions before you make a sale.)

So I try not to hammer on Mah Book overmuch – I talk about it a lot because it’s What I’m Doing these days, not as part of a marketing scheme – but there’s this weird conflict where I risk annoying the people who were paying attention in efforts of drawing the attention to those who weren’t.

Yet the weirder thing still?

That only gets people to buy your book, which is in and of itself pretty useless.

Thing is, I have a shelf full of books I bought from people I liked, and there the books sit.  And sometimes I even read the books and go, “Okay, that was decent,” and then I never mention it again.

The marketing these authors need, which only the quality of the book can create, is to have me going, “Oh my God, I am halfway through Ramez Naam’s Nexus and fucking loving every line of this book.”   There are only a few authors who have me handing out their books like candy, touting them on Twitter, recommending them to friends who I think I’d like.

The word-of-mouth where people spontaneously recommend your book without you nagging them?  That’s the key to long-term success.  And you can’t control that. All you can do is to write a good book that’s something you’d be excited to read, and hope that it catches fire.

Because I’ve written stories that I loved, but disappeared without a trace. And yet Sauerkraut Station, a tale I did almost no PR for, got handed around enough until it got nominated for multiple awards.  When you’re an author, you come to realize that only some of your tales stick enough that people tell their friends, and God, if you knew how to do that consistently then you would, but you don’t, so every story is a crap shoot where you go, “Okay, I can get people to read it, but are they going to love it?”

So when I see people recommending FLEX, I’m still a little weirded out.  I didn’t remind them that the book existed, I didn’t ask them to do anything, they just liked my book enough that when a friend said, “What should I read next?” they leapt to their keyboards and said, “Haaaaave you met FLEX?”

That’s how books really sell, though.  You can get asses into the theaters for Avengers. You can get them excited in advance. You can get a blockbuster opening weekend.

But when the people come out of the theater, they start to tell their friends. What they tell their friends affects how the movie’s going to do in the long run.

That’s the real marketing, and that’s why you get things like The Princess Bride, where it wasn’t a big success at first, but people kept telling their friends. And I’ll bet you dimes to dollars that Princess Bride has now made way more money than Three Men And A Baby (the #1 box office of 1987), but that took time.

So it’s weird. As an author, you do what you can to remind people that your books exist. Then they take on a life of their own, one where you find it growing into fanfic and fan theories and all these other delightful things I’m slowly exploring, and I’m glad someone’s liking it.

More importantly, I’m glad they’re liking it when I’m off doing not a thing at all to remind them that it exists.  That’s the sweetest thing of all.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/482434.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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May 20th, 2015
04:18 pm

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Here’s The Dumbest Thing About That Last Game Of Thrones

Everyone’s talking about That One Scene from the last Game of Thrones, which is egregious and stupid and redundant.  We knew that That Character was a villain. We knew that That Other Character was a constant punching bag for more powerful men.  So when we saw that it was dumb, because it was a gratuitously rapetastic scene that actually didn’t show us anything new about the characters and did little to further the plot.

But the dumbest scene, the one that didn’t even make sense in the fucking show, should have gone like this:

“SO YOUR ‘SQUIRE’ KNOWS OF A BIRTHMARK ON YOUR THIGH, SIR.” 

“My squire dresses me in armor for all battles, and tends to my wounds afterwards. My squire would be quite lax if he did NOT know of the birthmark on my upper thigh. Can we go now?”

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/482195.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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