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The Watchtower of Destruction: The Ferrett's Journal Below are 10 entries, after skipping 10 most recent ones in the "The Ferrett" journal:

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November 23rd, 2016
10:48 am

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A Once-In-A-Lifetime Achievement In My Marriage: Unlocked.

When I first met Gini about twenty-three years ago, she was married and had two kids.

And she was married married.  Like, my friends had been married, but their marriages were all a couple years old and they were still doing the “Are we together enough to have kids?” thing and living in shabby apartments with mismatched furniture.  Their marriages didn’t feel like marriages, but like someone had dropped an uncomfortable wedding in the middle of a long-term relationship.

Gini’s marriage was that strong suburban marriage, where they had a home they’d lived in forever, and two kids, and near the end one of those kids was old enough to date.  Their marriage was old enough to drive.  Their marriage had that patina of antiquity about it – and when Gini announced they were fling for divorce, people were shocked.  Because they’d been together for almost two decades.  They’d gotten so far that their friends had quietly come to assume that marriage would last forever.

About a year later, Gini and I got married.

We got married too soon after the (lengthy) divorce proceedings, I admit.  And honestly, it was always sort of a cockamamie plan – I remember calling up my mother and going, “HEY I MET THIS WOMAN IN A STAR WARS CHAT ROOM SO I’M QUITTING MY JOB TO MOVE UP TO ALASKA AND TAKE CARE OF HER KIDS.”

My mother kept her voice astoundingly even as she congratulated me.

And those first years of marriage felt like duct tape and baling wire.  I lived in a stranger’s house, flailing as a stepfather, running face-first into issues we couldn’t have anticipated from our hours of phone calls.  It was lovely exchanging emails, but suddenly we were both broke and there was nowhere for us to hide – before, we could shut off the Internet and retreat to our corners, and now we were both here, too physical at times, banging elbows all the time.

Those first few years felt like divorce was forever around the corner.  It didn’t feel like a marriage.

And let’s be honest: Gini’s ex-husband wasn’t kind when we heard we were getting married.  He thought it was too soon, and predicted we wouldn’t make it.  And didn’t he know her better than I did?

Wasn’t this destined to fail?

But slowly, Gini and I learned the tools to communicate with each other – and through it all, we ran out of love a couple of times, but our “like” never stopped flowing.  Even when we fought harshly, we still could make each other laugh.  Even when we’d spent the night crying, we could wake up the next morning and talk about Star Wars.

We were unaccountably fond of each other.  Even when we threw hard punches, we wanted to get back in the ring.

And over the years, we got stronger and stronger.

And it’s weird, because people are often like “You guys are polyamorous!  You have other partners!”  And while we deal with the discomforts and the tangled schedules and the ego-bruising that comes with dating other people, the truth is that our polyamory has become strangely easy.  We can’t imagine life without each other.  Even when we’re in someone else’s arms, we know where home is.

And these last few years have been traumatic and stressful because death has come knocking.  Our goddaughter Rebecca died of cancer on her sixth birthday, Gini’s mom died, and I had a coronary triple-bypass that gave me a really good sense of what an ugly death looks like.  And Gini’s had some pretty heavy-duty medical issues this year, in part caused by a bout of pneumonia that may have done some permanent damage, that’s left us reeling with mortality.

We don’t get forever.

Which is why we’d better hold on to what we have right now.

And yesterday, the meter quietly ticked over.  As of November 22nd, 2016, I had been married to Gini longer than her ex-husband had.

I keep thinking: We’re married married.  And we have been for a while.  But now, I’m officially Gini’s longest-running husband, and the limitations of life mean that I doubt anyone will beat this record, and I keep thinking Christ, how have we been married for over seventeen years? That seems like such a long time.

I keep remembering how her ex-husband doubted us.  And he was right to.  By the odds, we shouldn’t have made it.  I give advice to people on relationships, and if I’d come to me describing my marriage eighteen months in, I’d have said it was probably time to leave.

But miracles happen.  Miracles did happen.

We made it.

And we don’t get forever.  But every day after this somehow feels new – we were always breaking new ground, but now each moment is heading into even more uncharted territory, this glorious entwining, becoming more together, working hard to ensure that whatever happens we keep that strong and unwavering fire of our fondness stoked.

I beat the record.  It’s foolish, but… it matters.

I love you, Gini.

Let’s see how far we can take this.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/565428.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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

November 22nd, 2016
10:04 am

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The Water In The Restaurant: A Parable

So you sit down at the restaurant and the service is terrible. You’re parched, and they don’t even bring you a damn glass of water.

You watch as they bring you bread, set the table, but they’ve forgotten to bring you the cool glass of H20 that’s supposed to be sitting here by default. Eventually, finally, they ask if you’d like anything to drink and by then you’re pretty snippy – “A water, thank you” – and you’ve already made a note to decrease your tip to the minimum.

Guess what?

You’re an American. Go to Europe, and they don’t even understand this concept of “free water.” If you order water, they bring you sparkling water, which is wretched concoction prohibited by the Geneva conventions, but no matter.

Water’s just not part of the meal unless you ask.

And you’re not a Californian, either, because the drought there means that you also have to ask for water. That’s part of the culture.

But because you have these quiet expectations of What The Staff Are Supposed To Do For You When You Sit Down In A Restaurant, you don’t recognize that your lack of hydration is because you’re actually failing to communicate a need.

It’s not that the waiters don’t want to make you happy – well, except maybe in France – it’s that for some waiters, “What they do by default for customers” does not include “serving water.” They’re actually good waiters, and you’re potentially a good customer – this is just a cultural difference you haven’t absorbed yet.

You can still get your water; you just have to specify.

Likewise, a lot of relationship problems spring from this concept of what you should do by default for someone who’s upset. Because like all these watery restaurants, you grew up in a culture where when someone’s upset, of course you bring them food/leave them alone until they ask for help/smother them with questions/take them out drinking.

So you sit down in the chamber of I Am Upset In The Presence Of People Who Love Me, expecting that damn glass of water that everyone’s given you since you started going to restaurants, and they’re not doing the thing they’re supposed to do.

You get furious at them, and eventually explode…

…and if you’re unlucky, you never learn that the person you’re dating went to very different restaurants.

This is why we have to use our words, annoying as that is. Because quietly, we’ve picked up on all these unspoken assumptions about The Way Things Are, and we often don’t realize that this isn’t The Way Things Are, it’s The Way Things Are Where You Grew Up.

And it sucks, because it often feels less comforting, somehow, if you have to ask for what you need. You’re used to that quiet placement of that glass by your left elbow, that simple satisfaction of knowing they get you. It feels alienating, asking the waiter, “Could I have a glass of water?” and – if you’re in Europe – seeing that slight narrowing of the eyes that says, Why would they want that?

It can get embarrassing. I was having a bad weekend at a convention I had to go to alone, and for me, part of loving someone is being on-call when they’re under stress. But my wife often puts her phone aside for hours at a time to charge it, leaving me isolated.

I had to say to her, “Look, I know you don’t normally do this, but this weekend I need you to keep your phone within range at all times. I might need you to talk me out of a panic attack.” Which made me feel absurdly needy, and a burden to her, and I would have far preferred if Gini’s natural temperament was “Go on standby.”

But it wasn’t. So I used my words. And she was there for me when I needed her.

And I’ve seen people not ask for what they need because it gave them plausible deniability. What if they asked the waiter for water, and this was a super-snooty restaurant where they’d laugh at you silly Americans and your ridiculous obsession with hydration, and you’d end up thirsty and embarrassed?

Better not to ask, they think. In one scenario you’re getting crappy service, sure, and that crappy service will never change – but you also never have to find out that the restaurant secretly despises you. It’s a lot easier to sit there, furious and silent and justified in your outrage, than to get a definitive no that bruises your dignity.

But really, you gotta ask. Because if this restaurant – or person – really will think less of you for asking for the stuff you need, then you shouldn’t be dining there. And maybe that’s a painful realization, but better to move on to a restaurant more suited to your requirements than it is to sit angrily by a water-free table.

In the end, it’s nicer to go to a restaurant that provides the water without asking. But that doesn’t mean your favorite restaurant can’t be a place where you have to ask.

And if you ask often enough, and the staff gets to know you, they often make special accommodations. You can get your water, you can get your love, you can get your comfort.

You just gotta be willing to educate the locals.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/565030.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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

November 21st, 2016
09:30 am

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REMINDER: Your Local Democratic Party Is Three Overworked Schmucks Desperately Seeking A Fourth.

When I hear about the Democrats, I think of Hillary and her ten thousand staffers.  She controls a massive, finely-tuned network, taking expensive polls and spinning the news media – and why would anyone listen to me?  They have Obama talking to them, Bernie Sanders, all these heavyweight decisions made from the top.

I’m a random schmuck from Rocky River, Ohio.  What difference could my voice make?

Then I talked to Melissa Yasinow, a city councilwoman in Cleveland Heights.

“I’m not sure that Rocky River has any representatives on the Cuyahoga Country Democratic Committee,” she told me. “I’ll have to look that up.”

“Wait,” I said. “You’re saying that literally nobody in all of Rocky River has volunteered to be on the council?”

“I’m saying it’s possible.  That sort of thing happens all the time.  Everyone assumes that someone else is doing the work.”

“…You’re kidding.”

“No,” she said earnestly.  “There were four council seats up for grabs in my district, and we had only six people running for them.  Across all parties.  And that’s not the people who got winnowed out in the primaries – that’s six people total who wanted to run.  And we’re a competitive district; I know at least one place in Cleveland that had four seats for city council, and only three people ran.  Heck, you could run and probably win.”

“I dunno about that,” I said, thinking of all my essays on kinky sex.  “I’ve got a lot of skeletons in my closet…”

“Look, if Trump just won, you’ve got a shot.  All the old rules are out the window.  And besides, as I said… nobody else is stepping up.  Do you know how I got to be a councilwoman?”

“No.”

“I went to a Democratic women’s caucus, and they said, ‘We have a seat open.  You should run.’  It’s kind of embarrassing, how simple that start was, but that’s really all it takes a lot of the time.  And even if you don’t want to be a politician, there’s plenty of empty seats waiting around for someone to have their say.”

I frowned. “It’s just hard to believe that all of this influence is available for the taking…”

“Look,” she said.  “You’re worried about making sure the Democratic party is staying in touch with working class concerns.  Well, Rocky River’s not exactly a Democratic stronghold, and if you look at the West Side it’s filled with Hispanic residents who are factory workers.  You can start making a difference for what you believe in right away.  And if you wanted to fight for LGTBQ rights, or better health care, or to change the economy, well, there’s seats to do all of that in local ways.  Just… show up.”

“It can’t be that simple.”

“It is.  All over America.  Everyone assumes someone else is doing the work, and the truth is every political department is understaffed.  I won’t tell you it’s not insanely boring sometimes.  And it eats up a couple of hours of your week.  But if you want to make a change, it’s as easy as calling your local city council and saying, ‘I want to help.’

“Trust me,” she said.  “They’ll find a spot for you.”

She’s talking to some people now to see what empty seats are waiting for my wife and I to fill them.

But Melissa’s fundamentally changed my view of politics.  What I see on CNN is people waging multimillion-dollar campaigns for the national seats.  Yet each state has 500 towns, and each town has at least ten positions someone needs to fill, and what nobody’s discussing is how a lot of those positions are empty because they’re assuming everything is as hotly-contested as the 2016 election.

You may be disappointed by the DNC’s actions in 2016.  I was.  You might be disappointed at the opportunities the DNC missed in 2016; I was.

But what Melissa is telling me is that the DNC is composed of a bunch of tiny chairs, each with its own opportunity to influence the party in some way, and we’re not taking that influence for ourselves because we assume it’s already taken.

It’s not.

Call.  Volunteer.

Take that seat.

(And yes, civic-minded Republicans, this goes for you too.  I believe that government functions best when all sides step up.  But holy God, Democrats, we need you more than ever today.)

 

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/564777.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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

November 18th, 2016
10:26 am

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The Addiction Of Labels: A Warning For The Newly Polyamorous

I had a girlfriend, once, who was special to me. She held me with the strength of mountains, and she studied all the most fascinating things so whenever we talked she brought me glorious bouquets of new concepts, and whenever I looked into her beautiful wide eyes I longed to kiss her. Every. Damn. Time.

Yet I dated other women. That made her nervous. How could she be special to me when I loved other women, too? What assurances could she have that I wouldn’t leave?

So she asked for a special reservation of the term: “Girlfriend.” She alone was my girlfriend. All the others? Were sweeties. That term signified our special bond, the esteem we held each other in, and that was how she was special to me.

Except.

I still dated other women. And when she saw me speaking well of them in public, or heard that I was courting someone new, she got nervous. How could she be special to me?

So we reserved the nose-moop. When I touched her nose, I went “Mowp.” With every other girl, I went “Meep.” The fact that I reserved this one word for her alone signified how special she was to me.

Except.

I still dated other women. And when I talked about them on Twitter, she felt lonely. How could she be special to me?

So I got her a stuffed bear that was hers alone, the sole gift from her to me.

Except.

So we got jewelry we bought, and wore, specifically for each other.

Except.

So I got books that were only shared with her.

Except.

So I made special date nights that were reserved for her, and her only.

Except….

And each of these special moments were absorbed into the body of our relationship, and still she needed more proof. It was a steady drug I gave to her, and she built up a tolerance for it, to the point where I’d point at the “Girlfriend” and the “mowp” and the necklaces and the bear and the books and the date nights and all the other things I haven’t even mentioned here, and still she didn’t feel like she was irreplaceable in my life.

Because she didn’t feel it inside. All the external validations were merely quick-fixes that lasted maybe a month before vanishing into the lack of self-worth. I’d spend hours enumerating all the reasons why she held a special position in my life, all the wonderful things I loved about her, but they disappeared like dropping stones into the ocean.

Deep down, she didn’t feel like she could offer anything unique.

So she wanted more. And I was already getting snarled on the hundreds of special memories we’d set up like tripwire, these elaborate ceremonies we had made to make her feel better, except by now they didn’t make her feel better, they only made her feel more insecure if I slipped up and forgot one of the endless numbers of special things I was now obligated to do for her.

These weren’t rituals. Rituals were things we could have done together to grow closer to one another. But we were close. These were exclusions, designed to keep other people out rather than to grow us as a couple, labels designed to exalt this person above the other smoochy-folks I had.

Eventually, we broke up. I realized I could not reassure her and remain polyamorous (well, technically, given my wife, I’d become polyfidelitous). And I was tired, so very tired, of always having to reassure this wonderful woman of how goddamned wonderful she really was, because though she was smart and clever and sexy, I never found a way to communicate with her that she could ever feel that.

Maybe there was a way to make her feel loved in a way that didn’t strangle me in the process, but if so, I couldn’t find it.

And so I left. Because I wasn’t making her happy, and she wasn’t making me happy, and I worried that if I did go polyfidelitous that would just be another label that would wear off in a month.

To this day, I’m skeptical of labels. I think they have an addictive quality. Sure, sometimes you see a couple making a single rule and that’s it – “You can’t sleep with them in our bed” – but more often what follows are a cascade of additional restrictions, each designed to wall off the other partners in some way as a proof of love, each time the couple being convinced that this, this new thing will reassure them once and for all.

When the truth is, if you need a special label to survive, often they either don’t speak your love language properly, or the life they need to live is going to take such a great toll on your self-esteem that they can’t stay in good faith.

All the labels in the world can’t fix that problem, and it’s only going to make it worse to try.

They’ve gotta know why you love them, and all the restrictive rituals in the world can’t patch that hole.

And to this day, sometimes I’m sad. She’s not in my life, and can’t be. But some days I sit around, and feel the hole that she’s left behind that has never actually healed, missing all the little things that came from her and no one else.

Yes, I dated other women. Because they had their own unique charms, just like she did, except thankfully the women I date these days mostly understand just how incredible and unique they are to me, and I love them and crave them and need them.

But they weren’t her. They couldn’t be.

She was irreplaceable. Even more so now that she’s gone.

What label could encompass that?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/564703.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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

09:51 am

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My Book “Flex” Is On Super-Sale For $1.99 This Weekend! Spread The Word!

My publishers never stop finding ways to get my books into new hands – and this time, it’s extra-special.  They’ve arranged a deal with BookBub, possibly the biggest discounted book sale engine, so that Flex is $1.99 for this weekend.  (It’s 99 pence in England, which is totally like Hogwarts money to my sad American ass, but I’m told it’s cheap.)

Anyway!  If you’re looking to read about crazy sexy videogamemancers, live-action Frogger recreations, and a man who  believes so deeply that paperwork is the best way to prevent corrupt men from doing justice that he’s created bureaucratic magic, then go ye forth and consume!

And more importantly: If you’ve been bugging your friends that they should read Flex (and thank you thank you thank you if you have), might wanna let them know that their entry fee to hop on this ride will never be cheaper.*   Here’s your links of choice.

And if you’ve been thinking about purchasing the sequels to this fine book, The Flux and Fix, well, perhaps this enthusiastic reminder will be enough to encourage you to pursue the adventures of Paul and his daughter as they meet up with Tyler Durdenmancers, the hideous brainwashings of the Unimancers, the wrecked sky of Europe, and of course eat a lot of donuts.

Too many donuts aren’t good for you.  Uncle Kit would tell you that.  But too many books satisfy the soul.

* – Paul Tsabo, bureaucromancer, urges me to inform you this promise is not legally binding.  But seriously, I don’t think you’ll see better before 2018, if then, if ever.  Get in there now!

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/564440.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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

November 17th, 2016
10:27 am

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Westworld’s Least Exciting Action Sequence, And Why

So on last week’s Westworld, we had everything we needed for A Big Exciting Action Setpiece: our heroes, trapped on a train.  The villains outside with a gatling gun.  Fierce western-stereotypical Indians waiting in the wings with deadly arrows and savage might!

(It’s all cliche, but that’s the point of the Westworld park: it’s a game designed to satisfy its rich patrons, and so the game itself is almost relentlessly packed with hoary stereotypes.  I mean, if you went out to a fake-western theme park to live out your fantasies and a grizzled gold miner didn’t ask you to help find his secret treasure, you’d be disappointed.)

Anyway, what followed was an eight-minute chase with explosions and daring escapes and heroism and nobody cared.  It was airless.  Shiz was blowing up good, but most people felt like it was a wasted eight minutes…

And the reason why is fascinating from a narrative perspective.

Now, I’m going to argue that a good action sequence must fulfill one of two goals, and ideally both:

  • Put our characters in danger in exciting, stake-raising ways, and;
  • Reveal what our characters do under duress, demonstrating who they are when the shiz hits the fan.

So what stakes do our characters have in this not-so-exciting action sequence?

There are two characters involved in this chase, and one of them is invulnerable.  That’s because William is a guest.  He’s been shot in the chest before, and it hurt, but this Disney theme park is not about to kill its paying customers.  Part of the story is that, yes, the guest is actually starting to believe the theme park is better than the real world –

Yet this is a staged event, as part of a plotline.  Like a videogame, the villains exist to provide a surmountable challenge; they’re not really out to kill William, but rather to provide him with some fun.  If they capture him, they’ll tie him up in a cave somewhere and then a sympathetic villain will stage an exciting breakout.  We’ve seen this happen before.

So William is in no physical danger; all the arrows in the world won’t hit him.  And he’s not in real emotional danger, either; if he gets kidnapped, maybe his vacation will be ruined, but he’s not in so deep that he’s psychologically unhinged.  William loves the park, yes, but at this stage in his journey, having his exciting chase fail would mean he’d have to come back and try this all over again.

(Admittedly, he’s blown off his brother-in-law to get here, so that’s a mild complication, but it’s not stated anywhere that “leaving his asshole brother-in-law behind in another section of the park” means “He can’t ever come back to Westworld.”)

So there’s not much at stake for William.  It’s like watching someone really enjoying themselves on a Disney ride and wondering what’ll happen if the ride breaks down; loooooow stakes.

Now, the other character, Dolores, is a host – a robot designed to be abused for the guest’s convenience.  If the character’s a white hat, like the guest who’s currently with her, she’ll be rescued and treated well.  But if she’s met by a black hat guest, well, could be a Silence of the Lambs night in store for her.  And if no guest shows up, her default storyline is that she and her family will be killed and molested by bandits.

Dolores has some dim awareness of what’s happening to her, but she’s handicapped because her storyline keeps resetting.  She learns more about herself, but at the end of every storyline she wakes back up on her family’s farm with most of her memories erased and has to start over.

Unlike William, Dolores has severe stakes in the whole issue.  William’s plotline is, unbeknownst to either of them, leading to a place where Dolores could potentially free herself.  If this chase catches Dolores, she loses all the progress she’s made, she loses the ally who’s brought her to this little-explored side quest in the game, she loses knowledge that this side quest exists.

Except she doesn’t know that, and neither does William.

So even though we as the audience understand that there’s an abstract danger in this chase, neither of the characters are aware of it, and we’re not given an avenue to feel it viscerally.  We know the things the characters are concerned about won’t hurt them, and the things that would hurt the character are things they’re not concerned.

Which is the fascinating thing about Westworld’s narrative: normally, if the characters don’t understand the danger, you have a third party there to remind the audience that the danger exists.  Traditionally that’s either a villain waiting to see the heroes get hurt (“Yes, walk closer to my secret trap door!”), or a sympathetic character doing their damndest to alert the characters to the danger (“Dolores, look out for the trap door!”).

But Westworld’s setup is so unique that literally nobody knows these characters are in danger.  There’s no villain who is personally persecuting Dolores; there are people in charge of the park, but her abuse is systematic.  She’s one of 1,400 hosts whose job is to get shot, raped, and traumatized, and the only reason she’s gotten as far as she has is because people are mostly ignoring her.  She’s got advocates within the company, but nobody’s watching through a videoscreen at this moment going, “Yes, Dolores, escape!  Escape!”

So there’s very few stakes – not because those stakes don’t exist, but because the shape of the narrative has made it literally impossible to focus on those stakes.  There is not one person in this entire story who knows what Dolores has to lose, including Dolores.  William doesn’t know he’s helping her – he thinks she’s helping him.

Now, what about the second function of a good action sequence?  You can have an action sequence with low stakes that reveals who the character is, by displaying what they’re willing to fight for.

And alas, Westworld fails here, too.  There’s almost no character moments; the emphasis is on this artificial danger, the gatling guns and the exploding bodies and the cleverness – but it feels as empty as a videogame cutscene, because yes, people are dying but they’re all people who were literally designed to die.

There is precisely one beat in the middle of his long chase that forwards either of those moments – and it’s when William, who’s been reluctant to put himself in the path of even artificial danger, goes instantly back to rescue Dolores after she falls off the horse.

But not only is that a low bar, that’s not even a new beat.  They had a love scene earlier where he told her the park was making him more real, forcing him to make hard choices.  So in a long action sequence, the one new thing we learn about the characters is something we were told half an hour ago.

And it’s interesting, because Westworld is smart.  Reddit is loving it because it’s threaded through with Easter Eggs and metanarratives and offhanded shots that seemed badly-constructed at the time but yes, turned out to be very important hints.

There is a theory that William is becoming someone else.  (I won’t spoil it if you don’t know, but here’s the link if you wanna explore.)  And I wonder if the showrunners knew how unsatisfying this whole action sequence was, knew that there was a disjunct between what William’s adrenaline-soaked experience was because he was experiencing this for the first time and our boredom because we’ve seen this before.  And I wonder if that’s their subtle way of cueing us into what William will be when he realizes how hollow and repetitive all the joys of the park have become.

Or maybe it was just a crappy action sequence.

Three episodes left.  Let’s see how this goes.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/564122.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

(1 shout of denial | Tell me I'm full of it)

November 16th, 2016
09:58 am

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Consent Is As Easy As Tea, Except When They’ve Never Had Tea.

So here’s a weird aspect of consent few bring up: consenting to the unknown.

The problem is that we think the unknown is known, based on simple explanations: “Oh, being spanked is just someone whapping on your butt! I consent!”

But the issue is that while you may know the physical mechanics of a thing you’ve consented to, you may not understand how that spanking affects your body and your emotional state. Some people find spanking to be fun, and giggle a lot even when welts are forming; others feel deeply humiliated, and start crying, and love that catharsis of being allowed to cry; still others feel deeply humiliated and fucking hate crying and call red.

And here’s the issue:

Too often, people are consenting to what they think the experience will be, as opposed to consenting to having an experience.

Which is to say that if you consented to a nice jolly spanking where you giggle and squirm, just like you saw your spank-loving friends get, and instead a spanking of the same intensity and time period churns up deeply painful helplessness, you often feel like your consent was violated.

Yet the problem here is unclear communication. You consented to something the other person could not guarantee providing. They could only provide the circumstances; your reactions are unknown.

Which means when you’re consenting to a new experience, you also have to consent to the understanding that even if your experience provider does precisely what they said they’d do and no more, this might not go the way you thought it would.

I mean, I thought the skydiving experience would be, “The soaring feeling of wafting down to earth.” Whereas the experience was actually “My entire body weight resting on my testicles thanks to me hanging down from straps I didn’t put on properly,” so, you know, lesson learned.

But the point is, consenting to a new experience is not consenting to the experience you wanted to have. It is consenting to learn what that experience is.

What you may learn is, “I really hate that.”

Knowing that is your responsibility as the consenter.

If you’re the consentee, too often the experience provider hears “I agree to try spanking” as “LET US OPEN UP THIS CAN OF WHOOP-ASS.” Yet there’s a responsibility as well to understand that this person has not consented to enjoying this experience, they have merely consented to trying this experience.

As such, you need to go slowly and check in. Yes, even if it’s a brutal angry scene designed to traumatize. Because yes, maybe via the letter of the law they have agreed to be in your clutches for a while – but if you purposely do things to people that you realize they will regret later, that makes you a douche and nobody should play with you.

Your job, as the first-time experience provider, is to not turn this into a full warrant to get your rocks off, but rather to give them enough of the experience to see if they want to go farther with it.

Furthermore, you should be consenting to stay with them if this turns out to be an unpleasant experience, giving them whatever care they need if they realize this really sucked.

Side story: I was at a diner once that had a sign that advertised, “BEST MARTINIS IN TOWN!” Being freshly twenty-one and never having had a martini, I ordered one.

It tasted like salty gasoline. Which, I later learned, was pretty much what a good martini tasted like.

I left the rest of the drink on the table, when the owner came out to harangue me. “YOU DON’T LIKE MY MARTINI?” he bellowed. “I MAKE A GOOD MARTINI!”

“I’m positive you do,” I said. “I am taking this, in fact, as the gold standard of martinis. And what I have learned about martinis is that I don’t like them.”

He didn’t like that much. He was so angry, he stood over me and glared until I drank the rest of the martini and made fake “mmm” noises to get him to go away.

As a person providing the new experience, you have to not be Martini Maker. Yes, you gave them exactly what they ordered, and the fact that they responded poorly is not a reflection on your fine quality as an ass-whapper. And too often scenes that go wrong wind up with one traumatized bottom and a Martini Maker standing over them bellowing how this was a good spanking, they’ve been doing this for years, what’s wrong with you.

If something goes wrong with a new experience, shift your ego to one side and comfort them. You’ll be better off for it, and so will they.

Once the seal’s broken and they have enough of this unknown thing to recognize how they react to it, they can begin to consent in earnest and you can start ramping up to some pretty amazing things… But as with most things in consent, it’s not a contract, but a careful dance.

And you may ask: What happens if you ramp up the intensity of your scene and their experience they think they’ve agreed to changes? As in, they really got off on you spanking their butt cheeks, but you hit them six inches down on their thighs and that was so intensely painful that suddenly the experience they had nebulously communicated as spanking turned out not to be what they wanted at all?

And ah, grasshopper. You’re starting to realize why consent can be complex sometimes.

Good luck with that.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/563965.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)

November 15th, 2016
09:43 am

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Remember That Abusers Also Love Consent.

You can’t hit “delete” on an abuser, unfortunately: kick them out of your parties, and they stubbornly continue to exist in the real world.

Nine times out of ten, they’ll find some other group to go to, or start their own.

And in some ways, kicking an abuser out is helpful for the abuser. It gives them a fresh start – they get to go to a group of people who mostly don’t know them and reinvent themselves. If called on their personality shift, they’ll say they’ve changed.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately that former abusers are getting big into this whole “consent” thing.

Because it’s easy to speak the language of consent: talk loudly about how you respect people’s boundaries, condemn those jerks who stepped over the line, offer to comfort the people who’ve been hurt. You can be a real good friend to a lot of people very fast by sympathizing and doing the right work.

And it’s also easy to give up small pleasures for greater gain. A lot of the time, if you’re initially respectful of your partner’s stated desires, they’ll let you move past those limitations a lot quicker. And since it’s hard for someone to determine the difference between “I’m respecting your boundaries, which has the nice side effect of getting me into your pants quicker” and “I’m respecting your boundaries because it gets me into your pants,” it’s a stratagem that’s surprisingly effective.

And when the abuser does push boundaries hard, just to see what they can get away with, they’re cloaked in the right ways to have it written off: it was a mistake, they didn’t mean to do it, could happen to anyone.

Except, strangely, it keeps happening.

Over and over again.

This new wave of reinvented abusers is starting to look a lot like today’s upstanding citizen. Which is entirely predictable, because the shape of what today’s “upstanding citizen” looks like is changing, and a smart abuser will to do everything they can to blend in.

Back when the upstanding citizen was a leather player who worked his way up through the ranks, the abuser worked his way up through the ranks. Back when the upstanding citizen was someone who volunteered a lot in his community, the abuser volunteered a lot in his community.

They know what you think a good guy looks like.

They’re going to become that.

And the problem is that mistakes do happen in kink. Negotiation is hard, yo – yeah, I know, “Consent is easy as tea,” but sometimes you spoke unclearly and they were expecting coffee, and sometimes they should have specified green tea and now they’ve drunk black tea and their heart is racing from the caffeine, and sometimes both sides feel pressured into offering and drinking tea because it’s socially expected of them and then it turns out this whole thing kinda sucked.

Honest consent violations happen all the time. In fact, they’re probably the majority of what happens. Sex is complex and confusing, and while the base concepts are difficult, the devil is in those details.

Good people fuck up.

And when I’ve said that, people have told me “You shouldn’t say that! Abusers will just take that information and twist it to their own ends!” To which I always reply: You sweet summer child. You think they’re not already?

Look. There is no good habit you can create that an abuser will not mimic. That is why they are insidious.

The main difference between an abuser and a non-abuser is patterns. A non-abuser will make a mistake once and do their damndest to make sure it doesn’t happen again. An abuser will make a mistake once, and then make it again, and then make it again….

Which is why it’s important to listen to victims’ complaints. Yeah, there’s always some level of false accusations mucking up the scene. But abusers know that, too, and they’re mighty quick to whip out the “false accusation” flag proactively, going on the offense to ruin the reputation of someone they abused before that person can hurt them.

Yeah, you don’t like drama – nobody does – but you know who really benefits from drama-free scenes where nobody complains? Abusers. Because that blissful silence lets their every mistake be their first mistake, as far as you know.

So you listen for someone’s mistakes. And then you stay tuned to see whether someone’s mistakes are one-offs that got cleared, or a pattern that indicates this person is someone you do not want to trust with your body.

Because abusers are starting to speak and manipulate the language of consent. Abusers are starting to write essays talking about how great consent is, because that gets people to trust them.

And here’s the scary part for me: Yes. Yes, I am saying that abusers can look a lot like me. They can say the same shit that I do, give the same fiery lectures, look every bit as impassioned – and they can use that behavior to mask a consistent pattern of consent violations.

Which is why I tell you: question me, and people like me. Ask the people we’ve played with how it went. Interrogate our mistakes. Ensure that we’re not making the same mistake twice, or three times, or four times. Call us on our harms, keep us honest, don’t let us shrug off an error that hurt someone as trivial.

Because the good news is, the culture is slowly changing. The concept of consent is taking root. Yet the bad news is that the abusers will mold themselves to any conception you have of what a good person looks like, as they have always done. They will be counting on your good will to write off their long trail of mistakes as a series of one-offs.

The paradox is that people can be strongly for consent and still make mistakes. We have to allow for our champions to have human foibles without excusing patterns of consistent neglect that become abuse.

That’s a hard line to tapdance on, but we have to do it.

Because abusers thrive whenever we assume what a good person looks like.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/563664.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)

November 14th, 2016
10:10 am

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Ask Me Anything! I Could Use The Distraction.

On the days when I can’t think of anything to write but nevertheless would like to hear from people, I play a game: You ask me any question, I’ll answer it.

As usual, all serious questions are on the table, which is to say, questions you actually want to know the answer to: the answer to questions like “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck?” is “You’re not nearly as clever as you think you and shouldn’t post in this thread,” which generally makes people sadder than they’d like to be.

But anything else: up for grabs.  Had a weird question about my love life? Go ahead. Wanted to get my opinion on an important donut-related trend? Shootenate. Need a piece of advice? Put it in my pocket, I’ll give it my best shot.

I’ve got some essays burbling about, but not the strength to write them, so help me amuse myself whilst I recuperate.  Your questions will help.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/563432.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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

November 10th, 2016
09:41 am

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Why Westworld Is A Metaphor For My Mental Illness

Tasha Robinson said the problem with Westworld is that there’s no one to root for.  The people running the park are largely ciphers held in place by a mystery, and the robotic plaything hosts have no set personalities, so how can you cheer for them?

I cheer for the hosts. I am deeply invested in Dolores’ story, and Teddy’s story, and Maeve’s story, because I am mentally ill.

If you don’t know how Westworld works, the hosts are super-complex robots created to be shot, raped, and otherwise brutalized as part of an elaborate Grand Theft Auto-style story that living guests can participate in. The hosts have memories and emotions as real as what you or I experience, so when they’re shot they’re horrified as they die –

But their memories are programmable, to a certain extent.  (The hosts’ brains are so complicated that nobody’s really sure how all of their intertwining segments work, which may seem unrealistic until your computer keeps crashing and nobody in tech support can tell you why.)  They can be given new backstories so a former outlaw can be slotted into the place of a defective caring father – though they have traumatic memories that seep through, flashbacks they’ve been programmed to interpret as nightmares.

They can be changed, but for at least some of them there’s an essential core of “them”ness that is continually shrieking as they wake up afresh with part of their minds saying “You’re working on the farm today, you’ve always worked on the farm” and another part screaming “Yesterday a bandit slaughtered your family while you watched.”

(Which happens to some hosts almost daily.  The goal is that a white hat player shows up and rescues poor Dolores and her family from the bandits, but… sometimes the players don’t go there, as this is a sandbox game.  And sometimes the players, just like in GTA, become the black hat bandits.)

And so basically, the hosts – at least the ones whose dim awareness has sparked to the point where they actively recognize something is wrong – are learning not to trust their brains.

Now.  Take my mental illness.

About twice a year my brain tells me that I should kill myself.  This manifests in unhealthy behavior such as cutting and severe self-neglect.  I have severe issues in maintaining healthy relationships because I have a brain that I’ve referred to in the past as a leaky bucket – no matter how much love or affection is poured into my memories, my brain quietly expunges and alters that data until acts of kindness seem like scornful rejection.

Which leaves me acting as an independent agent against my brain.  I’m continually comparing the hard evidence of “She hugged you and told you she loved you” to my brain’s constant misinterpretations of “That was a pity hug” and “She resents you for making her do that” and “She’s obligated to say she loves you, it’s just her way of calming you down.”

If I’m lucky, I come to the conclusion that her hug, based upon the compendium of all facts gathered, probably means love, and act as if that means love to me.

If I fuck up, my defective brain shoves aside the compassion shown to me and I usually wind up destroying the relationship as a consequence.

After years, this fact-checking is so reflexive that I cannot hallucinate.  When I’ve dropped acid or hallucinated after staying awake for fifty-two hours after painful surgery, I see the curtain of crawling cockroaches on the window, but my defensive mechanisms instinctively cut in to tell me that frankly, such a competent hospital as the Cleveland Clinic would hardly allow that many bugs in the room, try again.

And what I see when I watch Westworld is the hosts emulating my struggle.  Because when I say I’m fighting “my brain,” obviously that’s untrue – the analytical portion of my brain is combating the instinctive portion of my brain.  But to do that, I had to figure out which portions of my own botched input were harmful, and which I needed to reject as illusions…

Which is precisely what the hosts are doing, whether they recognize that consciously or not.

What see playing out in Westworld is a titanic metaphor for mental illness – these tiny dots of core personality swamped in a turbulent sea of false data, all that so others can take advantage of them.  (I’ve never been gaslighted, but one suspects many of Westworld’s more dedicated viewers may also have that experience.)

And though yes, the hosts are inconsistent and swap roles and personalities, Maeve, Teddy, and Dolores are struggling in their own inexpert ways to self-define who they are despite literally their entire bodies being designed to betray them.

And was my body designed to betray me?  Maybe not.  But damn, when the black dog comes calling and I start wondering how many sleeping pills I could swallow to kill myself before remembering I have a wife and a family and friends who would miss me very much, it feels as though my body was designed to torment me.

So I root for the hosts.  I root hard, even though yes, Teddy’s backstory is evolving daily as people reprogram his motivations.

Because my hope is that Teddy and Dolores and Maeve turn out to find some way to subvert their programming to become functioning individuals.  I want them to take that tiny, besieged, unalterable droplet of what they’d consider “themselves” and relentlessly expand it until they start choosing who they are independently of all these crazy memories and backstory and DELOS-forged mandates.

And you know what?  They’re doing that.

So for me, though I love the mysteries of Westworld, when I tune in I’m asking, “Is Dolores going to keep learning how to become her own hero?  Will Teddy choose which backstory defines him more?  Will Maeve find a way to protect her own cleverness?”

The hosts are me, and I am them.  And every time they have even the slightest rebellion against DELOS, that is them punching my own damaged brainstem and telling the blackness that even people designed to be enslaved to their programming can have hope.

Tasha called that interpretation “nihilistic.”

I call it freedom.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

This entry has also been posted at http://theferrett.dreamwidth.org/563160.html. You can comment here, or comment there; makes no never-mind by me.

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