There’s A Difference Between Being Enthusiastic With Someone And Enthusiastic AT Someone.

I don’t care for anime, on the whole. And I have been trapped in convention conversations where a woman is spewing anime information at me, and I tell her I don’t know that show, and she proceeds to tell me all about her love for some spiky-haired cartoon person and I have no idea what’s going on, and I would leave but unfortunately I made the unwise decision to wait in the same line as her.

I have also had excellent conversations about anime where I still didn’t care much for it, but the person discussed their love for some spiky-haired cartoon person and I went, “Oh! That’s interesting.”

The difference?

They paid attention to me.

In the first case, the woman wasn’t there to participate in a discussion – they had a firehose of facts they found interesting that they wanted to turn upon someone, and I was nearby. When I said “I don’t know that show,” they didn’t attempt to inform me why I should care about that show, but proceeded to tell me why they cared about that show – in the process, usually omitting facts that I would need to understand basic concepts like “What is this show about?”

In the second case, the woman was there to share a love with me, and as such they gave me a quick pitch for the show, and I said “Oh, that’s interesting!” and they proceeded to tell me about why this show was different from American shows, basically homing in on the aspects I asked questions in. Which made it a dialogue.

The basic difference in these conversations were twofold:

One was there to tell me how they felt about things.

The other was there to see how I felt about things.

And I bring this up because yeah, the nerdy “Don’t spew about your D&D character” is usually Socialization 101. (Not that there’s anything wrong with 101 courses.) But when I talked about how men often talk their way out of sex with women, there was an interesting sub-aspect to that:

See, men are often trained by society that they have to be interesting to women. Which… isn’t exactly wrong, because dick is cheap and abundant. A lot of seduction conversations are two-sided – the man is asking, “Will this woman have sex with me?” and the woman is asking, “Will this man give me sex that I’ll find fulfilling?”

So what a lot of men get taught to do is to spew their interestingness. They have a nice car. They work out. They have a good job. They broadcast all the things they have been taught that women find attractive (NOTE: this is not necessarily the same as what women do find attractive, which is why a staggering number of dick shots get sent prematurely), and they just sort of hope this cloud of Interesting leads them on the path to laiddom.

But in the process of doing that, they often forget to listen. They’re telling the woman how they feel about politics or news stories, but completely overlook how their partner is reacting to this.

And as I said yesterday, “If you can’t listen to her when she tells you about her job, you sure as well won’t listen to her when she tells you about her vagina.”

So you know, it’s not wrong to talk about your car or your fishing techniques or your politics. But it is wrong – at least, if you’re trying to forge a connection strong enough for a person to let you into their bed – to just firehose out a spiel that boils down to “I AM A VERY INTERESTING PERSON AND YOU SHOULD WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH ME” if you’re not actually going to notice when and what the woman says back.

Again. That’s close to Social Interactions 101. But judging from the many comments I got across the social medias yesterday, a lot of men still aren’t getting it. So lemme boil it down for you:

If you’re striking up a conversation in the hopes of sex, in many cases, listening will get you laid a lot more than talking.

Next up: Why Listening Isn’t Just Nodding Your Head And Agreeing With Everything She Says, Or: Why Am I Still Not Getting Any Interested Women When I’m Not Actually Contributing Anything To Their Lives?

I Want You To Give My Book A Bad Review. Honestly.

So I got my first one-star review on Amazon for my book The Sol Majestic, which called the gay teen romance “pedophilia.” (I think the guy was deeply confused about the characters, but what the hey.)

And I noted that that was the first review under five stars that The Sol Majestic has gotten, which should tell you one thing: It doesn’t have enough reviews. (Any book with enough reviews should rack up a mixture.)

To which someone replied, “Shit, dude. If you wanted bad reviews, you only had to say so!”

I do. I want all your honest bad reviews.

You know why?

1. Amazon Ranks Books On The Number Of Reviews They Get.
Right now, The Sol Majestic has 23 reviews. Once a book gets 50 reviews, Amazon starts treating your book better; it’s far more likely to recommend it to other people, it jumps in the search results, etc. etc.

(Some claim this is an urban legend, but in my experience, the big reviews gets the nod.)

Now, here’s the trick: Amazon does not care whether those magic 50 consist of good reviews or bad reviews. They just want sufficient feedback to determine that yeah, we have enough data to determine that people who liked this book also liked this other book.

So every time you leave a review, even if it’s “1 star dnf,” you are actually helping the author. This applies to other sites, too – GoodReads, Barnes and Noble, Powell’s, your blog, etc.

2. I Want People To Have An Honest Idea About My Book.
Here’s a weird truth about the publishing industry: Most authors have a good friend whose books they don’t particularly care for.

It’s not that their friend writes bad books, but rather that we all have different tastes. My books tend to have protagonists who are uncertain and anxious; if you want strong protagonists who bull their way through every situation, you’re probably not gonna like what I do.

And that’s fine.

As an author, I’m not here to have my butt kissed – I’m here to deliver a book that you’re gonna enjoy! So if you read my book and say, “Hey, I thought he spent too much time describing the food in The Sol Majestic,” you know what leaving a three-star review mentioning that does?

It tells people what they’re gonna get in the book.

And that, my friends, is awesome. I’m often driven to see things by “negative” reviews – I remember when Mad Max: Fury Road came out and a bunch of MRAs were complaining bitterly that it was stupid how a woman’s character arc eclipsed Max’s, that sounded awesome to me. And it was! Because one person’s meat is another person’s poison.

So please. Leave reviews – honest ones. Don’t flatter me with five-star reviews you don’t stand by, don’t leave “funny” one-star reviews for unread books.

But if you have read one of my books – or any author’s! – you will be doing everyone a favor by heading over to a website and leaving your opinion. It helps everyone. Even if your opinion is negative.

(And if you’ve read The Sol Majestic and wanna help me boost that Amazon count up to 50, I would be very very grateful. Thankew!)

When I Do My Best Flirting

If you’d like a handy hint on How To Flirt, here is my personal experience on when I am always on my A-game for flirting:

When I don’t realize I am.

Seriously. Half the time I’ll be told, “You’re so flirty!” and I’m like “I THOUGHT I WAS JUST BEING FRIENDLY I LIKE JOKES WHY IS THIS FLIRTATIOUS” and they go, “Don’t you know?”

No. I don’t. I mean, it’s nice if you’re responding positively, but boy, my own flirtations are a complete mystery to me.

So if you think I’m flirting with you, I mean, I’m probably not opposed to being more intimate, but that’s not my intent. I just radiate some weird-ass aura. And I have no idea how to turn it off.

Memories Of My Yearbook

There was a girl I had a crush on, back in 1987. And my wife’s away, so tonight was one of those nights where I couldn’t remember her name, and I couldn’t remember if she was half as pretty as I thought she was, so I went back to get out the 1987 Norwalk High Year Book.

Even now, years later, there’s some faces I frown at.

I’d forgotten most of the 350 or so students, of course; I probably had some sense of who they were at the time, but memories fade around the edges. And there were some of my old friends, dressed in ill-fitting suits, some handsome, some doofy.

Then there were the dangers.

And it was odd, because I literally hadn’t seen some of these dudes for over thirty years, but part of my brain lit up to tell me “AVOID WHEN POSSIBLE.” Much of the yearbook was a catalog of bullies; either the angry jock bullies who’d fuck you up if you got in your way, or the snide bullies who’d snarl insults at you, or – worst of all – the friendly bullies who’d pretend to be on your side just long enough to wring a personally embarrassing admission from you, which they’d transmit to the crowds.

I wasn’t afraid of them. One of the weird benefits of being a nobody in a 1987 high school was that few people really wanted to fuck with you. But even after all these years, I had marked those young faces as assholes I didn’t want to be around, and even now, I remembered the senseless cruelties they could inflict if you hung around them.

Which was one of the weird aspects of high school. If it’s a job today, and I had to deal with those bozos, I could quit. Or talk to human resources. Or just decide hey, this job pays well and I got health care, so at least there’s a benefit in tolerating them.

But back in high school? We were all locked in with each other, with no real escape, so we became a bizarre sort of family. And like any family, there were people you knew to avoid, and some of these faces I had completely forgotten about until I went “Oh, Christ, that douche.”

I couldn’t even remember what that douche had specifically done. But I spent four years learning to not engage with him.

Likewise, and inversely, there were the kind faces – mostly girls – who I’d marked as safe spaces. I didn’t really have friendships with any women, not then, but there were a lot of women who I could occasionally sit next to in class and have a nice conversation with, or we’d shyly bitch about the same teachers, and as a result the details had melted away but the good feelings had not.

Which is, actually, a nice realization: thirty years later, I still think well of them. I hope they’re all happily in relationships that nourish them. And I hope all the bullies are burning to death on a tire fire – or, even more ideally, I suppose, look back upon their high school cruelties with a rueful “What the hell was I thinking?” and the knowledge that they’d buy me a beer at the high school reunion if ever they saw me there.

And infiltrated among those were all the crushes I’d had. It felt sort of squicky, because here were pages of seventeen-year-old girls, and to my fifty-year-old me they looked really super young and inexperienced, and so finding a part of me that went, “Oh, but aren’t they dreamy?” was a little fragmented. But I was seventeen when I first sighed over them, so I suppose it’s not too bad.

But there were the crushes, and I was surprised to find how ordinary they looked. In my mind they were in soft focus with that vaseline-on-the-lens gaze, with perfect hair and pert jewelry and pearl-white teeth, and honestly they were just regular teenagers. I could summon up the powerful attractions I felt to them at the time, but mostly, I think now the attractions I felt were just a combination of ordinary teenaged horniness and proximity. Which isn’t a bad combo – in fact, it’s the classic – but it was still weird to have those memories stripped away to face a pleasant, if pretty enough, reality.

And then there was me.

Why did I ever think I could pull off that mustache then?

What is it about teenaged boys that they’re so willing to pull off that wispy peachfuzz look?

And there I was, in my awkward suit, smiling – the babyfat still in my cheeks, my hair freshly combed, pimples hidden. We didn’t get a whole lot of room to write our thoughts down, so I – like almost every other kid in the school – had condensed my thoughts to a slurry of initials and shorthand in-jokes that I no longer remember.

I am impenetrable to myself. Which I always have been, I guess.

But I was happy enough. I try not to look in the 1986 yearbook, which is around somewhere, because in my junior year I had actually no friends. 1987 was an upswing year – I sat with buddies for the first time ever at the cafeteria, I played in a band, I had people to do things with on the weekend, I’d even gone to a Rocky Horror Picture Show – and my eager caption represented that, with a bunch of initials of my old friends.

I was happy to have in-jokes. Because if you don’t have friends, you don’t have in-jokes, you just have in.

And there I was, about to be let loose upon the world. I wasn’t ready, of course, but I don’t think anyone there was. I was young, stupid, about to do my best and to do a shit job of it, but hey, everyone starts on the ground floor. And I was so happy to leave that weirdo little confined prison of a high school, to leave behind having to tolerate the jerks and bullies, to go out on my own.

What I didn’t anticipate is that thirty years later, I’d be looking back on those years with a weird fondness. I don’t miss high school per se, but I do miss having everyone sitting at the same desks, the predictability of it all, the knowing that these were the people you’d see every day so you have to make friends with some of them. Not like the isolation of adulthood, where you didn’t have to be anywhere so you had to seek harder, and if you didn’t you could wonder where all your friends went by the time you were thirty.

Naturally, the girl I went looking for wasn’t there. I think her name was Jennifer. That will sure narrow it down.

A Good Spouse For Who? On Vetting Play Partners.

“When I’m panicking, I need to go somewhere solitary and write. It dispels the panic, because writing is the one thing I’m good at.”

“I don’t know,” said my lunch companion. “I think you’re good at three or four things.”

“Such as?”

“Well, you’re a good spouse.”

I pondered that. “…I don’t think I am.”

Now, let me pull off the amazing triple-act of informing you, humblebragging, and hauling out my bona-fides – I’ve been married for twenty years to the same woman as of this September, and been happily married for at least eighteen (we had a rocky start). My wife is the love of my life, someone whom I both dote on and am fiercely protective of, and I make constant fine-tunings to my behavior to ensure that I’m as good to her as she deserves.

But if it was that simple, I’d have been living in harmonious bliss with everyone I ever dated.

Truth is, I’ve got issues. I’m intensely confrontational, which has absolutely panicked people who’ve watched me “argue” with my wife when really, we’re just bickering affectionately. I’m honest even when the truth is bad, which has caused rifts when my incompetence at being diplomatic jabs into someone’s sore spots. And oh Lord, if you’re not into deeply cynical humor at every turn, we’re going to get into fights….

And none of that gets into my mental illnesses, which can be best summed up as “Don’t take it personally.” You can be perfectly wonderful to me 24/7 and I can still forget how much you care about me, because as I’ve written about much better in the past, I have a leaky bucket of a brain.

Truth is, I’m the same guy. I work hard to try to be good to all my partners, not just Gini. But despite my best efforts, sometimes the relationships I’ve formed with past lovers and friends have been deeply dysfunctional, even deeply harmful – not just to my partner, but to both of us.

And it wasn’t on purpose, either. Sometimes, even though we had the exact same mental illness, our coping methods conflicted. Perhaps my coping skill of “drag everything into the light now and analyze it” didn’t work well with my partner’s skill of “keep smiling and forge ahead,” and what was evasive to me seemed brutally invasive to them, and lo! The end result was pain and confusion.

So do I think I’m a bad spouse? No. I think that’s a bad question.

Who am I a good spouse for?

Is it my wife? Absolutely. We’ve got a great track record.

Is it my sweetie who I’ve been dating for over a decade? Absolutely not. We’ve got conflicting coping methods, and if we had to live together we’d probably tear each other to shreds. But as people who just date long-distance, we’ve flourished for over a decade.

Is it any of my exes? Demonstrably not. Or maybe I could have been a good spouse for some of them, because the problem was that I already had a spouse and the issue was that this could have worked in a monogamous relationship but not as a polyamorous one, but the end result is still a breakup with hurt feelings….

But the point of this is not the breakup. The point is the specificity. I don’t know if I am a good spouse.

I do know I am a good spouse for Gini.

I might not be a good spouse – or a good partner, or even just a good play partner – for you.

And the problem I have with people in the scene vetting people as “good” or “bad” is that frequently, they judge people based on some singular experience. “I had a good scene with them, therefore they’re good.”

Except I never see it as that simple.

Sometimes, that good scene you had was by luck. Maybe that person was absolute shit at negotiation, but what you wanted in that moment synced up with what they provided, so when it got sensual or painful or tender you didn’t need to rely on the strength of words – you had that even stronger bond of “You both wanted the same thing that night.”

But if that same person – a person who is, say, unflinchingly brutal – gets together with someone who’s a) more reluctant to say no, and b) not as into the kinds of kink they provide, that person’s lack of negotiation skills might break down disastrously.

(Which is why good negotiation skills help to stave off, but do not provide an invulnerable armor for, potential disaster. If you can communicate that “I would like a one-night stand” before your partner hears “This sex means we are dating now,” well, disaster avoided.)

Which is not to say that vetting is without its uses. There are consistently bad actors in the field, and comparing notes can tell you when someone’s methodologies, whether planned or just the result of sloppiness, lead to unhappiness all-round. And sometimes you’re just looking for the answer to a simple question like “Will they play nice in public spaces?”, at which point, sure, fine.

But if you’re going to give someone you know the thumbs-up for someone else, I’d ask you to think of more than just “Did it go well for me?” I’d want to know more specific questions like “What was I looking for that night?” and “Is this person asking me looking for a different experience?” Because if so, then maybe the answer is more complex than “They’re good” and closer to “Here’s what we did, here’s how it went, is that what you want?”

Because I don’t think that “Being good for someone” is universally applicable. I’m really good for my wife. I’m good for my partners, under specific circumstances (like not living with them). I’m bad for some of my exes.

It all comes down to what you’re looking for.

Unless you’re looking for a good writer. Then I will knock your goddamned socks off. Promise.

When Having Friends Is More Alluring Than Being Right

“There’s this flat-earther documentary called BEHIND THE CURVE,” my wife said. “We have to watch it!”

Of course we did. My wife will occasionally get into huge debates with flat-earthers on Facebook, dutifully reporting back on all the idiocy she dug up that day.

Now, I didn’t care much about flat-earthers, but I care very much about the amusement of watching my adorable wife get worked up about these dippy-doodles, so… we watched.

Except the flat-earthers weren’t dippy-doodles.

They were just lonely.

Which is not to say that each of them didn’t believe in the flat earth – oh, they did – but most of the people interviewed had a similar path to getting so deep into flat eartherism that they spent their own money to fly out to flat earth conventions:

1) They sorta believed that the earth was flat.

2) They told their friends, who either blew them off or mocked them or both.

3) They found a group of flat-earthers online, who were very welcoming and happy to find a fellow flat-earther.

4) Slowly, these people abandoned their old friends and converted to the new folks, who’d never tell them they were wrong about the flat-earth. Which had the side effect of making their flat-earth beliefs the most prominent part of their personality.

5) Eventually, the rejection becomes the proof that they’re on the road to truth, and no amount of evidence will convince them because this is no longer about logic – it’s about using their own logic to build a shield to protect them from rejection.

I wound up admiring the flat-earthers – some were funny, some were smart aside from the flat-earth stuff, some were compassionate. But the most telling part was at the end, when they interviewed one of the most devoted flat-earthers and asked him (I’m paraphrasing):

“What if you got irrefutable proof that the Earth was round? You’d lose all your friends. Could you walk away from this culture you helped create?”

And to his credit, he answered honestly:

“No. No, I don’t think I could.”

At which point I flung up my hands and cried, “What do you do?”

Because at this point, there’s a whole community which is united by one common principle: We didn’t like being told we were wrong, so we found somewhere that told us that we were right.

How do you fight that? Either you take these people with their whackadoodle ideas and go, “You know, you have a point, the earth is shaped like a kitten” – at which point you give acceptability to those answers – or you tell them they are factually wrong, at which point they’ll be so stung by the rejection that they’re vulnerable to being picked up by communities that embrace these wrongheaded opinions.

And if it was just flat-earthers, I’d say fine, it’s harmless. But you’ve got anti-vaxxers and Men’s Rights Advocates and anti-global warming folks and TERFs and incels out there, all fueled by one central pivot point of humanity – namely, that it’s lonely being wrong.

Except the internet has made wrong people folks to be courted. In fact, the more wrong people you can get on your side, the less you’ll be lonely. And the only cost to be a part of these groups is that you can never question the beliefs at the core of it, because that wrongness is what binds you, and any evidence that contradicts that wrongness must be either discarded, attacked, or humiliated.

It’s not a good look.

But to quote Billy Joel, it’s better than drinking alone.

And sometimes, that welcoming Internet has been a lifeline to people – I mean, hell, folks with all sorts of kinks can get together on FetLife, gays and trans folks can congregate to see that they’re not a freakish as their families would have them believe. And though there’s always more human messiness in the world of science than most science advocates would care to acknowledge, the truth is that most scientists are happy to be proven wrong by a replicable, verifiable study – they’re seeking the truth, not the hypothesis.

But I think of that flat-earther – charming, witty, funny – and how the Internet guided him into a place where he became a minor celebrity among the flat-earthers, taking a nameless dude from nowhere and elevating him to the point where Netflix is making a documentary about him and his buddies.

The Internet creates communities.

It does not care whether those communities’ beliefs have any relation to the truth.

And the scary part is that in practice, the Internet may be more fertile in creating communities that oppose the truth – because the folks who genuinely believe that, say, manure is good fertilizer for a garden or that some brands of 3D printers clog less than others have little need to defend themselves.

But the people who believe bullshit? They need other people who believe bullshit to help hold them together. And as such, they’re a little friendlier, a little more willing to outreach, a little more desperate for new buddies.

Because as long as they have someone to back them up, they’re not a crank – they’re a part of a grand rebellion, peeling back the layers The Man has laid down to uncover the pulsing, vital truth.

And what’s more life-affirming than that?

There’s been discussions about how physical community used to give people a sense of meaning – yes, those churches and Elks clubs may have been biased, but they helped you feel like you were actually a part of a larger whole. Which is something people have searched for throughout history.

I think, perhaps, by inventing the Internet, we’ve created a medium that leverages our sense of community with no outside forces to counteract that. Normally, in a town with 100,000 members, you could see that you were the only one who believed that balloons were the breath of the antiChrist and go, “Huh, I may be right, but… I’m gonna have to convince a lot of people face to face.”

These days? Your community is a click away, that sweet sweet justification a continual flow, and if you never step outside of your house you’ll never meet anyone face to face who’ll tell you you’re wrong. It’s just a bunch of faceless people, easily dehumanized. Whereas your friends, who are also words, speak to your heart.

How do you fight that? And here is where I wish I had an answer, but man, whatever the solution is, it won’t be simple. Ban them? They go elsewhere and feel like this is their personal diaspora. Throw facts at them? Their whole community makes them impervious to facts. Abandon them? They never needed you.

I don’t know how you fight it. But it’s there. And the real solution is to teach people that maybe not everything that makes you feel good IS good for you, but we’ve been trying to teach folk that forever that that trick never works, Rocky.

But there’s a community that believes the earth is flat. They’re friends because of that fact. Dissolve the fact, their friendships are lessened.

Would you give up your best friends in search of the truth? Speaking frankly, few people have. And I think that’s why it’s gonna get a lot worse before it gets better.

Speaking In The Present Tense Hides The Past

“I think that arguing well is an entirely separate skill from being correct, and some of the people who’ve learned to argue the best do so because it’s easier for them to manipulate people’s opinions than it is for them to manipulate facts.”

That’s true. I believe that.

What I dislike is the present-tense implication that I’ve always thought that way.

Whereas honestly, twenty-year-old Ferrett would have fought that statement tooth and nail, because he was a very good arguer, and he was all too often on the wrong side of the facts. Thirty-year-old Ferrett would have also fought it, but he probably would have retreated into his bedroom to think about it for a while (at least when he wasn’t sulking). Forty year old Ferrett would have been neutral on the topic.

Fifty year old Ferrett believes it.

Yet when I make that initial statement – “I think” – it doesn’t sound like a conversation I’ve been having with myself for years, the sum of a decades-long evolution on thoughts I’ve had. It doesn’t contain the concept that I might have been wrong on this in the past, or that I might have made this mistake myself constantly over the course of the years, or whether this is a new opinion or an old one.

The present tense gives it a veneer of immutability, whether it deserves one or not.

And I don’t like that because a lot of what I’m trying to say is that people are mutable. Everyone knows that who you are at fourteen isn’t the same person you are at twenty, but for some reason there’s this societal concept that at some point in life you get it together and your wisdom snaps in and that’s it.

Whereas the truth – I think – is that most people keep changing throughout their lives, for good or for ill. For every Fox News conservative, those once-loving grandparents who have soured into Trump over the years, there’s an older woman who wondered why gay people needed to get married back in 1990 but now are like “Love is love.”

Our opinions change.

And I find that present-tense, speaking-from-the-pulpit impression to be harmful because there’s that sense of this is who I am, this is who I’ve always been, I’ve always had this correct opinion and thus I have always behaved wonderfully. And hence, Good People have Good Opinions.

But it’s why I squirm away from anyone labelling me as a good guy. That opinion, in some cases, has been chipped out from hard-earned stupidity, cases where I bludgeoned people into numbness through Extremely Clever Dialectical Tricks, and when I say “This is how it is” it’s not some statement of purity, but rather a contemplation of how many times I had to fuck it up before I finally understood.

I’m a wiser person than I used to be. I’m a more compassionate one, too. But any statement I make that occludes my history as a flawed human being, someone who wasn’t spontaneously gestated with these ideas but instead came to them in part through the hard labor of those who worked to convince me, is to me an abomination.

We evolve together. I may be a better person today. But I was a worse person yesterday. And sometimes, that realization allows me to extend a necessary compassion to those genuinely in flux.

Not everyone’s worth debating with, of course. But that also doesn’t mean that anyone with an idiot’s opinion is to be discarded, either. Because many times I make a statement where people go, “Anyone who’d have problems with that is an idiot!” and I think Oh, my friend, how I wish you could understand that I was that idiot.

Message ends.