I had an essay geared up in my head for tomorrow’s posting on doxxing, and why I have weirdly mixed feelings about revealing someone’s name (not their address or other identifying details) because while in theory, anonymity is used to shield the weak from the predations of the strong, in practice anonymity too often allows people to exist as harmful assholes without any drawbacks.
Then Robert J. Bennett went and wrote everything I was going to say, except, like a thousand times better.
So read what he had to say. He’s a smart dude.
On Saturday, the Internet lit up with a horrifically embarrassing story: Kathleen Hale confronting her online critic.
I cannot recall reading an article as painfully embarrassing as this. An author confronts her critic. Ow. Ow. Ow. http://t.co/UdzBYquIxy
— Ferrett Steinmetz (@ferretthimself) October 18, 2014
I would advise you to read this article in full before continuing, because it’s probably going to be the most interesting thing you’ve read all week.
But interestingly, a lot of people seemed to miss both sides of this.
Many didn’t see Kathleen Hale as an obsessive stalker, which she clearly was – she tracked her reviewer back to her house, for God’s sake, and still just wants to talk to her. This is deranged behavior of the worst sort – I don’t think Kathleen would hurt her critic, but boy howdy is this beyond the pale. (Plus, “Catfishing” is incorrectly used – catfishing is when you lure someone into a romantic relationship under false Internet pretenses, and her critic was merely using a pseudonym. Kathleen is attempting to misuse the term to imply that hey, I had a relationship with my bad reviewer! But she didn’t. She really didn’t.)
But those who condemned Kathleen roundly also missed the fact that her critic (at least as presented here) was kinda dickish, a bully of the tawdry sort you find everywhere on the Internet – the sort of person who rallies folks to her cause, derails arguments, and has no problems trying to insult her detractors into silence by repeatedly mocking them.
I’m all in favor of bad reviews. If you don’t like something, say so. Anyone who’s watched me deal with my comments threads will tell you that I’m generally pretty tolerant of people going, “Jesus, Ferrett, that was awful and stupid and you shouldn’t have written it.” Authors are notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to bad reviews, which is patently stupid, because shit, man, Shakespeare isn’t universally loved and you won’t be.
Be grateful for most bad reviews, painful as they are. They serve a purpose. They tell people what to expect, so they don’t buy your book and hate it personally. If you can’t deal with the fact that some people won’t like your book, don’t publish. Authors are far too willing to call someone with a consistent dislike of their output a “bully.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t bullies out there, though.
Because there does come a point where a bad review steps beyond the boundaries of bad reviews and into power plays. Kathleen’s portrait of the heckler as someone who wants to have their own show is correct, and some very small but very damaging subset of reviewers have found that bashing creators in entertaining, malicious, and personal ways is a great way to attract attention without really having to show that they can do better.
The instructions we give to authors – and they are good ones – is DO NOT ENGAGE, which is why you’ll notice Kathleen Hale blitzing past Goodreads and her very wise friend and, well, everybody saying to not engage. But that’s not because there’s some sort of moral imperative involved here. That’s because, if you are an author, there is no good way to interact with a negative review and not come out looking bad, even if the reviewer is a catastrophic jerk.
That’s why this is all really pitiful. Kathleen is insecure, and unwise, and ultimately unhinged. But in a better world, we wouldn’t have critics like Kathleen describes – I’m not necessarily sure whether Kathleen’s portrait of her critic is accurate, given her lack of self-reflection here, but I do know of many authors who’ve endured vitriolic personal attacks as part of the show. There are certainly critics who are like that. (Also and people who go, “Well, you wrote a book, you deserve whatever nasty feedback you get! That’s the price for seeking fame!”)
To me, man, authors shouldn’t go so nuts as to show up on their critics’ doorsteps, and reviewers shouldn’t go so nuts as to think of an author as their White Whale, relentlessly pursuing them for sins both real and imagined, making it a personal crusade to pillory anyone who enjoyed what they didn’t.
These are just books, man. Nothing’s that important. And it’s sad all around, watching critics and authors drown in these thimble-sized seas of ego. That’s all.
Cherie Priest’s Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When Cherie saw what Liz had done
A Cthulhu mashup tale she spun
You may remember Lizzie Borden from the jumprope rhymes of your youth, but as with most things you heard on the playground, things weren’t that simple. Turns out that the trial had some evidence that Lizzie might, in fact, have been innocent – certainly her doctor thought she was.
So naturally, you’d think, “Well, clearly Lizzie chopped up her father and stepmother because they were turning into sea monsters, right?”
Well, you would if you were Cherie Priest.
In the Borden Dispatches, Lizzie Borden is a steampunk scientist and monster-hunter, chopping up hideous creatures with her axe. Her sister, more classically trained, helps. And their doctor suspects things are going on in the town of Fall River. Events draw them together, and Bad Shit happens.
The fascinating thing about this book is that it is simultaneously predictable and compelling, which is one of the hardest tricks to pull off. This is one of those horror books where the first time you think “Uh-oh,” well, yeah, that’s going to turn out exactly as bad as you think it’ll be. Pretty much every suspicion you have gets borne out. And yet the characterization is so wonderful that you keep reading, mainly because Lizzie and her shut-in, sick sister are furiously sympathetic characters – trying their best to help their town, loyal to a populace that thinks they’re murderers, brave and bold in all the best ways. It helps that everyone’s smart, acting in their best interests, even as those interests might be skewed by the call of the Old Ones.
Every chapter is a letter to someone, or a diary entry, each from a different character – and each character has their own distinct voice. I usually get irritated by missive books because I get confused as to whose viewpoint we’re in, but Cherie cues us in with style.
The biggest problem with the book, sadly, is that the ending left me hanging for a sequel. Which I don’t have a problem with per se, as this is a two-book series, but the ending is a little anticlimactic and it makes me vexed that I now have to wait some time to find out what’s happening with Lizzie and her sister and the sea monsters. Still, if I think of it as a series and not a standalone book, I can tolerate a little hang-time for something as entertainingly murderous as this.
Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paolo Bacigalupi
I picked this up as a quick-read, a sort of amuse bouche between heftier courses, and stumbled into a happily goddamned deep book for kids.
The plot of this book is inherently silly: the meat-packing plant accidentally creates cow zombies (and eventually people zombies) in an effort to save cash, and only the local little league baseball team can stop them. So, you know, not expecting much aside from gloriously stupid zombie shenanigans.
But this is actually a surprisingly deep look at race and corporate greed in America. One of the character’s families is made up of the illegal immigrants who work at the meat-packing plant, though he was born here, and so there’s some great character-rooted looks at what happens when you work illegally. And the meat-packing plant itself isn’t cartoonish – Paolo actually uses the lawyer’s tactics that actual meat-packing plants use to cover up outbreaks of e. coli.
I thought the focus would be on zombies, or even baseball, but what I got was a happily cogent window for kids into just how realistically shitty corporations can be. Not that there’s not a lot of beating the crap out of zombies with baseball bats, because there is, but there’s an *ahem* meaty tale wrapped inside this candy-happy cover. Seriously recommended. (Thanks to Netmouse for recommending it.)
D&D Players Guide, Fifth Edition
I, like many players, did not like the way D&D Fourth Edition got D&D back to its roots, because D&D’s roots kinda suck. D&D 4E removed most of the roleplaying, and yoinked us all the way back to wargaming, where there was much emphasis on character placement and grids.
The problem is, in 1970, we didn’t have ready access to computers. Now we do. So basically, what they wound up making despite their best intentions was a slower, clunkier videogame. It didn’t go over well in the long run.
D&D 5E is attempting to bring that happy blush of roleplaying out again by having, you know, spells that don’t affect combat. And they’ve gone balls-to-the-wall on this one; this is by far the most evocative D&D players’ guide yet, with gorgeous illustrations and lots of emphasis on what kind of character you’re going to play. Not what class; character. Because there’s an extensive section comparing two fighters with similar stats, except one is a cold, withdrawn assassin and the other is a family-loving freedom fighter. And each section is introduced by an excerpt from one of the many D&D novelizations to show you what an elf/dwarf/tiefling looks like in the wild, a slam-dunk bit of cross-marketing that’s so effective I don’t know why anyone didn’t think of it before.
And there’s some nice touches. I like the new advantage/disadvantage system, where if you have an advantage you roll two d20s and take the better roll, and if you’re at a disadvantage you take the lesser roll. I like that multi-classing is back. I like that feats seem to allow for a bit more character customization this time around. I like that you’re heavily encouraged to ask “Why are these people hanging around together, killing monsters?” and to create reasons for that.
And yet for all of that… I’m just not that excited about running a campaign. Or playing. There was a time when I fetishized each D&D release, reading every spell, thinking, “Oh, that’s how I could build a cleric.” But I’ve played too many clerics in my time, and fighters, and wizards, and so I skimmed a good half of this book as I went, “Okay, big list of character stuff, sure, sure.”
What would excite me, probably, would be an interesting world for me to play in – something a little less time worn than Greyhawk and Waterdeep and all the old standbys – but that’s always been D&D’s strength. It doesn’t have a setting. You can bolt one on if you want, but the joy of D&D is that kids all over can just say, “Okay, you meet at the inn, you’re in a dungeon” and get down to what they wanted – namely, kicking a dragon’s ass.
It’s power play. And I’m a little beyond that right now, and after thirty years of imagining the power of fireball spells, that fantasy is a little threadbare for me. So it works for what it’s supposed to do, but I’m no longer the target audience.
That’s fine. It’s like Doctor Who these days. It’s appealing to somebody, just not me.
If I refuse to argue with you, that doesn’t mean you’ve won the argument. It means I’m not choosing to engage with you personally at the moment.
There is a difference.
The Internet is the refuge for people with too goddamned much time on their hands, and in general that’s glorious. Do I have time to create, say, a full-on Transformers costume that lets you actually transform? Or spend time mastering the art of making Walking Dead pancakes? Hell no. But I get to turn on Twitter every morning and watch a stream of awesomely unproductive people work their magic for me.
But for every dude/ette who’s spending hours relentlessly filming ping-pong balls, there’s someone who’s devoted their full time to arguing with people. And they have packed themselves full of facts. Or things that look like facts, anyway. They’re certainly taken from web pages on the Internet.
And here’s the thing: they all want to interface with you directly.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve had this argument somewhere else on the Internet, or even have a separate thread on this very blog entry where you’re refuting their points, they just got here and by God they won’t be happy until you personally have debated with them extensively. And so if you’re not careful, if a blog post gets even a moderate bit of Internet attention, you’ll wind up having the same conversation with a hundred different newcomers, each certain that they will be the sole person who changes your mind on this topic, each much like a cut-and-copy of the ninety-nine other people who’ve come before them.
Worse, this is their version of “too goddamned much time on their hands,” and so they have many facts. Why is it so hard to debate evolution and make it convincing to laymen? Because the anti-evolution people have entire encyclopedias worth of factually wrong content that sound convincing until you dig deeper, these scientific “studies” couched in tech-talk, and refuting them isn’t that hard but boy does it take time looking up each link and finding the counter-argument and summarizing it and posting it.
99% of what the creationists are spouting is bullshit, whereas 99% of the evolutionary arguments are factual hypotheses. But again, when you take someone who considers it their full-time job to push this view forward, and they aren’t particularly scrupulous about where they get their data, then eventually refuting them point-by-point becomes like stamping out cockroaches.
Or worse yet, they have actually good data, but you feel their interpretation is skewed, and now you have to read the studies and discuss what you think that really means.
And keep in mind, I believe in interfacing with these people, if you’ve got the energy for it. Yes, ninety-nine out of a hundred of them are intransigent, and are merely here to spout whatever extensive talking points they’ve scraped up – but if even one out of a hundred is reachable, then converting that extra 1% is the sort of math that changes elections.
Yet my point remains: if you’re a blogger of any significant size, you could spend all the rest of your days arguing with replies on the Internet. And to quote Mitchell and Webb, “The football will never stop! The football is officially going on forever! It will never be finally decided who has won The Football!”
At some point, you have to say, “I might be able to convince this person of the error of their ways, but I have a lover and work and and a fun game to play and other more interesting blog posts to write.”
And you leave.
That decision does not mean that the other person has won the debate. It means that you refuse to engage, because you have other priorities that individually convincing each person who shows up in your life of the correctness of your decision.
This is the Internet. There are people with infinite time on their hands, people who will spend an entire week doing nothing but rabidly posting rebuttals. But “infinite spare time” is not the same as “good logic” or “well-sourced credentials” or, in fact, any of the things that make for a compelling argument. There are plenty of writers with infinite spare time, endlessly churning out stories, who never get good at writing fiction, because they’re just writing the same story over and over again and never listening to feedback.
“Spare time” is not the defining factor of anything: “quality of effort” is.
And when you go, “Ha! They weren’t willing to engage me, so they lost!” what you are actually saying is, “The person who has the most time to waste discussing things will inevitably be the victor.” In which case I’ll just hook you up against an Elizabot, who never tires of arguing Gamergate, and tell you she’s the winner.
“But that bot is stupid!” you cry. “She always says the same thing! There’s no chance of changing her mind!”
Just got the notification that my Soylent is on its way. So we’ll be drinking goop for a week any day now.
You’re in for a treat.
The article refers to him as the “Railway Romeo,” but actually this dude who has picked up over 500 women on the subway is more like the “Subway Stalker.”
But the bigger problem is that he is terrible at dating.
Note that the dude has met over 500 women, and is still not in a relationship. That’s because his shtick contains this absolutely terrible advice:
“Always war (sic) a suit and carry a briefcase — it communicates strength and security, even if you live with your mom.”
“Wait 60 hours before contacting her. Most men text/e-mail immediately. Throw her off, make her wait.”
Which, summed up, basically reads:
“Pretend you’re someone you’re not in order to get her phone number.”
The problem is, what you get is… her phone number. And maybe a couple of dates. And then, because you’re working your ass off to appear more successful and wittier than you actually are, they get two dates behind your canned banter, and you’re back to sucking on straps to try to find that next hit.
Yet this is not unique advice in dating. There’s all the gags: “Don’t ever fart!” “Dress up super-nice!” “Clean up your apartment!” “Get your small talk good and polished!” “Stick to noncontroversial topics!”
Yet I, the Tyler Durden of the dating universe, tell you not to do any of that stuff.
The goal of dating is to find out who is compatible with you, as quickly as possible. Obscuring your central personality traits will get you to date the wrong people for longer – possibly up to and including a hideously dysfunctional marriage – but what it will not get you is someone who is actually good for you. And you’ll waste months, years, maybe even decades, with someone who doesn’t actually like you but instead has generated affection for this papier-mache facade you have so carefully constructed.
But that facade is not you.
I say, show up to dates dressed nicely, but nicely for you. If you’re only gonna wear T-shirts to fine dining, well, your date oughtta know that right away. If you don’t brush your teeth on a regular basis, that’s fucking icktacular, but again – better to find a woman who’s okay with halitosis than to chew gum for a few weeks and then slowly have her realize your raw-onion-chomping habit is a dealbreaker. If you’re a strident libertarian, don’t downplay that – it’s gonna come out! Discuss the all-soothing balm of the free market!
And yes. Many dates will be disasters. This is not a failure, but a feature: you have successfully discovered that this person is not for you. Many people will not be for you. You need to get in, and get out.
Which seems insane, but dating is a lot like trying on clothes in the store. You don’t put on a pair of too-tight jeans and go, “Well, if I suck in my gut all the time and ignore the tingling in my legs and try not to look at the unflattering things these jeans do to my ass, maybe this will be the perfect fit!” and then wear the jeans for three days straight, trying not to get lasagna stains on them just in case you need to return them, really trying out these terrible terrible jeans before you walk away.
The reason you don’t do that is because a) this would be a hideously uncomfortable way to live, and b) using this “Let’s drag this out as long as possible” approach would take you about four months of trying on jeans before you found a right pair.
No, man. Dating is about experimentation. Most dates don’t work out! So the solution to a failed date is not to present some artificial front to extend the life of a terrible date, but to find more dates.
The subway stalker has 500 numbers and no solid relationships. That’s because he’s gotten very good at lying to people in order to get them interested in him. But that’s a lot like saying, “This new soda tastes better than Coke!” and you open it up and find a dead turtle in a can. Sure, the advertising got them to open it up, but in the end they’re tossing the turtle.
It seems crazy to go, “CANNED DEAD TURTLE, FREE TO GOOD HOME.” But it’s big fucking world, man. Have you looked at what sells on Craigslist? If you’re honest about your deceased reptile status, it may take longer to sell than a nice refreshing Coke, but by God when you find someone who opens your can they will want the dead turtle that is you.
Be honest about your tortoisy status. Be unafraid to be rejected for who you are. Because in the long run, it’s a lot better to be rejected for you who are than to be accepted as someone you’re not.
(Written on Fet, cross-posted here.)
“She dates a lot of guys!” they cry. “So why does she freak out whenever I get intimate with someone I like?”
That’s because “dating someone” and “sitting at home while your lover’s out dating” are two entirely separate skillsets, chum.
Both are worth having in any poly relationship. But when you’re dating, you’re the recipient of all the good times. You’re getting romanced, you’re getting smooched, you’re having all the fun new conversations of “Oh, I love Smashing Pumpkins, too!” – and the trick is not to get so carried away with New Guy that you forget to come home when you said you would.
That whole “not getting swept up” is a skill. It’s really tough, remembering that you have existing partners you’ve made commitments to when someone who smells really good is nibbling on your neck. And yet a lot of people have mastered that.
But suppressing the waves of joy is an entirely separate thing from “Sitting at home, watching Netflix, feeling pangs of loneliness as your partner’s off gallivanting.” It is an entirely separate thing from “seeing your partner give his lover that special smile that you thought was only meant for you.”
And some people need to train up to that.
Now, as I’ve mentioned, “compersion” should not be the base value of polyamory. It’s great when you’re all psyched for your partner’s date-times… but for most of us there will inevitably come a day where you’re feeling “bleah” and unattractive, and yet that’s not quite enough reason to say, “Okay, you guys were supposed to go to the U2 concert, but instead you should stay at home.”
So you sit home and suck it up, buttercup. And learn to realize that “I feel jealous” and/or “I feel insecure” is not a valid reason to HULK SMASH all of your partners’ happytimes.
Yet I occasionally see the pattern of “Well, s/he just freaked out when I had a relationship, so I’ll shove them out the door to get their own partner – and that will solve everything!” And what you often get is this rancid stew of “ZOMG now my partner has a new boyfriend and they’re so caught up in NRE that they’re punching all my worst buttons, *and still* they are so possessive of me that I can’t date!”
That’s because, as the header of this little essay says, “dating someone” and “watching your lover date someone happily” are not identical skillsets. If you want to work on your partner’s jealousy issues, then yes, absolutely, do that. But don’t do it by pressuring them to date someone now, now, now, on the assumption that once they get their own they’ll be perfectly okay.
The danger is, sometimes that is what they need. But sometimes, that “get ‘em hooked up” puts you into a frantic death-spiral where you’re only good as long as each of you are spinning your own separate relationship-plates, forcing you to pressure the other partner into increasingly bad relationships because fuck it, it doesn’t matter who they’re dating but they have to date *someone* or else I can’t keep sleeping with Luanne.
At some point, most poly folk are going to stay at home to do boring homework while their partners are out watching the fireworks. That’s how life works. And the sooner you can learn to be okay with that, the better.
(Written on FetLife, cross-posted here.)