My Book FLEX Is On Sale For $2.99, or: How Harvey Weinstein Is Like A ‘Mancer

So my books Flex and The Flux are on sale for $2.99 all this month, which I haven’t mentioned much because, as usual, the news is a shitshow. It’s hard to give with the BUY MAH BOOK when the headlines are “RAPE DEMON HAS NOT-SO-SECRETLY INFESTED HOLLYWOOD.”

However, I did want to talk about how Harvey Weinstein is basically an analog for how magic works in my ‘Mancer series. Because my ‘Mancer series is essentially an extended metaphor as to how Harvey Weinsteins get created in the real world.

First: lemme hit you with the worldbuilding in Flex, if you’re not familiar. All magic starts with obsession – your life sucks, so you start focusing in on something that distracts you from the pain. For my lead character Paul Tsabo, that distraction is paperwork. For my co-lead Valentine DiGriz, that distraction is videogames. Doesn’t matter what it is – you just need somewhere to escape your troubles, and this becomes your focus.

(Don’t worry – at no point am I going to suggest that Weinstein’s repugnant habits were just some hobby that got out of control. It goes deeper than that, thankfully.)

But in the world of Flex, if you’re attached to something deeply enough, your devotion starts to rub holes through physics. If you’re a crazy cat lady, you start (often unwittingly) doing magic that changes the world to alter what cats are for you. (Note that this is not the same as “What benefits your cats.” Trapping innocent kitties in a recursive, infinite House of Leaves-style maze because you’re terrified of them leaving is not cool for cats, even if you’re not entirely aware that you’ve folded physics so your cat door points back into your bathroom. Nor is it cool when you don’t want to see the injuries your neglect fosters upon cats, so your felimancy quietly reshapes the cats into more pleasing forms.)

Eventually, the universe gives way entirely and you start forgetting the boundaries between reality and your obsession.

I think we can all agree that’s not entirely a good thing, right?

Because as Abraham Lincoln once said, “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Because what frequently happens to ‘mancers in this universe is they implode, either psychologically or physically or both – and they chew up innocent people along the way. That crazy cat lady becomes the nexus of some never-ending cat trap that engulfs entire blocks, subsuming apartment buildings full of living people into her need to be surrounded by loving cats.

It’s unsurprising that ‘mancers are feared in this world. Yet my characters are heroes, and they are also ‘Mancers.

Why are they the good guys?

Because they call each other on their shit.

Seriously. Break down the plot of the ‘Mancer series beat by beat, and you’ll see a consistent pattern: brutal friendship snaps a friend back to a much-needed reality. Paul calls Valentine out when she gets out of line, and hoo boy does Valentine call Paul on the carpet.

When your magic has short-circuited the universe so the laws of physics no longer apply, “friendship” is all that will fucking save you.

Which is one of the lessons that I think draws people to that series, for all its flaws: family is what hauls you back from the abyss. There are plenty of critical plot points when Paul or Valentine, left to their own devices, would make choices that would both harm themselves and the people they love – but in the world of Flex, conflict is kindness.

Now.

Harvey Weinstein is his own form of ‘mancer. Because yes, the laws of physics still apply to him, but the laws of society stopped sometime back in the 1980s.

He’s got these malignant urges to leverage his power for some twisted sexual gratification – and in a better world, people would have been able to say “Harvey, that shit is out of line, you shut that down or we stop working for you.”

But they didn’t. He climbed the Hollywood ladder, and the higher he got, the less people told him what he was doing was wrong. In fact, it was the opposite: staffers quietly started setting up whole bureaucracies devoted to encouraging this behavior – assistants who’d ensure the hotel room was set up the way he liked it, publicists and lawyers ready to quash official rumors, people who were tasked with ensuring the right talent never got a whiff of it.

(Because as has been noted elsewhere, when you realize your star’s career depends on working with a notably repellent guy, there’s pressure the star may not even realize is happening to have her staff keep those rumors far, far away from her.)

And then there was the pressure of uncertainty that swirls around any consent violation – maybe you’d heard things but didn’t know anyone directly, so Harvey’s lawyers and industry news connections made it hard to come out with unsubstantiated rumors. Maybe you were a nobody, and you knew you’d speak your piece and get blackballed at best and at worst smeared in the press as a whorish attention-seeker, so you didn’t say anything. (One wonders how many wannabe starlets did try to speak up in those pre-Internet days and had their careers quietly snuffed out.) Maybe you were someone powerful who did know someone directly affected, but revealing what you knew had enough details that it wouldn’t be hard to trace it right back to the source, and did you want to open that person up to retaliation from Weinstein’s crew without her explicit permission?

A lot of silence. And the end result was that Harvey Weinstein became unmoored from reality.

And like a bad ‘mancer, the less feedback he got that he shouldn’t sexually assault women, the more monstrous his acts became. And it’s not hard to see how that got worse – he was separated from their pain, because his staffers kept that shit away from him. He was surrounded by people whose salary depended on shrugging off those abuses, so they probably cheered him on.

And even now, you can see Weinstein’s baffled. He thinks this is gonna blow over. He thinks that this is just what people did in the 1970s, even when you have people from the 1970s telling him “No, I never forced a woman to watch me masturbate.” He doesn’t get it, because he’s been doing this for, what, thirty, forty years and nobody’s been that upset about it, so this has gotta be a mistake, right?

(Worst of all: maybe he’s right. I mean, Mel Gibson’s getting the Hollywood makeover now, and Woody Allen’s got a hot new Amazon series, and there are Republicans drooling over how irresponsible liberal Hollywood is when they voted for a guy who was literally in a court case for statutory rape during the election that the victim only dropped because she was terrified of reprisal by a future President, so maybe Weinstein knows something about society that, as a society, we don’t want to admit.)

Anyway. Here’s my point.

There’s been a lot of discussion over what the revelation of women’s harassment in Hollywood should mean, going forward.

And for me, I wrote an entire series that’s literally a metaphor for how to save people from falling into places where their obsessions grow to devour them.

Harvey Weinstein had some disgusting urges in him to trade sex for roles – but the reason he got away with that is because the people he respected never said “no” consistently enough to make it stick. At some point in Hollywood, the people who could have said, “That is not cool, and if you keep that up, I can’t afford to work with you” fell away.

What we got was – how did I put it fictionally? Someone who implodes, either psychologically or physically or both – and they chew up innocent people along the way.

So the buried lesson in Flex, which I’m making explicit for you here, is that calling your friends on this shit is critical. If the harm your friends are inflicting upon other people isn’t somehow enough to spur you to action, you’ll also help stop your friend from bloating to the point where eventually someone drops an Internet on them and everything they have collapses.

(But honestly: the victims should be enough.  Assuming you’ve got your eyes open enough to notice them.  Which you should.)

Real friendship is taking someone aside and saying “no” sometimes. And that costs. Your pals don’t always don’t want to hear your message, and there’s drama, and sometimes you don’t get the cool things like, say, hey, late-night parties with celebrities and Harvey Weinstein!

But unless you say “no,” loudly and forcefully enough to put your friendship on the line, the laws of society get erased for these people. And you get to see who they truly are with no external morality to hold them back.

And when it explodes, you’ll wonder whether you should have done anything more. And the answer is certainly: you should have. Because you were close enough to them that your feedback might have mattered, unlike the poor victims who didn’t much matter to these schmucks at all.

That’s my lesson: You can do better. Confront your buddies, because why are you the good guys?

Because you call each other on your shit.

(Also, my other lesson is that my books are available for $2.99 until the end of October. Maybe buy it if you’d like to see how friends can butt heads to keep each other safe and happy? But if you know that already, maybe just be good friends with people. Yes, that is also good.)

“I Don’t Know Anyone Who’s An Asshole To People Who Have Herpes.” Really? You Sure?

A guy who did not have herpes (as far as he knew) said this to me yesterday:

“Personally, I don’t know anyone who is an asshole to people who have herpes.”

But scratch the surface, and what he was really saying was this:

“As someone who hasn’t been diagnosed, I haven’t noticed my friends being mean to anyone with herpes, so I assume they’re all good with it.”

Which is a pretty loaded, and stupid, conclusion. Because it takes a lot of things to go right before that statement can be true, most of which don’t actually happen much in real life, include:

1) That “everyone you know” includes only your close friends, and not, say, work-buddies or those dudes you hang out with at the club or your mailman.

2) That your close friends would necessarily tell you about that time they discovered their potential lover had herpes. Or reveal to you that they had herpes. Or that they casually bring up herpes enough without an inciting incident so that you can be 100% certain as to their reactions.

3) That your friends would accurately recount the way they reacted to someone with herpes (they say “I turned her down” when their actual reaction was backing away and muttering “Oh, Jeez, fuck, no, I can’t get near that”), and that they wouldn’t tailor their recounting to make themselves more sympathetic to you.

4) That even if the reaction was accurately recounted, you would actually recognize someone being an asshole to someone with herpes (“Of course you told her you couldn’t get near that shit, she was infectious. What’d she expect?”)

5) That in the absence of your diagnosed herpes, people would react pretty much the same to you as they would someone with herpes (“We’re all basically treated the same, amiright?”).

Those are all fucking dangerous assumptions. Remove any one of them, and it turns out you might be completely blinded to your friends’ assholery to people who are unlike you.

Which has been a shock for a lot of people who thought “Yeah, the people around me are totally cool with this,” and then they contracted a disease they may have had no choice in getting (if, say, a partner cheated on them), and suddenly they discover that whoah, they do know someone who’s an asshole to people with herpes, and it’s people they once trusted.

And here’s the takeaway:

This applies to way more than herpes. It applies to literally any group you’re not a part of.

If you’re cis, you don’t know whether your friends are mean to trans people until a) you’ve seen your friends interacting with a lot of trans folk, and b) you know enough trans folk personally to get an idea of what sorts of things tend to hurt them.

If you’re white, you may not know whether your friends are mean to PoC. If you’re straight, you may not know how your friends feel about gay people. If you’re a guy, you don’t necessarily know what your guy friends do to women.

There’s this consistent assumption that just because your friends are good to you they must be good to everyone, and, well, that’s an assumption that’s turned out to be spectacularly shitty almost all the damn time.

And you fight that in one of two ways:

First: You talk about other people’s experiences and where you stand upon those issues, even if nobody else is doing it. I don’t have herpes that I know of (because remember, the blood tests are hella unreliable and nobody can really say for sure that they don’t have it), but I write about herpes periodically to remind people, “Here’s how I feel about this.”

Maybe my friends feel differently. That’s fine. But it at least starts a conversation that potentially changes minds down the line – because many of the issues for minorities is that people in the majority don’t bother to think about them at all, leading to some pretty unthinkingly harmful reactions. (And I’m just as guilty of that as anyone else.)

And second, you don’t assume the way your friends react to you is the way they react to everyone else. You’re seeing a lot of that with Harvey Weinstein now (and, yes, Trump), where dudes are going, “I never saw him do that to me.” As if an intelligent sexual predator would react the same way to victims and colleagues alike!

Maybe your friends are assholes to people with herpes – or assholes to gays, or assholes to women, or assholes to trans and PoC and, well, everyone who’s not you. You don’t know unless you’re sufficiently educated in that culture to know what’s hurtful to them, and you don’t know unless you really look closely at what your friends are doing when you’re not the focus of their attention.

Which is a lot of work. I’m not asking you to be all Harriet the Spy on your friends. I am saying to pause for a moment before making some blanket statement like “Personally, I don’t know anyone who is an asshole to people who have herpes.”

Because you might well know someone.

You just don’t know you know.

Don’t assume.

World Mental Health Day, And Me, And You.

Today’s World Mental Health Day, and it shouldn’t surprise any of you to discover that I’m still crazy. I write about my depression and social anxiety regularly, and specifically – explaining how this party made me melt down in a shrieking fit, or how I can barely get out of bed today because my brain is telling me I’m a failure.

It’s embarrassing.

I don’t want to tell you any of that.

Yet I do because speaking up is important.

In the end, you have to remember: I have depression and social anxiety, yet I also have a writing career and a loving wife and a decent job.

I worry all you hear when I discuss my depression is the ache of mental illness. But what I want to convey is that if I hid my illness – as many do – then what people would see is the “functioning lifestyle” and never guess that there was thrashing and despair underneath.

A lot of mental illness is spoken about as though it is an untreatably terminal illness, irrevocably deadly for everyone it touches – and that’s because, in part, depression tells you that there’s no hope, so why bother?

Which often leads to a one-upmanship of depression, where your depression can’t be serious if you’re managing to live with it, and it’s only true mental illness if you’ve succumbed on some level to it.

Yet there is also hope.

No, it’s not easy some days. And some days, the black dog gets me and I can’t get out of bed, or I have a relationship implode because of my crazy. The nature of depression is that, yes, some days despite all of your effort your brain is going to crumple like a paper crutch and you’re going to lose an hour, or a day, or a week.

Yet honestly? I feel romancing what depression takes from you all too often discourages people from seeking treatment. There are often ways to mitigate the depression, to learn to function when all seems lost, to find support groups who can help you.

People often say “You need treatment to get you through the worst of it.” That’s not true with mental illness; the worst of it is the untreatable stuff. But you need treatment to get you through the rest of it – and what you often find through the right approaches is that you can expand your zone of functionality. You’ll find yourself able to keep going through days that once would have hamstrung you.

You probably won’t ever get so strong that you’ll never have bad days, but you can get strong enough to function through days that would have crushed you before.

The worst thing about mental illness is how not treating it leads to objectively worse lifestyles. If you lose your job because of your mental illness, you can’t pay your bills and the stresses rise and even mentally healthy people would find it hard to be happy under the strain. Learning to function when you can (and be gentle to yourself when you can’t) will 100% improve your life.

I reveal my illness because all too often, “mental illness” is defined by its failures. Even now, some hurt soul will tell me that I don’t know what true depression is like simply by the fact that I’m up and functioning most days – even though I’m still not sure why I didn’t die after swallowing that bottle of sleeping pills, and if I’d died during that attempt surely everyone would have agreed soberly that I was, in fact, truly depressed.

And look. It’s not easy for me to open up about all this. It costs me friends. I’m pretty sure it costs me writing opportunities. And it’s hard when I discuss something personal to me and people treat me like fragile eggs for the next week afterwards because I just opened up my gooey center.

Yet I’m discussing my craziness because there’s two things I think you should know:

  • You are not alone. I hear you. I know you. I am you, on some level. And this is painful, and crushing, and distorting, but there are others with you in this darkness.
  • Depression lies. It tells you there’s no hope. And nothing is guaranteed, but lots of people function on some increased level by seeking out the right treatments for them, so if you’ve got nothing left to lose, why not try a new therapist or another medication or reaching out to a new friend?

This isn’t easy. It can’t be, for people like us. But there are plenty of people who manage to live lives that are fulfilling despite the illness nibbling their sanity away.

Maybe you could be one of them.

Maybe you could get up and try again today.

I Tried The Vegetable-Blood Burger Substitute. Here’s What I Thought.

If you’re a foodie, you’ve noted the swirl of interest around the Impossible Burger – a burger made with plant-based blood.

Okay, that’s not quite true, but it’s close enough.  The Impossible Burger is made with vegetable-based heme – the compound that lives in hemoglobin and is what, the Impossible people claim, gives actual burgers their meaty taste.   If the Impossible Burger were to be a realistic substitute for actual burgers, we could save the 11,000 gallons of water that it takes to raise just one cow and make wheat-burgers with some planty compounds thrown in.

Yet to be honest, I’ve had a lot of veggie “burgers” over the years, and what I hate most about them is their insistence that they’re burgers.  I mean, I enjoy a Boca burger or a Morningstar or even those black-bean patties they claim are burgerlike – but stop trying to convince me they’re anything like meat.  You can have them as dry, scratchy pads, or moist clumps like a beany mortar-paste, but they do not have the toothsome satisfaction of a greasy, medium-rare burger.

But when Michael Symon started serving the Impossible Burger, I took notice.

Because Michael Symon, Iron Chef and The Food Network’s basted-up sex symbol of choice (sorry, Bobby Flay), is Cleveland’s Meat Chef.  Pretty much all he does is kill animals, serving up roast after roast until PETA cries for delicious mercy.

He has been the veggie burger bouncer – every veggie burger aspirant knows that Michael Symon hates veggie burgers, so they line up hopefully at his door to have his stamp of approval.  For years he’s shrugged off what I presume are some pretty financially-incentivized taste tests, refusing to serve veggie burgers at his hamburger chain The B Spot.

Except he started serving The Impossible Burger last month.

My ears pricked.

My wife and I made a date.

And so it was that we sat on the B Spot’s patio, sipping bourbon and waiting for the Impossible Burger to arrive.  To make this test equitable, we’d ordered our favorite burger – the Lola Burger, which comes with a fried egg and bacon and pickled onions.  My wife Gini got the real patty “because she didn’t want to lose out on this meal” – I got the Impossible Burger for an extra $2.00 surcharge.

The waitress, her arms festooned in tattoos, was bubbly and excited about our test.  “Oh, I tried it,” she told us in a happy whisper.  “It’s all I eat these days.”

She brought us two burgers, and the only difference I could see between them visually was that mine had a little flag saying “THE IMPOSSIBLE BURGER” planted in the bun.

“The only way to do this fairly is to try the fake burger first,” I told Gini.  “We try the plantblood burger, then upgrade to the meaty burger, and see what’s missing.”  She agreed, even though to be honest this was completely arbitrary.

We took a bite.  Chewed, puzzled.

Then we took a bite of the meat-burger.

“…the real meat is better,” we said, unsurprised, but though we’re normally garrulous dinner mates, we could not figure out what the difference was between the two burgers.  Something was unusual about the taste of this veggie burger, some unique and new addition to the veggie burger experience that we couldn’t quite put our thumb on.  We each went through two more slow-chewing exchanges, analyzing the two burgers like with the intensity of investigators on CSI.

“The patty’s a little mushy,” we said experimentally, but that wasn’t why this tasting experience was different.  “The sear isn’t as nice as the real meat one.”  But that wasn’t what was different, either. Because we’d had real burgers that were as mushy as this one, and real burgers without the sear…

Then it came to us what the difference was:

We’d stopped handicapping the veggie burger.

See, years of disappointing vegetable analogs had trained us to quietly slip a veggie burger a few points under the table for trying.  We’d overlook the wrong texture or the lack of flavor depth because the planet was at stake and dammit, these poor burgers were trying so hard.

But the Impossible Burger was going toe-to-toe with actual burgers.  Was it as good as the best burger you could possibly have?  No.  There’s a certain bottom end of meat-flavor that really only comes when you toss a top-quality burger on the grill.

Yet to be honest, 80% of the burgers we’ve had weren’t top-quality burgers either.  I mean, sure, you do the special burger fandango and mix up sirloin and brisket and maybe a bit of pork to beef up the taste, then you’ll have a burger that punches in every flavor ticket on your tongue.

But most burgers don’t hit those heights.  Most burgers are grilled up before the game, meaty enough to go well with some pickles and ketchup – more flavorful than McDonald’s is what we usually ask – and honestly, if you’d tossed an Impossible Burger on the fire and didn’t mention it to me, I’m not sure I’d have noticed.

Every quibble we had was just that – a quibble.  Maybe the texture was a little mushier than the best burgers we had, but we had to be geared up like hamburger judges at the county fair to pick on that.  Maybe the meat taste didn’t resound fully through our palates, but it had a meat taste and it wasn’t fake at all.   Maybe it didn’t live up to the other, “real” burger across the table from us, but that was brought to us by one of the best burger chains in Cleveland, a chain run by a meat-mashing maniac.

But at the end of the day…

It tasted like a burger.

The Impossible Burger actually scores a B when compared directly to other fatty burgers.  Which is, yeah, actually impossible.  I didn’t think they could do it, to the point that we were baffled when we were asked to make a direct comparison for the first time in our lives.

I wonder what Michael Symon thought.  That man breathes beef tallow.

So currently, the Impossible Burger is a freak-show test – run out and try the miracle burger!  And honestly, you should.    But I suspect if we can get the price down – $2.00 a patty’s a bit much to add on to a burger regularly – and deal with the marketing issue that some vegetarians actually never wanted a burger that tasted like dead cow, this is gonna be a real addition to a lot of burger menus soon.

And I’ve gone from being cynical to an evangelist.  Get out there and try it.  It’s not gonna be the best burger you ever had, but in terms of a burger that no mammal died to bring you, it’s an ethical sensation that’ll do you right.

Put it on a bun, put the ingredients you wanted to, and enjoy the last of the summer while you can.  Yes, I know it’s currently October.  But global warming’s a thing, so get out the grill and enjoy the few benefits of a greenhouse effect before we go up in flames.

 

Territorial Markers, No; Rituals, Yes.

So Page Turner has a wonderful writing called Territorial Markers Aren’t a Great Proxy for Love, about handling our partners doing things that we thought of as “our” thing with other lovers:

“In one Savage Love column, the letter writer was freaked out by the idea of their partner having other lovers with their same first name. Still other folks have been upset by shared birthdays. Or their partner wanting to bring dates to their favorite restaurant.

“We get this idea about what makes us or our relationships special, and then we turn them into territorial markers, sometimes without even consciously knowing what’s going on.

“But while these territorial markers can serve as symbols for our relationship, they’re not a good proxy for it. Because they’re not nearly large enough to represent the love we have.”

And that’s very true on a lot of levels. One of my most-referenced writings is The Addiction Of Labels, which was about a girlfriend who needed more and more special things just between us until I couldn’t keep track of all the things that were supposed to be ours. To which I said:

“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.”

So case closed. Trying to have little things that you only do with your partner is bad, right? It’s a sign of a dysfunctional relationship. Don’t have them.

Except you should.

Just sparingly. And thoughtfully.

The truth is, most humans seek some form of uniqueness in their relationship – the question of “What makes us special?” often arises when the emotions start deepening.

In monogamous relationships, the answer is easy: “We’re the only ones we’re allowed to fuck.” You can (and really should) add additional emotional layers onto that, but automatically that’s the thing you can point to that identifies you as a couple.

But in polyamory, “exclusive sex” is off the table by definition – so people start seeking out other things that define them as them. Other rituals swell to fill that gap – because my wife and I met on a Star Wars chat room and fell in love in a large part because of our mutual love of Star Wars, “attending a Star Wars movie premiere with another woman” would be a divorce-level event. With another lover, I have a profound ritual in which I leave a shirt behind and then pick up the last shirt I left there as the last thing I do when we say goodbye – and though we’ve never discussed it, I’d never trade shirts with someone else.

That’s just… us.

Those little markers can get weird – I mean, “He saw a movie with someone else so we had to call off an eighteen-year marriage” sounds odd until you realize the intensity of that ritual. There are some things that come to define who you are, and what you share together, and breaking those bonds is sacrosanct.

The hurt comes, as Page’s essay so vividly shows, when you thought this was a ritual that defined who you were, and the other partner doesn’t think that at all. In Page’s case, her partner got out a set of wine glasses they’d gotten on a wonderful vacation to drink wine with someone else.

That was their wine glass, as a couple.

Except her partner didn’t see it that way.

That awkward moment happens a lot in poly, particularly when you’re transitioning from monogamous relationships to polyamorous ones. You’re just living your life, hanging with friends and lovers, and then you do something where your partner stiffens and goes, “…I thought that was our thing.”

At which point, you have to have an awkward discussion where everyone has to be very mature.

Because the partner who thought the ritual was theirs has to realize that their lover intended no harm by getting out the wrong wine glass. And the partner who didn’t think the ritual was there has to realize that whether they meant to or not, they hurt their partner and now they need to handle that hurt.

And here’s the truth: nine times out of ten, whenever you painfully stumble some ritual you thought was “yours,” it is, as Page notes, irrelevant in the long run. Yeah, it stings to realize that your lover didn’t have the intense memories of those wine glasses the way you did – but the alternative is, as happened with my ex, to keep adding a bunch of “exclusive” rituals until your relationship feels more like a bureaucratic tangle of paperwork than a living, breathing, love. (“Which shirt am I wearing today – is it one of the special ones? How do I greet this new person hello, because I only say certain greetings to certain partners? Oh, crap, did I schedule my next date with her on the Special Day?”)

It gets exhausting.

And yet occasionally there is that one ritual you can, and should, fight for. Those are the ones that actually say something special about who you are, some organically-evolved action that cuts straight to the heart of what you mean to each other – and having that senselessly cut-and-copied into another relationship would, on some level, demean who you are.

Which is tricky to define. You have to be mature enough to ask, as Page has, “Am I stopping my partner from doing this with other people just to mark territory?” Your partner, in turn, has to ask whether they’re able to not do this with other people (as a lot of cheating monogamous partners should have questioned before they started dating exclusively).

But without a couple of rituals to yourselves, a relationship can often degrade into a “nice to be here” moment – there’s nothing unique to who you are that they can’t get anywhere else, so why stay?

Marking those special things that draw you to each other as special can help you both appreciate what you love about each other. Even if it’s as silly, as, say, having hour-long discussions about unwise trench run tactics in Star Wars.

And keep in mind, good rituals are small and well-bounded. I’d never see a Star Wars on opening night with another woman, but I’ve seen Rogue One with two of my sweeties because the aim is not to make all of “Star Wars” our exclusive, but just the parts that are most special to us. I’ve been gifted with other items of clothing that have my lover’s scent on them, but I’d never disrobe in a train station with anyone but Fox.

Which is how you help filter out the bad rituals. I mean, yes, that was a lovely trip, but how often do you drink wine together? Did the wine help clarify some absolutely thing you loved about your partner? I mean, two oenophiles could definitely be bonded by the right wine glass, but nine times out of ten that’s just a knickknack attached to a single nice memory, maybe it’s time to make more memories – as Page’s partner, wisely, did.

Rituals are potent. And painful, when you discover that your ritual is someone else’s unthinking habit. And when your partners start dating other people, you’ll stub your toe on all sorts of little things you’d thought of as “yours” but turn out to something they just do with everyone they like – that way they rub your thumb when they hold hands with you, the way they playfully yell “CAT BUTT!” whenever you say “You know what?”, that wine glass.

They sting. But those things usually aren’t who you are.

Learn when to let them go.

On Gun-Ignorant Liberals And Their Clumsy Attempts At Gun Laws.

Watching liberals try to discuss gun laws is all too often like watching Steve Carell in The 40 Year Old Virgin describe what it’s like to make love to a woman – it sounds superficially right unless you know, well, anything about how it actually works.

You’ve got folks thinking that the AR-15 stands for “Assault Rifle,” and not knowing the difference between a semi- and and an automatic rifle.  You’ve got folks that want to pass anti-gun laws that have already been passed (if not necessarily enforced).  You’ve got folks who would craft overly-simple bills who don’t realize that, because of the laughably inaccurate way they’ve defined what a “dangerous gun” is, would not stop the problem at all.

It’s a world full of folks who don’t understand how guns work at all.  Hell, I’m one of those liberals, and I’ve run face-first into some very smart and very educated people on guns.

What I’d like to say is “…and they set me straight.”

Alas, that’s never what happens.

See, what happens is that they explain to me that what I’ve suggested would never ever work because of X, Y, or Z.  And then I ask the legitimate question:

“Okay. I understand guns are a complicated topic with a lot of laws in place, like pretty much everything else in America, and I’d like to get the details right from someone who knows what’s happening on the ground.  So how would we stop maniacs from getting their hands on the type of gun that makes it easy for an elderly man to kill almost 60 civilians?”

And if we started this by comparing liberals to the 40 Year Old Virgin, the conservatives become that guy on Tinder who talks big sexy stuff until you finally invite him over to your apartment and whoops it’s a ghost.  Because they disappear.

Because what inevitably happens when I start asking, “All right, you have high standards on how you want your laws crafted, how would this work?” is that after some debate I get told, time and time again by these experts, that no law would work, really, we’re doing everything we can, the existing laws are fine and why are you dumb liberals even worried about this?

And then I ask, “Because we’ve had 1,516 mass shootings in 1,735 days and I’d like not to get shot?”

They’ve got a lot of responses there before they eventually dwindle and disappear – they’ll twiddle with the definition of “mass shooting” to shave off some of those numbers, thus making it maybe 800 mass shootings, as if that should reassure me.  They’ll explain that a proper guy with a gun would have stopped all of those shootings, which also fails to reassure me because even if that’s true – and I’m pretty sure it isn’t, because a horde of armed people firing up at the shooter’s windows at Mandalay Bay doesn’t seem like it would have worked out well – that implies that the massive wave of shootings in America are even more explosive than any other country, because we’d have five times the shootings if it weren’t for all these responsible gun owners, and holy crap that is in no way reassuring.

They’ll tell me I should own a gun.  I’d love to!  But I’m a depressive with suicidal ideation, and I know the statistics – that gun would make it significantly more likely that I’d kill myself.

And finally, they’ll tell me how dumb I am, which I’ve already admitted, but then I ask: why not reach across the aisle to see how we can make this work?  Three times now, I’ve offered to start up a podcast with the smartest, most knowledgeable folks I’ve found debating me – let’s have dumb anti-gun guy vs educated pro-gun guy on a show where we discuss how gun laws fail by liberal standards and see what ways we could craft laws that could work.

They ghost.

And the reason they ghost is that for all of the supposed education, their fundamental message is despair.  Scrape off the sneering gun facts, and what they’re actually saying is “Daily mass shootings are a price I’m willing to pay to keep my guns.”  Which isn’t popular at all.  They know that.

That’s why they hide behind a screed of gun trivia and “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

And look: liberals, we do get the facts wrong, and so you should try not to be that asshole who’s saying blatantly wrong things about guns.  Guns are tricky, and it’s not as simple as “ban the assault rifle” because absolutely every gun manufacturer in the world will have dodges ready for that and besides, how you define the gun from a legislative perspective totally matters.

But pro-gun conservatives?  It’s easy for you to write off people’s concerns because they got a fact wrong, but that’s like throwing out the Declaration of Independence because it has a typo in it.  The fact is, something’s wrong with America gun culture if we’re having this many massacres, and common sense indicates that it’s some problem we could solve with legislation in the same way we’re trying to do so for terrorism and drugs and murder – so flinging your hands in despair and going, “You can’t regulate evil!” is a dumb fucking statement unless you’re for also dropping laws on burglary and shoplifting.

We will not craft perfect laws.  We never do.  But it’s astounding how laws intended to prevent Muslim terrorism can be sloppy as hell, laws intended to stop illegal drug use can put tons of the wrong people away, yet gun laws and gun laws alone must be 100% effective before we contemplate passing them.

(Which isn’t to say that I don’t want the antiterrorism and antidrug laws tightened.  All legislation should be as good as we can make it, and continually improved.  But every law will be imperfect on some level because humans are imperfect.)

So yeah. The next time a liberal goofs up on what kind of ammo that gun takes, that’s an error.  And we should fix that.  But in turn, you should not use that as the excuse to toss that concern out to promote your special brand of despairing nihilism.

There are solutions.  Maybe you fear us taking all the guns away, but most of us don’t want all the guns away, we want not to be shot.  As, I suspect, do you.

What can you do to help us achieve that goal?  Because hint: what doesn’t work is writing everyone off who fails the Gun Trivia Quiz.

Help us fix a problem. You can do that by admitting there is a problem, and the solution is not to chug despair until some murderous clod puts a bullet in our head at random.

Embrace hope.  Even though, unfortunately, hope seems to be an increasingly liberal concept these days.

 

Complicated Thoughts On Hugh Hefner

How long would it take you to find a picture of naked boobs now, if I asked you?

The answer, for most of you, could be measured in “seconds.” Some of you could flip to another browser window right now and have a naked woman looking back at you. Some of you would check your phone for pictures from, or to, a sweetie. Still others might have to Google it, maybe turn off safe search first, but still: I’m willing to bet most of you could get from here to a picture of bared breasts in under a minute tops.

It wasn’t that way in the 1980s.

Particularly if you were a horny thirteen-year-old.

We didn’t have the internet; hell, we didn’t have VCRs yet to maybe sneak some peeks at something Dad rented. And being thirteen and a social outcast, there was no chance in hell an actual lady would consent to getting naked with me, so whacking it was pretty much all I had. I was sufficiently lonely that pictures of naked women were fantasy material in the sense that Lord of the Rings was a fantasy – I was never going to be Bilbo, never going to cast a spell like Gandalf, and I was going to die unloved and alone and a virgin.

In that sense, staring at naked photos of women was longing for a future I’d never have.

Yet finding those photos was a hunt that every boy swapped tips on – we talked about common locations where dad might hide his secret stash of nudie magazines, because they were always locked up somewhere in a vault. Or we’d figure out which cashiers didn’t care who they sold to, as long as you had the cash on hand to buy it.

And if you got your hands on a magazine, that might be all the naked women you got. You get bored today with your woman, you go to another site. For us, maybe Miss April 1984 was all we could get our hands on. We imprinted on her. It was kind of like dating because, well, our options were limited.

And the magazines themselves?

They were oracles. Windows to a world where people not only talked to women, but got to photograph them naked. We scanned them eagerly because there was some trick to getting these naked women we desired, and it must be in here somewhere, so we’d scour the words and hope.

Some of the magazines did lie to us, of course – the really nasty ones spun fake stories about seductions that bore no resemblance to anything that human beings did, attractions based entirely upon bulges and 70s leftover fashions and musky scents. But honestly?

You could have told us anything. We were a captive audience. We’d read the words just because they were there, and if you’d told us that fluoridation poisoned the water and commies were out to steal our teeth, well, we’d probably have believed you.

Playboy, the most common source of naked women, did not do that.

Playboy had interviews.

And I remember reading those interviews with perplexion because they went on forever – I didn’t know who Ted Turner was or Jesse Jackson or Fidel Castro, but Playboy thought they were important. So I read over them again and again, realizing there was such a thing as politics and people thought it was important and the interviewers sometimes disagreed with their subjects and forced them to justify their positions and really, shit, there was a complexity there that thirteen-year-old me didn’t get but came to understand that “being a grownup” was more than just “getting girls naked” but in fact was “comprehending how the world works and taking a moral stance on the issues of the day.”

There is, in a very real sense, a line drawn straight from Playboy to my essays here. Playboy caught me when I was literally masturbating and said, “Hey, there’s more to the world than your dick, ya know.” And they encouraged me to investigate that even as they also showed me naked women.

That is one fucking weird market to hit.

Because yes, absolutely, Playboy exploited and encouraged sexualization of women in a way that for many became degrading. (Though it’s interesting that even in this supposedly enlightened day and age there’s still the perception that any woman who got naked for Playboy must have been some dumb bimbo who got used, because “a woman who gets naked voluntarily” is perceived as dumb and exploitable.)

But the thing is, I was thirteen and seeking naked women, as most horny hetero teenaged boys do. There were definitely more enlightened vessels of political awakening, but I was not going to find them. If you’d handed me a copy of bell hooks, I would have said, “Oh, yeah, thanks,” with the politely dismissive attitude of a kid who got socks for Christmas and then gone digging through the dumpster in hopes of a crumpled up Penthouse picture.

Yet Playboy did eventually get me to reading bell hooks (and she was fucking mind-blowing). It was a winding path, but it got me there.

So for Hugh Hefner, it’s weird. He was never quite the feminist he claimed he was, and his personal life was more than a little controlling and creepy. (EDIT: This article sums up a lot of the downright rapey vibe at the Playboy Mansion.)  He would never be my poster choice as someone who fostered women’s rights. There’s a lot of women who dislike the culture he perpetrated, and they are correct to dislike that culture.

Yet if he’d been more perfect, he never would have done the things that penetrated (pun intended) my adolescent brain. All I was looking for was whack material, and he probably could have done just fine delivering that – as other skin mags did, providing just the girls and a smattering of spackle-articles to fill pages.

And as a society, we don’t necessarily have an emotional socket to plug “an imperfect guy who changed a lot of minds that more enlightened people could never reach” into. Women may not like the dudes who took the Playboy lifestyle seriously, and that’s a valid critique, but I’m pretty sure they would have liked those dudes a lot less if Hefner hadn’t interfered. Because in the absence of Playboy’s political stances – and Playboy was, for its time, highly liberal – many of those dudes probably would have just unquestioningly jerked off a lot and become something even worse.

(Especially if you take the view that some biographers have, namely that Hef started Playboy because at the time “bachelor” meant “gay” and he wanted to devise a more liberal lifestyle that was socially acceptable.)

So how much credit does society give for incremental improvement? Particularly when that “improved” version is, in and of itself, problematic? Complicated by the fact that, as noted, you kind of needed a Hugh Hefner to provide pornography to the right audiences before the philosophy could work its magic?

Hefner did some good work, and in the process he also perpetrated some negative aspects of women. And that will always be snarled up in the idea that “sex work” and “women” is inherently degrading, as witness the way society assumes anyone who’s doing sex work must be stupid or enslaved or both. So it gets complicated. Real complicated.

But Hefner, at least for me, gave me something I don’t know if I would have gotten another way. He latched onto some base instincts and built something decent out of that – so decent that I later came to disagree vehemently with some of Hefner’s statements. But I credit the awareness of that debate, in part, to Hef.

On Twitter, I said this: “Whenever someone dies: remember that the good they did for you doesn’t magically erase the harm they did to someone else.” That’s true the other way around. For me, Hefner did some good even if he also contributed to the oppression of women.

I can take the positives that he did without occluding the negatives. The man used naked women as a platform to publish all sorts of political screeds and stories that ultimately did some good in the world. The attitude he took towards those women was, for some of them, dismissive and objectifying.

I think you can go mad trying to balance that out to come up with a single average number.

Far better to just say that he did good, and bad, and leave it at that.