Once again, we come to a rushed day where I cannot churn out a full blog entry. And yet I feel like interacting! And so I return to the gift that keeps on giving:
Ask me one question, on any topic. I shall answer truthfully.
(Please. No woodchuck questions. Someone always asks, and it’s never gotten a good response.)
“Cammy is the perfect woman,” says Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch. “Cammy has a value system that comes from the fifties. We were on an airplane, and a pilot – a lady pilot – introduced herself to me. When she went back into the cockpit, Cammy said, ‘I’d rather she be serving Cokes and peanuts, and let a man be the pilot.’
“She designed her life around, ‘How can I please a man?’ She went to massage school, cooking school – she bought a book on blowjobs. I wish more girls would do that. If more girls did what Cammy’s doing… my business would go down.”
And good Lord, I am filled to brimming with revulsion.
The thing is, I’m not revulsed by Cammy’s choice. If Cammy is content living subserviently, and that makes her happy, then I say “Go, Cammy.” (Even if I suspect Cammy is perpetuating an elaborate ruse to extract cash from gullible men’s pockets. They say the best salesman never appears to be a salesman. Cammy’s probably getting exactly what she wants, from men who probably deserve it.)
But I’d never want a woman whose whole job was dedicated to pleasing me. That has nothing to do with feminism; it has everything to do with the fact that ultimately, I think humans turn into monsters when they have all of their needs met without cost.
Maybe that’s because I worked in retail – where if you’re smart, the attitude has to be, “The customer is always right.” Because you don’t want the customer to feel dumb; nothing closes a customer’s wallet quicker than, “Gee, your concerns are stupid.” And they’ll tell people how they were insulted, spreading bad tales about you wherever they go.
So when they cram your mouth full of shit, you swallow it and smile.
Working retail, eventually you come to realize that “reasonable” is determined by past history. You think it’s reasonable that a cup of good coffee is $3.95 because you grew up in a Starbucks culture… but talk to a guy who grew up in the 1950s, when coffee was an inflation-adjusted dollar at best. You think it’s reasonable that drivers will give you the finger and honk at you in traffic, because you grew up in Manhattan. You think it’s reasonable that people smoke in restaurants, because you live in Europe.
The important point: that “reasonable” creeps up, depending on what people do.
As humans, we’re bounded by other people’s reactions. And if everyone acts like you’re completely normal and wonderful, you internalize that.. even if you’re completely awful. On some level, we all think, “Well, if we get out of hand, someone will tell me I’m too much trouble.”
Remove those blocks – and sure enough, you start becoming too much trouble.
Wanna know why celebrities implode? Because they’re swaddled in a culture that caters to their every whim because they’re a non-replaceable entity, and when normal people see them it’s usually in a gawking fawningness of “Oh my God, it’s you! I’m so pleased to meet you!” So their waiters go to extra miles that no normal person would get, and when they casually ask for a Diet Coke at precisely 45 degrees with a titanium straw in it, everyone just brings it to them. Nobody notes this is actually really a pain in the ass to do for them, or if they do, they agree that oh, you absolutely need a perfectly-chilled drink.
Eventually, you come to think that this is reality. That the 45-degree Diet Coke with the titanium straw is not just you, but universal and easy to do, it’s happened a thousand times before. And then a waiter forgets and you get the wrong drink – and for the celebrity, it’s like they got brought a cup of transparent coffee with broken glass at the bottom. It’s such a stupidly-done thing that it feels like an insult. How could they not know?
So: embarrassing shitfit in a public place. And to some extent, it’s not the celebrity’s fault – it’s the fault of all these people around them, nodding and agreeing and convincing them that yes, this is the way the world is. Sure, the celebrity went off the fucking rails, but all of their PR agents and fans and entourage quietly removed the rails months ago. In some ways, it’s astounding that they kept on the right path for as long as they did.
And you see that in retail, where people think, “Oh, I’m always right! So I’ll sit in the coffee shop and slop coffee all over this magazine I have no intention of paying for, then leave it sprawled on the counter in a pile of sugar and drool.” They think, “I’m always right, so when I bring back a tattered book with no receipt and want cash for it, the clerk who’s refusing me needs a good, solid yelling.” They think, “I’m always right, so why aren’t these clerks catering to my every whim?”
And yes: you get more money from these nitwits. But you do so by catering to their dysfunction. Which means you get richer off of exploiting people’s psychological weak points. (A point I make, in a somewhat more hammer-handed way, in my story Dead Merchandise.) You actually make them a little insane – and some of them a lot insane – to harvest their cash.
So for me, having someone eager to cater to my every need makes them, in a low-grade way, the enemy of my sanity. I want people who question, who remind me of the work this took, who tell me when I’m inconveniencing them. A woman like Cammy (or at least how Cammy presents herself) would undermine the integrity of the person I’m trying to be, give me an inflated sense of self-esteem I might not deserve, slowly push me towards the land o’crazy expectations.
She’s not the perfect woman, Denis. She’s a perfect servant, perhaps. But perfect servants come with hidden costs, and I for one would be very reticent to pay them.
Long-time readers will know: May is the time my Seasonal Affective Disorder usually creeps in. For a few weeks out of the year I’ll become a sniffling pile of self-hatred, sometimes skidding as far as self-harm, weeping and curling into a ball. This misery lasts for about three to six weeks, during which in lesser moments all of my suicide attempts have arrived, and when I emerge it’s a slow crawl.
This is where the sadness usually starts to tickle. And… it hasn’t yet. Which concerns me.
The thing is, if there’s any year when I might not have my usual SAD, this would be it. I’ve had major surgery in January, which my body is still recuperating from in some minor ways. I’ve changed my diet and exercise habits. And I’m on new medications, specifically a heavy dosage of Vitamin D in order to get my cholesterol and body chemistry back to proper levels.
So is it going to arrive? Maybe. I felt very sad on Saturday but then I ate a sandwich and realized my blood sugar was low, and everything went better. I’m feeling a little low now, but is that SAD or just a reluctance to charge ahead with a tedious work day?
No clue. Until then, I’m sort of waiting for the axe to fall – maybe it’ll show up late. (It used to arrive in June.) I’m on alert, trying to be careful about how I react, so I don’t take anything too much to heart.
But once a year, I usually have to endure a time of knives and anguish. That may or may not show up this year. In some ways, waiting for it to hit is nearly as bad as the depression itself, being tensed for a blow that may never arrive. On the other hand, I’m relatively content, and finishing up my novel.
A strange place to be.
If you were to log into StarCityGames about two years back, you’d have logged in with your username. And once you’d chosen your username, you could never ever change it. If you had, in a fit of pique, chosen “SirPoopyhead” as your user name, that was what you’d have to use forever.
The reason you couldn’t change it was because of a silly choice that had been made back in the year 2000, when we’d first purchased our shopping cart software. The people who had designed that shopping cart decided to use the login name as the unique way of determining who you were – and when we’d created our own customized shopping cart, we hadn’t changed that. So for all intents and purposes, that arbitrary string of characters – “SirPoopyhead” – was the single factor that made you you.
Problem is, that’s actually terrible design.
See, on the back end of an application, we have literally hundreds of places where we store the answer to the question, “What customer did this?” What customer placed this order? What customer tried to log in at 4:56:15 am? What customer ordered a Premium subscription? What customer has $14.15 in store credit? And the answer to each of those questions, each answer stored in a separate location, was “SirPoopyhead.”
The problem is that if we changed that string of characters to, say, “SirGalahad,” then we’d have to manually change that string in every one of the hundreds of tables that referenced it. If we forgot to update just one table (or something went wrong in the middle of all these updates), then somewhere lurking in our database there would be a bunch of records that referenced the now-no-longer existing “SirPoopyhead,” which means that we’d have lost data. This could be very troubling if we were asking the question, “What customer had paid us money?” when we needed to give you a refund.
And with every new feature we added, this problem got worse. We added gift certificates, so here’s yet another place we need to store “SirPoopyhead.” We added wishlists, each of which was duly recorded under “SirPoopyhead.” Hundreds, thousands, of locations each keyed to this arbitrary string of letters.
Worse, turns out logins are a terrible idea. Customers forget their logins all the time, having made them up to check out. If their login was associated with an old email address, they might not even be able to get access to their old login without manual intervention. We literally had, in some cases, customers who’d created twelve separate accounts because they kept forgetting what their login was supposed to be.
No, what we needed was a nice clean email login like Facebook. Everybody remembers their emails. But people change their email addresses a lot – and as noted, having to constantly change “SirPoopyhead@hotmail.com” to something else had a nonzero risk of something going wrong.
What you need, as it turns out, is a unique ID to reference each customer that never changes! You! SirPoopyhead! You’re now customer #123456, and every question we’ll ever ask about you now returns the answer, “Customer #123456.” Then you can change your email, you can change your login, you can change anything you want – all we’ll be doing is looking up the information for Customer #123456.
Come this point in our shopping cart’s development, we had literally thousands of places in the code that used the login name instead of the customer ID to answer questions. And it wasn’t as simple as a “search-and-replace”; some of these were complex queries that we’d completely have to rewrite from scratch. And then, because we’re responsible website owners, we’d want to test all of these changes thoroughly to make sure nothing got broken.
Yet if we wanted to do this, we’d have to do it soon. Because we were hiring more and more programmers, and adding new features daily, each of which referenced “SirPoopyhead.” The longer we put this change off, the more places we’d have to change the code.
That’s what’s called technological debt. Thanks to a bad decision made literally twelve years ago, we had a ton of code that caused us to have to jump through a lot of hoops for what seemed like it should be a simple thing. And every month that went by without changing this sprawling, underlying code was another month’s worth of updates that would also, eventually, have to be changed.
What followed next was a tedious and gruellng five-week project where I looked through each of the hundreds of thousands of lines of code that touched literally every page on StarCityGames.com, changing instances of “login name” to “customer ID.” You cannot understand how magnificently boring this was. There are fun things a programmer can do, usually learning new techniques or doing something flashy – this was basically me, being a smart search-and-replace, doing something a computer wasn’t quite equipped to do.
When it was done, we ran some conversion scripts, and then rolled it out. Zingo! To you, the customer, the only change was that there was now a notification saying, “Please log in using your email.” But to the back end, there was literally a whole new day.
That’s why it’s sometimes hard to change software. How difficult could it be to change your user name? Well, as it turns out, thanks to factors that are hard to explain to your average customer, it can be incredibly hard – an unpleasant task requiring weeks to fix, one that adds almost no new features whatsoever, one that can introduce bugs into stable sections of code that haven’t had problems in years…. yet one that ultimately needs to get done in order to make way for bigger changes later on.
That’s why programming is weird.
My poly bureaucracy creeps slow. Very slow. This is for my wife and girlfriend’s protection, because I am a dumbass.
See, I have a tendency of assuming that emotional intimacy == compatibility. Yes, it feels wonderfully cozy that we share all of these fears and concerns and relationship patterns, and finding your most sensitive feelings reflected in someone else is a beautiful thing.
The problem is that I’m fucking crazy. So finding someone I really resonate with immediately? It usually means they’re as bad as I am, and that we’re actually going to exacerbate each others’ issues.
I’ve been known to dive head-first into relationships without checking for compatibility first, just sort of assuming that because we have A Connection it’s going to work out. Then, after months of daily fights, me wringing my hands 24/7 about WHY WON’T SHE UNDERSTAND, and an eventual slow death by slices, I’ve learned that I need to spend more time getting to know people before I start getting committed…. if only so my wife isn’t obligated to play psychotherapist for me when things turn sideways.
So there’s a six-month cooldown time in place, where we can make out but not have Teh Sexx0r… and usually that cooldown time stretches to nine months, or even a year, as we just take it slow and not rush getting permissions.
The big question is, why don’t I find this limitation confining?
Part of it is, of course, is that I chose this lifestyle. This isn’t an externally-produced ruleset, created in a process tantamount to blackmail; it’s one I helped shape, because after a series of four disastrous relationships that imploded messily across my poly web, I took an honest look and said, “Okay, that’s a bad pattern, what’s a potential fix?”
But more importantly, sex is the least important bit for me.
Don’t get me wrong; anyone who’s ever made out with me will tell you that I’m passionate as hell. But sex is something that’s common; particularly in the kink communities, it’s not particularly difficult to get. If you’re open about your desires, reasonably personable, and are sapiosexual as I am, you’ll have a lot of options.
What I can’t get elsewhere is you.
Sure, maybe I’ll spend nine months hanging out with you on our once-a-month dates, getting to know each other… but that’s the best part. For me, “getting to know people” is an activity I find desirable in and of itself. Chatting, snuggling, dining out… that’s all stuff I like. And the level of flirtation/innuendo is a beautiful spice for that.
If and when we eventually hook up, that’s gonna be a wondrous new layer to what we share, and not the entirety of it. So I’m perfectly okay waiting for that to happen, since that is far from the whole reason I’m here.
I’m in no rush.
So yeah, it’s a long time. It’s not a process I’d recommend as standard for most poly groups. But that’s the glory of poly relationships: there’s no objective set of rules. What would be insanely restrictive for one set of people is actually a wise and stabilizing force in ours, just as what would be joyous freedom for some couples would actually cause harm if I tried it at this time in my life.
But does it matter if my rules would work for you? Lemme repeat: if it’s working for you and the people you’re dating, then it’s great.
This glacial proceeding helps me to choose better partners, and keeps my wife and girlfriend happier (even as neither of them are bound by this six-month rule), and hopefully the people I’m dating in this slow process are still happy to see me even if I’m not whipping out Little Elvis yet.
It’s an approach. Because there’s no the approach. And there never will be a the approach as long as humans are varied creatures with differing needs.
Eventually, if you’re trying to make it as a writer, you’re going to despair. You can’t write well enough. This story will never sell. If you do sell it, it’ll never be popular.
This terrible feeling like you’re just wasting your time and nobody cares happens, absurdly enough, to very popular writers. It happens to nobodys. It happens to writers, period. If you’re putting words down and trying to get people to read them, there will be times you’ll want to take everything you wrote, set it on fire, and then fling yourself in to burn with it.
Here is what you do when those down days come: you write more.
Took a nasty rejection straight to the sternum? Write more.
Had a confidence-shredding bad review? Write more.
This grand story in your head is completely beyond your ability to commit it to the page? Write more.
This terrible book you’re reading made millions, and your better work can’t find a home? Write more.
Feel like you’re a fraud who’s somehow lucked out when better writers languish behind you? Write more.
Your favorite author just told you he abhorred what you wrote? Write more.
The thing about writing is that so much of it comes down to tenacity. The most popular writers in the world can all tell you about this fellow they knew when they were starting out, a colleague who could write stories that would charm the petals from a rose… and yet these natural geniuses didn’t stick with it. They either let life swamp them, or couldn’t stand the rejections, or didn’t feel like it. And these magnificently talented people never became Writers, because for whatever reason they never pushed through.
It’s not that they weren’t very good. It’s just that they stopped knocking on doors. While the writer you’ve heard of kept ringing doorbells until she got an answer.
So pushing through is what you need to do. Write when you’re sad. Write when you’re busy. Write when you’re uninspired. Write when you’re utterly consumed with the idea that you cannot do this. Learn to take all of that despondence and to transform it into beauty, for writing in the throes of despair will do two things: when you are writing sad scenes, you will have so many more emotions to cram into it, and when you are writing happy scenes, you will be forced to emulate joy. One will make for better writing, the other will elevate your mood.
The truth is, though I’ve written in both despair and elation, I can’t really tell which mood I was in when I go back to revise. You must learn to write without hope. Keep creating through those dry spells, keep sending out stories during the rejections; decouple your personal contentment from your creative muse and make that bitch dance for you. She’ll be clumsy at first, foolish… but with time, you can make her do the most elaborate pirouettes when you’re barely able to move off the couch.
In fiction, there’s often a plot sequence: Try/fail, try/fail, try/succeed. In real life, there may be a hundred try/fails before you get to that succeed. But you’ll never know unless you stay in that execution loop.
And then write more still.
(Inspired by Catherine Schaff-Stump’s Writers and Despair.)
Just discovered: I could pretty much ruin any woman’s day when she’s about to leave the house by asking, “Oh, you’re going out like that?” and then muttering that it’s fine, it’s fine.
I just said that to Erin hypothetically, and she knows I didn’t even mean it, and she’s still itching to change her clothes.
(Cue tides of women saying that they’re above that. You may thank me for making you feel superior.)