If You Only Heard Me Properly, You’d Agree With Me.

When you’re an extremist, the problem is never that what you’re saying may be mouth-frothingly crazy.  No, your real problem is that your message isn’t being heard.

After all, this message converted you, didn’t it? And you’re a sane person, as intelligent as they come. So if anyone else hears what you have to say and doesn’t instantly convert to your side, then they must not have heard you properly. They probably didn’t know all the facts that you do.  They probably misunderstood something.

So you need to tell them again.

This message can be anything. Sometimes it’s religious, but just as often it’s political. You know that 9/11 was a conspiracy, or that white men are the most oppressed people in America, or that vaccinations cause autism. Or it’s even milder than that: every person raised in America has racist tendencies, every poor person simply doesn’t work hard enough.

The exact nature of the message is irrelevant. What matters is that it’s a message of conversion: anyone who disagrees with you simply hasn’t heard you properly.

Thing is, what you have to tell people works just often enough that this idea that “hearing properly equals agreement” isn’t entirely foolish. Sure, most people shake their heads and walk away, but every so often you find that one person who hears your True Words and instantly agrees with you, becomes another follower it is in whatever crazy-ass belief you possess.

What happens then is that the media becomes your enemy.  They propagate flawed interpretations that damages your credibility – the news covers your message and they get some minor fact wrong, and that erroneous fact becomes why people didn’t believe you.  Someone else dissects your message on their blog and they don’t quite parrot your party line perfectly, and that’s why people didn’t believe you.

Eventually, people come to your blog directly and read your words, and most of them seem to believe you!  Except for a handful of dissenters, who are mocked, pummeled, and insulted.  Clearly, you’re still not quite making the proper arguments – which is why your blog posts become increasingly long rebuttals, going line-by-line through people’s counterarguments and explaining why no, these fools didn’t comprehend what you had to say – but realistically, the problem isn’t that people have understood what you intended to say and still think you’re a cauldron of teeming turds, no.

The problem is that they have yet to really hear you.

And since the problem is all about being heard directly, you’re morally justified in doing all sorts of scummy things to sneak the message into places. The media is oppressing you, even if the media actually talks about you a lot, because the media is not on your side.  How could the media hear your grand message and have the gall to present counterpoints?  How could the media blare your message to its massive audience and give most people the impression that you’re idiotic, manipulative scumbags?

The reason I’m saying this today is because last weekend, GamerGate bought a booth at a convention under a pseudonym, with the express intent of sneaking in and disrupting some of the panels.  And normally, I’d say “renting a booth under an assumed name so you can unveil your existence elsewhere” is a pretty scummy thing to do, right or left; I’d be equally condemning if an LGBT group tried to sneak into a fundamentalist convention via similar tactics.

But what’s happening here is what you see with GamerGate in particular. The problem isn’t that much of what GamerGate has to say is self-contradictory, often threaded with rape jokes and misogyny, acting as a loosely-coupled organization so that nobody’s quite sure who speaks for them – no, the problem is that GamerGate’s message hasn’t really been heard yet, and as such the only proper thing to do is try to sneak in.

That’s not scummy, man.  That’s the only way to do this. You have to circumvent the interpretations and get face-to-face with people, so they can believe you!

And God forbid I ever become That Guy. There’s a reason my comments thread on my LiveJournal page says “Tell me I’m full of it” – I’m not always going to agree with what you have to say, but I hope I never assume that the reason you disagreed with me was because you didn’t hear me correctly.  I hope I always assume that people can disagree with me because they have understood me, and found my conclusions lacking.

Because I’ve seen GamerGaters do it, and I’ve seen my hyper-liberal friends do it, and I’ve seen zealots of all stripes think their message is an auto-conversion where the only thing stopping every last living being on the planet from thinking as they do is that they simply haven’t consumed all the facts.

And no. Sometimes, people will garner the exact set of facts that you have at this very moment, and come to different conclusions. Humanity’s complicated. You have to allow for that uniqueness of experience, even if it means that people will be working against you knowing exactly what you do.

That’s a scary idea, sometimes. But you know what’s scarier, to me?  An argument that’s actually a telepathic form of hive-mind control, that only requires tweaking to brainwash 6 billion people on the planet to a single conclusion.

Shit, that Death Star argument would be terrifying. If it existed. Which it doesn’t.

Why We’re Going To Spend Thousands Of Dollars To Play Rock Band

So Rock Band 4 was announced. Those of you are new here do not know the impending fury.

Those of you who are long-time readers remember my seething obsession with Rock Band. Think I promoted my book Flex a lot? My Rock Band tweedlings made the Flex Book Tour look like a passing reference on Facebook. I played Rock Band endlessly, debated which songs were better, got the top-of-the-line drum kit.  I even started a Rock Band related webcomic, which I promise you I will tell you how it ends just as soon as I can dig up the old story bible that Cat Valente and I were working off of.

So when Rock Band 4 was announced after the series was long thought dead, Gini and I cheered.

Then the problems started.

See, I waffled for months on whether to get an XBox One or a PlayStation 4. “What if I bought the wrong system?” I thought.  “What if I ally with the wrong side of the Console Wars?”  And eventually, I bought a PlayStation 4 as a reward for selling Flex, and…

…it turns out that the new Rock Band will allow you to import your old songs… but not cross-platform.

Which is to say that, according to the last count, I have purchased 967 songs for Rock Band 3 on my XBox 360.  Figuring roughly $1.75 a song, that’s… way too much fucking money, really.  But if we were to buy Rock Band 4 for the PlayStation 4, we would have to abandon all of those delicious, delightful songs, starting over with the bare minimum of starter songs.

Gini said, “We have to buy an XBox One, then.”

This is why I love her.  She never questioned our mutual obsession.

So that’s a $400 purchase we have to make to play the new Rock Band.

…but wait!  As it turns out, we purchased our new television set in 2002.  This was before the advent, or even the invention, of this thing called “HDMI.”  Which is the only way XBox One connects to a television, I’m told.  The same is true of the PlayStation 4, and we did get a converter box to downgrade its signal for older televisions, but the screen is wavery and fuzzy and you can’t read small text.  (This is one reason I haven’t played a lot of PS4 games; I literally can’t read the tutorials.)  Also, we’re out of slots on the television, so we’d have to manually swap out our Xbox One, our PS4, and our Xbox 360.

“So,” I told Gini, “We’ll have to purchase a new television to do this properly.”

“You realize we’re idiots,” she said.

“Yes!” I responded brightly. “And the new television probably won’t work with the antiquated stereo system we have, either!  So we’ll need to upgrade that!”

“Joy.”

“Also, we’ll probably need to get a new Logitech all-in-one remote control, because the old one we have doesn’t work with the PS4.  But that, I promise you, is the end of the expenditures.”

“Except actually purchasing Rock Band 4.”

“Oh, yes. And that.”

“And the new instruments.”

“…those too!” I agreed happily.

“So we’ll be eating macaroni and cheese out of a box,” Gini concluded. “With no other entertainments but this copy of Rock Band.”

“Correction,” I added.  “We’ll be ROCKING that macaroni and cheese.”

In conclusion, please buy as many copies of Flex (and its impending sequel The Flux) as you can, because Gini and I are shallow gits who desperately need to get our pseudo-rock-star fantasies enabled. Thank you.

I Hope You Get Officially Sick.

I have a friend who’s been aching for years. Her joints tend to skitter out of their sockets. Her skin gets overstimulated quickly, so sexytimes quickly curdle into needle-like pain.  And she has random storms of pain that just show up, sweep through her body, pull all the energy out of her and leave her wrung like a wet rag.

She still goes to school full-time. She still gets good grades. She still has a fulfilling romantic life.

But damn, is she swimming upstream, and occasionally – increasingly – those romantic moments are cut short by OW OW OW.

I hope she gets a syndrome soon.

Because the thing that nobody but chronically ill people can really understand is how little doctors often listen to you. They whoosh into the room, skim a chart, ignore the years of history of complaints to sit down and go, “So what’s bothering you?”  And because so many of them lack context, they’ll look at these skirls of symptoms, ignore half of what you say, and devise a treatment on the spot that ignores years of past history because they heard “joint pain” and shrug it off as arthritis.

Or, worse – and particularly if you’re a woman – they’ll decide that this is “drug-seeking behavior,” tell you that you don’t need pain medications, this is just something you’re making up.

Actually, a lot of doctors will suspect you of making it all up if your symptoms don’t point them to a clear conclusion.

This is not to say all doctors are bad, but all doctors are harried and busy, and too many of them take shortcuts.  Which is why I found myself hoping that my friend had a condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which can actually be fatal.

Not because I wanted her to die sooner; no, I want her to have a good long life. But the minute you can condense your symptoms into a singular diagnosis, and have That Phrase on your sheet, it’s like getting upgraded to first class on the airline. Suddenly, doctors have to agree that you must be taken seriously – sure, you’re in the exact same amount of pain you were in before, but they can’t hand-wave it off.  When they see That Phrase on your chart, they actually stop and read back to see what they were missing, because That Phrase makes you somebody important.

…or not. The thing about That Phrase is, once you get it, you find exactly how often doctors actually don’t read your chart.  Sometimes you have to remind them That Phrase exists, and is all over your goddamned medical history, and yes you need drugs for it, no you don’t want to adjust treatment, you have something that works for you now, a combination of chemicals that allows you to mimic a functioning human being for a couple of weeks, and then you have to fight with your physician to find how this all works.

When my Uncle Tommy was near the end of his life, I wanted him to move out to Ohio with me, so I could take care of him. He refused. “The doctors here know me,” he grumbled. I thought that a trivial complaint when I was twenty-five and stupid, but the older I get the more I understand what he meant: he’d grown up in Connecticut, lived there for fifty years, was famed in the community for being a hemophiliac and a hepatitis patient.  He never had to argue with anyone to get the drugs he needed, never had to explain his condition to some fresh-faced doctor, and on the rare occasions he did a nurse would swoop in to correct the new boy, this is Thomas Lucas, you should know him.

It says something about our medical care system that even though Tommy had good insurance to pay for everything, he was terrified to move lest he literally die from a case of incomplete information.

And there’s all sorts of reasons for that, from the welter of miscellaneous patient records to HIPAA privacy regulations, but the truth is that for people who have chronic conditions, they frequently find themselves as the only repository of valid knowledge – battling with endless waves of amnesiac doctors to tell the professionals what didn’t work last time and won’t work this time.

Which is why if you get sick, I hope you get officially sick. I hope you get That Phrase. Because That Phrase will be your shield against poor medical treatment, like a cross to brandish at vampires – it might not force them to flee, hissing into the night, but That Phrase will at least get their attention.

Without That Phrase, you risk being reduced to a whiner, some needy patient who shows up at the office three times a month because, I dunno, you’re lonely or something.

And if you’re not chronically ill, I ask you to take a moment to think about how ridiculous it is that getting an official diagnosis is a moment of celebration – sure, you’ve discovered your collagen proteins are collapsing like limp spaghetti, causing your shoulders to spontaneously separate!  You may die!  But it’s so much easier from now on, because even though your body’s collapsing, you’ve just gotten a diagnosis that gets doctors to agree that you actually have a problem.

Then ponder what it’s like for people with the exact same problems who don’t have The Diagnosis, and think about how awful that is for them.

That’s all.

Hello, World! My Seasonal Affective Disorder Is Back Again.

“It’s been over a week since I got back from my book tour,” said I, “And I am exhausted. All the time. I can’t summon the strength to write. Even getting up in the morning feels like climbing mountains.  I guess that tour was really draining, and…

“…oh.”

Seasonal Affective Disorder! My old friend! You’re back.

The Spring SAD is a long-standing tradition at La Casa McJuddMetz, wherein Ferrett feels suicidal for about three to six weeks. (It’s also a tradition that somebody with absolutely no grace tells a man in the throes of depression, “Hey, SAD only happens in Winter, explain yourself,” instead of you know, Googling alternative ways in which SAD can strike.)

I will say that if you have any kind of SAD, try megadoses of Vitamin D.  I was put on megadoses of D to help my cardiac problems; people had told me that a lot of SAD is a Vitamin D deficiency, which I thought was impossible since I drank a gallon of milk a day. Yet after going on about 20,000 units a week, the depression is dampened from “Curls up in his bed clawing his arms” to “Mopey and not exceptionally productive.”  Try it! It can’t hurt.

In any case, right now I’m fighting off a flabby depression, so if you’re curious as to what you can do for me:

1)  Send me short, nice things. I am in no ability to process walls of texts, so starting up extensive correspondence will overwhelm me. But if you’d like to tell me something good I’ve done, parcelling it out over the next month or so with surprise Ferrett-affection helps.

2) Expect low response.  Me not getting back to you now doesn’t mean I hate you; it means I am both bogged down by self-hatred and low energy. Poking me to remind me that you’re still there is fine; guilt-tripping me because I didn’t respond to your email will make me feel worse.

3)  Be cool to someone else.  I am happy when other people are made happy. So weirdly, doing something that makes someone else happy will remind me the world can be a pretty neat place at times.

That’s pretty much it. And you’re not obligated to do any of those, of course. I’ll get through this regardless.  But if you interact with me, expect fewer blog posts and fewer emails.  My CPU is overclocking right now. It happens. Hopefully it’ll stop soon.

Why Have I Posted More About Sad Puppies Than Gerrymandering?

My good friend Bart Calendar had this to say:

You know what conservatives have done over the past few years when it comes to political elections?

Gerrymander districts to rig votes. Put up signs giving people wrong directions to voting booths. Created laws that make it difficult for young people and poor people to vote. Used churches to create voting blocks to skew election results. Flat out rigged the 2000 presidential election.

I’ve read maybe three or four Live Journal blogs bitching about that.

But, conservatives do block voting to rig a minor literary award – and my Live Journal and Facebook explode with people horrified by it.

Can we please get some of our fucking priorities in order before we end up with another Bush in office?

And I am both guilty, and aware that conservatives have done all of this. (Also liberals have contributed to gerrymandering, yes, but the point is that I have not devoted nearly the blogspace to it that I have to the Sad Puppies’ hijacking of the Hugo vote.)

But it’s also not irrational for me to complain more about this.

In terms of the Hugos, I’m personally acquainted with almost all the players. John Scalzi’s taught me how to write, I’ve met Brad Torgerson and competed with him for the same Nebula nomination in 2012.  The current president of SFWA has asked me to be on panels, and I’m friends with all the last two SFWA Vice Presidents.  I have 4,000 followers on Twitter, and probably 1,500 of them are big sci-fi fans who could influence the small field that sways the Hugo practices.

In very practical terms, if I make a blog post, I have a much larger chance of changing the Hugo culture and/or balloting rules than I do making a blog post about gerrymandering.

Furthermore, gerrymandering is business as usual, sadly, and it’s hard to find a particularly egregious example of it that we can point to and go, “That. After a century of map-fucking, that is beyond the pale.” Whereas with the Hugos, this is literally the first time in my lifetime that the American culture war has come to roost in the nominations this blatantly, and if we do nothing then that risks having this become the standard.

If I was, say, personal friends with much of Congress and had been invited to numerous congressional functions and Barack Obama had given me pointers on how to run a campaign and Dubya and I still occasionally shared a beer, then sure! I’d talk about how to fix gerrymandering more. I’d be far more likely to reach the ears of the people who had something to do with fixing it.

As it is, I don’t.

If y’all wanna give me a good solid solution towards fixing gerrymandering, absolutely, I’ll listen.  But I’m pretty sure my Big Blowhard Post on Gerrymandering wouldn’t actually change a single politician’s mind.  Here, I’m much more of a fulcrum, and while I don’t claim to have any real influence, I certainly have a greater chance at influence than I would discussing the boring bits of politics that, despite years of complaint, have yet to produce any real change.

So if you’ve got a way to make gerrymandering an exciting, fresh topic that will bend the politicians’ knees, let’s hear it.  If not, well, the Hugos might turn out to be just as broken as the gerrymandering fixes, but on a word-for-word basis, each word I type on the Hugos is a better investment.

Still, though. Gerrymanding’s bad, mmmkay? And I’m serious. If you’ve got a way to somehow vault gerrymandering into the headlines, I’m listening.  I mean, Bart, you’re the marketing professional and former reporter; you’re the guy who knows how to appeal to new markets, because that’s literally what you do every day; you’re the guy who should be devising creative solutions, not me.  So right back atcha.

Because man, if we could muster some way to make gerrymandering the Hot New Anger, damn, I’d be all over that shiz.

“How Do You Handle Your Insecurities?”

My insecurities would be so much easier to deal with if they were invariably wrong. They’re not.  My insecurities are actually useful in some low-rent sense of the word, and as such I can’t chuck them blindly aside to walk into traffic.

It’s like having a very sensitive canary in a coal mine. Sometimes your canary gets overexcited and faints. And if you go, “Well, the canary fainting means nothing, proceed as normal,” then that’s when the canary breathes in deadly methane gas and dies.

I have destroyed relationships by overreacting to my insecurities, demanding my partners prove things to me that they could not possibly ever reassure me of; sadly, I have also destroyed relationships by not listening to my insecurities, and having partners then go on to cheat, abuse, and hurt me because I didn’t interpret that signal properly.

So for me, the trick is to try to find reality.

I am like the Sherlock Holmes of my own psyche, whenever those tides of anxiety roll in.  I sift everything for clues.  I make lists. I replay conversations in my head over and over again like that lunch at Chipotle was the fucking Zapruder tape, relentlessly scouring it to try to determine whether she was actually Not Into Me or whether I was just misinterpreting the signs.

And here’s the important point: at some point, I determine I have collected all the data that I can, come to a conclusion, and act as though that conclusion is true.

For in my anxiety, I could spend literally months debating whether that two-minute conversation I had at a convention has RUINED MY CAREER FOREVER.  No, I instead spend the next week analyzing social media, seeing if that author still replies to my Tweets at the same frequency they did before, going over the words I spoke… and after a time, I say, “I have collected enough evidence,” and make my decision, and try to live by it.

This is not always easy.

But if I don’t say “This is enough evidence, cut it out,” then that’s when I flywheel apart. I send embarrassing emails to my lovers: “Yes, you spent the night with me and smiled and cuddled me and always enthusiastically reply to my texts, but there was that one time I said ‘I like you’ and you went ‘aww’ instead of I like you back, so you really hate me, don’t you?  This is all faked, right?”

Shockingly, this doesn’t get me more dates.

For me, my insecurities are about 80% WTFBRAIN, useless spin-twirlering to keep me needlessly rattled, and about 20% “Oh, jeez, that is a problem.”  Yet what I find is that the more I act as though some conclusion were true, the less anxious I feel about it.

Yes, I’m worried maybe that date didn’t go well, but my reactions have a way of shaping reality.  If I act cool and confident, even if I’m a raging mess inside, then my dates and friends tend to like me.  If I act like I’m needy and uncertain, they tend to drift off.

This applies even in the fringe circumstances where I decide I’m correct. It goes both ways, and it’s why I used to be trapped in bad relationships for literally years at a time – I’d go, “But maybe all this abuse is just your phantom thoughts!” and stick around.  Now, I come to that conclusion and I make it and some days I wonder “What if” but I don’t ever call them in the dead of night to go “I miss you.”

I do miss them.  But I’ve decided they’re bad for me, and actions trump feelings.

The reason I’m writing this is because a friend of mine asked me the other day: “How do you handle insecurities?”  She asked via text.  I wish the answer was simple enough to answer via text.

In truth, the answer isn’t big enough to fit in an essay, either.  There’s all sorts of questions that follow this one, such as “When do you decide when it’s enough evidence?” and “How do you self-soothe so as not to ask these dumb-ass questions?” and “How do you come to the correct conclusion?”  And frankly, I could write books’ worth of answers and it still wouldn’t be everything I knew to fight this hateful squirming anxiety bundle writhing within me.

But that’s the basics.

I hope they’re enough.

A Sleepy, Sleepy Weasel (Warning: Rambling)

So I was on the West Coast for three weeks, and my internal time clock completely adjusted to West Coast Time.

I do not do well with time changes.

So I’ve been staring at things a lot, sleepy all the time. Work has consisted of staring at database schematics, trying to import a large and imposingly-complex structure into my head well enough to offer useful critique, and boy howdy has that been a cavalcade of errors.

Muzzyheaded, I’ve even become That Guy at work, pinging my co-workers with inept questions like: “Hey, did we create the foreign versions of the Dragons of Tarkir set?”

“I don’t know, maybe you could look it up in inventory before bugging me personally?”

“Oh crap.”

So I’m tired enough that I dropped my phone in the tub late at night, which was saved temporarily through judicious usage of rice, though we’ll see how it fares in the long run.  (The screen is feathered in the lower right corner, which leads me to believe my iPhone is running on borrowed time – too bad the stores were closed and I couldn’t get DampRid to fix it.)

And the evenings are… tedious.  I’m finalizing the draft of The Flux, the sequel to Flex, which is due in October for you and due in a week for me now, and I’m on the 10% Solution phase.  That’s where I take 125,000 words of manuscript and go through it sentence by sentence, justifying the existence of every “that,” “or,” and adverb.  (“He slammed his hands on the desk, angrily.”  Oh, that was angry? Good job, past Ferrett, thanks for telling me!)

This is an excruciatingly boring part, but crunching the novel down to 87% of its former bloated status is critical.  It’s like reducing a sauce, making all the flavors pop – Gini can actually tell when I’ve 10% Solutioned a story and when I haven’t, usually because she gets more bored.  Remember, kids, the point of fiction is to get across as much information as you can in as compressed a space as you can, and having 13% of your words be redundant is going to make your words suck.

But it takes me about two hours to get through an 8,000-word section.  And it doesn’t engage a lot of the old brainpower.  It’s just relentless prose-destruction, and that makes the evening boring.

Also, I keep discovering more useless words I don’t usually need.  New additions are:

  • all
  • seem (most times “seem to” can be replaced profitably by “are”)
  • start (most times “started to” can be replaced profitably by “did”)
  • going (most times “was going to” can be replaced profitably by “will” or “would”)
    began (most times “began to” can be replaced profitably by “did”)
  • as if (finds your bad metaphors – “like” is already on the list)
  • could
  • strange (I have a terrible habit of saying “he felt a strange compulsion” instead of describing the compulsion)

Then I’m playing Pillars of Eternity, the new game by the makers of Baldur’s Gate, and… it’s okay.  It’s a very good Baldur’s Gate evolution thus far, but the story has yet to grab me – which may be partially my own fault, as I did all the local quests to level up instead of going out and fetching new companions, so a lot of the stuff I did was in a vacuum without interesting characters to play alongside of.  But still, the first town is a bunch of fetchquests and monsters, a thin shell for the underlying game engine, and I can put the game down after two hours or so.

That’s a bad sign.  I’m told it gets better, but for me I need story to pull me through.  I remember my friend Jer once telling me how he hated Batman: Arkham Asylum because it kept interrupting his Batman-beatings with cutscenes and people talking to him, and that’s why he liked Halo way better.  For me, those cutscenes were why I played, and Jer’s welcome to his different opinions but that explained why I found Halo to be dull.

Anyway, so the day is stare at a screen full of database stuff, stare at a screen full of bad words, stare at a screen full of a mediocre game.  Life is feeling tedious. I’ve come to realize that I like people not necessarily because I’m an extrovert, but because I do very poorly with routine, and instead need variety.  Seeing new folks drains my introvert-batteries, but it does ensure the entire week is not stare/stare/stare/bed, and that helps.

But I keep wanting to write essays, and then forgetting what I was going to write – I’m still knocking out a few essays on FetLife, but that’s because either a) the essays refer to sexytimes with people I’m smooching with, and hence may not want the big stage of my official blog, or b) are in reaction to FetLife’s vibrant essay section, where debates continually rage, and porting context over here requires more effort than I’d like.

So. What do you want me to write about? What did I miss when I was gone? I’m tired, I’m sleepy, I’m bored, tell me tell me tell me.