Here’s the thing nobody denies: speaking out helps other people. Every time a gay person comes out, they help normalize “being gay” for other people. Every time a depressed person speaks openly about their struggle, they help to reduce the stigma of a crippling condition they didn’t ask to have. Every time someone smacks down racist or sexist talk in public, they help send the message that that kind of talk is not cool.
What few people mention is that those discussions help other people but may harm you.
We’ve all heard about the kid who came out as gay and his family disowned him. Someone openly admitting their mental health struggles can be passed over for promotions at work because, well, they’re crazy. Yelling at your friends for racist or sexist language can cost you friends – and it’s all well to go “Well, those aren’t the kinds of friends you should have!”, but that’s scant consolation when you’re lonely.
Speaking out hurts.
And yet there’s often this liberal narrative that good people burst out of the closet, muscles rippling, while these sad poisoned Gollum-like people stay within. If your game store is full of homophobic assholes, a good person would charge in there like a bull, call them on all their shit, face them down mano a mano until they bent underneath your herculean will!
What kind of weak asshole would just choose not to play at that store?
But here’s the truth: Speaking out helps other people, but protecting yourself is also a priority.
This does not make you a bad person.
Look: I’m openly polyamorous… now. But my wife and I were poly for several years before we acknowledged it on the Internets, and I’m not ashamed to say that we kept that shiz under wraps because we had two teenaged daughters who lived with their biological father. Maybe he’d be cool with our open marriage, or maybe he’d decide this was time to go to court to get the kids out of the hands of those perverts.
We had to weigh our desire to speak out against the very real cost of maybe not getting summer visits with our kids.
I don’t regret that choice one fucking bit. I regret not speaking out, of course. But in the end, it’s nice to do good by giving poly workshops and helping other poly couples feel represented and sharing my experiences… but I wouldn’t be able to do any of that anyway if I wasn’t able to talk to my kids, as I’d be too miserable to function.
Likewise, not everyone has the energy to fight grand battles at their schools or family meals or game stores – or even if they do, they don’t have the energy to fight every battle that comes along, because shit, you can grind yourself to dust grappling with every microaggression, and is it really worth the progress you’ll make if you destroy yourself along the way?
It’s not wrong to pick your battles. It’s not wrong to prioritize your own survival over forging paths for other people’s future benefits. You should fight wherever you can, of course, and don’t make the closeted gay Republican mistake of trashing your own people to fit in, but…
In the end, any good movement is about finding compassion. And we should celebrate the people who fight the good battles, because they make headway. But those stories all too often end like Christ Himself did, with some poor schmuck dying horribly and a weeping family and a legacy that only kicks into play years after the pain and the survivors have faded.
And your movement should be understanding enough to not view you as a soldier to be shot up in the front lines, but as a human with needs who deserves as much love and support as anyone else.
Your activism can be part-time, when you have the strength to do it. Not every combatant can be a warrior on the front lines; there should be room for guerrilla tactics, and spies, and even noncombatants who occasionally lend hugs to the people who need them.
You have to protect yourself so you can fight whenever you can, in whatever way you can. You might not be up for every battle. You might, in fact, be totally unable to fight some battles because you know that losing your kids or your parents or your social group is not something you can afford to do right now.
That’s okay. Protecting yourself does not make you a bad person. Find the places where you can afford to make change, but don’t beat yourself up for not being able to be as “bold” as other people, because part of this journey is in finding your own strengths and learning how you can contribute even with the very real compromises that everyone has to make.
Just don’t give up.
So I’m looking to do another book tour in the fall to promote the final book in the ‘Mancer series, Fix. Last year, I hit Cleveland, New York, Boston, San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, and Portland: this year, I’m hoping to add a couple more stops, because apparently I dislike this whole “rest” thing.
That said, I had people saying, “Come sign at my town!” – and while I love showin’ up places, remember that this book tour is on my dime. It’s not really a book tour, where publishers pay for my hotel and plane fare – it’s more like a book vacation, where hey, I have a few weeks to go new places and visit friends, so why not anchor a big swingy trip with bookstore appearances?
So if you’d like me to show up in your town this September/October, it involves some mild legwork:
1) Find me a contact at a bookstore who wants me to come there.
Simply saying, “Oh, $BOOKSTORE exists!” is not enough, sadly. When I planned my first book tour, about half the stores I called rejected me. And even now that I have people at Angry Robot to do the legwork for me (thanks, Mike Underwood, whose Kickstarter is running even as we speak!), I’d prefer not to ask them to do all the gruntwork of cold-calling a bookstore to have them go, “Who? Oh, fuck, no.”
So if you’d like me to come, give me a name of someone who’s happy to have an author there.
2) Unless that bookstore is willing to pay for me to go out there, said bookstore should be within a night’s driving distance of Cleveland, Ohio.
Hey. If you want to pay me to come to Australia? I will go, man. For any reason. “Ferrett, come to Europe and don’t sell books, just do that funny little dance you do.” I’ll be putting on my tap shoes before you finish that sentence.
That said, as noted, this is a vacation, and while I’d love to fly to Austin or Las Vegas, I’ve got a limited budget. I’ll literally go anywhere if you’re willing to pay my travel expenses, but otherwise I can reasonably drive six to eight hours before I collapse.
(This also applies for convention appearances. People ask if I’ll give polyamory talks at their convention. I absolutely will! But I need to not lose money getting out there and back, so if you can fly me somewhere, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk details.)
3) Uh, Actually, That’s It.
So if you can do those things, lemme know, we’ll talk it over. Otherwise, maybe some day I’ll hit your town – I’d love to! I like doing signings and visiting new cities and meeting people and buying too many books at indie shops! This shiz is fun for me!
And, you know, I hope you enjoy the book, too. Which I am putting the final edits on this week. Wish me luck!
There’s a lot of blog entries I call “load-bearing entries.” Those are the ones where, if I write one wrong paragraph, I’ll risk the wrath of the Internet falling upon me for something I didn’t mean to say. I write maybe two of those a month, even though I get ideas for them pretty much daily. But those sorts of essays require a lot of forethought and the willingness to deal with asshole responses for the rest of the week, so I don’t write ’em all.
There’s a lot of blog entries inspired by questionable things that other people I know are doing, and writing about that now would have those people feeling personally attacked. And even if I didn’t mind hurting people’s feelings, the problem with personal attacks is that it transforms the experience of the essay from “This is bad behavior that has these negative consequences” to “YOU JUST DON’T LIKE THIS PERSON,” and the message is lost. So I make a mental note, wait a few months, file off the serial numbers, and write an essay on the exact same behavior when everyone’s forgotten who it is. Sometimes those people who inspired it by being buttheads thank me for writing such an insightful essay. It’s weird.
There’s a lot of blog entries on topics that are really dear to my heart, and I want to get the emotions on them right, but I’m just not finding the right entry point. And rather than knocking out a quick essay on this really emotionally-critical topic that misses the mark, I stash it and hope one day I’ll find the way to write it as well as this not-often-discussed topic deserves.
There’s a lot of blog entries where someone else said it, and I think I have something new to add, but whoops, I don’t. Deleted.
There’s a lot of blog entries where something important is happening, and while I have Very Severe Feelings, I don’t feel like pretending that reading two essays and a Wikipedia article makes me an expert on the topic. Deleted.
There’s a lot of blog entries where I can say what I need to on Twitter, and while in the old days maybe I would have coalesced a couple of other thoughts around that single idea to make a blog post, Twitter is now where I get my little thoughts out of the way.
There’s a lot of blog entries where I’ve been talking about the same topic for days in a row, and because I’m responding to people’s responses, the general interpretation is that “Man, Ferrett is really mad about the way people are reacting to him.” But I’m not. Ferocious debate interests me, particularly when people are wrong. But after three days of response essays I find that, much like the “personal attack” essay, the lesson people start taking away is “Wow, is he thin-skinned,” so I stop responding after a bit because my points become increasingly lost.
There’s a lot of blog entries where it’s inspired by a relationship question I’m pondering, but if time has taught me one thing, it’s that opening your relationship to Internet debate hardly ever settles the question even if you’re telling people that you’re probably on the wrong side of this debate. So I’ll wait a few months on that one, too. Until it’s no longer a question, but an answer.
There’s a lot of blog entries where I’ve said that before. So I don’t again.
There’s a lot of blog entries I forget, particular when I’ve laid ’em fallow for a few months.
There’s a lot of blog entries. But man. If you could see all the topics I consider, you’d realize how easy blogging is for me, and how hard.
So someone on FetLife wrote this about popular bloggers, referencing me in particular:
“These people don’t need my encouragement or my praise. They swim in a sea of it. They get more responses in a single day than I do all year long… my praise doesn’t help them through a bad day or give them courage to face the next challenge. ”
Funny story: At one point, Neil Gaiman – you know, one of the most popular writers of this generation – wrote a Doctor Who episode. And I Tweeted something along the line that “Someone of Neil Gaiman’s caliber doesn’t need to know that I loved his Doctor Who episode, but I fucking loved his Doctor Who episode.”
He wrote back with something like, “Actually, I’m really relieved to know you like it.”
There’s this perception that people who are sufficiently “big” don’t need positive feedback, but lemme tell you – that “My praise doesn’t give them the courage to face the next challenge” is a ball of purest lies.
You think it’s easy writing about my depression? It costs me, man. And there are days when I’m like, “I can’t do this, I’m just making a fool out of myself, highlighting my mental illness is costing me friends, it’s costing me my career…”
And someone will send me an email that says, “Thank you for speaking up. I don’t feel like I’m alone any more.”
And I remember: Right. That’s why I do this.
Or I’m looking at another clusterfuck of an essay, the kind of hot-button topic where I know I’ll be dealing with nasty, angry commenters dropping by all fucking week to make personal insults, and I’ll be like, “Wait, why would I want to subject myself to abuse again?”
And someone writes me to tell me to thank me for speaking up, and that helps me keep going as a blogger. It really does.
Or I had a massive rejection that day, and someone pings me on Twitter to thank me for my fiction. All this helps.
Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t support the smaller writers that this blogger also supports! (It’s why I read Twitter a lot, finding weird essays and retweeting them when I can.) It’s wonderful to lift up new voices, encouraging them to get in there.
But this idea that “Oh, they’re big, they don’t really hear you” is not true 99% of the time. I’m sure Neil Gaiman gets more fan mail than he can read, so there’s a certain point at which you vanish – but Kameron Hurley wrote an essay recently on how “fame” used to come with a certain dollar value, and doesn’t any more, and how “famous” authors with 20,000 followers on Twitter still have to work their damn day job, and deal with the abuse that someone who has 20,000 fans on Twitter endures.
In other words, 99% of the “famous” authors you know most likely get paid mostly in pleasantries. And as someone close to the industry, I see talented writers walking away every day because their novels don’t pay their rent and they’re struggling on this manuscript that as of now no publisher wants and it feels like they’re shoveling their heart into the void.
One fan mail can still make their whole goddamned day.
The right fan mail can keep even an “established” author going.
So sure. Praise the up-and-comers, highlight the newbies, seek out new voices. That’s wonderful. Do it. But don’t write off the “successes” as “Well, they don’t care any more,” because chances are you’re probably overinflating the number of nice things they hear a day – and even if you are, they get pummelled by critics in ways that lesser writers don’t, and the nice things don’t happen as often as you’d think.
Drop ’em a nice comment, if you like what they do. For anyone, high or low.
I got my royalty check the other day, and I learned several very nice things about my debut book Flex:
I Earned Out.
This is a very happy deal, because when publishers buy your novel, they pay you an advance fee.
That up-front cash is all many authors ever see.
What happens after that is a bit like a loan – the publishers have paid you thousands of dollars when they bought the book, and every sale after that goes to paying off your advance. Once you’ve sold enough books to pay it down, you’ve “earned out,” and after that every book sold puts new money in your pocket.
Earning out is a rite of passage among authors, and I wasn’t expecting to do it on Flex, and yet yesterday I got a check for $221 – not a big royalty, to be sure, but definitely enough to pay the light bill. And that means every book I sell from today on for Flex will eventually generate another check.
So, you know, thanks for buying it, talking about it, recommending it. This is a very happy day for me.
I’ve Sold Nearly Double My “Fuck You, Ferrett” Number Of Copies.
As you’ll recall, I am a relentless neurotic. You can give me any triumph, no matter how cataclysmic, and within days I’ll pull it apart.
So when I sold Flex, I made a secret bargain with myself. I chose a number of copies sold – a number that, according to nebulous sources, was the number of copies the average book sold in its lifetime – and added a thousand copies on top of that.
If I sold that many copies, I could never ever complain again about Flex’s sales. I had beaten my goal. I could only say good things about how Flex was doing. That was my “Fuck You, Ferrett,” number, the number I could use to bludgeon my brainweasels into oblivion.
As of yesterday’s royalty statement, I had sold nearly double that “Fuck You, Ferrett” number. (Well, 178%, but close enough among friends, say I.)
…And That’s Only Through December 31st, 2015.
I was cheering all day yesterday, and then looked at the statement again, and realized that my “Fuck You, Ferrett” number was only tallying books sold in 2015.
…I’d somehow achieved 178% of my “Fuck You, Ferrett” number in only nine months.
The last five months of book sales hadn’t even been counted.
So, you know, this doesn’t make me a bestseller or anything – a $221 royalty check means I can buy you a beer, but not champagne – but it’s a happy personal triumph. I’ll probably sell more copies of Flex when Fix, the third and final book in the ‘Mancer series, arrives this September – and I just got my preliminary editorial notes on that, which look good. (He said “Book 3 is very good, better than Book 2, which was better than Book 1.” So hey, prepare to have hearts broken.)
So this is just a happydance. My debut book did way better than I expected. Is that an objective triumph? I don’t know. Solid mid-tier book sales numbers are hard to come by, as the public data usually reveals either Harry Potter smash bestseller numbers or nothing. I honestly don’t know whether my “Fuck You, Ferrett” number was chosen accurately.
We’ll see when I discuss exactly how many copies I made in a future post! But today? We celebrate.
So you lend Phil $20. Months go by. They don’t pay you back.
Another friend tells you he’s thinking about lending Phil $500 to tide him over until his next paycheck. And you say, “Well, I lent him $20, and I’m still waiting.”
Your friend looks you dead in the eye and goes, “Come on, man. You know I can’t accept that information. It hasn’t been proven in a court of law.”
And you go, “Oh, shit, right. I forgot. Phil’s innocent until proven guilty by law! I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
You finish your lunch, a little embarrassed. And you know, you’d thought of having Phil’s untrustworthiness put on the record – taking the day off from work to go to small claims court, paying the court fee, putting your word against his on the judge’s docket and hoping the judge sides with you – because it’d be nice to have your loss of a $20 be, you know, a fact. That you could discuss with people. And have them take it seriously.
But your lunch buddy’s right: unless the law has acknowledged this was true, it’s not actionable data. And there’s no sense discussing it, because you have a date later this evening. Rumor is she’s monogamously dating an angry boyfriend with a shotgun, but that hasn’t been proven in court either, so what are you going to do?
Obviously, that’s a crazy fucking example, but it proves my point: Whenever anyone discusses consent, people often cite variants on “A person is innocent until proven guilty by law.”
Which is true, when you’re facing the penalties of law. It’s really good to have the highest possible standard when you’re dealing with an entity that can strip you of your money and force you to live in prison for the rest of your life.
In fact, the dangers of innocents being hurt by malicious or incomplete testimony are so high that the noble principle of the court is, “We’d rather let multiple guilty men go free than mistakenly convict one innocent person.”
As happens all the time. We’ve all heard of mobsters who’ve gotten off because the testimony wasn’t enough to put them away, but that doesn’t mean that in real life these Goodfellas weren’t putting bullets in heads. We’ve all heard of incompetent corporations/doctors/cops/contractors who made massive, sometimes fatal, mistakes, where the court could not find enough evidence to put them to the full penalties of law.
This is a wonderful system. It means that corrupt cops can’t just manufacture evidence to toss people into jail at will.
But you start making foolish, foolish mistakes when you believe that the lofty, purposely-difficult standards the court has set to acknowledge something as true before they are willing to jail a person for life are the same as “This is what actually happened in real life.”
Most people, when confronted with “This doctor has been sued seventeen times by different patients for fatal malpractice, but never successfully,” would not go, “Oh, well, I’m psyched he’s doing my appendectomy tomorrow!” even though by every standard of court, he is completely innocent.
Why? Because the stakes for your personal safety are now higher. Now that your life is on the line, you might want to explore using alternative standards of “I’d rather penalize an innocent doctor than risk being harmed” instead using of the court’s standard of “I’d rather let a guilty person continue to operate than convict an innocent doctor.”
It’s all about what standards you hold yourself to – and as I demonstrated in the opening discussion, the court’s standards are pretty damn high for real life. In fact, they’re supposed to be high, as I’ll mention for the third time, because if the court gets it wrong, we’re talking the full force of the government being brought to bear upon you.
Which is entirely different than the standard of evidence you might want to apply if the penalty is, say, “Phil doesn’t get the $20 he wants to borrow.”
The standards for court are high, because the penalties are high. But literally any lawyer will acknowledge that what you can prove in court is not the same as “What actually happened.” There’s always a distinction. And idiots who conflate “A person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law” without adding the “because the penalties inflicted are very high” is either thoroughly foolish or purposely omitting stuff to try to fool you.
Which is not to say that Phil is always wrong. Maybe Phil needs the $500 because his wife died and he can’t pay the rent without her income. Okay, fine, in that case the penalty for Phil is pretty stiff. Maybe Phil paid you back and you forgot. Maybe you have a grudge against Phil, which is why you’re mentioning this $20 when you’ve never mentioned all the other loans that have never been paid back. All sorts of shit happens, because life is complex.
And all the complexity comes to a boil when we’re discussing how to handle missing stairs in a community – potentially dangerous people who have gossip swirling about them, but no definitive proof. (Because most consent violators are smart enough not to do terrible stuff in public with witnesses.) And what do you do to keep your parties free of dangerous players when the only proof you have is the equivalent of “She said Phil didn’t pay her back”? Do you ban people on someone’s word?
Maybe you think the court’s standards are worthy for any institution, which is a noble goal. There is a strong case to be made for “I will hold the people who would spread rumors to the highest of standards,” because yeah, the ugly truth is that there are corrupt cops and there are people who’ll trash folks they don’t like. Having standards for evidence is good, and though there’s no single True goal, having high standards when the penalty is “Banning someone from a party” is not necessarily a bad thing.
But stop extending that to the idiotic argument of “If something someone says has not been proven in a court of law, it is automatically untrue.” No. If that happens, you are adopting the court’s standard of, “We would rather have someone guilty attending our parties than risk ejecting an innocent person.”
And because nobody’s devised a 100% safe method of keeping rapists, molesters, and otherwise people-hurting people from parties with an arbitrary number of attendees, that’s a legitimate call to make. But stop pretending that “unless someone can prove it in a court of law, it’s not true,” which carries the heavy implication that that every rumor is malicious and that your parties are safe.
No. It means your parties are as safe as the real world, which is to say occasionally you’ll have malpracticing doctors and mobsters – doctors and mobsters who exist in part because the people they’ve hurt know how much effort it takes to prove someone wrong in court may be more than they have the energy to expend right now.
(Before you start complaining, by the way, I had my wife the bankruptcy lawyer vet this for factual accuracy. She said “Yup. Why would this statement be controversial at all?”, though mentioned I was utilizing the standards of a criminal case.)
There was a writing on FetLife recently that lamented the loss of the love letters men wrote to their wives in the Civil War. Oh, the instant message has all but destroyed romance! she cried. And I felt that writing overly romanticized the past and disabused the future; there are thousands of passionate love texts and emails being written daily.
You just don’t see them.
The world is still full of romance, but it hasn’t been boiled down neatly into a selection of the finest texts for your enjoyment. You think the Civil War is a florid selection of romance because historians sifted through the thousands of surviving letters and picked the most heart-wrenching for your enjoyment; they didn’t leave in the curt letters to “take care of my estate properly,” and they probably fixed the spelling, and the old-timey language makes it seem more beautiful to you because, well, what once was common speech now seems formal and elegaic.
But I guarantee you: I write beautiful texts of love, as do my lovers. There are always soldiers, and when they send emails home, some of them are writing beauty. The world still snaps and hums with romance, and if I could boil them all down to a selection of the finest texts, you’d walk away with the impression that the 2010s weren’t dick pics ‘n’ Tinder, but a great woven romance to put Shakespeare to shame.
And what worries me is not that we’ve somehow become less romantic as a society, but that we are losing that record of modern romance.
All those beautiful texts to my partners will be lost to AT&T when this is all done. There are long-distance lovers writing passionate emails to each other, but unless Gmail’s records are thrown open at the end of the day then those too will disappear.
I don’t think texts have made us worse, as a whole; they’ve exposed more portions of who we are, now that communication is so trivial. Yet 150 years from now, what will we have to remember of this? Authors used to exchange letters, which were scooped off their desks and archived into the complete correspondences of so we could see friendships develop, stories be built, the artist’s struggle.
Now it’s all done via text and Gchat. That’s almost gone as soon as it’s done. And the reason we remember these great romantic Civil War letters is because they were stored in someone’s attic to be pulled down, but now all these glorious emotions will dissolve into meaningless electrons once someone pulls the plug.
There is magic in the world, still, great beauty that deserves to be collected. So it was; so it will always be. But now that we’ve shifted everything onto electronics, what happens when the file formats change and the [http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2014/04/26/307041846/stopping-link-rot-aiming-to-end-a-virtual-epidemic][link-rot] sets in?
And I write this, knowing fully that it’s not as permanent as a letter. Once I die, my site will go dark. Eventually LiveJournal and Dreamwidth and Facebook and Twitter and FetLife will fade. I write this knowing that it is ephemeral, that more of our society is migrating our personal history to platforms that won’t stand the test of time, and what will be left to say about us when 150 years have passed?
This writing is for you. And it will never speak to the future.