So I’m Two Hours Into Mass Effect, And…

I can see where it’s getting the “meh” reviews.

Because I love the backstory of the new Mass Effect.  It’s a great sci-fi story with a lot of room to maneuver, classic space opera – and it feels big.

I just don’t see how I connect with it.

Like, as an example: an early mission has you scanning walls to find enough evidence to stop a saboteur – your standard “Find the foozle” quest, wrapped in a story to make it compelling.  And you scan enough evidence, and the trail leads you to your saboteur.

Except the game says, “Wait!  That’s not the saboteur!  The real saboteur is trying to frame these two people!”

Which is a great twist, if I the player had any decision in that process.  If there had been some evidence I could have overlooked where I might have accidentally jailed an innocent person, thus having to make the hard decision of putting away someone who claims they didn’t do it, that would be dramatic!  Maybe I could do the wrong thing by mistake!  But literally your AI buddy kicks in to go “WHOAH, NOPE, YOU GOT MORE WORK TO DO.”

And so the tension is defanged.

Then you find the real saboteur, who is mildly angry about how the previous administration did his family wrong.  But again, the game doesn’t ask you to take sides – the guy doesn’t even tell you what the new administration did except in really abstract terms.  And you don’t even get a chance to let him go, or try to talk him out of his deadly saboteur nature, as far as I can tell from the dialogue options – either way, he’s meekly caught, even though you’re just one dude and you didn’t bring any security and I guess the game didn’t feel like ending this mission with a chase or a battle or a dramatic emotional decision or anything.

So my reaction at the end is, “Uh, well, I guess some people are angry at the government.”  But I don’t feel it.  I’m not invested in any of these schmucks because while it’s a great story, Mass Effect seems to have forgotten to add the decision points that get me involved.

I could have jailed the wrong person, thus getting mad at those fiendish saboteurs.

I could have been asked to side with the saboteur thanks to the righteousness of his cause.

I could have been presented with a chase sequence to stop some suicidal madman.

But instead, I got railroaded along a series of decisions that weren’t actually decisions.  And if Mark Rosewater has taught me anything, games are about interesting choices.  If I ask you, “So do you want this magical wand of destruction at to fight with, or this stubby pencil?”, that decision is automatic for everyone but the people who want to make it purposely hard.

“Do you want to continue this quest or not?” is not an interesting decision.

The decisions in Mass Effect thus far aren’t interesting.  The story is interesting, on a meta level.  But I am not given an access point so I personally am invested in what happens.

I mean, it’s still fun.  I like levelling up.  But if these guys want me to care more, they need to have less people telling me, “Oh, here’s a gout of backstory” and more of me making emotional decisions based on that backstory.  And until now, there’s a whole lot of people telling me how they feel and very little of me deciding how I should feel.

 

People Have A Right To Be Stupid.

One of the running responses to yesterday’s discussion of female attraction was that women frequently fall for handsome assholes. I can’t really debate that. Those of y’all who remember The Wolf’s abuse will recall that he was propelled into the spotlight in part based on Hot Abs and in part based on a cadre of women who really wanted to get Wolfucked. (And yes, unbelievably, that was an actual term.)

However, I will also note that men frequently fall for women who are also completely wrong for them. They see a pretty girl, they sand off all the potentially-conflicting bits of their personalities to try to masquerade as what this pretty girl wants, idolizing away all her manifest flaws because she’s got a curvaceous figure – and then wind up miserable because “OH MY GOD I WAS SUCH A NICE GUY AND WOMEN DON’T LIKE NICE GUYS.”

Turns out “making riotously bad decisions” isn’t confined to one gender. Whoops.

Look, there are people making terrible decisions all over the damn world. And the sad thing is, you gotta let them make those awful decisions.

People have a right to ruin their own lives.

Part of that is because often, the people who want to “rescue” people from bad decisions actually just want them to make equally bad decisions that benefit them. The guys who are lamenting about womens’ bad decisions are, quite predictably, hoping that these broken women will take a deep and meaningful consolation from their penis. You’ll see spouses and family members shouting, “You can’t leave me? Where would you go!” when what they really mean is “I’m dependent on you and you abandoning my abuse would inconvenience me!”

Part of that is because often, the “bad decisions” people make are only bad from an outside perspective – the born-again Christian mother who’s convinced her daughter living in sin must be miserable because she would be miserable. The cis dudebro who’s convinced his trans friend must be transitioning out of a need for attention. The vanilla girlfriend who’s convinced her boyfriend’s need to be beaten bloody means they’re on the path to suicide. You know, people who just don’t get it.

But the main reason is simple: the people who bear the brunt of the consequences for their awful decisions are the only folks who should get to make them.

(It gets a little more complicated in interdependent situations, of course, particularly if your 50/50 rent roommate decides to quit her job to become a professional sparrow-raiser, but in the end you’re the one who can probably scrounge up a new place to live when her broke ass cannot.)

I am a fan of disseminating information. I’ve spoken at length of the known dangers of the one-penis policy. I’ve talked about the myriad ways in which polyamory enables abusers. I’ve discussed how men can be bad to women, and women to men, and people to people.

But in the end, if someone’s making a bad decision, that’s on them.

Maybe it’ll work out. Sometimes things do – because other people didn’t understand what you needed, or because of dumb luck. (I had unsafe sex with better than 50 women in my slutty 20s, and every test I’ve taken indicates I picked up no known STIs from it. I took a really insanely dumb risk, and yet I wouldn’t advise you to play the STI lottery and hope the odds are ever in your favor.)

But you gotta let ’em go.

Yeah. People make staggeringly dumb decisions all the time. It’s a truth of life. But the question has to be, “Why are you so attracted to these people who make staggeringly dumb decisions?” Why are you spending your time chasing stupid people who aren’t interested in you in the hopes that one day they’ll change their mind?

Isn’t that a pretty staggeringly bad decision on your own?

I can’t stop you from making that decision, of course. Not my tempo. But I can at least raise the question that maybe you could be looking for partners who aren’t looking to date people you despise.

Just a suggestion.

You are free, of course, to ignore it.

“It’s Not Harassment If The Guy’s Attractive! That’s SO Unfair!”

“The fact that a behavior is considered harassment or not based solely on how attractive {the women} find you is bullshit.”

This is a comment I hear often, usually from dudes with ugly personalities. Because they’re awful at knowing when and how to approach women for a date, they instead decide that “picking up women” is entirely about looks that they don’t have, and not about a personality that they could potentially cultivate.

The truth is this: knowing when a woman doesn’t want to talk to you is, in fact, part of the process.

The fact that dudes are whining, “Well, you’d probably like me if I’d spoken to you when you actually wanted to be spoken to!” as though it’s some grievously unfair principle of the universe is proof that they’re missing the fundamental point of the discussion.

Look, I am a catastrophic nerd. I have original RPG art framed on the wall of my living room. I go to RPG conventions specifically to geek out about roleplaying….

And still there are annoying people who bug the crap out of me by yammering on about their anime campaign when I’m just in line trying to get a sandwich, man.

These are people who don’t read the signs that I’m not interested right now. They don’t talk with me so much as they open up a fire hydrant of their interests, drenching me in overexplanations about things I’ve told them I already understand, blithely assuming that I know the fine details of the Dark Sun setting when I’ve said I’ve never played, cornering me wherever they can trap me and blathering on.

And a fundamental truth is this: knowing when and where to open up a discussion is part of why people will or will not like you. I love RPGs, I love nerds, I’m at a place specifically to find fellow RPG nerds, and yet even with all those advantages there are still wrong approaches.

As such, attractive women sitting in public are not quest-givers in a World of Warcraft game, signaling the start of mission “GET INTO THEIR PANTS” – some do want to be talked to, others do not, and still others only want to be talked to about certain things. Figuring out which ones are amenable to which conversations is the actual mission if you’re out to find someone to smooch.

Reading body language to know when someone has zero interest in talking to you is part of the process of dating women. If you’re not a Herculean specimen of bohunk physicality (and note that I am not), then discovering those levers and working them to the best of your ability should be your primary focus.

(And for the record, “Being a Herculean specimen of bohunk physicality” is not a universal access point when it comes to picking up a woman, either. The guys who bitch endlessly about how “it’s all about looks” generally settle on “a buff movie-star look” as the sole thing that All Women Would Never Call Harassment. But some women prioritize skinny paper-pale geeks, and other women long for pudgy biker dudes, and some women are, you know, gay. So maybe calm down on the idea that all you have to do is look like Ryan Gosling and nobody will ever call you on your shit? Because looking like Ryan Gosling would help your odds, but it ain’t a guarantee either.)

Anyway. Acting as though every communication should be identically well-reacted to is the inane logic of someone who doesn’t realize they’re arguing that you should be flattered by every robocall, should be thrilled rather than annoyed by spam, should be overjoyed when your boss tells you they want you to work an extra three hours tonight because ZOMG IT’S SO UNFAIR THAT YOUR BOSS HAS TO BRING YOU GOOD NEWS BEFORE YOU LIKE THEM.

And if it strikes you as burningly unfair that a woman is happy to talk with someone who approaches them with things they feel they might enjoy, and is unhappy when someone they don’t like forces an interaction upon them, then I’m gonna suggest that the real unfairness here is you. Because what you’re actually saying is, “It is unfair that I can’t do what I like and have everybody love me.”

Top tip: if the message you’re quietly putting out to everyone is “I wish you’d all stop wanting things so I can get some sex,” don’t be surprised when people don’t want to date you. Because if you’re expressing outrage when someone asks “What’s in it for me?”, you’re actually telling them there’s really not much there.

(EDIT: And because people keep sailing past the point I was trying to make, the point is not that “Handsome men don’t get more slack,” because of course they often do, but rather “The fact that women want to talk to people they find attractive is not unfair.”

(Unless these guys would find it somehow “fairer” for everyone – including them – to be forced to date people they personally find unattractive, what’s actually being said when once you dig underneath that cry of “That’s not fair!” is a version of “It’s unfair that women can’t be forced to tolerate people they don’t actually want to interact with so I can fuck them.” And yeah. Zero surprise that this approach is not met with positive feedback by women.)

Needed: One Sensitivity Reader, For A Mildly Paying Gig.

I’m in the final stages of editing a complex book which prominently features two disabled characters, and I’d like to hire someone who is wheelchair-enabled who can tell me whether I’m making any obvious insults and/or errors to wheelchair-enabled users.   It’s a 95,000 word manuscript, and the pay isn’t magnificent but it’s about 6% of what I got paid for the book after agent’s cut, et al.  If you can give me actual feedback on the book itself, all the better.  Turnaround time would be 4-6 weeks, preferably for someone who’s done professional critiquing/sensitivity reading before.

If interested, please email me at theferrett@theferrett.com with the header “Sensitivity Reader,” so you don’t get lost in spam, with your qualifications.

(And yes, I am aware of Writing In The Margins’ Sensitivity Reader index, which is an excellent resource I’d recommend to those looking to ensure that they’re not accidentally elbowing people in the face with hoary cliches and/or botched details on the life of marginalized people.  I’m just seeing if there’s anyone who I know/knows me who’d want the job first.)

The Illusion of Consistency, And Playing The Odds Of Politeness

Humans want absolute certainty, and they will fold, spindle, and mutilate other human beings to get that illusion of perfect consistency.

The easiest example of that is politeness.

Politeness is, on the surface, an awesome idea. People get stressed because they have a terror of offending people – what if you say the wrong thing and make them mad at you? Suddenly, every meeting with a new person is this wild gamble – what conversational topics will offend them? What level of bodily contact will they find acceptable, whether that’s a hug or a handshake or a stiff nod? When is it okay to introduce yourself?

Every time you meet someone new, it’s a roll of the dice. You might insult someone. You might actually make the wrong decision and have someone loathe you – which is scary! (And if you have social anxiety, you probably feel those odds keener than other people do.)

Enter politeness – a social construct where we all agree on weird things like, “When you meet people, you should shake hands and say ‘hello,’ and then talk about neutral topics like the weather.”

Basically, politeness is a way of reducing the uncertainty in social interactions. If everyone around you knows the standards of politeness, then “Doing what’s expected” will lead to positive reactions more often than not.

And if you run into someone who’s germaphobic and thus doesn’t shake hands, they should – in theory – understand that you meant no harm by offering the handshake, it’s just customary. At which point, in an ideal and sane world, you can override the generic standards of politeness with that person’s personal stated preferences.

Which is a sane, wonderful thing to do! Basically, every around you quietly agrees on a set number of actions you undertake until you know someone better, at which point you quietly switch from the I-don’t-know-you-that-well mode default behavior and into the oh-yes-we’ve-met behaviors.

(It gets a little awkward if someone doesn’t know the local rules of politeness, but there’s no universal fix for these sorts of issues.)

Politeness changes the odds. Maybe once there was like a 40% chance of total awkwardness if you talked to a stranger, but shared conventions reduced that chance to 5%.

Which is awesome. I am totally in favor of reducing awkwardness wherever possible.

Yet here’s the folding, spindling, and mutilating bit: people will get so attached to the reduction of uncertainty that politeness brings them that they’ll start to prioritize the rules over people.

The easiest example of that is “Merry Christmas.”

Time was that saying “Merry Christmas” was a social construct that provided an illusion of consistency. When the snow was falling and the Christmas trees were up, you could say “Merry Christmas!” to anyone while you were out shopping and people were socially obligated to smile back at you.

Now, keep in mind that not everyone wanted to smile back at you. People who were Jewish may have felt understandably pissy that saying “Merry Christmas!” meant that non-believers were required to translate your holiday greeting into a generic sentiment of “Good wishes!” – but if you said “Happy Hanukkah!” to someone instead, suddenly some significant percentage of Christians would get furious because they were not obligated to translate Jewish sentiments into generic good wishes. (And God forbid a black man said something to an unsuspecting white person about Kwanzaa.)

Likewise, there’s people who don’t think of Christmas as a positive event, and so to them wishing people Merry Christmas is akin to affirming other people’s
sick habits of spending themselves into bankruptcy for no good reason. Yet the social constructs of politeness required them to say it back, or they were the dick.

And yet, over the years, that definition of politeness has quietly changed. A significant number of people have come to realize that whoah, actually, this whole “Merry Christmas” thing can be a little unfair and obscuring of non-Christmas-having faiths. So “Happy Holidays!” became the default.

And people

lost

their

shit.

And the interesting thing is that most of these folks probably aren’t really upset about “Merry Christmas” as such. What they’re actually upset about is that at one point the odds of offending someone with a jaunty “Merry Christmas!” were so low that they never even had to think about it, and suddenly those odds have changed.

Now there’s some 10% chance that saying “Merry Christmas!” might be met with an implication that they’re the dick. They’re fretting all the time because their formerly sure-fire greeting has a chance of misfire… and they fucking hate that.

And rather than saying, “Oh, wow, every social interaction (no matter how minor) has some percentage of going awry, and circumstances have changed so that people are free to express a distress they’ve always actually held and yet were constrained by social constructs until now, so maybe I should alter my behavior to lower my risk of offense in the future”….

These people weaponize politeness by saying, “ANYONE WHO DOESN’T FOLLOW THE RULES I GREW UP LEARNING IS AN OVERLY-SENSITIVE ASSHOLE.”

In other words, they’re willing to fold, spindle, and mutilate other human beings’ emotions so long as they get to hold on to this precious idea that “following this rule means nobody can be mean to me ever.”

But the truth is this: there’s no interaction you can have that doesn’t risk offending someone somewhere. Every time you speak is a gamble – you can minimize that risk with politeness, and clarity of speaking, and knowing who you’re speaking to, but every time you open your mouth you might hurt someone’s feelings.

And the proper answer to that is not “Well, fuck all those people” or “Please shut the hell up for my convenience” but to accept that communication is not a certainty, and to accept that risk of accidental injury, and to look at every situation individually to decide whether that person is justified in being hurt or whether you think they’re being unreasonable. (Because sometimes, yes, they’re being unreasonable.)

And you see that certainty everywhere – here’s the young guys getting furious because they followed the rules their older friends taught them to pick up women at a bar, and the women who that patter doesn’t work on are “bitches.” Here’s the people who are furious because the terms for trans people and black people keep transforming (in part because people keep turning the mere names for these states of being into an insult, but that’s another essay for another time), and they’re furious because dammit they should be able to learn one term always and never have to change it ever again. Here’s the Baby Boomers who are furious because they got taught to say “You’re welcome” and the Millennials say “No problem” instead and that makes them feel awkward even if the Millennials don’t mean it as awkward so you Millennials stop saying that right now it’s rude.

But here’s the trick: Prioritize people over rules whenever possible. You can’t do it all the time, because “people” are not a uniform mass and someone risks getting offended whatever you do. (I keep seeing various minorities standing up and speaking for all their fellow minorities as if they were a hive mind, only to be snarled up by debates from very visible and very dissenting other members of that minority culture.)

But you know, realize that any idea you have of “If I do this, I’ll never offend anyone” is a lie that you’re telling yourself in order to make you feel comfortable. Recognize that this lie suppresses people in order to perpetuate an illusion that does not, in fact, exist.

Recognize that you’re always risking discomfort when you talk to people. And that’s okay. You shouldn’t need certainty to thrive, because it doesn’t really exist anyway.

Be comfortable with percentages instead of certainty.

Well, be as comfortable as you can.

Not Being Lonely Is Hard Work: The Link Between Loneliness And Depression

“You guys have so many friends,” my father once told me. “You don’t ever have to spend a night at home alone, if you don’t want. You’re lucky that way.”

We weren’t lucky, though. Some days, we were frickin’ exhausted.

The thing nobody tells you about “having a vibrant social network” is that building one and maintaining it takes a lot of effort. For every night we can call up people and magically conjure a social gathering, there’s two where we’re slumped on the couch going, “I guess we have to go out.” We’re reaching out, we’re coordinating dates on Google Calendar, we’re squeezing in time between my writing and Gini’s quilting and the kids visiting…

And that assumes we have a friends’ group to begin with! Hoo boy, if we don’t have a variety of close friends then that process gets agonizing. Suddenly, you’re going out on buddy-dates, hanging out for an evening full of awkward to see if you click as a group, and then doing it again with the same people even if it was a little awkward because honestly, most initial friend get-togethers are clunky and sometimes you need three or four gatherings before the edges rub off and you feel comfortable with each other.

I’m tired just thinking about it.

And yet when I see movies about friendships, I always see these effortless groups where friendship is a purely positive force. When the lead character has her big let down, their friends are there to catch her – yet there’s never the scene from the perspective of the friend who was planning to curl up and watch Netflix in glorious solitude and yet they had to throw all that away to be a shoulder for their buddy to sob on. (Or if they have that scene, it’s proof that friend is a bad friend for inconveniencing you, which is equally toxic.)

Friendship bolsters you. But it also costs.

And I think about that today thanks to an excellent article in the Boston Globe from a guy who doesn’t think he’s lonely. He’s got kids, plenty of people at work, a lot of friends on social media….

But after his boss assigned him the story on loneliness, he realized that he was lonely. Because he had a lot of activity in his life, but no close friends outside of his wife and his kids, and as every parent knows, your kids can be a delight but they can’t quite be your friends (at least when they’re young).

There’s a difference between staying superficially in touch with lots of people and having a few stalwart buddies.

And I think of this paragraph:

“‘Since my wife and I have written about loneliness and social isolation, we see a fair number of people for whom this is a big problem,’ Schwartz continues. But there’s a catch. ‘Often they don’t come saying they’re lonely. Most people have the experience you had in your editor’s office: Admitting you’re lonely feels very much like admitting you’re a loser. Psychiatry has worked hard to de-stigmatize things like depression, and to a large part it has been successful. People are comfortable saying they’re depressed. But they’re not comfortable saying they’re lonely, because you’re the kid sitting alone in the cafeteria.’”

I think he’s right.

I think a lot of people who are depressed are, at least in part, lonely – and they’re not sure what to do about that. (And a therapist is often just paying someone an hourly rate to listen to you, which can often be a rent-a-friend business.)

And I think part of that process of combating loneliness involves acknowledging that close friendships aren’t necessarily easy. It’s like exercise; some people are naturally drawn to working out all the time, but most of us like “having exercised” but still groan as we schlep down to the gym.

The most successful healthy people are often not the people who love exercise, but who have accepted that the minor unpleasantness of putting in an hour down at the gym will make their lives infinitely better.

Friendship, at least for me and my wife, is a weird balance, because as introverts we have a natural reluctance to going out with people. Left to our own devices, we’d rather nest in at home every evening – we’ve spent time working, we want to relax, going out with people and putting out more energy seems exhausting.

Yet we do it. Because we realize that if we followed our natural instincts all the time, we’d be unhappy in the long run. We need friends. But we can’t just call up our friends when we need them – that’s treating them like tools. So we gotta get our duffs off the couch and say those precious, precious words:

“Wanna hang out?”

We need to reach out and cultivate those relationships in advance, to schedule nights out, to go to events we’re not really thrilled about when we start out – because, like exercise, a lot of the time it actually turns out to be pretty awesome once we’ve started. You feel pumped, you feel jazzed, you feel glad that you went and did it.

A lot of maintaining good friendships is getting past that inertia of “Don’t wanna.” (The other half is knowing which nights you’re absolutely right to spend at home alone.)

Friendships are wonderful, and empowering, but they’re not a free natural resource for most of us. And I think a lot of people wind up lonelier than they should because they’ve got this weird, sitcom-fed idea that friendships just happen – Joey and Monica and Chandler just wind up on the couch at the coffee shop by magic every night.

Whereas the truth about friendships is that those “you wind up in the same place every night” usually only happen when you’re living in the same place, which only really happens in college. Once you’re a grownup, your friends scatter, and you have to chase them down – Joey’s at the cafe every Tuesday for open mic night, and Monica lives on the other side of town but really wants to see that show at the Capitol Theater, and Chandler’s working lots of overtime but hey do you wanna catch a drink when he gets off work at 8?

You have to schedule. You have to go to places with people you’re not 100% comfortable with yet. You have to decide to leave your apartment.

That all takes a certain amount of labor. And you get rewarded big in the end – there’s nothing better about walking into a room and seeing that smile when your buddy shows up and getting that hug and knowing that yeah, this evening was totally worth going out for because you stuck with these people until you had a history together.

Yet that takes effort. That effort isn’t not good, it’s not bad, it’s not wrong. It’s just… what it is. And if you don’t put in that time, you wind up lonely.

Sometimes that loneliness decays into depression. Or sometimes the depression saps your efforts to get out, which decays into more depression. (Gini and I have both been battling sickness lately, and that shows in the sad way we’ve let some of our regular social engagements slip. We want to fight that. We need to, honestly.)

But to fight that loneliness, you gotta organize outings. The get-togethers no longer come for free when you get past a certain age. And I think the sooner you can acknowledge that, and get past the reluctance to fight that, the better your life will end up being.

It’s okay that it’s not effortless.

It’s not for most people.

Now get out there and friend it up.

Marking A Milestone In Woodworking

So on Saturday, I started the finish to the shadowbox I’ve been working on for my sweetie.

On Saturday, everything that could go wrong with the wood did.

A “shadowbox” is a recessed case – basically, a frame you can put a three-dimensional object into.  The object in this case is “a sock.”  Because my sweetie refuses to tell me where she wants to go when we go out on  dates, and I have to remind her in true Harry Potter style that Dobby has been given his sock, and so I’m officially going to give her her sock so she’ll remember that I’m never going to get mad at her for expressing an opinion.

So I’d prepped the wood on a previous weekend, and Saturday was cutting grooves into it and cutting it into pieces that would fit together into a box.  And it was a frustrating day, because I’d lost several tools and had to go hunting around for them, and then I didn’t know how either one of my routers worked to switch bits efficiently, and I couldn’t figure out how to get the table saw set up for bevelled cuts, and when I finally did I cut the pieces the wrong way so the box shrunk from seven inches to six inches to five inches as I kept adjusting, and when I finally assembled it the grooves were half on the outside of the box, half on the inside.

I’d spent two sessions, only to end up with a useless partial case.

A little disheartening.

But on Sunday, my wife was feeling sleepy so at 8:00 I decided to get out and put in another couple of hours in the shop.

I killed it.

Now that I knew where all my tools were and how to use them, I cut myself a perfect shadowbox in 52 minutes.  All my measurements were right, my safety game was on, and I was in the zone.

And that may be the first time I’ve felt competent as a woodworker ever.

Woodworking is weird.  I do it because I like it, but there’s also that odd pressure because woodworking is a traditionally masculine skill, and I’ve never been good with my hands.  (Unless they’re typing words at a keyboard.)  Whenever I fuck up a cut, I think of all those videos where the bearded confident guy quietly assembles a mahogany end table in a half-an-hour show and never says “oops” and never has to stand there calling Norm over to go, “Okay, now, how do we fix this damn thing?”

And I know, I know, that’s not reality.  I’m told by professional woodworkers that half the time at their shop is futzing around for that tool they laid here somewhere.  But there’s this image, somehow, of the woodworker I should be which is partially of the man I should be and I never quite get there.

Last night, dear reader, I got there.

And I know I’ll screw it up again.  The guys are coming over to assemble Eric’s shelf on Wednesday, and we’re gonna screw things up like nobody’s business.  There’s no shame in screwing up.

The real reason I’m proud of Sunday night’s shadowbox is because everything I did so quickly was purely because I’d screwed up.  How did I change that routing bit so easily?  Well, I remembered where the wrenches were and knew how to get at the collar.  How did I know how to bevel the boards properly?  Because I’d spent half an hour learning how to use the table saw and learned a valuable lesson on how to cut angles.

Basically, last night’s speed run was where I turned mistakes into lessons.

That sort of conversion is what it’s all about.  There’s no shame in screwing up.  In our shop, we call them Valuable Lessons – as in, “Well, I think we’ve all learned a Valuable Lesson tonight” – and that’s how we get better.

Last night, I got better.

I’m marking that moment here so I don’t forget.

The shadowbox.

 

Answering Questions On My Latest, Incredibly Awesome Book Sale

So!  I have sold my time-travelling soup novel Savor Station to Tor, one of the biggest publishers in science fiction!  And you may have some questions:

What Is Savor Station about?
According to the press release, it is “Kitchen Confidential Meets The Fifth Element by way of Wes Anderson, about a destitute philosopher who wins a free meal at the best restaurant in the known universe and ends up gaining life lessons with a sense of good taste along the way.”

…don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t sell your weird novels, kids!

But what is Savor Station really about?  
The secret to Savor Station is that it’s a sideways sequel to my Nebula-nominated novelette Sauerkraut Station, taking place on the same station many years later.  Things have changed greatly on this nowhere station after the events of the war, obviously, but some characters put in reappearances.  If you loved that story – and holy crap, after Flex, it’s the story I get the most fan mail about – then you’ll be happy to see what Lizzie is up to.

(Which means that when Ann Leckie bought that impossible-to-sell novelette, she helped me acquire not only a Nebula nomination but a book deal.  Thank you, Ann.  In the unlikely event you haven’t read her won-literally-every-science-fiction-award book Ancillary Justice, do so now.  It’s amazing.)

That sounds awesome!  Where can I buy it?  When?  How?  
…you can’t buy it yet, because we literally just announced the book deal.  It’ll likely be out in spring of 2019, traditional publishing being glacially slow, and it’ll likely be my first hardcover.  Believe me, I’ll let you know when you can buy it.

If you’re desperate to read an upcoming book from me, allow me to remind you that my post-singularity thriller The Uploaded is due out from Angry Robot this September, it is currently available for preorder from both Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and that preorders really, really help an author out more than just about anything else.

It says this is a two-book deal.  So there’ll be a sequel to this sorta-sequel?  
Probably not.  Sequels are tricky beasts; even though I think the ‘mancer series ended really well (and I learned to be a much better writer along the way), the third book’s sales were predictably less than the first book’s sales.  As a writer, it’s a little sad to put so much effort into a book to have it be some shadow of the first book.  So chances are it’ll be an entirely different book – quite possibly the one I’m working on now, maybe another one if my editor doesn’t care for that one.

Will you be doing a book tour for Savor Station? 
Jeez, if you thought I went nuts with donuts on the ‘mancer book tours, imagine what I’ll do when it’s a book literally devoted to the beauties of fine cooking in the future.  I may have to buy that liquid nitrogen canister I’ve been dreaming about….

Are you happy, Ferrett?  I mean, really happy? 
I will never be satisfied.

But given that it took me twenty years to get good enough to publish my first book and I am now contractually mandated to publish six of them, I’m doing pretty damn well.

 

Holding Space: A Vital Skill In Polyamory

Our goddaughter died after a long, drawn-out battle with cancer. Then, a few months later, my wife’s mother died after a long, drawn-out illness.

Gini kinda checked out for a while after that.

She was overwhelmed by crowds, which felt too big and fast and inquisitive, so she didn’t want to go out much. She retreated to the bathtub, spent hours soaking in water reading comfort books – she read over ninety Star Wars books, losing herself in the happiness of spending more time with Luke and Han and Leia.

I couldn’t ask much of her.

Her grief went on for months. She wasn’t completely absent – she still held me if I asked her to, she still laughed if I told her jokes. But her normal desires had been shattered. She fought hard to find her way back to some semblance of normality, but two mortal body blows had robbed my wife of her usual resiliency.

And I, also grieving for our goddaughter, responded in a different way – I needed to get out, to feel the vibrant love at parties and conventions, to go a little mad in the opposite direction with crushes and new friends and oh my God please talk to me.

But you know what I did?

I held a space for her.

Yes, I went out to conventions and spent weekends lost in furious makeout sessions. Yes, I went out with friends and cuddled buddies and found other things to do.

But I was very careful to keep some necessary emptiness in my relationships. There was a Gini-sized hole in my life, and I made damn sure nobody else crept into that sacred space – which meant some nights, I cradled myself in loneliness while Gini was in the tub, reading a book I didn’t want to read because I wanted to be out somewhere. I watched reruns with her in the living room, which felt like a straightjacket because we could be out in the glorious darkness of a theater, that movie filling our eyes and leaving us nowhere else to go but into the depth of someone else’s story….

But Gini couldn’t go out.

I held that space for her.

And on the days when I was emotional and I knew Gini couldn’t handle the strain of playing therapist, I talked to other friends. And there was that temptation to turn this revelation into OH MY GOD YOU AND I ARE SOULMATES, LOOK AT YOU, YOU UNDERSTAND ME, to react to all this sadness by kindling new and intense relationships, to find someone to fall in love with in a way fierce enough to drive back all this ennui.

But if I did that, the relationship would grow into an odd shape – it would be a real love, yes, but it would be a love nourished by the absence of an old love. I would love this new person partially because they were there for me in a time that someone else wasn’t. And experience has taught me that those relationships don’t necessarily flourish once they’re hauled out of that strange ecosystem of loss and asked to thrive on their own merits.

So I held that space for her.

And over the course of a year, Gini finally came back to me. Not all at once; an “I think I can do this party” here, a genuine interest in seeing that movie there. She started to tell her own jokes, that warm smile creeping back to replace the stunned expression on her face.

And when she returned, she found the space I’d held in my heart ready and warmed for her. It hadn’t been easy keeping it free of entanglements. I’d had to stand alone in the center of that space sometimes, wishing for company, longing for the wife I wanted her to be – the wife that she herself wanted to be again, but could not.

And I thought of what a younger, dumber me would have done. I would have short-circuited at the idea of purposely enduring some discomfort while my partner handled some necessary issues, and I would have run out and found something to fill that emptiness, and I would have been absolutely, furiously puzzled when my partner eventually returned to find that the space that had once been devoted entirely to our relationship was now entangled with other commitments that I clung to with a new and frenetic love, and now that she was back it was not with relief but with a regret that I had to set down these freshly-found joys to have to make space for this old one.

And when she returned, still tentative and uncertain from her journey, would she have really wanted to argue with me about hey, I’m doing this now, you have to make room for this new thing I did while you were away. Would she be happy to come back from a long and difficult struggle, only to find a newer struggle of trying to figure out where she fit into a life that closed over like a scab when she left for a while?

Which isn’t to justify neglectful abuse, of course. Some partners are so dismissive of your needs that honestly, refusing to let them take up space they don’t even value is simple common sense.

But sometimes, your lovers will go through difficult times that are no fault of their own; they want to be in that space, but depression or grief or poverty mean they can’t be with you in the way they so deeply long to. They’ll get back, eventually, but for now they can’t be there for you in the way they want to.

And this is a problem in monogamy, too – but especially in polyamory, all too often the answer to “I feel distant and lonely” is to go chase a new shiny. To find someone, anyone, to fill up the temporarily-vacated spaces in your heart.

Which sounds good – but when your lovers have fought to come back to you, they find not a set of welcoming arms but the ugly paperwork for an eviction process.

Gini came back to me. You never recover from the death of someone you love; you just find ways to reroute around the damage. And Gini did her damndest to reroute and rework and renew until she could step into the space we’d carved for each other in our lives in the way we wanted to.

There was nothing there but me.

Thank God there was nothing there but me.

It’s My Novel Flex’s Birthday! So Let’s Talk About The Music That Influenced It.

Hey, my first novel Flex was published two years ago today!  (But it’s not my last novel, thankfully – don’t forget my immortality cyberpunk thriller The Uploaded, due out this September.)  And as a celebration and thanks, I figured I’d give you the songs that helped inspire the ‘Mancer series.

Because every book I write usually has a couple of core songs I listen to on repeat.  They’re what convey the mood to me – sometimes it’s the lyrics, sometimes it’s the instrumentals.  When I’m stuck on the eternal novel question of “What happens next?” I’ll listen to those songs over and over again until they lead me back to the central themes of the novel.

Or, as it happens from my poor wife’s perspective, “Are you still playing that goddamned song?”

Now, the central song of Flex was so obvious, I wanted to use the lyrics as part of the book.  But here’s an interesting bit of trivia for you: getting permission to use song lyrics in a book these days takes months of paperwork and can cost you $5,000 to use a popular lyric.  (I was severely misled by Stephen King’s novel Christine, which was written in the 1980s and uses lyrics at the beginning of every chapter.  I doubt even he could afford that now.)

So instead, I used the lyrics of this song as section titles in Flex, which I’m told is perfectly fine.  References are cool, wholesale quotes are not.  The music industry is weird.  But I mean, if we’re discussing the life of Paul Tsabo, the bureaucracy-based magician who longed for magic, isn’t this perfect?

Watch out, you might get what you’re after
Cool babies, strange but not a stranger
I’m an ordinary guy
Burning down the house

(The live version from Stop Making Sense, of course. I’m not a savage.)

However, Paul’s most essential nature comes from, weirdly enough, an Epic Rap Battle.  Because readers of the book will know that one of Paul’s weirder powers is that when the universe starts to fragment thanks to overusage of magic, his stubbornly bureaucratic insistence that the world must make sense helps stitch it back together.  And whenever he did that, weirdly, I took inspiration from Weird Al rapping as Sir Isaac Newton.

Because if you listen to this, when he bellows “First Law!” and that bass note drops in, to me, that is Paul, outraged, reminding the universe that there are laws and physics damned well better follow them.

Now, as to Valentine, everyone’s favorite videogame-slinging, sex-crazed girl gamer, she’s got her own theme song.  I was looking for a song with swagger, and I stumbled upon this in my iTunes library – if you listen to Sirah rapping through her segment, to my mind that voice is Valentine’s.

(Though thanks to electronic filtering, I didn’t register that the voice said “Big white girl, don’t let her bite your dick off.”  Valentine wouldn’t do that; she’s far more likely to jam one of her collection of dicks up your ass.  She loves that.)

Interestingly, Skrillex (of all bands!) is rooted deeply in the ‘Mancer series, because when I was looking for a song that summed up the franticness of a drug deal gone wrong because Aliyah was fucking up everything.  And the song that rooted The Flux down was Bangarang, a song whose lyrics make zero sense but whose intensity really mirrored how the family was flying apart at the beginning of the book:

Now, if you want proof that I don’t always listen to lyrics, for the third book in the series Fix, I wanted a song that summed up the appeal of the zombified Unimancers – the military brainwashing that was harsh and yet somehow appealing.  And… well, I don’t listen to lyrics.

So the feel of the song that drives Aliyah deeper into Unimancy is dark, mysterious, and alien.  To me, it’s an ominous terror.  But alas, the lyrics of Timbaland’s “Bounce” involve the classic line, “Bounce like yo’ ass had the hiccups,” which in retrospect is a little embarrassing.

Still.  I listened to this song on endless repeat when writing Fix, so here it is.

And lastly, a bit of a sneak preview: the song that roots my upcoming novel The Uploaded needed to be about rage and betrayal – because in a post-singularity world where digitally uploaded humans are immortal and the living are considered quaint slave labor, useless until they’ve transitioned into their electronic death, I needed a song that carried the seeds of a sweaty, breathing rebellion.

So for The Uploaded, there was no other song except for Rise Against’s Re-Education (Through Labor).