The Tiger Expert

“So you’re a tiger expert.”

“Darn straight I am. I’ve been watching tigers on the Internet since I was a kid.”

“…on the Internet? Have you ever actually caught a tiger?”

“No, no. Not really. I’ve watched ‘em. From a distance. They don’t actually come close to me, the tigers don’t seem to like me. But I know all about how they live!”

“How do you know that?”

“Well, you know, I’ve talked with all my other tiger expert friends. You know, the ones who also can’t catch tigers. We sit around staring at woods, bitching about how you can’t ever find a good tiger, not really, and we talk about what we think tigers are like.”

“But you’ve never raised a tiger.”

“Not as such, no. But we do have a lot of expertise in what tigers don’t like. We think. As I’ve said, we don’t actually get close to tigers, we just sort of stare at them on the Internet.”

“And yet… you consider yourself an expert in tigers.”

“Awful creatures, really. I keep wanting a tiger so goddamned badly, and yet they won’t come to me no matter how many M&Ms I leave out to entice them to eat from my hand, and so they must be very mean creatures, because they won’t accept a thing I give them. Which is ridiculous, because I have spent my self broke buying M&Ms and loud clattering pans and all the other things that tigers love.”

“Have you ever considered that maybe you really have no idea how to catch a tiger?”

“Of course not. I’m a tiger expert.”

That is, sadly, the problem I have with so many male misogynists. “Man, I hate bitches. They’re terrible, because I can’t get a date and that’s their fault. I’m doin’ everything I know the bitches like!”

And all this hatred wells up from the fact that they’re not getting laid using these derogative, shitty techniques taught to them by other idiots who also don’t get dates.

Dude. You’re hating someone because you’re too lazy to change up your goddamned game. Stop looking at porn on the internet and actually start trying to talk to actual women in different ways. Switch techniques. I’m not saying I’m much fonder of Pick-Up Artists, but jeez, at least they study the field.

Meanwhile, I hear guys ranting, sometimes directly to my damn face, at how awful women are because they don’t respect men by fucking them for all the reasons they’ve deemed should attract a woman. And I suggest that maybe, just maybe, the problem isn’t the women, but the idea that you’ve inhaled all these toxic ideas about how women work without actually ever having talked to a woman, and you’d do better on the dating scene if you dropped this arrogant idea that someone owes you sex, and took up the idea that you need to bring something to the table that actually makes you desirable.

They don’t listen. They’re tiger experts.

The Most Unfuckable Character On Game Of Thrones Is…

So because I have These Sorts of conversations with people, I wound up asking “So who’s the hardest person to masturbate to on Game of Thrones?”

And whenever I have These Sorts of conversations with people, people start needing rules.  “Are we counting the underaged kids?” people asked.  “We’re not counting Rickon or Arya, are we? That’d be creepy.”  Which, you know, it gets tricky.  Because the show upped the kids’ ages in dramatic ways – Jon Snow in the books is fourteen, Arya is nine, Sansa is eleven, and none of those kids are anywhere close to that age on the show.  (Which is understandable – the actors would not only be incompetent at nine, but they’d age out quick.)

So we have a weird issue – the actor who plays Jon Snow is literally double the age of the character he’s playing, so when we ask “Who’s the hardest to whack it to?”, how do we count Sansa, who is either eleven, or the actress who is nineteen now, but was certainly underage when we started, and what is the age of consent in Westeros anyway and wow holy fuck does this get crazy.

Anyway, so I’m going to ask the question based on Season Five of the television show now, according to the actors’ current ages, restricting it to actors currently over the legal age of consent, eliminating anyone who is currently dead.  (Sorry, Sean Bean fans. You should be used to this by now.)

With all those restrictions in place:

Who is the most unfuckable character on Game of Thrones? 

Now, for me, this is a weird question, because it’s so clearly Sansa. I hate Sansa. I hate her more than Joffrey.  My hot button is “People who prioritize their fantasies over reality in a way that harms other people,” and holy crap Sansa, I have yet to forgive you for taking Joffrey’s side way back in Season One and killing a poor innocent dog as a result. I loathe her so much that I can barely stand to look at her, and honestly, Sophie Turner is an attractive young woman, so that shows you how sapiosexual I am.

Yet the most popular answer is “Theon Greyjoy,” who a friend told me could see taking his anger (and current physical handicap) to to a dark, sexy place. Except that Theon has proven thoroughly, seethingly incompetent at literally everything else he’s ever done, so I’m pretty sure he’d screw up your sexual fantasies, too.  Theon’s not a bad choice to never masturbate to, though frankly I might suggest looking towards Ramsay Bolton if you want some real dark fantasies happening. Like, “Fantasies you probably wouldn’t survive.”

For me, however, if you take personality out of it, the Least Fuckable Character in Game of Thrones has to go to Lord Walder Frey.  Especially if you’re a woman.  You know why he wants you, you know you’re walking away with an heir in your belly, and you can just imagine the stink as he crawls atop you.

(The funniest answer came on Twitter, however, in the form of Ser Pounce.)

And yet this is a democracy, so I ask you: Who is your choice for the most unfuckable character on Game of Thrones, and why? Explain why your nethers shrink at the thought of this person.  And please, don’t break out in a slurry of fanfic to prove your choice, I really need to eat today.

My Glorious Ice-Cream Pants, or: The Danger of Small Fame

I have small fame. Small fame is pretty easy to get on the Internet.

“Small fame,” for the record, is that nebulous area where you have a couple of thousand fans – not enough to earn a living off of, but enough where every post you make gets a flurry of comments, and you occasionally get fan mail (which is quite nice), and if you squint nicely and don’t walk outside the Internet you can fool yourself into thinking that you are a Very Important Person.

(The way you can tell whether you have small fame or actual fame is to walk around the mall to get yourself an ice cream. Does anyone recognize you when you’re in a generically public place? They don’t? Then you’re not actually famous.)

But there’s plenty of places for people to get small fame. There’s lots of small famous people on Twitter, and small famous people on Tumblr, and Instagram and even FetLife, and tons of other places. It’s nice, like I said.

Until some of these these people self-destruct.

And what nobody tells you about small fame is that it comes with a problematic cadre of core fans, who – if you’re not careful – will mislead you.

Because what you see happening with this small fame, repeatedly, is that someone who’s now got a larger platform says something quite stupid. This is not because they themselves are necessarily stupid – “stupid” is a state that most of us fall into periodically, where we accidentally wash our hair with Vagisil or run through a stoplight or say something ill-thought-out on the Internets.

And the good news is that most of us have friends who’ll serve the same function as bumpers on a pinball table – they’ll go, “Wow, that was pretty silly of you,” and send you rebounding back into the Not-Stupid Zone.

We take our cues from our fellow humans, because we are social creatures. If you were to one day wake up and go, “I would like to wear pants made entirely of ice cream,” you would discover people staring and complaining about the ice cream drips and noticing that shortly afterwards you were displaying Rocky Road-smeared naughty bits about.

And so you would learn that this is maaaaaybe not your wisest idea, and rethink this ice cream-pants travesty.

But if you have small fame, you will have acquired a group of core fans who will love whatever you do. They are so like you that they are almost echoes of you, and will applaud and cheer and justify almost any action you would consider taking. They are not bad people, but they adore you simply because they are so close in tone and temperament to you that realistically, it’s like having a cheering section composed entirely of clones.

They will tell you these ice-cream pants are spectacular.

They will tell you that the folks complaining about the trails of dribbling Rocky Road you leave everywhere are irrationally afraid of ants.

They will tell you that anyone who doesn’t want to watch your peanut-coated nethers is just too damned prissy for their own good.

And if you are not careful, you will listen to these core fans, and not to the rest of the world frantically waving their arms and trying to warn you about the swarms of impending yellowjackets drawn to your sugar-clad genitalia.

Once you get past a certain point, you can get drunk on your own fame, and start listening to these core fans only, and start marking anyone who disagrees with you as The Enemy. When they’re not, in fact, The Enemy, but a friend who is trying to point out that hey, your ass is showing.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a lot more comfortable to live in the core group. They don’t question you. They defend you. They cheer you. No matter what idiotic thing you do, they will assure you that ZOMG, you were correct, and look at all those idiots out there denigrating you. And you’ll come to believe that anyone who criticize you is a jealous fool, because hey, I have this cheering squad over here, how can I be wrong with all these metronome-nodding heads assuring me I’m right?

And if you’re dim, you never do the math and realize you’ve got about a hundred people relentlessly nodding their heads, and ten thousand people disparaging these fantastic ice-cream pants.

It’s sad, when someone vanishes up their own ass like that. Some of the best things I’ve learned have been from people who have, sometimes quite rudely, put me in my place. And it was painful at the time, and embarrassing, and not something I wanted to do at all, but in the end I learned how to be a better and wiser human being, and to compose pants made out of much more durable waffles.

But if you’re on the Internets, one day you too may be lucky enough to experience the danger of small fame. And when that happens, go to the mall, look around, notice how nobody is paying attention to you at all, notice how when you step outside this carefully-constructed framework you are not, in fact, such a much.

And breathe thanks that you still have people who will call you out when you’re foolish. It’s actually a blessing, I assure you.

You Don’t Always Knock Down The Mountain.

“You have social anxiety?” people ask.  “After all these years?  You need to get to therapy, man.  If you’d done the proper therapy, you’d have no anxiety at all!”

No.  I’ve been in and out of therapy and thirty years, and all the talking cures and medications and hands-on exercises have yet to remove the pre-convention jitters I get whenever I have to go out in public.

I merely have found ways to work around that anxiety.

Don’t get me wrong; I get no thrill from having the full-body, heebie-jeebie quivers.  I don’t enjoy spending the next two days after every social gathering endlessly rehashing every conversation I had, noting all the ways I’ve humiliated myself.  None of this is fun, and I have worked as hard as I humanly can to flense myself of these joyless traits.

Yet it’s been thirty years, twenty therapists, probably close to $100,000 in costs at this point.  I’m pretty sure if there was a way to remove my anxiety, this anxiety would be removed.

Given that it’s not going away, it’s far better to work around it.

I think of my anxiety as a looming mountain, tall enough that men have died on its slopes, billions of tons of rock.  I am at the base with a shovel and an axe, with armchair therapists everywhere telling me to just shovel that mountain away!

Men have died on the mountain’s steep slope.

They have also died trying to cart away a mountain, bucketful by bucketful.

Yet I don’t have to destroy the mountain in order to get to the other side.  I can be smarter and map the mountain’s every craggy peak, note the deathfalls that are all but impassable, scout the mountain until I find the least treacherous paths.  I can find the paths that work best for getting over this damned thing and invest some time and effort into building nice bridges over the ravines, driving pitons into some of the steeper cliff-faces to make them easier to climb up.

As as the years pass, I can gain skill and expertise in learning how to get past this goddamned inconvenient heap of rock with the greatest possible speed.  It’s not that the mountain will disappear, but that eventually it’ll be just another everyday thing to be handled – put on my shoes, brush my teeth, climb the mountain, get drinks with my friends.

And some days the storms will swirl, and the mountain will be impassable, and that’ll be a miserable day but I’ll refuse to blame myself overmuch.  I didn’t ask for this fucking mountain in my path.  I have spent my life battling the mountain.  Almost every day I clamber over an obstacle so vast that most folks couldn’t even imagine facing it, and if these mountain-free fuckers had to face these sharp peaks before venturing out the door they’d probably not even know where to start, so I take a fierce pride in my skills.

I didn’t ask for the mountain, but by God most days I manage it.  Some days I don’t.  No shame in that.

And I look around, and some people have much smaller hills standing before their doorstep.  With therapy, they can dismantle this landscape and make for a smooth path, which is why it’s not a bad thing to at least try to dig the mountain down.  Sometimes, when you’re standing at the foot of the mountain, it looks much bigger than it is.  Sometimes a little shovelwork’ll get you through.

But for me?  It’s been thirty years, like I said.  The mountain’s no smaller.

Yet in those thirty years, I’ve gotten to be much bigger.  And stronger.  And I won’t let a fucking mountain get in my way most days.

My Ms Pac-Man Themed Nails, And, Oh Yeah, The Inadvertent Subtexts of Flex

So here’s a weird thing about writing a novel, one I knew about but never thought it would apply to me:

People read Philosophies into your text.  Not the ones you meant to put in there, but new Philosophies. Interpretations of the text that you never considered when you were sweating blood trying to figure out how to get your lead character out of this burning warehouse without him getting killed.

Sometimes these Philosophies even reflect what you meant to say.

I first got a whiff of this when I got a text from my dear friend Jenna:

Untitled

…at which point I went, “Wow, yeah, that is pretty much how I feel about drugs.”  Which is not to say that there’s anything bad about drugs per se, but me personally, I feel like life is largely more interesting if you just go out and do interesting things as opposed to interesting chemicals, and that Philosophy seeped into Flex like toxins into groundwater.

Then I started reading other reviews by friends, like Bat, who I finally got to meet in Portland after knowing her for twelve e-years, and her (friends-locked) review was super-kind but said:

Ferrett uses opals as a detection system to warn people of ‘mancy usage. Being that there’s several types of opal, I’m guessing he just meant a common opal, although I kind of substituted fire opals in my head. Maybe because hematite is associated with earth/fire and opals are not only associated with water but also contain a lot more water then other minerals, their usage in the story makes sense. (During the 19th century, opals were considered to bring bad luck to anyone who wore them except for those whose birthstone it was.)

(YOU TOTALLY RESEARCHED ALL THAT AND USED THOSE TWO ON PURPOSE, RIGHT, FERRETT??)

There’s lots of video game (Frogger and Super Mario Bros for sure) and other pop culture references that become touchstones, especially for readers of my generation.

Another thing I’ll look at is names:
Paul – “humble, small”
Aliyah – “high, sublime”
Valentine – “strength, health” (makes total sense with her flavor of ‘mancy.)
Kit – (possibly short for Christopher – “Christ-bearer”)
Imani – “faith”

And while this is all a valid way of interpreting the text, I sure as hell didn’t put that in there. Why did I use opals? Because opals are, uh, pretty. And I used hematite because it was a cool name. I chose names at random, as I pretty much always do.  “Hey, does Paul sound like a Paul? He’s Paulish. Let’s go with Paul.”

I do know authors (like Catherynne Valente and Kat Howard and many other catlike folk) who do choose names for their characters with extreme care, setting up their double-meanings quite cautiously, but me? I feel like a bull blundering through a Ming Vase exhibit, because I just choose at random and yet there’s all of this analysis here about what it could mean.

Which isn’t to say the analyses are bullshit! For one thing, as noted, the drugs-as-less-interesting-life-experience subtext is something I do believe, and it’s in there even though I utterly never meant to put it in there. For another, I feel very strongly that once I hand you this book, the book is yours; I wrote the characters, but you get to decide whether you like them, whether you like what they’re doing, whether you find what they’re doing is believable.

I didn’t put it in there consciously, but that doesn’t mean it’s there.

Then I think of GreyBeta’s review of Flex, where he says this:

Paul Tsabo is the name of our protagonist. So I thought of the Apostle Paul, who was the man formerly known as Saul the ardent persecutor of Christians. Saul then saw the light on the road to Damascus and changed his name to Paul and the Bible tells us that he went on to found several churches. Paul flipped from being a persecutor of Christians to a teacher of Christianity itself.  Flex‘s Paul is a man tasked with tracking down ‘mancers, the magic users of the Flex world. That he would turn out to be a ‘mancer himself is part of the exposition phase of the novel.

This is actually exactly what happens, and it is a Biblical parallel, and it is a story I knew very well, and yet… I didn’t mean to put it in there. And yet people are reading my words and coming away with these other Philosophies, and where did those come from?

Then there’s stuff that people think I put in gratuitously, and I didn’t. I remember someone saying, “Hey, Kit told Paul to get a straight-razor shave, which seemed out of character until I remembered you had a straight-razor shaving phase,” and I did a double-take because Kit – an old-fashioned New York Jew who knows where all the old goodnesses of NYC are hidden – is precisely the sort of man who made me want to get straight-razor shaves, because all the old cranky NYC Jewish guys had this hidden vibe where they had a database of the best diners and the shvitzes and, yes, the straight-razor barbers who would neaten you up sweet.  The straight razor isn’t gratuitous to me, it’s a signal of Kit’s proclivities, and yet it can be just as easily read as “Ferrett likes razors.”

So it’s weird.  I’m not opposed to any of it, like I said, but it is odd to be reminded that people do not read the novel the author gave them; they read the novel an author brought them, and then fill it full of their own philosophies.  The end result of every book reading is a collaboration, and I am honored to be so collaborated.

Now. Here’s my amazing Ms. Pac-Man nails, done by my Mad Manicurist Ashley, and she outdid herself this time:

Ms. Pac-Man nails!

Ms. Pac-Man nails!

Ms. Pac-Man nails!

Before you ask: about two and a half hours’ worth of work. Yes, I tip her well. Very well.

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.