I had a particularly strenuous workout at cardiac rehab, on a cold morning where I had been seriously tempted to pack it in. So my post-workout reward of one (1) Dunkin’ Donuts decaf iced coffee was exceptionally satisfying.
And I was tempted to Tweet my one word of triumph:
Which would have been a valid thing to Tweet. I mean, there’s no invalid thing to Tweet. It’s your social media, and you define your voice.
But my voice is generally not in-jokes, and that’s what I think of an in-joke Tweet – it only makes sense in context. If you know me well enough to know my mild addiction to Dunkin’ Donuts Iced Coffee, my fulminating rants about how Dunkin’ Donuts coffee in Ohio is never quite as good as it is in New England (which is stone-cold truth), and my joy at finding one, then you’d know this all-capped shout is some sort of joy. If you knew me really well, then you’d know this was early morning on a weekday, and I must have just finished my workout, and thus would be able to piece together the context of this joy.
But otherwise? That’s not a Tweet for an audience. That’s a Tweet I posted for me, and maybe a secret signal to a select handful in the know.
That’s an in-joke Tweet.
And I see a lot of that mysterious social broadcasting going on, particularly on Facebook – which works really well for those who do know these people, and that cryptic cry of “DUNKIES” often leads to conversational threads like “…whup that treadmill!” and “Check the hottie!” and reinforces a small and exultant culture. For these kinds of social profiles, you really had to be there.
But to those of us on the outside, a constant stream of “Jerry said what?”s and “The tuna boat: incoming”s and so forth make literally zero sense. And I don’t know whether people who primarily interact with their social page of choice realize they make no sense to much of their audience – because quite often, I’m their friend and I have no frickin’ idea what they’re going on about – or simply don’t care, because to them Twitter is just a place for them to blurt out random things from their brain whenever they see fit.
As for me, though, I usually try to be a little more informative, so that Tweet might read something more like:
Just finished a brutal cardiac rehab session. Soaked in sweat, will soon be filled with delicious iced coffee from Dunkies.
Which is definitely contextual. It’s also pretty mundane.
Weirdly enough, this second sort of Twitter-broadcast – which I call the factual, as opposed to the in-joke – gets a lot less response. If I post DUNKIES WHOO, then the handful of jamooks who got the reference feel an urge to reply to show me they’re one of the club, and as such the in-jokes pile up replies. But if I frame it all in context, then what I have here is pretty run-of-the-mill. I mean, it wasn’t an exceptional workout – no medical injuries, no breakthrough treadmill times – and I do it three times a week, so maybe I’d get a scattered “Go you!” or two, but mostly people would nod their heads and e-move on.
It keeps you in touch with me, for sure, so when we meet you’ll have conversational grist for the mill – “How’s your rehab going?” – but as far as inspiring a network of online interaction, it ain’t much. But you’ll at least be able to follow what the hell is going on in my life from a distance, unlike the in-joke world.
And then there’s the performance Tweet. This is what John Scalzi and many other popular Tweeterers specialize in, where you take the mundane thing you’re doing and make some kind of joke out of it, like:
Just worked out to clear the fat from my sclerosed veins. Now in line at Dunkies to get iced coffee to refill said veins with coffee-flavored cream.
No, wait, that’s not terribly witty. How about:
My post-workout ritual: double-cream, double-sugar iced coffee from Dunkies. I AM THE KING OF UNWISE IDEAS.
No, not punchy enough. How about -
- and so on. Which is the problem of the performance Tweet – you feel a little stupid if you spend more than a minute or two thinking up a Facebook post, because crap, it feels all kinds of egotistic to spend fifteen minutes composing The Perfect Tweet. You worry you’re becoming the Plus 97 Guy, pouring ridiculously amounts of effort into something nobody cares about. And then if nobody responds, man, have you lost your edge? Where’s the validation in social media? Man, I’m down twelve likes from last week, what do I need to do to grab these people?
Which, you know, stupid. You’re not writing for How I Met Your Mother, you’re talking about a goddamned iced coffee. Idiot.
But there I am, waiting in line at the Dunkies, composing…
I usually oscillate between the factual and the performance Tweet, starting by trying to say something terribly witty and then degrading gracefully (as they say in the web biz) into a mere factual Tweet if I can’t find a funny spin that fits in 140 characters. And honestly, I’m probably a worse Tweeterer because if I just used the sweat of my brow to put in the good time, devising a truly funny joke before I dare hit post, I’d be magnificent. But I go for the cheap joke, and man, where is my commitment to the form?
But that’s the downside, isn’t it? When you’re a performer, you’re a performer. And I’m not entirely sure I do want my Twitter to be performance art. I want it to be me, and I want it to be inviting so that you’re welcome to become a part of my online world, and if you want to know me, well, ‘ere I am, JH.
(That last bit was an in-joke. But that was a movie reference. SOMETIMES I DO THAT OKAY?)
So I dunno. It’s just odd to think that hey, for a throwaway line on Twitter to chronicle the oh-so-pressing business of my coffee consumption, I can think of at least three serious approaches to spamming 3,000 people with covert Dunkin’ Donuts advertisements. There are probably more.
This is our Christmas tree.
It makes me happy.
“Yeah, I made a mistake looking up Downton Abbey on IMDB,” I said.
“Well, I was trying to figure out where I knew some of the actors from. And I forgot that IMDB tells you how many episodes they’re in.”
“You dork. You’re just starting Season Two,” said Gini.
“I know! But it lied. It said that Limp Jesus appeared in every episode, but he wasn’t in the last one!”
“You know. The butler-dude with the limp. He’s gone, and now everyone’s talking about him like he’s Aslan.”
“He has a name! His name is Mr. Bates! Do you remember no one?”
“Yeah. There’s Lord Noble, and Bitchy Single Girl, and Snitchy Sister, and Dark Butler, and Cataract Girl, and….”
“You can remember the name of Aslan, but you can’t remember one name in the entire cast of Downton Abbey!?!?”
“Well, if there was a talking Lion-God in the cast of Downton Abbey, I’d remember his fucking name!”
Gini eyed me suspiciously. “I’m not sure you would,” she said. “I’m not sure you would.”
“The Veto” is one of those auto-debate topics in polyamory, like abortion or religion or Billy Mitchell, where merely mentioning it to the polyamorous causes a hive-like breakout of debate. Those who have veto power in their relationships feel that it’s the only sane method and view everyone without a veto as some sort of Darwinian poaching ground where slavering fuck-chickens knock you down and mount your partner, whereas those without a veto see the vetoers as Relationship Stalin, executing potential lovers with a single word.
Full disclosure: I am a Stalinist. My wife has a veto, as do I. I personally don’t recommend the veto system for every poly relationship, as like most parliamentary procedures the veto becomes a disaster without the proper frameworks to support it.
Yet I wanted to talk about what the veto is not: an end to conversation.
For me and Gini, the veto power is of such a devastating potency, like nuclear weapons, we’re loath to use it. The only reason we’ve given each other such power is that we know neither of us would ever use it without having tried every other recourse: talking, begging, negotiating, smoke signals, operant conditioning, feng shui, late-night infomercials touting the merits of dating someone else.
The veto is our bond of trust: “I know that you would never use this power unless you felt you had no other way of being heard – and so when you use it, I know it is because you are hurting so badly that we need to stop right now.”
As such, in all our years of marriage, we have never vetoed anyone.**
But if Gini or I did veto a partner, shutting down that relationship, that would not be the final word.
Too many people view the veto as a trump card – you slam it to the table, yell “VETO! NO BACKSIES!” and then your partner can only give a Swiper-like “Aw, man!” and dutifully slink away. There is no further discussion, just a sullen obedience.
Whereas if I ever vetoed one of Gini’s partners, Gini would indeed stop dating (or perhaps even talking) to that person. That would be Gini, showing me her understanding of how badly this relationship is hurting me.
But then I would have to explain all the reasons how her behavior with this guy is causing me so much pain that I felt I had to thumb the big red “NO” button.
And then we have a big discussion of a) what’s acceptable and not acceptable in our relationship, and b) how she could alter her behaviors to both make me feel loved and date this guy.
Because I want Gini dating other guys. (And girls.) I want Gini dating other guys and girls who I’m not necessarily involved with. I want Gini to not be dating other people, if she’s in the mood to. I want Gini to be happy.
If I’ve just shut down her relationship, obviously neither of us are happy.
And I think that’s why the veto gets a bad rap: too many partners use the veto as a way of walling off the things that make them uncomfortable. “I don’t like that guy,” they say, yanking the big “Veto” ripcord and then walking away without a word of explanation.
Except that for me, Gini obviously gets pleasure out of her partners. Maybe she’s so caught up in them, she’s neglecting me in ways that make me feel horrible. Maybe he’s abusive to her in ways I do not wish to tolerate. Maybe he’s better at something than I am, which makes me feel small and scared.
The veto power is not the shutdown, for us. It’s the start of an emergency talking session, and that discussion is entitled, “How can she continue to date this person, and still make me happy?” And my goal is to keep her dating that person, if at all possible.
Sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes two people have toxic habits when combined, or one person really is disrespectful in a way that doesn’t fit with your relationship. The veto risks discovering that yes, it’s them or me, and now you have to choose. Which is another reason we try not to push that big red Veto button: it could be them. Maybe I’m acting like a jealous ass. Maybe this discussion is going to reveal that I’m the one at fault. It’s unlikely that Gini’s going to leave me, her husband of well over a decade… but I have just opened up that possibility.
In the end, we love each other, which is why we’ve never vetoed. We’ve managed to negotiate through all the difficulties our other partners have caused, and keep them going.
The reason we’ve managed that is because our primary goal is to make the other person happy. That veto works because of mutual assured respect. And I think a veto given to the wrong person, one who wishes to control or suppress, would be an unmitigated disaster.
In the meantime, we’ve got this Veto button sitting between us. Haven’t needed it yet. But if it gets pressed, we know to listen.
* – If you have not seen this movie, which is the best documentary I have ever seen, then you are missing out on the majesty that is Billy Mitchell, my friends.
** – Full disclosure: There has been one veto from my girlfriend, and that after months of misunderstandings and discussion about the party in question. Which should also put a lie to the idea that vetos are a way of enforcing not-really-poly binary relationships: my girlfriend also has veto power.
Jim Hines brought my attention to this quote from someone in science-fiction fandom:
Instead of insulting us, [Hines] could be using whatever influence he has in social media to help recruit more people of color into our circles. They need to know they’d probably be much more welcome here than they might be elsewhere. (After all, many of us would love to befriend extra terrestrials or anthromorphs.)
Many of these guys would love to befriend an alien… in the abstract. But I’m pretty sure that if we did meet aliens, they’d be, well, alien. They wouldn’t understand humans all that well. They’d arrive from an entirely different culture, one they’d consider to be the “default” culture that all sentient beings follow in their heart of hearts, and they’d make constant mistakes. You’d get invited to the alien’s house, and they’d forget, oh hey, you eat chicken strips and not cans of semi-sentient slime.
Man, that’s so messed up that you eat dead chickens, the aliens would say. Why would you do that? Why aren’t you drinking our slime? Hey, check it out, this guy eats dead chickens – do you just snap their necks and gnaw on the bodies?
You don’t? Crazy. Anyway, all we got is slime, so here, we put some ice in it. You humans all love ice.
And the aliens would be thrilled, showing you around to all their friends, because you’re their proof that they’ve got a human friend. You have the vague feeling that they really don’t give a crap about you per se, you could be any human, but they’re very happy to show you off like you’re some kind of prize they won when you go to their alien parties.
And when the aliens are a little tipsy on their slime-drinks, they make comments. They high-seven each other and talk about how great it is that we helped you. Because you guys – you’re always “you guys” – never did invent intergalactic space travel. We had to give it to you. Oh, yeah, I’m sure you would have gotten there eventually! But it’s good to help the races that just don’t put it together as fast. You folks were pretty much stewing to death in your wars and garbage and whatnot, and, I mean, wow, you sure like killing each other.
“I never killed anyone,” you’d protest.
Your people do, though, they’d say, and you’d have this discomforting feeling like there’s no distinction between you and everyone else like you.
And at parties, some of the aliens would dress up like you, putting on a comically oversized Texan hat and dancing Gangnam Style and putting on that big, swinging foam genitalia they think is so hysterical because they all reproduce asexually and eyew sex, and they’d wander around mashing your whole culture into one discrete wad, and they’d laugh because you humans have so much of interest to tell us. And their stories would all feature humans as a stock figure of The Race That Didn’t Really Want It, a bunch of backwards hicks who were so caught up in strangling each other they never thought to look to the stars, either the tragic figure who had to be killed to make way for progress or the goggle-eyed comic figure who wandered around Jar Jar Binks-style, astounded by all their magical inventions.
And after a while, you might stop coming to the parties, because the slime-drinks weren’t any good and their movies made fun of you and the aliens kept getting drunk and touching your junk because oh my elders, is that how you reproduce, lemme see that! And when you complained, they assured you that you were making too big a deal of things, those were just jokes, and these were just movies, they didn’t think that way about you, come on. We love you guys. We love you. Just stick around.
You might stop attending those wild alien parties. And the aliens would talk among themselves, trying to figure out why the humans were staying away. We were friendly! they’d cry. We bought them chicken strips!
What’s wrong with them, that they don’t show up?
I am, as they say in “the biz,” a pantser. I don’t plot anything; I just find an interesting starting point and get to writing.
This is a high-wire act, rife with failure. Neil Gaiman once likened it out leaping out of a plane and hoping you can knit a parachute on the way down. And I have the smashed wreckage of many stories that I could not find an ending for, including one sad novel that devoured half a year of my life before coughing up blood on my vest.
Yet I am currently rewriting the last third of a novel, after someone In The Biz pointed out that the last third didn’t fit with what had happened before. (Oh, the plot made sense, but thematically it’s like Dorothy went to the Land of Oz and then jetted over to visit Christopher Robin; the last third wasn’t bad, but it was addressing entirely different concerns than the first bits.) So I made a detailed outline (10,000 words!) and ran it by some very smart friends of mine who’d read the book for me, and they agreed it was pretty good.
Writing the actual words has been a vacuous hell.
As it turns out, I write to see what happens next. And knowing what happens next, all the bits afterwards are boring transcription: I’m left with all the tedious details, the equivalent of choosing camera angles after the actors have been cast and the sets built. And some really get off on selecting camera angles, there’s nothing wrong with that, but for me I know what they’re going to do and they can’t vary all that much from it because it’s a quite good outline, so now what?
This novel will make me gain weight, as the only way I can force myself to write it is to promise myself a large glass of chocolate milk when I am done with the day’s work. And nothing is better than a large glass of chocolate milk.
Oh, there are little surprises, enough to keep me going: here’s a need for a secondary character, here’s a scene that turned out more powerful than I’d envisioned, and of course I need my protagonist to be more active in his fate. (Always my problem in early drafts.) But in general, this is loathsome writing to me, a thing I find mechanical and hateful.
Many outline their plots wonderfully. Every time I’ve tried, it’s ended in disaster. My inner muse doesn’t like being bossed around, and I guess I’d better let her run amuck.
Which is the real lesson for all writers: There’s nothing that works. There’s only what works for you. Find it.
Regarding my concern over how many female writers I am reading, pktechgirl phrased it wonderfully:
The premise is not that women are lesser writers who need a hand up. The premise is that the same quality of book will get less attention when written by a woman, and we should actively work to counter that.
In case you were hoping to share my essay “How Kids React To My Pretty Princess Nails” but were blocked by work because it’s adult content, the Good Men Project has reprinted it in a slightly changed format. Go check it out, comment, love, whatever you crazy kids to do it. Also, it gives them traffic, which I support.
I really wish I knew who to petition to have my site taken off the “adult content” lists. I put it on to be nice because I swore a lot and occasionally wrote about the vajayjay, and I thought being scrupulous would protect my site from kids. Now the whole Internet is 4chan, and I wish I could say, “Hey, all I do is words, you don’t need to treat me like I’m cow-felching porn,” but I don’t know to whom. There’s plenty of links to put yourself on the porno lists, but few I’ve found to get off.
(…so to speak.)
In any case, my essay is live and has pictures of me and more shareable, and on a larger website to boot. So check it out.
It started innocuously enough – when long-time reader Snippy left a comment on my Christmas List:
I’m curious: aren’t there any women writers whose work you’d like as a gift?
To which my snap reply was:
No, because I bought them all. (Or, in the case of Ann Leckie, won the relevant one I would have bought.)
Which was true. My Christmas list rarely reflects what I actually like, as I am a man of little restraint and tend to rush out and purchase what I want now, now, now. So when I heard Holly Black had a new book, I immediately zipped out and purchased that, and was literally about to purchase Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice when she announced she was holding a book contest, which I won. (In retrospect, Ancillary Justice was so good that I wish I’d purchased it just to give her money.)
My Christmas List was, in fact, originally developed as a defensive mechanism for friends and family, because before I started locking everything off, I bought ALL THE THINGS. So the Christmas List isn’t necessarily what I’m lusting to read – which are usually in my hot little handles – but rather what I’m curious about but not so rabidly curious as to get it that very moment.
Still, it’s a valid question. Do I read enough female authors? Certainly the books I’ve enjoyed the most over the last four months skew female: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl In Coldtown, and Joe Lansdale’s The Thicket are my favorite books, so 66% wimmen. I’m reading Alethea Kontis’ Enchanted, and that’s lovely enough that it’s going to be the topic of one of my upcoming podcasts.
But I don’t know. I tend to be more enthusiastic on the whole about my female authors than male authors – I’m a big fanboy for Nnedi Okorafor and N.K. Jemisin, so much so that there’s actually a hidden reference to them in the novel I’m writing now, and that novel is heavily inspired by Kij Johnston and Suzanne Collins. And while Daniel Abraham is my latest big fantasy crush I’m really kinda psyched to get around to Kameron Hurley’s God’s War, who I love as a blogger. (I’m actually sort of irritated that that’s not on my Christmas list, as I accidentally marked that as “purchased” on my wishlist when I didn’t mean to.)
I don’t know. It’s a tough call. Of the books on my to-read shelf, there’s only two females on it right now out of about ten books (hellooo, Seanan McGuire and Jo Walton), but I do tend to read more books by men because I have old and accreted tastes. Which is to say that ZOMG NEW STEPHEN KING BOOK and ZOMG JOE LANSDALE BOOK and ZOMG TERRY PRATCHETT and ZOMG OTHER DUDE I GREW UP READING do tend to clog the ol’ bookshelves, as I have a long history of acquiring my reading tastes during a time when women were not well-represented. And I love those guys severely. When they have new stuff, I get it reflexively. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But they do tend to get in the way of reading newer authors. Every book by an old favorite I’m reading is time I’m spending not reading some new hotness.
Plus, my old tastes had been reasonably constricted for the past decade or so. I used to read very widely, when I worked at Borders, and then there was a long period where I wasn’t as in-touch with the book industry, so what I read had calcified a bit into old favorites. Now, with Twitter and Facebook, I’m constantly hearing my friends micro-squee about awesome books, and my tastes have become much more catholic. There’s just a lot more authors I’m hearing about, period.
And those new tastes tend to skew very equal, if not actually biased towards women, as I read more women bloggers than men and as such I’m more likely to stumble across a really exciting female author. I think in about ten years that to-read shelf will have adjusted towards gender equivalence, as eventually I’ll have accreted enough new and exciting female authors that I’ll have to have their latest on the shelf, too, clogging up the path for even newer writers who I feel guilty about not reading.
It’s a good question to ask. I mean, the ultimate goal is to ensure that I’m reading good books, regardless of the author’s gender. Picking several books at random from girl-writers just to equalize the playing field would be crazy. But it is good to stop and analyze your reading habits occasionally, to see whether the new books you’re reading could be chosen a little more widely. And I’m glad to say that I think they are. I’m still reading probably about 70% guys at this stage, but a lot of those guys are – ahem – grandfathered in. But of my new and squeeing fandom-reads, a lot of them are women, and I think that ultimately balances out over time.
I won’t read a book just because someone’s a woman, just as I wouldn’t read a book just because someone’s a man. But questioning what you’re reading? Questioning what slices of life you choose to experience? It’s good to be called on that, and even more pleasant to come to the conclusion that you’re well on the path.
My goddaughter Rebecca has brain cancer, and may pass on before she sees her seventh birthday. So naturally, this fact sent me spluttering into rage:
And, no; no. I don’t want to hear it. There are all sorts of understandable root causes as to why a cartoon dog gets more attention than dying kids, and I’m sure you can make excuses for humanity, but I’m not going to listen today.
I’m going to fight it.
Here’s the deal: For every donation you make to the Cure Search For Children’s Cancer Fund in Rebecca Meyer’s name before December 31st, 2013, I will match that donation. (Up to $500.) The thing about children’s cancer is that we think we’ve whipped it, but in many cases mortality rates for kids are worse than for adults. And nobody likes staring into that abyss. Much more pleasant to watch Family Guy, which at least gives you a few laughs along the way.
But kids need the damn help. So if you donate, I will, and we’ll make the world a better place. (And while you’re at it, take a few moments to sign the petition to increase funding for children’s cancer from its current small base of 4% of total funding.)