So as someone with a few published novels under his belt, I get asked all the time: “How do I become a professional writer?” As in, “How do I make writing my full-time job?”
The most surprising component to that is this:
Make sure Obamacare doesn’t get repealed.
Seriously. Being a full-time writer, at least on the lower levels, is being eternally on the hustle: working your Patreon, mixing up self-publishing and traditional publishing to see which earns you more income, waiting those dry months between paychecks because publishers pay you when they damn well feel like it and acceptances can take forever.
It’s a tenuous existence at best for most writers. For every Neil Gaiman millionaire, there’s a hundred “pro” writers scraping by on a $400-a-month Patreon and sporadic book advances. The life of a creator is hard.
And if they go to the hospital even once without insurance, well, that’s usually enough to tip them out of this writing career business. They literally can’t afford to write, because even trivial health issues cost them thousands of bucks they don’t have.
So they get day jobs for the steadier income. Or they get day jobs because the insurance they can afford on their individual writer’s income is way too expensive.
Obamacare, for all its manifest flaws, let artists flourish. America’s supposed to value the small businessman, and allowing an artist to go out and start their own jewelry company, or their publishing company, or their recording business is the height of the values Republicans usually claim to espouse.
Every artist who goes full time is an entrepreneur taking a risk.
And without affordable health care, without the BS of being barred for preexisting conditions, or being asked to pay out of some nebulous savings account that won’t cover your first major surgery?
Your chances of being a full-time author are only as good as your health. And your health is always a crapshoot. You can work out all day and still get hit by a car.
Maybe you can make it if you’ve got a partner who’s willing to cover for you. Yet even that risks putting you into an abusive relationship where some jerk of a lover can mistreat you because they know you need the health care. (That’s not theoretical, by the way. I’ve seen that happen. Multiple times.)
So if you want to be a full-time writer, the usual caveats apply: write a lot, because you need to learn your craft and you can’t do that by writing once a month when you’re inspired. Get good feedback from honest people who like the kind of stuff you’re trying to write. Submit everywhere, and dance that tricky flamenco of “changing your work in response to good criticism” without “selling out the things you love about yourself.”
But honestly? If your dream is to be a full-time writer, call your Congressmen and tell them you want a health care program that protects all preexisting conditions, that isn’t a savings account, that doesn’t have lifetime payout limits. I’ve written up how to do that here, and it takes about ten minutes out of your day.
And if you don’t want to be a full-time writer, but you enjoy all that great writing and indie music and Etsy art, contemplate also making the call. A lot more artists than you’d think depend on Obamacare to keep producing that work you love, and if that gets repealed they’re going to have to quit this to get a day job.
Obamacare protects a lot more small business people than anyone wants to admit. We just don’t talk about that because we don’t think of artists as business people – but they are. They’re hustlers. They’re working to survive.
Help ’em out by making a call or two.
So there’s a fairly repellent article on the plastic surgeon who’s created what he calls “the perfect vagina.” It is, according to the article, “pink, plump and hairless.”
And I’m like, “What the fuck WHO GETS TO DECIDE WHAT THE PERFECT VAGINA LOOKS LIKE AND WHY IS IT A GUY.”
Honestly, whenever I’ve written about my unfounded insecurities about my dick (link goes to a FetLife essay), women write in to say that most of them don’t care much about the size of the dick as long as it works. This despite the fact that porn of all stripes would tell you that every guy’s packing 7.5″ regular and everyone really wants to have a 12″ cock. And speaking as a guy who’s heard his share of locker room talk, I don’t recall a man having a firm (heh) preference on vagina visuals; generally, we’re just happy to be there.
It’s weird, because to me this is the downside of porn; once you start seeing lots of vaginas, you start ranking them in ways you wouldn’t if they were presented to you by people you loved, or at least hopefully liked. I don’t think anyone really starts out looking at porn and goes, “That pussy’s a 3 out of 10. TRY AGAIN, PORN STARLET.”
No, what happens is a slight preference over hundreds of vaginas; “That’s a little nicer, I guess. I might do with less hair, if you asked.” And those tiny shrugs add up into porn stars slowly converging towards some rude mean, and then over time – compare presentations of pussy in the 1970s to those in the 2000s – people come to expect that this is what a pussy should look like, and then suddenly outliers look weird.
What gets slowly nudged to the front is this denuded white-girl ideal, a mild predilection amplified by an abundance of poon and a market desperately eager to gather dollars. And that pussy, largely, doesn’t exist except for when it’s created, usually by painful Brazilian waxing techniques.
But like dicks or female bodies or male bodies, people have their own preferences – ones they don’t talk about, because a) objectivization is always weird, and b) they’ve been trained to think that their own preferences are somehow bizarre when really, if you did a survey, you’d find that people liked all sorts of female bodies, not just the skinny-model types.
They just don’t discuss it because, well, the skinny-model types are the ones you’re societally-authorized to drool over. Going, “Melissa McCarthy is so hot” gets people going, “Hey, man, she’s a comedienne, is it really cool to uncork such volcanic lust on her?”
So there’s this weird reverberation wherein people are authorized to like a specific form of body, and because they speak out that’s the body type people become conditioned to like (even if that conditioning doesn’t necessarily take), and all of society seems to desire this thing and this thing only when really it’s a mild majority preference by a lot of people who’d also be equally (if not more) happy with something else.
And so we’ve converged on this so-called “perfect” pussy – so much so that women feel the urge to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get professionals to cut them into a different configuration.
Which I can’t shame them for. I have severe depression, and sometimes you need to take shortcuts – you can all but kill yourself fighting this thing you know to be untrue, or sometimes you just say “Yeah” and take the path of least resistance. If the surgery makes them happier in the end, then I can’t blame them as long as they don’t start pussy-shaming other people.
(Nor can I blame the folks who get surgery for practical reasons – hey, yeah, if your lips stick out enough that it’s painful to ride a bike, sure. So really, I can’t blame anyone.)
But I think the whole syndrome is a shame that society is quietly shaping what a pussy “should” look like. Like I said, I don’t think most guys really have hard-core preferences on the matter, and those who do generally are the people who’ve had their mindset sculpted by porn to an uncomfortable degree.
What people like in porn and in movies is generally different from what people like when they’re dealing with, well, people. And thank God. Because those preferences are some idealized convergence created by abundance, reinforced by familiarity, and I hope none of us are as narrow as what the media would want us to desire.
Sure. I have nights where my girlfriend’s out on a date with a new guy, and he’s fantastic in bed (as all new guys must be, in my mind), and she’s going to leave me because the only thing I have to offer is the ability to provide orgasms and he’s clearly better at that (as all new guys must be)….
And those are sucky nights. I text my friends, plan movie marathons, brace myself for a breakup.
But you know what?
I got insecure in monogamous relationships, too.
She’d smile at a guy who she was “just good friends” with and I’d go, are they really only good friends? Can I trust this dude? They seem close. What’s going on here?
She’d hit it off with a girl at a party and I’d go, Are those romantic sparks? That girl just touched her arm, should I be jumping in to head this off? Or will I look like a possessive jerk?
She’d go out for a night with her friends and I’d wonder, She’s probably just seeing a movie, but… what happens if she meets someone new? Or what if she’s cheating on me?
And here’s the thing: that wasn’t just me. I had insecure girlfriends as well who hated the way I flirted (even though I was, and am, never sure what things I do that make me flirty), and they’d interrogate all my female friends, and they’d get anxious after I went out for a night on the town.
And in a lot of those cases, the fix was simple:
Tired of fighting? Well, don’t hang out with people you find attractive, and I’ll feel better.
Maybe we should do everything together. You know, drop the boy’s/girl’s nights out. Just make sure I can always tag along, not quite a bodyguard, but… see? Isn’t this fun?
Oh, you liked that person at the office get-together? I dunno. I got a bad vibe off of them. Yeah, I’m not saying you shouldn’t hang out with them, I’m just going to reiterate my concerns every time you discuss them until you get the hint.
A lot of those monogamous relationships died on the vine because, well, we quietly pruned off any insecurity-making activities until all we had left was each other. And strangely, a lot of what we liked about each other was the stuff that came out when we were out with other people.
Monogamous people talk about monogamy as though it’s the cure-all to insecurity (just as polyamorous people talk about polyamory as though it’s the cure-all to cheating, with equally incorrect results). They tell you they couldn’t take the insecurity of dealing with multiple partners, when the truth is I’ve seen too many monogamous people (including me!) who couldn’t take the insecurity of dealing with a single partner.
I’ve seen monogamous people get insecure because their partner is paying too much attention to their child, and frankly, the fact that you can love your children enough to have more than one is one of those diehard, unspoken assumptions in the communities that shit on polyamory.
Monogamy does not get rid of your insecurity. It just makes it easier to quietly cut away all the things that bother you.
I’m not saying that monogamy is inferior to polyamory, mind you. Polyamory has its own myriad and well-defined dysfunctions. Yet this quiet repetition that “I couldn’t handle the insecurity!” often fails to note that the insecurity is not something caused by polyamory, it’s something you bring with you into a relationship.
Any relationship can trigger insecurity. It’s how you deal with that insecurity that defines your relationship, polyamorous or monogamous.
And in the end, you have a stark choice: you can work to get your partner to stop doing all those things that make you insecure in the hopes that you’ll survive the culling of all the things they love that you don’t. Or you can work to discover whether your partner is genuinely trustworthy (because some aren’t), and figure out which portions of your insecurity are dark reflections of your own self-worth, and which portions are the canary fluttering weakly in the coal mine.
Polyamory, by its structure, makes it more difficult to get your partner to stop doing things that make you insecure. But people still manage to do that. And what I’ve discovered is that even though facing down my insecurity is fucking terrifying at times, what I’ve gotten by surmounting it is stronger, healthier relationships where my partner can walk away, have fun, and come back without being punished for having that fun.
My wife and I learned that back when we were monogamous.
It’s especially true now that we’re polyamorous.
Last night, I wrote, “Tonight’s the sort of night I wind up writing messy emails to my crushes if I’m not careful. (The nights you’re most tempted are, in my experience, the nights you should definitely call no-gos.)”
Yet people asked, “Why shouldn’t you email your crushes, Ferrett?”
There’s a couple of reasons for that, most of which are specific to me:
First off, it’s a bad move for me to chase after a crush as a specifically selfish move. Generally, the only reason I think you should reveal a crush is if there’s something potentially in it for them – as in, “Hey, I like you, I think there’s a good chance you like me, let’s see if there’s any potential for something interesting happening.”
(Even if that “something interesting” is as minimal as “occasional chats and sexting, with no hope of ever meeting in real life.”)
But where I am right now is not a fertile bed for anything happening. I’m polysaturated with partners, so a crush wouldn’t lead to anything date-like. And my health issues have left me as a moody, irregular hot mess – I’m not even necessarily texting the friends I have, let alone reaching out for new ones, so even if I went with my usual offer of “occasional chats and sexting,” well, I’m not even up to that consistent enough to call it “occasional.”
So for me to contact a crush would be to say, “Hi, I like you, this would be more of an inconvenience for you if it was reciprocated.” Which is not a nice thing to do to someone I like.
(How many crushes do I have? Oh God. Hundreds. I am a crush-making machine. If I were to follow up on every one of them, I would die.)
And second, not only am I in a bad place to accept a crush, but I’m also in a bad headspace to be reaching out. I have a bad habit of forging new connections when I feel unloved or unattractive – hey, are you feeling like a fat invalid, Ferrett? Let’s ignite a couple of new relationships!
Honestly, what I should have done in a better headspace would be to reach out to old crushes (or current partners) and reconnect. But in the depression I was mired in last night, everyone’s absence was proof that nobody wanted me, and I had an irrational fear that I’d text them with “Hey, sweetie, how’s it going?” and hear nothing back because shit, I didn’t want to talk to me, why would they?
(I could reach out to them and say, “I’m feeling lonely tonight,” but alas, that would involve me not being sick of the sound of my own depressive struggles, which depending on the night I totally can be.)
So new crushes for me, when I’m in that funk, are a bad idea. (Also see: I try not to turn my crushes into something that’s exclusively good for me.)
And lastly, there’s the eternal issue of that informing someone about your crush is an obligation. A mild obligation, yes, but if I’ve misread the signals and they’re not into me, I’ve just given them a burden, not a joy.
If I like you enough to crush on you, my goal is to give joy.
So last night I stayed silent. I’m not opposed to crushes, aside from the fact that I am haloed in them, but I have my own wisdom on how to act. I have wonderful partners, and wonderful friends, and wonderful crushes who occasionally send me texts out of nowhere to tell me how they’re doing.
And if I was in a position to respond to the people who know me already, I’d probably have said, “Sure, maybe emailing someone I think is vivaciously gorgeous to tell them how much I admire them.” But I wasn’t, so I didn’t, and I have zero regrets about that. Especially now that the morning has arrived, and things seem brighter.
Still. Last night would have been vastly improved if one of my secret crushes had texted me to unveil their neverending attraction to me. But how often does that happen? And how often do you know the perfect moment to reveal that crush?
You don’t. So I usually don’t.
For me, it’s the smart move.
- No, you probably wouldn’t have tackled that rampaging gunman and brought his workplace shooting to a halt.
- No, you probably wouldn’t have stopped that dangerous scene at the kink club.
- No, you probably wouldn’t have punched out that abuser who was molesting you when you weren’t expecting it.
Because those last words are the critical ones: when you weren’t expecting it.
The problem is that you’re not continually braced for the unexpected, and so when these extraordinary things happen to you, you’re not in the frame of mind of “This is a shooting” but rather mired in a muddled stew of “Wait, what’s going on here? Are those firecrackers? Am I overreacting? Does that guy really have a gun, or am I going to tackle some random dude for no good reason and make a fool out of myself?”
Don’t believe me? Well, let’s see what someone who survived the Columbine massacre has to say:
“I was thinking it sounded like firecrackers, and that it was just a weird sound to hear at that time of day.”
By the time you hear about it, you’re presented with a nice headline that is also an easy conclusion: Mass shooting. Kink scene gone wrong. Rape. But you wouldn’t have had information like that available to you at the moment of the incident.
Instead, you’re spending time you could have been a Big Damn Hero merely trying to figure out what the hell is happening.
And there are significant disincentives to coming to the wrong conclusion. Yes, it’s awesome if you see that rope scene is dangerous, and override the dungeon monitors to swoop in with a knife and scream, “THAT HARDPOINT IS INSUFFICIENT FOR THE BOTTOM’S WEIGHT!” But you know what’s not awesome?
You swooping in and ruining someone’s scene because you, you idiot, didn’t understand how hardpoints worked at this club and in fact everything was just right and you now have made a total ass of yourself.
Again, it’s easy to Monday-morning quarterback when you know what the results were – but here in not-action-hero-land, you’re contemplating what an idiot you’ll look like if you make a bold, dangerous move and it turns out you were wrong.
Tackle a gunman, you’re a hero. Tackle a guy holding a stapler, and you’re the talk of the office for years.
Then add that to the fact that things don’t often look like they do in movies. Gunmen don’t always burst in through the door, dressed in conveniently color-coded black, to shout their intentions. Your molester probably isn’t wearing a balaclava and jumping out at you from the bushes, they can be an acquaintance who’s saying quite nice things as they ignore your discomfort. And the people running dangerous scenes aren’t comedy-doofy – they often look like they’re taking things quite seriously.
So you’re likely to do what most people do, which is to take your cues from the people around you – wasting more time as you make eye contact and go, “Is everyone else seeing this?” And of course, most of them are looking back to you, herd instinct in search of a conclusion.
Because at this point, you don’t really have a conclusion. You just have a bunch of facts fluttering around. Tomorrow’s headlines will have the conclusions, but you’re not reading them.
Yet even when you do come to the conclusion of something as distasteful as Yes, I am being molested, then there’s that final layer of confusion: Am I positive this is happening?
Because, remember, this is an unexpected situation. Thankfully, you probably don’t deal with people trying to fondle your genitals without permission all the time. So when that happens, your brain often glitches from the unexpected input, throwing up a dialogue box that wastes more time: “This is really weird! Are you certain this is what’s actually going on? Y/N.”
And by the time you finally process through all of this confusion, and the potential embarrassment of getting it wrong, and the unreality, it may be too late to do anything worthwhile. The guns have been fired, the bottom has fallen, your body’s been violated.
Then people will yell at you because “They would have known” what to do.
There is one exception, however. Quite often, you would know what to do, because it’s not unexpected to you. You’ve experienced this before – perhaps under tragic circumstances, but this is nothing new to you.
Most of the folks who’d know what to do if some random asshole threw a punch at them have, not coincidentally, been in lots of fights before. Lots of the people who have no problem raising the alarms when some skeeve starts making nonconsensual moves on them have, sadly, dealt with an abundance du skeeve. And the people who’d be comfortable intervening solo in a dangerous scene are often experienced DMs, or teachers, or both.
And I’m glad those people are there to step in. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t step up when the time calls – you absolutely should, if you can do so and protect your own safety. Any time someone in the community can rally and shut down a dangerous event before it gets rolling is a good moment.
But every time some bad incident happens, I hear people saying, “Well, that wouldn’t have happened if I’d been there.” They say it by the hundreds, until the Internet would have you believe that everyone in existence is a coiled spring of justice, eternally braced for the most unusual incidents, and these constant dribbles of disappointment are some whacky exception.
Alas. We’re human. Humans generally react poorly to unexpected stimuli. And as much as I’d love it if we all had the correct initial reaction, the sad truth is that by the time we’ve figured out what’s happening, whether we’re sure it’s happening, and what to do to stop it from happening… it’s happened.
The best you can do is try to expect the unexpected. But how easy is that, really?
My Uncle Tommy loved mysteries as a kid. I was more drawn to his science fiction collection.
Weirdly, that absence actually hurts me as a writer.
Because I never read any mysteries (and I never watched ’em), I never internalized the rhythms of mysteries, nor picked up on how to structure them. I understand, vaguely, when a clue gets dropped, but I have never ever once in my entire life solved a mystery before the story ended, and that includes really dumb and easy-to-understand clues like the rogue taxi driver in the first episode of Sherlock.
Me reading mysteries is like a dog watching television: I’m entertained, but I can’t say I’m getting it.
And that’s actually kind of a hindrance when it comes to writing a long-running series with a small cast. Mysteries are an excellent backbone plot to stick characters in, because the characters don’t have to change all that much; their concern is figuring out who the killer is and what they’re up to. You can have lovely little character bits sprinkled through, but the motivating force is not something that the character is deciding to do because they need to change their lives, but instead is an external event that’s hampering their life.
Which is why mystery writers can write series that go on forever. There’s a dab of character evolution in there, as everyone wants a character arc – the cold detective warms slightly to people, or the bumbling sidekick creeps towards competence, or there’s a background romance that inches forward – but 95% of the novel is Interesting People Investigating This Distressing Conundrum, and only 5% is based on the character making new decisions they would never have made before today.
And it’s not just Mysteries that use mysteries. Most long-running urban fantasy series are mysteries in a magical wrapper. House ran forever, and that was basically “medical mysteries.” Harry Potter had a lot of characterization, but still, 60% of what drove the plot? A mystery.
Whereas if you don’t have an external mystery to drive the plot, what you have left to move this story forward is character arcs. And those are dangerous. Because if you don’t have a mystery, the character arcs become wide – if Batman isn’t investigating some string of Joker-crimes, then the impetus for events has to be that Batman’s philosophy is threatened in some way. It’s not “Batman chases down the Riddler,” but instead “Batman’s forced to decide when killing is an appropriate response,” or “Batman must question whether the sacrifices he makes to save Gotham City is worth it,” or “Batman must choose between loyalty to family or loyalty to his life’s mission.”
And there’s only so many of those you can do before a) they become really repetitive (because if Batman keeps rejecting his personal life to save Gotham City, then the outcome’s never in question), or b) the decision creates a change that fundamentally alters the character so they don’t have the same appeal (as “The marital conflicts of Bruce Wayne, no-longer-adventuring-husband” are unlikely to appeal to teenaged boys).
I ran into this when I was writing my ‘Mancer series. Without a mystery-of-the-week to drive the series, there were three stories I could realistically tell: Family of magicians comes together, family of magicians is driven apart by an evil force, family of magicians is driven apart by a good force.
And I’m proud of the ‘Mancer series, I am, but people keep asking me, “So what comes next?” and….I got nothing. (Well, not nothing, I’ve got my new novel The Uploaded coming out in September, but that’s in an entirely different universe in an entirely different genre. Although it’s also about families. And yet I digress.) In the ‘Mancer series, these characters have changed radically from their inception, and I can’t think of anything else they could do that would be as compelling. I could go on to tell the stories of other ‘mancers in that universe (and might, some day), but that’s different from the bestselling urban fantasies that have fifteen novels on the continuing adventures of That Character You Love.
Because if I could write mysteries, it’d be fun to plop Valentine and Aliyah into the Mystery Machine and have them go around solving magically obsessive crimes. But…. I’ve tried, and I never internalized the rhythms of how mysteries work. I don’t think in mystery terms. And that is a real handicap for a guy who already doesn’t know how to plot in advance.
Not that it’s a bad thing that I write novels with huge, sweeping character arcs. It’s just a mild issue for my career as a writer, because even if by some miracle I wrote The Bestselling Novel, I couldn’t then spin out endless tales with that person at the center. I’d tell three, maybe four stories and be done.
(Which isn’t to say that many famous writers haven’t done well off of that model – they have – but it’s sure nicer if you can Jim Butcher your way into a situation where every annual installment helps sell copies of the other 14 books in the series.)
I’ve pondered how to solve that, or even if it needs to be solved. I’ve wondered whether I should do nothing but read a mystery book a week for a year, hoping that I might start to think in mystery ways. I’ve read books on How To Write A Mystery, and they seem cold and distant to me.
And maybe it’s because, ultimately, the mystery isn’t that compelling to me. Reason I’m writing this is because last night I picked up a mystery by an author who I really enjoyed, and the first three chapters left me cold. It was a perfectly good book, and yet what was a really interesting take on a locked-room mystery still had me shrugging.
In the end, this may be like the appreciation I wish I had for jazz, or 80s rap; I’ve listened, I wish I was educated enough to find the joy that other people take in it, but I’ve tried and it doesn’t seem to work. And maybe mainlining it for a year would give me that joy, or maybe it’d turn out that it’s just not for me no matter what I do.
Some days, I write essays that come to firm conclusions about how things should be. This isn’t one of them. It’s not like my writing career hinges on getting this down; it’s just a tool in the box that I lack. And you can get by as a writer without possessing all the tools, as there’s plenty of writers who don’t really have the rhythm of traditional plotting or character arcs down, and they compensate with other strengths.
But it’d be nice to be able to write a story and not have it all hinge on the growth of the characters. I’d like a little mystery in there to serve as the spring.
Maybe some day.
It sounds kinky, but one of the major problems in computer programming is deciding how much you need to expose.
The same is true of polyamory, but let’s start with the far less confusing topic of computer programming as an example.
Let’s say you have a program that calculates sales taxes: you hand it an order, and it tells you how much money you owe. Many programmers would argue that the ideal way to do this is a “black box” method – you hand the program an order, and it gives you a tax percentage.
How did it come to that conclusion? You don’t need to know how that program made that decision. What happens inside the program is a mystery.
But life is complex, and sometimes you need to peek inside the box – say, for example, if you need to know which tax code to apply to the order for accounting purposes. In which case, you might need your box of a program to return a little more data – say, a tax percentage and a tax code.
And in weird cases, maybe you need to get a breakdown from the box to know how it came to its conclusions – maybe you need to know which things you ordered were tax exempt so you can tell your customer, so you have to expose the box’s calculations to a much greater (and more complicated) extent.
So what’s the best way to program this tax-calculating device? Good programmers will trot out all sorts of theories to prove that you should always go with the simplest method, or the most flexible approach, or the most maintainable one.
Smart programmers, however, will answer: it depends what you need. Programming is not an absolute. There are solid, well-tested guidelines in programming, but every good programmer’s had to hold their nose because dammit, this clunky, inelegant solution is the best fix for this specific problem.
And that’s a lot like the way you process how your partners have sex with other people.
Right now, one of my partners is starting a new relationship with someone else. This is normally a time that provokes jealousy and insecurity.
For me, I need my partner’s sex to be a black box. I don’t need to know too much; I send a query going, “SEX GOOD?” and she replies with one of three answers:
And that is all I need to know to function. Any more information on what’s happening inside my sweetie’s sex-box would cause me to start comparing, and I’d start to wonder if they were way better in bed than I was, and of course if they were better in bed then my sweetie would of course have no reason to stay with me and I would freak the hell out.
So they just tell me, “I had a great time!” and that’s sufficiently abstracted that I can be appropriately happy (or concerned) for them.
Of course, that information would be too much for many poly people. For them, the black box is even more abstracted – they send a query that says, “WAS SEX PROTECTED?” and the answer is Y/N, aaaaaand that’s all they need to know. Good? Bad? Irrelevant. “Unlikely to serve as a staging ground for STIs” is the only answer they require from their sweetie’s sex-box.
Then again, some people would find that information stifling. Some poly couples have to get a good, solid look at the sex-box’s internals, walking through the sex moment-by-moment, sifting through the other sex for tips and tricks they might use on their own, getting turned on by the knowledge of their sweetie’s pleasure. That box is flexible, man.
And which box is best for your polyamory? Let’s ask the smart programmer:
It depends what you need.
Because defining that black box of your partner’s partner is a vital survival skill in polyamory – and it’s not just sex. Personally speaking, I don’t need to know the fine details of my sweetie’s sex life, but I do need to know their emotional details – are they falling in love? Are they getting along? What sorts of happy things do they geek out about?
Yet again, for other people, that box may be a little more encapsulated. For them, they have an emotional partner-of-partner box that asks, “RELATIONSHIP GOOD?” and they get the answer of:
And that is all they need to know to function. And that’s great!
(Or you can start exploring the VantaBlack box zone of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Relationships, where you literally are not even aware of who your sweetie is dating, but that risks some fatal miscommunications if you’re even slightly out of sync. Nothing wrong with DADT in the abstract – but if I were to describe it in programming terms, it’s known to be a very buggy approach.)
The point is, a lot of novices to polyamory freak out because their partners are either exposing too much or too little information about what’s happening in their other relationships. And part of learning to do polyamory comfortably lies in determining what sorts of feedback you want when you query the black box of your partner’s other relationships for information.
That answer may vary from partner to partner (I have a partner who’s a swinger, and I do love hearing about her sex parties), or topic to topic (as noted, I need way less information on sex than I do emotional realities). But framing it in terms of “What I need to know about how my partners are getting along with their partners” – even if that answer is, “I don’t” – is key to happily managing an active polyamorous network.
In the end, like programming, there’s no wrong answer. It lies in what you need…. And if it doesn’t work, you go back and refactor it! There isn’t a programmer in the world who hasn’t finished a perfect black-box tax calculator that hands back a single percentage, only to be told, “Oh, wait, we need the tax code too.” At which point they sigh, roll up their sleeves, and change the code.
Which is hard work. But like programming, things will go a lot better if you think things out in advance instead of just making everything up as you go.
Okay, so I hate asking people for recommendations because it always, always goes like this:
“Whenever I see romantic comedies, I break out in blistered rashes and have to go to the hospital for three days. So do not recommend a romantic comedy.”
“Oh, but I love romantic comedies, and this romantic comedy is really different so you should watch…”
(And also stop the not-quite-as-funny-as-you’d think joke of recommending a romantic comedy to me in the comments. It’s also been done.)
What I’m looking for are very specific recommendations because I am a man with very specific needs. So I’m gonna ask you to share your favorite books, podcasts, and morrors with me – but only if those wonderful books, podcasts, and mirrors match the criteria I’ve asked for!
(And if I sound exhausted, it’s because I’ve literally spent fifteen years saying, “Can someone recommend a band similar to They Might Be Giants?” and having people hand me their favorite death metal band. It’s great that you love death metal, or even this band! But is it that hard to understand that This Thing You Love isn’t at all like what people are asking for?)
So! Let’s try this!
I have to find a thirty- to forty-minute podcast so I can exercise longer. Currently, all my favorite podcasts (Planet Money, 99% Invisible, Writing Excuses, Revisionist History) clock in at around 20-25 minutes, and my doctor says I have to up my exercise game to keep my heart clean.
So I need a thirty to forty-minute nonfiction podcast that is an actual focused topic – while I like the looser podcasts where two guys just ramble on for an hour, that’s not enough to keep my concentration during the agony of the elliptical. If it’s a shorter podcast, or significantly longer, it literally won’t work for me.
So I’ve been reading stressful books lately, which isn’t very fun given the stressful politics. I need a light series of books to get me through that are a) short, b) fast-paced, and c) not urban fantasy. Snappy patter and lovable characters a significant bonus.
(These do not have to be series. A one-off, enjoyable book is just fine.)
My mother has asked me to get her an “artistic” mirror for her living room. She doesn’t have anything in mind, but wants to see cool mirrors with artistic frames and/or glass that are at least large enough to see her face in. (Larger is better, up to a point.) If you’re an artist or know someone who is an artist who works in this medium, point me to it!
(Warning: If you’re posting links on the LJ version of this entry, URLs are automatically screened thanks to Russian spammers filling up my text. I’ll see ’em eventually, just not immediately.)
So my wife and I saw the Green Lantern movie in the theater.
The big twist was that the film ended when we weren’t expecting it to.
Which is to say that a final battle in an action movie should, ideally, bring in all the lessons that the protagonist has learned over the course of the story. They’ve learned from their mistakes, they’re motivated more because the things they love are more in danger than they’ve ever been, and the villain’s philosophy is no longer compelling.
And Green Lantern had a big, knock-down battle that both Gini and I went, “Oh, this is the fight where Hal Jordan loses, and realizes why his strategy isn’t working, and limps away to come ba – oh, no, wait, the credits are rolling.”
Because a good story has a climax. It’s a series of events that are amplitudes, slow shakes that build upon each other to create an earthquake. That fight is not a fight – it’s the hero’s new mindset, weaponized.
Bad stories end with a fight.
And I’m thinking of that because I finished Watch Dogs 2 last night, which is an entertaining game and a terrible goddamned story. Watch Dogs 2 features HIP MILLENNIAL JUSTICE HACKERS who make zany movie references and HACK FOR FREEDOM and wear millennial outfits. They’re like a Saturday morning cartoon version of Anonymous.
The storyline is complete garbage because the story writers and the game play designers apparently lived on separate continents and never spoke to each other. Watch Dogs 2’s story would have you believe that DedSec, the Millennial Champions Of Fair Play, are deeply concerned with the lives of Joe Average Sheeple, hacking into political servers not because they want to get rich, but because they are in search of Truth and Freedom.
Watch Dogs’ game has you carjacking random civilians before running them over in the street.
In fact, there’s one mission where some bad hacker outrages the noble compatriots of DedSec because he is – gasp – feeding the wrong addresses to SWAT teams and sending them crashing through the door of innocent civilians! They take him down in the most humiliating way possible, because DedSec are heroes, and oh wait one of the standard powers you have at your disposal is literally pressing R1 to tag some poor random bastard as a false SWAT target and watching the cops Rodney King the fuck out of him.
So the game is a seesaw of characters protesting very loudly that they are good guys before beating up hookers and stealing their money.
But I beat the game last night, and I was like, “Wait, that’s the end?” The only reason I wasn’t surprised by the end credits was because the game had, helpfully, thrown up a warning saying “HEY THIS MISSION IS THE FINAL MISSION U OKAY BRO?”
And again, Watch Dogs 2 had a fight, but not an emotional moment of catharsis. The missions were not lessons in which the characters learned anything – they were excuses for DedSec to release a propaganda video decrying Modern Evils like hacked voting machines or the militarization of the police force.
People died, and it seemed random, because our hero Marcus didn’t learn anything from the death aside from “I want revenge upon the gang members who killed him for no good reason, and here’s a mission where I drop bombs on this person’s killers.”
A good action climax involves the character making hard decisions that affect their outcome. Maybe they’re crawling through duct vents to save innocent civilians when the cops are doing their best to betray them. Maybe they’re fighting computerized agents and they need to learn the certainty that love gives them before they can unleash their full power. Maybe they’re a dark knight protecting their city, and they need to become comfortable becoming the scapegoat so their city can keep running.
There’s a philosophy driving that final fight. It’s not just people punching each other – it’s the hero learning something they didn’t know before, and synthesizing that knowledge to help them win. Sometimes, in the case of Die Hard, it’s a question of finding a new faith in that philosophy – or in the case of the Matrix, it’s discovering what a new philosophy gives you.
Or you have Watch Dogs, where the characters don’t learn because the writers have given them no challenge to their philosophy. As a writer, DedSec should be an easy challenge – okay, these hackers believe in freedom at all costs, so much so that they’re all casually willing to die for it. What happens when they stumble upon information that’s genuinely better kept secret? Or what happens when, as actually happens during the game if not the story, they’re so certain of their morality that they become the evil they’re fighting?
None of that happened in Watch Dogs. There was a lot of philosophy tossed about, but nothing about what the heroes believed was ever challenged. Every threat DedSec faced was a straw man, so laughably evil that there was never a question that they might have a point. DedSec never doubted their goals – they just doubted they could pull them off, which is very different than “Should I be doing this?” Even when they died, it was like, “Welp, that person was devoted to the cause, pour a bottle, move on.”
So the end game was a surprise. There was no buildup. There could be no buildup. There was nothing to build up to, aside from endless setpieces and action montages.
You can’t hate a villain who doesn’t make you question your life.
And if you don’t hate the villain, doesn’t matter how big the final battle is, it’s just going to be a big ol’ “Oh, he’s gone?” before the end credits roll. Just like Watch Dogs. Just like Green Lantern.
Just like a hundred other stories you’ve already forgotten. And if you’re a writer, “being forgotten” is always your real enemy.
What I thought I had written was an essay on how it’s okay to like different things than I do. What I’d actually written was a plea for everyone to debate the merits of Internet poetry.
Because in my essay, as an example of Things I Disliked That Other People Loved, I discussed
I didn’t think that
into an essay
made it poetry, man.
And I specifically said that it was cool that other people loved that style of poetry. I told people in the essay that the point was that even though I didn’t like that poetry, it was great that other people did.
Yet my comments
became a huge
on whether that sorta poetry
was cool, man.
The problem was that I’d used an example that was more controversial than the point I’d intended to make. I could tell people all I liked that “Hey, this essay’s about freedom of choice” – but what their eyes focused on was “Ferrett raises the question on What Constitutes Good Poetry.”
Because honestly, that minor point about poetry was both more interesting and more debatable than the point I was trying to make.
Welcome to the Distracting Sub-Argument. You didn’t mean for that brief aside you made to become your whole point – but by introducing something more contentious than the point you were trying to make, that’s all that anyone will take away from your essay.
Which happens all the time in politics. You’ll see someone, say, debating the merits of sex work, and they’ll say something like:
“I agree that sex work should be legal. These poor women who have no better options should be protected.”
What that person meant to say was, “I am for sex work” – but they just also called every sex worker a) female, b) poverty-stricken, and implied that sex workers were c) so damaged someone had to look out for them.
As much as the author of that comment would like people to walk away going, “Wow, that person is for legalizing sex work!” they are instead going to have people debating the far more contentious point they didn’t actually mean to raise.
The problem with the Distracting Sub-Argument is that quite often it pops up as something you naturally assumed to be true, and didn’t realize it was debate-worthy – so you didn’t back it up with other arguments. And then people will take umbrage at this controversial point you didn’t even realize was controversial – and the irony is, if you’d taken a moment to make your positions clear on the topic, most people would have agreed with you.
You see that in consent essays a lot. People will have these heartfelt write-ups on Why No Should Mean No, and in the middle of it they’ll casually toss off some statement like “And you’re not obligated to tell anyone if they violated your consent” without backing it up. And the entire comments section becomes people dragging that idea – “HOW CAN YOU EXPECT US TO LEARN IF YOU NEVER TELL US WHAT WE DID!”
Whereas if, instead, you’d put in a slightly better-defended subargument in, people would have gone “All right” and argued the topic you’d wanted them to argue. If they’d said, something like, “Given that predators can often be abusive, and will actively work to get the community to shun you once you let them know you’re onto them, you’re not obligated to tell the person who violated your consent what happened” –
– well, there’d still be debate, but the Distracting Sub-Argument wouldn’t obscure the main point you were trying to make.
And it happens all the time. I wrote a heartfelt essay on how “Be Yourself” isn’t necessarily the best advice for people, and what too many people took away was the inadvertent question of “Should teenaged Ferrett have paid more attention to his personal hygiene?” I wrote an essay wondering whether sex is easier for men to get than people traditionally think it is, and what lots of people came away with is the question of “Is Ferrett shaming guys who can’t get laid?”
That’s not necessarily the fault of the audience. If I hadn’t inadvertently introduced a more compelling sub-argument, folks would have had a better chance of getting the message I’d hoped to broadcast.
Learning that difference between what you’d intended to write, and what you actually wrote, is a survival skill for anyone writing on the Internet. You should understand what parts of your essay and/or comment are going to be of the most interest to people – and if the most intriguing portion you’ve written isn’t your main point, then a) choose a less-distracting example or b) flesh out your sub-argument so it’s not standing alone with no logic to defend it.
bad poetry debates
And no one
that kind of