Yes, I Love The Royal Wedding

My grandmother lived next to me, in the duplex.  We lived in our own lightless world.

Because I had school on the far side of town, and had to get up at 5:30 in the morning to take all the buses to get to school.  Nobody was up.  Walking to the bus was a grim, dim experience, trudging past endless rows of darkened houses; it felt like the world had shut down, and I was the only person alive.

My grandmother was up, though.  She was the only light on in the whole world.

So I walked next door and parked myself next to her, her jigsaw puzzles, and her coffee.  And we’d chat.

My grandmother loved her tabloids.  And I loved to read anything.

So we’d chat about celebrities – “You see what Madonna did?” “Oh yes.” “Well, I don’t see anything wrong with that.” “Neither do I!  She has a right!” – and we’d discuss which papers were good and which were trash (The Star was invariably accurate, The Enquirer was always spreading lies), and we’d debate which celebrity marriages would make it and which would crash.

They weren’t big conversations; just little passing discussions as she was putting together her jigsaw puzzle and I was frantically scrambling to do my homework.

But to a friendless boy who entered a bubble of isolation for two hours on his commute, those tiny discussions were life.

And of course, the crown jewel of our conversations were Diana and Charles.  We loved the royal family, because they were the perfect celebrity – they were born to the lifestyle, so it didn’t seem quite as cruel to look in on them.  They knew the deal: they got to be rich, in exchange for living in a gilded cage.  And the struggles as they tried to be stoic and yet remained relentlessly human were fascinating – they were held to flawless standards, yet griped and bitched and dorked it up despite all that training.

(Now that I think about it, that’s pretty much where my concept that no human is a paragon of virtue comes from, because honestly, with all the pressures applied to the royal family, if you could squeeze the humanity out of someone to make a person conform flawlessly to arbitrary rules, the royal family would do it.  But no; they flailed in the press’s eye all the time, merely by making mistakes that ordinary people wouldn’t have thought twice about.)

And Charles and Diana, well, that was a fairybook gone wrong.  We loved Diana like the tabloids did, we loved the ordinary girl made into a star, and I did not yet understand how relentlessly destructive celebrityhood could be.  I think of Ta-Nehesi Coates’ words on Kanye West: “There’s ample evidence, beyond West, that humans were not built to withstand the weight of celebrity.”

The tale of Diana was unusual and resonant because our journey, the journal of the readers, mirrored Diana’s perfectly.    Usually the tabloids get something dramatically wrong in any story, but in this case everything they got wrong was something that Diana personally believed at the time: that Charles genuinely loved her, that being made into a princess would be a magical goodness, that the tabloids were good and the royal family was something more than a bonsai-contorted remnant of humanity, twisted into position by tradition and remoteness.

And as the reports came in and Charles made his mistakes (“Are you in love?” “Whatever ‘in love’ means,” he said), Diana’s commoner dreams were dashed in real-time with our own hopes so that our heartbreaks were intertwined.

She became the Peoples’ Princess because we had travelled one step behind her.  My grandmother and I knew she had been foolish, but we also had been foolish, and so we forgave her.

But I remember those early days of Diana, back when we were all flush with hope and dreams; I remember getting up with my grandmother at 4:30 in the morning, each of us setting our alarms, to get up early on a school day of all things.  I remember both of us sitting rapt by the television, watching the spectacle quietly, knowing nobody else we knew gave a crap about this wedding but it was a big deal to us and so we watched it in this tiny, dark little pre-morning world that was shared by us and us only.

I was late to school that day.

It was worth it.

And so to this day, I know more about the royals than most people would suspect of me.  Back when I was a punk, with a torn T-shirt and piercings and a regular mosh pit, and I still would spout very firm opinions on Camilla whenever anyone brought it up.   (I’m not excusing what she and Charles did, but honestly, she gets shit on so much for not being Diana, and honestly, who could?)

And now that I’m 48 and a fiercely-liberal science fiction writer, I suspect a lot of my friends will be thrown by my deep and abiding love for the royals.  But I adore the Queen, and I’ve been hoping the best for Harry, and honestly William and Catherine leave me cold but why am I so enwrapped in silly gossip?

I could justify it, but really, it’s just an old habit – one that makes me happy.  I think of my Gramma, and I think of that world we created, and it’s still alive even if only I’m here to sustain it.  (Though to be fair, my wife also harbors this secret love, which is just proof we’re suited for each other.)

So tomorrow, I’ll be getting up early, and turning on our television, and I can’t wait to see what dress Meghan wears.  We’ll be gossiping at the ridiculous hats, and seeing how uncomfortable Charles looks in the role of father as he walks her down the aisle, and it’ll be early with the lights all off and on some level I’ll be nine years old again and having brief talks with my Gramma.

Long live the Queen.

Long live these odd traditions.

I’m In A Kickstarter For Compassionate Fantasy Stories About Mentally Ill Characters! Check It Out.

I’ve had a decades-long battle with mental health, struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder and social anxiety.  As such, I can tell you that the ways that people with mental illness are portrayed in fiction are… not good.

Usually, the folks with mental illness are the villain, when in real life they’re far more likely to be abused than to abuse. And if they’re the hero, the mental illness is something to be overcome, where they get to the end of the story and break free from all this annoying trouble to never feel sad again!

(That, or they realize that medication is for chumps and they chuck away the drugs to emerge wiser and stronger, which is something that diabetics and heart patients should also do, apparently.)

So anyway, my friend Vivian Caethe got sick of that and decided to Kickstart an anthology of compassionate mental illness portrayals in fantasy settings – and she asked me to write a story for it.  So assuming it funds, I’ll be telling you the story of Rivan and Eleanor, two suicidal wizards who fight to save the world because their madness gives them unique skills.

And the anthology also has some other pretty kick-ass authors like Cat Rambo and Jody Lynn Nye, and the stories will be looked over by a professional psychologist before publication to ensure authenticity.  And if you’re a writer who likes submitting to anthologies, yes, if it funds it’ll be accepting submissions.

As it is, Unlocking the Magic is 70% funded, so it’s almost sure to get there – but I think it’ll also be a great read.  So if it sounds up your alley, take a look!

I Aspire To Be As Good As I Tell You I Am.

“You’re dating Ferrett?” people would ask my long-time girlfriend when they found out we were dating. “I’ve read his essays on polyamory!  They’re so sweet! He must be wonderful!”

She’d always pause and shuffle her feet. “Well,” she’d finally say, “There’s a bit of a gap between writer-Ferrett and actual Ferrett.”

Which is true. I mean, I told you a story yesterday where I was extremely generous with my wife’s time, and I’ll tell you the heartwarming lessons where Ferrett Thought Something Dumb and then Ferrett Learns Better and then Everything Is Okay In Weaselland again, but…

Everything I write about is a curated version of who I am.

The art of the essay is boiling things down into a single gem of philosophy, and sometimes my life is too painful and messy to extract a coherent thought. Writing about the argument I had with my ex just before we broke up, a splintered screaming match where we both acted like assholes and I don’t know that either of us learned any lessons from it?

What’s the sense in exposing my personal life to present that ugliness to you?

I do have moments of genuine connection, sure, but there’s also the many more moments of what I aspire to be and fall short – I meant to schedule our next get-together but instead got caught up chasing this new flirtation, I meant to listen their complaints but instead I snapped at them for inconveniencing me, I meant to be okay with them dating people but instead guilt-tripped them for not paying attention to meeeeeeeeee.

Writing’s about presenting moments of change. And some shit doesn’t change. Relationships are an endless struggle to battle back the old habits, and there’s often nothing new to report, you just know you shouldn’t do that next time.

There’s ugly arguments in La Casa McJuddMetz, often instigated by me. Stupidities perpetrated, repeatedly, also by me. Thoughtless cruelties I enacted. And yet those aren’t really essays because there’s nothing exceptional about those moments, I just stayed out too late with a date again and forgot to call, again, and Jesus how could you and you’re right Jesus how could I.

So when I write about a beautiful moment I had, and people comment, “THIS IS THE KIND OF POLY I ASPIRE TO BE,” I always cringe and go, “So do I” – because that moment is so beautiful simply because it’s not the usual mixture of lovely moments interspersed with oh fuck I did it again, didn’t I?

Yet there is good news, because writing about what we aspire to be encourages us to be better. The nicest compliment my girlfriend ever gave me was when she said that the gap between writer-Ferrett and actual Ferrett had narrowed to the point where they were almost the same. I’ve become a much different person over the last ten years, in part because I keep holding myself to high standards.

But the problem with that is, if you tune in only occasionally, you come away with the impression that Whoah, this glorious parade of beauty is what polyamory is supposed to BE.

It should.

But I struggle to get there most days myself.

The reality is, well, reality. I worry that society has this binary focus, where someone is either a PARAGON OF BEAUTY WHO DOES POLY WELL or A STUPID FUCKUP WHO RUINS POLY FOR EVERYONE ELSE. And the truth is, if you talk to my exes – or even my current partners – you’ll find plenty of times I did not provide that glorious polyvana and instead was insecure, clutching, nasty, untruthful.

The good news, such as it is, is so were they.

We all blow it on occasion.

That’s just how this is.

So aspire, man. If you like what I do, use that as your lighthouse to navigate by. Just realize the lighthouse is actually another ship bobbing on a turbulent sea, one that occasionally shines bright and occasionally has to pry its wrecked self off the rocks.

But there will be arguments. There will be dreary fuckups. There will be ignoble breakups. I have ’em, you have ’em, everyone has ’em.

Keep those aspirations high, though, so when you screw up you remember to better. I think that’s the best we got.

What’s It Like Having A Heart Attack When Your Wife’s Visiting Her Boyfriend? One Of The Most Polyamorous Stories I Know.

When I had my heart attack five years ago, my wife was out of town visiting her boyfriend. Which led to an interesting dilemma:

When do I tell her what’s going on?

Because my heart attack was a subtle heart attack. It was not clutching my chest and shouting, “THIS IS THE BIG ONE!” It was lying in bed with a dull ache that kept me from falling back to sleep. I almost ignored it, but then I thought: “You know, the last time you ignored a chronic pain, it turned out you’d been walking around with a burst appendix for four days.”

(True story. I also likely burst said appendix in a mosh pit at a Rise Against concert with my daughter, but that’s another tale for another time.)

So I went into the ER, convinced I was wasting my cash. And the ER wasn’t sure, either; my EKG was fine, my blood levels were normal.

Do I ruin my wife’s weekend – she only gets out there every couple of months – for what might be a false alarm and some annoyingly large bills? I mean, if I’m in no actual danger, then there’s no sense making her worry. But if there’s a risk and something bad does happen, shouldn’t she deserve to know?

I finally texted her around 3:00 in the afternoon, when they said they were thinking about keeping me overnight, and it had become obvious that this was at least serious enough to discuss. I told her that this was a precautionary measure, everyone was just being super-careful – despite two rounds of blood exams and a battery of tests, nobody had found anything yet. Our daughter was here looking after me and so was our friend Heather, and I was fine.

(Which I was. Because I grew up with my Uncle Tommy, who was a hemophiliac who had regular hospital stays thanks to his condition, I find hospitals to be comforting. If I was scared, things would have been very different.)

She opted not to drive back. I was probably fine, and in good hands.

It wasn’t until my eleventh (!) hour cooling my heels in a spare bed that they finally, finally, confirmed the enzymes in my blood that my heart was in trauma. I was indeed having a minor heart attack, and sure enough the pain tolerance that let me walk through a burst appendix was shrugging off the cries of thrashing cardiac muscle.

But by then it was 11:00 at night. And she was three hours away.

“Don’t drive down now,” I told her. “You’ll put yourself in danger, driving sleepy and scared, and all you’ll do is sit in an uncomfortable chair next to me while I doze. I need you tomorrow morning, so get rest, get up early, and come to see me before I go in for my catheterization.”

“You sure?”

I pondered it. “I’m sure,” I told her. “I’d rather you get here rested and without a car wreck.”

And here’s where the polyamory kicks in.

She snuggled into bed with her sweetie, anxious and concerned. And her boyfriend said, “You know, I was thinking of putting the moves on you, but it feels a little disrespectful.”

“Are you kidding?” she shot back. “I guarantee you he told me to stay here because he knew sex with you would be the best kind of distraction for me. If you don’t sleep with me now, he’s gonna be pissed.”

And she was right. Because polyamory, for us at least, is about priorities. There wasn’t much I could do for her in that hospital bed except make her life worse, and though I wanted her – I always do – I didn’t need her then.

Whereas what she needed was an intimacy that I, at the moment, could not provide, and someone I personally trusted was there to deliver that. Because while Gini would return to dote upon me while I had a triple bypass and a hellish recovery, on that particular night my needs could be banked and hers prioritized to help bolster her against what was sure to be more stressful days to come.

We joke about it. Because yeah. On the night of my heart attack, she was with her boyfriend. And that was where I wanted her to be. Because I loved her.

That’s hard to understand if you’re not polyamorous – or if you’re more terrified of hospitals than I am. But it’s real. And it was good, and continues to be. Because for us, the dating isn’t something we do when we’ve got spare time – the dating is rooted deeply in our lives, with partners who are friends and support methods, and when we’re in trouble they’re not jettisoned aside but drawn closer.

It’s not always easy, mind you. Sometimes poly’s hard as a heart attack. But when it works, it makes all the other crises so much easier.

Why God Of War Is A Better Family Drama Than Any Oscar Movie

God of War is about a Greek demigod who slaughtered his entire pantheon in a blur of rage and revenge – sort of like Kill Bill, but bloodier.  But that’s in the past – now he’s settled down with his son, grieving because his wife has died, and he has to take his kid, who he barely knows, to the top of the mountain to scatter her ashes.

Oh, and he has to kill about a thousand people on the way.  You don’t get anywhere in videogames without slaughtering people.  It’s like Chinese kung-fu films where you can’t get a tuna at the market without exchanging a flurry of blows with the fishmonger; the violence is built-in.

Which is weird, because the game is violent and ridiculous and over-the-top, complete with quicktime events where you literally rip someone’s shoulder off and stomp their face into jelly.  But the story….

The story is deep and affecting, because you have this man who only speaks in violence.  He’s old, wrinkled, scarred.  Words are unfamiliar territory for him – and though most of what he says involves telling his young son not to ask questions, when he speaks it is with a slow pause, like some rusty engine starting up slowly, because he has not mastered the art of translating emotions into words.

He’d left all of that skill to the mother, who is now dead.  And the son respects his father, but also fears him, and does not understand him, and there’s this complex dance between them as the son tries to be a man but knows instinctively that he does not want to be this man – but he won’t get his father’s approval unless he becomes his father.

Which is, ironically, the last thing the father wants – but he can’t see how his efforts not to speak of his bloody past are grooming his son to become another brutal killer.

This is, in its own way, more affecting than any Oscar family drama.  And I don’t say that as someone who disdains Oscar family dramas; for the last twenty years my wife and I have watched every one of the Best Picture nominees as a winter ritual, and Moonlight remains a brilliant, affecting film.

But God of War has an advantage that Oscar movies do not: it is a videogame.

It takes advantage of the medium brilliantly.

Films, by their nature, are handicapped because they cannot be boring for too long or they lose most of their audience.  So they have to compress humanity down into beats and scenes, because all a film has is dialogue and actors to keep your attention. Every scene has to be interesting, even if it’s slow, and most of them have to advance the plot.

So one scene becomes the stand-in for a lot of repetitious scenes.  We open on a kid eating cereal in a shitty-looking apartment, making himself breakfast and getting himself ready for school, and the camera pans to the mom passed out drunk on the couch and we go, Oh, this is how the kid wakes up every morning.  And if he goes to school, and bullies shove him around, we go Oh, this is what a typical day at school for him is like.

But movies don’t deal well in typical.  If the entire story was the kid showing up at school on Monday and getting bullied, and showing up on Tuesday and getting bullied, and showing up on Wednesday and getting bullied, and showing up on Thursday and getting bullied, and admit it you’re already skimming this sentence because you know Friday’s coming, he’s getting bullied, when’s the change?

Films and novels consist of interesting moments, and if those moments are repetitive, we lose the momentum.

To compensate, films have gotten very good at showing you the one scene to show you what the baseline is like, before moving on to the next scene where they show you something different.

But what they’re not good at is that real-life sense of tedium.  That repetitious sense of waking up for the seventh day in a row to find that your mom is still passed out on the couch, and you’ve had this same conversation with her about needing to drink less a thousand times, with all the variations, and there’s no forward movement because that’s who she is and she can’t be anything but that, but you still have to have the conversation again anyway.

You know what makes videogames interesting, though?

They’re more than just story.

As noted, videogames can be interesting when they’re not telling stories, because they can disperse the story across puzzles and battles.  In God of War, yes, I’m talking to my kid – but to get up the mountain I also have to slaughter these draugr who want to kill us, and then I have to row the boat across the lake to get the gatebreaker chisel, and then I have to figure out how to get through the door to the next challenge.

And in between, Kratos and Atreus talk.

And the talks are pretty much the same.  Atreus, the kid, wants to know what’s going on – he’s ten, he’s curious, he’s hopeful.  Kratos, the dad, fears all of this curiosity will get him killed, quiet down, focus on battle.

Which means there is a staticness to those conversations that, emotionally speaking, you experience in real time while movies have to short-hand.

I’ve spent twenty, maybe thirty hours with Kratos and Atreus.  And there’s been some progress – but honestly, I want to shake Kratos because I get Atreus’ frustration with his dad first-hand.  I’ve seen that wall of manly bravado keeping his son at a distance when all Kratos wants is emotional connection, and I’ve watched him do it for long after it’s become apparent to everyone that it’s not working, and it’s monotonous and sad and dysfunctional but because – like real life – there’s other shit to do, it’s not the whole of who they are.

This bad relationship of theirs is a background noise in a very real and visceral sense.  In most movies, that relationship would have to be front and center because you only have two hours, you have to have movement.  But in thirty hours of game, there’s probably been two hours just of repetitive emotional beats grinding in just how relentlessly not working their dynamic is, and yet that repetition is not boring because in between them I’m also smashing trolls.

Which isn’t to say that movies can’t gain an emotional beat from repetition.  Of course they can, and do, and cinemaphiles will point out movies that accomplish it.

But what I am saying is that the emotional effect of the game is deeper because you spend more time with it.  Because when Kratos finally does start to change, even if that change is a finger-sized crack in a glacier-sized mound of machismo, it has a profound impact because you’ve spent almost four days of work shifts in close shoulder-to-shoulder proximity with this dude and after this much time you weren’t sure he could change.

(Even if you knew that, like movies, the plot would of course depend on him changing.  It’s never about what’s inevitable in stories, it’s how you feel when those moments arrive.)

Roger Ebert infamously said that videogames couldn’t be art, but movies aren’t books and videogames aren’t movies.  Movies are good because they find strengths that books don’t have, and vice versa. And one of the strengths that videogames have that movies don’t is that the appeal of videogames is only partially in the story.  Which means that a clever writer can drag out the question of “Will they or won’t they?” to an absurd extent that would be an Andy Warhol-style grind in cinema, and yet have it work emotionally.

In that sense, videogames can mirror life.  Because life isn’t just interesting emotional beats.  You gotta go to work, you gotta run errands, you gotta grind.  If all you had to focus on was evolving your relationships, maybe you’d get better at it, but there’s always something else to do that distracts.

The “game” part of videogames, in God of War, is that something else that distracts.  Kratos and Atreus aren’t connecting because they have war to distract them. Their endless incompatibility isn’t coming to a head because the grind of levelling up calls them – maybe they’d fight, but honestly, they’ve got a greater task.

Which means when they start to connect, it’s powerful.  It’s art in a way that Ebert couldn’t conceive of because he couldn’t connect with the game portion.  But if you can, there’s a drama here that’s revelatory in its own way, and it is stellar, and I recommend it if only to show you what games can do when they’re taken off the leash of trying to be merely cinematic.

 

 

Why I’ll Be Deactivating My FetLife Account Next Monday

So if you haven’t heard of the impending FetLife strike, now you have. A lot of FetLife users will go temporarily dark next week to protest the crappy way FetLife aids and abets creepy dudes and predators.

I imagine you all have a lot of questions, so I’ll make the rest of this a Q&A.

What’s Making People So Upset That They’re Temporarily Quitting?
If you’re a woman on FetLife, and you post pictures or anything sexual, you can expect to get creepy dudes hitting you up for sex sooner or later. Many women get stalkers, or extensive rape fantasies, or even out-and-out rape threats in their inbox.

Now, there is a “block” button on Fet, but that requires you to actively a) seek out that user, and b) block them.  Considering that some high-profile women get 90+ emails a day from dudes, many of them anonymous dick profiles, the old advice of “Just block them if they bother you” isn’t quite enough to stop many women from saying “fuck it” and walking away from a social media site that has become a chore.

There’s plenty of tools FetLife could create to help ameliorate that: allowing people to screen emails from new users / users with under X friends / users of a specific age and gender ranges / a better block functionality. But despite the fact that women have been complaining vociferously about this shit for the seven years I’ve been on FetLife, the Powers That Be at Fet have chosen to devote their programming resources to other tools.

Which is a shame, because a lot of women have already left FetLife because, well, creepy rapey assholes. Hence: Going temporarily dark to encourage John Baku – the owner and lead programmer – to prioritize these tools, stat.

(EDIT: John has said that he’s got two projects in the pipeline that he’s got to do for legal reasons, and then by May 18th he hopes to do a comprehensive review. That’s a good sign; I hope this newfound focus will continue.  But to be fair, changes have been promised before and not been forthcoming, so people are skeptical.)

Is That All?
Sadly, no. FetLife’s official policy of “You can’t name names of people who have abused you” in your posts leads to FetLife protecting people who are active abusers, making them more likely to ban someone for mentioning an abuser than they are the abusers themselves.

That’s a more complex issue for me personally, because while I do believe victims by default there are always shit-stirrers; I’ve seen bad actors, mostly anti-SJW factions, trying to weaponize innocent statements on non-kink social media into accusations, so I’m a little less trusting in the goodness of the unrestrained Internet.

Still, fact is that FetLife largely seems to view its users of all genders, no matter how unsavory, as useful for as long as they can generate hits and content for them – remember The Wolf? – which is a problem that needs better solutions.

I’m honestly not sure what that solution is, so I tend to focus on the first issue of “developing better tools to screen out creeps,” but the problem that Fet tends to grant large audiences to random predators is still an issue worth noting.

So That’s The Official Stance Of The Walkout, Then?
Nope. Just mine. This is a wildly disorganized movement, and I don’t claim to speak for everyone.

So You Think YOU Walking Away Will Cause FetLife To Tremble? What An Ego! What Balls!
Let’s be honest here: You take away the people, and FetLife’s got nothing. We are both the market and the product.

And many people I used to like seeing here have been driven away by creepy dudes on FetLife, making it less likely that I’ll return. For every person going, “Well, it hasn’t bothered me and I’m still here!” there’s probably at least one (and maybe two or three) user who is no longer here to have the debate.

So if I leave? Nah. Not such a much. Hell, I did go dark for about two months during a recent mental collapse, and – surprise! – Fet kept chuggin’ along.

But if lots of people leave, as they have already? Well, FetLife loses everything and becomes MySpace or Ello.

I’m kinda hoping they realize this and start prioritizing better tools. I mean, why is it controversial at all to to want to retain productive users who generate nice pictures and kink for us, and screen offputting choads who do nothing but spam random people with badly-written fantasies?

 

But Hasn’t FetLife Been Working On Solutions?
Look. My day job is being lead programmer on a site about as complex as FetLife, with hundreds of thousands of active users.

As such, I am immensely sympathetic to Fet’s situation here. Code is complex, and not easy to change at the scale they’re working at. It took us years of planning to implement a new checkout process because we had to clear out old code and handle a thousand crazy edge cases – and all the while, everyone was like, “Just make it happen, it’s simple.”

It. Is. Never. Simple.

In addition, FetLife has to deal with laws in international countries, and with their payment processors shutting them down, and all the issues coming with porn, and maximizing ease of use for users. All the while dealing with a rabid user base that fights like weasels trapped in a paint can over what they want – and probably for a lot less money than most e-commerce sites take in. (Given that my wife is on the board of a couple of conventions, I find that users assume that people are getting rich off anything that’s perceived as a large-scale operation, even when it’s actually a hand-to-mouth experience.)

Slim resources, legal battles, and vociferous users? Even if you have the best of intentions, working there has to be a nightmare, done mostly for the love. I do genuinely believe that Fet as a whole wants to do the right thing, even if I disagree with those right things are, because they’re in the web of a lot of tangled issues that are not easy to sort out.

And I keep seeing people in threads telling them about the simple solutions, enraged that they can’t just pull a rabbit out of their ass and have it done in two months. Folks… they can’t.

But that said…

If they’d listened to the multitudes of complaints I’ve seen erupting over the past six years, they’d have some of it done by now. These aren’t new complaints; they’ve just been mostly ignored over a loooooong period of time. And one of the new big features they rolled out – an “improved” user search – actually made it easier for stalkers and creeps to find people in all sorts of photos and videos, leading me to believe that nobody at the top of the chain is seriously considering the average female experience. (They had to roll it back after its debut, which is never a good look.)

So personally speaking, I don’t think they have been working on a solution, not seriously, until it exploded in their face. Which, to me, signifies that they’re not driven by anything but things exploding in their face. Which means the more exploding, the better.

They gotta prioritize features that improve the user experience, and I think that starts with better filtering tools and more comprehensive tools. Clearly, the block button alone isn’t doing it for a lot of people.

How DARE You Tell FetLife What To Do?
Well, people do that all the time to me at my job. All the time, in fact. They’re called “customers,” and they leave us feedback – some of which we agree with and change for, some of which we disagree with and don’t, some of which is nice, some of which is bitchy.

This temporary walkout, crude tool that it is, is a way of telling Fet that yeah, you need to prioritize this a lot more than you have.

And frankly, this shouldn’t be controversial. I notice a lot of the people reacting very negatively to the walkout are right-wingers who are big on the free market – well, this is a customer base telling its client that they want changes made. That’s literally what good capitalism runs on – customers weigh in, the companies make changes to satisfy them.

In a sane world, this complaint would be viewed as simply as that.

(And there are a lot of people using this walkout to shill for their kink-platform-of-choice, which is also capitalism, and I encourage that as well. But I like FetLife. Currently, most of my buddies are here and I know how it works. I’d prefer it change rather than me walk away like I did with LiveJournal and CompuServe.)

So You’re One Of The Good Guys, Huh?
Nope.

Lemme repeat that: Nope.

Up until about six months ago, I thought it was a compliment to find an attractive woman and hit the FetLife equivalent of “like” on all the photos I found appealing. Then it was pointed out to me – not directly, but in a flurry of FetLife essays from various people – that some women really fucking hate that shit. Enough women, in fact, that I realized that some of the people I’d done that to had probably been very much off-put by that.

I didn’t mean to creep them out – but if I did, they deserve better tools to keep tools like me away.

Look. I try to be honest about all my flaws, and I’ve fucked up with consent, and I’ve fucked up with communication, and I’ve left bad tastes in people’s mouths more than once. I don’t want to, and I’m disappointed in myself when I do, but I’d be lying if I said I was an angel of beauty here.

Not everyone finds me creepy. But those who do should have an effective, flexible, and FetLife-supported way of keeping me out of their lives. And though I acknowledge that Fet has to devote resources to deal with laws like SESTA and the way that America seems hell-bent on shutting down payments to anything to do with porn, they also need to make things easier for the women on here.

Because they deserve better. And I’m happy to go dark for a couple of days if it helps remind people that yeah, nobody should have to log on here to find their inbox filled with creeper.

Am I A Bad Person If I Support The Goals Of The Strike But Don’t Want To Participate For Whatever Reason?
Nope. But the event’s here if you wanna look at it.

Ponder, and wonder. And let’s all hope that Fet finds a good solution, and keeps going, because honestly? I want to see it thrive.

I just don’t think it can when its policies are driving away the people posting nice things, y’know?

So I Went Outside Today, With Strangers. Mostly.

Today was the Dominaria prerelease of Magic cards, so I called up a couple of friends and went down to the tournament.

This is something I’ve been working on.

Those of you who have been paying attention will notice that I had a breakdown last fall, culminating in emergency therapy and even-more-emergency medication. And one of the things my therapist has asked me to consider was, “If you could plan a month out – just a month – what would that month look like to you?”

And I concluded, “I’d spend more time with the friends I have.”

Because I was getting out to conventions a lot, flying to exciting places, but literally once a month I was driving off to some gathering, then seeing my LDRs on the other two weekends, and a weekend with Gini at home, and all my local friends had become kinda distant.

I mean, I’d see my friend Karla… Once every eight months. Or I’d catch her at a party and go, “We really have to catch up” and then we never did. And I was talking and texting a lot but sort of aching for real-world connections.

So I started emailing people. “We really have to catch up,” I’d say. “So let’s catch up. Let’s set a time.”

And I have. It’s been nice.

So when the new Magic prerelease was announced, I texted some friends and saw if they wanted to go down and play with strangers. I hadn’t been to a Magic tournament in roughly eight years, so that was a long time. And the idea of hanging around other people and talking with other people was…

Well, like most social events for me. About 60% nice, 40% pure terror.

But I did it. I met some nice people. I played some cards. I won four packs.

That doesn’t sound big, but it is.

And there’s a balance now, because I’m currently spending so much time with friends that my writing’s suffering. I gotta get serious about it again – because staying in the publishing business involves a commitment, and now that I’ve taken a vacation between books I gotta finish this short story I’m committed to and then get around to this next novel. There’s a part of me that *has* to be a hermit to get this career moving, and that’s a thing.

But next weekend? I might go down and play some more cards. I might see if my atrophied Draft skills mean anything. I might change my life a little more to suit me, because I’m big on FetLife but absent from my local kink scene, and that’s bothered me because I *want* to get out to see all the wonderful people in town, I *want* to have new fire dates, I *want* to be involved in the town I live in.

I’ve been living online a bit less lately. And that’s the balance I’m going to have to strike – my fun times online, my fun times in life, my work in fictional worlds.

But I am retuning. Just playing in a tournament made me feel like I lived in a town – as opposed to being a floating, unrooted persona who occasionally touches base with a thousand locales but nobody really knows him.

I need to be a regular somewhere. Even if that’s just a regular with friends. But it’d be nice to be a regular at the Magic get-togethers, a regular at the local kink clubs, a regular in general.

Maybe I’ll get there some day.

I’m certainly closer now.

The 3% Improvement

You know what feels crappy? 3% improvement. You busted your ass for a year, trying to get better at dating, at being less of an introvert, at self-soothing your anxiety – and you only managed to get 3% better at it.

If you worked a job where you put in that much time at the office and they gave you a measly 3% raise, you would spit in your boss’s face and walk the fuck out.

And, in fact, that’s what most people do: quit. “I tried fixing that,” they’ll mutter, angrily, into their morning coffee. “Didn’t work. I’m just terrible at small talk / anxious / an introvert, and there’s nothing to be done about it.”

And you know what doesn’t help here? All the people who were already good at this shit telling them how easy improvement is. You’ve got the Lebron James of extroversion doing infomercials in your comments feed, saying, “Hey, sometimes when I’m debating which of my nine hundred close friends to call up to go to the front-row seats at the Beyonce concert with, I too wonder if they think less of me because I didn’t get backstage passes this time. So that’s exactly like your social anxiety, but I work past it!”

Fuck these guys.

So the model for most self-improvement is usually this:

* You don’t have much of a problem
* You found The Breakthrough that erased all the issues you had
* When you’re done, you’ll be the opposite of what you were. Used to be bad at dating? Now you’ll have your own personal harem. Used to be useless at small talk? Now you’re a fluent raconteur.

Which, when you’ve agonized to scrape together a measly 3% improvement, feels like crap. If you’re burdened with such social anxiety that it takes literally everything you have to go out in public for twenty minutes, make one awkward small talk, and then retreat home to collapse in embarrassment, you think, “Well, this isn’t worth it.”

But most self-improvement isn’t immediate improvement, my friend.

It’s compound interest.

Which is the magic of the financial markets, assuming they don’t all collapse in the next unregulated fiasco. My grandfather told me that when I got some money, I had to put money in an IRA. I got an unexpected windfall when I was 29 and put $2,000 in an IRA just to shut him up. And to my surprise, I got a notice from the IRA last week: even though I haven’t put in another dime into that fund, it’s up by a couple thousand.

Because that $2,000 got 3% interest, and kept accruing, and every time that 3% got applied it was to a bigger amount – $3,000, then $4,000, and right now I wouldn’t say it’s a tidy nest egg but damn is it a lot more than I would have had if I’d spent that windfall on porn and videogames.

Truth is, most improvement is compound interest, and it’s not sexy or satisfying. You muscle yourself out the door to that meetup this week – that’s 3%. After a couple of efforts, where “being able to get out of the house” becomes something you can do with minimal strain, you make awkward small talk with someone there instead of sticking to the wall – that’s another 3%. And you endure the awkward small talk for a couple more weeks until you find someone who you really connect with – that’s another 3%.

It’s never the Lebron James payoff. But over the years, you can make massive improvements to your life in small chunks that rarely feel satisfying at the time.

You can budge the needle a lot.

But that needle-budging only happens over time.  There’s very few one-offs in this biz.

And the truth is, you don’t need to be Lebron James good a lot of the time. If you’re really out of shape, a couple of 3% improvements will let you walk around the block without getting winded – an activity that most people would shrug off, but it will make your life infinitely better if you can manage it. If you’re so anxious that you’re driving your friends away, learning to self-soothe one out of every four times doesn’t seem like much but it can make the difference between self-destructing your social circle and retaining your buddies.

I mean, I’m still a socially anxious introvert. But I get out to conventions, I have friends, I even occasionally go to meetups with strangers. I manage to have a life, even if that life is still marred by breakdowns.

There are people who can’t improve by willpower alone, of course. Some people’s traits are set, and they’re not shifting, and I don’t deny that. But most people, I find, are too quick to see themselves as unchanging. They’ll claim that “That’s just the way they are” when the truth is that they haven’t stuck with their changes long enough to see the power of compound interest at work.

3% improvement feels like nothing when you’re starting out. But 3% improvement, applied consistently over a lot of years, can double your initial investment. And even if you don’t get that payoff, incremental improvements – as I’ve noted – will still make your life better.

This isn’t me promising that your life will become wonderful overnight. Or even wonderful, period. I’m a depressive, and I’m always going to have days where I break down and can’t function. But the miracle of compound interest means that there’s some days I can function when I couldn’t before, and that extra day means I get to write a little more, means I get to love a little more, I get to relax a little more.

That’s worth it.

Maybe it’d be worth it for you.

How Learning To Make Small Talk Can Give You Better, More Enduring Sexual Relationships

I could give a shit about the weather.  Or sports.  And I’m not all that interested in hearing about someone’s favorite anime show, because I don’t much care for anime.  

I want big talk.  Let’s tussle over politics!  Let’s unpack our heart and dissect our deepest emotions!  Why are we discussing the rain in Spain when there’s genuinely interesting shit we could be talking about?  

But that’s what small talk is: discussing neutral, often plainly boring topics with people you don’t know all that well – and more importantly, may not care to know.  The big lie people tell you about small talk is that mastering the art of the bland discussion somehow turns you into a Level 20 Networker, swinging from connection to connection as you Seal the Deal and flip through your overstuffed Rolodex to call in favors from that woman you met who had the kid with the severe grass allergy.  

But no.  The truth is, a lot of small talks don’t lead anywhere.  They don’t remember you, you don’t remember them, because you were both making nicey-nice at the office cocktail hour and frankly, this talk was the tofu of conversation – acceptable in a pinch, but nobody really wanted it.

So that’s small talk: you endure five minutes of with the guy next to you in line at the airport, you don’t get their Facebook, and this conversation might as well never have happened.

Boy, this sure sounds like a skill you want to master, huh? 

But wait. 

There’s a far better reason to learn how to master small talk. 

Because in truth, a lot of small talk boils down to one main skill: taking interest in something you personally don’t care much about.  Because someone read the opening sentence of this essay right after checking to see whether that inbound pressure front was going to bring a storm by noon and went, “Hey!  I love talking about the weather!”  Somebody just finished placing a bet on the Cavs tonight and went, “Hey!  I love talking about sports!”

And God, anime.  Someone’s already got their itching fingers primed to type in suggestions, ready to explode because they’re sure I haven’t seen all ten seasons of NOVA BLEACH HARUKO.  

So much of “small talk” is “taking time to discuss things that don’t jazz your hands.”  The skill is not “engaging people in conversation,” because honestly, that’s a trivial skill – if someone’s really psyched to tell you about their trip to Italy, learning three variants on “So what happened next?” will get you half an hour of conversation.  

The true skill is not tuning out.  

The true skill is learning to sit back and actively participate in helping them partake in a pleasure that you don’t fully share in.  

Which means the true small talk master has to learn empathy.  Maybe you’re not interested in kids, but you can be interested in the way this stranger’s face brightens when they show you pictures of some random toddler.  Maybe you don’t know anything about basketball, but you can try to understand the artistry involved for this LeBron fellow to dribble a ball past professional-grade opposition and get it in a basket.  

What small talk teaches you is not to endure, but to find sources of pleasure in places that normally give you none. 

Now, that has one small benefit, but that’s not the big one I’m discussing – the truth is that sometimes, learning to find pleasure in odd places actually expands your pleasure center.  My daughter loooooves football, to the point where she tries to hide her tears of joy when the Patriots win, and years of listening to her squee “Did you see that play?” and having her dissect the skill involved has let me watch the Superbowl and occasionally appreciate a fine maneuver.  I’ll never actively tune into a football game, but now if a friend really wants to watch the game, it’s not like chewing tin foil.  Watching the Browns lose (for there is no other outcome) is a perfectly lovely way to spend an afternoon, even if it’s not my first choice.

But that’s not the real benefit.

The real benefit is that mastering small talk builds the skills that make you a better person to date.  Which means that lovers stick around for longer, marriages don’t dissolve as quickly, relationships stay fine-tuned and sleek as dolphins. 

Because that skill of “I’m not necessarily into this, but I’ll find ways to get pleasure out of it” is critical in long-term relationships.  If the only time you’ll willingly in an activity is when you’re getting unalloyed pleasure out of it, well, your relationships are likely to fall apart.  

Here’s real reasons I’ve seen marriages fall apart:

* Casey has picked up an exciting new hobby, a hobby that takes them to lots of conventions and get-togethers.  Glenn, however could give a shit about Casey’s hobby, and clearly tunes out whenever Casey’s is squeeing about the new thing they learned today.  Casey learns that they can’t talk to Glenn about a good 40% of their life, so they learn to wall off large portions of their internal emotions from Glenn, and eventually just stop telling Glenn things altogether. Then Casey meets a nice person at their hobby, one who’s caring and willing to listen to all the things Casey can no longer talk to Glenn about, and, well….

* Lou doesn’t really care much about the laundry being done. Pat, however, does.  And because Lou has that selfish streak of “I’ll only do this if there’s something for me in it,” Pat winds up doing all the laundry, always, with Lou never pitching in.  Eventually Pat feels underappreciated and overwhelmed, and starts to question whether they need to be with such a selfish jerk like Lou, and, well….

* Sam likes sex, but doesn’t see any reason to be physically affectionate unless sex is in the offing – no cuddles, no hand-holding, that stuff doesn’t interest them except as a prelude to intercourse.  Except Morgan does crave physical affection at all times, and feels isolated and alone, and eventually comes to cringe as they realize Sam’s affectionate ruffling of their hair means SEX NAO PLEASE – and Morgan doesn’t feel like being a sex dispenser upon demand when they’re not feeling desired elsewhere, and, well….

There’s lots of other marriage-ending situations like that, mostly boiling down to “This partner has never mastered the skill of generosity.”  If Lou had said, “I don’t care about the laundry, but I do like seeing your face light up when you realize you don’t have to do this thing alone, so lemme help,” Pat wouldn’t be overwhelmed.  If Sam learned to take pleasure in Morgan’s purring when they cuddled, Morgan wouldn’t reject their overtures as consistently.  If Glenn could take pride in Casey’s hobby even if they weren’t a die-hard hobbyist, then Casey wouldn’t have to wall their life off…

And the good news is, this is a skill you can learn!  Empathy is a muscle, which you can activate through steady practice.  And like a lot of exercise, the activity of empathy often feels weird and artificial and pointless at first. 

But trust me. I’ve seen too many folks who sniffed, “Why would I want to learn to talk about boring stuff with people I don’t care about?”  And they went on to have relationships where they never did boring stuff either, and those relationships shriveled like a microwaved spider after a few years because it turns out, “Doing boring stuff” is a mighty useful skill.  

Whereas the people who’ve said, “This is boring, but these people obviously care deeply about it, so can I make a game where I find a way to make their passions and mine intersect?”  Those people I’ve seen go on to often have more fruitful relationships, because assuming you don’t sublimate all your interests in the sense of uplifting someone else, you’ll find that “learning to take pleasure from your partner’s pleasure” is a quite necessary lubrication.  

And the easiest way to shoot womp rats in the Beggar’s Canyon of Compassion is to talk about the weather with lonely people in airports.  It probably won’t win you any lifelong friends, nor will it forge connections that will make you the CEO of a Detroit car company.  

But when you find someone who does light your fire, it’ll help you to keep their flame properly kindled.  

Trust me.  It’ll be worth it.  

So What If I Use Big Words In My Books?

I have friends who tell me that I should write simple prose.  I shouldn’t mention “flensing” to describe someone having their body removed, I shouldn’t say how someone’s skin “horripilated” when they’re facing an otherworldly horror, I should just say the magic item glows instead of describing its lambent dweomer. 

But those are beautiful words, man. 

Why should they sit by the wayside because you’re too lazy to infer meaning?  Or, in the worst case, crack open a dictionary? 

Look, anyone who’s read my books – and please do – knows that my writing style isn’t some Lovecraftian word-salad heap of purple prose.  I write tight and I write clean.  But I think there’s also value in placing pretty, arcane words into a context where they can enrich a text: Either you know the word and understand why it’s the perfect word for that situation, or you see a word like “gloaming” used to describe the light of a dusky sunset and come to form a new word association.  

How’s that not delightful either way?

Some people say it’s distracting, show-offy.  And to them, I say their lack of willingness to be entranced by a new word is cowering at the gates of a glorious world, staunchly refusing new forms of entertainment simply because you’d have to fill in a blank or two.  I mean, sure, you can write simpler and simpler, but eventually you’re pounding out novels like Up-Goer Five, describing rockets in only the most ten thousand commonly used words. 

No; declaring the proper use of a word like “imprudence” to be “show-offy” is basically saying, “I’m put off when people remind me that I have a smaller vocabulary than they do.”  And really, I think that speaks more as to the reader than the writer. 

It is, of course, necessary to follow such a bold statement with a host of caveats, assuming you know what “caveat” means: yes, of course it’s possible to string together so many arcane words that the text becomes unreadable.  Yes, having ordinary American characters describe the monster as “rugose” suggests you suck at dialogue.  Yes, there’s lots of terrible writers whose prose becomes – as I said – Lovecraftian.  And there’s always that good ol’ bugaboo, “personal taste” – there are writers with prose so dense I don’t personally enjoy chopping my way through it, and it’s fine if you don’t too.  

But honestly, man.  A lot of the fuss over big words boils down to “I didn’t know that one.”  I bet one or more of the three-dollar words in this essay are ones you knew, and you probably said, “Well, that’s no big deal, but if the author should haul out a word like ‘thigmophilic’ – well, that’s crazy!”  Whereas the truth is that every word over a certain grade average risks throwing the reader out. 

Or the reader can choose to jump in.  

There’s nothing wrong with writing with simple terms: many authors do it, and do it well.  But there’s *also* nothing wrong with putting in a beautiful word that summarizes the situation perfectly, if you know what it means, so long as the sentence isn’t unfathomable if you don’t know the word.  

Because for me?  Yes.  Those murky shadows are penumbral.  It’s a beautiful word.  It fits if you know what it means.  And it sounds pretty regardless. 

That’s a win/win for me.