Why You Want To Listen To Donald Trump

Obama’s former Director of Speech Writing just wrote a victory speech for Donald Trump.  But there’s a trick:

90% of this speech is lifted from things Donald Trump has already said.

And it is frighteningly appealing to moderates.

“No!” you cry.  “Trump is the guy who talks about Mexican rapists and Megyn Kelly on her period and – and all that offensive stuff!  I don’t need to listen to him!”

And you know what you are?

You’re Republican voters in 2012, so outraged by your friends’ portrayal of The Other Guy that you forgot there’s a reason The Other Guy is popular.

And if you were a Republican in 2012, you got the highlight reel of Obama saying stupid things about bitter people needing guns and religion and Obama lying about “If you like your health care, you can keep it” and all sorts of vaguely misinterpreted stuff spun in the worst way.

And when he went into the 2012 debates, he got the exact same boost that every Democratic candidate gets, simply by showing up.  All a Democratic candidate has to do these days is not arrive with a set of devil horns breathing fire, and they’re automatically ahead of the curve by what most voters expect to see.

Do I agree with Donald Trump?  Fuck no.  But it’s good to know your enemy by your enemy, instead of his worst sound bites. There’s a reason Donald Trump is currently swinging a big stick, and it behooves you to try to figure out what’s so damn appealing about this.  And if you shrug it off with “Well, it’s xenophobia!  His voters are stupid!” and move on without listening, then you’re gonna be the inverse of that Republican who is shocked when he trots out all his standard anti-Obama lines that sell so well in The Land Of People Who Know Obama By His Worst Sound Bites and discover that, in fact, most people aren’t buying it.

Look.  We’ve got to the point in this country where Richard Dreyfuss showing up at a Ted Cruz rally to see what the hell Ted Cruz had to say got him pilloried.  Listening to your opponent to see what’s appealing is not a betrayal, it’s smart business.

If you really hate a politician, it’s still worth listening to them to figure out what sorts of aspects they’re appealing to.  Because it’s usually not entirely what the sound bites would have you believe.

So even if you can’t stand to listen to Trump directly, go read this pastiche speech and imagine that delivered at the Republican National Convention.  Imagine how it’d go over with your politically-unaware friends, how it’d sound to someone who’s not been paying meticulous attention to the primaries – which, may I remind you, is a comparatively rare trait even among primary voters.  For most of the country, the race hasn’t even started yet.

And if you’re politically active, prepare some arguments that will work against the Donald Trump that people see when they listen to the whole speech, and not just the highlights reel arguments.  Because they are different things.

Now.  Go read.

Brace Yourself. Bitterness Is Coming.

Valentine’s Day is arriving this Sunday, which means the usual tide of snarky hatred should be rolling across our doorstep. So watch for the “Greatest Hits” of bitter posts that say:

  • I’m single, and unless I’m personally content, I don’t want anyone in the world to be happy!
  • Valentine’s Day is a commercial holiday, and if you have to be reminded to be romantic to your spouse, then your relationship is clearly a fraud and should be disbanded!
  • I had a bad experience on Valentine’s Day, and therefore I’m going to shit on everyone else’s attempts to enjoy themselves!

To which I say, quite seriously:

Maybe you’d have better romantic experiences if you spent less time being angry at other people for enjoying themselves when you’re not.

Look, I get that you might not be happy about Valentine’s day because you’re single. The world’s a little lonelier on those days, and for that I console you. (Especially if you just had a breakup, in which case I’ll personally deliver a hug to your doorstep.) If you don’t want to join in the festivities and instead band together with a bunch of single friends to drink wine and razz bad romantic comedies, go for it.

But angrily trying to piss in everyone else’s Cheerios because this holiday isn’t working for you personally?

Come on. Look, Valentine’s Day is commercial, but there’s nothing wrong with giving people a reminder to be nice to each other. And clearly lots of people do enjoy being given this space to reconnect with each other, so screaming LOOK AT ME AND REMEMBER HOW HOLLOW THIS ALL IS is kind of a dick move.

Not everything in life is going to be for you. And I think, quite honestly, if you’re looking for romantic love, you’re going to do a lot better if you learn to cultivate this compersive idea of “Let me allow other people to have a good time even if I’m a little saddened.” Because frankly, the relationships where you’re only allowed to be as happy as your partner currently is rarely end well.

For me, there were songs that were absolutely wrecked for me when my goddaughter died of cancer, songs that make people happy and get played at football games and make people dance. Yet when they come on the radio – and they do, a lot – I don’t stand up and remind people of my loss; I excuse myself quietly and let people have their happy dance.

Because the answer to inconsolable happiness is not to rip down other people’s joy, but to protect it wherever you can. Happiness is fleeting, ephemeral, and it’s so easy to shred someone else’s nice moment.

It sucks to be single when the world is dating. I get that. But let the world be happy for a bit.

And I hope when you get your happy moment – because I hope you do get your happy moment – nobody will be there cynically sneering at you.

Happy Valentine’s Day, three days in advance.

Seven Realities Guys Should Know Before They Open Up Their Relationship

Reality #1: Someone’s Gonna Be Swimming In Offers, But It’s Most Likely Not You.
A lot of guys have this logic:

“This girl’s hitting on me, and I can’t take advantage of that because of my girlfriend.
“Man, I’m missing out on all the sex!
“Therefore, if I open up my relationship, I’ll have all the sex!”

But these guys are forgetting two things:

* Many women engage in this behavior called “flirting,” wherein they enjoy exchanging compliments but don’t necessarily want to have sex with you. (In some cases, they may feel safe flirting with you simply because they know you’re not going to respond.) Too many guys run loose and go, “YEAH! WE CAN HAZ TEH SEX NOW, PEGGY!” and get an answer of, “…um, I actually didn’t want sex, David.”

* In almost any set of people, the woman’s going to get more offers to have sex than the man will.

So these dudes open up their relationship, expecting to be drowned in sex, and then are astonished when they’re left dry on a beach and their girlfriend is out swimming in seas of strange dick.

I’m not saying you won’t get offers – but unless you have a guaranteed party on the hook (and we’ll get to that), you’ll most likely have fewer offers than your girlfriend.

It may be enough to keep you happy. Just don’t expect that opening up this relationship is only going to benefit you.

Reality #2: Hostage Situations Usually Don’t End Well For The Hostage-Taker.
A lot of “opened relationships” look like this:

“There’s Margaret. I want to fuck Margaret. If you don’t let me fuck Margaret, I’m breaking up with you. So can I fuck Margaret?”

That’s not polyamory. That’s fucking someone else at the gunpoint of a shattered relationship.

Which is not to say that you should only try to open up your relationship if your partner has no objections – most partners have some fears, and negotiating through these fears is part of the process. And in the good relationships there’s compromise, and concern, and love.

Or you just drop the hammer and fuck away.

But what often happens in these hostage situations is that, as noted, the girl gets more offers. And in dating other dudes, she discovers that hey, other men are nicer than you.

Weeks later, the balance of power is reversed, and she’s dating three boyfriends and spending all her time out and coming home looking gloriously blissful and the chastened boyfriend says, “Hey, sweetie? Maybe we should slow down on this dating thing…”

Guess how well a girlfriend who’s been roped into this life against her will reacts to that kind of offer?

Be kind in ushering your girlfriend into open relationships. You may need that kindness later.

Reality #3: Rules Are Like Training Wheels. If You Don’t Take ‘Em Off Eventually…
What a lot of couples do is surround Their Precious Love with a lot of rules to guarantee their primacy – “Okay, you don’t sleep over at their house, and you don’t ever go out in public, and I have to be the last person you speak to at night…”

Those are often good ways to start. But your goal should be to get rid of them as soon as possible.

For one thing, newbie couples are prone to thinking that “setting rules” is the same as “setting expectations.” But they’re not. You can set a rule that says, “You can’t see a movie with them together, movies are for us,” and suddenly New Partner takes them to a sports game and you feel jealous. They didn’t break any rules, but the underlying expectation was “Don’t do anything with them I’d want to go to.”

Second, as noted in the example above, the goal of a lot of starter rules is actually secretly to hamper your partner’s ability to have a good time. The goal is to purposely sabotage their dates in some subtle way in order to guarantee loyalty to the “core” relationship – which, in turn, leaves a lot of rule-bound couples going, “Why does no one want to date us?” BECAUSE YOU’VE MADE IT SO IT SUCKS FOR THEM TO DATE YOU. You might as well be monogamous, because nobody fucking wants to chop their way through your sex bureaucracy.

Third, rules are often things that “secondaries” – a term I hate – can’t negotiate. You two are the ruler, they’re the subject. And again, going back to the “You get what you give” aspect of this, that lack of negotiation often leads to overthrowing the dictator, where the person your partner is dating doesn’t give a shit about your happiness because you’ve made it clear you don’t give a shit about theirs. Undermining and overthrows result.

And lastly, everybody fucking hates rules. Rules are something someone else made you do. You may need a few rules in your relationships – “No unsafe sex without prior negotiation with me” is a solid one – but your goal would be to transition into more flexible expectations.

Take me, for example. It takes me at least six months of talking to someone before I can have sex with them, and I have to run those people by my girlfriend and wife for a sanity-check. But that’s not a rule per se, because I agree it’s a good idea. I tend to fall into bed with people too soon, am prone to flare-hot-and-burn-badly relationships, and the six months has become part of my expectation in a relationship.

Nobody’s making me take this time – I’ve come to agree that it’s something that makes my life better. It looks a lot like a rule from the outside, but realistically it’s an expectation on everyone’s end.

Rules are like training wheels. Usually, you want to think about taking them off after awhile.

Reality #4: The One-Penis Policy Is Generally A Sexist Piece of Shit.
I’ve written a rant on the OPP before, but the traditional dude thing of “You can date women but not men” is, in my experience, often the sign of dysfunction.

It winds up being a dysfunction when the guy is threatened by other dicks, and so mandates the woman can’t date people who threaten him. Which is a problem for two reasons:

1) He generally likes the idea of the two-girl threesome, so this is often a selfish way of saying, “Sweetie, your goal in this relationship is to turn me on, not to satisfy yourself. You can have all the sex you want as long as I can masturbate to it, and maybe weasel my way in.”

2) It’s a covertly sexist way of saying, “Women aren’t a threat to my relationship, because two women dating isn’t a real relationship.” Cue intense panic when it turns out his girlfriend is dating a girl and gets attached to her.

I’m not saying the OPP is invariably a piece of shit. I have friends who are homoflexible, and are only legit attracted to this one guy. But that’s the woman’s choice, not covertly made because it’s easier than arguing with the guy that he has no right to be threatened.

There are lots of comments from women who started in an OPP and eventually walked away because, when you stripped the fittings away, it turned out the dude was only comfortable if everything in this relationship was designed to service his needs.

Don’t be that dude.

Reality #5: NRE Will Make Everyone Stupid.
NRE stands for “New Relationship Energy,” and it’s the swoony-happy-they’re-perfect feeling you get when you find someone new.

It also has a habit of destroying relationships.

The reason NRE is so destructive is because in a monogamous relationship, you’re used to giving yourself over to your partner 100%. If you wanna spend all your time texting them and getting the new sex and showing them your favorite movies, well, nobody else is suffering!

In polyamorous relationships, that’s called “neglect.” And if it goes on too long, it damages the core relationship.

And it’s a tough skill to learn. It’s hard, when you’re smooching on a couch in the hottest makeout session in your life, and remembering to keep track of time because you promised you’d be home by 8:00 to make dinner.

But it’s something you gotta learn to do. You made promises? Keep ’em. And if you wanna renegotiate those promises? Great!

But breaking your promises without warning because you’re Having A Good Time and Don’t Wanna Leave It means that you tend to leave relationships behind. Especially when your partner’s sitting at home at an empty table, hungry and angry, calling your phone while you refuse to answer.

NRE is not dangerous in and of itself. NRE is dangerous when you’re so wrapped up in fuzzylove that you can’t be bothered to remember what you said you’d do yesterday.

Learn to pull your head out of those clouds and fulfill your promises. You’ll all be stronger for it.

(And yes, that applies to your girlfriend, too. Everyone gets the NRE bug once in a while.)

Reality #6: Polyamory Sometimes Involves Discomfort.
It is not always easy for me to be home alone, watching reruns, when my wife is out on a date. It’s uncomfortable, and I get a little jealous, and there’s that itch to call up and call it off.

But I don’t.

Because sometimes, polyamory involves being uncomfortable and letting it happen.

Don’t be a doormat, of course. But too many relationships involve people freaking out because they can only handle poly when it’s working for *their* benefit – and the minute they feel sad or insecure or lonely because their partner’s getting the good side of poly, they implode.

Good polyamory is about being fair. And the fairness is that at some point, they were sitting at home alone worried about you, and being generous enough to repay that nervousness with reward.

Reality #7: Not All Relationships Can Survive Being Opened.
Even if you follow all of the guidelines I’ve set above, some people just aren’t meant to be together. A lot of relationships go poly because fuck, they’re falling apart as it is, why not try something new?

Which makes polyamory often like Kitchen Nightmares – people point to Gordon Ramsay being able to rescue only 15% of the restaurants he rehabilitates, but people forget that you don’t call in Gordon Ramsay when your restaurant business is running well.

Opening up any relationship, even a steady one, is a risk. You date other people, find other ways of connecting emotionally, and the result may be they discover more fulfilling methods for them. Or you do for you. Or you find out that only one of you is comfortable in this open relationship.

Or – and this is also a very real possibility – you incorporate these other lessons you’ve learned in your other relationships to make your “core” relationship infinitely stronger.

Which is really what opening up your relationship should become – a way of making you both satisfied. It’s all a complex balance – because yeah, rules are helpful but you don’t want to be bound by rules, generosity is helpful but you don’t want to give everything you need away to be a “good” partner, and jealousy is not a crime but you don’t want to run a relationship based on preventing all jealousy.

It’s a tough set of things to manage. Good luck.

Because I gotta tell you – if you can pull it off, you’ll experience some forms of love that you just can’t get anywhere else, and it is beautiful.

Why Twitter Represents Everything Wrong With America Today

So for the seventh time, Twitter is trying to push its algorithmically-sorted Tweets into users’ timelines – and for the seventh time, Twitter users are angrily yelling, “Having our Tweets in the order they arrive in is a feature!  Stop fucking trying to change it!  Why do you want to change it?”

The reason they want to change it is a large reason why America doesn’t work well any more.

But first, let’s discuss why Twitter’s feed is a critical issue.

If you’re not familiar with how Facebook posts work – and a lot of you are not – Facebook itself decides what posts you see, based on an internal algorithm that scans each post and determines what’s important.  What’s resting at the top of your feed might have been posted three days ago – but it got a lot of comments, or it has buzzwords like “new baby,” or it’s got advertising dollars behind it.

And those algorithms are:

Frequently wrong.  I stopped adding friends on Facebook after the third – the fucking third! – time there was a death in a friend’s family, and Facebook’s algorithm decided it wasn’t important.  And my friends, who were consumed by the death of their mother and/or husband, naturally assumed that I knew because I was their friend on Facebook.  Which led to multitudes of awkward conversations when I met them in person and I said, brightly, “How ya doing?” and they went, “Well, it’s been hard,” and I asked, “Why? What happened?”

Subtly Biased. Hey.  Are you liberal?  Well, you’re gonna be more liberal on Facebook, because that algorithm is going to pick up on what you like, and it’s going to deposit more liberal news posts in your feed, and you’ll come to believe that the world is way more liberal than it is because Facebook is quietly sanitizing what you want to see.

Smothering Stories of Genuine Interest.  Ferguson became a national news story not because any news outlet wanted to pick up on it – they ignored it.  But people on Twitter kept posting about it, and because Twitter posts show up in chronological order, if you arrived soon after someone posted on Ferguson, you saw every post.  Eventually, enough people chained up interest that CNN and FOX news were forced to cover it.  Whereas on Facebook, which decided for you what you’d like, Ferguson waited for weeks before it started to be marked as “of interest,” and even then it only showed it to you if it decided you wanted to know.

Twitter wanting to move to an algorithmically-decided ranking means that it decides what you need to see.  And stories like Ferguson will be suppressed – not out of any Illuminati-style pressure, but because algorithms are crap at spotting trends with small data, which means if Ferguson started out small in an algorithmically-determined Twitter, it would very likely stay small.  When was the last time you heard of a news story breaking on Facebook that someone didn’t post on Facebook?

And every Twitter user I know wants chronological order.  That’s why we show up.  It’s messy, and it’s chaotic, but we consider “not having an algorithm decide what we see” to be actually one of Twitter’s greatest strengths…

And Twitter keeps ignoring what we want and keeps trotting out feelers to see if they foist this shitty concept on us.  (They’ve backed off this latest time, claiming that ha ha, they never meant to replace chronological order, but that’s what they said before – and yet once again there were reports that they wanted to roll it out.  There’s beta users who are seeing it.  For a company that doesn’t want to use it, they’re sure putting a lot of work into testing algorithms.)

Now, you may be asking, “Why does Twitter want to alienate its core user base?”  And the answer is simple:

They don’t want their user base.

They want Facebook’s.

The problem is that Twitter has a devoted user base, but it’s not growing enough.  There’s a lot of people who try Twitter, decide it’s not for them, and wander away.  There’s also like a billion people on the Internet, and not all of them want to use Twitter – a service which is, essentially, a global IRC chat.

Now, in a sane market, that would be enough.  People would go, “Well, Twitter has millions of deeply engaged users, so how do we optimize this experience for them?”  And they’d figured out ways to make Twitter better for the folks who use it, and determine better ways to make cash off a loyal user base, and make a decent profit.

Wall Street does not want decent profits.

Wall Street needs magnificent profits.

And that is a comparatively recent development.  There was a time not so long ago (well, the 1970s) where a good business could be run with modest growths, and that was considered to be a worthy investment.  There were lots of boring markets that just made constant, steady cash – and more importantly, new businesses could be designed to make boring, steady cash.

The point was not that every business had to engage in a tumorously-rapid expansion to grab all the marketshare – though the ones who could were hot tickets – but that back then, Wall Street understood that some businesses were just not designed for continual, explosive growth.

They don’t now.  Particularly in the tech sector.  If you’re not expanding, you’re dying.

So Twitter has continually spend its capital in attempts to satisfy users it does not have.

Which isn’t entirely bad – little changes like turning the “Favorite” (which used to mean anything from “Save this link to read later” to “Like” to “I acknowledge you made this reply”) into a heart makes Twitter’s complex interface less confusing for newbies.

But it does mean that Twitter is constantly asking itself the question, “How can we beat Facebook?”  And you can’t, with Twitter’s core market.  Twitter is designed as an alternative to Facebook – and Facebook is meant for small groups of friends and family to interact with, whereas Twitter is more global.

If Twitter acquired Facebook’s user base, it would lose Twitter’s.

Yet that’s what Wall Street demands, and that’s why Twitter is flailing both on Wall Street and in the public’s eye – its whole financial success is being judged by the question of “Well, how big is this going to get? Is it going to beat Facebook? Then it sucks.”

Twitter’s user base is angry that Twitter is ignoring them, and Wall Street is mad that Twitter isn’t ignoring its user base enough.

Which is a problem with America.  The new and rapacious Wall Street designed in the “Greed is good” 80s-era punishes markets that might be profitable, but not explosive.  And as such, we’re continually propelled forward in this cancerous cycle of “How do we grow?  How do we grow?” – even with markets that might be more profitable if they stopped focusing on growth and instead focused on satisfying a small but rabid client base.

In a sane economy, Twitter could pause and say, “Okay, we’ve got all these people who love us – so our priorities should be a) to figure out how to make a good profit from these folks, and b) make the people who love us love us more.”  (The two are not inevitably linked – users would love you most if there were no ads involved, but users are often very stupid people who get angry at your attempts to draw a salary.)

But because Wall Street demands SWELL AND EXPAND, what we get from Twitter is this muddled confusion of “Okay, yeah, our users want better anti-abuse tools” (which is critical because, as this Tweet explains, Twitter is the only social network where “being successful” means “you get abused”) and yet they’re pouring resources into “Stuff that people who don’t like Twitter might like.”

Which is something that makes me feel sad for Twitter’s people.  In a better world, they’d be focused on “What do Twitter users enjoy about us?” And they’d understand that question really well, and make a product suited for a comparatively stable user base.

Instead, we get Twitter programmers who are shocked by what happens on Twitter when a Tweet goes viral.

And I think Twitter’s not alone. Lots of America is shaped by this relentless Wall Street command that you must expand and be profitable now.  Your infrastructure? Doesn’t matter.  Your R&D? Fuck that, did you make a profit this quarter?  Your long-term plans for steady growth? Consumed in this blaze of GIMME CASH IMMEDIATELY.  Your boring lumber business? Well, will you sell wood to ten billion people? NOT INTERESTED.

Personally, I think America would be a lot better if Wall Street was less full of greedy cancerous fuckwits willing to destroy companies so long as they get a paycheck today, and more populated with people who understood that businesses have different needs, and some unsexy businesses can make steady profits without funding yachts filled with cocaine-encrusted hookers.

Until then?

We get Twitter.  Spasming in confusion, not doing well, beholden to two masters.

Slowly dying.

When The Obsession Works

I have a lot of rules around my polyamory – rules instigated mostly by my wife and long-term partner.

But they’re good rules.

See, I obsess about things and can’t stop.  So when a relationship goes south, it’s all I can think about.  I’m in the shower, wondering how I could have said things better. I’m at the movies, but I’m not watching, I’m contemplating my next text to her.  I’m cuddled up with my wife and I love being there but she notes that crease in my forehead that signals that somewhere, I’m still wondering, how can I fix my relationship with this other woman?

So they said, “Okay, we need rules to ensure you date more stable women.”  And I said “That sounds great,” because when you’re dating five women and two of those relationships are slowly disintegrating and you’re obsessive, well, it feels like running a goddamned marathon.

But.

But.

Right now, I’m in the process of revising a book, and the third act needs to be broken down and completely rewritten to take this book from “Acceptable ending” to “Awesome finish.”  To properly rebreak an act, you have to be willing to slaughter every darling – yeah, these individual character moments are heartwarming, these plot twists are great, but what happens if we get rid of them?  What happens if I take the entire last act, pretend it didn’t happen, and regrow a new last act like a lizard regenerating a severed limb?

I walked the dog this morning. I think. What actually happened was that the dog tugged me around the block while I examined all the elements in my book and weighed them and proposed theories, and I was back at my doorstep and barely registered the mile’s journey.

I’m unsure whether I’ll be able to fix this book properly – and please don’t tell me “You got this, Ferrett!” because I read that strongly as “If you can’t pull this off, we will come to hate you.”

But if I fail, it won’t be for lack of effort. I feel battered as a moth against a lightbulb, and I’ve only been contemplating this for two days – and I know I’ll spend the next weeks mired in this until I restructure it into something more perfect, or at least more fitting, because I don’t know how to stop.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can take your native neuroses and repurpose them into something productive.  I won’t say I’m happy while I’m rebreaking Act Three, but if I manage to fix it then I’ll have utilized some pretty terrible instincts to create good art.

Much better than trying to repurpose a relationship.  The odds are better, anyway.

What I Like About Robert Bennett’s CITY OF STAIRS and CITY OF BLADES

So most of these crumbled civilizations are real shitholes, right?  Years ago, there were Great Empires and everything’s gone to shit since then and there’s a bunch of farmers eking out an existence in the ruins.

Well, in Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs and City of Blades, those ancient civilizations exist.  Except the today-civilizations are pretty much us, a hundred or so years ago.  There are scientists who study things, and politicians who are frighteningly smart at taking advantage of situations, and nations who are fully rebuilt and functional.  You wouldn’t mind living in his cities.  They’re troubled, but they’re on the move.

The problem is that the Great Empires were founded by Divinities – literal Gods, who warped the flow of physics and created the impossible.  One of the reasons the current nation-states are building their way out is because once the Gods died, the laws their cities ran on also vanished, and so they collapsed or sank into the sea or disintegrated in an event called The Blink.

And in both books – no real spoilers here – the heroes run across remnants of the Divine.  (Usually because, like Scooby Doo investigating a haunted amusement park, the scientists of the day just can’t stop hunting for shit that does literal magic.)  And when the heroes find the Divine, they have all the technology that people in the early twentieth century would have access to, they have all the cleverness that you or I would have, they are smart and insightful and clever…

And the echo of a Divinity is enough to almost destroy them, even with all of modern civilization backing them.

And I like that. I like that the past civilization is, effectively, science-fiction – and it’s not that humans are dumb or degraded, we’re still really clever, it’s that the Divinities were actually that terrifying in their heyday. And given that the Divinities were insane, you really don’t want ’em back.

They’re good books.  You should check ’em out.

 

My New Nails! Shiny And Chrome! (Sorta)

Like all good nerds, I loved Mad Max: Fury Road. So when I asked my Mad Manicurist Ashley to do me up some Mad Max nails, we…

Ran into some issues.

She’d never seen Fury Road, and trying to explain to her “Yes, teeth spray-painted chrome is a major icon of the film and need to be on my nails” went over pretty poorly, with her going, “What? Why would that be a thing?”  And in the end, thanks to some technical difficulties where she just started doing art deco (not really a Mad Max style), I got what are pretty nails – but nails I have to explain to people, because they’re not iconic:

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Ashley’s nails are always amazing, but this is sadly at the bottom tier of amazing.  Oh well.  There’s always more nails.

And though I posted a small video, I’m not sure if I ever posted my Star Wars nails – which were very amazing, and I was ridiculously sad to have to take them off my body!

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Nobody Eats Pie. I’ve Never Met A Person Who Eats Pie.

So you go to a party so packed tight with burly men it’s hard to make your way to the exit. When they bellow a laugh, they clap you on the back hard enough to leave bruises. Their merry handshakes compress your bones, leave you shaking your hand to get the blood flow back.

On a table in the center of the room, set prominently, is a cake.

The men joke a lot, debate a lot, engage in shoving matches at the slightest provocations. And when one of them oversteps the line, the other shouts, “Shut your piehole!

Except when they say “piehole,” the other guy has to be held back by his friends. “He’s just jokin’, Phil,” they whisper. “Nobody thinks you eat pie.”

The other dudes go out of their way to mention that they’ve never seen a pie in real life. Just pictures. They looked disgusting.

At the height of the party, the dudes slice up the cake reverently. “This is the only dessert a person needs, you know? Cake.” And after they eat the cake, sitting back and relaxing blissfully at the table, Phil – fuckin’ Phil – brings up the time he went to visit his brother in Minneapolis (“Pie central,” they grunt knowingly), and opened up the fridge and what did that sick fuck have inside?

“Pie,” they say, and a couple of ’em crack their knuckles like they wish Phil’s brother was here right now.

They ask if you’ve eaten pie, except it’s an easy out – the very idea is presented as a joke, ’cause they like you, they know you wouldn’t. They jab you in the ribs with their elbows hard enough to almost knock you off your seat.

Somebody mentions this survey people took in the media the other day – “The media,” they groan – and these fuckers report that 21% of Americans have eaten pie in the last month.

“Gotta be a lie,” Phil says. “I don’t know anyone who eats pie.”

Everyone agrees, their lips smeared blue with frosting.

———————-

Now, my FetLife feed has been ablaze over the last few days over one single word – and it’s not “pie.”

It’s “they.”

As in, “If someone wants to be called ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she,’ you should call them ‘they’ as a courtesy.”

And a lot of male doms – because it’s pretty much exclusively male dominants suckin’ up the oxygen in this particular flame war – have said that this whole argument is dumb anyway, because they’ve never met a person who was uncomfortable being called “he” or “she,” and even if they had then those people are so rare as to not exist, so why bother forging a new pronoun for them?

Except one idiot who claimed “I’ve never met anyone who wanted to be called ‘they’ in real life!” had in fact met at least one person at a club who did want a gender-neutral pronoun – and that gender-neutral person remembered them explicitly because the idiot in question had harrumphed and walked away when they expressed a preference.

You gotta remember the pie.

If you create a culture that is actively hostile to a certain type of person, then you have to remember that you don’t actually know how many of that people exist.

Has Phil never met a person who’s eaten pie? Phil – fuckin’ Phil – thinks that’s because those people don’t exist.

But in truth, it’s because Phil swims in a cake-positive culture where the idea of eating pie is so repellent that you literally risk getting your ass beaten for mentioning “America” and “apple pie” in the same sentence. Or if the cakeheads are feeling mercilful, you’ll just get razzed for your love of pie forever until it feels shameful.

Right now, yeah, we’ve got a whole culture of people who accept “he” and “she,” because honestly, you’re gonna get a lot of Phils – fuckin Phils – who are going to go, “What the fuck? I’m not calling you ‘they’. You’re a ‘he.’ Go the fuck home.”

And when Phil’s your employer or your parent or someone else you need to function in life, that’s hard to get by without. You accept this gendering not because you like it, but because you’ve done the hard math and determined that it’s less troublesome to be called “she” than to battle every Phil – fuckin’ Phil – in your path.

But Phil can’t say, “Nobody wants to be called ‘they’! It’s freakish!” Because by *stigmatizing* it, you *suppress* it.

Look. I don’t know how many people would be comfortable with gender-neutral terms – and like homosexuality, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a minority. But I am certain that the number of people who desire gender-neutral terms are a lot bigger than the number of people facing down Phil in a big burly party.

Only after we remove the stigma can we know what people actually want.

And look, if you’re gonna be some anti-pie activist, then be honest. Tell people you think pie is harmful and will ruin your kids and giving them alternatives to cake will ruin their lives forever.

But what too many Phils do – fuckin’ Phils – is to conflate the argument, to go, “Look, people who eat pie are freakishly rare, and we don’t have to pay attention to them because nobody eats pie.”

Bullshit. You’ve made the people who eat pie rarer through shame and intimidation and the inertia of a cake-positive culture. There’d be a lot more people eating pie if you didn’t make retching noises every time someone opened up a Marie Callender’s and quietly dumped the pies at the banquet into the garbage.

What you’re doing is purposely suppressing pie-eating, and then using that suppression as proof that nobody normal does it. And to you, I say, “Fuck that, and fuck your piehole.”

In the meantime, how many people don’t like “he” or “she” and would prefer a “they”? We’ve got no concept. The idea’s still so new to American culture that people are having negative reactions to it just because it’s unfamiliar. With luck, we’ll come to see how many people desire an alternative, and then we’ll get a concept of how many folks have secretly longed for this all along.

Life’s full of weird closets. But it’s the height of dumbness to stuff people into closets and then claim you never see them around.

How A Lamp Took Away My Reading And A Box Brought It Back

So here’s a dumb thing: I read only a handful of books in 2015.

But I played a loooooot of phone games.

Which felt like the moral equivalent of subsisting on Pop Tarts and McDonald’s breakfasts. But if I had an hour to kill in the evening, I’d play Ascension until I fell asleep. And people kept talking about all these great books they were reading, and I’d read maybe 15 books in the last year – which sounds like a lot to people who don’t read a lot, but I usually read about 60.

When I finish a book, I feel like I’ve expanded my life – I have learned new things about writing from watching some woman’s techniques, I’ve got a new conversation-starter with other people who’ve read it, I’ve inhaled a couple of interesting ideas.  When I finish a phone game, I feel sort of vaguely disappointed.

And I thought that it was that the phone was too distracting – which, yes, it was.  But it was also too small for me to read comfortably on, with my age-blurred eyes, so between that and the constant stream of texts, I just sort of gave up reading on it.

Yet I got a Kindle Paperwhite earlier this week, and last night was glorious.  Instead of killing time with my phone, I slipped into bed and read 15% of Traitor Baru Cormorant, which I’m sure will be on all the awards ballots that I’m not this year.  And when I got tired, I put it down and fell asleep…

…and in the morning, I realized why I’d stopped reading.

The lamp was too high.

When I’d read a lot as a kid, I had a nightstand at bed-height – I reached over and darkened the room. (I can’t fall asleep with the lights on.)  But in our bedroom, I had a big torch-style light that was five feet high. I had to get out of bed to turn it off.

And God forbid I wanted to read when Gini was trying to sleep – I’d flood her face with luminescence.  So I’d just learned to live in darkness.

Time had been, if I wanted to read, I went off to my reading room – but both of my daughters had moved back in with me over the past two years while they hunted for new jobs, and they both moved into the room I used to go and read in.  So I had nowhere I was comfortable reading.

It was all little things.  A lamp.  An unavailable bed.  A TV in the living room that made me think “Living room is for television.”  And if you’d tried to tell me any one of those things would have caused massive changes to my lifestyle, I’d have laughed. But all those little things nudged me into Not Reading.

A larger screen with a backlight turned that back on.

And I think that as humans, we often dismiss the idea that little environmental stimuli can alter our behavior. “We’re big people,” we say.  “I’d know if I was being affected!”

But the world is full of little tweaks like this. I never consciously thought, “God, that light is up too high” – or if I did, I never connected it with my reluctance to read.  I was, and am, an animal of low instincts, where I now realize I read best lying down and if I can’t lie down then some small switch in my brain tells me it’s not time to read.

And there’s all these other things that control my behavior that I doubtlessly don’t think about, but other people do. I know the dish size in a restaurant can control my portions.  I know colors can affect my mood.  I know that smells can make me hungrier or calmer.

And the frightening thing is, I don’t notice these nudges.  They just happen.  And then my reading is cut by 75% in a year.

And I think about racism and sexism, and how much of that is kind of like a too-tall lamp or a blocked bedroom.  Hardly anyone means to be racist, but maybe we look at a black face and that’s another environmental stimuli.  Hardly anyone means to be sexist, but maybe a woman speaks up and that’s another environmental stimuli.

And that sort of sedimentary discrimination is hard to battle, because not only do people not notice it happening, but when you do notice it there’s no bravery in overcoming it.  You don’t get to go, “Well, my parents taught me a woman’s place was in the kitchen, but I overcame that with logic and my own opinions!”  Instead, you have to go, “My subconscious makes me react more negatively to a woman interrupting me, and, uh, that’s something nobody ever taught me, I just sort of picked it up like lead in the water.”

That acknowledgement feels stupid. It reduces you to some lab mouse.  It makes you a dumb sea anemone, tossed about by currents you don’t fully control, and that’s the same terror of We’re bound by our biology that makes people deny evolution and put off seeing the doctor about that mole on their breast because this can’t be cancer.

I dunno.  I do know that last night, I read for ninety minutes straight, and it was lovely.  And now that I’m aware, I know that I need a) a larger box that’s b) backlit, and c) doesn’t bombard me with messages, so I can read in the dark while my wife sleeps.

I’ll be reading a lot more.  That’s good.

I’ll be wondering about what other subliminal things affect me a lot more. That’s unsettling.

The Case For Rey Palpatine

NOTE: It has now been five weeks since the new Star Wars came out, and I’m finally gonna discuss the movie.  There will be spoilers here; not big spoilers, but enough to make theories as to what would be interesting to happen in the next movie. If you’re still trying to avoid incidental spoilers, well, at this point you should see the movie.

So everyone has theories as to who Rey’s parents are.  They’re combing through the film, looking for evidence, deciding whether Rey is a Skywalker or a Kenobi or the reincarnation of Anakin Skywalker or whatever.

And let’s be honest: there’s just not enough facts on the ground here.  If she turns out to be Luke Skywalker’s kid, well, nothing in the film contradicts that narrative.  And if she’s Obi-Wan’s granddaughter, well, nothing in the film would contradict that, either.  “Looking for evidence” is a mug’s game, because if they gave you enough evidence to decisively determine “Who Rey’s parents” were, the crowdsourced wisdom of billions of fans would conclude.

And then Episode 8 would be predictable.

However, I am a writer. And when I write, I am notorious for Not Plotting.  I never know what happens next; what I do do is find the maximum point of havoc, trigger it, and then ask, “…so how do my characters get out of this mess?”  As such, I am extremely skilled at determining what the most catastrophic and interesting change would be.

(If you’d like to disagree with that statement, please buy my books first, read them in their entirety, review them on Goodreads, and then come back to argue.  Thank you!)

Anyway, I’m not asking, “What evidence leads me to believe that Rey is $CHARACTER’s kid?”  There’s not evidence, or at least not enough of it.

I am instead asking, “If I had to choose her father/grandfather*, what decision would create the most interesting set of character reactions?”

And the most interesting reactions comes from Rey being the granddaughter of that Big Baddie, Emperor Palpatine.

See, right now, if she’s anyone else, Luke’s default mode is “Sure, I’ll train you.”  You can fling some plot in the way to create tension, probably PTSD from watching his last set of students die – but Luke’s always believed in the best in people.

If Rey is Emperor Palpatine’s kid, and she just went toe-to-toe with Kylo Ren untrained and beat him, well… Luke’s gotta wonder whether training someone so unimaginably potent in the force is a good idea.  The only time he beat his father is when he turned to the Dark Side, and he had a lot more training.  (And remember, Luke didn’t see the battle, so he has no reason to take Rey’s word for it that she was calm.)  So does he really want to take a chance on Rey, especially after what went wrong when he trained a kid with good heritage like Ben?

“I am a Jedi. Like my father before me.” That lesson gets inverted when her father was not a good man at all, ever.

So that sets up a natural tension between Luke and Rey, and it gives a reason for Luke not to be so open with Rey.  The counterbalancing reasons why he should trust Rey comes down to plot, which you can manufacture easily; here, um, “Luke gave up his saber, knowing through Mysterious Force Powers that it would land in the hands of the person who needed it most, and he’s surprised to find that worthy person is Rey Palpatine.”

There. Creating plot to justify your interesting decisions is the least of an author’s powers.

The Rey Palpatine plot-take also explains why Rey’s been dumped on the ass-end of a planet in the middle of nowhere; if the First Order knew that the Emperor’s Granddaughter existed/had survived, then they would stop at nothing to find her.  And they wanted to dump her in a place with no hope, because it turns out the Force is strong in this family and they do not want her to get trained.  At all.

And Rey, who has always longed for her parents, waited endlessly for them, is suddenly torn to shreds.  Her father, like Luke’s, is a monster – but unlike Luke, they didn’t put her on dumb-ass Sand Planet for her benefit, they put her there specifically to neuter her.  All those hours toiling away for portions can be placed at the feet of whoever made that decision.  She’s got a right to be angry, they told her her family was coming back and instead she was going to rot there, turn into that old lady scrubbing parts….

We don’t know who made that decision – but oh wait, we’re plotting! We can just say who it is!  And we’d choose the most interesting person to make that decision, at least in terms of “Whose relationships that person making the decision would change the most,” and thaaaaaat’d be Luke.

But wait; what’s that do to her relationship with Vader-hipster Kylo Ren?

Oh, my friends, that’s the sweet sauce.

Suddenly, Kylo – who worships the ground his grandfather walked on – sees the Emperor’s granddaughter, and they are clearly Meant To Be.  The irony!  Goddamned Luke swayed his father back from the Dark Side just long enough for a rebellion; wouldn’t it be so luscious if he rescued Rey from Luke’s wussy Light Side tendencies to show her true heritage?

It’s unclear what Kylo Ren would want, after acquiring this information. Maybe he’s looking for an apprentice to break out from under General Gollum’s control, which would be a bit depressingly cookie-cutter; maybe he’s looking for someone stronger than him to lead.  But in either case, Rey Palpatine would push every one of that kid’s “I’ve gotta out-Vader Vader” buttons hard.

…and it also provides a deeper and darker resonance for Rey shouting “You’re afraid that you will never be as strong as Darth Vader!

(EDIT: And Holy crap, I just realized the most catastrophic plot development in this Rey-Ren-Snoke triangle:

(Envision Kylo Ren saying, “I found the Emperor’s Granddaughter, we have to protect her.”  Envision Supreme Leader Snoke thinking, This chick is way too bull-headed to convert, and she’s the only real threat to my Force domination, we need to bump her off.  There’s instant conflict there.

(Now imagine what happens when Kylo Ren starts a civil war in the First Order to protect the last heritage of the Great Empire.  Kylo’s not a guy who thinks ahead, so he’d only recognize what he’s done to the First Order only after Snoke’s lifeless body hits the floor  – and you think he hates Rey now?  Oh, God, getting her and converting her would become so personal.)

Now, you’re asking, “What evidence in that movie says that Rey is Palpatine’s daughter?” And again, you’re looking in the wrong place.  After the fact is made, we will retrofit every action in the movie to fit whoever Rey’s parents turn out to be – just like we now assign so much more meaning to Obi-Wan’s hesitations and sadnesses in Episode IV.  But if you must…

I mean, she’s got her grandpa’s technological skills; do you think the old man built something as complex as the Death Star without understanding machines himself?  And Han Solo, the way he looks at her; note that he’s adventuring with her, but is very reticent to do anything for her, until he sees the way she loves that lush green planet.  After that, he asks if she’ll come with him – and in the post-Palpatine decision, that’d be viewed as a clear move to keep an eye on this kid, he likes her, now it’s time to see what she’s made of.  The fact that Chewie likes her – and Chewie’s instincts are far better than his – is a sign.

In that sense, Han watching Kylo Ren walk away from Maz Kanata’s palace takes on a new light; he’s debating whether to potentially kill his son in order to save the Emperor’s granddaughter.

Leia, on the other hand, may or may not know; one would suspect she doesn’t. Or she could have been against this decision from the get-go, and instead wants her to find her destiny with Luke.  Either way, if Rey turns out to be Palpatine’s kid, we’ll manufacture plot to support the decision, and viewed in retrospect we’ll all buy it.

As for Luke, well, if we go with the simple version of “His saber found the worthiest student,” well, he pulled that pseudo-mystical stuff with Artoo and can do it again.  He’s a Jedi Master, and my hope is that Episode VIII will show us more than the haggard old tripartite Force powers of mind trick/telekinesis/force lightning.  I’d like Luke to have some really crazy powers – and I mean, Luke did crash blindly in the one spot where Yoda was waiting, so it’s not like Yoda didn’t have some planet-scale fuckery at his disposal.

(And while we’re at it, here’s my dream Luke-plot for Episode VIII: He’s at the first Jedi Temple, where he trains Rey in all the mystical ways of the Jedi order, and it doesn’t frickin’ work.  He’s teaching her just like Obi-Wan and Yoda taught him, utilizing the millennium of old Jedi teachings, and he’s baffled by why he did all that and wound up with Kylo Ren…

(Until Rey points out that hey, Luke, you’re mindlessly emulating teaching techniques that created Vader and Kylo Ren, and the only time you broke the cycle was when you ignored Obi-Wan and Yoda to go do the right thing – so maybe, just maaaaybe Luke, you should stop trying to teach me like these old blinkered fuddy-duddies and teach me like Luke Fucking Skywalker would.

(Cue Luke’s enlightenment.  Cue Luke becoming an actually good teacher.)

Anyway.  The point is that yeah, Rey could be a Skywalker and could be a Kenobi (my personal hope), but you have to work harder to make those alternatives interesting.  Rey as Palpatine is like the old films, but like the new films it also inverts it – the difference that Rey was not sent away for her protection, but to purposely isolate her, is a huge difference, as would the relationship with Kylo Ren.

There’s no firm evidence either way.  It’s just more interesting.  And alas, in the ever-incestuous Star Wars universe she’s gotta be some player’s kid, because as my friend Richard noted the most shocking plot twist of all would be to have Rey’s ancestry be nobody we’ve ever seen before.

* – Alas, it has to be her father/grandfather and not her mother, as Star Wars takes place in an alternate-universe scenario where the lead roles are actually sentient insects.  Don’t blame me for this theory, blame Max Gladstone.