The 2017 Annual Greed List!

Thanks to some psychiatric problems, I am almost terminally late with my Annual Greed List – the large (and, yes, uncut) list of things I desire for Christmas. Why do I do this? If you’re really interested, here’s a brief history of the Greed List.

The briefer version, however, is that I think “What you want” is a reflection of “Who you are” at this moment – your music, your hobbies, your fandoms, help define who you are as a person.  I find it fascinating as a history, watching how what I’ve desired has mutated – for example, the list used to be heavy on physical Things, which then changed slowly into digital objects as MP3s and iTunes became big, and now as I’m renting a lot of digital stuff nowadays I’m back to wanting Things again.

(And it allows me to chronicle strange bumps in my desires; for example, last year’s list contained not one single book. Why? Was it because I stopped loving books?  No!  It’s because I just got off a book tour for Fix, and I was so overflowing with books that I needed to run down my pile.  Now I’m back to only a garbage truck-sized heap of books, and I need more.)

Yet while I guess I could just shove my Amazon Wishlist at you and run, why bother?  I want you to know who I am in this moment, and so I not only list what I want, but explain why I want it.

So.  Here’s what I’d like for this Star Wars-infused holiday season.

Review My Books.
I have officially written four books:

If you haven’t bought them yet, obviously buying them is a good thing for me.  (Start with Flex and work your way down.)  But if you have, and you haven’t left a review somewhere – whether that’s at Amazon, Goodreads, or Barnes and Noble –

Well, every review helps shape the retailers’ recommendation engines, and enough reviews (even negative ones) makes it far more likely that Amazon or Barnes and Noble will recommend that author’s book to someone else.  So even if it’s a two-star review of “Got bored, walked away,” well, actually, that helps.

So you wanna get me a gift that costs you nothing aside from five minutes of time?  If you’ve read my book, rate my book somewhere.  Which you can do for literally any other author you like, because guess what – it helps them!

Watchmen (Annotated Edition) $33.99
My all-time favorite graphic novel is Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.  I’d liked comics before Alan Moore came along, but I’d always thought of them as goofy and dispensable, not really capable of carrying deep emotional weight.

(Which is different from saying they can’t inspire emotion – I mean, I genuinely still tear up every time I read  Muhammad Ali fighting Superman, because that is one kick-ass comic – but I wouldn’t call Muhammad Ali fighting space warriors out to invade Planet Earth deep or anything.)

Anyway, Watchmen was the first comic I read where I could read it again and find more detail.  There are hidden depths to Watchmen that only really turn up the third or fourth time you read it – and it’s not a perfect comic, because some aspects of it have not aged well, but it was the perfect comic for me in that moment, if you can make that distinction.  It took superheroes and fused them with literary fiction in a way where wait, hold on, how do you blend genuine complex emotion with crimefighting?

(Even if Watchmen’s ultimate answer is that you really don’t.  Beating up criminals in alleyways isn’t a healthy profession, and it doesn’t do much.)

Anyway, I know little about this book except it claims to annotate Watchmen in-depth, and I am there for that.  It’s released tomorrow.  But it ships in time for Christmas.

Baby Driver (Blu-Ray) $19.96
This movie was, honestly, a disappointment for me when I saw it – it was a slam-bang car-chase movie from one of my favorite directors, and but all the best action moments (which were spectacular) were spoiled in the trailers.  It was tightly-plotted, as I’d expect, and it was beautifully shot, but in the end I thought it was a bit overrated.

So why is it here?

Because Edgar Wright’s other films – Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, World’s End, Scott Pilgrim – have gotten better on each rewatching, because he has lots of little moments you miss the first time around.  His films are like clockwork watches, every bit fitting neatly into the plot, and they’re also comfort watching.

So I’ll probably like this more the more I see it.  At least if past experience is anything to go by.

Final Fantasy XV for PS4 ($39.99)
Interestingly, this was on last year’s list and I didn’t get it and I’m still interested.  Is it that great a game?

No.  But it’s the only game on this year’s list, even though I’m a videogame addict.  It’s been a dry year for the kinds of games I like – which is to say, big meandery RPGs where you can fight but you can also go on fishing side quests or explore caves or just see the sights.  And considering I finished up the South Park RPG in about two weeks because it was really enjoyable but too shallow, Final Fantasy’s reviews from my friends indicate that yeah, I need some of its meandering in my life to help relax again.

So here it is!  Surprisingly high on the list for a game series I’m not traditionally into.  But I’m told that FF XV – yes, the fifteenth in the series – is unlike the other ones.  So let’s see.

Odyssey, by Emily Wilson (and Homer), $29.99
This translation’s been all kinds of hotness in my Twitter-circle, because it’s a modern, feminist translation of Homer’s Odyssey.  And good translations are hard to do, because they’re not just “swap foreign words for English ones” – you have to consider context and how culture changes.

My favorite translation of all time is Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, where he condenses several lines of ancient English into a single word.  Because Beowulf starts with the ancient “HEAR YE, HEAR YE, LISTEN ATTENTIVELY TO THE GREAT TALE I AM ABOUT TO TELL,” and Seamus went, “Wait, nobody talks like that.  What do modern people say when they want to alert someone that they’ve got a tale where shit’s about to go down?”

The first word of his Beowulf translation: “So.”

Beautiful.

I read an interview with Emily where she essentially said, “It’s fascinating how every other translation turns ‘house slaves’ into ‘maids’ and ‘butlers,’ like they’re just hired men instead of kidnapped people.”  People apparently keep trying to translate out the complexities and contradictions of the original text instead of leaving them in, and I’d like to see this more complex version of the Odyssey.

Westworld: The Complete First Season (Blu-Ray) $27.99
My Dad asked me if he’d like Westworld.  I wish I could tell him.

The problem is, he’s watching it in a very different way than I did.

I watched Westworld week-by-week as it premiered, and in those weeks I read hundreds of fan theories, listened to podcasts that dissected every detail.  I obsessed over this show, to the point where when the season ending came I had five predictions and I nailed four of them because the show played fair and rewarded diligent watching.

And so for my Dad, who’d probably mildly binge-watch it in a couple of weeks and not have every episode presaged by thorough anticipation, well… I don’t know if it’s any good when watched like that.

In any case, this Blu-Ray comes with tons of behind-the-scenes extra documentaries, and that’s the meat of it for me.  I’ve rewatched the show twice through my HBO subscription.

I’ll probably watch it again.

Louis Riel: A Comic-Book Biography, by Chester Brown $12.99
So here’s a weirdie book: before this book, Chester Brown was an indie comic book artist who mostly drew bizarre horror comics about dicks.  His most famous work, Yummy Fur, was a surrealist work where a happy clown woke up one morning to find that Ronald Reagan’s from a parallel dimension filled with shit was now attached to the end of his penis.

…you wouldn’t think a comic could get weirder from there, but it did.

And then for no reason he wrote a very sober comic biography of Louis Riel, Canadian leader and rebel, which was by all accounts dead serious but became a Canadian bestseller and a classic work of biography.

I wonder what happens when people liked that and go read his other works.

Anyway, I liked his Yummy Fur stuff (and also his autobiographical defense of why he pays for prostitutes instead of having romantic relationships), and yet I’ve never read his most acclaimed work.  So that’d be nice to get under the stocking: a book without Ronald Reagan’s head on a dick.

Merry Christmas!

There Will Be Blood (Blu-Ray) $8.00
Despite this list, I’m terrible at making lists.  Ask me my top five favorite movies, and I freeze.  Over the years I’ve come to say Star Wars, The Godfather, Galaxy Quest, Fight Club, Princess Bride, but I’m not really sure if they’re my top five, they’re just five movies I like a lot.

There Will Be Blood is, I have decided, in my top 5.

It’s a slow movie about an oil baron, and what I love about it is that you see everything that Daniel Plainview does, both the good and the evil – mostly evil, because, well, there will be blood – and yet you can still debate exactly what he’s thinking in the moment.  The movie’s a lot like real life in that you can watch literally all he does and still not be sure why he did it.  Is Daniel Plainview a brutal man with genuinely tender moments, or is he manipulative all the way down?  It’s hard to say because he’s not introspective, either, and he doesn’t talk when he doesn’t have to.

It’s also a gorgeous movie, and would look great on my television.

Soonish: Ten Emerging Technologies That’ll Improve And/Or Ruin Everything, by Zach Weinersmith ($18.99)
Fun fact: The first ever review of my now-dead webcomic Home on the Strange came from Zach Weinersmith, who hated it and couldn’t understand why anyone was paying attention to it.  I’ve held a mild grudge ever since.

But unfortunately, not only was he right (that first strip wasn’t particularly great), but he and his partner are also one of the best webcomics in the business right now, with SMBC routinely putting out thoughtful, scientific, philosophical, and genuinely funny takes on modern life.  And now they’ve got a book out discussing ten modern technologies, which is good for a guy who writes science fiction.

It’s probably funny, too.  Damn them.

Through The Habitrails, by Jeff Nicholson $14.95
An unfortunate casualty of an ex-girlfriend I lent this to who failed to return it post-breakup, this is a terrifying graphic novel that deals with one man’s depressive look at his cubicle-farm job, and how he slowly breaks down.  It’s written in a fantasy style, so there’s grotesque elements as you see people literally dying at the job, but it’s also weirdly triumphant in the end.

I haven’t read it since that breakup six years ago.  I’d like to see it again.

Barry Lyndon (Blu-Ray, Criterion) $22.97
Barry Lyndon is perhaps the most Kubrick of Stanley Kubrick’s movies, which is to say it’s ridiculously obsessive and glacially slow.  It’s an 18th century drama, and Kubrick insisted on filming it all by natural light – so when they’re inside, he had to develop special lens to be able to film workable stock through candlelight.

Criterion, the publishing company, does amazing behind-the-scenes extras and restorations, so having this to look at would be marvelous.  Like Westworld, it’s mostly about the documentaries.  Because Kubrick was craaaaazy.

 

 

 

 

Could Audrey II Talk The Ingalls-Wilders Into Destroying Themselves?

I was showing Little Shop Of Horrors to my sweetie Fox yesterday when I accidentally called it “Little House of Horrors.”  Which, naturally, led me to imagine the crossover between Audrey II, sweet-talking, human-eating plant mastermind of Little Shop of Horrors, and the Ingalls-Wilder family of Little House of the Prairie.

Who’d win?

A friend of mine ventured the Wilders would win because “They’re tough.”  But this has never been a battle of muscle – this is about persuasion.  If the Wilders found some strange and interesting plant on their doorstep, placed as part of an alien invasion, would they succumb to Audrey II’s dulcet tones?

(Not that the plant would be named “Audrey II” in this timeline, of course. But we could debate for hours about what the Ingalls-Wilder family would call their pet plant, if they named it at all.)

Now, I do think they would care for the plant, as they’re usually on the verge of starvation and good farmers – so they’d have every urge to see what a weirdo plant might grow into, especially if it promised to be a unique crop.  (Which, given that Audrey II’s end game is to spread its seeds across America, it would be and how.)

The sticking point is feeding it blood.

I don’t doubt that a compassionate Laura might give Audrey a few drops of blood to keep a cute plant from starving – but ramping up to local dentists seems out of line for the very moral family.  However, there’s two issues that make me think the Wilders could be talked into feeding Audrey, who is after all very persuasive:

First off, the question of whether Audrey II could live off of inhuman blood is a question that’s never quite answered.  All it eats in the show is humans, but the rules as given in “Feed Me” are:

Must be blood
Must be fresh

When Seymour pleads “Does it have to be human?”, note that Audrey II does not answer.

So it’s entirely possible that Audrey II could turn into some watchdog for the corn storage, if Audrey II could eat rats.  And eventually, given the family mostly sees animals as livestock, they might toss a deer into Audrey if Audrey was bringing in a handsome income.  Not hard for Audrey to grow up big and strong then.  And Lordy, if Audrey can convince them to lay a perimeter of Audrey IIs around their house to protect their crops and hens, well, victory is easily at tendril.

But what if it must be human blood?  People say “No, the Ingalls-Wilders are not murderers!”  And yet…

They do have a barely-concealed concept for the Native American population.  Who they both fear and envy – which makes sense, considering the Ingalls-Wilders lived on stolen Native American land.

I mean, nobody wants to talk about the family’s darker urges, but playing on darker urges is literally all Audrey does – he quietly leads people to believe that maaaaybe a sacrifice of someone who’s not really fully human could be worth the payoff.  I mean, you don’t want to think that Ma, bigoted ol’ Ma, might shove some strange intruder into the maw of a champing plant, but can you really rule it out?

So my take is that it’s not a sure thing by any means, but there’s at least a chance that Audrey II could lead the Ingalls-Wilders down the primrose path to sporulation.  At which point we then enter a very interesting alternate American history, somewhat like Sarah Gailey’s hippo-infested Mississippi, wherein the plains are now covered with blood-thirsting Audreys – small ones, ones unable to survive on their own without talking people into hideous acts, but enough to bite off a toe.  And entire towns in thrall to their sacrificial Audrey-God, and Ma and Pa and Laura desperately trying to warn the world.

“So that’s what you used your lunch break to write about, huh?” my wife asks.

“I sure did,” say I.

 

 

A World, Transformed: Love In The Early Internet

Twenty-four years ago, I dialed up to CompuServe via a modem to talk about Star Wars. I had no idea my future wife was posting there.

Even if I’d been looking for love – which I wasn’t – the Internet back then was small and furtive. There were no selfies, because that was a technological accomplishment: you had to have a physical camera, then get your snapshots developed at the PhotoHut, and then a scanner to scan it in, and an FTP program to upload it to a site you owned. There were no videos. There were only crude, blocky emojis cobbled together from stray bits of punctuation.

There was only text.

Sane people didn’t fall in love through text.

So love never occurred to us.

My future wife, however, was (and remains) both a phenomenal debater and writer, so instead we argued ferociously (and platonically) for four years about every topic that came our way. She smacked me down whenever I made a terrible point, I took her to task for her weak opinions, we went toe-to-toe with each other in enthusiastic polemics and then engaged in one-upmanship pun wars that went on for weeks.

You couldn’t do better as a staging ground for unrecognized sapiosexual attractions, really.

But what strikes me as amazing is how inconvenient and lonely our discussions were back then… and it wasn’t so long ago.

We had to dial up via phone, and back then that meant landlines, and I was not so rich that I could afford two lines. So I’d clog up the phone in our apartment, and pay hourly connection fees to Compuserve, downloading threads and hoarding replies to save money, all for this bizarre textual connection.

A connection that literally nobody I talked to valued.

The Internet was viewed as a place made for weirdos those days. People barely understood computers, as this was in a day when “Word Processing” was a skill that genuinely added value to a resume. Telling strangers you had a social life online led to people asking what “online” meant.

And those who did know thought you did it only if you had no real-life friends – which was accurate for me, as I was in a lonely place after a move because I had taken a new job in a new city and was too socially anxious to ask anyone to hang out with me. I had my girlfriend, who’d moved out with me, but we weren’t the kind of couple who did well just hanging out with each other 24/7 for literally years at a time.

Having friends on the Internet was a dirty secret. If I talked about them like they were real people, folks would ask if I’d met them, what I really knew about these people, why were they so sad and lifeless that they’d have to talk to losers like me online.

The strands that connected the real world to the Internet were so tenuous in those days. People did cool things on the Internet, but there was no YouTube or easy way to pass around photos, so a big “viral” post maybe got to about 500 people before it guttered out. The idea of meeting someone you knew online was such a big deal that we held entire threads devoted to each crossing, encouraging both people to post their (usually positive) opinions of each other so the rest of us could imagine what our online buddies might be like if we ever shared a beer.

There were no cheap laptops, no cell phones that could connect, no workable wi-fi. Every time I talked to them I had to return home, to my place with the wired connection and the desktop computer, and boot up my specialty program.

And when my wife and I realized that, in fact, we were now both single and in love with each other, it was a forbidden love. Only losers used electronic dating services. (Watch “Harold and Maude” for an example of how it was viewed back in the 70s, and it was no better come the 90s.) The only time online love was discussed was on Geraldo’s show about how they were all secret murderers.

Telling people “We met online” back then usually caused a frozen, polite smile and a step backwards as they fumbled for something nice to say. It just… wasn’t done. Not by normal people, anyway.

But I loved my wife long before I ever saw her face.

(Though we did exchange photos, snapshots sent through the mail, before I flew to Alaska to meet with her. We weren’t crazy crazy.)

And the reason I bring all this up today is because the final CompuServe forums are closing down this December. I didn’t even know they were still running. I thought about finding the first post where I ever contradicted Gini (or she lambasted me), but those archives are gone.

But for us, it’s the end of an era.

And I think about how the world I knew only twenty-someodd years ago has been obliterated. If you’re twenty-three now, you probably have no real emotional concept of how playing videogames legitimately used to be something you could be mocked for doing in high school – and now they outsell movies. Electronic dating is now rapidly outstripping “We met at work” as a connection. Hashtags cause politicians to tremble.

The Internet has melded with the real world in ways that I never would have predicted back when I listened to my modem make that scratchy electronic throat-clearing noise so I could download the latest text-threads about the Death Star Trench Run.

And the Internet is, of course, full of horrors and revelations. It can’t not be; it’s full of humans, and we’re all mixed bags of kindness and cruelty. There’s unexpected ramifications – I didn’t think that a deep love of videogames would lead to Gamergate would lead to revitalized right-wing movements, but, well, here we are.

But never forget: there’s also love.

There’s also connection.

There’s also hope, and answers to loneliness.

I think of me, accidentally finding my wife in text. I think of friends (and lovers) who I’ve met in emails or texts or what-have-you, genuine friends who’ve supported me through some pretty dark places even though we may never have physically met.

And I think of all those people who didn’t understand why they felt so out of place until they stumbled across someone else who was trans, or asexual, or kinky, or gay – connections they might have never made were they restricted to physical meetups in a smaller town. I think of the endless generosity of people on the net, all those GoFundMes promoted by friends forged on the Internet and often donated to by strangers with compassion in their hearts.

The Internet is about kinships, and making those connections are easier than ever.

I met my wife online, back before Twitter or Facebook or even ICQ was a thing. And I think of how someone right now is meeting the love of their life online. Maybe they don’t know it. We didn’t.

I wish them a future as weird and wonderful as what we got.

Goodnight, CompuServe.

Good morning, new kinships. In whatever grand and glorious form you choose to take.

Working Out Makes Me Hate My Face: Unexpected Ramifications

Here’s a weird side effect of my personal training:

They’ve been working on my posture a lot, because pre-training I had the posture of a question mark. I didn’t use my core body strength for anything, I stood wrong, I slouched.

And I’m not gonna say that’s fixed, but I definitely stand straighter. But now there’s another problem:

I am so fat.

Which is not to say that I’m any heavier – I’ve probably lost five pounds, not a lot in the scheme of things – but now that I pull my head back properly, I have this double-chin and wattles that I cannot fucking stand. I look like a bullfrog with a five o’clock shadow.

I’d never thought my workouts would make me feel worse about myself, but the weird thing is that slouching my head forward stretched out my face and hid the double chin.

Now every time I look at my correctly-postured face, it has a bib of fat around it.

I know, I know. Hopefully I’ll keep working out and eating better and that’ll go away. But when I started with a personal trainer I didn’t know it would leave me with nowhere to hide.

This Saturday, I’m In Pittsburgh. This Sunday, You Should Be At Rebecca’s Gift.

So I’m currently sick as a dog – which is ironic, as I wrote a (yet-to-be-published) essay in which the central feature is “Ferrett usually doesn’t catch colds.”  But I guess the bug has to infiltrate my immune system occasionally, and so I’ve been too dazed to do much more than Tweet and make silly status updates.

That said, another reminder that I’ll be giving my talk “Jealousy Is Not A Crime: Troubleshooting Broken Polyamory” at The Body Shop at 2:00 pm on Saturday, November 4th! Tickets are available to the general public through EventBrite – and I’ll be going out for brief drinks afterwards before I head back to the Land of Cleve.  (If you’re on FetLife, you can RSVP here.)

And it’s so worth going back to Cleveland – because on Sunday, the Rebecca’s Gift Boardwalk is taking place at 2:00 pm at Fairmount Temple.  Rebecca, if you’ll recall, is my goddaughter who died on her sixth birthday of brain cancer – she’s so special I have her tattooed on my arm – and in her memory, the Rebecca’s Gift foundation helps families recover from the loss of a child.

Because here’s the ugly truth: parents get lots of support when a child falls ill.  But if the child dies, they’re often left isolated at a time when grief can tear their families apart. Rebecca’s Gift is designed to let them heal – and it’s a hard charity to sell, as the pitch is “This will save families when medicine couldn’t save their child,” but it is a necessary one.

So the boardwalk has all sorts of kids’ activities – ones Rebecca would have loved – and raffles and silent auctions for grownups.  If you’re in town, you should go.   And if you’re not in town, and you feel motivated to donate, they’re registered as a 501-c non-profit organization and they would very much appreciate your donation.

 

Hear Me Speak In Pittsburgh On November 4th! Or Hear Me Online Right Now!

Hello, Pittsburgh residents! I’ll be giving my talk “Jealousy Is Not A Crime: Troubleshooting Broken Polyamory” at The Body Shop at 2:00 pm on Saturday, November 4th! Tickets are available to the general public through EventBrite – I’m $7.12, less than the cost of a showing of Thor: Ragnarok – and I’ll be hanging out for a bit afterwards, if you’ve ever felt a yen to yak with me.

This is a rare speaking appearance where I’m not at a con and it’s open to anyone who wants to see me, so take advantage of it!

(For the record, Jealousy Is Not A Crime is one of the first presentations I ever crafted, and is still one of my best. It’s well worth your shekels.)

Anyway. If you’re on FetLife, you can RSVP here. Every person there will be met with not only a fine talk but my immense gratitude as I will, as usual, be terrified of facing an empty room.

And if you’d like to hear me talk about my writing, my old friends at the Unreliable Narrator podcast interviewed me. In case you don’t know, Unreliable Narrator is run by old friends of mine from my Viable Paradise workshop class, so it’s kind of like hearing me talk at a family reunion, making this one of my favorite podcast appearances to date. I wound up doing a rather deep dive into my process as a writer and what helped unlock my potential – so if you’re looking to get your novel published, click it and listen!

Three Follow-Ups From Yesterday’s Post About Consent Violations

1)  Some people have stated that their local conventions are not at all concerned about what happens if one attendee sexually assaults another in their private room. “We can’t tell what happened once someone gets someone else alone,” they say.  “So it’s not our business.”
Here’s my take:
If you’re a convention whose reaction to “A person who paid to attend our convention is using our con as a staging ground to find people to sexually assault in private” is “Well, that’s too complex to bother with,” then please tell me immediately so I can never attend your convention ever.
You’re free to abrogate responsibility, of course.  But of the forty-plus conventions I’ve attended, I’m reasonably certain all of them would be sufficiently concerned by such a thing to act (and I know this for a fact about most of them).  And if you’re at a convention where the organizers are only concerned about sexual assault insofar as it inconveniences them, as far as I’m concerned your convention is trash.
(Which is not to say that they may successfully be able to prevent such things, or even accurately ascertain what happened.  But if their reaction to being told of nefarious activity is to fling their hands up and shrug “Whatcha gonna do?” I would run, run, run.)
2) One of the saddest reactions to yesterday’s post was that people could not assume, even in a fictional example, that a convention would have firm evidence of an abuser’s violations.  People repeatedly said, “Well, maybe you could follow the violator around, collecting evidence,” as if there was no way a con would ever catch someone outright.
Hint: they do.
And sometimes, they don’t do anything because the violator is their friend.
And here I quote some wise words from Lucy Snyder, a helluva scary fiction writer and a generally smart cookie:
“When we got our first report that Chainmail Guy had creeped on an attendee at Context, I and our programming head started quietly talking to women who had attended the convention. And we very, very quickly started getting reports from other women. He had been creeping on dozens of women for a long time but had (until then) flown under the radar because the women figured it would be easier to just avoid him than to report him and risk the uncomfortable hassles of not being believed.

“So I’d say that’s a major step you’re missing in your essay: don’t assume this is a one-time incident. Start asking around. You don’t have to name the first victim who came to your attention; just say something like, ‘We’ve had a report that this individual has assaulted someone at the event; do you know of anyone else who might have had a problem with him?’ Chances are very, very high that if you’ve got one report of an assault, you will quickly find other reports. Chances are very high he’s been a problem for a long time, but (like most predators) he’s been deliberately choosing women who he can bully into silence or who otherwise won’t come forward out of fear of not being believed. That is typical, deliberate behavior by most sexual predators.

“It is really, really important to get predators away from people and stop enabling them. It doesn’t matter what kind of “shit sandwich” you feel like you have to eat in the process. Context’s FANACO board wasn’t willing to deal with the harassment situation and the whole convention collapsed. I miss the con, but I don’t for a moment regret my and Steven M Saus aggressively pursuing the matter, because the culture has to change.”

If you liked that, Lucy has a Patreon.  Feel free to sign up for other smart posts and good poetry.
3) Some people took my “Sometimes there are no good outcomes” as “Ferrett, you’re telling people to give up!”  And here’s my brutal take:
 I think if the only way you can be motivated to do good is to be invested in INEVITABLE PERFECT OUTCOMES WITH NO BADNESS EVAR, then probably “quitting” is literally the best thing you can do for your community.

Because when that day comes when you get to choose between “Your con gets some bad PR but you know you did the right thing” and “You do the thing that gets you good PR but you do wrong by the victim,” you’re gonna have a serious risk of becoming that person who risks minimizing the downsides to the victims so you can fool yourself into thinking this is the nicey-nice outcome where EVERYONE WINS YAY.

More realistic people, I feel, will take the hit and recognize you’ve prioritized as best you can.

So yeah. If you hear “There’s no perfect solution” and use that as an excuse to walk away, maybe that’s better.  Because in my experience, when people who need a good outcome encounter the Kobayashi Maru, they start mentally massaging the facts to make it so that the choice that’ll hurt the victim isn’t really that bad, they’ll be fine, because there’s always a solution that rewards everyone and it’ll probably work out for this already-damaged person, right?

Wrong.

Sometimes, you do the right thing in the dark. Nobody’ll know you did right but you, and others may even be mad at you. Do it anyway.

The Smoke Trail: Something To Consider About Consent Violations And Running Cons

So here’s something most people don’t think about when it comes to consent violations: the smoke trail.
But if you’ve run a convention for long enough? Oh, you’ve thought about it because you’ve tried not to ignite it.
Because here’s a not-uncommon scenario for kink conventions: someone well known in the community – let’s call ‘em “Famous Dave” – sexually assaults someone at your convention.
The victim is traumatized enough, and has requested not to be named – so your goal is to not cause a gossip shitstorm that shoves this person into the spotlight as everyone starts debating what Famous Dave did and whether he really meant to do it and besides, wasn’t the victim out to get him anyway?  Keeping their details obscured is good because if someone’s been sexually assaulted, the last thing they need is all of Famous Dave’s fans dragging their name through the mud and making them relive this stuff.
Your goal: to take some sort of action without revealing the victim.
Well, you’ve got options, and none of them are good if the victim doesn’t want to come forward:
1) Ban Famous Dave And Tell Him What He Did Wrong.
Unfortunately, if you give him details, there’s a really good chance Famous Dave can figure out who reported this violation – because there’s only so many people he’s played with at that con.  It’s not too hard for him to flip back through his playlist and home in on his accuser.
And that risks serious backlash.  Famous Dave might write an essay naming his accuser, often in the guise of begging forgiveness, but all that really does is make the victim look shitty if they don’t charge forward into social media to tell their side of the story.  Famous Dave might pester his victim repeatedly, pressuring them into forgiveness at a time when the victim may not even be ready to talk about it.  Or Famous Dave might rally his buddies to get a smear campaign, proactively (and sometimes unconsciously) raising the troops to go after some victim’s reputation before Dave’s gets torpedoed.
You can expose the victim to further harassment and shame merely by the act of banning a famous predator.  Because all of those things have happened.
That’s the smoke trail; you think you’ve solved the problem, but you’ve created a backlash that hurts the victim.
2)  Ban Famous Dave And Don’t Tell Him What He Did Wrong.
Well, as noted, it’s often not too hard for Famous Dave to figure out what he did wrong if that wrong was done at the convention.  So you risk igniting the smoke trail again.
But what if Famous Dave legitimately doesn’t know what he did?  Because that, too, has happened, particularly to famous kink rock stars – sure, they did this sexy thing to nine other women without checking and it went down like gangbusters, but that tenth woman was distinctly not into it.  If he takes to social media to claim he did nothing wrong, then to certain people your con looks like you’re tetchy dictators who ban for no good reason and hey why are you being so mean to Famous Dave what about his constitutional rights what about due process?
Which is good for the victim, but negative PR for your con.  Because while there are people who very much support black-box bannings, in the absence of facts a lot of people assume the con is just power-mad because hey, I met Dave and he was awesome.
And in either case, if you don’t say what went wrong, then the gossip train goes nuts.  People hear that Famous Dave got banned, and all sorts of crazy rumors fly because anyone who’s played with him (or her) is now a potential target, because man, communities can be fierce when it comes to wanting to know what’s happening.
Sometimes people who never accused Famous Dave of anything get marked as the accuser, and have to defend themselves from some onslaught, particularly if Famous Dave decides they did it.  Shitty?  Absolutely.  But it’s also happened.
(Though sometimes a flurry of gossip turns up additional victims who are willing to come forward, which is one of your best-case scenarios – though obviously you have no way of guaranteeing that.  Though I should note that another weird “best-case” scenario where you get to have both the victim remain concealed and avoid swamping the con in drama is when you black-box-ban Dave, and he knows precisely what he did, and he doesn’t want the PR happening either so he goes quiet.  But then you have the unwanted side effect of a predator being quiet so he can go about abuse at other cons, which, you know, not that ideal from a “global effects” perspective.)
3)  Don’t Ban Famous Dave Because The Victim Doesn’t Want To Be A Target For Famous Abuse.
Well… you protect that victim from further trauma.  But not further victims from Famous Dave.
And the problem is that, yes, the victim doesn’t feel like going toe-to-toe with someone who has fifty rabid fans who’ll defend his every move because “Famous Dave did CPR on my sick puppy once and therefore Famous Dave would never do anything wrong.”  But that’s a real concern, if you’re trying to help someone heal.  It can get super-stressful if you’re trying to return to normality and everyone’s clutching your shoulder like you’re made of fine crystal and going, “Oh my God, are you all right?”
And sometimes you see conventions not revealing details, and the victim gets furious because they’re not perceiving the convention as being on their side, because if the con was on their side they’d have been more forward with the horrible thing that happened.  Why are they being so slow to respond?
And the answer is often that it’s not the con’s place to decide what level of exposure a victim of a consent violation should have.  They’re slow to react because, frankly, they’ve seen other scenarios where some idiot at a con gave one too many details that allowed an abuser – or a community – to put a name to the victim when they really did not want to have their name put up for debate, which made it infinitely worse for them.
And sometimes it’s not even someone famous.  Sometimes Dave is just someone well-liked in the community.  He isn’t dragging fifty fans, but he has got friends who are gonna start poking around because we like Dave, why did these organizers do this mean thing to him?   And then you’ll have asshole victim-blamers who demand that every victim step forward to be a punching bag for any organization that needs them, because we all know that the crime of “being sexually assaulted” should carry a mandatory sentence of “being forced to perform psychologically-damaging community service.”
The smoke trail is real.  Violations that happen at conventions are complex.  There are other, narrower, reactions that can be taken, of course, but not all of them might apply to this particular incident.
And if you’re in charge when the victim wants privacy, shielding them and being open about your process and managing good PR for your con often becomes a balancing act even the best can’t manage.
It’s not fair.  It’s not good.  It’s not right.
But sometimes there are no good solutions, and all you can do is choose the particular flavor of shit sandwich you’re going to choke down that day.
And that’s all.

The Cartoonishly Implacable Criminal That Gun Owners Fear

A few weeks ago, I admitted my ignorance of guns and how that affects my ability to create workable gun legislation. So I asked gun owners for their input.

I’d say about 70% of the pro-gun feedback that explained why laws were useless when it came to stopping criminals from getting guns could be summarized by this actual quote:

“You cannot stop someone from doing EVIL that is the truth.”

Well, except no. That’s not the truth.

When I was a teenager, some schmuck in Chicago opened random bottles of Tylenol and laced the capsules with cyanide, killing seven people. This was a horrible crime.

Manufacturers made tamper-proof packaging that makes it harder to get into pill bottles and poison them. It’s not impossible. I mean, if you wanted to poison a bunch of people, you could probably devise a way to reseal bottles in a way that folks wouldn’t notice – a dab of clear nail polish would probably do it.

But honestly, the fact is, it’d be a large pain in the butt to pull off, and that guy probably poisoned capsules because it was easy to do. Make it a little harder, and they don’t do that.

Yet by the standards of a lot of gun owners, who kept repeating “If a criminal wants a gun, he’s gonna get one,” the reality would be that the Tylenol poisoner and all his copycat friends – because there are almost always copycat murders – would circumvent any barrier, so why bother changing the packaging?

But no. The actual truth is that while there are absolutely criminals who will not stop at anything until they have committed their dastardly crime, a large portion of criminals – perhaps the majority – respond, quite sanely, to making crimes more difficult.

You put cameras and beeper labels in stores and there’s less shoplifting because they’re more likely to get caught. You have locks on your doors and people are less likely to break in when they know they’ll have to kick in a door. Do stringent background checks at your school, and it’s less likely a child molester will try for a job there. If there’s too many cops on the street, lots of muggers will stay home that day.

Make it difficult for long enough, lots of criminals decide not to bother.

That’s literally how it works.

Yet the pro-gun people seem to genuinely believe that all criminals are this implacable Terminator, having woken up with a deep and implacable bloodlust that says “I AM GOING TO ROB A LIQUOR STORE AND MURDER THE PROPRIETOR, AND NOTHING WILL STOP ME UNTIL I FIND A WAY TO DO SO.”

I mean, there doubtlessly are a few devoted villains like that out there – guys who would find a way to murder Pop down at the Brown Bag with a toothbrush. But most guys robbing liquor stores are doing it because they think it’s something that’s reasonably easy to pull off.

If that store has cameras, they’re not going to do it until they think they can get around the cameras. (Admittedly: a balaclava will generally do it.) If that store is in a place that’s got a lot of bystanders, they’re not going to rob it unless there’s a way to thin those bystanders. (Admittedly: Waiting until night is a good strategy.) If that store is next to the police station, they’re probably not going to rob it ever.

And hell, gun owners know this because one of their most frequent arguments is “That store owner should have a shotgun to scare robbers away.”

In other words, “You can stop someone from doing evil.” Make it inconvenient enough to pull off a given crime, and the lazier criminals won’t bother. I mean, yes, people still try to rob banks – but not as many as try to rob liquor stores, because even dim criminals know that you’re not likely to get away with much when there’s a vault and cameras and trained FBI teams dedicated tracking you down.

And maybe all that does is kick the problem over to tomorrow, but let’s look at the most implacable criminals of all: terrorists. They’ve been looking to get an atomic bomb to destroy American cities for years now. That’s hard because it’s a severely technological issue and the materials are scarce.

Are you honestly willing to look me in the eye and say we shouldn’t even make the attempt to block terrorists from getting nuclear weapons because “You cannot stop someone from doing EVIL that is the truth”?

No. The truth is that every day we stop someone from doing a crime, that’s another day we’ve bought that maybe something else stops them. Maybe that bomb-seeking terrorist drops dead of cancer, one of the rare cases I’m pro-cancer. Maybe he recants his hatred of America. Maybe he’s been promising his terrorist buddies that he’s gonna get a nuclear bomb tomorrow, I swear, it’s totally happening dudes, and he loses financial support because people now think he’s full of shit.

And – this is crazy – maybe if we prevent him from getting a nuclear bomb for long enough, he’ll figure it’s a waste of time and try to get some other form of bomb that’s less damaging. I mean, I don’t want a truck explosion in Times Square, but that outcome’s way better than a nuke.

Because here’s the other truth: even in the few cases where someone is waking up in the morning with a murderous intent that no amount of deterrents will stop them, you can mitigate the damage they’ll do. Maybe she’s desperate to kill as many people as possible, but there’s going to be a difference in her lethality if she can get her hands on a tank instead of a shotgun. Or a nuke versus an IED.

Yet you wouldn’t find a gun owner saying, “Well, we shouldn’t even make the attempt to try to stop terrorists from getting fissionable material, that’s stupid.” Why?

Because “stopping terrorists from getting nukes” isn’t going to inconvenience them. Whereas more laws on guns will inconvenience them. And you may note that in most cases they’re locking up their business at night rather than putting out a sign that says “WE DON’T LOCK UP OUR SAFE HERE” because in the end, they do actually believe that you can stop someone from doing evil, even if you only stop them for one day, because “stopping someone for one day” is still worthwhile.

And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that some significant percentage of murders are caused because a gun made it super-easy for someone to make a stupid mistake. Which happens all the time. Flip through the news and you’ll find a family argument that turned lethal because tempers rose and someone had a gadget at hand that’s designed entirely to end lives easily. A lot of those people, if you watch the interviews afterwards, seem stunned and regretful, because sure, they were angry, but if they had to strangle Uncle Phil instead of shooting him, they might have changed their minds.

Which is not to say that I believe we should get rid of guns entirely. (Some liberals do; I don’t.) I made a major error when I asked pro-gun folks, “So what gun laws can we pass to lower gun deaths?” – because honestly, restricting that solution to “Gun laws only” is needlessly restrictive. If people want to discuss alternative solutions like “better mental health care” or “less news PR for mass shooters” or, well, anything, I’m open to it.

And there’s an honest debate to be had about the balance between effective laws and inconvenience to law-abiding citizens. I’m for decriminalizing marijuana because I think it’s a comparatively harmless drug that winds up getting a lot of otherwise-innocent people arrested. (Even if I personally dislike pot myself.) If you want to argue that passing laws would inconvenience law-abiding gun owners and not lower the crime rate all that much, well, that’s a legit debate to have.

(Even if I think of what my friend Sean said when he told me, “This is now so far gone we have no hope of cleaning this up for us. We may have to look at reducing gun deaths as a task that will take a generation to solve, some national battle like reducing smallpox. And honestly, America is terrible at that.” The more I ponder that, the more I come to believe that yeah, it might take decades to stem the flow even if we all agreed on a solution.)

But that is now my litmus test: does this person I am discussing gun laws with acknowledge that yes, we not only can we stop someone from doing evil by making committing a crime more inconvenient, but we do it all the time?

There are dedicated criminals, sure. But most of them are not operating off of some preordained notion of “I WILL DO THIS SPECIFIC EVIL,” but rather “What can I get away with today?”

And for some of them, “What they can get away with” is predicated on having easy access to a weapon designed to make murdering people as simple as possible. Maybe guns are so widely available in America that we no longer have a reasonable hope left of stopping that person from getting a gun any more.

But when you argue that there’s no sense in trying every criminal in the world wakes up with this Snidely Whiplash, salmon-spawning motivation to “DO EVIL TODAY” and there’s no hope of blocking his dastardly plan to get himself a weapon because every criminal will find a knife if they can’t get a gun and they’ll smother you with a pillow if they can’t get a knife, then I know there’s no common ground we can find.

Because we can stop evil. Because the true horror is that evil is, all too frequently, a matter of convenience.

Ignoring that means you’re ignoring reality – and alas, I can’t listen to your advice on gun laws then. Sorry.

Things I Have Learned After Two Months Of Personal Training

Extending off my previous essay Things I Have Learned After Three Weeks Of Personal Training….

I stand up wrong.

My trainer refuses to hit my quadriceps, or, as I call them, “the muscles in front of my thighs,” because they are strong. They’re too strong, in fact.  They’re so strong my other muscles have atrophied because my quads, like that loudmouthed dude in the trustbuilding exercises, rushes in to do everything until everyone else has given up.

When I stand up, I sort of cross my legs and push with the front of my thighs, which is something I’ve done unquestioned for forty-plus years.

My trainer questions, though. She gave me an exercise where I had to get up off a chair on one leg using only my glutes.  I couldn’t do it.  Like, literally, even when she gave me a hand and helped me pull, I was helpless as a kid.

So now, when I get up off the couch, I have to plant my feet equidistantly and shove, like a long-distance ski jumper racing down the slope.  And half the time I get off the couch using my old method and then have to return, sit down, and stand up the right way.

I now can get up with one leg.  But I still need her help.


The dietary changes are creeping in.  Every morning, we drink a quarter cup of fish oil.

It’s not as bad as you’d think.  Or at least I’d think.  I like drinking olive oil – a habit I picked up in Italy – and pure fish oil doesn’t taste fishy.  And since my cardiologist already said I had to take four horse-sized pills of fish oil a day, which damn near choked me and were occasionally rancid, it’s easier just to slurp the fish oil and be done.

It’s the ketones that I can’t stand.

The ketones are, as my sweetie Fox reminds me, not entirely justified through scientific study alone.  And they taste like chemical orange creamsicle goop, which is cloying and sickening.  But we agreed to try them for a month, and the one day I skipped my ketones I had the worst possible workout, and I actually do think it helps me think more clearly.

So here we are: maybe it’s bullshit, but anecdotal evidence seems to be in its favor.

I pity my wife, however, because to shut our trainer up she tried going off gluten – a substance which, as it turns out, is in everything delicious.  To my wife’s horror, her arthritis immediately got better and her face got less puffy.

She does not want to find that the gluten-free lifestyle will make her healthier, because we both love bread.  But evidence is piling up, evidence we, in fact, do not want.


I am clueless as to how my body works.

My trainer will demonstrate how I should look when I lift a weight, and I can see her doing it – yet I am incapable of mapping her stance onto my body. I flail around while she pushes me into place, hoping I’ll get it if she literally molds me like clay.

She’s learning to speak my language, because the only thing I know is “What muscles burn when I move them.” She’s constantly touching my back when I work out, saying, “Do you feel it here?” And if I don’t, I shift things around until I feel it there.

But even that is tricky, because I have an immense pain tolerance.  My appendix burst while I was in a mosh pit and I wandered around for three days afterwards with pain my doctor said should have had me writhing on the floor.  So I not only am flailing, but numb.  I usually have to lift the weights five or six times before I feel the strain clear enough to mark it, and by then I may have done them in the wrong place.

And everything is miniscule.  If my shoulders slump or my feet are angled wrong, I work an entirely different muscle.  Maybe one I shouldn’t have worked.

If I fuck up, it’s body work.


Body work feels like it should be a vacation from exercise.  I lay down, she massages me for forty minutes.

Except it’s not massage.  It’s painful.  She’s contorting me because my body has been standing wrong for years and she’s trying to yank me back into position – my feet are splayed out, my back is hunched like a question mark, my hips refuse to open up.

Body work consists of her digging fingers into my muscles until I’m thumping the floor with pain, and me realizing how far I have to go.

I will do almost anything to avoid body work, but because I am numb to my body I keep straining things I shouldn’t and then I have to be repaired.

Repair is humiliating.  Even if she tries to be really chipper about it.


She does keep raising the weights, though.  She’s impressed by that.

She told me that I could have been a hell of a power lifter if I’d started younger.  Which fills me with pride; my body may have cluelessly sagged into a slouch it’s taking months to unkink, but it does build muscle like no tomorrow.

People told me I had a bodybuilder’s form when I was in my twenties.  Nice to hear they were right.

Maybe I’ll have abs before I die.


 

I still can’t stand. I’m befuddled when Gini tells me my butt is too far in and my feet are pointing in opposite directions.   Standing correctly feels apelike, like some bizarre hunch, this isn’t how people do it, is it?

I watch the guys in the garage as we do Woodworking Wednesdays, seeing how they’re standing.  It’s not like I’m supposed to, I think.  Or is it?

God, I’m spending more time thinking about my hips than Beyonce.


I’d have quit at this point except that I wisely anticipated all my future lazinesses.

I know that I hate leaving the house to go to work out, but I hate wasting money.  We’ve paid the personal trainer a ton of cash, and last-minute canceling means we lose that cash, so I’m incentivized to go.

But when my back aches and I don’t want to go in because I know it’ll be bodywork day, there’s Gini.  If it was just me, I’d skip it and say “fuck it.”  But I wisely signed Gini up to go with me at the same time, because if I don’t want to go I have to look my wife in the eye and tell her I’m so lazy that I’ll literally fling our money out the window.  And have my wife, in turn, look sad because she has to go to the trainer alone.

Or maybe she’d stay home with me and slack off.  In which case I’d be subverting my wife’s health, because in the wake of her own heart problems, we need to work out.

Gini wants to quit some days, but then she’d have to look me in the eye.  And for her, pleasing the trainer has become a part of her ritual – she needs external affirmation to function optimally – so knowing that she’d disappoint the trainer and worsen my health, she goes.

I’ve set this whole thing up so we’re hostages to each other.  It doesn’t make us happy, but it does get us there.

I wish I wasn’t so smart about my laziness.


Do I feel any different?  Not really.

I want to say that yes, I’m filled with vibrancy and pep, and that everyone notices how much more hale I look, but this is subtle stuff; it’s how I stand, how I walk, how I breathe.  When I jogged, every day I could say, “Hey, I did another quarter of a block” and then I’d jog everywhere and whoo, look how in shape I am.

This is a sweaty, cardio workout.  My heart pounds.  But it’s entirely core work. I joke that one day I’ll find a child trapped underneath a car and the only way I can shift the car is with my freshly-swole shoulderblade muscles, but that’s not happening.

I’m not out of breath much.  But I’m also not feeling like super athlete, either.  Which is, in a sense, good; this feels more like life instead of some weird aberration – The Summer I Could Jog For Five Kilometers.

But I do wish I could point to something a little more impressive for strangers.  As it is, asking people, Did you see me get off that couch? is asking a bit much of my guests.


We signed up for three months of personal training to see what effect it had upon our lives.

At this point, Gini and I are in firm agreement: Let’s try it for another three months.

If it’s a lifestyle, it’ll be an expensive one.  But as I’ve mused in the past: if we take all the cash we spent on going out to eat and spent it on getting healthy, would that be so bad?

It’s a process.  We’ll see how it goes.