Long-time readers will have heard me rhapsodize about the Velvet Tango Room’s cocktails on any number of occasions – and I’m not alone! When America’s Top Ten bars are tallied up, the VTR frequently makes the list.
(In Cleveland? you may scoff. As it turns out, Cleveland is where New York chefs go when they want a cheaper rent and an equally appreciative audience, so over the last eight years or so there’s been a culinary renaissance in the land of Cleve. We’ve got quality restaurants and drinking up the wazoo, in part due to groundbreakers like the VTR.)
The VTR, lest you need a refresher course, does everything by hand – squeezing, shaking, and pouring only top-tier ingredients. They spent $10,000 in a quest to find the perfect ice cubes. They once tried to find a restaurant to do paired tastings with, until they realized their drinks were so complex that the whole point was each taste was a separate experience. They have a Bourbon Daisy with a fifteen-second outbreath, a constantly mutating mixture of sweetness and bourbon and ginger that tingles on your tongue.
So when Paulius, the owner of the VTR, told me he was opening up a pizza shop, you bet your ass I listened.
And on Friday, we got an invite to a preview of Citizen Pie. So you bet your ass we went.
While the Velvet Tango Room is a destination place, where you sit down and savor, Citizen Pie is more of an informal area – across the street from the Beachland Ballroom, it’s where you snag a ‘za before or after the band plays. Yet Paulius and his pizza chef V have paid attention to details: using only four ingredients in the bread dough because they want the purest experience, spending weeks slowly heating up the great wood-heated pizza oven so it’s seasoned properly, getting the freshest ingredients.
We sat down. I ordered a classic, the Marinara – only four ingredients, because I needed to be able to compare this to other pizzas. What I got was this, the third pizza Citizen Pie ever sold:
These are small pizzas, with light dough, meant to be eaten in one serving. (The chef critiqued the pizza as slightly burned on one side, and had a word with the staff.)
And as I bit into it, I got a strong blast of perfectly seasoned tomato layered thinly across crispy/chewy dough – so much flavor contained in a millimeter of topping that I actually froze for a moment at all the deliciousness in my mouth. I’m usually into thicker, Chicago-style pizzas, but this one was so light and airy and yet satisfying to the tooth that I immediately wanted slice #2.
Then I got a garlic clove on the next bite, and the whole thing turned electric. If I ordered this one the next time, I’d get extra garlic, because that zing of the garlic and the intensity of the tomato made my whole mouth resonate. There was only a hint of cheese taste – the tomato was definitely the star of the dish.
Gini got the caponata, a mishmash of all sorts of ingredients ranging from eggplant to gaeta olives to pinenuts and currents and basil. And I was distressed at first, because the ingredients were so poorly distributed, until it was explained to me that the chef made them that way on purpose, so every bite would be a new experience. Which is great, unless your wife will only let you have one slice!
What I got had pine nuts and olives, and the olives were the best I’ve ever had on pizza. I generally don’t like olives, as the canned ones are too salty, but these olives sank into the taste of the cheese, providing a rich satiny mouthfeel. The cheeses seemed to meld with the dough, becoming an integral part, as opposed to too many restaurants that glop on a layer of cheese that slides off the minute you pick up the pizza.
(The only ding I’d have here is the cherry tomatoes, which were supposed to be cooked to the consistency of stewed, dripped a lot of water over the dough and made it prematurely soggy. But hey, that was literally the second pizza they served to a customer, if I recall correctly.)
And soon, our pizza looked like this:
To finish off, I tried their ricotta cheesecake, which was rich and had a soft grainy texture that made the ricotta obvious, with hints of floral and citrus throughout it. It was maybe a touch too cold from the fridge, but on the whole, delicious.
Citizen Pie is a small place, just big enough for a handful of customers to sit down, grab a pizza, and get out. It’s pleasant enough, but the food is the star, and one suspects Beachland Ballroom folks will be planning trips to Citizen Pie before the show to tank up on some pretty friggin’ awesome authentic Italian pizza.
They’re opening today. If you’re in Cleveland, check ’em out.
So last night, I walked around the block with Gini and plotted out the last third of the last book* in the ‘Mancer series, Fix. I knew what the characters had to do.
Tonight, I spent two hours downstairs, knowing what they would do, trying to understand why they’d do it.
Which sounds really fucking bizarre if you’re not a writer – and maybe bizarre if you are. But I’m a gardener, and whenever I write I think of this song from They Might Be Giants:
Specifically the line, “I already know the ending, it’s the part that makes your face implode. I don’t know what makes your face implode, but that’s the way the movie ends.”
And seriously, that’s the way I work. I have long realized to trust my subconscious – it doesn’t plot that far in advance. I only see a chapter or two ahead of me. And around midway through the book, it’ll say something like, “The invasion triggers a broach, and Paul heals the broach. Now write that chapter.”
If you’ve read Flex, you’ll understand that that moment is one of the central points of the entire series. It’s where we see that Paul’s powers are beyond what we thought they were – and, more importantly, that Paul’s worldview is fundamentally one of justice.
Thing is, Paul’s world view when I started to write that scene was not justice.
When I wrote Flex initially, Paul was a scheming politician whose ambitions were thwarted when he lost his foot in a magical battle. And he used bureaucracy as a way to subvert the system, and – actually, hell, it was a first draft, I didn’t actually know why he had bureaucromancy as a power, I just knew he did. And when a confluence of magic punched a hole clean through to the demon dimensions, I went, “Paul can clean this up.”
At which point I went, “Wait, why can he clean this up?”
And my subconscious went, you know.
And I went into that chapter completely blind as to why Paul would heal the broach or even why he’d think he could do it, given that Paul was sort of a greedy jerk at this stage of the manuscript. And the broach got triggered, and the buzzsects started to gnaw their way through the laws of physics, and I went, “Why does Paul heal this?”
And I realized:
Paul was offended.
The broach was scary, but Paul was fastidious enough that watching the laws of physics gnawed away offended his sense of order. And I realized: Paul was not a greedy politician, as I had somehow thought for the last 50,000 words – Paul was the kind of guy who straightened library shelves in his spare time, because he believed things should be set right.
He was not a greedy politician, but a supercharged Radar O’Reilly.
My subconscious knew that having Paul heal that broach was absolutely what Paul had to do, but I did not know why he did it until I walked around for two hours in my basement, pacing madly, muttering, “I don’t know what makes his face implode, but that’s the way the movie ends.” I had leapt out into the void over a great stadium with the absolute faith that my subconscious was swinging a trapeze at me, and I clutched my fingers in the dark until I caught wood.
Once I understood what my subconscious was trying to get me to do, the rest of that novel snapped into focus.
And this evening, I knew exactly what Aliyah and Valentine had to do. But I had no idea why they had to do it. I knew Valentine had to call her boyfriend, and Aliyah had to sit by [REDACTED]’s bedside where she’d do [REDACTED] magic –
But none of the motivations I’d given them at the end of Act II made any sense.
So I kept trying on various rationales. Okay, maybe Aliyah would do this because she was sad. No, that didn’t work. Maybe Aliyah was just fooling around with this newfound magic and stumbles by [REDACTED]’s bedside. No, that doesn’t work. Maybe Aliyah was trying to heal that character –
And I spent two hours pacing the basement again, trusting that my subconscious was right, and that no, Aliyah had to sit by the bedside and do magic.
I just had to find the right reason for that, and when I did, I would know why the rest of the plot made sense. And I took seven pages of notes, scribbling frantically, notes that often included heavy-hitters like Boy, you don’t make it easy, Steinmetz and No, that doesn’t make sense and How is this an expression of love, or is it?
And I would think I was insane, except I heard Brandon Sanderson say on a panel that he plotted his books beginning to end before he started – but he couldn’t write his chapters out of order, because sometimes he didn’t know why his characters were doing the things they were doing until he got there.
I wrote seven pages of notes, and eventually the notes stopped being why would they do this and mutated into wouldn’t it be cool if this happened as a result of them doing this, and I got to understand Valentine and Aliyah a little more because yes, I know why Valentine is calling her boyfriend and it’s going to break your heart, and Aliyah is sitting by that bedside because what she does there will cause a misunderstanding that gets someone killed.
But I know now.
And I don’t know how I knew, but I know.
You’re all gonna be in this experimental film
And even though I can’t explain it
I already know how great it is
* – If you’d asked me when I was writing Flex, I’d have said it was a solo book – yet when I got to the end, I thought, “Well, maybe there’s more here.” When I wrote The Flux, I said, “This is it, I’m putting everything I have into it, there will be nothing left,” yet when I got about 90% done, I thought, “Crap, there’s some threads I could explore.”
I am about 70% through Fix, and I swear to God this is all I have to say about the Tsabo-Dawson family, but I’ve thought that twice before so who fucking knows?
And because all my book release parties have to be special, I had some Flex-themed cookies made at Sparkles Bake Shop – which, if you’re anywhere near New Jersey and need some kick-ass cookies, I would highly recommend.
But seriously! Check out these fuckin’ cookies!
Of course I wore my Fine Italian Suit:
The amusing thing was that people who’d read the books were happy to eat the cookies called Flex, but they had concerned about eating The Flux cookies. Wise people. They know what happens when you absorb a flux load.
The cookies were tasty, although (as also happened with my Flex-themed cake) the black frosting would do horrible things to your teeth. WARNING TO AUTHORS: If you have a dark cover, your book-themed sucrose interpretations will give people a blemished smile! Now that’s the kind of pro tips y’all are showing up here for.
One last bit: I always tell people at conventions that I am so happy to be an author I’ll sign anything you put in front of me. Because this was a kink convention, three people went, “ANYthing?” and I reiterated anything.
Man, if you wanna feel like a goddamned rock star, try signing, er, anything. It’s a good feeling.
Star Trek Desire #1: A Viewpoint.
While the fandom is messy, there’s generally a consensus: either The Original Star Trek or Next Generation were the best, followed by the dark horse of Deep Space Nine, then Voyager and Enterprise leading up the rear.
I’d argue that’s because Star Trek, at its best, has a sharp agenda that’s not afraid to throw elbows.
TOS had a distinctly martial feel to it: sacrifice was needed to protect good people, sometimes even the lives of good people (witness poor Edith Keeler). While you had to retain compassion, when you found Actual Evil you had to be ready to kill it. And the best old Star Treks were often the ones that explored the gaps in that philosophy – where something that looked evil turned out to be not what it seemed.
Whereas TNG supposed that almost everything could be negotiated with profitably, that all creatures had some decency inside, and the best Star Treks were often the ones that questioned that philosophy – especially when The Borg, an enemy that seemed tailor-made to destroy that assumption, showed up.
And Deep Space Nine, it must be said, only really got interesting when it got a philosophy a few seasons in, and Sisko’s willingness to show the dark underbelly of the Federation turned up. And when Sisko started compromising his morals profitably, that became riveting.
But each philosophy turned off some people. I know some folks who won’t watch TOS because frankly, Kirk exists to fight it or fuck it, and they don’t want to watch that. Some folks won’t watch TNG because it’s too huggy. Some folks hate DS9 because it is about moral compromise.
What philosophies did the movies have?
Pretty much none.
So I want a Star Trek that, primarily, takes a viewpoint on What Makes Civilization Great and then starts questioning that assumption through action-driven plots. And no, I don’t know what that viewpoint should be – but like TOS was a reaction to the Cold War mentality that permeated the 1960s and TNG was a reaction to Reagan and Bush’s New Order, this new series should be a reaction to today’s battles.
And yeah, that’s a complex issue. But when Star Trek doesn’t have a cohesive viewpoint, it’s… okay. Like the movies. Like the first few seasons of Voyager and Enterprise (and maybe they got better later on, but I never got there). But it’s not compelling. It’s just idiots wandering around in space, and that’s something you can get anywhere these days.
What we need is a Star Trek that tells us when we’ve made the wrong choices. And yes, that risks getting preachy. That’s another failure state of Star Trek.
I’ll be honest: I would by far rather watch a Libertarian Star Trek – a viewpoint I generally loathe – than I would a generic Star Trek. Because the Libertarian Star Trek would be something I couldn’t get anywhere else.
Star Trek Desire #2: A Trans Gay Crew Member Whose Presence Is Not Questioned
Star Trek’s lack of gay people has long been a shame – there’s been a few in the crevices, but none front and center. And we’re long beyond needing a gay person on the crew, especially since gayness has largely been normalized on television.
I want a trans queer person on the fucking crew.
And I don’t want storylines where that trans queer person finds acceptance.
A most centrist friend of mine derided me for this desire, saying, “Oh, a person being accepted? Now, that’s the stuff of drama.” And no, it isn’t. But if Star Trek posits a world view, as I’ve said I want in #1, then part of that world view is what is not questioned.
There were no Uhura storylines about whether a black woman would be accepted on the ship.
There were no Chekov storylines questioning whether a Russian man would be accepted.
There were no Geordie storylines about whether the crew could handle a handicapped man.
And in my Star Trek, I’d want someone who had issues that were a part of the plotline – the dating issues that arise when you’re trans and queer are good fodder, especially if we posit an accepting Star Trek where everyone isn’t uniformly hetero/homo/bisexual – but I don’t want storylines where the trans member is subjected to ridicule and everyone works it out afterwards.
Show some fucking respect.
Star Trek Desire #3: A Sex-Positive Male Character
I’ve written about this before, but one of the great issues with the movie is that it took TOS Kirk – who had a lot of sex, but also seemed to genuinely value his quote-unquote “conquests” as people – and turned the movie Kirk into someone who used people for sex, forgetting their names.
I’d like to have a male character who doesn’t commit, but also genuinely cares about the people he’s sleeping with. Not a love-’em-and-leave-’em person, but someone who doesn’t view sex as an act of friendship, if not commitment. Someone unapologetic about his desires, but also respectful if someone doesn’t return them.
When have you seen that character on television? Maaaaaaybe Captain Jack Harkness, and look at his fanbase. Now imagine doing that better.
Star Trek Desire #4: A Well-Characterized Enemy
As noted, Star Trek only gets good when they find an enemy who hits them in their weak philosophical points. The Borg and the Klingons were effective not because they were badass – though they were – but because they forced the characters to question the show’s viewpoints.
And in both TOS and DS9, the villains were kiiiiinda lame for the first two seasons. Ferengi? Not so much.
So I’d want the writers to consider who is the Big Bad – and why. Snap judgment is to go, “Oh, more Klingons!” – but why would the Klingons be the enemy? It’s like having a Starbucks across the street – yes, it’s supposed to be there, but what function does it serve to the plot?
When you devise what this new Star Trek’s viewpoint is, posit a villain who hits them in all their worst points. I suspect that villain, these days, would look a lot like either terrorism or a government that oppresses its people Ferguson-style while wrapping itself in a cloak of patriotism. I’d be okay with either, or both. But make them relevant. Make them someone we want to see defeated, and badly.
My teenaged daughters were teenaged – so, by definition, they were snide and thoughtless at times. And every so often they’d make a mess in the living room and then mouth off to me.
And a few times, when they caught me in a bad mood, I went off on them.
I screamed that they were thoughtless, rude idiots, and yelled that they fucking had no right to snark to me when it was their mess, and that they should clean that shit up right the fuck now and then shut the hell up in the future.
I was pure with justification.
And when it was done, I’d go off into another room, and realize what I’d done, and talk myself down. They were disrespectful, I’d tell myself. They need to be taught a lesson about responsibility. They can’t go around talking to people like that.
Then, I’d think: But you just went around talking to people like that.
And it was not satisfying at all, because it was so cathartic to finally unload on someone who deserved it – but this was not, ultimately, the lesson I wanted to teach my children. So I went back in, teeth gritted, feeling like I was betraying some primal eye-for-an-eye principle, and said:
“Look. I’m sorry. You did something bad, and I’m not going to excuse that – but I unloaded on you in a way that was inappropriate, and I’m sorry, and I hope you can forgive me for that.”
Speaking those words were always difficult, and never felt nearly as good as just screaming.
But it taught them the right lessons.
And the lesson that taught me was that the right thing to do is rarely the same as the thing that feels good to do. I’d rather eat a candy bar than a brussels sprout. I’d rather not bring a mistake I made to my boss’s attention than feel like an idiot in front of the office. I’d rather yell at some jerk who cut me off in traffic rather than wondering, “Is she having as bad a day as I am? Maybe she’s in a rush because someone she loves has been hurt.”
I think true maturity comes when you start doing the things that aren’t emotionally satisfying that, nevertheless, make for a kinder world.
And I think of the conservatives’ reactions to the Paris bombing, which is largely emotionally reactive. As this Storify of Tweets points out, we have been bombing the shit out of our enemies under the Obama administration, we just haven’t done it with enough flags and machismo so they feel like Big Men about it. Despite Rubio and Trump’s assurance that we’ll just bomb the terrorists out of existence, we’re never going to march triumphant onto the battlefield like we did in WWII and have Hitler conveniently shoot himself in his bunk.
Terrorism isn’t a leader exhorting people to action – it’s a thousand sins of the last generation’s foreign policies coming home to roost. And fixing terrorism involves a mixture of violence and compassion – the left would have us believe we can all sing Kum-Bay-Yah and the terrorists will dissolve in healing light, the right would have us believe we can shoot them in the head until they’ll all be too afraid to strike.
Neither has proven to be true in the long run.
Fixing terrorism is like going back into my rooms to apologize to my daughters. Yeah. They were also at fault, but the best we can do is clean up our personal messes. And it’s not satisfying, and it’s not pretty, and the ugly truth is that, like teenagers, you’re never going to “win” in the sense that you’ll have an obedient robot – every teen, no matter how good, still has a few lulus of days every parent has to grit their teeth through, and we’re never going to have a world where no terrorist attacks occur, either.
Winning against terrorism, if we can win, has to be defined by the uncomfortable and thoroughly unsatisfying metric of “minimizing terrorist attacks.” Which involves the realpolitik of realizing that we work with imperfect tools and those attacks will happen on occasion no matter how hard we try – and also understanding that “flipping out and going with the emotionally satisfying response of crushing some random idiot into the dust to make a point,” as we did with Iraq, is just going to directly lead to the next generation of ISIS.
We need to be mature as a country. I guess it feels good to feel powerful, maybe. But in many ways, that power is yelling – more an illusion of power than actual control.
And had I never done the emotionally unsatisfying thing and apologized to my daughters, what I would have taught them was that it was okay to shit on someone if you had a position of power over them, and that the real crime wasn’t in yelling, it was at yelling at someone who could yell back.
Likewise, I wonder if, via our current policy, what we’re teaching the Middle East is that not that we’re not to be fucked with, but rather that you can justify any shitty behavior with enough firepower. And if that’s the case, maybe we should reconsider the true lessons learned.
Here’s what I hate about this framework, which comes up a lot –
On one side, we have A View of relationships – monogamy – in which people pair off into singular sexual relationships and, ideally, stay together until one or both of them die.
On the other side, we have every other possible configuration of relationship networks.
And for a long time, I wondered why people kept conflating “polyamory” and “swinging” and “Friends with benefits,” until I realized that America’s binary thought patterns produced a reductive view of “Monogamy is this, and everything else is that.” What does it matter what you call it? Anything that isn’t monogamy is basically “The alternative to monogamy.”
Except the alternative to monogamy is actually a thousand different alternatives – one that ranges from “a staunchly monogamous triad” to all the way to a sexy explosion of relationship anarchy. And while I’m happy to be talking at Beyond the Love this weekend, a great conference on polyamory, I find myself wishing that polyamory as a term reminded people that the alternative to monogamy is not one thing, but a vast and encompassing umbrella that contains all the other loving, non-monogamous relationship configurations that can exist.
And in that moment, I achieved enlightenment. I always felt the move away from straight/gay to straight/gay/trans to straight/QUILTBAG to straight/UNWIELDYACRONYMSTEW was sorta silly. Like, where would it all stop?
But now I realize this ever-increasing list of alternatives is another attempt to shatter that sense that “You can be straight and cis… or you can be this one other thing.”
And I still find QUILTBAG to be inelegant and clumsy from a language perspective – but I don’t know there is an elegant way to combat a binary paradigm. Certainly, I’m not sure how to reterm “polyamory” into something that encompasses the wideness of all the other relationships that can exist, in a way that doesn’t feel a little strained.
But the attempt? The attempt is good. And if I find QUILTBAG and its ilk to be inelegant, then I also find polyamory to be inaccurate in terms of what it presents as to the novice reader.
There are no good solutions, sometimes. All you can do is keep speaking to remind people that yeah, the dominant paradigm is one way, but there’s a thousand other ways that also work. Well, they work for somebody.
Conventions are culture.
Assemble a thousand like-minded people together in an semi-private space, and it’s fascinating watching how quickly accepted behaviors change. An hour after the doors open, things that would have been bizarre in the outside world – cosplay, public hacking events, consent negotiations, asking for pronouns – become everyday events, completely unremarkable.
This is why conventions can be addictive. Sometimes, the outside culture can seem monolithic, unchangeable – and often, it largely is – but conventions are proof that if you can get everyone on the same page, everything can change instantly. Conventions are a petri dish where the experiment is, “Is culture mutable?” and the answer is, “Under the right circumstances, anything can change dramatically.”
The wave-form collapses at the end of the weekend, of course, leading to a phenomenon called “con-drop,” where you’re sad and tired because you miss this culture you effortlessly code-switched into, and on some level would like to have back.
And when I go to the Geeky Kink Event – or any kink event, really, but GKE is the event I’d recommend most for novices – I’m always struck by how wildly different the culture is. I don’t think a lot of people on my list have attended a kink convention (though more, doubtlessly, than the regular public), so I wanted to discuss some of the weird ways in which kink convention culture diverges from the norm.
Bruises are a badge of pride, and considered beautiful.
At a kink convention, acquiring pain is often the reason you’re there – this is BDSM, after all – and so most people walk around with skimpy outfits designed to show off the way their back or breasts have been beaten blue. Particularly extensive marks will get appreciative “oohs.” If you know someone, and you catch a glimpse of an injury underneath clothing, you can ask to see what happened with about the same cultural mores of asking to see someone’s tattoo.
This leads to an unfortunate side-effect of some people feeling bad about not marking easily, or not being able to endure enough pain to get the pretty bruises. No culture is perfect, alas.
Breaking consent is one of the worst things you can do at a convention – but it’s not a law so much as an embarrassment. It’s normal to hear, “Do you hug?”, and people who hug strangers (or even acquaintances) without asking are usually gently corrected at some point.
If you have a good friend who is not currently in a huggable mood and you hug them unasked, it’s awkward. You know you did something wrong, and they forgive you, but you’ve been impolite and recognize the transgression.
That said, because so much micro-negotiations take place, you often field questions like “Can I kiss you?” These aren’t spam-requests – that would be rude – but if you’re having a bright and happy conversation with someone, they may just ask to kiss as a goodbye, or a hello, without necessarily the expectation that kissing == makeout. It took me by surprise the first few times it happened, but some people do kiss quite nicely.
One of the rudest things you can do at a kink event is to improperly manage your bodily fluids.
At the dungeons, yes, sex happens. (Though at GKE, they had a “no-sex” rule on Friday so asexuals and graysexuals and newbies could feel comfortable.) It’s not an all-out orgy – I’d say only 30% of any given play involves orgasm –
– but the proper disposal of bodily fluids in public spaces is a hazard. There are cleanup supplies everywhere – you wipe down your station after using it thoroughly, and there are chucks and condoms and gloves for everything. Nothing goes into an orifice without being covered, and the Dungeon Monitors are more like concierges – at one point during play, it looked like I might penetrate a partner, and the DM quietly placed a disposal chuck to absorb fluids, a set of gloves, and some lubricant by the side of our playspace.
This is not without good reason. A squirter may have HSV, or HIV, so they’re vigilant for normal reasons of STI transmission. But there’s also immunocompromised people there, and someone who’s particularly wet may have a cold they transmit to someone who can’t handle it, and so cleanliness is a major watchword.
A couple at GKE played hard enough that they soaked a mat, and then went to go use the water fountain with bare hands. Both mat and the fountain had to be quarantined afterwards. That was a major faux pas.
(Though whatever you do in your room is okay. Though it’s presumed you’ll negotiate statuses before playing. And that you will heavily tip your maids.)
There’s a stunning amount of nakedness around, but it’s understood that the person possessing the naked gets to control it. You can watch – that’s often why they dress that way – and even perhaps talk to them, but if you think the GKE is big on hug control, try touching someone’s naked flesh sans permission.
A fluid sexuality is the assumed norm. There’s nothing wrong with being monogamous and heterosexual, of course, but here you’re likely to be in the minority.
Some monogamous hetero women express frustration in the kink scene, because everyone assumes they’re bisexual and polyamorous. And naturally, idiotic poly and bisexual people ask them loaded questions like, “Well, have you tried it my way?”
It’s impolite, of course. But culture doesn’t equal perfection, it merely tells you when someone’s put a foot wrong.
It’s the height of impoliteness to interrupt someone’s scene. Even DMs, charged with safety, are reticent to barge in and go, “That rope isn’t tethered to a proper hard point” – though they do.
However, scenes get audiences. If you play interesting enough, you may get twenty people watching you. I’m generally enough into my scenes that I don’t notice, but if you’re bored, going around the dungeon and seeing who’s doing what is a thrill.
Naturally, some people are more fun to watch than others. This leads to mini-celebrity bouts – “Have you seen Flicker play? Oh my God, come see him!” – and some gather for showings of friends who they like to watch. Gossip spreads about that amazing scene that happened last night, she did what, oh my God did you hear.
…which, in turn, leads to a penchant on some people’s parts for more creative scenes. A friend of mine went after her lover with a fruit reamer. There’s splashy stuff, like fire and rope (but not together), that always draws a crowd.
You don’t applaud afterwards. But you might stop them afterwards to tell them how amazing that was to watch.
They blush. It’s cute.
I’d like to tell you there aren’t creepers, of course, but there are. The difference is that I have yet to hear a conversation about creepers where the overenthusiastic person’s overtures were excused. Immediately the victim is believed, no matter how slight the transgression, and usually the DMs are called.
It’s not an axe-falling transgression to pressure someone – often, the staff will have a firm word that This Is Not How We Do Things Here, to course-correct. But there is a list of names of people who’ve caused problems, and you will get on that list, and your behavior will be watched. If you make enough people feel uncomfortable, the convention staff will wisely do some math that says, “We can keep one jerk in the room, or drive three people out,” and you will be escorted out.
That said, you have to work it to have that happen. Asking generally isn’t considered offensive – maybe clumsy, if you’re asking, “HAY CAN WE HAVE SEX” three minutes after meeting, but some people are into that quickness. But asking for hugs, and kisses, and sex, are normal.
Pressuring, however, with repeated questions, is rude, rude, rude.
It’s expected you’ll do odd things at conventions. Experimentation is a high happiness. If you can try something you’ve not done before, well, that’s significant. Particularly at GKE, finding a new way to twist an old concept – taking a normal scene and adding GladOS from Portal, for example – is considered very cool.
Some people want their comfort scenes, of course. And they get them. But the buzz is always about new, new, new.
If you’ve been to a kink convention, I’ll ask: What was new to you there that you don’t see in the outside world?
There was a time when I didn’t think much about who I dated; it was largely a question of she likes me I like her let’s go go go! And that amorphous process led to me dating pretty much any smoochable body on the chance that it might lead to something cool.
It often did not lead to cool things at all.
If all I got was just the occasional bad date, then I’d have laughed it off. But these “Why not?” experiences led to me taking chance on people who were prooooobably not that great for me, but how could I tell for sure until I popped that seal?
What happened was that “Let’s see how it turns out” led me to date lots of folks who could be shaped into a good partner for me with six months of constant and careful effort. I dated people who didn’t quite get my sense of humor, people who got offended when I got insecure, people who couldn’t express their needs clearly enough to get through to me consistently.
Sometimes they worked out, but more often they just burned energy. I’d be spending time clarifying expectations with them – time I could have spent with my wife.
And as my dance card filled up, the cost of a bad relationship swelled – I’d go away to spend a precious weekend with someone who I recognized, on some level, I could never make happy. And when I had two other sweeties and a beautiful wife to spend time with, why was I wasting time here?
That dating paradigm of “Sure, why not?” applied when I had nothing to lose except time. But with each additional lover I dated, that time became infinitely more valuable.
This weekend, I realized what I was doing wrong. As a busy polyamorous man, I should not be dating people.
I should be assembling my Justice League of perfect lovers.
That sounds super-egotistic – but that’s the love and admiration I have for existing partners. I mean God, I’m blessed to have them in my life. My wife is my Wonder Woman, the strongest warrior in all the stars. My girlfriend of seven years is my Batman, as she’s inevitably right about polyamorous strategies and packs a mean right hook.
(My other partners, well, I’ve got one who’s asked to be Green Lantern, but I’m pretty sure the metaphor breaks down from there.)
Point is, you can’t just take a shot on putting heroes into the Justice League. You just don’t throw any old hero into an adventure with Batman and Wonder Woman and hope they keep up! It’ll be Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit all over again. The Justice League isn’t where you train heroes to be the best – it’s where the best congregate.
As someone raised on comics, that metaphor is potent to me. I might shrug at my own talents – and do – but if I look at myself as a member of an amazing team, then I’m much more discerning. That allows me to recognize I’m doing a disservice to my existing lovers whenever I date someone who I’m like, “Eh, who knows? Maybe it could work…”
That’s not the superhero spirit I need in my life. I need people who get the spirit of what we’re trying to accomplish off the bat, because there are too many exciting adventures to be had to spend whole issues mired in explaining backstory and motivation.
So when I’m dating these days – and I’m doing increasingly less of that – I’m thinking, “I’ve got some fantastic fucking people in my life already. Is this person another world-class superhero? Or are they someone I’m just kind of following around to see what’ll happen?”
Because the truth is, the people I’m dating right now are all JLA all-stars. And if I keep adding new members, eventually I’ll have to put an Aquaman on the roster.
Nobody fucking wants to date Aquaman.
Last week, I put up a static page on my site called How To Get A Signed Copy Of My Book, but I don’t think I put up a blog entry to mention it – which means if you’re on LiveJournal or just missed the new link at the side of my site, you missed it.
So, uh, here’s how you get a signed copy of my book. I’ll happily sign but the process takes a couple of weeks – so if you’d like to get a signed copy of either Flex or The Flux for Christmas, I’d start ASAP. (As it is, I went down to Loganberry to sign my pile and there were three people who hadn’t paid yet. They wouldn’t let me sign ’em.)
Also, The Flux – being a sequel – is getting a lot less PR-love than Flex, which is a shame because I think it’s a better novel. But the industry focuses in on newness, and getting the word out for Book #2 is exactly as hard as I’d heard.
So as a reminder, if you liked The Flux and want to help it out, then you can do the thing that helps literally every author with their book:
Leave a review.
Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads seem to work best, but B&N also helps. Doesn’t have to be a huge review; two sentences and a star rating help every book you adored. And they even help the books you hated! (In this age of computerized recommendations, keeping a loathed book out of the hands of People Like You is indeed a valuable service!)
(And if you wanted to take a moment to leave two or three reviews for other authors you liked, that would be good karma all around. Which reminds me, I have to finish up my review for Michelle Belanger’s A Conspiracy of Angels, but in the meantime you should probably check it out.)
Anyway, so that’s enough author-tweedling. I’m prepping to go to the Geeky Kink Event this weekend, so if you’re there, you’ll see the awesome Flex-themed cookies I’ve got planned! If not, then hey, I’ll catch you around.
I started reading at the age of two and a half when my parents lied to me about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Now, what you don’t understand is that I invented the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I must have, because they were all I ate as a young boy. (Smooth peanut butter, grape jelly, GTFO you heretic if you want strawberry.) Morning, noon, and night, I ate PB&Js.
One day, my parents took me to a restaurant. “PEANA BUTTER!” I yelled.
“They don’t have those here,” Mom lied, placing the napkin over her smoldering lap so as to obscure the fact that her pants were on fire.
“They do!” I pointed to the menu. “Right under the grilled cheese! Peanut butter and jelly!”
There was a full stop.
They made me read the rest of the menu.
And then, for the next year, at the age of two-and-a-half, tiny Ferrett went on a reading tour where people would hand me newspapers and I would read people stories about Richard Nixon. It was astounding.
I never thought much of it. People just learned to read at the age of two and a half. After all, I did! And I had no brothers or sisters to show me another experience, so in my mind, all children read newspapers before they were three.
At around four, I started to think my godchild was a little dim.
“Why isn’t she polishing off the copy of Goodnight Moon I bought?” I asked.
“She doesn’t read yet.”
“Nonsense,” I said officiously. “She’s at least reading words at four. That’s how children work.”
They told me children didn’t, really. Five to six was the average age.
“Yeah, whatever. Have you tried yet? My parents read bedtime stories to me every night. I know you’re reading her stories now, but maybe step it up a notch. Hold the book closer to her face. She’s behind schedule.”
Took me a startlingly long time to realize that this reading was, in fact, a real strength of mine. I went to a speed reading class with my dad, and outread several of the graduates in my initial test. My brain’s just wired for reading. It’s a quirk. I didn’t do much to deserve this, but here it is.
Yet for years, I was completely unaware of my superpower. Oh, I knew I read fast, but I assumed that anyone who put the time in could be as good as I was. And if a parent couldn’t get their kid to read by, say, three and a half, they just weren’t trying hard enough.
I was kiiiiind of a douche.
Don’t get me wrong – it’s great that I read well! The error is going, “Well, I’m good at this, so if *you’re* not good at this, it must be because you don’t want to be good.”
Aaaaand no. Some people are just better at other things than others.
I’m a depressive. I’ve worked hard to learn how to function while I’m depressed. But occasionally people tell me, “Well, if you really wanted to be cured, you’d have fixed that by now! Look at me! I’m fixed, and now I never get depressed!”
I wonder whether it’s ever occurred to them that maybe, just maybe, they cured a much lighter depression than I have, or have different strengths to cure their depression that I lack.
Maybe they’re me yelling at a two-year-old to get his shit together, baby!
Know what else I’m really good at? Patrolling my own boundaries. I don’t do things out of guilt. I’m largely immune to social pressure. As a result, I don’t have many asshole friends or relatives – if you bug me too much, I’ll stop hanging around you.
But again, I understand that this was a natural gift – I didn’t wake up one morning and go, “I’ll work on strengthening my self-confidence!” No, it just bugs me when people do that, so – shrug – fuck ’em.
Yet with all of that, I can understand that this is a strength of mine, and other people don’t necessarily have it. And I can suggest ways that they can improve their ability to self-protect without sneering, “Well, if you’re letting your layabout uncle mooch off of you, you just don’t care as much as I do about these things!”
Truth is, I don’t care. It’s sort of instinctual, like a lot of strengths. I know a lot of people who are in fabulous shape who get runners’ highs and feel good after exercising – and I never have, despite years of running 5 and 10ks. I know a lot of people who have no problems making friends, but they’ve never felt any anxiety about meeting people ever.
Lots of people have strengths they don’t even recognize because it doesn’t occur to them there’s any other way to be. I’ve always read peanut butter and jelly. Jane’s always felt better running a 5k than eating a cake. Harry’s always looked forward to parties full of strangers.
If they’re not careful, they assume it’s that way for everyone.
And then they become douches.
Fortunately, one of my other strengths is “recognizing that my strengths aren’t shared by everyone.” Which means that I don’t use my positive aspects to bludgeon other people into feeling worse.
Yeah, some people put way more effort into reading than I ever will and won’t be as good at it. That doesn’t make them lazy, or not caring. It means they’re not naturally gifted in the lottery that I won, and I’d be a gigantic dick if I just said to them, “Well, have you really tried?”
Some of them haven’t, of course. There are, despite what folks tell you, lazy people out there. But I can start from the kinder attitude that maybe they are trying, because if they’re expressing frustration then it’s probably a big deal to them, and not using my superiority as an excuse to deepen their feelings of inadequacy.
That’s not a natural strength, by the way. I obviously worked for that one.