Here’s The Six Books I’m Taking With Me To Italy

In two weeks, I’m going to Italy, and I need some honest-to-God old paper entertainment.  Because I’m not sure of my power requirements, and I probably won’t have good Internets that I can afford on the road, I need some books.

(And plus, I like books.  They’re a little roomy, but their bookly nature comforts me.)

So what am I taking to read on planes, on buses, and in my Italian villa?  Well, here’s my most recent book order, which probably would have had a few things like Charlie Stross’s latest Laundry novel and Scalzi’s “Lock In” if I wasn’t ordering all paperbacks and not clunky hardbacks:

  • Nexus, by Ramez Naam.  Hard science-fiction done by a science reporter?  Dealing with nanotechnology and linked brains?  Yes please.
  • Two Serpents Rise, by Max Gladstone.  I don’t know why I read some books and am super-psyched about the sequels, whereas other books I love thoroughly but never seem to find my way to the next one in the series.  (“Feed,” for example.  I fucking loved Feed.  But haven’t felt an urge to shuffle on to the rest of the Newsflesh trilogy, though it’s sitting on my shelf, beckoning me.)  But I did absolutely love Max’s book Three Parts Dead, which featured lawyers trying to revive a dead God, and here I’ve been waiting for a good excuse to buy his next one.  So Italy will be good.
  • Shield and Crocus, by Michael Underwood.  I haven’t read Michael’s writing before, but the pitch on this one – superheroes battling inside a city created within a giant’s skeleton – hits all my nerdy buttons.  I’m anticipating a lot of light fun and people punching things in creative ways.
  • The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson.  The one time I met Brandon he struck me as a really nice and generous guy, and people have raved about Warbreaker – but personally, I’ve discovered I can’t read Thick Fantasy on plane trips.  So when he discussed this book on Writing Excuses, the worldbuilding – his forte – seemed quite good to me, and the YA nature means I can plow through it relatively quickly.  So this, I think, is where I meet Brandon’s writing.
  • Southern Gods, by John Hornor.  All the right writers on Twitter seem to be kissing John Hornor’s buns, constantly going out of their way to mention him – which is usually the sign of a good writer.  I know nothing about the man’s work, but it’s a vacation, I like a little gamble.  And it’s horror, so I can always cope with horror.
  • Roasting in Hell’s Kitchen, by Gordon Ramsay.  This is a vacation in Italy, goddammit.  I deserve some trashy reading.  Plus, I know I can hand it on to Gini when I’m done with it.

On Expunging Creepers From Conventions, Or: Why The World Is Exceedingly Complex

While pretty much everybody lauded the Geeky Kink Event’s attempt to keep sex offenders out, there were many who groused that the Sex Offender list was not a ban list for conventions.  And some asked a question I’ve asked before, which is, “Why don’t more conventions band up to create an officially shared blacklist?”

That’s a good question.  Let’s break that down in some detail.

The first thing you need to understand about fan conventions is that the people attending them tend to see cons as this monolithic corporate entity – and why not?  They bring thousands of people together!  They rent a whole damn hotel!  They decorate, they cater, they hold parties, they hold concerts!  These conventions must be professional organizations!

Whereas the truth is, most cons are run on a shoestring budget, barely making back their costs, about one bad event away from going broke.  They’re also all staffed by volunteers; I know few conventions that have one full-time salaried employee, let alone a board full of them.

No, unbelievably, the cons you love are most likely run by people in their spare time – all those guests booked for you in the two hours they have after they get home from work, all those investigations held on weekends when you’re out watching movies and they’re dealing with convention feedback.  Cons are not so much the “MegaCorp funds the grand ballroom gala” as “An Amish barn-raising.”

If you have fun at conventions, ponder this and thank the crap out of your local con-organizers.  Better yet: volunteer.

But this does mean that while conventions mean well, and the people are dedicated, they’re working with volunteer effort – which is to say that yes, the Literary Track that went so well last year is now in danger of going to shit because Louise moved to Minnesota and she was the only one who knew everything.  And she didn’t leave notes.  The guy who knew how to find the good hotels has to work double-shifts because of his new kid.

Conventions are not one entity, but rather a constantly-fragmenting hive mind composed of well-meaning people doing this in the corners of their life.  And as such, cons are good at doing what they’re passionate about, but it’s hard to say “Fred, you must follow these rules and regulations” when Fred gets to say, “Or what?  You’ll tell me not to come here, and I’ll get my weekends back?”

The fact that conventions get anything competent done is, in fact, a testament to the goodness of the human race.  Again: volunteer.

But when conventions are saying, “How do we keep these molesting dorks out of our con?” they’re often a bunch of not legally trained, not experienced people.  At this stage in time, yes, “Keeping cons a harassment-free space” should be a priority for everybody.  But when you see a con doing something spectacularly stupid, it’s often because Joe New Volunteer With More Enthusiasm Than Brains got put into a slot that, sadly, nobody else was stepping up to fill.

…did I mention “volunteer”?  Okay.  Good.  We’re done with that.

Anyway, so hopefully now you see your average con not as a sleek Porsche, but more like a soap box racer made of old popsicle sticks held together with duct tape.  They all strive to be the best, and many of them manage it, but they are constantly battling attrition and resources to make the magic happen. The fact that the magic happens at all is a miracle.

So anyone who wants to devise an official “blacklist” shared among not just one of these constantly shifting volunteer organizations, but many of them, is trying to herd cats.  The person they’re supposed to talk to each year about this may change as people shift positions, and Jackie who was totally stoked for this safety drive may have given up cons and moved on to Burning Man, and now who are you supposed to talk to at ConSternation?

Who knows?

But even once you get past that very considerable hurdle, you have the big issue: How do you compile a list of ban-worthy harassers?

Keep in mind, many people who get harassed – or even out-and-out raped – do not want to talk to people at the con.  All they want to do is leave this experience behind, and “testifying to a group of strangers” – even strangers inclined to believe in them – is not a part of their healing process.

And let’s say someone gets physically assaulted at your convention, and talks to a group of her friends.  The friends go to you to report what they’ve heard, but there’s no physical evidence or eyewitnesses.  And you’re willing to take her word for things, in fact are perfectly primed to toss this asshole out on just one word from her… but she won’t talk to you or anyone official at the con because she’s freaked and doesn’t feel like reliving the day.

Do you blacklist someone based on second-hand testimony?

Some say “yes,” some say “no,” but that’s a tricky goddamned call.  In fact, banning the dude in the absence of testimony may actually make the victim’s life worse, because people are going to ask “So why’d he get banned?” and gossip will flow, and now the victim’s name will be out in circles she may not want them out in.

It’s not simple.

And – again, remember, cons are each composed of messy well-meaning volunteers – what crimes get you banned for life?  If you say, “Well, we’ll come up with a clear list of bannable offenses” and break it down in detail, well, you have just started a large board argument at every convention you’re asking to join over “Whether these rules are acceptable to us or not.”  (Quite possibly with the obligatory sides taken of “Too strict” vs. “Not strict enough.”)  And like every law, you’re going to come across situations that aren’t covered, because creepers creep in new and not-so-exciting ways all the time.

Yet if you take the alternate route of, “Well, you know what’s acceptable,” remember: well-meaning volunteers.  They might not.  Or they might not feel comfortable enough to ban people based on “gut feels” and hence default to not-banning when they damn well should.  It could be that your ban-list creates a false sense of safety, which is, in a way, even worse.

And then you get into the whole mess of “How do you report this stuff?”  The initial instinct may be to say, “Well, we won’t reveal any details, of what happened, we’ll just ban them.”  And congratulations!  You have just become the TSA’s “No-fly” list – a mysterious shadow cabinet that holds secret trials and doesn’t tell you what you did.  Even if you’re really good at weeding out creepers, you’re going to cause drama among people who don’t trust organizations. And as we all know, cons never have attendees of libertarian bents with deep mistrusts of authority.

Or maybe you give some vague details. Yet as organization after organization has discovered, people can put together stories from the vaguest hints.  You run a very good risk of inadvertently outing a victim.

Yet either way you go here, private or public disclosure, you run the risk of legal action.  Banned douchebot may not take well to being ejected from one convention, but he’s unlikely to go nuclear.  But if this project gets successful and banned douchebot is banned from not just one convention but most of the fun gatherings on the Eastern Seaboard, he may well get a lawyer and decide to see what he can shake loose.

And yes: you will probably win the court case.  But you’re very naive if you think “winning the court case” means “JUSTICE SERVED PIPING HOT!” Remember, cons are run on shoestring budgets, often only carrying maybe $500 to $1000 in profits over to the next year.  Douchebot doesn’t have to win the court case, he just has to force TinyCon to pay out in legal fees.  Too many legal fees, and they go broke.  And that’s a concern.

Is it any wonder a lot of cons just rely on whisper campaigns?  Even though they’re closely dependent on reputation, fragile, and can break all too easily?

None of this is to say that cons should not attempt to fling out the creepers, of course.  They should.  And most do try.  But because people criticized using the Sex Offender registry as a blacklist and asked, “Why not just use a customized one?”  And this is why creating a really good list is an honest-to-God struggle.

The real world is complex.  We struggle with very serious problems that don’t have easy answers.  And a lot of cons have been trying to provide better alternatives, with some success, and the fact that they achieve any headway at all is laudable as fuck.  Applaud them.  Contemplate how much work is ahead of them at making cons into safe spaces.  Understand that mistakes happen, and happen for these reasons, and should never ever happen, but even as you hold their feet to the fire understand all the vectors for error they’re juggling.

Now.  If you’ve run a con and got any good tips for keeping people out as a convention (and not the usual true-but-not-particularly helpful “Tell everyone to be eternally on their guard!”), then share.

On Cons Screening For Sex Offenders

I’ll be presenting on polyamory at the Geeky Kink Event New England this year (come visit! It’s fun!) , and was finalizing my schedule with the organizers when they said this:

There will be a charge…. to run a check against the sex offender registry.

“Huh,” I said.  “They’re going to check to see if I’m a sex offender?”  And sure enough, I checked their website, and found this stunning little number under “Registrant Screening“:

When you register for GKE:NE, we will do two things to help ensure a safe, secure atmosphere for all of our guests.
  1. We will run the registrant’s name against a shared list of people banned from various kink and alternative lifestyle events on the Eastern Seaboard.  Reasons someone might be banned include forms of severe misconduct, such as consent violation.

  2. We will run the registrant’s legal name through the sex offender registry of either their home state or, by default, New Jersey.

And I thought, “How insanely great is that?”

Admittedly, the Geeky Kink Event is a kink event (the TARDIS bondage box and the sensory deprivation Companion Cube might be your clue as to the sexy here), so screening for sex offenders is a little more vital than it might be at your average filker con.

But I really like what this says about their commitment to their attendees: We’re going to try our damndest to keep the creepers out, and you safe.

Now, is the sex offender registry a particularly great method of filtering people?  Sadly, no.  The sex offender registry has a distressing amount of false positives, particularly from teenagers in consensual acts who got caught by angry parents.  There are people who plea bargain down to sex offender status not because they were guilty, but because they had 100% chance of walking free if they took the label or some not-zero percentage of jail time if they didn’t.  The sex offender list is imperfect and broken in an America that really dislikes sex.

Worse, the sex offender list isn’t near-comprehensive, either.  There’s a lot of rapists and molesters who didn’t get their much-deserved day in court, so “Not being on the list” is not proof that this is an upstanding citizen.  (Which is why GKNE backs it up by checking with their sister cons, sharing their ban-list.)

That said, holy fuck you guys go for making the attempt.

Screening for creepers is a tough job, in real life.  A really tough job.  The court system is incomplete, the word-of-mouth is ephemeral, the drama high, the legal hassles are tricksy, the defenders multitudinous, the creepers insidious.  People don’t like accusing other people, because it feels bad and often it puts a victim in a spotlight when they’d rather just forget this happened, so sometimes getting evidence would involve making a victim’s life infinitely worse.

And – never forget this – some of the consent violators are really nice guys.  Which is why I encourage you to question me, question your friends, question everybody, because “a nice guy” can often mean “has leveraged sympathy to get better traction for despicable acts.”

But make no mistake: despite its flaws, there’s a lot of dangerous fucking people on the sex offender list, too.  And rather than throwing up their hands and saying, “Wow, this is complicated, who the heck knows?”, the Geeky Kink Event is at least attempting to enforce some standard that – though I’m sure they’d readily admit has some flaws – is still much, much better than leaving it open to whatever creepazoids hand them their money.

I’m glad they’re screening.  I’m glad they’re asking about me.  I do not want to ruin someone’s convention experience, and if they check me out and think that I’d hassle people, I support their right to kick my ass to the curb.  (I doubt they will, as they vetted me last year before I emergency-cancelled thanks to Rebecca’s sudden illness, but who knows?)

Every convention is its own society and its own set of morals.  That society is shaped by what behaviors are judged acceptable – and, by proxy, what people you allow in to act.  Shaping that society is not wrong – in fact, it’s part of what makes the really good cons great – and finding ways to keep the away people who’d ruin the experience of the good people you want to attract to your gatherings?

I support that.  And in the absence of ideal solutions, I’m glad to see GKNE working towards imperfect ones.

No, Your Reliance On External Validation Is NOT Sexy

(NOTE: This essay was originally published on FetLife, the Facebook for Kinksters – but I thought it was sufficiently interesting to port over to my “Real” blog, even though it has a couple of Fet-specific references in it.  Because it deals with fatness and pride and attraction, and though I’m writing this in response to an essay that some of you might not be able to read, the essay is summed up and I don’t think I’m distorting it too much.)

Inside the community and out, us normal people and skinny people are getting pretty damn tired of being told what and who we should find sexy.”

Here’s a trick to dissecting arguments: when someone starts off by telling you that they’re a “normal” person, you can safely assume the rest of their argument will be, “Here’s what society tells me, and I’m not going to bother for a second to contemplate whether that’s good or bad.”

And lo, that’s what we have here.

The story, as summarized in @MPsHoneyDoll’s essay, is:

  • People don’t like fat people, so:
  • I hated fat people myself:
  • I hated myself so much that I changed myself
  • Now people like me.
  • So I like me.


And that is perfectly cool if you don’t find fat people attractive. Anyone who tells you that you are obliged to find any particular set of features attractive is an insecure git who needs the weight of numbers before they can relax.

You may be attractive to a small number of people. That’s cool.

The question is, are those people attractive to you?

If so, then awesome! Who cares if only one in 100,000 people wants to sex your bones up? If that one person is the dud/ette you wanted, then run rampant in the fields of glory, motherfucker!

If not, then you have that icktacular quandary of deciding how much you feel like changing for them.

Because here’s the ugly truth and the truth of ugly: you’re not going to have a 100% success rate at attracting the people you want. You just won’t, not over the course of a lifetime. And so you eventually have to make the decision of “Yes, if I changed my sexual identification and got a tattoo of a capuchin humping a watermelon and had bone-extension surgery to gain six inches in height, I could probably have them bed me. Is that worth it?”

And if you’re not processing too heavily, and these watermelon-humpers are in the majority, what you come to mistakenly believe is that there’s something wrong with you that you don’t naturally fit their mold of attractions.

There isn’t. There’s something wrong with your approach, presuming you want to date these people.

But if you’re just sort of skimming past all that, you don’t draw that vital difference between “This is a poor strategy for my goals” and “I am a failure as a human being,” and then come to think that cauterizing that hideous Thing They Do Not Like out of you is the only way to true happiness.

Not just for you.

For everybody.

Look, I’m neither pro- nor anti-fat. I actually find chubby women more attractive than skinny women. I think that my wife, who is overweight, can be actually healthier (she runs triathalons at her weight) than many skinny women who are more concerned with dress sizes than actual health. I believe that weight is merely one axis of many health considerations, and one that we demonize because we as society have decided that fat people are fucking disgusting.

But still, as a heart patient, I’m carrying forty extra pounds that endanger my well-being, so I’m trying to get it off. People who are 600 pounds are highly unlikely to be in the prime of health.

There’s a balance here. Sometimes, what society hates actually lines up with some genuine problems you have, and for God’s sake don’t do the nerd “reverse the polarity!” thing of going, “Well, if they hate it they must be wrong!” and then forever wrestling every conversation to be about your deep love of Transformers.

Maybe you’d be happier and less lonely if you bridged the gap and learned some common social skills – the moral equivalent of losing enough weight that you’re no longer at risk for coronary disease, but still chunky enough to appreciate a good sundae every once in a while.

“Normal” society, yes, rewards skinny people disproportionately. But it also rewards white people disproportionately. And straight people disproportionately. And men disproportionately. And if I’m not fucking careful, I can internalize those irrational hatreds and come to believe that there’s something wrong with me instead of society.

What @MPsHoneyDoll is regurgitating without thinking is the vomit that everyone poured onto her, all that societal hatred of fat people, which she drank up and internalized and now she can’t feel attractive unless she’s thin.

And hey, I’m not casting too many aspersions here: we all have our weak spots. I myself think I can’t be attractive unless I lure you in with words, which is equally dysfunctional.

The difference is that I’m not telling you all that really, being a poet is the only thing to do in this situation.

If @MPsHoneyDoll can only feel good if she’s thin, great! That’s an end-run around unthinkable pressures pushed onto you by thousands of people, and it may well be easier to give into that than to fight the power. I actually support that. Not every gay person needs to come out of the closet, not every kinky person needs to parade their slaves around the workplace.

(It helps if you do. Helps a lot. But it’s something I think is purest selfishness to demand of you, because fighting societal expectations takes a serious toll, and we trivialize people’s struggles when we forget that fundamental truth.)

But please, please, don’t not just cave to the pressure, but actually add to it, by telling folks that “normal” people find fat kiiiinda loathsome and implying heavily you’d be better if you just gave it up.

Because I’m willing to bet if we took you out to a crowd of “normal” people and showed them just what you loved on FetLife, most of them would think you were a fucking freak. And would you then tell me that yes, to make these generic people happy, we should give up our specifics?

No. Fuck that. “Normal” is not what we should be concerned with, especially in a fucktastic kink-saturated masturbationapocalypse like FetLife.

“Happy” is.

And yes: You will appeal to a wider variety of people if you lost weight. That’s the numbers, man. You’d also appeal to a wider variety of people on Fet if you were female, white, bisexual, and had big tits.

But it does not then follow that to be content, everyone should conform to what makes Kinky and Popular, the place where the most-loved photos wash up on FetLife. My wife has a shirt that says “I’m Someone’s Fetish,” and what matters is whether you can find the people who appreciate you for what you are.

And I’m perfectly within my rights to look at you and go, “Guh. You’re unattractive.” But that “unattractive” must always be accompanied with the properly-implied “to me,” and with the self-knowledge that just because a lot of people dislike something doesn’t mean it is actually wrong to be that.

I’m glad @MPsHoneyDoll is happier the way she is now. I am sad that she’s chosen to take a stance that heavily implies that anyone who doesn’t do what she did is fundamentally lacking on some level.

And I’ll tell you the truth: what makes me happy is not what will make you happy. Your job is to find what makes you happy, and then recognize this is not a one-size-fits all solution.

All I have ever written about is one path. I think it’s a pretty wide path, which is why my writings tend to be popular on Fet. But there are people who speak really beautiful and telling truths who never make it to K&P because those truths apply only to a narrow subset of people.

That makes those truths no less valid. Just less popular.

There is a difference.

I Am 12% Of The Best Podcast Fiction Of All Time

…at least I am according to David Steffen, who compiled his list of the Top 50 Podcast Fiction of All Time.  And I showed up six times on this list.

(My highest charting was #10, so I think that makes me like a really influential indie band.)

So in case you’re wondering (and there are many other good stories on that list to check out, if’n you like podcast fiction – check out Keffy in particular):

On The Republican National Convention And Sex Workers.

I had a Tweet up for about twenty seconds that I then took down, which was this:

“Cleveland is hosting the National Republican Convention in 2016. I hope we have enough hookers.”

Which is funny to me, man.  I honestly don’t know if Cleveland has enough prostitutes to service all the incoming conservatives, because past conventions have shown that man, these staid-in-the-wool motherfuckers go through sex workers like nobody’s business.  We may have to import.  I’m sure several of my sex worker friends are looking at their calendars and just planning a blowout weekend.

But I took the Tweet down, not because I thought it was inaccurate, but because I thought in a shorter version it’d pass on overtones I didn’t want to create.  It seemed to degrade sex workers to me (and no, for some reason “I hope we have enough sex workers” didn’t strike me as funny in the same way).

Which is a weird thing about being careful with your communications: It’s not that what you say isn’t funny, but that it also encourages people to not question things.  To me, a hooker or a sex worker or a prostitute or whatever the fuck you call them are people, worthy of rights and protections.  But I suspect a lot of the people who might pass that gag along would be the sort of people who’d see selling sex as the incontrovertible evidence of bad morals/life decisions/etc.

The real joke here is how the Republicans try to make kinky sex illegal, and yet crave it the same way we do.  But I’m not sure that Tweet got it across without punching downwards more than I’d like.

Okay, rant break over, back to work.

You Get What You Give: How A Potato Salad Can Teach You To Run A Good Donation Drive

I had a friend who wanted very badly to go overseas.  Sadly, I can’t remember why she wanted to go overseas – we’ll get to that – but what I do remember was her disastrous donation drive.

She set up an Indiegogo account – a.k.a., “The place we go when we’re pretty sure a Kickstarter would fail” – and set up various tiers of rewards if she got enough money to go overseas: little tiny things like postcards, et al.  And what I remember was that the tier pattern went something like this:

  • $30 – I will write you a personalized Tweet when I am in Czechoslovakia.

That’s where I started to feel a bit… insulted?  Overlooked?  Taken for granted?  Not a good feeling when I’m being asked to reach into my wallet.

As a writer, for me, being paid six cents a word – a word – is called “professional rates,” meaning it’s what the top-tier markets get.  And this campaign designed to induce me to give my friend money was giving them Tweet-rights of two cents per letter.

And I Tweet a lot.  I know how much time I spend composing a very thoughtful Tweet, which is at best three minutes.  So what my friend was saying to me, quite literally, was, “I think three minutes of my time is worth several hours of your paycheck while I relax on the beach in foreign lands.”

Already I was feeling a little dazed here.  And then I got to the next tier, which was something like:

  • $50 – I will allow you access to the personalized blog where I detail my trip to Czechoslovakia.

That’s when I thought, oh, no, no, you’re doing it all wrong.  My friend was thinking entirely about what she wanted, the trip, and how much work each tier would be for her, then pricing them accordinglyWhich is the wrong way to look at it.

Here’s the secret to every donation drive – and keep in mind, I’ve run quite a few – the donation drives are never about what you want.

Every donation drive is about how you make the donator feel.

That’s actually true of every piece of written communication, but is especially true when you’re asking people to give you money.  When you do a donation drive, you are not trying to go to Czechoslovakia – you are trying to make a total stranger feel excited about getting you to Czechoslovakia.  And as such, your entire focus must be answering the question, “Why would someone who doesn’t know me feel wonderful about helping me to go on this trip?”

The whole reason I’m writing this now is because there is an infamous Kickstarter for potato salad – literally, the entire point was “If this funds, I will make myself some potato salad” – and it is, as of this morning, it is funded at $37,500 with 24 days left to go.  And I had several baffled sick friends saying, “I held a donation drive to pay off my crippling doctor’s bills and stalled out at $150, and this guy gets thousands for a goddamned potato salad?”

Yes.  Because potato salad guy actually seemed like fun.  It was goofy to even ask for such a thing, and funny, and people felt like “Hey, a guy like this I feel good about throwing away $1 to.”  In other words, “He provided me with $1 worth of amusement.”  And several thousand people joined in.

And watch carefully, my friends, as to how he reacted when all this escalated: did he hunker down when his stretch goals were made?  Hell no.  When this started to go viral, the dude said, “Well, hell, if people want this, I will throw a potato salad party,” and threw open a call for anyone in the area to come on down to Columbus and make some potato salad with him and dance around in the joy of potato salad.  The potato salad guy sounds like a fun time!  Hell, he’s in Columbus, I am damn tempted to go down for his potato salad fiesta.

The question is, did your donation drive provide $1 worth of entertainment?

Look, I’ve raised somewhere in the range of $5,000-$10,000 for Rebecca Alison Meyer, my goddaughter who died of brain cancer a month ago.  And that’s not nearly as celebratory fun as a potato salad party, but the reason I was so successful – as people have told me time and time again, sometimes to my chagrin – is that “You made Rebecca come alive for me.”  Being a writer, I tugged on your heartstrings to feel empathy for a beautiful spitfire of a girl that you’d never met, and so many of you donated to CureSearch for Cancer in her name.

I hesitate to use the term “entertainment” for such an awful travesty, but the point is people felt good either way about donating.  They felt like it was worth their money, emotionally.  And too many people, like my friend, get caught up on the tiers of rewards, thinking, “What can I churn out?” and forgetting that the rewards are merely another way of making people feel more excited about donating.

And when I see these medical donation drives, what I see is often a relentless stew of pain: “I’m miserable and broke and have to buy duct tape to hold in my shattered skull.  If you donate $5, well, it won’t actually make a dent in this mountain of medical debt I have, it’s all hopeless really, but if you’ll let me weep on you for some time I’ll send you a postcard to remind you exactly how little of a difference you made.”

Then they get no traction.

No, man, if I was poor enough to need funding to, say, buy myself some new glasses, I would ask this simple question: “Why would people feel good about giving me money to buy glasses?”  And by proxy, “What could I tell them to make them feel empathy – to make them go, ‘Aw, man, I’ll feel happy if this balding dude in Cleveland gets his glasses’?”

And I’d think, “Well, I have all these books I want to read.”  And I’d start making a list of all the books I’m excited about reading but can’t, but could if you helped me, then talk about these upcoming books and the very specific reasons I’m excited about reading them – going on about my love of, say, Jo Walton or Stephen King or Robert Bennett – and make you feel excited with me.

And then I’d say, “Why, I’d be so grateful if you helped me with these glasses, for $30 I’ll buy a book that you love and read it and tell you all the lovely things about it!”

Would that work?  I don’t know.  But I do know it’d work better than, “I’m broke and I need glasses, give me the cash.”

The lesson about Kickstarter or Indiegogo or any donation drive is that you get what you give.  My friend shouldn’t have made her blog a $50 tier – the blog access should have been for donation $1, the lowest possible level, telling people, “If you sign up in any way, I will let you into my world and tell you of all the wonders I find in Czechoslovakia.”  As it is, honestly, I don’t remember why my friend wanted to go to Czechoslovakia, which is a sign of how badly the drive was presented to me – she was my friend, I cared about her, and I couldn’t tell you what it meant to her aside from a thrusting hand in my face.

And, of course, her donation drive didn’t get anywhere.  What happened was what happened with most of the donation drives: her close friends gave what they could, a handful of acquaintances pitched it, and it stopped there because if you didn’t know my friend, well, this donation page would not have told you a darned thing about her.  She was very sad, even if she was resistant to changing her donation page because she’d worked so hard on it.

The lesson: be the potato salad.  Even if you’re sick and life is terrible, find a way to get people invested in your journey.  Give them only things that make them feel more invested in your journey.  Make them feel triumph when you succeed, and I can’t guarantee you’ll get potato salad money, but you’ll get more than you would have.  For sure.

(And if you’re looking for a good couple to donate to, may I suggest helping my friends Jeff and Tracy Spangler?  It couldn’t hurt.)