“I did not know the first stage in any domestic violence relationship is to seduce and charm the woman.
“I also did not know the second step is to isolate the victim.
“The next step in the domestic violence pattern is to introduce the threat of violence and see how she reacts.
“We victims know something you non-victims usually don’t. It’s incredibly dangerous to leave an abuser, because the final step of the domestic violence pattern is ‘kill her.’ Over 70% of domestic violence murders happen after the victim has ended the relationship.”
All true, in my experience. And worth knowing. If you didn’t know this fact, then make sure to absorb that, because it’s not quite as simple as leaving someone who’s going to feel very betrayed when you leave.
Yet what struck me about this talk beyond the obvious horror – “Hey, I think of you as such an object that I’d rather kill you than see you live without me” – is how she’s talking about the domestic violence pattern.
She’s talking about it like it’s a stratagem one uses. Like the way Pick-Up Artists do, with classes they can take. They decide “Hey, I really need a woman I can beat the shit out of,” and they read some books online – “How to Find People With Bad Instincts” – and then they enact their four-step program very carefully.
Some do set out to be abusive explicitly, of course. I’ve heard too many stories to deny that. But with the abusers I’ve known personally, they don’t have a plan per se – they’re too emotionally incoherent to have a plan for anything. They’re asocial louts who get enraged that the world is not attending to their desires, and they don’t have many friends who aren’t total sycophants because they creep normal people out sooner or later, and when they find a victim they’re isolating them because they’re terrified of any competition. (And often such a sad-sack case that the victim stays once that vulnerability is revealed: “He needs me.”)
Now, keep in mind, that’s not all abusers: there are “successful” folks who have good-paying jobs and many friends and still abuse the shit out of their partners. (Nor are all abusers invariably men: the same issue applies to abusive women, of which there are probably a lot more than you hear about because of the toxic masculinity that scorns a guy who’d “let” his wife beat him.) Abusers come in all shapes and sizes.
Yet the problem I have with the “abuse == intent” model is that it implies to people who do get involved with this “reclusive loser” style of abuser that “If s/he doesn’t mean to do it, s/he’s not really an abuser.”
And the problem with that model is then victims often stay because they’re convinced their abuser doesn’t intend to be an abuser. They just lose control sometimes. They drink a bit much. They had a bad childhood.
They mean well. God, every abuser I’ve ever heard talked about meant so fucking well.
So I think it’s worth noting that lots of people stumble dimly into the patterns of abuse – maybe acting on instinct horrifically gifted to them by abusive parents, maybe because domestic violence breeds in isolation. But not everyone had a plan to be an abuser, going in, and every day people who mean very well (I’m told) are rediscovering a pattern as old as time: isolate, hurt, kill.
They may not know where they’re headed.
But you should.
Every Wednesday for the past few months, my friend Eric and I have gone out to my garage and honed our woodworking skills. First we built an inset bookcase for Eric’s house, then a firewood box, then a smaller bookcase, and last night we finally finished the drop-down workbenches we’ll need to refit my garage. WITNESS ME!
Last night, two things happened that really made me feel like we’d levelled up:
First, we had a problem with the chopsaw – the motor seemed to be going, because it kept whirring for minutes after we stopped the saw, and couldn’t bite through the wood. We got out the manual and started looking, and I properly diagnosed the problem before we got at the internals.
Seriously, me actually troubleshooting a power tool is major biz, folks. (For the record, the arbor nut holding the saw tight had loosened, so it was spinning semi-freely upon the motor.)
But more importantly, we started working in parallel. Eric and I are choosing projects to hone our skills – first a screw-together bookcase, then a firewood box with some angled cuts, then a (small) bookcase that involved routing and dado shelves, and finally this drop-down shelf, which involved using the Kreg jig and applying hinges.
Until last night, basically, if one of us was doing something, both of us were doing it. If Eric was measuring a piece of lumber, I waited patiently, watching Eric to try to determine why he’s so damn good at measuring accurately. (He has exceptional spatial skills; I have very sub-par spatial skills.) If I was using the router, Eric was watching me use the router, scrutinizing my technique to see how we could improve it. (And in case you’re curious, Eric has written up his side of events over at The Pastry Box.)
But last night, we’d already built the left half of the table, and we knew all the skills involved. So after a while of watching Eric put up the pegboard – a job where there wasn’t room for two people to help, really – I said Why the hell am I waiting around, anyway? There are boards that need to be cut. So while he put up the pegboard, I chopped the shims and the 2x4s down to size.
Essentially, we’d gotten comfortable enough with the work that we could accomplish separate tasks, him handing off to me, me to him. That will doubtlessly change on the next project, when we try something different – man, I wanna try dovetail joints – but it points at a larger effort, where eventually we’re both skilled enough to work as a team as opposed to one guy alternately learning from the other.
And it’s exciting, transforming the garage. Eric and I decided that it would be a shame if we only did this during Cleveland’s highly-limited run of good weather, so we’re making the garage into a fully-kitted tool shop – a place where we have shelves to hold the tools and lumber, racks for Gini’s bikes, and enough room in the center that we can park the car. It’s not just woodworking, but carpentry we’re also learning –
– And it doesn’t stop, as Eric’s family came over for my birthday brunch last Sunday and Eric and I went out to the garage and, completely without meaning to, spent an hour tracing wires to determine that yeah, we could probably extend from that overhead lamp socket to create another power outlet, and now I’ll probably be buying a book on wiring this afternoon.
There’s learning new skills, yes, but part of what I find exciting is discovering how malleable the world is now. Before, when I’d condemned myself to being “not handy,” the garage was this immutable object – it came with crappy shelves and lights that didn’t work, and I couldn’t afford to hire a guy to do it all.
Now? The garage is a toybox, ready to be changed for our convenience. Oh, it’ll take some work, of course, and some planning, and God, another run to Lowes, really? – but in the end, with some elbow grease and a bit of consulting with each other, we can pretty much do anything with this space.
Or any space, really. Eric’s wife is mentioning some work she needs done around the house. I keep looking at my house and going, “Wow, there’s no light in this ceiling – but you know, we could probably fix that.” The bathroom is a major expenditure, but now I’m starting to do the foolish guy thing and go, “Huh, I wonder how much effort it WOULD be to replace the bathtub.”
All I need is a friend to work with. It’s good to have a friend to work with.
(EDIT: And because I forgot to post this this morning like I’d set up to, have some photos taken of the workbench in daylight:)
If you’ve followed me on Twitter for any period of time, you’ll note my #WIP hashtags, wherein I excerpt sentences from my Work In Progress – i.e., whatever I’m working on that day. Things like:
#wip She pulled out bingo balls. “B10! I20! N30! G 10,456,243? O-£? X-marks-the-spot? Paul, you’re doing something very strange here.”
— Ferrett Steinmetz (@ferretthimself) September 6, 2013
#wip “Wake up.” The voice whispering in your ear is yours, which they assure you will seem normal after a while.
— Ferrett Steinmetz (@ferretthimself) December 27, 2011
#wip She plops the boiled carcass onto the robe and rubs it around in circles, an insane dead-chicken dance.
— Ferrett Steinmetz (@ferretthimself) May 29, 2015
— Ferrett Steinmetz (@ferretthimself) September 11, 2014
…okay, they can’t all be winners.
But as I start writing the third book in the FLEX series, I run into a conundrum: I can tell you that the upcoming sequel, THE FLUX, radically changes the status quo of What You Know. Just as the ending of FLEX, well… those of you who’ve read it knows how radically it changes the family dynamic, and in fact most of THE FLUX is spent examining just what happens in the wake of the final chapters of FLEX. The next book in the series changes things even more radically than that.
So for the first time, I wind up being concerned with my old friend “Spoilers.”
Which is nice. My #wip excerpts have always lacked context before, as they’ve been isolated stories. Yet now that you know who Paul, Aliyah, Valentine, and Imani are, you might actually care to know what happens next. But though I always avoid major spoilers (and in fact I often use #wips to misdirect), there are unavoidable spoilers that’ll hint at what happens – you’ll know who survives into the third book, because I’ll be mentioning them, and you’ll get glimpses into the challenges people are facing.
(Though those of y’all who keep wanting to know, “Wait, what happened to Europe?” will be pleased to know that question will be finally answered.)
Yet I am super-spoiler-phobic. The worst part of my job is that, since I help create all the cards when a new Magic set is released, I cannot avoid seeing every card in the set. I don’t read the back of books, because I like to have the author tell me, and one of the things I dislike most about THE FLUX back cover’s copy (currently on Amazon, if you’re curious) is that it tells you a lot of what happens in the first third of the book. (That doesn’t make it bad book copy – good book copy, in fact, reveals a lot more to lure you in than I’m generally comfortable with – but I keep going, “Man, I don’t want you to know that before you read the first chapter!”)
So a question: if you follow me on Twitter, and you’ve read FLEX, how do you feel about stumbling across random 140-character snippets of the adventures of the various ‘mancers? Even assuming I’m not announcing major character deaths or telegraphing plot twists, I’ll still be giving you glimpses into a world you won’t see for another year, minimum.
I spent my birthday weekend playing The Witcher extensively, and I’m pretty sure that 20 hours or so is more time than the developers spent playing the game.
It’s not that Witcher 3 is a bad game, mind you: it’s just that there’s a really great game in there, smothered underneath a bunch of horrible terrible UI choices, making it more mediocre with each playthrough. And some of these UI sins are so easily fixable, you wonder whether they actually played the game at all.
Now, I’m not talking about the big problems that would be tricky to fix: sure, I’ve died thirty times because my all-powerful Witcher got caught on the edge of a fence in combat. Sure, I can literally go get a soda, drink it, and still have another minute’s wait left before the “Loading game” screen finishes. But those are technical problems: it’s a big game so I presume there’s tons of data to load, and reasonably recreating physics is a tough challenge (I’m looking at you, Skyrim and your randomly unclimbable slopes).
No, it’s dumb shit. Things that sap the game’s fun, because you have to do this dumb-ass thing over and over again that gets in the way of the game. Things like:
The way the huge-ass map doesn’t point the way to your next quest. Seriously, this map is frickin’ massive, meaning your next quest could be on the other side of the world – and you’re often scrolling in every direction, trying to figure out where the contract is, playing a mind-numbingly boring game of “Find the yellow dot.” Maddeningly, the mini-map does point you towards your quest, so eventually, you dope out the workaround of “Point your character’s face at the dot, then switch to the large map and follow a straight path in that direction until you find the dot.” And hope you’re not angled slightly off, because being five degrees off-dot over large distances means you may not find it, ever.
Hi! You’ve just gotten a new quest! Do you want to start it? Well, you can’t, because you have to read the letter that the Earl of Whogivesafuck left behind! And to do that, you have to open up your inventory, scroll to the “Quests” tab, find the letter among the seven other letters there, and open it.
Why didn’t the game just display the letter when you found it? I mean, you picked it up. It’s reasonable you’d just read it by default instead of folding it up neatly to stow it the depths of your pack. But no, The Witcher involves a constant stream of “God, I’ve gotta open up the tasks screen, switch over to inventory, switch three tabs over to my quest items, then down, then press X.” Over and over again. Over and over again. Over and over again.
Speaking of “Over and over again,” it sure would be nice if the crafts screen preserved your last choice when you switched tabs. I generally dislike games with intensive crafting systems, but Witcher makes it maddening: Oh, hey, you can make this great set of armor if you could only buy two vials of hummingbird tears! I’ll switch tabs to buy some hummingbird tears – and then have to scroll down literally through thirty choices when I switch back.
Oh, and did I mention that the merchants’ goods aren’t sorted by name at all, with no way to sort them? So if you don’t know what a fucking vial of hummingbird’s tears look like, you have to flip through eighty tiny icons hunting for the ones that look like vials, until you narrow it down and finally purchase one. God help you if you need three purchases to finish crafting that armor – and keep in mind, crafting seems to be the only way to get good armor, as the drops from monsters usually just provide craft materials – because you’re in for a hunt-the-pixel-fest.
I get that you have to start a conversation with a merchant to shop. That’s fine, because you might also want to play this more-boring-Magic variation with them, too. But when I’m done shopping, I don’t want to talk to you any more – and yet still I have to navigate two selections down to select the “Done talking” option. Can you just assume that when I’m done shopping, I’m done talking, and save me literally a thousand pointless menu selections over the course of the game?
Likewise, I find the crossbow to be a useless goddamned weapon. I know many love the stealth approach; I want to charge in swords-a-blazin’, which thankfully the Witcher allows me to do. But the game keeps switching my default alt-attack to crossbow whenever I switch, instead of the grenade I selected, or the witch’s lamp I use to get better light in dark areas. Which means I keep wasting precious crossbow bolts as I think I’m throwing a smoke bomb and oh, shit, we’re back to crossbows again. WHY DO YOU LOVE CROSSBOWS, WITCHER.
Also, hey, a better auto-save system would be good, considering some quests you get involve you traveling to the other side of this goddamned unwieldy map. What frequently happens is that you spend two minutes galloping across hills and valleys to get to that stupid yellow dot, get caught on a fence, and die – and then have to spend five minutes reloading the game, and then travel again. Wouldn’t it make sense to have an auto-save whenever you transitioned between distant areas, so you wouldn’t have to backtrack over and over again on quests you made?
And lastly, you have horses. They are kind of neat horses – I appreciate that if you hold down X, the horses will follow the roads, allowing you a sort of quasi-fast-travel. Yet frustratingly, you are smart enough to have a trail of white dots showing you which roads will lead you to your next quest – yet the horse does not know this trail, so you’re constantly horse-course-correcting when the horse jukes left and you can see the dots on the road leading right. How much effort could it be to have a logic in place that says, “If the horse is choosing between two paths automatically, choose the one with the white dots on it?”
All that stuff gets in the way of what I want to do: talk with your fascinating characters, fight the bad monsters, do Fantasy CSI investigations. Instead, I’m scrolling AGAIN through thirty craft entries to find the hummingbird-needing armor.
That’s not as fun as you think it is.
Terminator: Genisys is, I think, the first fully-blown fan fiction effort to make it to the big screen. It feels like some of those fanfic epics I’ve seen: taking unanswered questions from the backstory and going, “What would happen if the timelines we knew were all screwed up?”
The problem is, Genisys makes the same error as a lot of bad fanfic. Which is to say there’s a very subtle – but very major – difference when someone’s watching because they want to see what what the author does next, and someone watching to see what the characters do next.
Hint: Watching to see what the author does next is inherently less interesting.
Terminator: Genisys is soaked in Terminator backstory – in fact, several of the “previous timeline” scenes are literal shot-for-shot remakes of the original film with new actors, at least until we encounter the point where Timelines Diverge. And the way the timelines get bollixed is very clever, and if you’re hyper-familiar with the Terminator franchise as I am then you’ll be like “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.”
The problem is, there’s so much baggage associated with “Okay, if you’re not familiar with what happened, let’s tell you about how this all went down.” So Genisys is bogged with a ton of exposition, with characters explaining stuff to each other instead of interacting with each other. They have scenes that look, to an untrained eye, like two characters interacting, but in truth what Kyle Reese is doing is telling Sarah Connor a story about how awesome John Connor is. Or Sarah is telling Kyle about how the Terminator first visited her.
The reason it’s subtly wrong is because yes, in the first movie, Kyle tells Sarah about John Connor. But in that case, it’s not because John Connor is important – it’s because Kyle is trying to share his motivations for being here, and in this sense the revelation is a form of intimacy they’re finally sharing with each other. The backstory is merely a clever way of doing two things in one scene. He’s concerned for Sarah Connor right now, because he loves her, and is terrified for her, and wants her to understand him so he’ll trust her.
Whereas in Genisys, the priorities are strictly reversed: Kyle is telling Sarah because we need to know how awesome John Connor is, and how awesome this future is, and here’s all the backstory we’ll lose if this timeline goes wrong. Oh, yeah, and, uh, I guess we like each other too. The priority’s not about forging an emotional connection with Sarah Connor, it’s about attempting to forge an emotional reaction with this amazing backstory we’re trying to preserve.
As such, Terminator Genisys blithely assumes we care about Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese before we’ve really gotten to know them – which is an error that fanfics often make. (Which doesn’t make those bad fanfics, as the glory of fan fiction is that you can enjoy the fuck out of them when you know all about Harry and Hermione and just want to see what happens next – but it renders those fanfics far less emotionally compelling than the original fiction, because it uses the original work as a crutch instead of a platform. Put another way, it doesn’t make them bad fanfics but it limits them to being fanfics, in much the same way that X-Men comic books are often restricted to being good X-Men stories, moving only to those thoroughly steeped in X-Men knowledge.)
So what you have in Genisys is a series of very interesting plotlines in search of a connection with character. And this is where Genisys makes its second mistake:
The villain holds back. A lot.
In the first two Terminator films, the good ones, there was zero mercy. That’s what made them so compelling. If you were in the room with a Terminator, it would try to kill you, and would succeed if you didn’t get the fuck out quickly. If it could kill you with a gunshot, it would take the shot. If it could sneak up on you and stab you when you weren’t looking, it would destroy you.
The first Terminator we meet in the new timeline bobbles its shot by announcing its presence to Kyle Reese before killing him. Of course Kyle Reese gets away instead of being silently knifed in an alley.
The big villain has the heroes alone in a room, with them completely at its mercy, and instead chats merrily with them.
The big villain knows the heroes are arriving to stop him, and instead of getting on the roof and sniping them he obligingly walks into his Big Villain Lair and prepares his monologue, which he will deliver before taking his first shot.
The reason the first two Terminator movies worked so well is because the Terminators did not give a fuck about the plotline. They had one goal: to kill. Whereas Genisys’s Terminators seem very invested in keeping the characters we love alive, attacking the least vulnerable ones first to give them a shot, and that “Let’s make this interesting” undercuts the whole film. The seams are showing; you can almost watch the marionette strings yanking upwards, pulling the bad guys’ gun-hands up so they fire over the heads of these characters the plot so desperately needs preserving.
Which is not to say that Genisys is a bad film! It is, as noted, fanfic. I loved the twists it put on standard Terminator mythology. The action sequences are enthralling. The SFX are a lot of fun, and the timeline hijinks are interesting. It’s well worth a watch.
But during the whole movie, I didn’t think, “Oh, Kyle and Sarah are in trouble.” I thought “Oh, wow, that’s a neat twist, how will that be resolved?” And as such, the portion of my brain that solved logic puzzles clicked on, instead of the tiny lizard-brain that goes, “I LOVE THESE PEOPLE AND SOMEONE IS GOING TO HURT THEM OH GOD PLEASE SOMEONE HELP THEM.”
Terminator Genisys is, as noted, pretty entertaining. But I wish they’d been less respectful to the franchise’s history and more respectful of the franchise’s plot mechanisms. Because what we have here is a very lovely world someone has created, one with characters they needed to tell A Sweeping Story Of The Multiverse, and instead this might have been an A-plus film if they’d forgotten about the damned multiverse and concentrated on the story of two people trying to survive.
When Caitlyn Jenner came out as trans, I heard some of my trans friends complaining: Why her? Why did she get to be the face of trans women in America, when there were so many trans activists who’d devoted their life towards working for trans acceptance? Hell, Caitlyn hadn’t been notably political in any way before this, being a reality show TV star for one of the most fatuous and narcissistic celebrity families. And even now, there’s no guarantee she’ll work to further trans issues beyond the simple fact of her being a trans person. (Though we can hope she does.)
Why was she the one who sparked conversation instead of the many activists who’d given their lives for the cause?
Yet if I had been asked to predict who would become the most famous trans person in the world – and to be honest, I wouldn’t have guessed that trans issues would have catapulted into the limelight in my lifetime – then my answer would have been, “Someone who got famous another way, then came out as trans.”
Because most humans need to know someone before they sympathize with their plight.
You see that all the time, that prioritizing personal experience over reading knowledge. It’s a sad fact of black peoples’ lives that when they acquire a white friend, that white friend (if they’re inexperienced) will ask all the usual dumb questions about “Do you tan?” and “How does your hair work?” instead of looking it up from the thousands of freely-available sources.
For better or for worse, humans connect with other humans, not reference materials. (Which is not necessarily a bad thing – folks are all like “I WISH THEY’D LOOK THIS SHIT UP,” but I think they’d change their tune if these people got their information on the black experience by reading Fox News. The fact is, reference materials can be riotously wrong or skewed, and most people learn where to read about things by asking their fellow humans where to start – and that allows you to point them in the right direction, as exhausting as that is.)
And you know what sucks further? For a lot of people, knowing someone who identifies as trans when they first meet means that they can shunt them aside and go, “What a freak, wow, let’s keep this schmuck at arm’s length.” And their shields go up, and they just go, “Well, that person’s trying to cause trouble.”
The reason Caitlyn Jenner is the connecting point for folks is because they’ve known Bruce for years on some level – either as a famous athlete or a reality show star – and have already sympathized with him for years. And when she came out, they went, “Wow, someone I know is going through this, and I know they wouldn’t do this just to cause a fuss, so… why? Why the hell are they doing this?”
And they start asking the right questions. Enlightenment may arise.
You see that in the coming-out stories of gays – that’s why coming out is so powerful. A lot of the uneducated gay opinion is “THESE FREAKS ARE JUST DOING IT TO CAUSE TROUBLE” – a cry you still hear from a lot of the anti-gay-marriage crowd. But over the years, thanks to people literally risking their goddamned lives (and, in some cases, losing them) to come out to family and friends, straight people came to realize that these beloved, level-headed friends of theirs could be gay, and they weren’t just doing this for the fabulous social benefits of pissing off mom and dad.
(Which leads to the equally wrong-headed argument that “Being gay is not a choice!”, which I despise, because if someone wants to put a penis in their mouth, and the owner of the penis is both willing and able to consent, then it shouldn’t matter what their motivations are. But that’s another rant I’ve made before.)
Anyway, the point is that you can have thousands of books written on “the trans experience” and “the gay experience” and none of those stacks of books will be as potent as one person sneaking under the radar to go, “Hey, you respected me before, and now I am also this.”
Caitlyn Jenner is the face of trans acceptance because she flew under people’s prejudices, and now that she’s wedged deep people have to reexamine their attitudes. Sadly, someone who became famous as being trans could never do that. Which sucks, but hey.
You know what sucks more?
Black people are never gonna do that.
My sneaking suspicion is that gay equality is gonna shoot right the fuck past black equality in a decade or two, because gay people come from all angles, and some gay-bashing idiot is always going to be dealing with a cousin or a best friend who comes out, and that attitude will soften.
But too many white people have this shield in place when they see black people protesting – the same shield they see when they see gays, and trans, and other minorities protesting – that goes, “Wow, these people are just looking to cause trouble, aren’t they?” And unfortunately, there’s almost no way for black people to win here – with the exception of maybe very light-skinned black people, there’s no way of forcing folks to question their assumptions about how black people work.
The bright spot, however, is that on Twitter, it’s easier than ever for people to have black friends. I do – my social group is largely homogenously Caucasian in real life, but online it’s a lot more varied, which is part of the reason I care more about this stuff. It affects people I love. And right now, there’s a hot cluster of “Black Twitter” where black social media interacts and amplifies, catapulting ignored stories like Ferguson into the mainstream, which I think will help over time.
Still. I think it’s gonna be a lot slower. And I think it sucks that there have been trans people working their asses off, some who died to further the cause, and a reality show TV star blossoms into the face of the trans lifestyle.
Yet this isn’t bashing Caitlyn Jenner: I’m glad she’s finally happy, and I’m glad she’s subverting paradigms and changing attitudes. And I’m not bashing humanity, either: given how different this massive world we’ve created is from the small social environments we were evolved to live in, I’m shocked at how well we’re adapting.
But you gotta know how to hack the system. And “the system” is, sadly, that the more you can leverage people’s personal vouchsafing for you to change their attitudes on the lifestyles you lead, the better it goes. It’s why I came out as polyamorous, which I gotta tell you, is not at all always comfortable.
Yet “coming out” is one of the most effective ways to change people’s takes on things, and though you are not obligated to be anyone’s teachable moment in any way, we should never forget that yeah, the teachable moment is a frighteningly potent tool to circumvent the biases of evolved monkey brains.
Thanks to everyone who volunteered various ways a young kid could get involved in sports. After a lot of thought, I’ve decided that a Youth Soccer League will be what this teenager-who-is-secretly-a-monster gets involved with, because that’s a casual sport that kids play together where the parents watch.
I talked to my good friend Raven, who lives in Kentucky, and she clued me into the Morehead Youth Soccer League, and how it operates – how they meet at the local Wendy’s, the paperwork involved, how the kids play together.
“Thanks!” I said. “I’m sorry Morehead is gonna get wrecked.”
Because you know, if you give me all of this fine information on your town, I’m just gonna use it to have a hideous monster lose control and everyone in Morehead meeting awful demises. This is what it means to have a writer for a friend.
Fortunately, she’s kind of excited at the idea of her hometown getting annihilated. Because that’s the kinds of friends a writer picks up.