“You Can’t Hate A Villain Who Doesn’t Make You Question Your Life”

So my wife and I saw the Green Lantern movie in the theater.

The big twist was that the film ended when we weren’t expecting it to.

Which is to say that a final battle in an action movie should, ideally, bring in all the lessons that the protagonist has learned over the course of the story.  They’ve learned from their mistakes, they’re motivated more because the things they love are more in danger than they’ve ever been, and the villain’s philosophy is no longer compelling.

And Green Lantern had a big, knock-down battle that both Gini and I went, “Oh, this is the fight where Hal Jordan loses, and realizes why his strategy isn’t working, and limps away to come ba – oh, no, wait, the credits are rolling.”

Because a good story has a climax.  It’s a series of events that are amplitudes, slow shakes that build upon each other to create an earthquake.  That fight is not a fight – it’s the hero’s new mindset, weaponized.

Bad stories end with a fight.

And I’m thinking of that because I finished Watch Dogs 2 last night, which is an entertaining game and a terrible goddamned story.  Watch Dogs 2 features HIP MILLENNIAL JUSTICE HACKERS who make zany movie references and HACK FOR FREEDOM and wear millennial outfits.  They’re like a Saturday morning cartoon version of Anonymous.

The storyline is complete garbage because the story writers and the game play designers apparently lived on separate continents and never spoke to each other.  Watch Dogs 2’s story would have you believe that DedSec, the Millennial Champions Of Fair Play, are deeply concerned with the lives of Joe Average Sheeple, hacking into political servers not because they want to get rich, but because they are in search of Truth and Freedom.

Watch Dogs’ game has you carjacking random civilians before running them over in the street.

In fact, there’s one mission where some bad hacker outrages the noble compatriots of DedSec because he is – gasp – feeding the wrong addresses to SWAT teams and sending them crashing through the door of innocent civilians!  They take him down in the most humiliating way possible, because DedSec are heroes, and oh wait one of the standard powers you have at your disposal is literally pressing R1 to tag some poor random bastard as a false SWAT target and watching the cops Rodney King the fuck out of him.

Whoops.

So the game is a seesaw of characters protesting very loudly that they are good guys before beating up hookers and stealing their money.

But I beat the game last night, and I was like, “Wait, that’s the end?”  The only reason I wasn’t surprised by the end credits was because the game had, helpfully, thrown up a warning saying “HEY THIS MISSION IS THE FINAL MISSION U OKAY BRO?”

And again, Watch Dogs 2 had a fight, but not an emotional moment of catharsis.  The missions were not lessons in which the characters learned anything – they were excuses for DedSec to release a propaganda video decrying Modern Evils like hacked voting machines or the militarization of the police force.

People died, and it seemed random, because our hero Marcus didn’t learn anything from the death aside from “I want revenge upon the gang members who killed him for no good reason, and here’s a mission where I drop bombs on this person’s killers.”

A good action climax involves the character making hard decisions that affect their outcome.  Maybe they’re crawling through duct vents to save innocent civilians when the cops are doing their best to betray them.  Maybe they’re fighting computerized agents and they need to learn the certainty that love gives them before they can unleash their full power.   Maybe they’re a dark knight protecting their city, and they need to become comfortable becoming the scapegoat so their city can keep running.

There’s a philosophy driving that final fight.  It’s not just people punching each other – it’s the hero learning something they didn’t know before, and synthesizing that knowledge to help them win.  Sometimes, in the case of Die Hard, it’s a question of finding a new faith in that philosophy – or in the case of the Matrix, it’s discovering what a new philosophy gives you.

Or you have Watch Dogs, where the characters don’t learn because the writers have given them no challenge to their philosophy.  As a writer, DedSec should be an easy challenge – okay, these hackers believe in freedom at all costs, so much so that they’re all casually willing to die for it.  What happens when they stumble upon information that’s genuinely better kept secret?  Or what happens when, as actually happens during the game if not the story, they’re so certain of their morality that they become the evil they’re fighting?

None of that happened in Watch Dogs.  There was a lot of philosophy tossed about, but nothing about what the heroes believed was ever challenged.  Every threat DedSec faced was a straw man, so laughably evil that there was never a question that they might have a point.  DedSec never doubted their goals – they just doubted they could pull them off, which is very different than “Should I be doing this?”  Even when they died, it was like, “Welp, that person was devoted to the cause, pour a bottle, move on.”

So the end game was a surprise.  There was no buildup.  There could be no buildup. There was nothing to build up to, aside from endless setpieces and action montages.

You can’t hate a villain who doesn’t make you question your life.

And if you don’t hate the villain, doesn’t matter how big the final battle is, it’s just going to be a big ol’ “Oh, he’s gone?” before the end credits roll.  Just like Watch Dogs.  Just like Green Lantern.

Just like a hundred other stories you’ve already forgotten.  And if you’re a writer, “being forgotten” is always your real enemy.

The Distracting Sub-Argument, Or: How Not To Fuck Up Your Comments

What I thought I had written was an essay on how it’s okay to like different things than I do. What I’d actually written was a plea for everyone to debate the merits of Internet poetry.

Because in my essay, as an example of Things I Disliked That Other People Loved, I discussed
how
I didn’t think that
putting random
linebreaks
into an essay
made it poetry, man.

And I specifically said that it was cool that other people loved that style of poetry.  I told people in the essay that the point was that even though I didn’t like that poetry, it was great that other people did.

Yet my comments
section
became a huge
(blazing)
fight
on whether that sorta poetry
was cool, man.

The problem was that I’d used an example that was more controversial than the point I’d intended to make.  I could tell people all I liked that “Hey, this essay’s about freedom of choice” – but what their eyes focused on was “Ferrett raises the question on What Constitutes Good Poetry.”

Because honestly, that minor point about poetry was both more interesting and more debatable than the point I was trying to make.

Welcome to the Distracting Sub-Argument.  You didn’t mean for that brief aside you made to become your whole point  – but by introducing something more contentious than the point you were trying to make, that’s all that anyone will take away from your essay.

Which happens all the time in politics.  You’ll see someone, say, debating the merits of sex work, and they’ll say something like:

“I agree that sex work should be legal.  These poor women who have no better options should be protected.”

What that person meant to say was, “I am for sex work” – but they just also called every sex worker a) female, b) poverty-stricken, and implied that sex workers were c) so damaged someone had to look out for them.

As much as the author of that comment would like people to walk away going, “Wow, that person is for legalizing sex work!” they are instead going to have people debating the far more contentious point they didn’t actually mean to raise.

 

The problem with the Distracting Sub-Argument is that quite often it pops up as something you naturally assumed to be true, and didn’t realize it was debate-worthy – so you didn’t back it up with other arguments.  And then people will take umbrage at this controversial point you didn’t even realize was controversial – and the irony is, if you’d taken a moment to make your positions clear on the topic, most people would have agreed with you.

You see that in consent essays a lot.  People will have these heartfelt write-ups on Why No Should Mean No, and in the middle of it they’ll casually toss off some statement like “And you’re not obligated to tell anyone if they violated your consent” without backing it up.  And the entire comments section becomes people dragging that idea – “HOW CAN YOU EXPECT US TO LEARN IF YOU NEVER TELL US WHAT WE DID!”

Whereas if, instead, you’d put in a slightly better-defended subargument in, people would have gone “All right” and argued the topic you’d wanted them to argue.  If they’d said, something like, “Given that predators can often be abusive, and will actively work to get the community to shun you once you let them know you’re onto them, you’re not obligated to tell the person who violated your consent what happened” –

– well, there’d still be debate, but the Distracting Sub-Argument wouldn’t obscure the main point you were trying to make.

And it happens all the time.  I wrote a heartfelt essay on how “Be Yourself” isn’t necessarily the best advice for people, and what too many people took away was the inadvertent question of “Should teenaged Ferrett have paid more attention to his personal hygiene?”   I wrote an essay wondering whether sex is easier for men to get than people traditionally think it is, and what lots of people came away with is the question of “Is Ferrett shaming guys who can’t get laid?”

That’s not necessarily the fault of the audience.  If I hadn’t inadvertently introduced a more compelling sub-argument, folks would have had a better chance of getting the message I’d hoped to broadcast.

Learning that difference between what you’d intended to write, and what you actually wrote, is a survival skill for anyone writing on the Internet.  You should understand what parts of your essay and/or comment are going to be of the most interest to people – and if the most intriguing portion you’ve written isn’t your main point, then a) choose a less-distracting example or b) flesh out your sub-argument so it’s not standing alone with no logic to defend it.

Otherwise,
you’re just
starting
bad poetry debates

And no one
likes
that kind of
poetry,
man.

NOBODY.

 

 

My Weird Relationship With Pain

Six years ago, I went to a Rise Against concert and flung myself bodily into the mosh pit.  I was sweaty, beaten, and in pain.

What I didn’t know was that my appendix had burst.

How could I?  My body processes pain differently than most people, apparently.  I walked around with a belly ache for two more days before finally hauling myself to the doctor’s on Monday.  When he asked me what my pain level was, I infamously said, “Four, maybe five out of ten.”

“You should have been screaming,” he later told me.  Because sure enough, my body was flooded with poison, and though I didn’t know it at the time, I had only a 40% chance to live.

Whoops.

So about two years after that, when I was laying in bed on a sleepy Saturday morning, turning over because I had some chest discomfort that kept waking me from a thin rest, I stopped.  “This is a one out of ten,” I thought.  “Maybe a two.  But the last time I had a five, it nearly killed me, so maybe I should go the ER.”  And I got my daughter up, and griped that I was wasting $2,000 on some stupid ER visit but better to safe than sorry, and….

99% clogged in three arteries, including one known as “the Widowmaker.”  They cracked open my chest, gave me an emergency triple-bypass.

And it’s not like I’m insensate.   If I stub my toe, I will shout profanities to the high heavens.  When I got stung by bees back when we had a beehive, it hurt.  I just seem to have some upper limit to pain wherein literally life-threatening amounts of pain do not register.

So when I was in the cardiologist’s office yesterday after I failed my nuclear stress test – which is a totally badass name of a thing to fail – he asked, “Have you had any chest pains?”

Yes.  All along.

But I don’t know what they mean.

Because after you are diagnosed with a potentially-fatal heart condition, you feel chest pains all the time.  Because you are super-focused on that area that could, you know, kill you, and so any gas pains or random aches suddenly become this billboard-sized panic of “IS THIS THE END.”  I’ve talked with other heart patients, and it’s funny how many random twinges we all ignore right up until the time you can’t.

“Have you had any chest pains?”  And I don’t know how to answer that.  Yes.  No.  The last time I had chest pains they put me on a Holter monitor for three weeks where I wore EKG electrodes day and night, carrying around an electronic pack that registered by every heartbeat, and they found nothing even when I specifically said, “Yes, this hurts.”  On the other hand, I’ve specifically been in at least two situations where my pain should have been broadcasting “YOU ARE DYING, YOU ARE DYING,” and, welp, dying apparently wasn’t that bad.

So what do I tell him?

How do I know?

I literally have a body that doesn’t know what’s dangerous, and unfortunately there’s no easy way of calibrating it.  I’m going into the hospital next Tuesday where they’ll slither a tube up my arteries and literally poke into my heart like a tapeworm to see what’s going on, because I am incapable of self-diagnostics on any meaningful scale.

And that’s a low-grade fear I can’t get rid of.  Any time I feel any pain, I have to wonder, “Is this just your normal forty-year-old dude ache, or is this a harbinger of my impending demise?”  And that constant surveillance is exhausting.

Yet I don’t have a choice.  And maybe it’s better than the alternative; I mean, I didn’t want to be screaming in pain when my appendix burst.  But maybe I’d have had a lot nicer surgery if I had more finely-attuned sensors than these blunt-force nerves I had at my disposal.

As it is, I’m going in Tuesday to have them check out my heart.  Maybe it’s bad.  Maybe it’s not.

I have no way of knowing.

(Incidentally, here’s another thing that’ll kill me: repealing the ACA without a valid replacement for risky patients like me.  There’s no way I can actually afford the treatments I’ll need, and the preliminary rumblings from Republican Senators imply that the new laws might actually be more lenient in who they allow to be kicked off a plan – yes, even if I am gainfully employed – so calling your Senator to tell ’em the ACA should be retained, or at least the replacement should cover unlucky schmucks like me, is critical.  I wrote up an easy how-to manual to do it here.  You’d be doing me a solid if you did call.

(And no, plugging for the ACA {or at least a reasonable replacement} is not why I wrote this, but it’s sort of impossible in this day and age to write about my critical health conditions without pondering whether I’m, you know, going to be able to get coverage I can afford.)

 

Sometimes You Don’t Need Therapy, You Need Distance.

If you thought my wife and I couldn’t get into a fight about which TV show to watch next – for the record, “Star Wars: Rebels” vs “Mythbusters Search” – well, you’d be wrong.

Stupidly, we fought because we thought the other person cared more. I wasn’t really in the mood for Rebels, but I didn’t feel like making a fuss if that’s what the family wanted. But Gini, sensing my reluctance, immediately concluded that seeing Mythbusters was the height of my desire, and so we wound up in a brief shouting match of both of us screaming that THIS WASN’T FUCKING IMPORTANT TO US.

Dumber fights have been had. But not by much.

And I was really wrecked by this three-minute fight. I was con-dropped from being “on” all weekend for ConFusion, and I had my doctor’s appointment tomorrow (now today) to determine when I’d be going in for a heart catheterization, and when it was done I just slouched my way downstairs and fulminated. I felt awful, and sullen, and drained.

Thank God it wasn’t anyone’s fault.

Look, I’ve seen too many people who have to assign blame for every clash. Someone had to have screwed up to make me feel this bad – and that screw-up has to be addressed, now.

But no. Gini was coming down with the flu, and also peopled out from having presided over a wedding that weekend, and so she was as exhausted as I was. This wasn’t something that needed to be fixed, or apologized for – we were both punchy, communicating poorly, and we’d inadvertently smacked each other around in, ironically, an attempt to be courteous to each other.

Sometimes, you have fights because neither of you are in a good headspace. That’s not to excuse the hurt, of course – but I recognized that my wife was trying her best and failing for reasons that had little to do with her normal communication patterns, everything to do with the fact that I was more sensitive because my batteries were redlined, and this wasn’t A Problem To Be Fixed but A Bad Day We’d Rather Not Have Had.

Some days, if you’re in a good relationship, you write this off as a Mistakes Were Made, and retreat to your separate corners, and come back again when you’ve gotten over yourself.

That’s less satisfying, particularly to those of us who grew up going to therapists. You’re taught that you should come away from a fight with some sense of advancement, that you’ve learned something from this, that you’re smarter and braver and wiser for the conflict. You’re trained to sharpen your communicating skills so that you won’t have the same fights over and over again…

But the truth is, no matter how good you have become at honing your discussion skills, some days you’re just not up to the task. Even the best hairstylist has a bad hair day.

On those days, you can tear yourself to pieces trying to improve the situation, or you can just accept that today’s a write-off, hug it out, and hope you feel better tomorrow.

We hugged it out.

It’s tomorrow.

Let’s hope this day works better.

Dear FetLife (And Other Kinky People): You Don’t Have The Luxury Of Being Apolitical Anymore.

New rule: if you have spent more time complaining about FetLife’s new bans on FetLife than you have spent time complaining to your politicians, you probably deserve to lose access to FetLife.

And you might.

If you haven’t been paying attention, FetLife founder John Baku has explained why he’s going to have to ban a host of  topics on FetLife – including non-consensual consent, hypnosis, raceplay, incest, and anything involving drugs and alcohol. Hint: It’s not because he wants to.

It’s because political issues and lawsuits are in very serious danger of shutting FetLife down.

And I hear people saying “Well, we’ll just go somewhere else!” – not realizing that there are whole swathes of society that are out to shut down kink everywhere. If you don’t fight for FetLife now, whatever kinky website you go to will be closed down next, or will be so overlookable that nobody else will be be there. (Mainly because PayPal and credit card companies are ensuring that porn and porn providers cannot get paid. No money for webservers == no internet porn for you.)

And that may not be just FetLife. It may also apply to those happy local kink clubs you’ve watched grow over the last decade or so. People wanna shut them down, and unfortunately, those people are in power. Read @Zetsu’s discussion on how Trump’s Attorney General’s #1 priority is stamping out porn. Read @NCD’s post on what happened to porn providers during the Reagan years. This isn’t just in America – England’s pondering new laws, Germany is, all around the world the tide is turning.

Look. A lot of you – perhaps the majority – have said, “I don’t wanna talk about boring old politics! I go to kinky websites to get away from all that crap.”

And that might have passed in years where politicians weren’t necessarily in favor of kinky shit happening, but at least they weren’t actively out to shut it down.

Unfortunately for you, everything you do is a political act, whether you realize it or not. You may have thought that swooning over The Wolf’s erotic adventures was a nonpolitical act, but unfortunately helping to popularize the guy is putting FetLife in the sight of lawsuits now that he’s been arrested for rape. You may have thought that jerking off to hot porn was a nonpolitical act, but that porn involves the dynamics of who gets paid to make it, and how, and whether they’re in danger of getting thrown in jail. (Even if it’s written porn.)

Everything you do is a political act. Even if you choose not to participate in politics, your non-participation is a big rubber stamp to the Powers That Be that says, “Yes, please, keep doing that.”

Which, as noted, might have flown in an age kinder to kink. But the pendulum is swinging back – not just in America, but all over the globe – and now your abstaining vote is saying, “Yes, please, keep working to eradicate kink.”

…and possibly eradicate your job, should you choose to keep participating in kink. The legal protections for kinky people will dry up unless we speak up.

Look. This isn’t a conservatives vs liberals sort of thing. If you’re a conservative, please remember that you don’t have to vote in lockstep with your party line, just as I’ve complained about Obama’s heavy usage of drone strikes. We’re actually all in this together, because frankly, the one thing we have in common is this kinkiness that we know, and love.

You can call your Senators and your local government to tell them what you want, and what you don’t want. (As I noted in my post on calling to save the Affordable Health Care act, “calling your local official” is the one thing they really can’t ignore.) You can, as John Baku has suggested, to support the National Coalition For Sexual Freedom by visiting their site and possibly donating your time and/or money and/or both.

But unfortunately, kink is now fighting a rearguard position. (I hope that’s your kink.) And your previous position of “I just want to see my porn and not think about all this stuff” means you’re not going to see nearly as much porn as you did before.

That’s not a hypothesis. That’s already happened. Look at the list of everything John Baku is going to have to take down from this FetLife in order to keep it functioning.

That list of things you can watch is going to shrink more unless you speak up.

So I Have More Heart Problems. Here’s What You Need To Know.

Four years ago this weekend, I went in for triple-bypass surgery to fix three clogged arteries. I wrote one final entry in my blog, “How I Pray To God” – which I wrote as though it were the last thing I might ever get to say – and then the doctors put me under.

The recovery from the triple-bypass was bad. Very bad. Life-changingly bad. I’ve not been officially diagnosed, but I do have some form of flashbacks and emotional trauma whenever someone goes through heart problems.

Last week, I went in for my four-year checkup – a radiation stress test on the treadmill.

Which I failed.

The stress test showed two arteries with partial blockage. Which… might or not be a problem. If I have a problem, the perfusion stress test is literally the most efficient tool at seeking it out – it’s 92% likely to pick up any serious issues.

Unfortunately, if you don’t have a serious issue, the test has a 30% chance of delivering a false positive.

What’s happening next is that I have to go in for a catheterization where they run a tube up the artery in my leg to look directly at my heart. If it’s a false positive (as my doctor believes), then we laugh and say “Well, weren’t you lucky!” If not, they put in stents to wedge my arteries open, which is a minor procedure and can be done outpatient (but they prefer an overnight stay).

Worse, the doctor who does these catheterizations is on vacation for two weeks, and so I have to wait to make an appointment at his office to make a reservation at the hospital to do all this, which means probably a month minimum of stress and concern.

The doctor calls this “minor course corrections.” Clearly, he’s okay waiting two weeks to do anything; I’ve seen the pictures of my arteries and yeah, it looks really minor.

But it also has a feeling of inevitability. I’ve been exercising more, eating better, trying my best to keep myself healthy, and it’s still back. This feels very much like creeping death – my first blockage was largely the result of a genetic disorder that floods my system with small-particle cholesterol, and at the age of 47 I’m feeling very very mortal. I’m genuinely wondering if I’ll make it to 50, which is a shitty overreaction because this is probably fine, but damn, what happened to me during the bypass seriously fucked me up.

And I think of Hamilton:

*Why do you write like you’re running out of time?*

I am. I very much am. Even if I’m healthy, I am. I hear the clock tick with each heart beat, knowing that each one is no longer guaranteed. And I should be telling more friends directly, but honestly, I can barely bring myself to text about this, so if you’re hearing about this indirectly it’s not that I don’t love you it’s that, well, this is about the bets I can do right now.

And I think of that final post I made; the one where I thought I was going to die. It’s still a good post. If I do die, well, remember me for that.

In the meantime, I am most likely going to be fine, even if I have to get stents. “Course correction,” the doctor says. And it is.

Yet when you’re sitting in a darkened bedroom, trying to get to sleep, and all you can hear is the erratic rhythm of your heart, wondering whether each pulse will be your last – or whether you’ll wind back in the powerless hell of the ventilator – it’s hard to see the good in life.

The joy will come back. It generally does. But for right now, I’m going to curl up into a ball and recover as best I can.

Message ends.

Today’s Martin Luther King Day.

Everyone always quotes the “I Have A Dream” speech, which is of course magnificent. But I always prefer the deeper tracks from “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” – particularly this quote, which still resonates today:

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

“I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”