Say Yes To The Stress

In relationships, you can have identical actions that generate vastly different consequences. Kind of like watching “Say Yes To The Dress.”

Which is to say that my wife adores watching fluffy wedding shows where the bride tries on a zillion froofy outfits, parading this latest dress in front of her family, before finally settling tearfully on the perfect dress.

The bride flutters her hands in front of her face. Tears mean that this is the perfect dress. Gini tears up, too.

And sometimes, when Gini is having a bad day, she needs to curl up and watch a “Say Yes To The Dress” marathon.

We have one big television, so if she watches it, then I can’t spend my Saturday ferociously trying to beat the new Dragon Age game on the Xbox. And me, I need my videogames to blow off steam. Not destroying the Darkspawn will leave me stressed and unhappy.

Yet I recognize watching silly wedding shows makes Gini happy, and as such it’s a worthy thing to do. And so I’ll find something else to do on my laptop while Gini watches her dress shows.

Yet if I gritted my teeth the whole time, going, “I fucking hate this show, one day she’ll stop needing these stupid gown-parades, and until then she fucking owes me for putting me through this,” well, we’d have the exact same situation – me, watching “Say Yes To The Dress” with her – but the consequences and fallout would be profoundly different.

Which is to say that I occasionally get emails like, “Hey, I’m polyamorous, but I want my monogamous partner to be happy. Will this work?”

And the answer is that yes, they can – as long as they approach your polyamory as though it’s a choice they actively make in order to make you happy, and not some grudging sacrifice they make where there are secretly bills piling up, underlaid with the unstated assumption that this is a phase you’ll grow out of.

The two situations can look very similar – the monogamous partner staying at home, nervously passing time while you go out on a date – but one situation is going to implode eventually, whereas the other won’t.

And it’s okay that sometimes, you’re going to be uncomfortable in this relationship. Because the truth is, almost every partnership involves you stretching in some uncomfortable ways to accommodate your other partner’s needs. When our goddaughter Rebecca died, Gini dealt with her grief by withdrawing and silence, I dealt with it by needing hugs and attention. We both sacrificed our needs temporarily, switching off between me leaving Gini alone when my body screamed for hugs, and Gini cuddling me when her body screamed for isolation.

But we never resented. Because during those moments, we actively said, “Yes, this is outside our comfort zone, yet I love them enough to stretch beyond what I’m comfortable with.”

It’s possible that I could have left Gini alone for a day, yet silently seethed with frustration that she was being so unreasonable, wondering why the hell she couldn’t just get over this. The result would have looked the same, but eventually the resentments would have exploded into arguments.

But I chose willingly. Not because it would enable us to stay together, but because it would make her happy.

The root motivation makes all the difference.

So if you’re trying to decide how to make something work out, whether it’s a new partner or a switch to poly or a downshift from heavy BDSM adventures to more “vanilla” sex or any of the thousands of differences that can divide two people, a common mistake is to just get them to do the actions. Too many negotiations hinge upon Doing The Thing – but it’s not enough for them to just sit there passively, resenting the compromise, quietly blaming you for this fault.

They need to say yes to the dress.

Why Attack of the Clones Sucked

On Monday night, we celebrated by playing Star Wars trivia at our local nerd bar.  So on Tuesday, I posted this to Twitter:

The response was as though millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.

Yet the weird thing is that The Phantom Menace is bad, but it’s weirdly bad, uniquely bad, the Rebecca Black’s “Friday” of bad, where yes it’s a terrible movie and yet there’s just enough good remaining in it to stick with you.  The visuals are often amazing: Princess Amidala’s outfits are beautifully improbable, the Gungan City is still a breathtakingly interesting, and the final lightsaber battle is still a physical feat of amazing stuntwork.

Attack of the Clones, however?  I’d forgotten whole swathes of it.  TPM sticks because it’s got so many unique elements, but Attack of the Clones slides out of you like yesterday’s bad burrito.

The weird thing about Attack is how Lucas forgot the number-one lesson about being a writer: a story is about growth.  Emotionally speaking we have to go from A to Z in our stories, and the ending of the prequels is known, Khaleesi.  We know Anakin will become Vader.  We know Obi-Wan eventually has to cap his ass.

So it is completely inexplicable that Attack of the Clones starts with Obi-Wan and Anakin sniping at each other.

They’re not friends, to start – they’re snappish, clearly separated already, and though Anakin recites some dialogue about “Obi-Wan is like a father to me,” there’s none of the camaraderie that we had between, say, Han and Luke.  They scowl at each other, Obi-Wan berating Anakin to oh, don’t go there, Anakin reminding Obi-Wan peevishly that he’s really good at the force, and…

Where’s the evolution?

We start off by seeing two people who don’t get along.  And then the plot makes it so that Anakin and Obi-Wan are instantly separated, and spend the next two hours on separate plot arcs, not even thinking about each other.

So there will be no surprise in the Star Wars series.  They started off fighting, and they end up fighting, and how do you get any emotional revelation from that?  If we’d seen them as really good buddies, the best of friends, two experienced men who trusted each other implicitly despite their differences, then this could have been heartbreaking. But no.  Lucas bobbles that.

He bobbles the relationship, too, where Anakin is instantly stalkerish to Amidala, and jealous, and angry, and again, we have no where to go except to wonder why the hell Amidala is attracted to this creep.  People blame Hayden Christianson’s performance, which Lord knows doesn’t help, but the dialogue is repeatedly I AM GOING TO CHOP OFF YOUR LIMBS HAH HAH ONLY KIDDING, and that’s the opposite of romance.

Like, we knew he was going to be Darth Vader. Why did Lucas forget to put in the reasons that we should be rooting for Anakin?  Was he afraid we would feel betrayed when he turned evil?  Yet what we get is clearly a nascent bad guy, and it’s hard to feel bad for him when he’s being a jerk all the time.

And Lucas forgets that we need to see people together. The scene with him and his Mom is sad, yes, but abstractly so, because Mom’s only gotten five minutes of screen time total.  The scenes with him and Obi-Wan are, as noted, almost absent after the first and last action sequence.  If you want us to understand two characters’ relationships, we need to see them working together, and it’s like Lucas went so heavy on the archetypes that he just assumed we’d be sad because Mothers Love Sons and Sons Losing Mothers is sad.

Even more bizarre: The special effects are worse, in Attack of the Clones. Watching Phantom Menace, Jar-Jar still holds up, and had TPM been a better movie I think we’d celebrate the visuals more. Attack of the Clones has Anakin riding very fake monsters, action sequences that are clearly CGI, and if you’d asked me from an SFX perspective, I would have told you that TPM was made after Attack.  It looks cheesier.

And again, Attack is weirdly bland.  I remember several scenes from TPM vividly, but Attack seems to be pasted together from other movies.  The chase scene through Coruscant is very well done, but visually it’s a sped-up Blade Runner.  The space scenes are, well, space scenes, and the white light of the clone factory looks like an Apple store, and the glorious fields of Amidala’s home retreat are generic romance covers with a bit of sci-fi mixed in.  Attack of the Clones is both stunning and redundant, and I kept looking up and going, “Oh, yeah, that’s there, too.  How did I forget?”

But it’s easy to forget.  The movie is cloned, its sources too clear, and it’s bad in the worst kind of way: the kind where you have to be prodded into remembering it exists at all.  Such a waste, when you had such a juicy storyline about friendship and betrayal and love curdled sour.

So much lost potential.


Face It, Folks, We’re Gonna Have A Republican President Come 2016.

Mind you, I don’t want a Republican President, especially given the current crop of batshit insane candidates.  The idea of Ted Cruz’s grubby hands on the economy makes me shiver, and I see absolutely no moderates anywhere in sight.

But there’s three factors that feed into my impending fear that 2016 is the Year of the Right-Wing Nut:

First off, we’ve had eight years of Democratic Presidency, and one of the weird things about America is that we can only tolerate about eight years max of one party being in charge.  Sometimes we’ll extend a strong Presidency with a Bush I, but then they’re one-term chumps before we flip right back to the other side.  Basically, you generally get about eight years of your dude in charge max and then America says, “All right, time to give the other guy a chance.”

Second, the times when someone has extended the term of power to twelve, it’s been an incumbent after a great Presidential term, going, “…what he said!”  We do not have that grace with Obama, who loves passing laws but seems oddly reticent to actually advertise what these laws actually do – as witness the electoral terror over OBAMACARE, where people are in favor of what it does when you go down it line-by-line, but thanks to Obama’s reluctance to double down and go OBAMACARE IS FRICKIN’ AWESOME HERE’S WHAT YOU GET YEAR BY YEAR BECAUSE YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S IN THIS SHIZ, you instead have Republican candidates quietly caving in to add their support for Obamacare without giving Obama any credit for it.

So we don’t have a President who mainstream America is, largely, going, “Yeah! More of that!”

(Note that I still resent Gore for fucking up the 2000 election because all he had to do was go, “Yeah, four more years of Clintonian greatness without the unfortunate roaming penis problem!” and instead he tacked hard to the right in a mangled attempt to pick up more voters, thus bobbling a should-have-been landslide into a weak dribble where he got mugged in the back alleys of Florida.  Yeah, Bush arguably stole the election, but Gore was so dumb he put himself in a position to have it stolen with a handful of hanging chads.  He should have been ahead twenty electoral votes, not hundreds of Florida retiree votes.)

And lastly, in the Democratic candidacy, we have… Hillary.  And pretty much Hillary.  Bernie Sanders has thrown his hat in the ring (I gave him $25, merely because I liked the way his donors weren’t largely banks), but I don’t think he has a chance.

I think we’re doomed because once again, I hear dim democrats tossing around the “E” word.

“Well, I’m not thrilled about Hillary, but… she’s electable.”

“Electable,” to Democrats, means, “Doesn’t have any objectionable qualities.”  And I don’t know whether this is because Democrats are so used to The Big Tent, where charmless policy wonks who offend nobody seem like a really good idea – but every time I’ve heard the shrug of “I’m not really for ’em, but they’re electable,” we have crashed and burned.

Hey, remember Kerry? He was electable. Except he wasn’t.

Hey, remember Gore? He was electable, too. Except he only started to become interesting once he gave up hope grew a beard, and started getting strident about shit.  And except he wasn’t.

Remember Dukakis? God, Dukakis. Totally electable, according to Democrats.  And wow, he wasn’t.

Obama? He wasn’t electable. He was a black guy with no experience, and he’d pissed a lot of people off by stating pretty firm opinions in his books, and I’m not sure about this guy, but – oh, hey, he won!

(Admittedly, it took the choice of Sarah Palin to get him over the hump, I admit.)

“Electable” is the Democratic curse. Every guy you slump shoulders for and go, “Meh, but… electable!” dies in a horrible electoral fire.

Stop choosing people you don’t like personally, but think will win.  You have no clue.  Hey, if you’re a die-hard Hillary fan and tout her to the heavens, great! You’re the sort of person I’m in favor of.  I want y’all going RAH RAH RAH for your person.

But I don’t hear too many of you out there.  What I hear a lot more of is that resignation of “Well, I guess she’ll do,” because why? Yeah, she’s electable. And I think in the absence of greater events, that moping “electable” gets us killed in the polls.

Who knows? Maybe Hillary will buck all these trends and win.  I think she’d be a decent President – don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about her competency, this is about her chances.  She’d be fine.  I’d be happy with her in office.

But what I suspect we’re going to get is another candidate who no one but a handful of people is super-thrilled about, but we’ll line up behind her because, well, she’s got that mysterious “electable” vibe that Democrats never seem to realize is an illusion. People don’t vote because a candidate is inoffensive; they vote because they are riled so much up for their guy, they’ll overlook their sins.

They did that for Obama, and hoo boy did he have sins. Maybe they’ll do that for Hillary- I hope! – but I suspect what the Hillary talk we’re seeing is just an admission that most of us Democrats don’t have anyone we’re really stoked about, and so we’ll give her a shot, and I think we really need someone strident and new to get people off their chairs and out to the polls.

No, I don’t know who that is, either. Because Elizabeth Warren won’t run, damn her clever eyes.

In the meantime, I’ll chip a few bucks to Bernie and see what he can stir up. God bless his unelectable little socialist heart.

Rebecca’s Gift: A New Charity I Hope You’ll Donate To.

I’m gonna tell you about a new charity, but first I have to tell you an ugly truth about kids fighting terminal illnesses:

Sometimes they die.

And when they die, sometimes the whole family goes terminal in their wake.

Which is to say that losing a child is a terrible math – you had three kids, once. Now you have two. Even answering an innocuous question like, “So how many kids do you have?” becomes an awkward thing, because by saying “Two” you’re quietly burying the memory of your dead child, but by saying “Three” you’re making things awkward in otherwise-light conversation, and Jesus how do you define your life?

Your family’s rhythm is broken.  You buy lollipops out of habit, before remembering the only person who liked lollipops is now gone.  Your kids, traumatized by having all their time scheduled in between the sick child’s treatments, now have too much free time, and the three-kid dynamic is now different and they’re not sure how to play with each other without Her in between to play peacemaker.

And all those places you used to go to heal as a family are now saturated with the wrong kinds of memories.  That ice cream shop you’d treat the kids to when they were good? Now you look at the wall, see her favorite flavor, realize she’ll never eat it again.  You want to go out with your old family friends, but sometimes they freak out at death and you actually lose support after the death, crappy as that is.

And your spouse, well, when you lose a kid it’s harder to look at the person you love.  There’s a feeling of failure saturating this household, that sense that somebody should have done something, and it’s not fair but you want to blame someone.  Maybe you blame yourself, withdraw from your spouse, self-destruct.  Maybe you blame them, snap at them, because God’s too far away to yell at and you’re exhausted from constantly fighting your kid’s disease for a year, two years, five years.

I’ve heard that the divorce rate skyrockets after you lose a child.  I believe it. Sometimes that death punches a hole in your family, and you flywheel apart because you don’t know how to redefine yourself as a unit without them.  Because you’re in your house, with a family that has to redefine itself, surrounded by all the things that used to bring you happiness but now feel like anchors to old memories.

You need to get out to somewhere new to find joy.

Rebecca’s Gift wants to help. By giving families like these a vacation.

Because when my blessed goddaughter Rebecca died, I watched the Meyers struggle – and what helped them the most to regain their footing as a family was going down to New Jersey and forming some newer and happier memories.  To remember that even in the wake of this grief, there were still good times to be had.

To go somewhere new, as a family, and explore who they were now.

And I think of poorer families, who can’t move and can’t go anywhere, and think of how Rebecca’s Gift is going to help them.

Look.  After the child dies, the official assistance often dissolves.  It’s sexy for charities to go, “This kid’s on the brink!  They might live if you chip in!  Donate now!”  But after?  All of that assistance packs up and leaves – if you’re lucky, you get a grief counsellor to spackle over the cracks – and yet there you are, with children who are ripped open from watching their sister or brother die before them, and no assistance to be found.

Grief is its own disease.  And so I ask, if you have a few bucks to spare or a platform to mention Rebecca’s Gift on, give a dollar and/or donate your retweets and reblogs.

There are surviving children, surviving parents, who might just be able to support each other if they can remember the joys of being a family again.  Rebecca’s Gift is going to do its damndest to help ensure that these families make it together. And anything you can do to lend a hand, I assure you, would be a mitzvah.

Thanks for doing what you can.


Cognitive Dissonance

I always get weirded out when someone discusses draconic behavior with the confidence of someone discussing a real animal: “Well, you know, dragons aren’t pack animals, but they do get lonely and seek comfort.”  What the fuck?  Dragons don’t exist, motherfucker!

But my friends discussing the best ways to kill a zombie, with the confidence of hardened apocalypse survivalists who’ve put a thousand walkers back in the grave? Sure, man, that’s what we do.

Remember, kids, it’s pretty fucked up to discuss unicorns like they existed. But if you wanna talk about how to avoid Cthulhu? Shit, sit in my living room and opine.

Your Life Is Not A Story, And You Will Not Get Closure.

We all know how the murder mystery ends: the clever detective corners the perp, having solved the crime, and peppers him with pointed questions until the villain cracks.

“All right, I did it!” the villain cries. “I was bad and wrong and evil, and I’ll acknowledge what a murderous scumbag I was, before even so much as a trial!”

Often, the villain fills in the details the detective missed. Because fictional villains are helpful like that.

But in real life, the cunning villain remains silent. He knows he’s got a trial coming up. There’s long years of court battles, legal tricks, friends he’ll lose if he confesses now. He’s gone to a lot of effort to plan this crime, and he’ll go to equal efforts to wriggle out of punishment for it.

In real life, the villain’s answers are less satisfying: “So?” “No, that didn’t happen.” “I want to talk to my lawyer.”

And there often never is a full understanding of what happened. The only person who could explain their rationale has all the incentive in the world to stay silent, to lie, to tell mixed truths, whatever will best muddy the waters in their favor.

All good people can do is interview people, get fragments. But the evidence never fits together like a jigsaw puzzle: it’s messy, overlapping, incomplete and contradictory.

There’s no certainty. No explanation. Just someone who probably did something awful – and you don’t even have 100% certainty on that, just a lot of evidence that points in their direction.

Yet if you’re not careful, you treat your bad breakups like they were fictional crimes, not real ones. You’ll go back to that partner who cheated on you, demanding explanations, never satisfied until they crack and acknowledge that yes, they saw themselves as evil when they were fucking you over, that they both knew and understood that they were Satan incarnate, and that they carry a deep loss and sorrow over playing the villain in your story.

Strangely, they don’t. They make excuses. They wrangle for sympathy. They feel justified in their abuse, and you will never wring the confession out of them that you need to feel whole.

But you’re not a goddamned story in a book.

You need to leave this need for closure behind.

They were jerks to you. They will probably be jerks to someone else. I’m sorry that you’re not important enough to function as the climax to their story, because that sucks, but the truth is that your requirement to be the star in everyone’s life – including your own – is a toxic thing.

Because you can waste years of your life trying to get this closure. You’ll keep going back and talking to them and getting upset because they sound so convincing when they tell you their story, and why don’t these facts neatly line up? If you’re really unlucky, you’ll fall for their bullshit all over again and get back with them, and discover that “sweet words” do not equal “righteous actions.”

Truth is, some asshole hurt you. You may never know the reasons. You may never see them punished for it. You may never hear them admit why. I’m sorry, because that random pain is deeply, deeply unsatisfying.

But you know what’s less satisfying? Wasting valuable time you could be using to make your life more awesome, and draining that by endlessly piecing together messy snippets of real life to try to shape a nice plot out of nothing.

They were jerks. And consider this: you may have even helped them be jerks to you by wanting so badly to believe in a narrative that you bought into their narrative of them-as-hero, quietly eliding the facts that didn’t fit into this glorious story of You Together, Forever. That’s not always the case, because some jerkdoms spring out of nowhere, but it’s not always not the case.

Rather than seeking a narrative structure, can you instead assemble a profile of jerky behavior, in order to avoid falling into the same trap again? We do not need to understand the origins of gravity to know that leaping into chasms will cause large amounts of harm.

Then also contemplate this: good detectives don’t need a confession to make a case. They assemble evidence, make judgements, and convict in the absence of nice bright narrative structures. And most of them still sleep well at night.

I encourage you to do the same.

“Trust Fall!”

He sags backwards, boneless, so beautifully certain you will catch him before he hits the floor. And when he falls into your arms, it feels like fate; you are strong for catching him, he is brave for trusting you completely, how could the two of you not be together?

That’s the beauty of the trust fall. Someone you love going limp, allowing the universe to brutalize them, knowing that only you will interpose yourself between them and the the skull-splintering hardness of the cement floor.

And when it is done, you have been forced into a hug so intimate it feels like no other will do. His smile, so grateful. Your body, bearing weights you didn’t think possible.

You used to be helpless and weak. Now you are the rescuer.

How could this be anything but love?

You stay together, and still the trust falls continue. Aren’t you taking your medications? Trust fall. Shouldn’t you be looking for work? Trust fall. Where did you go last night, can you just tell me who you were with? Trust fall.

Every time they tumble backwards, blissful in the comfort of your catch, always so certain you’ll snatch them up before their staunch passivity smashes them into that cold, hard cement.

They keep falling backwards, and you come to realize: it’s not you they’re trusting, it’s the universe. You find them flopping into someone else’s arms, anyone’s arms, and realize the intimacy you thought belonged to you and you alone is just transactional. You lecture them on the need to stand up, to build their own strength, and –

Trust fall.

You catch them before they break themselves in hospitals, in the hands of angry police, in the hands of owed bankers. And you come to realize that what you’re doing is not strength, not really; it’s being held hostage by all your most protective instincts. You can’t bear to see anyone hurt, because you got destroyed so thoroughly by the malicious work of bastards and you have vowed inside you’ll never let anyone endure that again.

Yet you know there’s a difference. You got hurt because of what others did to you. He’s getting hurt because of what he’s doing to himself. And you make excuses, listing all the reasons he can’t help himself, but fall after fall he doesn’t take the slightest effort to better his own situation, he’s a crash-test dummy flung down a flight of stairs with you flinging yourself after him, and –

Trust fall.

Is it strength you have now? Would strength maybe, possibly, be walking away? You’re weakening now, missing work to help him, forever paying bills, losing the social support you desperately need because your friends can’t pretend he’s good for you any more. And even his gratitude at you catching him is thin, now – he yells at you for daring to ask anything of him that might make your life easier, he doesn’t have *time* for that bullshit, don’t you understand his life is –

Trust fall.

Every fall is in slow motion. You can see him tumbling down. You can practically hear his spine snapping as you imagine his head hitting the pavement. You have plenty of time to envision how horrible this will be if you don’t catch him.

He’s going to hurt himself badly. So badly.

You have so much time to walk away.