New Condoms! In The Twenty-Fourth-And-A-Half Century!!!!!

So Bill Gates has put up a $1 million reward if some clever cocksmith can create the next-generation condom.
This has attracted its share of sniggers, but the truth is that condoms flat-out suck.  They do reduce sensation significantly, and in the distinctly unromantic time it takes to slip on one, erections can be lost.  And that difficulty means more STDs transmitted, more unwanted pregnancies, more excuses for douche guys to be douches.
We can put a man on the moon, but that just gave us Tang; a real, high-sensation, easy-to-wear condom would mean a safer world in millions of tiny ways.
But one of the new condom contenders is Origami Condoms – which, wisely, has different models for different sex acts, male, female, and anal.  And I am looking forward to all the many ways in which science can improve my nookie (and exactly what levels of reward will come with Origami’s impending Kickstarter campaign).  But this statement really caught me off-guard:
1. Easy donning method slides the condom onto the penis in 2.8 seconds.
Isn’t that, uh, kind of specific?  Two-point-eight seconds?  That’s… pretty damn exacting timing.  Like, how much better is that than three?   Is this an average time?  How many condoms did they time going in before they arrived at this?  One pictures scientists, brows furrowed with concern, going, “Dammit, we’re at three-point-five.”
“But Phil, we’re guiding the glans to a ridiculous amount already,” a junior lab assistant observes.  “We can’t possibly change the angle without risking…”
Don’t tell me what to do!” the lead scientist yells, throwing his laptop to the floor.  “I have studied penises all my life.  When I was a young boy, all I did was catalogue the geometries of every holes my cock could fit into.  The UN Council of Intercourse has issued me their highest awards for my penile cladding techniques.  And if I say there’s a way to break the peen of light, then it will be done!”
Seriously, with this kind of specificity, there had to be contests.
I’m imagining a row of men, lined up like Olympic swimmers and sporting bobbing erections, with a referee and a whistle.  At the sound of the gun, eight men whip this condom down to wrap their willies, as kneeling scientists triumphantly click the stopwatch.  “Three-point-one seconds!” one claims.
“Oh, we can do better than that,” the head of Origami condoms mutters angrily.  “Get the fluffers.”
Then there had to be the failures – the poor men who panicked and wound up with this art deco Rubbermaid thing wrapped around their ankle, the boys with broken penises who aimed wrong, the shameful premature ejaculation.  These condoms come with electronics, are outfitted with memory cloth like Batman’s wings to change shape in mid-coitus, perform exacting calculations to caress the shape of your tallywhacker to six significant digits.
Eventually, you will desire them for masturbation.  For platonic relationships.  For illicit wedding ceremonies in Switzerland, where a man and his condom can finally lie together in the way that man and God intended.  These are the condoms of the future, and nothing will stop them from their inevitable goal of replacing humans with a rubberized, glorious, endlessly moisturized environment of orgone and pyramidal bouncing.

Bioshock Infinite: The Review

If you had asked me two days ago what a perfect sequel was, I would have told you “The Empire Strikes Back.”  Every time I see Empire, I’m utterly astounded at how sure-footed it is; how it literally reintroduces each of the main characters in a mini-sequence that’s just as exciting and interesting as the original Star Wars, then proceeds to turn each of those characters’ strengths into weaknesses.  Is Luke a starry-eyed dreamer?  Well, now that he’s a real Jedi, that’s a very bad thing.  Is Han a smartmouthed rogue?  Well, now his history is coming home to roost.  In every way, including the ending, Empire Strikes Back really was the best sequel there ever was.
Now, however, I’ll add “Bioshock Infinite” to that list.  Because it taught me how to do a different kind of sequel perfectly.
I still remember how stunning it was six years ago to say “Bioshock is a deconstruction of Ayn Rand’s philosophies”… but after descending into the capitalism-crazed, creator-worshipping undersea world of Rapture, you couldn’t deny it was the most popular bash of Objectivist thinking as you saw how Jack Ryan’s dream of creating his artistic refuge had fallen apart.  The gameplay was unique thanks to the miniboss Big Daddies, but what really sold Bioshock was following this tarnished 1920s dream of a philosophy through its inevitable unwinding.  I was far more thrilled at finding another audio log than I was at killing an enemy.
So when it came time to do the sequel, folks thought in Empire Strikes Back-style rehashes: how can we do more of the same, while making those elements seem new?  And so we went back to Rapture with a twist, to battle the Big Daddies with a twist, and had another semi-twist at pretty much the same place in the plot, and… it felt warmed-over.  Which is the failure mode of ESB sequels – you don’t manage to add enough new stuff, and it’s okay but it’s a faint echo.
Bioshock Infinite goes the more adventurous sequel route.  “Let’s throw out literally everything,” it says.  “No Big Daddies, no underwater city of Rapture, no Ayn Rand – what’s thematically like those, though?”   And so Bioshock Infinite took another, bolder route – exploring the concept of American exceptionalism.
Which is, frankly, tough to do.  The problem with a thematic sequel is that themes are nebulous, and often unsatisfying, and most “Let’s start again” sequels felt like different, less interesting films.  And so I’d never had a real success in this department to compare to.  But if Bioshock Infinite is a warm, sunny baseball park with happy white kids playing a pleasant afternoon game on a Sunday afternoon, then the game itself is one of Babe Ruth’s called shots.
For once again, you investigate a mysterious city – but this one is Columbia, floating above the clouds!  And whereas Rapture was dark, Art Deco, and in decay, Columbia is at the height of its powers, large, grassy, idyllic, populated by barbershop quartets and well-behaved ladies in hoop skirts, eating cotton candy.  The inhabitants literally worship the Founding Fathers, kneeling before large statues of Washington and his Sword, Franklin and his Key, and Jefferson and his Scrolls.  And, of course, they worship the Founder, the religious zealot who created this bold vision of America.
You’re here to erase some debts and find a girl.  And unlike the silent protagonist of Bioshock, you have a voice – you’re a hard-bitten ex-soldier who says things you may or may not agree with.  And eventually, you find the girl and have adventures.
I won’t get into the plot overmuch, but I will say that it’s incredibly ambitious, the kind of weirdness explained that outdoes Inception and makes Lost look like a tangle of strings.  By the time you’re done, you’ll be amazed at the audacity of the plot, which winds its way through time in a way that involves no less than four parallel plots coming together to mesh into something approaching an honest answer.  Not every bit of oddness is explained, but so much of it does make sense once you know the key that Bioshock Infinite outdoes any sci-fi television show I can think of to date in terms of neatly tying things together… and I’m a Babylon 5 fan.
Yet it feels coherent.  This is Bioshock.  It’s not the Bioshock you knew, but all the elements are in place.  It’s the same, but different.
As for the gameplay, it’s probably about 90% tuned.  The controls are slightly twitchy for what they’re trying to do. The end goal is to ride the overhead rails of Columbia, attaching yourself to a rollercoaster that winds its way through the complex levels and having a firefight along the way… But the controls aren’t tuned enough.  You speed along so fast that there’s literally not enough time to aim at the targets you want, and they’re annoyingly late in that you’re trying to dismount onto a villain for a power attack, and instead lamely land three feet in front of him, facing the wrong way.
Add that to the fact that this game loves its smoke effects – your gun actually fogs your vision, on top of fog – so it’s hard to tell where shots are coming from.  And then your companion throws you power-ups in mid-battle, which is helpful but the camera stops to turn at her so you know just who gave you that bottle of salts, and so it means that combat is often a struggle to stay facing the right direction.
That said, fighting is still good when you’re on the ground.  But the aerial sequences seemed closer to luck than to skill, and the tremendously frustrating last level (sadly) relies on so much aerial fighting I dropped the level to “Easy” and felt thoroughly justified.
But Bioshock Infinite doesn’t need the 100% tuned gameplay of, say, a Diablo III, where the enjoyment is all centered in the gameplay.  There’s one long sequence in Bioshock Infinite where all you do is walk up a long hill, press a button and wait for a minute, then do that two more times.  Then you go back down that exact same slope, except faster and without the button pressing.  And yet that sequence is one of the most thrilling moments in Bioshock Infinite, for the tale you’re walking through is so engrossing that you don’t even care that there is literally zero gameplay challenge in it.  It’s a testament to the power of story, which takes the mundane and makes it riveting.
So from now on, when asked what the best sequel ever is, I’ll ask, “Which kind of sequel are we talking here?”  Because Empire Strikes Back did the “more of the same” perfectly. Bioshock Infinite does the “raze the old stuff to the ground and build anew” perfectly.  And both, I think, will be landmarks of their media.

"That Wasn't Written For You": Writerly Meanderings On The Insufficiencies Of Words

I wound up making an argument recently that I hate to make in general, let alone of my own writings: “Well, a lot of people liked it.”
But a friend of mine had complained that one of my essays, which dealt with a certain type of BDSM submissive, was too simplistic and didn’t reflect her experience as a sub.  And I replied that I didn’t write the essay for well-rounded, self-policing submissives like her, I was writing it for all of these other submissives who often conflated “submission” with “being a doormat to anyone who asks”… and as evidence, I pointed to the 500 FetLife “loves” that essay had accumulated as proof that my words had hit home for someone. (It eventually went on to become my most popular essay on FetLife ever, getting over 2500+ “Loves,” 500+ comments, and inspiring at least two workshops.)
The problem was, I felt like a dick.  “Popularity” isn’t a synonym for “good,” and it felt uncomfortably to me like I was whipping out the “Hey, the public loves it!” card in lieu of an actual, you know, debate.  But that’s not what I was actually trying to say.
What I was trying to say is that you can do one of two things in an essay: hit home with someone emotionally, or be perfectly clear that this feeling that some people have doesn’t apply to everyone.  But it’s near impossible to have both, since accomplishing one successfully minimizes the other.
I knew when I wrote the essay that I’d be addressing a subset of people, so I did what I often do: I started by saying, “Here’s how ‘you’ are.”  Look at how I constructed the opener:

“So you’re a good little submissive in search of a Master. Handing control of yourself over to someone else feels like a vacation – no more decisions, no more worries, just a firm hand on the back of your head and a cock in your throat. You crave that feeling of being owned. You want to live there.”

What I’m trying to do here is actually twofold: one, to say to the people who do feel this instinct, yes, I get how you feel.  But more importantly, I’m creating a narrative dissonance, throwing out a warning to those who don’t feel this: if this ‘you’ I’m describing is violently at odds with who you are, then you probably want to walk away right now.
In fact, if you look carefully, you’ll note I try to add an escape hatch to every essay I write that pretends to give advice: the place where I encode a message to tell the reader: if this doesn’t ring true for you, please abandon this advice posthaste.  Sometimes it’s a small escape hatch, as it often is when I say, “Of course not everyone feels this way…” seven paragraphs down, or sometimes it’s right and blatant when I start an essay with, “There is a type of person who…”
Yet I need that escape hatch.  Because the human condition is very large, and there’s literally no words I could write on it that everyone would agree with.  Yes, I could write “You will die some day,” but there are people who genuinely believe they’ve stumbled onto the secret of immortality, and they don’t agree with it emotionally.
Let me be clear: There is no class of people for whom I can speak completely.
No matter what situation I speak about, no matter how narrow, I will misrepresent the feelings of some significant subset of people.  You might think “BDSM submissives” is too big, so I’d write about the emotional experiences of “24/7, lifestyle enslaved BDSM submissives.”  But some statement I’d make wouldn’t encompass everyone, so I’d have to narrow down to “24/7, lifestyle-enslaved BDSM submissives who are in the household of an abusive partner.”  But then there’d be some significant omission, so I’d have to narrow down to “24/7, lifestyle-enslaved BDSM submissives who are in the household of an abusive lesbian rope-mistress.”
Eventually, I’d write about one person: Mary.  And Mary might not well agree with my take on her life.  Essay: failed.
And that’s the central trick of writing: you don’t write for everyone.  You write to evoke emotions in a specific subset of people.  Quite often, in fiction, that person is you (as I often say, “If I won’t cry for my characters, who will?”)… but the point is that there’s a reason some writers are beloved by some and hated by others.  What those writes wrote rang true about life for the people who loved them, and came off false and/or patronizing to those who didn’t.
So in writing essays designed to help people in a specifically bad situation, I write to evoke the emotion that they feel, to start off by making them go, “Yes!  That’s who I am!  This dude gets me!”… and then, once I’ve slid under the door and proven that I understand their situation, I’ll start dissecting all the issues that comes along with this emotion.
Which is why my essays are often as effective as they are.  I’ll say to someone, Yes, I’m one of you… and here’s where I know we have problems.
But in writing those openers, what I don’t – what I can’t – say is, “You realize you’re not representative of the BDSM submissive community as a whole, and not all submissives feel this way”  – because if I did, then I’d throw up a wall immediately between them and me, and all that emotional intimacy would vanish.  Oh, sometimes I try to add a coda near the bottom of the essay that says, “This is not universal” – but even though the disclaimer words are right in the essay, and I can quote them at you, people routinely ignore them.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve told someone, “No, I said this wasn’t universal,” and quoted chapter and verse of the paragraph where I specifically disclaimed, and the commenter completely didn’t catch it.
Why?  Because by the time they got to the disclaimer, I’d invoked such strong emotions that they literally couldn’t see me saying this emotion didn’t apply to everyone. Yet the essays where I did  say “These feelings aren’t for everyone” so strongly that that message was part of the emotional impact often turned out to be so dry that they got no responses at all.
Which is the problem with writing: total clarity is the enemy of emotionality.  If you want to see writers struggling to express perfect, logical ideas, you need look no further than philosophy writings, where they attempt to wrangle every exception and clarify every vagueness. And in doing so, they take a hundred pages to express something that a more sensibly omitting piece of writing could do in a paragraph.  All of that truth bogs the writing down, loses us in a labyrinth of exceptions, makes us so concerned with “getting it right” that we never get it in the heart.  It’s true in an abstract sense, but it doesn’t feel true in the way a love poem does.
Hardly anyone reads philosophy to have emotions evoked.  For that, we turn to fiction.  (And note the “hardly anyone,” for doubtlessly someone will claim that they do read philosophy to be uplifted, thus proving my central point.)
Which is why I felt bad about arguing with my friend.  What she said was absolutely, 100%, positively true – I had not written something that applied to all submissives.  But she seemed to feel that failure made my essay was offputting, alienating, and as such it had failed as a whole.  To which all I could reply was, “Well, it wasn’t written for people like you.  It was written for people like them.  And they seem to be happy with it.”
Does that mean what I wrote was wise, or accurate, or even helpful?  No.  No, it doesn’t.  But it does mean that in terms of “reflecting the experiences of a subset of people,” it succeeded.  And as such, I can’t think of that essay as a complete failure – since the popularity of one of my essays doesn’t equal quality, but popularity often does equal “depicting some common experience that many people share.”
That’s just how writing is.  You can evoke a emotion in a subset of people, or you can be very clear about who this applies to and fail to connect with the people you’re hoping to reach.  And I wish there was a better way – but really, if there is, I have yet to find it.

A Little Frustrated

It’s 7:15 on a Wednesday night, and I may be going to bed soon.
Nine weeks after my heart surgery, I’m able to walk around, talk, carry on mostly a normal life.  But I flew out to Roanoke for a business trip, spending two days in intense software architecture meetings as I helped design the future of, and between the plane flight and the having to keep my mind ready and the sleeping in a strange bed, I’m exhausted.
It’s especially embarrassing, because my boss offered to take me out to dinner.  I was so tired that I stayed at home, so I’m in his house now, trying to work up the energy to go upstairs to his guest room.  It feels rude, and antisocial, but… I’m about to fall asleep.  (Or, more likely, to flumph into bed in a semi-comatose state, able to browse my iPhone until the battery runs out.)
I’m glad I survived.  I’m glad I can still work at my job, and be productive.  But this is still a recovery phase, and that’s humiliating at times.
That is all.

The End Goal Is That We Are Happy

“We’ve been dating for about a year now,” my friend said apologetically.  “She’s really good for me emotionally – I trust her implicitly.  I love the life I’m living with her.  But,” he confided, dropping his voice low, “She’s not polyamorous.  So I’m monogamous now.  But she makes me happy…”
“Stop,” I said.  “Isn’t that the end goal?”
Which, as far as I’m concerned, it is.  But there’s a lot of people who seem to feel that finding happiness isn’t the end goal, dating the proper way is.  So if you’re a lesbian who falls in love with a man, you’ve somehow betrayed the cause.  If you’re a bisexual who gets married in a monogamous relationship, you’ve depleted the pool of one (1) bisexual.  Or if you’re a polyamorous person who falls for someone who is unabashedly and incontrovertibly monogamous, settling down is a violation of the polyamory contract you signed when you became an ethical slut.
So there are these embarrassed conversations, explaining that yes, maybe you’re not part of The Crew any more, but you’re actually okay with that – no, more than okay.  Turns out that thanks to the magic of chemistry, with this one person, an issue that seemed so huge actually becomes minor.  Because when you click on that many levels, some mighty large issues get cut to size.
I mean, I’ve heard the tales of people losing friends over finding a partner who’s at odds with their social group’s paradigms – the gay man who falls in love with a woman and sheds all of his buddies by accident.  But why?  Was the whole of what held you together your shared sexual preferences?  Are you telling me that if someone turns out to be slightly different from what you’d thought they were, you need to berate them, question them, step away?
Is your friendship so shallow that a single definition is the only thing that can bind you?
Fuck that, say I.  Happiness is mighty thin on the ground.  Hardly anyone finds it, and if you’re truly happy then I’m gonna be happy for you.  Maybe it won’t last forever; to quote Detective Gaff, “It’s too bad she won’t live! But then again, who does?”  And maybe you’re different from me, maybe you’re different from what I thought you were, but I’d like to think that my definitions of friendship can include people of different sexualities, different colors, and – most importantly – of evolving choices in their lives.
So hey.  I’m polyamorous.  If you go monogamous, I’m still going to support you.  Because that’s what friends do.