What Privilege Is

A female friend of mine was debating whether she should post pictures of herself on her blog. She’s a pretty girl who thinks some shots of her daily life would add some flair to an otherwise-texty page, but also had some concerns about strangers knowing what she looks like.
And I almost said – almost – “That’s silly.  I’ve posted pictures of myself all over my blog, and I’ve never had issues.”
Then I thought about being a guy vs. being a girl on the Internet.  As a (pudgy) guy, I’m highly unlikely to have creepers coming after me, but that happens for women.  As a guy, I’ve had people make personal insults about me based on my looks, but rarely had my whole blogging career judged on whether I’m handsome (“what an attention whore!”) or ugly (“can’t get a girlfriend, so whores it up on the Internet for affection!”).  I have had to fend off very few unwanted dates, have had zero rape threats, and very few unflattering Photoshops.
So just as I was about to offer one-size-fits-all suggestions, I swallowed it back and went, “Oh. Yeah.  That could be an issue.  How good are you at dealing with mouthbreathers?”  And so I attempted to be genuinely helpful in solving the issue.
That’s all you really need to do with privilege, man.  You don’t have to rend your shirt and spill blood to make up for the inequities of the universe.  What you have to do is occasionally stop, realize that your lifestyle shields you from bumps that other people have to deal with, and consider your words a little more carefully before weighing in with advice.
It doesn’t mean you should shut up.  It means you should think a little harder before speaking if you’re attempting to be helpful.  Which, you know, generally?  Not a bad thing to do.

People Who Need Certainty Are Stupid And Ruining The World

Here’s a reason the world’s tumbling into ruin: if you want to be a popular pundit, it’s far better to be certain than accurate.  That’s right; more people will listen to a person who is factually wrong but confident over a guy who’s accurate but honest.
There are days I despair for the world, because our tiny monkey brains are forever seeking out shit that’s bad for them: sugar. Sex.  And certainty.  Basically, it’s a terrifying thing to think that this universe is full of so many factors that no one, literally no one, can predict what’s going to happen next with any confidence, and so we’ll happily listen to awful pundits who fill us up with the lie that yeah, someone knows, and it’s me.
And we never care.  Nate Silver’s book The Signal and the Noise has a whole chapter on how horrifically bad television news pundits are at predicting things, and why do they stay on the air?  Because people like hearing confident people make interesting calls.  Does it matter whether those calls are wrong?  No.  As long as they’re firmly expressing bold and wretched predictions, they’re interesting.  They have made us feel like we’re witnessing something worthwhile, not some namby-pamby hand-wringer who’s saying, “Well, could be this way, could be that way.”
The reason our political system is so fucked is that this is our discourse.  The general populace doesn’t want the leaders saying, “Well, this has a good chance of working” – hell no!  That reminds them we live in chaos, that no approach is guaranteed to succeed, that literally the smartest people in human history have been wrong a staggering amount of the time.  We want our leaders to be godheads, infallible… and the price we pay to get that illusion of fallibility is forever ignoring all the times they fucked up.  This time.  This time they know how it’ll work.  All those other failures?  Not their fault.
And so, because a willingness to look at the best way we as humans have to interact with the universe – which is to say, odds and risks – seems uninteresting to our primitive brains, we constantly listen avidly to fools.  We hire fools to lie to us, with them knowing full well that the only way they can possibly get elected is to lie to us, and then wonder why they seem so contemptuous of us.  Why should they respect us?  They know how things really work, and know that largely we’re revulsed by the idea.  So wave a flag!  Speak boldly!  Pronounce it as if it’s all but done!
Our world would be solved by now, if only we could get people to stop thinking that the loudest voices are the best voices.
You know.  Like the tone I took in this essay.

How Can I Possibly Reduce The Songs On My iPhone?

Even though I have a 32-gig iPhone, my 19 gigabytes of music gets a bit much, particularly when you count the videos and pictures on this sucker.  So I needed to reduce my music load.  But how?
You play The Killer Shuffle.
For the past few days, I’ve had my iTunes playlist on shuffle.  If I discover a song I’d be irritated by if it came up while I was driving? I delete it from the playlist.  Over the last two days I’ve destroyed 250 songs of dead weight – slow songs I never want to hear, B-sides that got slopped on when I imported an album, old songs I used to love but overplayed.
I feel like a genius, honestly.  A genius with more space.

Three Rules For Effective GMs

Some days, I think there’s only three rules you need to follow to be a good GM:
Reward Players When They Do Something Cool.  That doesn’t mean your players always get what they want – but if they make an impassioned, stirring speech to the cold-hearted Duke, begging him to free this wrongly-accused prisoner, then maybe the Duke still refuses… but the leader of the underground rebellion is emboldened to make contact.  Maybe that demon is immune to iron swords, but that doesn’t mean a pair of twin daggers to the eye can’t incapacitate him long enough to get a head-start on a hasty retreat.  If the players do something really nifty, find some way to give them an in-game benefit, because you want them doing cool things.  And the fact that the reward may be unexpected will just keep them doing it more.
Punish Players When They Do Something Dumb.  If every aspect of your world flexes to accommodate what your players do, then it’s like living in a world of marshmallow – it seems sweet at first, but eventually you get flabby and sticky.  So when they do something that wouldn’t work, have it fail.  Bad strategy to break into the villain’s lair?  Have ’em get caught.  A hack-and-slash approach to a combat that requires finesse?  Have ’em lose.  A cavalier attitude towards innocent civilians?  Have some innocents die, and their reputation tarnished.  Don’t go out of your way to punish them – also see: rewarding for coolness – but make it seem like there’s a distinct possibility that things could go wrong.  That encourages players to be invested in this world, since if they’re not careful, they won’t get what they want.
Inform Players When They Do Something Tedious.  Too many campaigns get wrapped around the axle in making elaborate plans that don’t matter at all.  If you know that this cross-country trip is going to go without incident, then the two hours they’ve spent detailing every barrel of beef jerky they’re going to load into the wagon is wasted time.  A good GM lets them plan for a bit, and then says, “Okay, you buy everything you need, and now you’re in Liberia.”  Likewise, if the players are spending a lot of time prepping a strategy against an enemy that you know won’t work and they have the in-game clues to know it won’t work either, then tell them how unwise their plan is and move on.
Your goal as a GM is to encourage your players to spend their time productively.  So learn to know when they’re spinning their wheels on things that won’t affect the game, and shove them out of the rut towards activities that will actually propel the plot forwards.  It’s not a bad thing to say as a GM, “This isn’t going to matter, so let’s move on to something that does.”  They’ll thank you for it, given time.

My Depression, My Community: Am I Doing Enough To Help My Fellow Writers?

My Seasonal Affective Disorder this year manifests itself in terms of a perfectly normal life, then getting knocked akimbo by unexpected events. A fight with a sweetie of mine pretty much paralyzed me for an entire day.  And an accusation from a friend has kept me up all night, when normally I’d shrug it off.
In this case, though, his concern was something that worries me: he accused me of being a “quid pro quo” writer, only helping others when I had something to get in exchange from it.  (Specifically, critiquing only to get critiques, though my fear cuts deeper than that.)  And I think part of that was me getting overwhelmed and having to call amnesty from critting for a while last year, for which I felt terribly guilty, but…
…I don’t know.  I feel a deep responsibility to the writing community, which is why I write posts on the lessons I’ve learned in writing.  They’re by far my least-popular, least-discussed, and least-linked essays, and they take three times as long to write as me tossing off yet another essay on polyamory or depression… but I do it anyway, because I spent so many years wandering lost, trying to figure out what doesn’t work with my fiction, that I’m forever trying to save someone else.  I do the Clarion blog-a-thon because I think that, too, is important for writers.  I hang around forums – not as often as I should, as I’m terrible about forums, but I weigh in because I believe that I’m helping.
And I crit stories when asked, or try to.  I have the memory of a sieve, and there’s probably a handful of stories I didn’t crit in the last year out of forgetfulness… but never out of intent.  If someone asks me, “Hey, Ferrett, would you take a look at this?” then dammit I try to.
But I am forgetful.  Maybe those number of lost crits is larger than I’d like to believe (and I know from experience how much a forgotten crit can sting a writer’s fragile ego).  I don’t go to my local writing group as often as I’d like because it’s on Sundays, and Sundays are often terrible for me.  I haven’t been seeking out short stories to crit because I’ve been head-first in writing a novel, which is so much more consuming than writing short stories, I could never have believed it before I started this time around.  I don’t interact on other people’s blogs as much as I should.  I don’t pimp as many of my friends’ projects as I should.
And then there’s that inevitable factor that comes in everywhere for me: My primary method of interfacing with the Internet is my blog.  I often feel like a lazy turtle, too afraid or unmotivated to crawl out of my shell, just posting and commenting here and expecting the world to drop by.  Is that selfish?  How bad is that?
I don’t know.  It could well be my depression speaking, but there’s that nagging feeling that maybe I’m a drain on the community more than a boon to it, and maybe my advice is foolish and ill-considered (which would explain the low interest).  I want to help.  I know what it’s like to burn to get that first publication, to have that first time someone who’s not your friend loves a story, to feel that vast chasm between “Where you are now” and “Where you need to be” and feeling that despair of being completely unable to know how to cross it.
I want to help, I do.  And every day, when I wake up, I ask, “How can I help more?”  And I try but I know I could be doing better, and if I can then please tell me how to do it.  I’ll listen.  If I fail, it’s not because of interest.  And I apologize, profusely, if I’ve slighted you in any way.
(EDIT: And you can tell it’s my depression, because of the uniquely head-in-ass way I’ve phrased this: if I was in a better headstate, I’d probably raise it more as a global question, as in “What do we as writers owe to the community?”  Alas, it’s a personal question for me right now, so it came out this way.  Again, apologies.  Stupid SAD.)