Eventful Times: Ask Me Anything

Well, it’s been All News in the old Casa McJuddMetz, and we’re sorely in need of some distraction.  Usually, I’d write some blog post to try to attract the Dance Of Intriguing Comments, but time’s been squeezed lately thanks to Rebecca’s latest medical upheavals.
(Interesting fact: We met with the Meyers for dinner after Rebecca’s latest MRI, and they never actually told us what Rebecca’s results were.  However, given that Eric and Kat had an appetite and were eating, we knew the news was not awful.  The overall arc of their daughter’s health can be plotted to a large extent by their caloric intake.)
(Why didn’t we ask, you might ask?  Because frankly, when someone’s struggling with a potentially fatal illness, one of the worst things you can do is to reduce their life to that illness.  There’s a tendency in people to think that it’s somehow disrespectful to discuss anything else but The Trauma, going, “Oh, I don’t want to complain about work when you have pancreatic cancer.”  No, seriously.  Complain.  Let your friends bathe in the trouble of your problems for a while, share what happinesses you have; give them a little oasis of normality when you can instead of reducing their lives to this one disease.  Last night was pretty much just a dinner out with the kids, and I for one was pretty happy about that.)
In any case, caught between the Scylla of Rebecca’s struggle and the Charybdis between things I cannot say yet, I’m gonna default to an old habit of mine:
Ask me a real question. On any topic. I’ll do my best to answer honestly. 
(Fake questions like “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck?” are neither clever nor useful.  You can do it; it marks you as the kind of person who doesn’t realize the joke is so obvious it’s been done a hundred times before, and I’ll think less of you for being tedious.  Hey, I told you I’d answer honestly.)
All other questions will be answered politely, and to the best of my ability.  To answer your most burning question, I try to pull the lazy “Ask Me Anything” blog entry only once every three months to avoid blog-clog, and yes, I do Google to keep track of the last time I did this.

Mating Habits

When bees mate, several males fly after the queen.  They fuck her until their tiny bee-dicks drop off inside of her, and then they die.
Meanwhile, the queen flies off with eight or nine semen-pumping penises embedded in her hoo-hah, filling her up to lay thousands of eggs.

Bonobos hang upside down and fence with their penises.  Sometimes, to reconcile after a fight, they stand back-to-back and smoosh ballsacks.

Female giraffes in estrus pee in their suitors’ mouths.  The suitors swig the urine around like wine, determining if this is a fresh and fuckable beast, and if that works for them then they hump the shit out of her.

Male bowerbirds attract mates by obsessively making large art-like things out of colored pebbles and feathers and sticks, and go apeshit if you move a pebble.  The only time they move away from their hipster art project is to go knock over a couple of pebbles in their rivals’ etchings.

Bedbugs don’t have a vagina; instead, the males punch a hole straight through the carapace in their stomach to ejaculate directly into their lovers’ body cavity….
Okay, you’re probably getting a little sick of the animal kingdom here.  But my point is this:
Is being gay natural?
Is being polyamorous natural?
Who gives a flying whoopdoodle?
Frankly, the animal kingdom is full of freaky bugs doing freaky things, and I could give a crap if a bunch of penguins happen to share my bedbound tendencies.  The very point of being a human is that we get to do all sorts of things that animals don’t do – I know of no animals that start franchises, for example.   There are very few animals that direct films.  Only a precious handful of Golden Retrievers have built a spaceship to fly to the moon.
What matters most is, “Is this hurting anyone against their will?”  Which is why I’m down on, say, nonconsensual sex – which there is a lot of in the animal kingdom, by the way, and if Donald Duck were portrayed even slightly accurately he’d be a quacking rapist – or trying to have sex with living things that can’t say “yes” in a well-thought-out manner, such as drunk people or children or ducks.
I do not get the idea that if we can find evidence of this in nature, then it’s gotta be okay for us.  Nature doesn’t give a crap, guys.  Nature is where you run in the woods until you get weak enough that something eats you.  If anything, if we can find evidence that our freaky sex isn’t in nature, then maybe that’s better.
In the meantime, sure, there’s probably a gay cockatiel or a polyamorous woodlouse or a cross-dressing zebra out there.  That’s great. Don’t cite them as evidence, unless you feel like running out into the backyard to have a penis-war with your neighbor and then bump your girlfriend’s flank until she pees on you.  The main benefit of being a homo sapiens is that we occasionally get to short-circuit all of our hard-wired instincts and do something amazingly different.


The most merciful thing in the world, Lovecraft once said, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all of its contents.  As for me, I say we are looking into a great void, swinging the thin beam of a flashlight across the surface of something vast and unfathomable, a thing whose shape we cannot retain in our minds; it is too big.  It is too terrifying.  And were we somehow to contain the entirety of that thought within ourselves, some critical illusion we call humanity would shatter into pieces.
Like this five-year-old girl with brain cancer.

“I want to try your fruit punch,” Rebecca says, unapologetically curious as always.  She’s always had a taste for sweet things, chewing gumballs until her baby teeth started to turn clear.  And she’s always been direct, rarely rude, but punching a straight line to whatever she desires.  It’s part of her charm.
“Can’t have it, kid,” you say, sipping the spiked punch.  “This is a grown-up drink.”
And you realize: Rebecca might never have alcohol.  She may die before she gets old enough to sneak a drink in some teenaged party.  She may never be a teenager.  She may never be ten, she may never be six.
Her birthday is two months away.
This mouthful of rum is a locked door that she will never open, a single room in a vast mansion.  You go exploring, sweeping the flashlight across all of these other rooms full of dusty furniture with tarps thrown over them, waiting for her to find them.  She’ll never have a drink. She’ll never go to college.  She’ll never have a job.  She’ll never fall in love.
You realize that a child is not a child, but an arc soaring out into time and space, a potential to be fulfilled, and somewhere within her skull is an eyeball-sized mass that may grow to squeeze her brain until it literally forgets how to breathe.   Except this child is a child.  This child may only ever be a child, and then dissolve into a tangle of theories.  What would she have liked?  What would she have seen?
You look down at this beautiful wide-eyed girl, grinning like she has all the secrets in the world to tell you, and you can’t hold it all in your head.  She’s alive here, and over here she may not be.  You swing your flashlight between those two possibilities, trying to capture them both, but the beam is too narrow.  Alive.  Dead.  Alive.  Dead.
You hold her so hard, pressing her skin to yours, hoping to press her memory into your flesh forever.
But you can’t.
You know you can’t.

She’s wrestling with you, shoving a fuzzy stuffed octopus into your face, straddling your chest.  “I’ve won!” she cries, exultant in triumph.  “You are defeated!
A girl like that can’t be sick.  She can’t.  Then the flashlight sweeps back in time to illuminate her mother’s words in the hospital:
Kids with brain tumors often look fineRight up until they aren’t.

We built those rooms for her.  We think they’re ready.
The flashlight sweeps across that door, and passes into the void.

You hide the octopus in a game of hide-and-seek.  You rest it on the water pipes hanging above the basement playroom, and after counting to twenty-eight – nobody’s quite sure why she stops there, but it makes sense to her – Rebecca comes looking for it.  “Is it in here?” she asks repeatedly, checking the cabinets, under the couch, behind the pillows.  You assure her it is, as she looks around, face scrunching up in confusion.
Eventually, she thinks to look up.  Her face is illuminated with a glorious learning, as she sees Mr. Octopus’s stuffed tentacles hanging down and learns a valuable lesson: things can be hidden above her.
But is it a valuable lesson if she’ll never put it to use?
Where will all of those teachings go, if she does?

Supporting a child with cancer is like being coal, crushed under a mountain of pressure.  You have nowhere to go.  You’re shoved against the hard edge of this little girl’s need, contorted into hideous shapes, conforming to the shape of necessity.
But what will happen to you once she vanishes, and there’s nothing left to hold you up?

There are no answers.  We have no certainty.  She could be around for years, or weeks.  The flashlight bobs between all of these horrors and glories – the way she curls up in her mother’s arms, the grainy horrors of MRI snapshots, the wondering if her twitching eye is the result of some tumor, the statistics of grade 3 astrocytoma survival, the success stories from those kids who beat the odds, the wonder of clinical trials.  Every day we oscillate between a thousand potential futures, so many of them terrible beyond envisioning, a handful of happy endings, and all this vibrating between quantum states is exhausting.
And yet the future coalesces but one hour at a time.
You can’t see it all at once.  Little emotions, flickering and dashing, too large to capture inside your skull.  There are times you scream from the horror of it.  There are times you ball your fists from the helplessness.  There are times when that all dissolves and you are given the solace of a minute where she’s a little girl slapping cards onto a pillow.  There are times you ride the hope before crashing into depression, and there are times you catch a glimpse of life without Rebecca and oh God you cannot function.  It’s all seen through a narrow tunnel.
I look into the eyes of my beautiful goddaughter, and I cannot see death. Then I can.  And when I see death I cannot see her, and when I see her I cannot see death and oh God I am so small and there is nothing I can do but hold her hand and hope for miracles.
She may be dying.  And as she dies, we do.  The truth is that the flashlight saves us.  If we were to see all of the monster lurking in that void we would die, are dying, and it’s only our inability to fathom the whole horror of this that allows us to function.  What’s happening to her is something alien to the human mindset, to the idea of life itself, that quiet promise that we grow.  She might not.  She might have experienced just about everything she’s going to.  She might be gone.
Rebecca is a miracle.  Even if this was all we got, she is a fucking miracle, and I want you to know that.
I just want more.
I want so much more.

Why I'm More Likely To Help Women: A Bias

Last week, someone invoked my name on Twitter, saying they’d like to friend me on Fet but were too shy.  So I emailed them to say that I understand social anxiety and of course it was fine to friend me.  Then I read her Twitter page, saw they were a blogger, saw that she’d just been through a hard divorce and her laptop had just died and she was looking for $200 to repair it, and I sent her $20 to help her on her way.
Now, that’s not unusual; I have a little fund I harvest from my writer-earnings to donate to people in trouble.  It’s not much, and I can’t donate to everyone who I think deserves it, but it does let me spot-give to folks I think need the help.
And I asked: would I have been as eager to help if this person was a guy?
The uncomfortable answer: no.  Not really.  (I have donated to guys, but way less often.)
And I thought about that for a while.  Was I white-knighting, getting off on helping women?  No, not really – I do a fair amount of pro-women blogging, but I don’t do it because I think the women need the help.  Was I unconsciously trying to curry favor with women as a way of getting into their pants?  Again, no, because I don’t recall ever actually making headway on that front from donations – though again, yeah, I probably get more date-offers because of my pro-women blogging than otherwise, so there is an upside to those essays I can’t rationally deny.  Was I doing it because I thought women were incompetent and needed the help?  Again, no…
…and I realized: it’s because I don’t trust men.
This is not a new revelation – it goes all the way back to the war on Jefferson Hill – but when I was in my heavily-bullied middle school period, the people who were picking on me were guys.  And it wasn’t just shoving me; the guys in question would frequently pretend to be my buddy in order to get me to reveal some embarrassing secret to them, which they could then share with the rest of the class, and so in the back of my head though I have guy friends I’m always waiting for them to punch me.
So most of my best friends are women.  I tend towards trusting women.  When I write squawky essays about how women are treated like shit, it’s because I often default to viewing things from a female perspective and go Hey, these jerks are hurting my friends.
And I’m more willing to help out a woman in need, because I trust them more reflexively.  They don’t have to earn my trust like men do.  I’ll help a guy out, but I don’t think I’d ever just help a random guy I only read about online ten minutes ago, because some tripwire in my brain would go, “…wait.  What are they really up to?”
That’s a bias I’m not necessarily happy with, as there are a lot of good men out there who I could be closer to, and I’m not.  It’s a bias that does more good in the universe, I think, because I know some of my essays have helped guys view women in a different light… but it’s a bias I need to examine more, see what I can do with, see how I can help.
Because while I loathe the Men’s Rights Movement as a selfish and stupid grab for white dude power, I do have to admit that personally, I can work on trusting guys a lot more.  Just as I ask men to examine their unconscious attitudes towards women, I should also dissect my attitudes towards other men, and see what I can find.  And like men examining their thoughts on women, it’s a process that takes a while and some thinky-bits.
I’m not unhappy I’m helping women, mind you.  I just should reach the hand to more dudes.  I should reach the hand to more people.  Because, you know… that’s the goal.

A Sale! "The Cultist's Son," To Apex Magazine

“This is the third story I’ve read from Ferrett Steinmetz,” someone once said in a forum post.  “Can someone check in on him?  Make sure he’s okay?”
Yeah, I tend to write dark stories.  I don’t mean to, it’s just a lot of them lead down that path.  So I’m used to dealing with characters in bad places.
Yet when I wrote “The Cultist’s Son,” a tale about the damaged son of a former Shub-Niggurath cultist, I wrote literally the darkest thing I’ve ever written.  It’s black.  Jet-black and howling.  It was so bad that when I wrote it I fell into a week-long depression, because god damn this was exploring some wretched places within me.  I don’t think I can write anything darker, or more X-rated….
…and yet somehow this became one of my best stories, for Reasons I Cannot Spoil.
I didn’t think I could sell it.  But I did, to a market I’ve longed to crack for some time: Apex, one of the best dark fiction markets.  It’s coming out in the April issue, along with a rather meaty interview with Yours Truly (and a host of other good authors with good stories).  So I’m quite happy.  And it should be out shortly.
The usual taste:

“I used to think the sky would peel open,” the girl with the green hair confesses, curling black-nailed fingers around a can of Pabst.  “I always had bloody knees, because I never looked down when I walked — I’d clasp my eyes to the sky, bracing myself for the sight of a gigantic hand pulling aside the clouds.  If I saw Him coming, maybe I could pray hard enough in time for God to forgive me.  Otherwise… Mom told me I’d burn like the whore I was.  In sixth grade.”
Her smile is shy, a crooked little secret that Derleth likes.  He finds his own head bobbing in agreement, his body resonating to the tune of her broken childhood.
The girl’s smile melts into a relieved grin; she’s discovered a fellow member of a secret society in a cold and hostile land.  She grasps his hand.
“You know, don’t you?” she whispers.  He can barely hear her over the death metal band onstage, pounding out a Cannibal Corpse cover tune.  “You know what it’s like to live in fear of the world ending?”
Derleth closes his eyes.  He can see the clouds parting across the mesa, black lightning slithering to the ground.  Except it’s not lightning — it’s tentacles tumbling from the sky, suckered and glistening and rooted to something big enough to have engulfed the Earth.  They flop down from cumulus clouds, slapping against the ground hard enough to cause tremors.  The rusting tin shed caves in, collapsing upon his six brothers before the corrugated walls are scooped away by a questing tendril.  A hundred other boneless limbs descend hungrily upon his squalling brothers.  They haul them, wailing, up into the sky, up with a billion other innocents plucked from collapsing skyscrapers, mud huts, once-sleepy suburbs.  Clouds, now tinged with crushed red.
All the while, Mother dances in crazed triumph, naked, breasts flopping.  Spattered in blood, she gargles the syllables that beckoned the Goddess here…
Derleth shakes off the — dream?  Idea?  It’s hard to say.  The girl with the green hair chews her pierced lip.  She’s so afraid he’ll laugh at her, so relieved she thinks she’s found someone who shares her terror of the Rapture, that already she’s confusing intensity for love.
Derleth thinks of himself as an empty cabinet.  He knows if he remains quietly agreeable, people will stack up his insides with their own needs and desires, imbuing him with all sorts of cheerful motivations.  And since he does not trust his own voice — Mother’s doing — he finds that preferable to telling people who he is.  Was.
Except now, he’s found someone who knows a part of him.
“You were raised by fundamentalists, too,” she begs, trying to make a light game of it.  “Weren’t you?”
He turns away from her to dive into the mosh pit, terrified of the unknowable, always terrified of the unknowable.