Maybe You Start 'Em Young: Boundaries

I was out getting breakfast with my goddaughter when a dude just poked her in the belly.
“Aren’t you the cutest little girl?” he asked.  My goddaughter was adorable, as she is now; she was also nine.  And the dude reached over, patted her tummy affectionately, and moved on.
We sat down, chatted with the waitress, got some orange juice.  And I kept waiting for my goddaughter to complain.  Some asshole just invaded her private space.  He just touched her without her permission in a crowd, like she was some kind of breathing doll to play with as he saw fit.
But she just shrugged.  It was obvious she hadn’t felt complimented by the dude; her response to pokey-man was perhaps the most lifeless “thank you” I’d ever heard from her, and my goddaughter is a spotlight-stealer, thirsty for every drop of attention you can rain on her.  When she’s happy you’ve paid attention to her, she beams and does dances to get more attention.  (Seriously.  Kid goes to dance classes.  She will drop the beat at the slightest provocation.)
Instead?  Meh.
I eventually asked her about it, and she shrugged again.  “Old guys do that,” she informed me, in the same sense that she might inform me that teachers gave homework.  Not a thrill, to be sure, but what could you do?
And I thought back to my boyhood.  Couldn’t remember any stranger ever just touching me against their will because they approved of my look.  Aunts, sure, uncles, sure, but never just someone “HEY! CUTE BOY! LEMME PINCH YO CHEEKS.”
Whereas for my goddaughter, well, at nine – nine – that’s just the sort of shit she had to deal with.
You could say that’s my childhood memory being poor, which it is, but… I also don’t recall women just sneaking pinches of my butt in crowded elevators, or grabbing me at bars.
As a dude, I have a pretty set autonomy over my body, and I haven’t really had to reinforce that.  Whereas I know a lot of women who if they wear the wrong thing in public – or sometimes, if they don’t – they’re gonna have some dude grabbing them without even asking them if this is something they want.
And I think of the struggle a few of my friends who are parents have.  They inform their relatives that yes, little Dora is three years old… but if she says she doesn’t want to hug you, she doesn’t have to.
Grandparents get pretty put out by that , when the kid doesn’t wanna hug him goodbye.  That’s what Grandparents get!  They get hugs!  Because the child is adorable, and what adorable children are for is to satisfy the needs of the Grandparent!
Yet realistically, I think you have to start them young.  It seems ridiculous, taking a kid who would drink bleach without a second thought and saying, “Okay, you get to make decisions about who gets to touch you, and when.”  Especially when there are times when the kid doesn’t have an inalienable right to bodily control – you got to have that diaper changed, girl, whether you think it’s a big deal or not.
Because I think all kids need to learn boundaries: that you do, in fact, have control over what happens to you.  And that people touching you randomly just because they want to isn’t something you have to tolerate.
And on one level, it’s a pretty silly line in the sand to draw.  I mean, shit, so Grandpa wants a hug.  The kid’s little.  She’s moody.  She’s rude.  Pick the kid up and shove her into Grandpa’s arms!
On the other hand, I think it’s a fractal lesson that girls in particular need to learn: this flesh you own?  It is yours.  Nobody has a right to access it unless you have explicitly granted them permission.  If someone takes that right from you and touches you, you have a right to get angry.
Because on one level, patting my goddaughter’s tummy is just a show of affection, what’s the big deal?  But on another level, the level that few people like to process, it’s telling her that My desires can override your desires without a moment’s notice.  It’s telling her that her opinion isn’t worth asking.  It’s telling her that she’s on display to entertain others.
That’s a a fractal lesson.  Because on the one hand, I can try to have an awkward breakfast conversation with my goddaughter about feminism and bodily rights and subtle messages… and she won’t really get half of that.  (Trust me, I know.  Nine-year-olds wanna talk more about Arianna Grande’s voice than they do weird topics like that.)
But if I tell her that nobody has the right to touch you without getting your permission, then all those other hidden messages get subverted automatically.
I don’t know.  I thought it was weird at first, when my friends said “No, Dora gets to decide if she hugs you.”  And it was sad, when I really wanted to scoop that kid up in my arms and feel that glory of the little kid hug around the neck.  It felt sort of anticlimactic, getting a wave goodbye instead.
But sometimes I don’t wanna hug people goodbye.  And I have the option to go for the handshake or the wave.
So what if she’s three?  So should she.

Why I Love My Family

ME: “So I know you’re hypersensitive to ‘the dog dies’ in a movie, Erin, but you might almost like John Wick.”
ERIN: “Oh, God, no.  I’d cry for weeks.  Poor puppy!”
ME: “I know, but… the dog dying is the whole reason for the movie.  John Wick’s a retired hit man, someone kills his dog, and he spends the next ninety minutes murdering people for that in a roaring rampage of revenge.”
ERIN: “Well, I could get behind that.”
ME: “The rest of the movie is alternating scenes of John Wick shooting motherfuckers in the head,  and terrified mobsters going ‘You did what to his dog?!? You fool!'”
MATTIE: “Completely justified.”
AMY: “Yet if he’d murdered ninety people because someone killed his cat…”
MATTIE: “Yeah.  Society is weird.  Make it a cat, people would think he was some unbalanced crazy cat lady.”
ERIN: ” ‘He killed two hundred people over his dog? Well, sure – oh, wait, it was a cat?  Dude’s got some issues.'”
AMY: “I mean, we like cats, but there’s a pet hierarchy here.”
DAD: ” ‘JOHN WICK: executed a thousand men after someone strangled his parakeet.'”
MATTIE: ” ‘Someone killed my goldfish. Now a city lies smoking in ruins.’ ”
ME: “Of course I bombed Russia!  They forgot to feed my hermit crab!”
GINI: “…you realize we’re terrible people.”
ME: “Well, we’ll get ours once John Wick kills us for murdering his pet turkey.”

Wanna Win A Free Copy Of My Upcoming Novel Flex? And See The AMAZING Cover?

So in case you’ve forgotten, here’s the summary for my upcoming novel Flex, due out spring of next year:

A desperate father will do anything to heal his daughter in a novel where Breaking Bad meets Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files
FLEX. Distilled magic in crystal form. The most dangerous drug in the world. Snort it, and you can create incredible coincidences to live the life of your dreams.
FLUX: The backlash from snorting Flex. The universe hates magic and tries to rebalance the odds; maybe you survive the horrendous accidents the Flex inflicts, maybe you don’t.
PAUL TSABO: The obsessed bureaucromancer who’s turned paperwork into a magical Beast that can rewrite rental agreements, conjure rented cars from nowhere, track down anyone who’s ever filled out a form. But when all of his formulaic magic can’t save his burned daughter, Paul must enter the dangerous world of Flex dealers to heal her. Except he’s never done this before – and the punishment for brewing Flex is army conscription and a total brain-wipe.

The good news is that Angry Robot has created a kick-ass cover, which they have exclusively revealed to the world over at SFSignal.  I’m not posting the cover here, because SFSignal is an awesome site for all book-related science fiction and you should go visit them at least once.
BUT!  SFSignal also has five electronic advance copies of Flex to give away to you hungry, hungry readers around the globe!  All you have to do is go to their page, read the rules, and send ’em an email. You’ve only got until Wednesday, December 3rd to enter, so get over there now!  While there’s still time!
*faints from overexcitement*

The Instincts I Should Act On

I have good instincts about when to exit a relationship.
I just never act upon them, is all.
The problem is, the instinct to flee seems pretty trivial at the time.  I’ll be sitting with someone I love at a lovely cafe, holding hands, talking about old lovers, and she’ll say something like “So he stayed with me for months, rent-free, never doing the dishes, just playing Halo and begging me for sex, and at the time I didn’t think anything about it because I was in love…”
And a little red warning light will flash: I should leave.
But that’s really ungenerous, I think.  So she had a bad relationship.  Who doesn’t?  She’s probably changed.  And we just had a wonderful date, and she’s so clever and witty, you’re going to just walk away for that? 
So I bob my head and say something noncommittal like “Yeah, that was unwise,” and do not say, “Sorry, it’s over” and walk out of the cafe, leaving my coffee on the table.  Which would be absurd for me to do so.  Just calling a relationship over a single isolated comment like that?  Nuts.
And then, months later, after much argument, when it turns out that in fact, the girl who made that statement is chronically unable to understand her own needs, and as a result we’ve been fighting because she can’t tell me what she wants me to do but that won’t stop her from getting mad about it, I realize: Yeah, shoulda left then.
Or I’ll be texting with someone after a wonderful day out, and she’ll say “So my friends didn’t believe we went on a date, because you didn’t mention it in your journal,” and that flash of DANGER DANGER will flood over me.  But instead of saying “Okay, we’re done,” I’ll simply explain: “I don’t blog about every date I have.  In fact, the nicer the date, the less likely it is that I’ll mention it, because sometimes my life is for me.”
Because it’d be crazy to just call it off after a single sentence.
Yet months later, after much argument, it turns out that my lover can’t differentiate between “What Ferrett blogs about” and “Who Ferrett is,” and gets angry because I’m not mentioning her enough in public, I realize: Yeah, shoulda left then.
The problem is that these things seem trivial, because they’re not big deals.  So what if she wants a little splash of front-page blog-lovin’?  So what if she’s bad at figuring out what bothers her?  Neither of these make them bad people.  Shit, if you were to pile up all my flaws, you’d have a stack to rival the Empire State Building.  And so I think Oh, God, that’s so trivial.  You can’t just call it off over one single thing – not when they have so many good things about them!  You love all the same movies!  They hold you when you cry!  This isn’t enough to break up!
Yet I forget that someone can be a great person, and still have an incompatible issue that makes them terrible for me to date.
So I anesthetize that instinct.  I focus on all the things they do wonderfully.
Yet underneath all those positive bits lies a core incompatibility that’s going to splinter us apart.
And I don’t know how it is for most people.  I used to think this Oh HELL no flash was some superpower granted by decades of dating and experience, but… I thought back to my relationships with my ex-girlfriends when I was in my mid-twenties where we had an intellectual debate on the nature of morality and they got totally angry because I was disagreeing with them on whether mankind was inherently kind, and I thought Oh, this is over.
And I was right.  I can’t date someone who gets upset about debating things.  That just doesn’t work for me, because I like intellectual tussles, and if you get bent around the axle when I start questioning things, then… you’re not right for me.
Though as always, I wouldn’t be able to justify that flash of instinct for months.  And seriously.  How crazy does it sound to say, “Well, she got mad when I said babies weren’t born kind, so I had to call it off”?  That’s the kind of thing sitcoms make fun of.  That’s shallow.  It’s stupid.  It’s the kind of thing you should be able to patch over.
And certainly I have lots of disagreements where we can patch them over, where I don’t get that Mortal Kombat flash of FINISH HER, where we disagree and it’s all cool.
Yet when I do get those flashes… they’re not wrong.  I can’t remember ever thinking I should leave now and having it work out.
I think other people get that instinct.  I think people hear their lover say “Wow, it’s so hot when people ignore my safewords in a scene,” and the warning light pops on, going Uh, yeah, this isn’t going to work for me.  But this lover is so good in bed.  And so kind.  And so smart.  And really, I mean, they just said one dumb thing, is that enough to dump them over?
Except wow.  Sometimes it is.  Sometimes it really is.

Unsettling Thoughts On Bill Cosby

So Bill Cosby’s a rapist.
Those are hard words for me to type: dude was one of my childhood heroes, the first comedian I really got into, and still a funny funny man.  But fifteen women have come forward to say that he drugged and violated them, which is a lot of women.  None of whom have a lot to gain in terms of money or great fame by accusing Cosby (seriously, anyone accusing anyone famous of rape goes through so much shit that it’d be an easier way to fame and fortune by robbing a bank).  Some of whom have been struggling for years to get their message heard.
It’s not a legal definition, no, but if fifteen different people came out over the years to say, “Yeah, Mister Rogers snorted cocaine with me,” I’d go “Mister Rogers snorted cocaine.”  So that makes Cosby a rapist.  (His “Spanish Fly” routine, on fantasies of drugging women into being loose enough to have sex with him, doesn’t help.  I remembered that one, as I had memorized most of Cosby’s routines as a kid, but I certainly didn’t put that one into context.)
(Though as Bart Calendar notes, “rape” is not unusual when it comes to 1960s and 1970s heroes – he’s got a list of beloved musicians who are also rapists, or, at the least, guilty of child molestation by knowingly sleeping with girls below the age of consent.  You may have to understand that all your heroes are secretly vile, which is frankly not the worst message to take away.)
Anyhow, so I was thinking the other day that fifteen women have claimed that Bill Cosby raped them.  Which means there are, likely, more: Women who have gone “Okay, it’s in the headlines now, it’s getting traction, I don’t have to make the ugly fact that I was violated by Bill Cosby the only thing people are going to know about me.”  Women who shrug “Well, that’s what happened back then, I don’t see that as bad.”  It may well be that Bill Cosby raped forty or fifty women, or perhaps even more.
Charles Manson killed nine people.
No, wait; technically Charlie didn’t kill anyone.  His followers killed nine people.  (And some kinder interpretations than mine think that it was his followers who started murdering people, and once that started Cult Leader Charlie either had to go “Wow, that’s awesome! Just what I wanted!” or probably get murdered himself in a cult uprising.  I don’t know, I only read Helter Skelter once just to be cool when I was a teenager.  And the numbers of Manson dead vary, depending on who you talk to, so I’m sure someone will correct me.  Probably Bart.)
Anyway, Charlie’s in the news because he got married – remember, folks, gay marriage is what’s destroying this sacred institution – and I had a weird thought.  Because Manson?  Killed nine people.  Cosby raped, say, thirty.
There’s a math there that I don’t want to do.
Like, seriously, if we assume that the absolute worst-case scenario about Cosby is true, and he raped hundreds of women, does that make him worse than Charlie Manson?
Leaving aside that old do-not-engage question of whether “rape” is worse than “murder” (as murder is a short end, whereas rape traumatizes the victim for decades, but I suspect most rape victims would prefer people not tell them that they’d be better off dead), you have to figure that maybe Cosby was doing deeply nefarious shit for forty years successfully.  He may have had a lot more impact.
And then I start going, “Well, Cos gave laughter to the world!  He did a hell of a lot for black-white relations at a time when there were practically no black heroes in the media!  He’s done a surprising amount of charity work, donating to the community! He’s made the world a hell of a lot of a better place, and all Manson ever did was wrote a marginal Beach Boys song!”
Then I think, “Okay, so is this an equation?  Like, if Manson cured heart disease, would the murders be just a phase we was going through?”
Then I think, “Is it about the order of revelation?  Because hey, we knew happy Jell-O eating Bill Cosby for years, we loved him, then we found out about this secret past – what if Manson was a researcher who cured AIDS in 1987, and then we discover now that whoops, he sorta killed Sharon Tate and covered it up properly?  How would we react then?  I bet there’d be a lot of talking media heads saying that Manson didn’t kill anyone directly, it was just a youthful mistake….”
And of course this whole chain of thought is fucking ridiculous.  People can do good things and bad things.  Our monkey brains want HEROES and VILLAINS and so try to figure out who’s a goodie and who’s a baddie.  And the truth is that people can contain both wonderful kind instincts and selfish harmful ones, and which one you get depends on who you happen to be.  All of our most beloved heroes have been absolute dicks at some point (well, except maybe Mister Rogers), and all of our worst villains have done something nice for someone.
But we don’t want to think that good people can do bad things.  Or that bad people can do positive ones.  We want to do Cosby Math, where we total everything up and try to see whether they’re above the level of “EVIL.”
And Cosby Math is dangerous, because we start thinking that there’s some upper end of the scale that’s completely safe.  That there are heroes who’ve done wonderful things, and of course people like them can’t do bad things, and you see that in the trail of the women who’d tried to say “Hey, Cos did this horrible thing to me” and people went “We don’t want to hear it, scrape those allegations from his biography, if you say this we’ll make you look like the villain.” And some of them went dormant for years.  When you do Cosby Math and start flipping binary switches to light up someone as “HERO,” then you actually bury evidence.
Truth is, you can have a good guy who’s got some fucking racist thoughts, you can have an anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage Pope who’s really compassionate towards the poor, you can have a really funny enlightening dude who rapes people.  You can have mixtures of all sorts of things and they don’t really add up.
We want to shuck away all the contradictory evidence, to leave us with a single image – whether that’s good or bad, we don’t really care which, we just want to not do these exhaustng calculations any more.  But people are more like one of those lenticular baseball cards, the ones that look like they’re moving if you flip them back and forth.
But in truth, that isn’t motion you’re seeing.  It’s just four or five different pictures, each similar but radically different.  Which picture you get depends what angle you’re viewing it from. And sometimes, you can’t add all the pictures together to form a satisfying whole.
And as always, apologies.  People come here to get nice neat conclusions.  I don’t have one here.  Sometimes it’s just me pointing at a mess on the floor and shrugging.