There Should Have Come A Cold Funeral

There should have been a cold funeral that day.  Umbrellas.  Mourners.  A coffin.
And Rebecca, come back from whatever town she was working in now.  She should have been in her early thirties, having left the confusion of her twenties behind, having finally steered herself into a career that made her happy, the chaos of her early-twenties love life subsided as she found more stable forms of happiness.  (Her love life would have been supremely chaotic; this, I am assured off.)
That funeral should have been an inconvenience for her.  They rarely come at good times.  I imagine her wrangling a day off, maybe asking Mom and Dad for some help with the airline fees, flying home to Cleveland on some red-eye filled with memories and finding people to cover for her.
And I imagine her at my funeral.
I imagine how she would have thought of me.  I don’t think we would have been close, at least not closer than the friends and drinking buddies she would have acquired in college; I’d be that old guy with the weird hats and the terrible puns, a comforting mainstay at Christmas and Thanksgiving and all the other visits back home, not so much a friend as just someone who’d always been in her life.  Whenever we met we’d share a beer and I’d ask her how things were going, and we’d make small talk about how grown she was, and I’d probably make some hideous comment that would embarrass her.
Yet Uncle Ferrett would be dead.
I imagine her at my grave, trying to think of our history together.  It would be sadness, grief, but more than that it would feel like the closing of a chapter to her; here was a man who was there at her home at least twice a month, a fixture of the family, that goofy guy who went out of his way to humiliate her as a teen when she had a sad excess of dignity, and cheered her on harder than anyone else outside her “official” relatives.  And she had moved on from me, feeling a little guilty about that – but she’d gotten entangled in her own life, hadn’t she?  Wasn’t that what you did when you get older?  And Uncle Ferrett seemed to do fine by himself, had always seemed satisfied with whatever attention she’d chosen to give, and now his heart had finally given out.
And she would feel, strangely, more like an adult at my passing.  Someone who had comforted her as a teen would be gone, another peg knocked out from under her; not that she had leaned on me in decades, of course, but somehow she’d always felt like she could, if the emergency came.  And now the world for her was a little less protected, and she would have to stand a little taller, because Uncle Ferrett – that bastion of her childhood – was gone.
I see her saying goodbye – not just to me, but to that chapter of her life.  I see her squaring her shoulders, recognizing that the world will be a little colder from now on.  I see her turning away from me, under the umbrella, someone she loved holding her shoulders, and it fades to black.  As it should.  I’m not there any longer.
That’s how it should have gone.
That’s how it should have gone.
Yet here I am, listening to the “Annie” soundtrack while I work, and suddenly I wonder what Rebecca would have thought of it – this mop-topped girl who looks so much like her singing her heart out, winning the affection of everyone around her.  She would have seen it.
What would she have thought?
It probably wouldn’t have had much of an impact on her.  But it might have.  She might have taken to singing Hard-Knock Life for us.  Or she might have shrugged and said “That’s lame!” and moved on; she always had a way of confounding expectations.
Yet I want to know.
And all I can think of today is the first thing she said after the doctors came in with that final diagnosis, the one where they told her the tumors were back and that she would have to go back to CHOP for chemotherapy, and she turned to me as sunny as anything to ask, “Will Uncle Ferrett be with me?”
She expected that I would always be with her.  She never questioned that I would not be by her side.
And I was.  I was there until the final moments of her life and after, holding her leg and weeping.
But it shouldn’t have been that way.
There should have been a cold funeral where she and I parted ways, and I should have been in that coffin, and some days I don’t understand the way anything works any more.

The Cold, Hugless Dystopia of the Future: I've Been There

I once complained about a stranger touching my goddaughter’s belly without consent, and suggested that perhaps young children should be given the option to refuse hugs and kisses unless they wanted them.
At first I thought these people were crazy, leaping from “May I hug you?” to “The crumbling of kindness as we all know it” in a single bound, but then I realized: *I’m a science-fiction writer*.  (Seriously, man, with a book coming out and everything.)  It’s my hobby, spending hours dreaming of alternative futures – and most people don’t turn themselves into flabby prunes in the shower as they imagine the ramifications of cheap light-speed engines.  So it’s no surprise that your average person would be absolutely terrible at envisioning a world with the comparatively tiny change of inserting a “Is it okay if I touch you?” in between the desire to hug someone and actually flinging your arms around them.
And I may be slightly snarky here, but that fear?  Is very real.  It’s hard for people to get behind a new world without having a good idea of what it looks like.  If you’re a touchy-feely person who’s used to touching without consent and having it go mostly okay for you, a place where you have to ask all the time can seem legitimately off-putting and alien.
But the good news is, I’ve actually visited that world!  And if you’re a social conservative, I’ve visited the worst possible version of that world for you – a liberal dystopia where all of the stuff you consider insanity festers!  It’s a place with a tribunal that judges you, should you step out of line.  It’s a place with supremely strict rules.
It is the Geeky Kink Event, held once a year in New Jersey.
Now, if you don’t know the GKE, it’s infamously strict as BDSM conventions go.  In a world where people have legitimate shoe fetishes and leather fetishes – as in, they can’t get off unless those elements are present – the running gag is that GKE has “a consent fetish.”  They’re super-strict about all consent stuff.
How strict?  Well, I am told by insiders that a staffer was let go because he touched another staffer without asking first.  What kind of touch?  He apparently squeezed her shoulder.*
And when I say there’s “a tribunal,” I’m not kidding: there is a large playspace where people gather, and should you violate anyone’s consent there, at least one drunk person I know got yanked out and hauled before a group of people who pronounced judgment on him.
And as I have noted before, they screen their attendees against the sex offender list, which caused some debate last time as to whether that’s fair – and I’m giving y’all a heads-up right now that this essay is not the place to debate whether the GKE is correct in having all of these strict criteria.  They have it, it’s a successful con for them, and if you’d like to complain about whether this isn’t something you’d attend, take that shit to another thread, because that’s not the point I’m trying to make today.
My point is this:  The GKE is not a democracy as you know it.  It’s the PC fascism that FOX News viewers fear.  This is your worst-case scenario of liberals being oversensitive to the needs of the most zealous complainers, a weekend where the victim will be wholeheartedly believed if they speak up, and a world where you had best watch your fucking step because by God, they expect you to behave according to their rules.
And yet that convention had more happy hugs than the opening of “Love, Actually.”
Everywhere I looked, people were hugging, snuggling, kissing, purring.  You would have thought this was a convention entirely composed of thigmophiles, folks constantly holding hands everywhere.
As it turns out, people like to touch one another.  Even asexuals like to snuggle.  Touching is a natural human urge, and affection will squirt out no matter what rules you have in place.  There will be hugs in the future of consent, I assure you.
The only different was this: before each hug, there was a pause as people held their arms open and asked, “May I?”  And in most cases, the answer was an enthusiastic “Yes!” and amazing full-body glomps occurred.
Sometimes the answer was “No, I’m not feeling it,” in which case there were no hugs.  Or a quick negotiation down to a handshake.  Yet there wasn’t a disdain there, as people feared – nobody I saw was like like, “Eeew, you want a hug?  From me?”  The asking was perfectly okay, as long as you were okay with the answer.
And even more importantly, not everyone asked all the time.  Husbands still were free to hug their wives, the consent implied by years of intimacy.  The woman I spent three hours cuddling and talking with the night before?  I held her hand the next morning without an explicit consent, and no GKE cops showed up to yank me away from her.
The difference was that if there was any major uncertainty, you defaulted to asking.  And on the rare occasion you thought everything was okay and accidentally hugged someone who didn’t want it, you acknowledged you screwed up and apologized profusely.
That’s it.
It’s not a big change, really.  I know all this “consent” stuff can look like some sort of PC nightmare to the novice, a bureaucratic land where you must fill out a 27B-6 form before advancing to the “holding hands” stage.
Really, though, it’s just a slight change where you ask politely.  And I think the “asking politely” may actually amp the number of hugs given, because there’s no downside for asking.  You’re not a creeper for wanting something, as long as you express it in the correct ways.  And as such, the socially awkward like me who may want a hug but don’t know how to get it now have an easy avenue to get their hug on.
I know these societal changes can be scary, if you can’t see what they look like.  But I assure you that people’s need for physical affection won’t be exterminated or shamed in this new consent world we’re trying to build.  Yes, it may be a little awkward at first to go, “Can I hug you?” and have the answer be “No.”  But that’s not the creation of new awkwardness: it’s the transfer of awkwardness from the huggee to the hugger, because I assure you that some of the people you hugged probably didn’t want a hug, and had to tolerate one from you.
It’s not a massive crime, what you did.  But if we can make people’s lives a little nicer by asking first, then why not do it?
The world will not stop hugging.  The world likes hugs.  The only difference is that if someone doesn’t want your hug in this moment, they are now not obligated to receive it.
The good news is that you may get more hugs from people asking to hug you, and so the world won’t change all that much.  Not even in one of the strictest consent cultures I know of.
* – This is something I have heard from two reliable sources, but have not verified personally.  However, it says something about GKE that I believe it wholly.  And once again, should this thread break out into a series of whether they are justified in this culture, I will swing the banhammer, for that is a distraction from the point I am trying to make.

My Heart Will, In Fact, Go On: Medical Update

After spending three weeks in a heart monitor for a running test, the results are in:
I’m a whiner.
No, the awesome news is that I have all of these random chest pains and big thumpy heart-moments, and they’re my heart working normally as far as they can tell.  What I suspect has happened is that after you’ve had triple-bypass surgery and almost died, you start paying a lot more attention to every bodily tick involving your heart rhythm.  But they say it’s fine.  So let’s hope it’s fine.
I also had advanced genetic testing that shows that my body was destined to have a heart attack.  My diet was sucktacular, which didn’t help, but my body is a factory of churning out top-of-the-charts particles that are pretty much guaranteed to clog the arteries.  Even if I had a perfectly healthy diet, I’d need to be on suppressant drugs in order to not seize up and die.  Thank you, modern medicine.
So yeah.  Being a carnetarian didn’t help, but my body has some genetic quirks that makes a heart attack all but a certainty. I’d be more upset about this if we didn’t live in an age that’s designed to compensate for this fairly easily.  We are, and that’s good.

Six Hours Of Tattooing (No Pictures)

So yesterday, I sat down with Jason Hager to do a tattoo portrait of my beloved goddaughter Rebecca, who passed away of brain cancer on her sixth birthday.  And I was nervous.  Because I’d never had a tattoo before, and this was a significant one.
What would the pain be like?
I have a weird relationship to pain.  When I bruised myself as a young child, I went shrieking to my Gramma, who scolded me and said, “Stop fussing!  We Lucases have high pain tolerances.”  Which struck me as being a really jerky thing to say for years, not at all comforting, until I walked around for four days with a burst appendix.
Well, no.  “Walking around” might have been an understatement.  “Moshing in the Rise Against pit with a burst appendix” might be more accurate.
So after I almost died because, well, I actually do have such a high pain tolerance that it almost killed me (cue ten days in the hospital after they pressure-washed my insides), I’ve been a little weirder about that.  Because I didn’t have a realistic clue of how I’d do with stabby-needles.
And my artist told me, “Yeah, some people pass out.  Usually in the first fifteen minutes.  They don’t go all the way down, they just kinda swoon.”  And since I’d been doing it for forty-five minutes at that point, I joked, “Well, I guess I’m a badass.”
The needle was actually not bad at all.  It hurt, but it was a manageable hurt.  As a beekeeper who gets stung two or three times a season, I’d liken the pain to about 5% of a bee sting.  Or, if I was to be more accurate, like rubbing scratchy sand up against a moderately-bad sunburn; I wouldn’t seek it out, but it’s tolerable.  I sat in the chair, pleased I was tolerating things so well.
But this was a long portrait – about six hours of sitting.  And around hour five, my body started to reject it.  Which was bizarre, because it wasn’t actually painful per se.  I wouldn’t have thought it, but the cumulative effect of the needle had triggered my body’s defenses, and now it was reacting like a swarm of insects coming to the defense.  People said it was the endorphins wearing off, but I never felt any endorphins; the pain didn’t shock me with adrenaline or anything.  It’s just that this constant irritation had heaped up, and my body was jerking in response to the stimulation against my will.  I’ve had far worse pain – ask me about projectile-vomiting twelve hours after the major abdominal surgery of having my appendix out – but my body had become hypersensitized, and every mild tweak in my left arm pulled focus, zooming my body’s attention in on that, going, “SEE THAT?!?? IT HAPPENED AGAIN!”
Fortunately, by the time my body started shivering – it didn’t help that the studio was cold – Jason said, “Hang on, just getting to the white highlights.”  And twenty minutes later, we were done.
I spent the evening incoherent.  We ran out and got scarfed some food, but I’m told this was akin to subspace, a BDSM phenomenon where after a beating the body drops into a pleasant floating sensation – but for me, I could not concentrate on anything, my attention jittering about.  I wandered around twitching from text to text, drunk on air, chemically unhindered but still jolted so that I said weird things to just about everybody.
(God help you if I had a crush on you and you texted me last night.  God. Help. You.)
I should have requested aftercare – another classic technique in the BDSM zones consisting of the careful application of chocolate, warmth, and cuddles – but a) my brain was an anthill, and b) thanks to bad scheduling issues, Gini had to drive down an hour to pick me up and then sit on an uncomfortable chair in the tattoo studio for two hours, so I was loathe to call in favors, and c) my arm was aching and I didn’t feel like I needed touch, even though when I sunk into her arms this morning it was like drinking water.  So things got worse.
It wasn’t bad – certainly less troublesome than a bad drunk night.  I’m mostly chronicling it because I haven’t experienced this before, and I don’t know if I’ll get another tattoo.  This was $550, an affordable artwork – but right now, Rebecca will be with me until the end of the days, and that’s good.
I’ll post pictures when it’s more healed.  And when I am, honestly.  But a part of her is with me now, and that’s good.

In Which I Discover I Am Totally Wrong About Sports

As someone who is quite thoroughly Not A Sports Guy, I always figured it would take me about two years’ worth of effort to properly appreciate any given sport.
The reason I say this is because one day, I was watching the Magic: the Gathering Pro Tour on streaming TV with my daughter Erin.  The Pro Tour is where professional Magic players – yes, such creatures exist – get together to shuffle up decks of collectible fantasy cards and play a strategy game against each other for a prize pool of $250,000.  And it’s a big enough thing now that there’s professional coverage, with commentary.
And the Pro Tour is an especially fun time for Magic players, because they have just released a new set of about 300 cards, all of which do different things, and so there are new strategies that nobody but the pros have foreseen.
I was watching with Erin, who was perplexed – she’s played games of Magic with her Dad, but never been to a tournament – and so I went, “Oooh!  This is exciting because this guy’s trying to make a Maze’s End deck work.”
“…what’s that?”
“If you get all ten lands of a certain type into play, you win.  It’s a pretty dubious strategy, honestly.  Getting ten lands is a big hurdle.  So his whole strategy is going to revolve around trying to gum up the ground, drawing out the game for as long as possible.”
“But you’ve never seen this deck.”
“But I know that’s how it has to work.  And the other guy, well, he has to apply more pressure, because the longer the game goes, the worse it gets for him.  So he has to commit lots to the board in order to try to kill the other guy before he ‘goes off’ and wins.”
“Okay.  That makes sense.  So he just goes all-in and tries to kill the guy?”
“No.  That’s first-level thinking.  If he commits too much to the board, and this guy plays with board-sweepers that destroys all of his guys, then he loses on the spot!  And this Maze’s End guy almost certainly plays with board-sweepers because of that – well, he might not, his mana base is stretched thin as it is.  But so this other guy has to attack as quickly as possible, without putting down so much that he can’t recover if this Maze’s End deck – which we don’t know what cards are in it for sure – wipes out everything on the field.”
Erin looked at me admiringly.
“Well!” she said.  “I think we know where all your sports knowledge went!”
And the truth is, when I watch Magic, I’m watching with probably 70% of the skill of a professional Magic player.  I’m not nearly good enough to play in PTQs – because the skill level of a Magic pro player is incredibly high – but I have edited what’s widely acknowledged as the best book on Magic strategy ever written, and was thanked by the author for fact-checking him and suggesting improvements.  So when I watch Magic, I do so as though I am playing – what card would I play next?  What’s my line of attack here?  Oh, he did something different, he’s better than me, what am I missing?
And I assumed that sports fandom was the same thing.
I’d played football videogames, and was immediately baffled by the massive number of plays I could select from.  There were 150 options, each presumably for a different situation to favor different player strengths, and I didn’t understand them.  I knew the basic rules, but what I needed to know to properly savor the game was to know which huddle was correct based on the game state, and which strategy was most likely to achieve the immediate objective.
If I knew all those strategies, then I could enjoy the game the way that others did.  I’d be able to anticipate the next play, to take full appreciation of just how difficult making that pass work was, and….
…well, that was a lot of work.  Magic, I’ve picked up incidentally over seventeen years or so.  I didn’t play football, or baseball, so my ability to understand its nuts and bolts had been accidentally hampered.  If I had, then I’d know when you needed to use the ol’ knuckleball and the infield squeeze.  And then I’d enjoy the game the way it was meant to be played.
Imagine my surprise when my friends Nathan and Ian told me that probably 60% of the baseball fans had practically no more knowledge than I did right now.
They just liked going out on a sunny day and watching their team win.
But, they assured me, it was true.  Most fans don’t get the fine bits of football they way I do Magic.  They have a couple of people they root for, and maybe some guys on their fantasy league they’re hoping get in the yards, and of course GO OUR TEAM.  But do most people understand the reasons for the 150 plays that can be made?  Do they watch the field as though they were the coach, determining what the next play should be?
No.  They’re just happy to watch muscular men smashing into each other, and cheering when someone makes a great catch.
I’m still a little weirded by this, actually.  I assumed that football fandom was akin to an apprenticeship, where one packed in the knowledge so one got the payoff.  But no, Nathan referenced XKCD’s story generation cartoon, where people go to games to see narratives played out (even as they don’t understand all of the factors that go into those narratives), or to enjoy the weather, or to BEAT THOSE GUYS.
I have no reason to think he’s wrong, but man.  That’s weird to me.  And Ian said, “No, you could learn everything you need to know to enjoy sports in maybe a month.”
And my answer, which makes me feel even more freakish, was “No.  I couldn’t learn everything I needed to know to enjoy sports in a month.  But I’ve just learned how I enjoy things is totally at odds with the normal crowd.”
Once again, Ferrett is a freak.