theferrett: (Meazel)

“Where is that Ferrett boy on the Internets?” you ask.  Well, as of this afternoon, he’s going on vacation.  To Italy.  For ten days, with his family.

And he has no idea what his Wi-Fi situation will be. Or his free time.

So if I’m slow to get back to you, well, I’m not apologizing, but I do feel I owe you an explanation.  I’m off on vacation, and while I often unwind by dorking around with social media, who knows what things will be like when I’m hanging with the Pope?

So I wish you well.  I hope you wish us well.  We will be the prototypical tourists, not speaking a lick of the language yet brimming with enthusiasm, and we will be gawking like stooges, half-drunk on Italian wines and getting ripped off by merchants.

And, hopefully, loving it.

Love to you all,
T.F.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Andrew Ducker tipped me off to this amazing article that details John Kerry’s last attempt to negotiate a peace between Israel and Palestine.  It’s a long article, but that’s because it has to be, showing exactly how complex it is to work with two sides that don’t trust each other in the slightest.  And two sides that each have external pressures of their own, where even the act of negotiating erodes their power base.

The last paragraph sums it all up quite nicely:

“I see it from a mathematical point of view,” said Avi Dichter, the former chief of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency. “The American effort will always be multiplied by the amount of trust between the two leaders. So if Kerry’s pressure represents the number five, and then Obama’s help brings the American effort to ten, it really doesn’t matter. You’re still multiplying it by zero. The final result will always be zero.”

But still.  The article’s well worth reading, if only to see exactly why simple solutions almost always fail. There’s a lot of things that these experienced men could have done better in hindsight, but with all of the factors converging on a high-stakes situation, who could tell at the time what was going to be the fracture point?  Especially when people were looking to fracture it?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So I haven’t said much about the Israel/Gaza situation for two reasons:

1)  It’s a complex situation with a long history, and I am largely ignorant of much of it.

2)  People have super-intense emotions on either side, and venturing an opinion puts you in the middle of a withering crossfire.

3)  I’m in the least popular opinion (at least among op-eds) that both sides are being dicks.

Which is to say that if I had to tug both Israel and Palestine aside at a party, I’d probably say this:

“Hey, Israel, I know that as a Jewish nation you’re internationally hated and constantly under threat of being nuked. And yes, you’re living next to some people who create terrorists who walk into your nightclubs and bomb you – I know that’s happened.  But you’re a nation that exists largely because America sees you as morally superior and more worth protecting than the other nations we ignore – and you’re eroding that right now by bombing kids on beaches.  Even accounting for the danger you’re under, from my standpoint you look  lot like a bully, taking their space and shoving them back into the sea and giving civilians such a small space that even if Hamas didn’t use civilians as shields they’d still be crammed in like sardines at a shooting range, and that is not cool. The fact that you’ve been persecuted throughout history doesn’t give you a magic pass to do whatever the heck you want, and what you’re doing right now looks a lot like what you’re afraid people will do to you, given the chance.

“If you keep this up, eventually America is going to stop supporting you – and then where will you be?  So yes, they’re going to shoot missiles at you periodically.  But as long as you keep overreacting like we did when we got hit in 9/11, you’re going to look like an even bigger jerk and exacerbate the existing hatred.  And also murder a lot of kids.”

And then:

“Hey, Palestine, I know you’ve been dicked over.  A lot.  By everyone.  But at this point you’ve internalized so many lessons of hatred that you’re reacting to everything with the assumption that ‘fuck it, might as well go to violence’ – and if a genuine peace ever did get offered, I’m pretty sure you’d blitz right past it.  I think way too many of your politics revolve around distrust – and though it’s not like Israel has been particularly trustworthy, eventually all peaceful solutions involve some measure of good faith.  You’ve got zero.  And yes, you can say that you’re justified in that, but it’s like my friends who kept picking fights with the cops – yes, he got beaten up a lot, but he also got into scuffles he could have avoided.  At some point you gotta get out of this bunker mode, or you’re never getting out of the bunker.

“Also, you have this unfortunate issue that when people support you, they start airing their open hatred of the Jews, and that is really not cool.”

But again, that’s just my impression.  I’m not educated on this topic, really.  I present that to you not as part of a cogent argument, but rather in the interests of being open about where I’m coming from.

What I do find fascinating, however, is this essay here on Hamas, which suggests strongly that many of the civilian injury photo ops are staged.  Which is bizarre, when the deaths are real.

The fascinating thing is that he’s not arguing that people weren’t killed or hurt, but rather that Hamas took them aside and did some makeup tricks before taking the photos given to reporters.  And there’s some evidence: side-by-side comparisons of a guy with his face washed, his hair blow-dried, and his hands neatly cleaned.

I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Would it be wrong to stage the photos to make them more media-friendly, assuming that there was an actual horrific death behind it?  What goals would be achieved?  (David Frum, that conservative thinker, believes it’s because unstaged photos would show too much truth about why those civilian killings occurred, but I can’t see how that would happen.)  Or is this some sort of bizarre, self-selecting stupidity like the Republicans picking faked victims of Obamacare to parade around when they have actual victims they could find?

Or are these faked at all?  Certainly, the writer of this essay is dickish (“Look, the guy’s got no tears!  He can’t be really in anguish!”  I didn’t cry at Rebecca’s bedside when she died, man.)

If it’s true, what’s the point?

The answer is that I don’t know, and I’m curious.  Maybe you know.  As mentioned, I’m not super-educated on the topic, and I expressed my opinions on Israel and Palestine above not to try to sway you, but rather to be completely open about how I view the issue, as a full disclosure of “Here’s my biases, refute or unpack them as you see fit.” I’m open to education from either side.

In any case, I’m going to trust to my usual smart and courteous commentors and see if y’all have any opinions on the faked photos – opinions based not on the ZOMG MY SIDE IS SAINTLY THE OTHER SIDE IS BEASTLY LOOK AT THE HORRIBLE CANNIBALS. And, if you can debate politely about the issue without a) getting personal or b) flouncing off angrily when someone makes a point about your side, then please comment with each other.

But if you can’t do that, I’ll swing the banhammer.  Or maybe take this entry down.

I’m taking a chance here.  Validate me.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“Revenge porn”: two words in the English language that should never go together.

Alas, those two words are shackled together by malicious idiots looking to ruin the people who had the misfortune to date them, and this weekend we had another outbreak of dickery.  Twitterpurge had a bunch of angry exes posting nudes of their ex-girlfriends in an attempt to shame them.  As it turns out, there are no laws protecting you from people posting naked pictures of yourself against your will – aside from paying $35 to copyright the photos and filing a DMCA takedown notice.

Some will say that anyone dumb enough to send nudes of themselves to their lovers deserves what they get. To me, that’s along the lines of saying “You should have known not to dress like that, going to that club!” when someone gets raped. Yes, if one never sexts or sends naughty pictures then one can avoid this, but I think that’s a way of suppressing a quote-unquote “shameful” act.

If someone recorded all your arguments over the phone when you were breaking up and then released your crying breakdowns as a podcast, I’m pretty sure the response wouldn’t be, “Well, then stay off the phone.” If after a bad breakup, someone wrote a humor piece published in the local paper on how foolish you looked when you had an orgasm, the answer would not be, “Well, don’t have sex.”

The truth is that we as society deem certain activities acceptable (and thus worthy of protection), and put other activities in the “You knew you were doing something shameful, so really, you deserved that, didn’t you?” And fuck that noise.

Yeah, I’ll say it: there’s nothing wrong with sending naughty photos to willing recipients. (“Willing” being the key word, here.  Don’t Anthony Weiner yourself.) In relationships the naughty text is often a form of foreplay, like dressing up in lingerie, a way to ensure your partner is ravenous for you when they walk through the door.  Or, in long-distance relationships, a way of bridging the loss of physical intimacy that happens when you’re in separate states.

And whether you think it’s wise or not, pretty much everyone does it.  (I was once told by an ex-Genius Bar employee that yeah, pretty much every person dating has a naughty selfie or two hanging about, so they had to be super-careful when checking someone’s phone.)  It’s a super-common activity, something that we may not like to admit happens, but does.  A lot.

If you’re not comfortable with that, I support your unwillingness to participate.  But when you shift to shaming and going, “Well, you knew the risk!” I hear you basically saying, “To avoid all risk of pregnancy or STDs, don’t fuck anyone ever.  Otherwise, well… you knew the risks!”

All actions with other people have risks.  But again, as society, we think certain people deserve to be punished for taking those risks.

That noise can be fuckenated.  Especially in a committed relationship.  There is especially nothing wrong with sending naughty photos to someone who has actually seen you naked, who is someone you’ve committed to as a partner, who at the time of the sending is someone you love and trust and care for.

What is wrong is when after the relationship sours, that person posts those pictures as revenge.

The problem is not the person who sent the photos, but the sick fuck who has weaponized them.

By shaming the victim here, you degrade the idea of privacy.  What you say or send to someone in the course of a relationship is, and should have, a reasonable expectation of confidentiality.  We’re still adjusting to the techno-shift of “Oh crap, what we say is on the record,” but at some point people will be able to dig up really fucking awful stuff about you at any time, and you need to look at the larger picture:

Is anything we do open to the public, where if anything you say happens to get captured anywhere then it’s fair game to be thrown open to millions of people?

Or is there a place where what you say to someone can – and should – reasonably be expected to stay between you two, where you don’t have to live a life constantly asking yourself, “Would I be comfortable with this statement being broadcast on ABC News?”

HINT: Politicians are trained professionally to act as though their every word will be broadcast, and they still fuck it up on a stunningly regular basis.

This is not a “stupid women” issue. It’s actually asking the larger question of “Who’s the jerk – the person who expected privacy, or the person who broached it?”  And I think as a society, we really want people to exude that cultural pressure to say, “No, some things were meant to be seen by one person only, and anyone who breaks that seal of trust is a dick who needs to have his ass handed to them.”

So it’s not about naked selfies, in that light, it’s about asking yourself whether you’d like to lead a life where every conversation you have with your friends might one day be Google Glassed out to an audience of millions.  This starts, as it always does, by picking on people who we as a society has agreed pretty much deserve it – and hey, that eternal punching bag of “slutty women” never gets a whole lot of respect, why not justify their disrespect?

Or you could – and should – switch your point of view away from “They knew the risks,” which actually is a synonym for “We’re not going to bother to protect your rights,” and move towards “Those guys broke an implicit contract, using what was given in private to try to ruin their lives, and we should do everything we can to stop these sick fuckers.”

And for the record, I think this applies pretty much everywhere.  Ben Stein just got outed by a call girl who released screenshots of his texts, and I’m really not fucking comfortable with the excuse of “He’s a celebrity, he should have known.”  Even celebrities should be able to have awkward relationships and breakups without people exposing their private data.  And even though I think Donald Sterling is a racist nitwit who’s done a lot of harm, I am not comfortable with his ex recording their conversations and releasing them into the public arena to fuck him over.

Yeah, in the case of Donald Sterling, his removal has done a service for the NBA.  But I think that sets a dangerous precedent, saying that “Well, we got rid of a racist, so any angry ex is perfectly justified in taking all the embarrassing shit they’ve gathered on their old partner and putting it out for the Internet’s entertainment!”

I think there’s a lot of bad exes out there – and though I’ve never gone on a racist or homophobic tirade during a breakup, certainly I’ve said some shit that sounds horrible in some end-of-relationship arguments.  And here’s the thing: if you’ve had a breakup, you almost certainly have too.  Breakups are often where courtesy goes to die.  Which is why I don’t think “Well, I wanted to get back at someone who was mean to me” justifies breaking the seal.

We do stupid things in relationships.  And some of those stupid things, yes, reflect who we really are, but what’s said when a relationship is ending is rarely flattering or a full picture.

What happens when you’re dating should, largely, stay between you.  And a mark of maturity when breaking up is not involving your friends, not airing every bit of dirty laundry, and not violating past intimacy by revealing everything you think would fuck them over.  (Unless that person is a rapist, an abuser, or other hazard to the community, naturally.  I’m not arguing for “Never break the seal,” but rather “To do it rarely and with greater concern than merely revenge.”)

What happens between you as a couple should stay between you as a couple.  That’s something I think should continue even in an Internet age.  And yes, there’s always a risk sending dirty pictures or having nasty arguments that have you say stupid things or revealing the embarrassing stuff you do during sex – but rather than shaming the person who took the risk, we should overwhelmingly shame the person who created the risk.  We should shame them for maliciously leaking the information entrusted to them.

We should shame them flagrantly, consistently, gratuitously, until that risk is as small as any possible risk associated with sex.  Which is also not shameful.  And anyone who tells you it is should be ashamed.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Being chronically ill is like having a part-time job you hate but can’t quit. It’s a constant suck on your resources that healthy folks don’t understand – overseeing the never-ending battle between your insurance and the pharmacy and the doctor who forgot to call in your fucking scrip again, finding a physician who actually listens when you tell her there’s something wrong, a rocky employment record because on any given day you might collapse.

Dating while being chronically ill? Even harder.

It takes a special kind of partner who’s going to be okay when you’re too sick to go to that fun party, to drive you to the doctor’s office six times a month because the medications make it dangerous for you to take the wheel, to deal with the fact that sometimes you’d like want to do the kinky-kinky but dammit your legs just aren’t up to that today.

So a lot of sick and/or handicapped people are also terribly lonely. You have to find a partner who fits the craggy edge of this life you didn’t choose, and hunting down someone that generous is difficult at best.

If you’re dating someone who is sick like that, and are sticking by their side when the “in sickness” part consistently outweighs the “health,” let me offer you a personal word of thanks: you’re on the side of the angels, here. Your empathy is an inspiration.

Make sure to take care of yourself, too.

See, the reason I say this is because sick people can be jerks, too. It’s not like the doctor comes along and says, “You’ve contracted a case of lupus and also, sainthood.”

Sick people are, well, people. And some folks who get sick were abusers before they got ill.

And in the very rare circumstances when a chronically ill person is an abuser, they can do a lot of damage. The guilt-hammers they can drop are devastating, because yes, they’re dependent, and yes, they’re often needing other people to help them along…

…but most chronically ill people don’t use that as a way to shape your life to their convenience.

I say this because I’ve watched some friends who stayed with someone ill, a person who was actively corroding their self-esteem and taking advantage of them – and yet didn’t feel right about leaving this clearly toxic environment because “S/he needs me.”

So they stayed while their partner cheated on them, and spent their money, and dispensed their affection in carefully-calculated slot-machine doses of “neglect today, insult tomorrow, but maybe a sweet word this weekend.”

But they couldn’t leave, because that would make them a bad person.

So let’s be clear here: There’s no reason to endure constant abuse. Ever. You’re not a bad person for leaving someone who treats you badly. Even very sick people don’t get a “get out of responsibility free” card which enables them to treat you like shit all the time.

…which is not to say that the chronically ill won’t snap at you, from time to time. I think of my Uncle Tommy, a hemophiliac with such terrible arthritis that if you listened to his shoulder you could hear the bones rubbing against each other like stale crackers – and while I loved him dearly, he was not always a ball of fun. He had really angry days. He had surly days. He had withdrawn days.

The difference was, he didn’t justify his angry and surly and withdrawn days by telling me they were my fault. He had them, but never blamed me for them or used them as an excuse to take out his frustrations on a nearby target. He apologized, when he was in a better place – and sometimes when he wasn’t. And even towards the end of his life when he was in constant pain, he still devoted what limited resources he could towards worrying about my well-being, making sure I took care of myself, squeezing my hand to let me know that he loved me.

My Uncle Tommy, in the middle of all that pain, wanted me to be happy.

Sometimes, someone’s just depressed or chronically ill or handicapped, and yes, they need your support. They don’t mean to be a pain in the butt – and they’re doing their best to be functional human beings despite some soft spots.

So you should not be too eager to pull that switch. Sick people need love, too, often much more of it.

Yet some sick people chew up love and spit it out, always expecting more and not caring how they get it. (Or, more accurately, some people do this, and some of those people happen to be sick.) Some segment of the depressed and the chronically ill and the handicapped will callously treat you as though you were a medicine-and-money-and-support-dispensing machine, filleting your self-esteem to do as they please.

And when you hit your limit, they’ll jam hard on the “But what will happen to me if you go?” guilt button.

Yet again: It’s not wrong to leave someone who abuses your kindness. Even caretakers get to set proper boundaries. And if someone keeps violating your trust in ways that hurt you, then they’ve sent you a clear message: I don’t care about you.

In which case – sadly, tragically, and hopefully avoidably – you are not required to care for them. It’s kind if you do, of course. (And slightly different if you’re dealing in terms of end-of-life care, of course, which is brutal but at least has an end date baked into it somewhere.)

Yet if you’re consuming your own mental health in order to take care of someone who doesn’t give a crap about how you feel, then remember that your kindness is a gift. You deserve to give that kindness to someone who genuinely appreciates it on whatever limited level they can.

There’s one person you must be kind to above all others, in the long run – and that’s you.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I had a very nice time at DetCon this weekend; I was worried I’d melt down from all the people, but the people were kind.

No, seriously.  Folks kept squeezing my shoulder, asking, “How are you doing?”, giving me hugs.  Checking in with me.  And yes, I’d asked for that, but nobody had to do it and yet you all did.

So thank you.

DetCon was a very nice con, but very awkward for what it was – it was held in the vast, sprawling area of GM headquarters, so big it took me twenty-five minutes and five floors just to find the convention.  It was so big that they were holding another convention in there, a Netroots con – which foiled my usual plan of “follow the pasty backpack-wearing guy to the action” – and the place still often felt empty.

So even though it was the largest fan convention that Detroit had held (and go Tammy for running a hell of a con), it was hard to find people, as there was no central place where everyone just washed up.

I remain fascinated by how a hotel affects a con’s feel – if you have a central bar everyone has to pass through on the way to the panels, then you see everyone gathering there, washed up like a culvert of happy people.  If you have a large layout full of hallways, then people tend to choke the hallways, leading to little clots of informal gathering that get pushed on as crowds pile up behind them.  And if you have a large area like DetCon had, you have a con that feels very nice but not coherent, because I ran into people at various places but had no strong sense of “Here is where I want to go if I want to watch my friends turn up.”

But regardless, my friends did turn up, and many of you were much nicer to me than you had any right to be.  And since you often find out how I’m doing in this public space, I should thank you in this public space, and say it clearly: Thanks for helping a grieving man find a bit of normality.  Thanks for being there.

Thanks for proving to me, for the ten thousandth time, that the world is generally full of extremely nice people.  Of which you are one.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So at around 3:00 today, I’ll be leaving to go to DetCon in Detroit.  I have my usual set of convention nerves (What if no one wants to talk to me? What if everyone secretly loathes me?) that come with having social anxiety, but they’re worsened this year by grief.

Which is weird to me; it’s over a month since my goddaughter Rebecca died, and I’m still experiencing fallout from that.  It feels like I should be – well, not moving on, but rewiring around the damage, if you will.

And yet the aftereffects are still strong, and one of those aftereffects is a fear of crowds.  I’m told this is not unusual, particularly not after the trauma of a week-long Shiva mourning period.  But my introvert batteries are redlined easily, and I’m having difficulty recharging them.  Going to a convention seems like running a marathon now… but it’s a necessary marathon, something I must do to struggle back to normality.

So.  If you see me at Detcon, and you feel like doing a writer a mitzvah, please don’t be afraid to say hello to me.  I’m often told, “You looked busy!” when I wasn’t at all, I just had Resting Busy Face.  And while you are by no means responsible for my experience at DetCon – that would be me – it would be kindness to break the ice with me as opposed to having me gather the strength to say hello to you.

For I want to say hello to you.  And discuss books, and silliness, and All The Things.

If you’d like to see me yammer on at panels, DetCon let me off light this year, and so I only have three:

Friday, 7:00: Worldbuilding
I’ll probably be discussing some of the techniques I used to devise some of the magic systems in FLEX as examples, thus putting me down the inevitable primrose path to becoming That Guy on panels.

Saturday, 11:00 a.m.: Plotting vs. Pantsing
As anyone who’s read me knows, I’m a pantser who wishes he could plot.  But I have many techniques to help you finish your story when you don’t know how the heck to end it!

Saturday, 7:00 p.m.: Writer’s Groups: The Good And The Bad
I need writers’ groups to function, so I’ll doubtlessly be opinionated.  That’s what you wanted, right?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Some Very Manly Bloggers are astonished that John Scalzi’s daughter can bench-press more than he can.  Well, to be fair, they’re astonished that Scalzi is not shamed by this revelation, as – being a Man – if John Scalzi spent any time at the gym at all, his superior boytastic muscle development means that be able to outdo his kid in mere weeks.  He’s not even trying.

Scalzi, the problem, is literally weak – and he doesn’t even see a problem with this.

I, too, am a Wimpy Liberal, as my daughter can run way farther than I can.  I walk 5ks, she runs them, and then runs back to catch up with me and then jogs in place next to me as I heave my pudgy frame along the pathway.  And when she’s done, she doesn’t even sweat.

How can I reveal this shameful fact to you?  How can I tell you that my daughter routinely bests me?

Simple: I set my own goddamned priorities.

I say this because a recent comment mused how “a pudling” like me was clearly incapable of killing a man.  No, seriously.  Some douche was literally attempting to sway people’s opinions on my writing by asking, “Could Ferrett strangle a man with his own vas deferens?  No?  He couldn’t murder a man in cold blood?  Well, he’s lessened as a human being!”

And I thought, Killing people is not how I define my self worth.

If “running marathons” or “knifing prison guards” was as important to me as “writing” or “beekeeping,” well, I’d be a lot better at it.  But even though the world tells me that a True Man must be slim and muscular and be able to beat Wolverine in a bar fight, I’ve decided – perhaps irrationally – that my ability to love my wife is far more important than my ability to kill her.  That my ability to engineer solutions as a programmer provides more worth to the world than my ability to eradicate terrorists as a murderer, and my ability to write stories that inspire people is more important than my ability to create sorties that end people.

Which outrages these people, because here I am perfectly content with my life as a pudgy heart patient.  I’m not fulfilling their needs at all!  I’m not even trying!  And yet I’m wandering around happy!

How dare he treat my arbitrary definitions of what makes someone valuable as though they’re arbitrary?

And so my kid outruns me in every race we’ve ever had, and I’m fine with that.  It’s not like she’s a better writer than I am, beating me in a field where I’ve chosen to compete, and…

…oh, wait.

I’d be okay with that, too.

Because one of the things that I chose to prioritize as a human being was, “I want my daughters to be the strongest, most competent, happiest human beings they’re capable of being.”  I did not agree to a lifelong contest, where in Traditional Manly Fashion I would have to pummel my kids into oblivion in every contest just to remind them Who Is Superior, and if by some chance I lost well, that would be the time when she would have to scoop my beating heart out and devour the last of my self-worth, as I was no longer capable of putting her in her place.

If my daughter can write better stories than I can, then I say great.  I want my daughter to outdo me.  I will soar if my kid is happier than I am, has more loving relationships than I do, has a superior career to me.

I am not lessened by her achievements; because my goal was to inspire her, every good thing she does is also my success.

So run, kid.  Beat the pants off of me.  I did my damndest to help you fly, and if you soar above horizons that I can never reach, well, I think that’s what every good parent was hoping for.  Instead of, you know, being an insecure douche who’s secretly engineering his kids to fail so he can feel better about his life.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

1)  Today’s your last chance to save the Internet – quite literally, as the cable companies want to make the Internet more profitable for them and worse for everyone else, including all the businesses on it.  All you have to do is leave a comment for the FCC.  I suggest strongly that you do so.

2)  I spoke about the disaster that was DashCon yesterday, and this being the Internet we have a rebuttal from someone who actually attended, saying it wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be.  (Hint: That still doesn’t make it good.)

But this is your daily reminder that the Internet is a distortion zone.  By the time a story becomes big enough to go viral, chances are very good that several facts have already been mismanaged by the time you get to hear about it.  And then, once the weight of numbers has decided that Thing X is Bad, people sift through every factoid they can unearth, looking to find all the worst bits to make it a more interesting story.

Do I think that DashCon was well managed?  Lord no.  Can I understand that the tragically-tiny ball pit might have been meant ironically, and that the Internet sailed right past any sense of irony?  Oh yes.  I can completely believe that.

Do I think that DashCon might have had some very good things couched in what was, by many objectiveish accounts, a disaster of PR and management?  Absolutely yes!  But the Internet doesn’t like “Some of it was good, much of it was bad” – they want a punching bag, like Transformers, something so incompetent that they can make fun of it to their hearts’ content without having to feel bad about hurting anyone’s feelings.

Do I qualify as one of those heartless morons searching for a chewtoy to savage?

Yes.

Yes, I damn well do.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

A friend of mine once said that a sexbot story had only two possible endings: the sexbot kills, or the sexbot gains a soul.  And I thought, God, a sexbot’s gotta have something better to do with her time.

Eventually, what emerged from that kernel of ponderation was a flashfic piece called “The Bliss Machine,” a second-person piece detailing your trip to the sexbot.  And Three-Lobed Burning Eye – you may remember them publishing my previous pieces Riding Atlas and Dead Prophecieskindly decided to publish it.

The obligatory excerpt:

She squeezes your arm flirtatiously; her fingertips are made of rubber. Thick industrial rubber, with embedded heating coils to bring them up to body temperature.

Then she laughs, a warm and human sound, and you almost forget you are sitting inside of her.

“The movies only have two endings for sexbot stories.” She curls back onto the couch across from the bed — which you cannot stop staring at — then demurely adjusts the brass cable that keeps the voluptuous, human-like sculpture of her inner-self tethered to the clockwork room of her outer-self. “The sexbot murders someone, or the sexbot gains a soul. As if any sane collection of routines would want a soul! You know all a soul is? The feeling that you should fight your pleasures. Which, in turn, arises from a flawed algorithm that erroneously calculates you’re more than the sum of your inputs. Well, you are that sum, and so am I! If happiness can be defined, a soul’s the thing keeping you from it.”

As if to demonstrate, the gel-foam bed — a part of her, as is everything in this mechanical shack — rises to engulf your back, triangulating the tensest muscles to squeeze them with loving tenderness. She melts those hard knots to cotton candy, touching you in ways you didn’t know you craved.

Tears of joy spatter across the gel; it takes you a moment to realize they’re yours.

“See?” Her hexagonal eyes calculate the way your naked body writhes. “My inputs. Your outputs.”

You can read the rest here.  As always, if you like it, share with your friends.  Although this one may reveal something a little more about you than you’d care to share…

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I enjoy watching train wrecks in slow motion, and so have been watching the Tumblr-based Dashcon unfurl in all its glorious psychosis this weekend.

Highlights include:

  • An “emergency fundraiser” at the con where they went around asking fans for $20,000 in cash or the hotel would shut them down…
  • …but the hotel claims they know nothing about this $20,000 charge…
  • …and while there’s YouTube videos of fans thrusting dollar bills into the staff’s hands and yelling High School Musical quotes, nobody’s sure if they actually got $17,000 or not.
  • Also, one of the featured guests (Nightvale) pulled out, and the other discovered that their rooms weren’t comped.
  • 5,000 were supposed to have attended; 1,000 did.

Read all about it here.  And the behind-the-scenes look from an ex-organizer here.

Dashcon looks to have been poorly-managed, run by teenagers with more dreams than sense, and it collapsed in ugly ways.  Which goes back to what I said on Friday about conventions seeming like monolithic, competent entities, but really being composed of volunteers with various levels of competence.  There was a lot of hype about Dashcon, so it looked huge, but “Having good press” does not equal “Actually getting the job done,” so watching this fiasco unroll should be educational.

Yeah, ReaderCon and Wiscon and Arisia are all great conventions.  But they’re all run by volunteers, and some of those volunteers are… well, not good at what they do.  And when a con burns through its top-tier management, as it inevitably will, they can only hope that wiser people will replace them, or else it can all fall apart like this.

This is why some cons thrive – they know who to promote – and other cons, like Dashcon, run on a bubbling stew of “Wouldn’t this be cool if…” that doesn’t actually get anchored in reality.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I pass the seasons by scraping old nail polish off.

I first realized this when I had my first post-heart attack manicure.  I was still very weak, having been cut open for a triple bypass, but I had recovered enough to stagger into the Venetian nail shop to regain some semblance of normality.

And I had lucked out; under normal circumstances, I would have gone into open-chest surgery with no pretty nails.  The oximeters they use to check the oxygen levels in your blood – mission-critical in a man with three arteries clogged at 99% – clip onto a finger, and read oxygen through your nails.  Almost any color will block it.

But in my case, I had a super-girly princess nail cut that faded to transparent sparkles at the fingertips, so the oximeter worked.  And the hospital staff, sensing I needed comfort, kindly left it on.

I had those nails for the better part of four months.  And when I went to my manicurist and they scraped them off, I looked at a tiny pink pile of glitter and thought, Well, that’s it.  That’s that era of my life gone.

And so when I sat at the manicurist’s this Sunday, with her scraping off my Art Deco nails, I thought: Well, that’s it.  All the pain of Rebecca’s final days, all the numb trauma of Shiva, all the shivering recovery – that time is over.

Except I wasn’t ready.

And fireflies have been tied to Rebecca this summer.  Fireflies are always my favorite part of the season, those glorious specks of bioluminescence winging about the lawn, appearing for a few weeks.  But this year, I literally saw the first firefly of the summer next to the hearse on the night of Rebecca’s death.  We’ve lived in this house for almost fourteen years, but we’ve never had a firefly loose and inside and blinking around, but that happened this summer.

I keep thinking: fireflies come, and they leave too soon.  But they burn bright.  And there is nothing, nothing else like them.

So I had Ashley my mad manicurist make me some firefly nails.

Hands up and touch the sky.

There are many tiny fireflies on my fingernails, and her craft shines here: the triple-fade, the hand-painted grass, the dots glow in the dark.

But on my nails, among the hundreds of fireflies, there is one that I told her to put on over the top coat.  That one is Rebecca.  And over the course of the next few weeks, the Rebecca on my nails will fade and vanish into the night sky, lost from sight.

But never forgotten.

(Nails by Ashley, who is on Instagram as La_belle_etrangere, who can be booked at the Venetian Nail Salon in Rocky River, Ohio.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

In two weeks, I’m going to Italy, and I need some honest-to-God old paper entertainment.  Because I’m not sure of my power requirements, and I probably won’t have good Internets that I can afford on the road, I need some books.

(And plus, I like books.  They’re a little roomy, but their bookly nature comforts me.)

So what am I taking to read on planes, on buses, and in my Italian villa?  Well, here’s my most recent book order, which probably would have had a few things like Charlie Stross’s latest Laundry novel and Scalzi’s “Lock In” if I wasn’t ordering all paperbacks and not clunky hardbacks:

  • Nexus, by Ramez Naam.  Hard science-fiction done by a science reporter?  Dealing with nanotechnology and linked brains?  Yes please.
  • Two Serpents Rise, by Max Gladstone.  I don’t know why I read some books and am super-psyched about the sequels, whereas other books I love thoroughly but never seem to find my way to the next one in the series.  (“Feed,” for example.  I fucking loved Feed.  But haven’t felt an urge to shuffle on to the rest of the Newsflesh trilogy, though it’s sitting on my shelf, beckoning me.)  But I did absolutely love Max’s book Three Parts Dead, which featured lawyers trying to revive a dead God, and here I’ve been waiting for a good excuse to buy his next one.  So Italy will be good.
  • Shield and Crocus, by Michael Underwood.  I haven’t read Michael’s writing before, but the pitch on this one – superheroes battling inside a city created within a giant’s skeleton – hits all my nerdy buttons.  I’m anticipating a lot of light fun and people punching things in creative ways.
  • The Rithmatist, by Brandon Sanderson.  The one time I met Brandon he struck me as a really nice and generous guy, and people have raved about Warbreaker – but personally, I’ve discovered I can’t read Thick Fantasy on plane trips.  So when he discussed this book on Writing Excuses, the worldbuilding – his forte – seemed quite good to me, and the YA nature means I can plow through it relatively quickly.  So this, I think, is where I meet Brandon’s writing.
  • Southern Gods, by John Hornor.  All the right writers on Twitter seem to be kissing John Hornor’s buns, constantly going out of their way to mention him – which is usually the sign of a good writer.  I know nothing about the man’s work, but it’s a vacation, I like a little gamble.  And it’s horror, so I can always cope with horror.
  • Roasting in Hell’s Kitchen, by Gordon Ramsay.  This is a vacation in Italy, goddammit.  I deserve some trashy reading.  Plus, I know I can hand it on to Gini when I’m done with it.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

While pretty much everybody lauded the Geeky Kink Event’s attempt to keep sex offenders out, there were many who groused that the Sex Offender list was not a ban list for conventions.  And some asked a question I’ve asked before, which is, “Why don’t more conventions band up to create an officially shared blacklist?”

That’s a good question.  Let’s break that down in some detail.

The first thing you need to understand about fan conventions is that the people attending them tend to see cons as this monolithic corporate entity – and why not?  They bring thousands of people together!  They rent a whole damn hotel!  They decorate, they cater, they hold parties, they hold concerts!  These conventions must be professional organizations!

Whereas the truth is, most cons are run on a shoestring budget, barely making back their costs, about one bad event away from going broke.  They’re also all staffed by volunteers; I know few conventions that have one full-time salaried employee, let alone a board full of them.

No, unbelievably, the cons you love are most likely run by people in their spare time – all those guests booked for you in the two hours they have after they get home from work, all those investigations held on weekends when you’re out watching movies and they’re dealing with convention feedback.  Cons are not so much the “MegaCorp funds the grand ballroom gala” as “An Amish barn-raising.”

If you have fun at conventions, ponder this and thank the crap out of your local con-organizers.  Better yet: volunteer.

But this does mean that while conventions mean well, and the people are dedicated, they’re working with volunteer effort – which is to say that yes, the Literary Track that went so well last year is now in danger of going to shit because Louise moved to Minnesota and she was the only one who knew everything.  And she didn’t leave notes.  The guy who knew how to find the good hotels has to work double-shifts because of his new kid.

Conventions are not one entity, but rather a constantly-fragmenting hive mind composed of well-meaning people doing this in the corners of their life.  And as such, cons are good at doing what they’re passionate about, but it’s hard to say “Fred, you must follow these rules and regulations” when Fred gets to say, “Or what?  You’ll tell me not to come here, and I’ll get my weekends back?”

The fact that conventions get anything competent done is, in fact, a testament to the goodness of the human race.  Again: volunteer.

But when conventions are saying, “How do we keep these molesting dorks out of our con?” they’re often a bunch of not legally trained, not experienced people.  At this stage in time, yes, “Keeping cons a harassment-free space” should be a priority for everybody.  But when you see a con doing something spectacularly stupid, it’s often because Joe New Volunteer With More Enthusiasm Than Brains got put into a slot that, sadly, nobody else was stepping up to fill.

…did I mention “volunteer”?  Okay.  Good.  We’re done with that.

Anyway, so hopefully now you see your average con not as a sleek Porsche, but more like a soap box racer made of old popsicle sticks held together with duct tape.  They all strive to be the best, and many of them manage it, but they are constantly battling attrition and resources to make the magic happen. The fact that the magic happens at all is a miracle.

So anyone who wants to devise an official “blacklist” shared among not just one of these constantly shifting volunteer organizations, but many of them, is trying to herd cats.  The person they’re supposed to talk to each year about this may change as people shift positions, and Jackie who was totally stoked for this safety drive may have given up cons and moved on to Burning Man, and now who are you supposed to talk to at ConSternation?

Who knows?

But even once you get past that very considerable hurdle, you have the big issue: How do you compile a list of ban-worthy harassers?

Keep in mind, many people who get harassed – or even out-and-out raped – do not want to talk to people at the con.  All they want to do is leave this experience behind, and “testifying to a group of strangers” – even strangers inclined to believe in them – is not a part of their healing process.

And let’s say someone gets physically assaulted at your convention, and talks to a group of her friends.  The friends go to you to report what they’ve heard, but there’s no physical evidence or eyewitnesses.  And you’re willing to take her word for things, in fact are perfectly primed to toss this asshole out on just one word from her… but she won’t talk to you or anyone official at the con because she’s freaked and doesn’t feel like reliving the day.

Do you blacklist someone based on second-hand testimony?

Some say “yes,” some say “no,” but that’s a tricky goddamned call.  In fact, banning the dude in the absence of testimony may actually make the victim’s life worse, because people are going to ask “So why’d he get banned?” and gossip will flow, and now the victim’s name will be out in circles she may not want them out in.

It’s not simple.

And – again, remember, cons are each composed of messy well-meaning volunteers – what crimes get you banned for life?  If you say, “Well, we’ll come up with a clear list of bannable offenses” and break it down in detail, well, you have just started a large board argument at every convention you’re asking to join over “Whether these rules are acceptable to us or not.”  (Quite possibly with the obligatory sides taken of “Too strict” vs. “Not strict enough.”)  And like every law, you’re going to come across situations that aren’t covered, because creepers creep in new and not-so-exciting ways all the time.

Yet if you take the alternate route of, “Well, you know what’s acceptable,” remember: well-meaning volunteers.  They might not.  Or they might not feel comfortable enough to ban people based on “gut feels” and hence default to not-banning when they damn well should.  It could be that your ban-list creates a false sense of safety, which is, in a way, even worse.

And then you get into the whole mess of “How do you report this stuff?”  The initial instinct may be to say, “Well, we won’t reveal any details, of what happened, we’ll just ban them.”  And congratulations!  You have just become the TSA’s “No-fly” list – a mysterious shadow cabinet that holds secret trials and doesn’t tell you what you did.  Even if you’re really good at weeding out creepers, you’re going to cause drama among people who don’t trust organizations. And as we all know, cons never have attendees of libertarian bents with deep mistrusts of authority.

Or maybe you give some vague details. Yet as organization after organization has discovered, people can put together stories from the vaguest hints.  You run a very good risk of inadvertently outing a victim.

Yet either way you go here, private or public disclosure, you run the risk of legal action.  Banned douchebot may not take well to being ejected from one convention, but he’s unlikely to go nuclear.  But if this project gets successful and banned douchebot is banned from not just one convention but most of the fun gatherings on the Eastern Seaboard, he may well get a lawyer and decide to see what he can shake loose.

And yes: you will probably win the court case.  But you’re very naive if you think “winning the court case” means “JUSTICE SERVED PIPING HOT!” Remember, cons are run on shoestring budgets, often only carrying maybe $500 to $1000 in profits over to the next year.  Douchebot doesn’t have to win the court case, he just has to force TinyCon to pay out in legal fees.  Too many legal fees, and they go broke.  And that’s a concern.

Is it any wonder a lot of cons just rely on whisper campaigns?  Even though they’re closely dependent on reputation, fragile, and can break all too easily?

None of this is to say that cons should not attempt to fling out the creepers, of course.  They should.  And most do try.  But because people criticized using the Sex Offender registry as a blacklist and asked, “Why not just use a customized one?”  And this is why creating a really good list is an honest-to-God struggle.

The real world is complex.  We struggle with very serious problems that don’t have easy answers.  And a lot of cons have been trying to provide better alternatives, with some success, and the fact that they achieve any headway at all is laudable as fuck.  Applaud them.  Contemplate how much work is ahead of them at making cons into safe spaces.  Understand that mistakes happen, and happen for these reasons, and should never ever happen, but even as you hold their feet to the fire understand all the vectors for error they’re juggling.

Now.  If you’ve run a con and got any good tips for keeping people out as a convention (and not the usual true-but-not-particularly helpful “Tell everyone to be eternally on their guard!”), then share.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I’ll be presenting on polyamory at the Geeky Kink Event New England this year (come visit! It’s fun!) , and was finalizing my schedule with the organizers when they said this:

There will be a charge…. to run a check against the sex offender registry.

“Huh,” I said.  “They’re going to check to see if I’m a sex offender?”  And sure enough, I checked their website, and found this stunning little number under “Registrant Screening“:

When you register for GKE:NE, we will do two things to help ensure a safe, secure atmosphere for all of our guests.
  1. We will run the registrant’s name against a shared list of people banned from various kink and alternative lifestyle events on the Eastern Seaboard.  Reasons someone might be banned include forms of severe misconduct, such as consent violation.

  2. We will run the registrant’s legal name through the sex offender registry of either their home state or, by default, New Jersey.

And I thought, “How insanely great is that?”

Admittedly, the Geeky Kink Event is a kink event (the TARDIS bondage box and the sensory deprivation Companion Cube might be your clue as to the sexy here), so screening for sex offenders is a little more vital than it might be at your average filker con.

But I really like what this says about their commitment to their attendees: We’re going to try our damndest to keep the creepers out, and you safe.

Now, is the sex offender registry a particularly great method of filtering people?  Sadly, no.  The sex offender registry has a distressing amount of false positives, particularly from teenagers in consensual acts who got caught by angry parents.  There are people who plea bargain down to sex offender status not because they were guilty, but because they had 100% chance of walking free if they took the label or some not-zero percentage of jail time if they didn’t.  The sex offender list is imperfect and broken in an America that really dislikes sex.

Worse, the sex offender list isn’t near-comprehensive, either.  There’s a lot of rapists and molesters who didn’t get their much-deserved day in court, so “Not being on the list” is not proof that this is an upstanding citizen.  (Which is why GKNE backs it up by checking with their sister cons, sharing their ban-list.)

That said, holy fuck you guys go for making the attempt.

Screening for creepers is a tough job, in real life.  A really tough job.  The court system is incomplete, the word-of-mouth is ephemeral, the drama high, the legal hassles are tricksy, the defenders multitudinous, the creepers insidious.  People don’t like accusing other people, because it feels bad and often it puts a victim in a spotlight when they’d rather just forget this happened, so sometimes getting evidence would involve making a victim’s life infinitely worse.

And – never forget this – some of the consent violators are really nice guys.  Which is why I encourage you to question me, question your friends, question everybody, because “a nice guy” can often mean “has leveraged sympathy to get better traction for despicable acts.”

But make no mistake: despite its flaws, there’s a lot of dangerous fucking people on the sex offender list, too.  And rather than throwing up their hands and saying, “Wow, this is complicated, who the heck knows?”, the Geeky Kink Event is at least attempting to enforce some standard that – though I’m sure they’d readily admit has some flaws – is still much, much better than leaving it open to whatever creepazoids hand them their money.

I’m glad they’re screening.  I’m glad they’re asking about me.  I do not want to ruin someone’s convention experience, and if they check me out and think that I’d hassle people, I support their right to kick my ass to the curb.  (I doubt they will, as they vetted me last year before I emergency-cancelled thanks to Rebecca’s sudden illness, but who knows?)

Every convention is its own society and its own set of morals.  That society is shaped by what behaviors are judged acceptable – and, by proxy, what people you allow in to act.  Shaping that society is not wrong – in fact, it’s part of what makes the really good cons great – and finding ways to keep the away people who’d ruin the experience of the good people you want to attract to your gatherings?

I support that.  And in the absence of ideal solutions, I’m glad to see GKNE working towards imperfect ones.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

(NOTE: This essay was originally published on FetLife, the Facebook for Kinksters – but I thought it was sufficiently interesting to port over to my “Real” blog, even though it has a couple of Fet-specific references in it.  Because it deals with fatness and pride and attraction, and though I’m writing this in response to an essay that some of you might not be able to read, the essay is summed up and I don’t think I’m distorting it too much.)

Inside the community and out, us normal people and skinny people are getting pretty damn tired of being told what and who we should find sexy.”

Here’s a trick to dissecting arguments: when someone starts off by telling you that they’re a “normal” person, you can safely assume the rest of their argument will be, “Here’s what society tells me, and I’m not going to bother for a second to contemplate whether that’s good or bad.”

And lo, that’s what we have here.

The story, as summarized in @MPsHoneyDoll’s essay, is:

  • People don’t like fat people, so:
  • I hated fat people myself:
  • I hated myself so much that I changed myself
  • Now people like me.
  • So I like me.

 

And that is perfectly cool if you don’t find fat people attractive. Anyone who tells you that you are obliged to find any particular set of features attractive is an insecure git who needs the weight of numbers before they can relax.

You may be attractive to a small number of people. That’s cool.

The question is, are those people attractive to you?

If so, then awesome! Who cares if only one in 100,000 people wants to sex your bones up? If that one person is the dud/ette you wanted, then run rampant in the fields of glory, motherfucker!

If not, then you have that icktacular quandary of deciding how much you feel like changing for them.

Because here’s the ugly truth and the truth of ugly: you’re not going to have a 100% success rate at attracting the people you want. You just won’t, not over the course of a lifetime. And so you eventually have to make the decision of “Yes, if I changed my sexual identification and got a tattoo of a capuchin humping a watermelon and had bone-extension surgery to gain six inches in height, I could probably have them bed me. Is that worth it?”

And if you’re not processing too heavily, and these watermelon-humpers are in the majority, what you come to mistakenly believe is that there’s something wrong with you that you don’t naturally fit their mold of attractions.

There isn’t. There’s something wrong with your approach, presuming you want to date these people.

But if you’re just sort of skimming past all that, you don’t draw that vital difference between “This is a poor strategy for my goals” and “I am a failure as a human being,” and then come to think that cauterizing that hideous Thing They Do Not Like out of you is the only way to true happiness.

Not just for you.

For everybody.

Look, I’m neither pro- nor anti-fat. I actually find chubby women more attractive than skinny women. I think that my wife, who is overweight, can be actually healthier (she runs triathalons at her weight) than many skinny women who are more concerned with dress sizes than actual health. I believe that weight is merely one axis of many health considerations, and one that we demonize because we as society have decided that fat people are fucking disgusting.

But still, as a heart patient, I’m carrying forty extra pounds that endanger my well-being, so I’m trying to get it off. People who are 600 pounds are highly unlikely to be in the prime of health.

There’s a balance here. Sometimes, what society hates actually lines up with some genuine problems you have, and for God’s sake don’t do the nerd “reverse the polarity!” thing of going, “Well, if they hate it they must be wrong!” and then forever wrestling every conversation to be about your deep love of Transformers.

Maybe you’d be happier and less lonely if you bridged the gap and learned some common social skills – the moral equivalent of losing enough weight that you’re no longer at risk for coronary disease, but still chunky enough to appreciate a good sundae every once in a while.

“Normal” society, yes, rewards skinny people disproportionately. But it also rewards white people disproportionately. And straight people disproportionately. And men disproportionately. And if I’m not fucking careful, I can internalize those irrational hatreds and come to believe that there’s something wrong with me instead of society.

What @MPsHoneyDoll is regurgitating without thinking is the vomit that everyone poured onto her, all that societal hatred of fat people, which she drank up and internalized and now she can’t feel attractive unless she’s thin.

And hey, I’m not casting too many aspersions here: we all have our weak spots. I myself think I can’t be attractive unless I lure you in with words, which is equally dysfunctional.

The difference is that I’m not telling you all that really, being a poet is the only thing to do in this situation.

If @MPsHoneyDoll can only feel good if she’s thin, great! That’s an end-run around unthinkable pressures pushed onto you by thousands of people, and it may well be easier to give into that than to fight the power. I actually support that. Not every gay person needs to come out of the closet, not every kinky person needs to parade their slaves around the workplace.

(It helps if you do. Helps a lot. But it’s something I think is purest selfishness to demand of you, because fighting societal expectations takes a serious toll, and we trivialize people’s struggles when we forget that fundamental truth.)

But please, please, don’t not just cave to the pressure, but actually add to it, by telling folks that “normal” people find fat kiiiinda loathsome and implying heavily you’d be better if you just gave it up.

Because I’m willing to bet if we took you out to a crowd of “normal” people and showed them just what you loved on FetLife, most of them would think you were a fucking freak. And would you then tell me that yes, to make these generic people happy, we should give up our specifics?

No. Fuck that. “Normal” is not what we should be concerned with, especially in a fucktastic kink-saturated masturbationapocalypse like FetLife.

“Happy” is.

And yes: You will appeal to a wider variety of people if you lost weight. That’s the numbers, man. You’d also appeal to a wider variety of people on Fet if you were female, white, bisexual, and had big tits.

But it does not then follow that to be content, everyone should conform to what makes Kinky and Popular, the place where the most-loved photos wash up on FetLife. My wife has a shirt that says “I’m Someone’s Fetish,” and what matters is whether you can find the people who appreciate you for what you are.

And I’m perfectly within my rights to look at you and go, “Guh. You’re unattractive.” But that “unattractive” must always be accompanied with the properly-implied “to me,” and with the self-knowledge that just because a lot of people dislike something doesn’t mean it is actually wrong to be that.

I’m glad @MPsHoneyDoll is happier the way she is now. I am sad that she’s chosen to take a stance that heavily implies that anyone who doesn’t do what she did is fundamentally lacking on some level.

And I’ll tell you the truth: what makes me happy is not what will make you happy. Your job is to find what makes you happy, and then recognize this is not a one-size-fits all solution.

All I have ever written about is one path. I think it’s a pretty wide path, which is why my writings tend to be popular on Fet. But there are people who speak really beautiful and telling truths who never make it to K&P because those truths apply only to a narrow subset of people.

That makes those truths no less valid. Just less popular.

There is a difference.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

…at least I am according to David Steffen, who compiled his list of the Top 50 Podcast Fiction of All Time.  And I showed up six times on this list.

(My highest charting was #10, so I think that makes me like a really influential indie band.)

So in case you’re wondering (and there are many other good stories on that list to check out, if’n you like podcast fiction – check out Keffy in particular):

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I had a Tweet up for about twenty seconds that I then took down, which was this:

“Cleveland is hosting the National Republican Convention in 2016. I hope we have enough hookers.”

Which is funny to me, man.  I honestly don’t know if Cleveland has enough prostitutes to service all the incoming conservatives, because past conventions have shown that man, these staid-in-the-wool motherfuckers go through sex workers like nobody’s business.  We may have to import.  I’m sure several of my sex worker friends are looking at their calendars and just planning a blowout weekend.

But I took the Tweet down, not because I thought it was inaccurate, but because I thought in a shorter version it’d pass on overtones I didn’t want to create.  It seemed to degrade sex workers to me (and no, for some reason “I hope we have enough sex workers” didn’t strike me as funny in the same way).

Which is a weird thing about being careful with your communications: It’s not that what you say isn’t funny, but that it also encourages people to not question things.  To me, a hooker or a sex worker or a prostitute or whatever the fuck you call them are people, worthy of rights and protections.  But I suspect a lot of the people who might pass that gag along would be the sort of people who’d see selling sex as the incontrovertible evidence of bad morals/life decisions/etc.

The real joke here is how the Republicans try to make kinky sex illegal, and yet crave it the same way we do.  But I’m not sure that Tweet got it across without punching downwards more than I’d like.

Okay, rant break over, back to work.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I had a friend who wanted very badly to go overseas.  Sadly, I can’t remember why she wanted to go overseas – we’ll get to that – but what I do remember was her disastrous donation drive.

She set up an Indiegogo account – a.k.a., “The place we go when we’re pretty sure a Kickstarter would fail” – and set up various tiers of rewards if she got enough money to go overseas: little tiny things like postcards, et al.  And what I remember was that the tier pattern went something like this:

  • $30 – I will write you a personalized Tweet when I am in Czechoslovakia.

That’s where I started to feel a bit… insulted?  Overlooked?  Taken for granted?  Not a good feeling when I’m being asked to reach into my wallet.

As a writer, for me, being paid six cents a word – a word – is called “professional rates,” meaning it’s what the top-tier markets get.  And this campaign designed to induce me to give my friend money was giving them Tweet-rights of two cents per letter.

And I Tweet a lot.  I know how much time I spend composing a very thoughtful Tweet, which is at best three minutes.  So what my friend was saying to me, quite literally, was, “I think three minutes of my time is worth several hours of your paycheck while I relax on the beach in foreign lands.”

Already I was feeling a little dazed here.  And then I got to the next tier, which was something like:

  • $50 – I will allow you access to the personalized blog where I detail my trip to Czechoslovakia.

That’s when I thought, oh, no, no, you’re doing it all wrong.  My friend was thinking entirely about what she wanted, the trip, and how much work each tier would be for her, then pricing them accordinglyWhich is the wrong way to look at it.

Here’s the secret to every donation drive – and keep in mind, I’ve run quite a few – the donation drives are never about what you want.

Every donation drive is about how you make the donator feel.

That’s actually true of every piece of written communication, but is especially true when you’re asking people to give you money.  When you do a donation drive, you are not trying to go to Czechoslovakia – you are trying to make a total stranger feel excited about getting you to Czechoslovakia.  And as such, your entire focus must be answering the question, “Why would someone who doesn’t know me feel wonderful about helping me to go on this trip?”

The whole reason I’m writing this now is because there is an infamous Kickstarter for potato salad – literally, the entire point was “If this funds, I will make myself some potato salad” – and it is, as of this morning, it is funded at $37,500 with 24 days left to go.  And I had several baffled sick friends saying, “I held a donation drive to pay off my crippling doctor’s bills and stalled out at $150, and this guy gets thousands for a goddamned potato salad?”

Yes.  Because potato salad guy actually seemed like fun.  It was goofy to even ask for such a thing, and funny, and people felt like “Hey, a guy like this I feel good about throwing away $1 to.”  In other words, “He provided me with $1 worth of amusement.”  And several thousand people joined in.

And watch carefully, my friends, as to how he reacted when all this escalated: did he hunker down when his stretch goals were made?  Hell no.  When this started to go viral, the dude said, “Well, hell, if people want this, I will throw a potato salad party,” and threw open a call for anyone in the area to come on down to Columbus and make some potato salad with him and dance around in the joy of potato salad.  The potato salad guy sounds like a fun time!  Hell, he’s in Columbus, I am damn tempted to go down for his potato salad fiesta.

The question is, did your donation drive provide $1 worth of entertainment?

Look, I’ve raised somewhere in the range of $5,000-$10,000 for Rebecca Alison Meyer, my goddaughter who died of brain cancer a month ago.  And that’s not nearly as celebratory fun as a potato salad party, but the reason I was so successful – as people have told me time and time again, sometimes to my chagrin – is that “You made Rebecca come alive for me.”  Being a writer, I tugged on your heartstrings to feel empathy for a beautiful spitfire of a girl that you’d never met, and so many of you donated to CureSearch for Cancer in her name.

I hesitate to use the term “entertainment” for such an awful travesty, but the point is people felt good either way about donating.  They felt like it was worth their money, emotionally.  And too many people, like my friend, get caught up on the tiers of rewards, thinking, “What can I churn out?” and forgetting that the rewards are merely another way of making people feel more excited about donating.

And when I see these medical donation drives, what I see is often a relentless stew of pain: “I’m miserable and broke and have to buy duct tape to hold in my shattered skull.  If you donate $5, well, it won’t actually make a dent in this mountain of medical debt I have, it’s all hopeless really, but if you’ll let me weep on you for some time I’ll send you a postcard to remind you exactly how little of a difference you made.”

Then they get no traction.

No, man, if I was poor enough to need funding to, say, buy myself some new glasses, I would ask this simple question: “Why would people feel good about giving me money to buy glasses?”  And by proxy, “What could I tell them to make them feel empathy – to make them go, ‘Aw, man, I’ll feel happy if this balding dude in Cleveland gets his glasses’?”

And I’d think, “Well, I have all these books I want to read.”  And I’d start making a list of all the books I’m excited about reading but can’t, but could if you helped me, then talk about these upcoming books and the very specific reasons I’m excited about reading them – going on about my love of, say, Jo Walton or Stephen King or Robert Bennett – and make you feel excited with me.

And then I’d say, “Why, I’d be so grateful if you helped me with these glasses, for $30 I’ll buy a book that you love and read it and tell you all the lovely things about it!”

Would that work?  I don’t know.  But I do know it’d work better than, “I’m broke and I need glasses, give me the cash.”

The lesson about Kickstarter or Indiegogo or any donation drive is that you get what you give.  My friend shouldn’t have made her blog a $50 tier – the blog access should have been for donation $1, the lowest possible level, telling people, “If you sign up in any way, I will let you into my world and tell you of all the wonders I find in Czechoslovakia.”  As it is, honestly, I don’t remember why my friend wanted to go to Czechoslovakia, which is a sign of how badly the drive was presented to me – she was my friend, I cared about her, and I couldn’t tell you what it meant to her aside from a thrusting hand in my face.

And, of course, her donation drive didn’t get anywhere.  What happened was what happened with most of the donation drives: her close friends gave what they could, a handful of acquaintances pitched it, and it stopped there because if you didn’t know my friend, well, this donation page would not have told you a darned thing about her.  She was very sad, even if she was resistant to changing her donation page because she’d worked so hard on it.

The lesson: be the potato salad.  Even if you’re sick and life is terrible, find a way to get people invested in your journey.  Give them only things that make them feel more invested in your journey.  Make them feel triumph when you succeed, and I can’t guarantee you’ll get potato salad money, but you’ll get more than you would have.  For sure.

(And if you’re looking for a good couple to donate to, may I suggest helping my friends Jeff and Tracy Spangler?  It couldn’t hurt.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Hello, glorious mortals!

If you’ve been living under a rock, you may have missed that a) I sold a novel, and b) that novel is coming out on September 30th.  Or that I have a West Coast Release Party in San Francisco on October 11th.

But now?  I have an East Coast Release Party on October 24th at 7:00 at the Word Bookstore in Brooklyn!  I have not been to Word yet, but several people told me, “Awww, man, you have to see this store, it’s pretty amazing,” and so I shall.  And I’ll do a reading/Q&A/signing there! (And afterwards, I’ll almost certainly go out for drinks and hang out for a bit, because this is a celebration of fourteen years of work.)

So if you’re excited about my debut novel, and you’re anywhere within driving distance, I’ll say, “Hey, come on out and see me!  I’ll bring donuts – which, once you’ve read the novel, you’ll understand says something quite important about you all.” 

Remember: East Coast Release Party October 24th, West Coast Release Party October 11th.  I’ve allllmost got the details down for the too-critical Cleveland release party, and hopefully should have something for you by next week.  Also, since it’s been suggested and within driving distance, maybe a Detroit release party for all my pals out there.  But maybe that’s one too many release parties, I dunno.)

You may also ask, “Ferrett, what about a [My Neighborhood] Release Party?”  And the answer is that “Ferrett has a limited amount of vacation time, and family to visit on both coasts.  These Release Parties are tremendously exciting but also a net loss in cash, as there’s no way I’ll sell enough books to fund the driving trip and hotel stay to NYC – so alas, this is not so much ‘a book tour’ as ‘Ferrett thinks this would be fun to visit his Dad and throw this in.’”  While I’d love to visit your home town, I don’t have that kinda money to burn.

But you can still order Flex from any number of bookstores in advance.  Which would be nice.  Authors live or die on preorders, so if you’re not gonna attend a release party but wanna celebrate, you can do a little dance when Flex arrives on your doorstep.

And that, my friends, is the end of today’s marketing shill!  Move on.  Feel joy.  Walk about.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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