theferrett: (Meazel)

“You’re not on a statin right now?” my cardiologist said, distressed.  “Oh no. Oh no no no. You’re a heart patient, you have to be on a statin.”

“I thought I was on a statin: Bystolic.”

“No, that’s a beta blocker. It’s intended to prevent heart attacks. The statin lowers your cholesterol.”

“Isn’t that what Welchol does?”

“It does, a little, but that’s mostly to prevent you slipping into pre-diabetic numbers.  Here, I’ll show you how bad you are: we’re going to run some blood tests to show you what your cholesterol is now, and in four months we’ll show you how much you need the statins.”

Why couldn’t we have had that before?

It would have been a lot easier for me if the doctor had sat down with me and said, “You need to be on four medications: a statin to lower your cholesterol, a beta blocker to prevent your heart from seizing up, a medication to keep you from tipping into diabetes, and Vitamin D to keep the healthy oils in your blood.  If you’re not on one of those at any given time, then my treatment isn’t working.”

Instead – like a lot of doctors – he gives me a bunch of confusing names and assumes I’m following, and I thought I was following, but I’m not.  When I went down to three medications, I thought that was a conscious choice on his part, not a clerical error.  And because doctors are often too damned busy to monitor me as closely as they should, I didn’t have the tools to monitor myself.

I now know: I need statins, or things go boom in my chest. (I’ll be fine, but this could have been disastrous long-term.)  And I apparently need beta blockers.  And Welchol for some reason I’m still nebulous on.

But when doctors fail to educate clearly, it’s their patients who suffer. And I’ve tried to educate myself, but the problem is that the doctor – like, again, many doctors – focuses on the individual segments and not the overall plan.  It’s like telling a soldier, “Go attack that guy” – useful in the short term, but if something goes wrong and the soldier doesn’t understand that her ultimate goal is take this hill and keep it, she may charge off after another enemy.

For me, the medications I’m on are a constant shuffling game, as the doctor brings in new medications and the insurance company denies some and others still go into generic form, and it’s hard to keep up.  What would be nice is if I had a chart:

  • Your Beta Blocker: Bystolic.
  • Your Diabetic Prevention Medication: Welchol.
  • Your Good Cholesterol-Retention Medication: Megadoses of Vitamin D.
  • Your Statin: ???

And that way, when things switched up, as they inevitably do, I could know which was which.

And I? Am healthy, and in good mental condition. I can’t imagine how complicated this gets for people who are on don’t-go-crazy medications combined with chronic conditions. It’s a part-time job just keeping my prescriptions constant, and I suspect a lot of people are harmed when doctors think they’re being clear but the patients aren’t understanding as well as they’d thought.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

This doesn’t end well.

I had a supremely good day today; slept in until 10:30, programmed my first real project in C# (and discovered that though it was a new language, I still had some tricks to teach the native programmers), went out and sanded and stained a bookcase, and then wrote a good 900 words on my new book.

Then Gini and I went out to our backyard, lit up a fine cigar, and drank some exquisite bourbon as the sun set and the fireflies crept out across the yard and shooting stars streaked across a cloud-filled sky.

This still doesn’t end well.

It’s been about fourteen months since Rebecca died, and the world still doesn’t make much sense some days. She was six years old. She died on her birthday. She got brain cancer, and it swelled and grew in her skull until she stopped breathing while I knelt at her bedside, my hand on her ankle.

This doesn’t end well.  None of it does.

And I know the end is coming.  Gini is eleven years older than I am.  Chances are good she’ll die before I will, and what will I do when the love of my life is gone?  I’m a heart patient; I feel a twinge in my chest and there’s my mortality, raw and throbbing, that clammy reminder that one day I will be back on the ventilator – or worse, condemned to the backwaters of some old-age home, helpless and weak as overworked nurses ignore me for hours at a time.

It doesn’t end well.

These sun-touched clouds are so beautiful.

And Rebecca is dead, and with it my last hopes of a just universe. I suppose I should have learned that lesson from my own triple bypass, but I was already forty-two, and that’s a good age for someone to die – a little premature, but I’d lived a lot of life.

Here I am, bourbon in my hand, and Rebecca never got to taste alcohol.

None of this ends well.

And yet that is the lesson: None of this ends well.  The end game for all of us is death, and yet this day I feel oddly cheerful.  I cannot hope to cling to any of this.  Our bodies will fail, and this will all be ripped away from me, and yet…

This cigar is beautiful.

My wife’s hand is warm in mine.

We made wishes upon the stars.

I will not get to keep this.  But that is not the goal.  The goal is to appreciate what we have, in this slim instant between birth and the void, and today I lived every minute of my life to the best of my ability.  I savored that cigar.  I poured my heart into those 900 words.  I wrestled that program into submission.

(I stained the bookcase terribly, but even in that, I learned wonderful new crafts techniques.)

This cannot last.  But it’s been good, as long as it’s been.  And my goal is not to hold onto these moments forever, but to cherish them while they are here.  I have been married to the love of my life for fifteen good years, and maybe that ends tomorrow, but every day of that has been something to appreciate, and even if it goes away that’s more than most people got.

The dog rolls in the grass.  The cigar ember smolders.  My wife smiles as she plans her next trip to Seattle.  And when it is done, we will pour another glass of fine bourbon, and put on Battlebots, and cheer as robots smash each other to flinders.

Rebecca is gone.  But we are here.  And it would be a disservice to the bright streak of Rebecca’s life if we lost that future happiness to darkness, and we do not forget the darkness but tonight we celebrate the life we have left, and huddle tight around a dwindling fire.

She is gone.

This does not end well.

That does not mean the story is not worth telling.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Most new technological achievements in fiction are presented in one of two ways:

  • This new thing will save mankind! And some evil people are trying to stop it!
  • This new thing will doom mankind! And some evil people are trying to make it popular!

Truth is, every technological achievement comes with benefits and negatives. The Internet made it easier for isolated people to find friends, but it also allows pedophiles to band together. The same algorithms that helpfully suggest your next Netflix show can be hijacked by the government to predict your behavior.  There’s never been a technological revolution that didn’t come with a few bodies in the basement, but fiction tends to not have time to deal with complexity.

Ramez Naam’s Nexus/Crux/Apex trilogy sure as fuck has time to look at both sides of the coin, though.

Nexus is a nano-drug that acts as an operating system in your brain, letting you network with others in real time and hack portions of your consciousness.  It’s been open-sourced, and it is also completely illegal, because the US government is – rightfully – concerned that an interconnected operating system that allows people to rearrange their memories at will and to load Bruce Lee fighting programs into their brain is a security issue that will cause massive breaches.

The book sets up a “massive government vs. spunky hackers” plot, but the issue is that the government’s concerns are very real.  The ramifications of Nexus are as huge to this world as the Internet was to us about forty years back, and whereas the hackers are right that the ability to connect with other people and share experiences is empowering, they are also overlooking the many negative ways that bad people can – and, in fact, will – use this experience to fuck other people over.

In this, the Nexus series is wonderfully complex, because everybody has a point.  The government is clinging to the status quo, yes, but that’s because it’s totally unclear whether the government’s citizens would survive the transition to a transhuman future.  The hackers are occasionally a little cocksure.  This is a Pandora, and Ramez Naam treats it  appropriately as a global issue, starting in the US but soon branching to India and China and, well, everywhere.

And more importantly, the technology feels real.  The black-ops tech the government has will absolutely smash the spunky hackers’ limited resources every time unless they can hook up with other, greater, forces. As such, alliances become a huge issue, and the alliances only work as long as everyone’s on the same page – which doesn’t happen for long as the ramifications of what people can use Nexus to do spreads.

Not to mention the fact that “transhuman” is a real concern – what a bunch of Nexus-enabled people can do outstrips normal people’s abilities, even as it leaves them open to hacking attempts and trojan viruses.  And when the governments clash, and the civil wars break out, and the terrorists start playing their hands…

Well, things get delightfully messy.

The book has a couple of minor flaws – to me, the “renegade hacker” syndrome where one man can rewrite major portions of an OS in days was a break from reality, but an acceptable one – but what I loved about the Nexus series was the sense of enlightenment.  The book has intraconnected Buddhist monks providing serenity, and what’s delightful about the series is that sense of transcendence’s ephemerality.

Because the characters each achieve these moments of perfect grace, a time when everything is made clear to them – and then they have to deal with the grimy details of the real world and forget portions of what they’ve learned, but they are on an upwards climb.

Yet what I love about the Nexus series is that the governments have these moments of perfect grace. There are times when everyone in the chain of command is illuminated, seeing everything as it is – and then some of them retain that knowledge and work to forward the future, while others fall back on old patterns and reject it.  There are several moments where we see clearly what should be done, and we also see the counterweighting forces to understand why it’s not done.

This is a marvelous achievement.  And when the trilogy ends, the characters’ storylines are wrapped up, but the politics do not end.  Nobody finishes on the same page.  They can’t.  That is the very point of the Nexus trilogy: that good people can disagree on how to push forward, and this conflict we see in the real world isn’t good vs. evil, just different priorities weighted.

All that happens with a good crunchy action sequence every fifty pages or so.  Pick it up. Discover the future.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So Bernie Sanders – my personal fave for the Democratic Presidential candidate – has been taking some heat for not addressing black issues well.

My response: good.  Even if I disagree with his critics.

Every candidate has this moment where they charge onto the stage with their priorities, and discover the voters have different priorities.  And they either a) ignore those voters, and don’t get elected, or b) change up to address those voters’ issues, and potentially get elected.

Now me? For me, Bernie is like a walking Overton Window of progressive politics; we’ve spent the last forty years watching Reagan and his successors nudge the frame of our viewpoint further and further right until Obama – a moderate candidate at best – looks like a frothing socialist to many.  Having Bernie Sanders in the race, even if he doesn’t win, will serve the same function that the Occupy movement did: to raise questions as to what’s reasonable, and start a dialogue about issues that conservatives have long buried under that 1950s McCarthy imminent-apocalypse vibe of “You don’t want a socialist in office, do you?”

(I’d be happy with either Hillary or Bernie if elected, but since I think neither’s likely to get a lot of laws passed in the face of Republican Congressional resistance, I’d rather go with the guy who’s going to be more ambitious than Hillary’s warmed-over, half-hearted gestures towards worker fairness.  Hillary’s always been more Wall Street when it comes to equality politics.)

And what Bernie says to me makes a lot of sense to me as a white guy.  I think if he got his way, black people everywhere would be better off, because I think focusing on economic reform and cheap education would lift all boats for everyone poor – and since black people are disproportionately poor, they would benefit disproportionately.


Note that this is White Dude expressing his opinion.

Black Dude, and Black Dame, need to be convinced.  And they may feel what I said is a tide of horseshit they’ve heard a thousand times before, and they want actual focus on restitution and specific reforms aimed at helping the black community.

Which is fine! One of the things I fucking loathe about the “be a good ally” mentality is that sense that “If you have a different approach to fixing this problem, you are evil and don’t want the problem fixed!”  No; the world is fucking complicated, and there’s room for reasonable disagreement on the “best” way to do things.  I have my own opinions on what might help, shaped by my experiences, and others have theirs, and the best we can do is to fully acknowledge that hey, either of us might turn out to be wrong over the course of time, and to encourage a healthy exchange of opinions.  I acknowledge I might be wrong, and I hope anyone disagreeing with me on “the best way to address the economic inequalities that black people suffer” also acknowledges that they do not have perfect knowledge on how to fix all those ills.

(In other words, I believe fully that as a white dude, I cannot fully understand the black experience no matter how I try, but I also believe that “experiencing the pain of a bad system” is a very different thing from “knowing how to fix that bad system” – and as such, there’s room for debate from all sides on what the best approaches are.)

And what Bernie Sanders is getting right now is a bunch of angry people going, “I think what you’re proposing is horseshit.”

When you get accused of fomenting equine excrement, what good people do is to stop, take in that feedback, analyze it, and see whether that new information changes things.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes it does.

And we’ve seen Bernie Sanders maneuvering to change his message to address “Black Lives Matter” more explicitly – clumsily, yes, but everyone’s clumsy when they first change their message.  And that’s good.  It shows he’s taking the issue seriously, and he’ll either put more effort into explaining how he thinks his economic equality policies will affect those issues, or he’ll start addressing black issues more directly.  Either of which is awesome.

Sort of! Because what we’re seeing now is the inevitable leftward bend of the primaries, where we get candidates who appeal to the leftiest of lefties – and like the conservative primaries, we may see an effect where we select candidates who are RAH RAH LIBERAL and then it turns out that our candidates can only thrive in the rarified air of the liberal oxygenator, and wilt and die when exposed to actual moderate Americans.

But that’s the best process we have now, alas.  And Bernie Sanders?  I think he’s got good ideas.  But I’m not the person he needs to convince to win the damn election.  And I think it’s a good thing that he’s getting battered a little by Black Twitter – because I think it’s good for people to get battered, to be forced to justify their beliefs before a group of skeptical people.

My belief is that decisions without debate are like trying to build an impregnable fortress in the absence of warfare.  You can go, “Oh, yeah, this thing we built? Nobody could get in.” But you don’t know where the weak points are until you have a bunch of very motivated people looking to break into your building – and when that happens, you’ll find all sorts of flaws you hadn’t considered.

Which is why I’m against anything that squashes polite debate.  I think we only come up with the best solutions when we take on as many comers as we humanly can, comers who are all asking “What’s wrong with this?”  Some of them are asking in bad faith, and after answering their questions to the best of our ability, we move on.  But the folks who point out flaws in good faith should be considered, and discussed, and eventually addressed when possible.

Bernie Sanders – my hope for the 2016 flagbearer – either will do that well, or he’ll become an also-ran.  He’s more likely to be an also-ran at this point thanks to Hillary’s momentum, so my hope is that he becomes so adroit at addressing these issues that it becomes such a strength of his that it winds up being a factor Hillary doesn’t have.

Or he won’t.  And if he doesn’t, well, I hope whoever gets the nod does find a way to make the black communities feel like their issues are being addressed, because God damn this past year has shown the need for someone in power to do something to stop all the killings and abuse and economic injustice.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

One of the weirder aspects of writing novels is that eventually, you assemble a dream team of experts to consult. When I wrote Flex, which dealt with a severely burned girl, I consulted my friends MedKat and Cassie Alexander, both medical experts who helped me get the ICU details right.  When I wrote The Flux, which features a child with PTSD and a funeral, I consulted my friends Dr. Natasha Lewis Harrington (a child therapist) and Heather Ratcliff (a mortician) to get the details right.

Now, uh, I’ve kind of broken all of Europe and I need to talk to a physicist.

In case you’re unfamiliar with Flex, in it there are creatures called “Buzzsects” that devour our laws of physics – they eat the speed of light, change the rules of time, et cetera.  And now, I want to do some XKCD “What-if?” thought experiments to go, “What happens if the speed of light permanently drops to, say, 50 MPH in a ten-foot area?  What happens if we change the structure of an atom?”  And to explore that ensuing mayhem.

If you’re a) experienced with physics, and b) think this sort of “Remove one major law of physics, see how the rest of it collapses” thought experiment might be fun (with the caveat that story needs may trump precise accuracy), do me a favor and email me at with the header “I AM WILLING TO WRECK EUROPE.”  For you, dear sir or madam, will be the one who helps me determine the fine details of how to savage an entire continent.

And really, how often do you get that opportunity?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Before I sold my novel Flex, I was beholden to no one.  So my process was simple:

1) Clear out a year to write a novel.

2) Write the novel in the evenings.

Which was easy. I had a day job and a social life, which meant like everyone else I was squeezing my writing time in – but nobody was telling me what to write, or when. Sure, maybe I got the occasional invite to an anthology – which is pretty top-end among short story writers, lemme tell you – but in general, my writing was this blank void where I took as much time as I wanted polishing my tales to a glossy shine, then walked around peddling these same tales to strangers.

Which was good. I needed focus to write a novel. Considering that my stupid brain won’t let me plot a novel in advance, I need several months to dig deep and figure out what this novel’s really about, then spend several months redrafting.

Truth is, I often turned those anthology invites down because my short stories take years to write.  Not “years of constant writing” – I’m not thatbad – but more like “First draft, get critique, let the story sit in a drawer for four months until I can look at it with fresh eyes. Second draft, realize the story is broken in some way I’m not yet smart enough to fix, put the story back in the drawer. Third draft  a year later when I learn something new about writing and go, ‘Oh, hey, that’s something I can use to fix that not-quite-right story!'”

So Flex was about fifteen months of unbroken devotion, give or take a minor heart attack in the middle of writing. (No, seriously. An actual heart attack.)  And when I said, “Hey, I’m working on this story about magical drug dealers,” there was a deep shrug because, frankly, I wasn’t popular enough to be fielding requests.

Fortunately, after I sold Flex and asked Seanan McGuire for a blurb, she called me up to talk about my book.  (She’s a phone person; I’m a text person. I feel continually bad about our mutual dislike of each other’s primary communication pattern, because any day I talk to Seanan is a good day.)  And during that conversation, Seanan gave me literally the best advice I’ve gotten as a professional author:

“You,” she said, “Are now the parent of a bouncing newborn. And like any parent, you’re going to fret about every aspect of this new novel-baby you have.  That’s normal.

“But what’s also normal is that like a newborn’s parent, you will no longer have unlimited time.

“If you are at all successful at this,” Seanan warned, “You will start to get other contracts. You will have edits that drop on your desk without warning. You will have opportunities you must seize now.  So from this moment forward, you must be like a newborn’s parent and learn to work in small chunks.”

And lo, on Monday I was finalizing the edits to Book Two, while also writing 750 words on the first draft of Book Three, and now I have about a week of uninterrupted time before the copyedits for Book Two drop back on my desk.  Come September, I’ll be starting another blog tour to promote Book Two’s release in October, which will involve me writing about thirty essays in my spare time while also working on Book Three.  And that all assumes that the other book I’m shopping around right now doesn’t sell – in which case I might spend the fall writing essays, re-editing the newly-sold book, and writing Book Three.

Did I mention that I’ve committed to write Book Three in nine months? I’ve never written a book in nine months before.

(Though I’ve done some advance work that makes writing Book Three easier, thanks to a lunch with Seanan four months back, where she told me “Start plotting the next book now, so if they want it you can hit the ground running.”  If you can get a Seanan McGuire as your Career Fairy Godmother, I heartily recommend acquiring a Seanan McGuire as your Career Fairy Godmother – though I will warn you, she hits very hard when you foolishly admit to reading reviews of your book on Goodreads.)

But the point is, this is just two books I’m writing – super-nice for a debut novelist, but by no means a blockbuster career – and I’m still oscillating back and forth between projects. And I’m not even trying to earn a living at this yet!  (As I tell people, “Writing is my career, but I have a day job.”)  If I was trying to survive entirely on words, I’d be hustling like my friend Monica Byrne, writing plays and novels and starting Patreons and constantly, constantly switching gears.

I know it’s impossible to believe that this lull before you sell your first novel is a luxury – I wouldn’t have, in the twenty-plus years I struggled to sell one – but if things go right, in some ways you’re going to miss that ability to set your own schedule. If you get the career you’re struggling for, you’re going to have to get used to writing a book a few chapters at a time, in between the other book edits and the pitches for future books and the opportunities you can’t turn down.

It’ll be awesome.  But you’d better be braced for it.   And I’m really glad Seanan told me, which is why I am telling you.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“All those partners who discarded you? They just didn’t see how beautiful you are. Don’t ever change; some day, the Perfect Man will come across you lying on the floor like an old sock, but the Perfect Man will know who you are! He’ll pick you up out of the garbage and set you on the Special Sock Shelf, and he’ll get a rag filled with special What-An-Amazing-Person-You-Are Polish and shine you until you glow!

“That’s what you should do. Just sit there, on the floor, with a bunch of other discarded socks. Wait patiently for someone to come along and pick you up and make you beautiful.”

Over on FetLife, where relationship advice abounds, you’ll see an essay like that hitting the top of the K&P charts about once a week, racking up over 3,000 “loves” from women who swoon in the comments.  It’s a lovely fairy tale.

Unfortunately, what generally happens is that someone comes along looking for a sock, and realizes he can get a free sock to stick his foot in as long as he tells it it’s special.

The truth is that a lot of the women looking for The Perfect Man have really shitty boundaries. They shrug off a lot of insults, not even registering them as the insults they are, because they don’t speak the hidden language of respect.

They don’t know that “I didn’t tell you I was running late because I was out with the boys” actually translates to “I don’t give a shit about your time.” They don’t know that “I’ll introduce you to my friends some day” means “I don’t want to be seen with you.” They don’t know that this version of “We’ll see” means “No.”

And because they don’t speak the language that needs to be spoken, they think that other bullshit, easily-given gestures mean something.

They don’t know that it can be an actor’s trick to look meaningfully into someone’s eyes and go “You’re the only one for me.” They don’t know that “someone who cares about my pleasure in bed” is not in fact the sign of True Love but, in fact, the bare minimum you should require of anyone you’re sleeping with. They don’t know that the monetary expenditure of buying a dinner is nothing compared to the emotional expenditure of taking you to a picnic where their family is.

And what happens is that these women are so thirsting to be told that they’re special that they batten upon these tiny trinkets of affection as proof that they are The One, and ZOMG THIS IS WONDERFUL and they talk in flowery terms about how they’ve found the Perfect Man…

Whereas what’s really happening is that a guy’s figured out that he can use them for a while if he says some sweet things.

And he can use them because they need someone else to tell them they’re special. In many cases, they’ve been purposely crippled emotionally by dysfunctional families, families who quietly erased their ability to ask for things they needed so these folks could better serve their awful desires. They have been turned into mummies, bound by a need Not To Make A Fuss, waiting quietly until someone comes along and digs them out of their tomb.

As such, I think these Perfect Man fantasies are amplifying a toxic need that can’t be fulfilled.

You wanna be special? Learn how to act like you’re special. A truly special person would get furious when some asshole wasted her time. A truly special person would get suspicious when her boyfriend didn’t want to be seen with her in public. And a truly special person would go, “Wait, this is fucking important to me, you’re not blowing me off with a ‘We’ll see.'”

A truly special person would dump an asshole when he wasn’t providing the real meat and potatoes of respect, and giving her little Pixie Sticks of affection here and there.

(Mind you, I like Pixie Sticks. You don’t wanna live on a steady diet of ’em, though.)

And above all, a Truly Special person would rather be alone than to settle for someone else’s half-assed affection.

Truth is, you’re not special until you make yourself special. Most of the really amazing goddamned women I know have such a good sense of self-esteem that they have an anti-asshole shield in place – the assholes stay away because they’ll reject people who aren’t up to par.

(And they also do some self-analysis to figure out the parts of them that genuinely aren’t that special – like a reliance on psychodrama over discussion – and do their best to wear those edges down. The Perfect Man also has an asshole shield in place, and while a Perfect Man can handle a few bumps in a relationship, he’s not going to date someone who’s so unrestrained that she thinks it’s his job to be her emotional backstop.)

So if you wanna be special? Stop fucking waiting. Value yourself like the treasure you are. Learn to speak the language of true respect. Learn to see what things can be given easily, so you can know when someone’s given you something of value.

When you demand a man who’s better, you’ll find – well, not a Perfect Man, but you’ll find someone who shows you his adoration in ways that actually strengthen your life.

Seriously. Change a little. Because you’re better than being someone’s dirty laundry.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I keep a pair of otters perched on the back of my toilet. They’re stuffed, but that’s only because Gini won’t let me keep real otters in the bathroom. She’s unreasonable that way.

But anyone who knows me knows I love otters. The first thing I do at any zoo is head for the otters. My, uh, best friend Angie once had a (now-defunct) tumblr page called Otters for Ferrett. My friend Das Hydra floods my mentions on Twitter with any mention of otters in the news, which makes me happy.  My sweetie Laura has a stockpile of otter pictures to send me when I feel down.

Otters are love.

So when said sweetie Laura texted me to go, “I got you a very special present for your birthday, but it’s an hour away and we have to schedule it,” I thought: I hope it’s otters.

As we drove to the Akron Zoo, I thought: I hope it’s otters.

And the zookeeper met us at the gate, I thought it’s otters it’s otters it’s otters.

And it was, indeed, otters.

It's otters!

Now, the thing that fascinated me was how much work went into zoos.  I knew on some vague level that keeping all these animals was a lot of work, but until they unlatched the back room and let us all in, I didn’t realize how much.  The zookeeper (who also handled the tigers) opened the fridge, and showed us all the various portions of the otter diet: some ground meat in the morning spiked with vitamins, cut-up vegetables for their evening meal (the otters eat maybe 20% of it, and each day’s feed is carefully tabulated to calculate their nutritional needs), and they get a handful of smelt for lunch.

I was to provide lunch.

But not too much lunch, as the zookeeper told us, “It’s very easy to overfeed the animals.”  Their diets are strictly monitored, which some days I wish someone would do to me. Except I’d bite.

They walked us up a staircase, past a room full of pipes that led to the otter pool – a pipe marked, amusingly enough, “Otter supply,” which caused Laura and I to envision opening up a faucet and having a never-ending stream of otters pour out.  We had to step in a small tub of disinfectant so our shoes wouldn’t carry anything in, or out.  I looked at the dry-erase board with all the daily otter stats written on it.

Then we walked into Silence of the Lambs.

I don’t know what I supposed they did with otters when they took them inside for the night, but in retrospect just letting them run around a big room and be happy wouldn’t work out.  These otters – Porthos and Molly – had only freshly met, and the zookeepers weren’t certain they could leave them alone for an entire night.

So what they had were six-foot by ten-foot cages, and a lot of pulleys with padlocks on them.

When they wanted to let an otter in, they unlatched a pulley and tugged up a little hatchway so one of the otters could squirm in.  (They’re curious creatures, fortunately, so pretty much any movement seemed to get their attention.)  Once they’d gotten Porthos in, with Molly trying to wriggle in with him but daunted by the experienced pulley-shutting techniques of our zookeeper, they unlocked another pulley and opened a hatchway up into an adjoining cage.

Then they put a bright white placard on the cage – it was standard operating procedure to have a card on every cage the otter was in, no matter for how brief a time, so there was no forgetting where the otters were.  His read Porthos 1.0, which meant currently there was 1 male in this cage and 0 females.  If Molly had gone in there, it would be Molly 0.1 – 1 female and 0 males – and if there was an animal of unknown gender, it would be UnknownGender 0.0.1.

They had placards for all combinations, I was told – which, you know, given there were only three potential iterations with two otters, seemed doable.

(I was also told, later, that the sales manager who’d escorted us in had gone to see Jurassic World with one of the other large animal handlers, and spent pretty much the entire movie joyfully pointing out sloppy procedures that would never pass muster in any real zoo.  And after watching the very careful and externally-certified lockdown procedures in place, including having no pictures taken backstage so that no one could inadvertently provide information to potential otter-stealers, I believed her.)

Porthos was the rambunctious one, and there were little pools with floating mattresses for him to dive into in each cage, and at night they put in some straw so the otters could dry themselves off.  They let me look at Porthos, but I was by no means to touch the otters.  Which was to be expected.  Otters are basically bigger ferrets, and ferrets bite, and worse they often fed the otters through the bars of the cage so the otters had been taught to see “something narrow poking through the wire” as “incoming fish.”

Even knowing that, ZOMG SO CUTE.  I was worried the otters would stink of fish – I’d once had a mild penguin love before getting a snootful of penguin cage – but they were just adorable, like a larger ferret.  They were so curious.

Having gotten a look at Porthos, they took us outside for otter training.  They opened up the doorway in the picture above, and the trainer got out a stick with a green end to it.  He touched the stick to the wire.  “Touch,” he said.  Porthos pressed his nose to the spot.  Porthos got a fish. “Touch.”  Porthos pressed his nose elsewhere, and got another fish.  Pretty soon it was multiple touches, and Porthos was duly rewarded.

“Eventually, we can just point them where we want them to go,” the zookeeper said.  “We can do that with tigers.”

Readers, I checked.  The Akron Zoo does not, sadly, have a tiger-feeding expedition.

After squeeing at being so close to an otter, they took me inside to feed Molly.  I had a small metal pet food dish with several (but not enough) smelt in it, and a set of very long tweezers for safety.  “Do you want gloves?” they asked, and I thought Who would come back here to feed otters and be so scared they needed gloves?

But I fed Molly the smelt one by one, with Gini getting one shot in.  (Laura declined, deferring to my birthday.  I still feel a little sad about that.)  Molly was so eager, pressing her little nose up against the wire, curious to see everything I was doing.  I could have cuddled her, I was sure of it.

And I would have gotten my fingers bitten the shit out of if I hadn’t worried about the zookeepers.

Seriously, me, I’ve dealt with ferrets, and I know how bad their bites are.  But I have come to associate ferret bites with love, and my ludicrously high pain threshold (remember the time I walked around with a burst appendix for four days, including a session in a Rise Against mosh pit?) would have shielded me.  And really, I might get to pet the otter!  And when people asked me, “Where did you get those stitches?” would I not have a story to tell!

But the zookeepers would feel bad, not understanding that I took full responsibility for this injury, and it would probably mean fewer people would get to feed otters.  So I was good.

Still, Molly was like the coolest UI.  I sat in front of the cage, and even after I’d run out of smelt, I could move my finger like it was a mouse pointer and Molly would follow it around, dazzled by the motion.  And when she ate, she gobbled up the fish in an adorable way and then gave me those liquid otter eyes to ask for more.

I stayed an uncomfortably long time.

We went to the rest of the zoo afterwards, seeing the bears and tigers, and eventually I went back to the otter tank.  I waved at Molly.  I like to think she recognized me, but probably not.  Otters are capricious creatures, and the best I could hope for was a spurious romance.

(And speaking of romance, let us all pray that the brief romance between Porthos and Molly in late May of this year has, in fact, led to baby otters.  They’re still hopin’.)

When I left, Laura bought me a little stuffed otter.  So now there are three otters on the back of the toilet, and Gini is complaining because the otters are nearly tumbling into the bowl, and I maintain that otters should go diving for water in a constant sense of near-disaster.

Gini remains unconvinced.  But she knows it’s easier to let me have my fake otters than to hear me argue, for the thousandth time, that we could keep otters in the bathtub.  The zookeepers told us we really couldn’t, but I’m pretty sure I saw one of them wink at me.

And we’ll always have this:

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Various people have told me that Flex is now available for pre-order as an audiobook, due out August 6th.  And with that, you now know everything I know about this very exciting moment in my life.

But if, for some reason, you feel like listening to eleven hours and forty-three minutes of bureaucromancers, competent fat women channelling the power of Grand Theft Auto, and a love so intense that it makes a father turn to a life of crime to save his daughter, well, here’s your chance.

And if you feel like reading it on the old paper method, well, that’s still available, too.  And if you feel like ordering the sequel The Flux, about which my editor just told me “I shudder to think what Book 3 will be like if you keep this up,” well, you can do that too.

Or you can spend no money on anything at all!  That’s cool, too.

Hey, how you doing?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Every summer, my grandparents took the family to Provincetown for a week’s vacation. And I wonder:

How the hell did that happen?

If you’re not familiar with Provincetown, Massachusetts, it is one of the brightest gay hot-spots in the nation. In the early 1980s, when gays were so downtrodden as to be nearly invisible, you could see happy gay couples holding hands as they walked down Provincetown’s streets.  There were all sorts of gay pride paraphernalia for sale tucked in among the T-shirt shops and ice-cream stores, if you knew where to look – to my cousins, they were pretty rainbow flags.

And, in fact, being the eldest of a large number of cousins, I could tell when each of them hit puberty.  Before puberty, they viewed Provincetown as a happy beach resort with fudge stores and glass statues of lighthouses – and then they noticed the women cuddling on benches, and the men hugging in groups, and you could watch the lightbulbs going off.

But my grandparents, man, I can’t understand how they found the place.  They were simple people, allergic to politics in all but the most general of terms – people should work hard and be rewarded, God was generically good although we didn’t discuss what kind of God He might be – and while they loved beaches and lighthouses with an almost fetishistic quality, I keep oscillating back and forth between whether my sainted Grammy and Grampop were progressive or oblivious.

Which led to an interesting discussion with my eldest daughter last night, who in her late twenties has grown up in a world where Will and Grace had put gay people on prime-time television before she hit puberty.  For her, gay people have always been a part of the national discussion, and maybe some folks hated gays, but certainly they were aware of them.  People were fighting for gays in the military!  There were gay rights movements in her high school!

Whereas the truth is, for long years gays were kind of a hidden Easter Egg, stashed in movies discreetly where those who had the knowledge could pump the fist and congratulate themselves at having picked up on the subtext.  But it was entirely possible to watch whole films as a kid and not understand that those were gay people, that that masculine woman who didn’t want a boyfriend didn’t want a boyfriend for entirely different reasons.

Gays weren’t talked about in mainstream culture for the longest time.  The whole point of a gay person was to blend in – maybe you did a couple of gay things, but you made damn sure to provide plausible deniability: No, no, those overly-tight pants and Queen-style mustache were just a fashion statement, not a hidden signal to those with the eyes to see.

These days, thankfully, “Coming out” has become a ritual to demonstrate to recalcitrant family members that Hey, I’m gay, and all those shitty things you’re saying about gay people apply to me.  But back in the day, “Coming out” may have been your family’s first real exposure to gays in any significant form. There was a good chance that they’d never had an actual conversation with anyone they’d identified as gay – which is very different from never talking to a gay person, but by God American culture did their best to make gays something you didn’t have to notice.

Gayness was an opt-in culture.  You had to educate yourself to spot the gay things.  And if not, you cruised past it blissfully, quietly painting the entire world as straight, with maybe a couple of creepy queers hanging out in bathrooms, but those people had no lives aside from perversions.  They existed, like spiders or cockroaches, merely to creep you out.  They certainly didn’t play frisbee or drink milkshakes or do anything that wasn’t related to carrying on their secret gay agenda.

And yes, I do realize there are conservative places in Western culture where there’s a similar vibe – but that was the whole world back then, except for a couple of embattled enclaves like Provincetown and Fire Island and San Francisco.  It was as though the entire world had decided to just pretend gays didn’t exist, and maybe you’d have an occasional gay person appear on television – watching Billy Crystal on Soap caused headlines – and they’d make magazine covers for a bit and then we’d all go back to forgetting that gay people existed again.

It was a chronic amnesia, a kind of Quiltbag Memento, where we kept looking at an individual gay person but could never connect that into a collective understanding that if that gay person existed, maybe some people we knew were also gay.  That knowledge never transmitted.  Somehow, every time a gay person appeared it was a total surprise to American culture, some unfathomable outbreak, like a pimple popping up and how did that happen?

Which was fucking terrifying, really.  I remember meeting my Uncle Tommy’s gay friends in New York (during what I realize now was the height of the AIDS crisis, and I wonder how many of those vibrant, happy people I have inadvertently outlived), and thinking how horrible it must be to have to encode your life so that other people could purposely overlook you.

So it’s a weird thing.  I’m sure my grandparents must have known later in life that Provincetown was a gay capital, and decided that was okay with them.  Which was progressive, and laudable, as it set the tone for much of my LGBT politics.

But looking back with the weight of history, I can easily see my Grammy and Grampop going  to Provincetown and seeing the beaches and the lighthouses and the seagulls and deciding, What a great family vacation spot.  We have to bring the kids. And I can see them walking obliviously past the hundreds of gays who lived and loved and died there, not even recognizing the culture because they didn’t have the education to attune themselves to these homosexual-friendly signals, and they were walking through a Provincetown that was a little more muted to ensure that straight people could put their blinders on.

I don’t know. Maybe they did see.  But the terrifying thing is that when I was growing up, it was equally plausible that an entire lifestyle had blended into their view of the world, like a chameleon altering its color so as to not be spotted except if you were hunting for it, and frankly the idea that this wasn’t so long ago makes me both happy at how far we’ve come, and sad at how many people died before we got here.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

A friend posted this amazing link on Twitter from this TED talk. In case you’re too lazy to click through to some animated GIFs, I’ll summarize:

“I did not know the first stage in any domestic violence relationship is to seduce and charm the woman.

“I also did not know the second step is to isolate the victim.

“The next step in the domestic violence pattern is to introduce the threat of violence and see how she reacts.

“We victims know something you non-victims usually don’t. It’s incredibly dangerous to leave an abuser, because the final step of the domestic violence pattern is ‘kill her.’ Over 70% of domestic violence murders happen after the victim has ended the relationship.”

All true, in my experience. And worth knowing. If you didn’t know this fact, then make sure to absorb that, because it’s not quite as simple as leaving someone who’s going to feel very betrayed when you leave.

Yet what struck me about this talk beyond the obvious horror – “Hey, I think of you as such an object that I’d rather kill you than see you live without me” – is how she’s talking about the domestic violence pattern.

She’s talking about it like it’s a stratagem one uses. Like the way Pick-Up Artists do, with classes they can take. They decide “Hey, I really need a woman I can beat the shit out of,” and they read some books online – “How to Find People With Bad Instincts” – and then they enact their four-step program very carefully.

Some do set out to be abusive explicitly, of course. I’ve heard too many stories to deny that. But with the abusers I’ve known personally, they don’t have a plan per se – they’re too emotionally incoherent to have a plan for anything. They’re asocial louts who get enraged that the world is not attending to their desires, and they don’t have many friends who aren’t total sycophants because they creep normal people out sooner or later, and when they find a victim they’re isolating them because they’re terrified of any competition. (And often such a sad-sack case that the victim stays once that vulnerability is revealed: “He needs me.”)

Now, keep in mind, that’s not all abusers: there are “successful” folks who have good-paying jobs and many friends and still abuse the shit out of their partners. (Nor are all abusers invariably men: the same issue applies to abusive women, of which there are probably a lot more than you hear about because of the toxic masculinity that scorns a guy who’d “let” his wife beat him.) Abusers come in all shapes and sizes.

Yet the problem I have with the “abuse == intent” model is that it implies to people who do get involved with this “reclusive loser” style of abuser that “If s/he doesn’t mean to do it, s/he’s not really an abuser.”


And the problem with that model is then victims often stay because they’re convinced their abuser doesn’t intend to be an abuser. They just lose control sometimes. They drink a bit much. They had a bad childhood.

They mean well. God, every abuser I’ve ever heard talked about meant so fucking well.

So I think it’s worth noting that lots of people stumble dimly into the patterns of abuse – maybe acting on instinct horrifically gifted to them by abusive parents, maybe because domestic violence breeds in isolation. But not everyone had a plan to be an abuser, going in, and every day people who mean very well (I’m told) are rediscovering a pattern as old as time: isolate, hurt, kill.

They may not know where they’re headed.

But you should.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Every Wednesday for the past few months, my friend Eric and I have gone out to my garage and honed our woodworking skills.  First we built an inset bookcase for Eric’s house, then a firewood box, then a smaller bookcase, and last night we finally finished the drop-down workbenches we’ll need to refit my garage.  WITNESS ME!

Last night, two things happened that really made me feel like we’d levelled up:

First, we had a problem with the chopsaw – the motor seemed to be going, because it kept whirring for minutes after we stopped the saw, and couldn’t bite through the wood.  We got out the manual and started looking, and I properly diagnosed the problem before we got at the internals.

Seriously, me actually troubleshooting a power tool is major biz, folks.  (For the record, the arbor nut holding the saw tight had loosened, so it was spinning semi-freely upon the motor.)

But more importantly, we started working in parallel.  Eric and I are choosing projects to hone our skills – first a screw-together bookcase, then a firewood box with some angled cuts, then a (small) bookcase that involved routing and dado shelves, and finally this drop-down shelf, which involved using the Kreg jig and applying hinges.

Until last night, basically, if one of us was doing something, both of us were doing it.  If Eric was measuring a piece of lumber, I waited patiently, watching Eric to try to determine why he’s so damn good at measuring accurately.  (He has exceptional spatial skills;  I have very sub-par spatial skills.)  If I was using the router, Eric was watching me use the router, scrutinizing my technique to see how we could improve it.  (And in case you’re curious, Eric has written up his side of events over at The Pastry Box.)

But last night, we’d already built the left half of the table, and we knew all the skills involved. So after a while of watching Eric put up the pegboard – a job where there wasn’t room for two people to help, really – I said Why the hell am I waiting around, anyway? There are boards that need to be cut. So while he put up the pegboard, I chopped the shims and the 2x4s down to size.

Essentially, we’d gotten comfortable enough with the work that we could accomplish separate tasks, him handing off to me, me to him.  That will doubtlessly change on the next project, when we try something different – man, I wanna try dovetail joints – but it points at a larger effort, where eventually we’re both skilled enough to work as a team as opposed to one guy alternately learning from the other.

And it’s exciting, transforming the garage.  Eric and I decided that it would be a shame if we only did this during Cleveland’s highly-limited run of good weather, so we’re making the garage into a fully-kitted tool shop – a place where we have shelves to hold the tools and lumber, racks for Gini’s bikes, and enough room in the center that we can park the car.  It’s not just woodworking, but carpentry we’re also learning –

– And it doesn’t stop, as Eric’s family came over for my birthday brunch last Sunday and Eric and I went out to the garage and, completely without meaning to, spent an hour tracing wires to determine that yeah, we could probably extend from that overhead lamp socket to create another power outlet, and now I’ll probably be buying a book on wiring this afternoon.

There’s learning new skills, yes, but part of what I find exciting is discovering how malleable the world is now.  Before, when I’d condemned myself to being “not handy,” the garage was this immutable object – it came with crappy shelves and lights that didn’t work, and I couldn’t afford to hire a guy to do it all.

Now?  The garage is a toybox, ready to be changed for our convenience.  Oh, it’ll take some work, of course, and some planning, and God, another run to Lowes, really? – but in the end, with some elbow grease and a bit of consulting with each other, we can pretty much do anything with this space.

Or any space, really.  Eric’s wife is mentioning some work she needs done around the house. I keep looking at my house and going, “Wow, there’s no light in this ceiling – but you know, we could probably fix that.”  The bathroom is a major expenditure, but now I’m starting to do the foolish guy thing and go, “Huh, I wonder how much effort it WOULD be to replace the bathtub.”

All I need is a friend to work with. It’s good to have a friend to work with.

(EDIT: And because I forgot to post this this morning like I’d set up to, have some photos taken of the workbench in daylight:)

Woodworking Wednesdays: the double drop-down workbench.

Woodworking Wednesdays: the double drop-down workbench.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

If you’ve followed me on Twitter for any period of time, you’ll note my #WIP hashtags, wherein I excerpt sentences from my Work In Progress – i.e., whatever I’m working on that day.  Things like:

…okay, they can’t all be winners.

But as I start writing the third book in the FLEX series, I run into a conundrum: I can tell you that the upcoming sequel, THE FLUX, radically changes the status quo of What You Know.  Just as the ending of FLEX, well… those of you who’ve read it knows how radically it changes the family dynamic, and in fact most of THE FLUX is spent examining just what happens in the wake of the final chapters of FLEX.  The next book in the series changes things even more radically than that.

So for the first time, I wind up being concerned with my old friend “Spoilers.”

Which is nice.  My #wip excerpts have always lacked context before, as they’ve been isolated stories.  Yet now that you know who Paul, Aliyah, Valentine, and Imani are, you might actually care to know what happens next.  But though I always avoid major spoilers (and in fact I often use #wips to misdirect), there are unavoidable spoilers that’ll hint at what happens – you’ll know who survives into the third book, because I’ll be mentioning them, and you’ll get glimpses into the challenges people are facing.

(Though those of y’all who keep wanting to know, “Wait, what happened to Europe?” will be pleased to know that question will be finally answered.)

Yet I am super-spoiler-phobic.  The worst part of my job is that, since I help create all the cards when a new Magic set is released, I cannot avoid seeing every card in the set.  I don’t read the back of books, because I like to have the author tell me, and one of the things I dislike most about THE FLUX back cover’s copy (currently on Amazon, if you’re curious) is that it tells you a lot of what happens in the first third of the book.  (That doesn’t make it bad book copy – good book copy, in fact, reveals a lot more to lure you in than I’m generally comfortable with – but I keep going, “Man, I don’t want you to know that before you read the first chapter!”)

So a question: if you follow me on Twitter, and you’ve read FLEX, how do you feel about stumbling across random 140-character snippets of the adventures of the various ‘mancers?  Even assuming I’m not announcing major character deaths or telegraphing plot twists, I’ll still be giving you glimpses into a world you won’t see for another year, minimum.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I spent my birthday weekend playing The Witcher extensively, and I’m pretty sure that 20 hours or so is more time than the developers spent playing the game.

It’s not that Witcher 3 is a bad game, mind you: it’s just that there’s a really great game in there, smothered underneath a bunch of horrible terrible UI choices, making it more mediocre with each playthrough.  And some of these UI sins are so easily fixable, you wonder whether they actually played the game at all.

Now, I’m not talking about the big problems that would be tricky to fix: sure, I’ve died thirty times because my all-powerful Witcher got caught on the edge of a fence in combat.  Sure, I can literally go get a soda, drink it, and still have another minute’s wait left before the “Loading game” screen finishes.  But those are technical problems: it’s a big game so I presume there’s tons of data to load, and reasonably recreating physics is a tough challenge (I’m looking at you, Skyrim and your randomly unclimbable slopes).

No, it’s dumb shit.  Things that sap the game’s fun, because you have to do this dumb-ass thing over and over again that gets in the way of the game.  Things like:

The way the huge-ass map doesn’t point the way to your next quest.  Seriously, this map is frickin’ massive, meaning your next quest could be on the other side of the world – and you’re often scrolling in every direction, trying to figure out where the contract is, playing a mind-numbingly boring game of “Find the yellow dot.”  Maddeningly, the mini-map does point you towards your quest, so eventually, you dope out the workaround of “Point your character’s face at the dot, then switch to the large map and follow a straight path in that direction until you find the dot.”  And hope you’re not angled slightly off, because being five degrees off-dot over large distances means you may not find it, ever.

Hi! You’ve just gotten a new quest! Do you want to start it? Well, you can’t, because you have to read the letter that the Earl of Whogivesafuck left behind! And to do that, you have to open up your inventory, scroll to the “Quests” tab, find the letter among the seven other letters there, and open it.

Why didn’t the game just display the letter when you found it? I mean, you picked it up. It’s reasonable you’d just read it by default instead of folding it up neatly to stow it the depths of your pack. But no, The Witcher involves a constant stream of “God, I’ve gotta open up the tasks screen, switch over to inventory, switch three tabs over to my quest items, then down, then press X.”  Over and over again.  Over and over again.  Over and over again.

Speaking of “Over and over again,” it sure would be nice if the crafts screen preserved your last choice when you switched tabs.  I generally dislike games with intensive crafting systems, but Witcher makes it maddening: Oh, hey, you can make this great set of armor if you could only buy two vials of hummingbird tears!  I’ll switch tabs to buy some hummingbird tears – and then have to scroll down literally through thirty choices when I switch back.

Oh, and did I mention that the merchants’ goods aren’t sorted by name at all, with no way to sort them?  So if you don’t know what a fucking vial of hummingbird’s tears look like, you have to flip through eighty tiny icons hunting for the ones that look like vials, until you narrow it down and finally purchase one. God help you if you need three purchases to finish crafting that armor – and keep in mind, crafting seems to be the only way to get good armor, as the drops from monsters usually just provide craft materials – because you’re in for a hunt-the-pixel-fest.

I get that you have to start a conversation with a merchant to shop.  That’s fine, because you might also want to play this more-boring-Magic variation with them, too.  But when I’m done shopping, I don’t want to talk to you any more – and yet still I have to navigate two selections down to select the “Done talking” option. Can you just assume that when I’m done shopping, I’m done talking, and save me literally a thousand pointless menu selections over the course of the game?

Likewise, I find the crossbow to be a useless goddamned weapon.  I know many love the stealth approach; I want to charge in swords-a-blazin’, which thankfully the Witcher allows me to do.  But the game keeps switching my default alt-attack to crossbow whenever I switch, instead of the grenade I selected, or the witch’s lamp I use to get better light in dark areas.  Which means I keep wasting precious crossbow bolts as I think I’m throwing a smoke bomb and oh, shit, we’re back to crossbows again.  WHY DO YOU LOVE CROSSBOWS, WITCHER.

Also, hey, a better auto-save system would be good, considering some quests you get involve you traveling to the other side of this goddamned unwieldy map.  What frequently happens is that you spend two minutes galloping across hills and valleys to get to that stupid yellow dot, get caught on a fence, and die – and then have to spend five minutes reloading the game, and then travel again.  Wouldn’t it make sense to have an auto-save whenever you transitioned between distant areas, so you wouldn’t have to backtrack over and over again on quests you made?

And lastly, you have horses. They are kind of neat horses – I appreciate that if you hold down X, the horses will follow the roads, allowing you a sort of quasi-fast-travel.  Yet frustratingly, you are smart enough to have a trail of white dots showing you which roads will lead you to your next quest – yet the horse does not know this trail, so you’re constantly horse-course-correcting when the horse jukes left and you can see the dots on the road leading right. How much effort could it be to have a logic in place that says, “If the horse is choosing between two paths automatically, choose the one with the white dots on it?”

All that stuff gets in the way of what I want to do: talk with your fascinating characters, fight the bad monsters, do Fantasy CSI investigations.  Instead, I’m scrolling AGAIN through thirty craft entries to find the hummingbird-needing armor.

That’s not as fun as you think it is.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Terminator: Genisys is, I think, the first fully-blown fan fiction effort to make it to the big screen.  It feels like some of those fanfic epics I’ve seen: taking unanswered questions from the backstory and going, “What would happen if the timelines we knew were all screwed up?”

The problem is, Genisys makes the same error as a lot of bad fanfic.  Which is to say there’s a very subtle – but very major – difference when someone’s watching because they want to see what what the author does next, and someone watching to see what the characters do next.

Hint: Watching to see what the author does next is inherently less interesting.

Terminator: Genisys is soaked in Terminator backstory – in fact, several of the “previous timeline” scenes are literal shot-for-shot remakes of the original film with new actors, at least until we encounter the point where Timelines Diverge.  And the way the timelines get bollixed is very clever, and if you’re hyper-familiar with the Terminator franchise as I am then you’ll be like “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.”

The problem is, there’s so much baggage associated with “Okay, if you’re not familiar with what happened, let’s tell you about how this all went down.”  So Genisys is bogged with a ton of exposition, with characters explaining stuff to each other instead of interacting with each other.  They have scenes that look, to an untrained eye, like two characters interacting, but in truth what Kyle Reese is doing is telling Sarah Connor a story about how awesome John Connor is. Or Sarah is telling Kyle about how the Terminator first visited her.

The reason it’s subtly wrong is because yes, in the first movie, Kyle tells Sarah about John Connor.  But in that case, it’s not because John Connor is important – it’s because Kyle is trying to share his motivations for being here, and in this sense the revelation is a form of intimacy they’re finally sharing with each other.  The backstory is merely a clever way of doing two things in one scene.  He’s concerned for Sarah Connor right now, because he loves her, and is terrified for her, and wants her to understand him so he’ll trust her.

Whereas in Genisys, the priorities are strictly reversed: Kyle is telling Sarah because we need to know how awesome John Connor is, and how awesome this future is, and here’s all the backstory we’ll lose if this timeline goes wrong.  Oh, yeah, and, uh, I guess we like each other too.  The priority’s not about forging an emotional connection with Sarah Connor, it’s about attempting to forge an emotional reaction with this amazing backstory we’re trying to preserve.

As such, Terminator Genisys blithely assumes we care about Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese before we’ve really gotten to know them – which is an error that fanfics often make.  (Which doesn’t make those bad fanfics, as the glory of fan fiction is that you can enjoy the fuck out of them when you know all about Harry and Hermione and just want to see what happens next – but it renders those fanfics far less emotionally compelling than the original fiction, because it uses the original work as a crutch instead of a platform.  Put another way, it doesn’t make them bad fanfics but it limits them to being fanfics, in much the same way that X-Men comic books are often restricted to being good X-Men stories, moving only to those thoroughly steeped in X-Men knowledge.)

So what you have in Genisys is a series of very interesting plotlines in search of a connection with character.  And this is where Genisys makes its second mistake:

The villain holds back. A lot.

In the first two Terminator films, the good ones, there was zero mercy. That’s what made them so compelling. If you were in the room with a Terminator, it would try to kill you, and would succeed if you didn’t get the fuck out quickly.  If it could kill you with a gunshot, it would take the shot.  If it could sneak up on you and stab you when you weren’t looking, it would destroy you.

The first Terminator we meet in the new timeline bobbles its shot by announcing its presence to Kyle Reese before killing him.  Of course Kyle Reese gets away instead of being silently knifed in an alley.

The big villain has the heroes alone in a room, with them completely at its mercy, and instead chats merrily with them.

The big villain knows the heroes are arriving to stop him, and instead of getting on the roof and sniping them he obligingly walks into his Big Villain Lair and prepares his monologue, which he will deliver before taking his first shot.

The reason the first two Terminator movies worked so well is because the Terminators did not give a fuck about the plotline.  They had one goal: to kill.  Whereas Genisys’s Terminators seem very invested in keeping the characters we love alive, attacking the least vulnerable ones first to give them a shot, and that “Let’s make this interesting” undercuts the whole film.  The seams are showing; you can almost watch the marionette strings yanking upwards, pulling the bad guys’ gun-hands up so they fire over the heads of these characters the plot so desperately needs preserving.

Which is not to say that Genisys is a bad film!  It is, as noted, fanfic.  I loved the twists it put on standard Terminator mythology. The action sequences are enthralling.  The SFX are a lot of fun, and the timeline hijinks are interesting.  It’s well worth a watch.

But during the whole movie, I didn’t think, “Oh, Kyle and Sarah are in trouble.” I thought “Oh, wow, that’s a neat twist, how will that be resolved?”  And as such, the portion of my brain that solved logic puzzles clicked on, instead of the tiny lizard-brain that goes, “I LOVE THESE PEOPLE AND SOMEONE IS GOING TO HURT THEM OH GOD PLEASE SOMEONE HELP THEM.”

Terminator Genisys is, as noted, pretty entertaining.  But I wish they’d been less respectful to the franchise’s history and more respectful of the franchise’s plot mechanisms.  Because what we have here is a very lovely world someone has created, one with characters they needed to tell A Sweeping Story Of The Multiverse, and instead this might have been an A-plus film if they’d forgotten about the damned multiverse and concentrated on the story of two people trying to survive.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

When Caitlyn Jenner came out as trans, I heard some of my trans friends complaining: Why her?  Why did she get to be the face of trans women in America, when there were so many trans activists who’d devoted their life towards working for trans acceptance? Hell, Caitlyn hadn’t been notably political in any way before this, being a reality show TV star for one of the most fatuous and narcissistic celebrity families.  And even now, there’s no guarantee she’ll work to further trans issues beyond the simple fact of her being a trans person. (Though we can hope she does.)

Why was she the one who sparked conversation instead of the many activists who’d given their lives for the cause?

Yet if I had been asked to predict who would become the most famous trans person in the world – and to be honest, I wouldn’t have guessed that trans issues would have catapulted into the limelight in my lifetime – then my answer would have been, “Someone who got famous another way, then came out as trans.”

Because most humans need to know someone before they sympathize with their plight.

You see that all the time, that prioritizing personal experience over reading knowledge.  It’s a sad fact of black peoples’ lives that when they acquire a white friend, that white friend (if they’re inexperienced) will ask all the usual dumb questions about “Do you tan?” and “How does your hair work?” instead of looking it up from the thousands of freely-available sources.

For better or for worse, humans connect with other humans, not reference materials.  (Which is not necessarily a bad thing – folks are all like “I WISH THEY’D LOOK THIS SHIT UP,” but I think they’d change their tune if these people got their information on the black experience by reading Fox News. The fact is, reference materials can be riotously wrong or skewed, and most people learn where to read about things by asking their fellow humans where to start – and that allows you to point them in the right direction, as exhausting as that is.)

And you know what sucks further?  For a lot of people, knowing someone who identifies as trans when they first meet means that they can shunt them aside and go, “What a freak, wow, let’s keep this schmuck at arm’s length.”  And their shields go up, and they just go, “Well, that person’s trying to cause trouble.”

The reason Caitlyn Jenner is the connecting point for folks is because they’ve known Bruce for years on some level – either as a famous athlete or a reality show star – and have already sympathized with him for years.  And when she came out, they went, “Wow, someone I know is going through this, and I know they wouldn’t do this just to cause a fuss, so… why?  Why the hell are they doing this?”

And they start asking the right questions.  Enlightenment may arise.

You see that in the coming-out stories of gays – that’s why coming out is so powerful.  A lot of the uneducated gay opinion is “THESE FREAKS ARE JUST DOING IT TO CAUSE TROUBLE” – a cry you still hear from a lot of the anti-gay-marriage crowd.  But over the years, thanks to people literally risking their goddamned lives (and, in some cases, losing them) to come out to family and friends, straight people came to realize that these beloved, level-headed friends of theirs could be gay, and they weren’t just doing this for the fabulous social benefits of pissing off mom and dad.

(Which leads to the equally wrong-headed argument that “Being gay is not a choice!”, which I despise, because if someone wants to put a penis in their mouth, and the owner of the penis is both willing and able to consent, then it shouldn’t matter what their motivations are.  But that’s another rant I’ve made before.)

Anyway, the point is that you can have thousands of books written on “the trans experience” and “the gay experience” and none of those stacks of books will be as potent as one person sneaking under the radar to go, “Hey, you respected me before, and now I am also this.”

Caitlyn Jenner is the face of trans acceptance because she flew under people’s prejudices, and now that she’s wedged deep people have to reexamine their attitudes.  Sadly, someone who became famous as being trans could never do that.  Which sucks, but hey.

You know what sucks more?

Black people are never gonna do that.

My sneaking suspicion is that gay equality is gonna shoot right the fuck past black equality in a decade or two, because gay people come from all angles, and some gay-bashing idiot is always going to be dealing with a cousin or a best friend who comes out, and that attitude will soften.

But too many white people have this shield in place when they see black people protesting – the same shield they see when they see gays, and trans, and other minorities protesting – that goes, “Wow, these people are just looking to cause trouble, aren’t they?”  And unfortunately, there’s almost no way for black people to win here – with the exception of maybe very light-skinned black people, there’s no way of forcing folks to question their assumptions about how black people work.

The bright spot, however, is that on Twitter, it’s easier than ever for people to have black friends.  I do – my social group is largely homogenously Caucasian in real life, but online it’s a lot more varied, which is part of the reason I care more about this stuff.  It affects people I love.  And right now, there’s a hot cluster of “Black Twitter” where black social media interacts and amplifies, catapulting ignored stories like Ferguson into the mainstream, which I think will help over time.

Still. I think it’s gonna be a lot slower.  And I think it sucks that there have been trans people working their asses off, some who died to further the cause, and a reality show TV star blossoms into the face of the trans lifestyle.

Yet this isn’t bashing Caitlyn Jenner: I’m glad she’s finally happy, and I’m glad she’s subverting paradigms and changing attitudes.  And I’m not bashing humanity, either: given how different this massive world we’ve created is from the small social environments we were evolved to live in, I’m shocked at how well we’re adapting.

But you gotta know how to hack the system.  And “the system” is, sadly, that the more you can leverage people’s personal vouchsafing for you to change their attitudes on the lifestyles you lead, the better it goes.  It’s why I came out as polyamorous, which I gotta tell you, is not at all always comfortable.

Yet “coming out” is one of the most effective ways to change people’s takes on things, and though you are not obligated to be anyone’s teachable moment in any way, we should never forget that yeah, the teachable moment is a frighteningly potent tool to circumvent the biases of evolved monkey brains.


Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Thanks to everyone who volunteered various ways a young kid could get involved in sports. After a lot of thought, I’ve decided that a Youth Soccer League will be what this teenager-who-is-secretly-a-monster gets involved with, because that’s a casual sport that kids play together where the parents watch.

I talked to my good friend Raven, who lives in Kentucky, and she clued me into the Morehead Youth Soccer League, and how it operates – how they meet at the local Wendy’s, the paperwork involved, how the kids play together.

“Thanks!” I said.  “I’m sorry Morehead is gonna get wrecked.”

Because you know, if you give me all of this fine information on your town, I’m just gonna use it to have a hideous monster lose control and everyone in Morehead meeting awful demises. This is what it means to have a writer for a friend.

Fortunately, she’s kind of excited at the idea of her hometown getting annihilated.  Because that’s the kinds of friends a writer picks up.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“Of course you like getting older,” said the emails. “You’re a guy! When guys get older and fatter, they get more attractive. When women get older and fatter, they get ignored.”

That response came from writing a brief essay on Fet about how I felt stronger as I got older – more confident in my own skin, more capable, more responsible.  And a handful of women emailed me to tell me that the process is entirely different as you age if you’re not some skinny young thing, that loneliness is what happens to older women.

Yet I know several pudgy women in their late thirties who have to actively turn away new partners, because they are swamped with offers. I know several women in their late fifties who are still dating extensively, sometimes smooching it up with men decades younger.

There are lots of women who do get older, and quietly turn the color of woodwork, and fade from view like some wrinkled chameleon.

I think too many of ’em learned the wrong lesson.

Because what you often see with attractive people – men and women alike, though women are more often taught to rely on their looks – is that when they’re young and beautiful, they are beswarmed by suitors. They can’t order a goddamned drink without seventeen muscular young bohunks squirming in between them and the bar and offering vodka and oral sex.

So what gets taught to these attractive folks is passivity. People buy them tickets to concerts because folks like their arm candy skills. People text them, beg them, to come to the party. They email ’em on Fet: hey, you wanna get tied up? You wanna get candlewaxed? You wanna get photographed?

Some of them come to think that this is how you get a social life, not realizing all this special beauty comes with an expiration date.

And these people – who are not every attractive young person, mind you, but a subset thereof – don’t actually ever figure out what they want, because they’re continually being brought out to other people’s adventures. They’re getting offered so much that they don’t have to think about what satisfies ’em: it’s like forever eating at a huge buffet where you can have any kind of food, so you don’t pay attention to what those little pink things you love are called, they’re in there somewhere, you’re sure.

This is just eating. Eating comes with everything you like, always. Why bother investigating further?

Then those folks get a little older, and maybe a little saggier, and suddenly the options drop off. Part of that is because your social groups start to unwind when you hit your late twenties – things change when you’re not all going to the same college, and when some of your old friends are dropping out of your social circle as they have kids – but for these people, part of that is because they’re just not as physically luscious as they used to be. And after years of being offered things, going out and asking for things seems…

…well, pathetic.

So they sit, and feel ignored – because they are ignored. Maybe they go on some diets, get some plastic surgeries in an attempt to recoup some of that visual appeal.

Others, however, sit there and go, “Wait, I’m not getting the things I want? How the fuck do I get those?”

And they go off on bold adventures to a) figure out what they want, and b) go out and get that shit.

Here’s the thing about life: there’s all this talk about how “older men” are so attractive, but the truth is that most of those men aren’t. There are young women who are drawn to older guys, but they’re largely not drawn to stoop-shouldered accountants who stammer when placing an order at Burger King.

Who do they like? Men who have a good, solid handle on what they want, and aren’t afraid to ask for it.

Strip the genders off that concept. Then try this on for size: People like folks who have a good, solid handle on what they want, and aren’t afraid to ask for it.

“But Ferrett!” you cry. “Men don’t like pushy women the same way women like pushy men!”

For romantic purposes (not, say, career advice), I’d argue that approach is coming from that same logic of evolved scarcity: I used to have partners swarming me, now I have less of them, I don’t want to scare the remaining ones away by acting weird.

And you will scare people away by being forthright about your desires. It happens. I assure you, as someone who’s routinely shouting his opinions into a public space, I have tons of people who want nothing to do with me. Tons of people think I’m an asshole, they think I’m too melodramatic, they think I’m insensitive.

Hint: Though I find many of these people attractive, I am not dating them.

I both contract and expand my dating pool by being explicit about what I need.

Part of a good evolution into older age comes in understanding that you’re not going to be able to appeal to all the people you wanted. Maybe when you were young, you could wrap anyone you wanted around your little finger, so you had like an 80% hit rate between “attempted seduction” and “closing the deal.” That’s rare – but hey, if it happens, recognize that this hit rate is highly unlikely to continue into your sixties.

You need to understand that the best you can do is to find people who fucking love what you have to offer.

Like, for example, all these younger women who supposedly want older men. Does that list compromise all younger women? Hell no; not a day goes by I don’t stumble across some profile that says, “I won’t play with anyone over 30, it skeezes me out to play with someone who could be my Dad, don’t ask.” There’s plenty of women out there who will not date someone older, and God bless them. In fact, based on my OKCupid trawls, the number of young women who really need a 46-year-old balding dude in their life are in the minority.

Yet the reason those older men have done so well is that they speak confidently enough that the folks who do find That Kind Of Guy attractive can find them.

(And many – not all, but many – of them date at all ages. I do.)

Likewise, the older and beautifully bolder women I know don’t give a fuck when all those shallow idiots who only want some 22-year-old cutie ignore them: they’re too busy finding dudes who dig what they have to offer! They’re finding folks who are also into their fascination with theater, folks who are also into their love of costumery, folks who are also into their love of bicycle riding.

They’re not interested in dating, they’re interested in doing. And oh, how the dates follow when you start doing.

Yeah, there’s a hundred folks out there who don’t want you any more, just because you’re old. That’s sad. But the women I know, God bless them, have said, “Fuck it, I don’t care if they don’t like me, I’m gonna do the things I like and the partners will follow.”

And they date happily, thrillfully, zestfully. They lead a quirky life. Their boudoirs are stuffed full of whatever genitals they prefer to partake of.

And I’m not saying everyone can do this. Some folks don’t have the kind of personality to pull it off, and some people just aren’t that into things to make this happen, and other people are too shy. All of that happens. This isn’t a guarantee.

Yet I can say if you’re getting older, and you’re starting to feel yourself fading into the wallpaper – what do you have to lose? Give it a try. Be that old person who doesn’t give a fuck. Look at the older women who are still out there dating – they exist, go find ’em – and note what they’re doing.

Because man, there’s still a lot of fun to be had.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So EL James held an Ask Me Anything on Twitter the other day.  It went about as predictably as Bill Cosby’s “Ask Me Anything” session went, which is to say full of angry accusations, snarkiness, and hostility.  Really, celebrities, you shoulda seen this coming.

Still, I view EL James in the same sense that I do Margaret Mitchell and”Gone With The Wind” in the sense that I’ve never read anything by either of them – I’ve just seen the immense cultural footprint that both of them have left behind.  And I’m not particularly thrilled by either: James’ modelling of abusive relationships as admirable (with the extra bonus of BDSM being framed as this thing that healthy people ultimately walk away from), Mitchell’s idolization of the Deep South and slave culture.

That said, I’m always shocked when people target the author as if they created this ugliness out of whole cloth.

Now, this isn’t to say that EL James and Margaret Mitchell aren’t responsible for glorifying bad things.  But plenty of people write novels that glorify bad things.  Hell, JG Ballard wrote a novel glorifying the sexiness of near-fatal car crashes and the people who get off on that. There’ve been a thousand bad fanfics dealing with abusive BDSM fantasies in one method or another. Most of these stories languish in obscurity, like most tales.

So when I see a big ugly phenomenon like this, I don’t see the author as being some all-powerful Evil, dictating cultural paradigms from on high:

I see them as accidentally tapping into a deep well of ugliness that people want to believe in.

And yeah, the author is culpable for polishing these turdy ideals to a glossy consumable shine, but ultimately this shit wouldn’t sell if people didn’t want it.

Talking about EL James like she single-handedly created bad BDSM, baffles me.  No.  She’s one of a hundred thousand fanfic writers who peddled fantasies – and something about this fantasy connected with millions of people who wanted this so badly that when they got it, they couldn’t stop thinking about it.

In that sense, I see the audience for this sort of thing like a vast field of dry grass – if EL James didn’t write a bad BDSM book to spark these shady desires, eventually some other schmuck would have done it.  If Margaret Mitchell didn’t write a paean to the Old South, well, there were enough other people writing potboilers that someone else would have stumbled across it eventually.

I look at these authors like I view Mike Huckabee – reprehensible, to be sure, but if dude had a heart attack then some other schmuck would hit the limelight, because some portions of America deeply want dippy fundie conservatism, and they’ll keep looking until they find someone who fulfills that need.

Which doesn’t make Mike Huckabee a great person, for fine-tuning his gay-bashing skills to such an extreme – but someone only becomes popular by people agreeing with them.

Mind you, not all people talk about EL James like she’s responsible – many correctly chastise her for indulging a harmful need.  But a lot of people attack her like somehow she made relationship abuse so compelling that she lured people, Pied Piper-style, into believing this is the way romance would be.  And admittedly, I haven’t read it – but judging from the ham-handed quality of the prose and characterization I’ve seen thus far, I think it’s highly unlikely that she converted people to this viewpoint via the quality of her words.

Truth is, some folks want to hear this shit.  And with millions of writers trying billions of stories, eventually one of them is going to catch that spark.

I guess you can only yell at one of them directly, but still.  They didn’t do this to anyone.

People chose to love it.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So I’m writing a story where a monster who secretly wants to be a teenaged girl is trying to fit in.  The reasons are… complicated.

But because of other story reasons, she needs to travel to a strange town and play a pickup game of sports with other teens.  And… I don’t know how sports works when you’re a young teenager.

So. What I need is a place where a kid from out of town can go and play a game with other kids, with parents watching.  (So even though there are pickup games of basketball, that wouldn’t be suitable, as it needs to be the sort of place where a lot of parents would be hanging out.)

If she has to try out for a league or something, that’s fine, but the end result has to be that she’s actually having a good time with other teens playing this whatever-it-is, so she can let her guard down and things can go terribly terribly wrong in front of a crowd of watchers.

But I don’t think most sports have a “show up and play” attitude for new kids, and I have no idea if tryouts usually culminate in some sort of game, or if that only happens with certain sports when you’re a kid.

So. Can someone who knows how these things work clue me in?  Thanks in advance, folks.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.


theferrett: (Default)

August 2015

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