theferrett: (Meazel)

So for the seventh time, Twitter is trying to push its algorithmically-sorted Tweets into users’ timelines – and for the seventh time, Twitter users are angrily yelling, “Having our Tweets in the order they arrive in is a feature!  Stop fucking trying to change it!  Why do you want to change it?”

The reason they want to change it is a large reason why America doesn’t work well any more.

But first, let’s discuss why Twitter’s feed is a critical issue.

If you’re not familiar with how Facebook posts work – and a lot of you are not – Facebook itself decides what posts you see, based on an internal algorithm that scans each post and determines what’s important.  What’s resting at the top of your feed might have been posted three days ago – but it got a lot of comments, or it has buzzwords like “new baby,” or it’s got advertising dollars behind it.

And those algorithms are:

Frequently wrong.  I stopped adding friends on Facebook after the third – the fucking third! – time there was a death in a friend’s family, and Facebook’s algorithm decided it wasn’t important.  And my friends, who were consumed by the death of their mother and/or husband, naturally assumed that I knew because I was their friend on Facebook.  Which led to multitudes of awkward conversations when I met them in person and I said, brightly, “How ya doing?” and they went, “Well, it’s been hard,” and I asked, “Why? What happened?”

Subtly Biased. Hey.  Are you liberal?  Well, you’re gonna be more liberal on Facebook, because that algorithm is going to pick up on what you like, and it’s going to deposit more liberal news posts in your feed, and you’ll come to believe that the world is way more liberal than it is because Facebook is quietly sanitizing what you want to see.

Smothering Stories of Genuine Interest.  Ferguson became a national news story not because any news outlet wanted to pick up on it – they ignored it.  But people on Twitter kept posting about it, and because Twitter posts show up in chronological order, if you arrived soon after someone posted on Ferguson, you saw every post.  Eventually, enough people chained up interest that CNN and FOX news were forced to cover it.  Whereas on Facebook, which decided for you what you’d like, Ferguson waited for weeks before it started to be marked as “of interest,” and even then it only showed it to you if it decided you wanted to know.

Twitter wanting to move to an algorithmically-decided ranking means that it decides what you need to see.  And stories like Ferguson will be suppressed – not out of any Illuminati-style pressure, but because algorithms are crap at spotting trends with small data, which means if Ferguson started out small in an algorithmically-determined Twitter, it would very likely stay small.  When was the last time you heard of a news story breaking on Facebook that someone didn’t post on Facebook?

And every Twitter user I know wants chronological order.  That’s why we show up.  It’s messy, and it’s chaotic, but we consider “not having an algorithm decide what we see” to be actually one of Twitter’s greatest strengths…

And Twitter keeps ignoring what we want and keeps trotting out feelers to see if they foist this shitty concept on us.  (They’ve backed off this latest time, claiming that ha ha, they never meant to replace chronological order, but that’s what they said before – and yet once again there were reports that they wanted to roll it out.  There’s beta users who are seeing it.  For a company that doesn’t want to use it, they’re sure putting a lot of work into testing algorithms.)

Now, you may be asking, “Why does Twitter want to alienate its core user base?”  And the answer is simple:

They don’t want their user base.

They want Facebook’s.

The problem is that Twitter has a devoted user base, but it’s not growing enough.  There’s a lot of people who try Twitter, decide it’s not for them, and wander away.  There’s also like a billion people on the Internet, and not all of them want to use Twitter – a service which is, essentially, a global IRC chat.

Now, in a sane market, that would be enough.  People would go, “Well, Twitter has millions of deeply engaged users, so how do we optimize this experience for them?”  And they’d figured out ways to make Twitter better for the folks who use it, and determine better ways to make cash off a loyal user base, and make a decent profit.

Wall Street does not want decent profits.

Wall Street needs magnificent profits.

And that is a comparatively recent development.  There was a time not so long ago (well, the 1970s) where a good business could be run with modest growths, and that was considered to be a worthy investment.  There were lots of boring markets that just made constant, steady cash – and more importantly, new businesses could be designed to make boring, steady cash.

The point was not that every business had to engage in a tumorously-rapid expansion to grab all the marketshare – though the ones who could were hot tickets – but that back then, Wall Street understood that some businesses were just not designed for continual, explosive growth.

They don’t now.  Particularly in the tech sector.  If you’re not expanding, you’re dying.

So Twitter has continually spend its capital in attempts to satisfy users it does not have.

Which isn’t entirely bad – little changes like turning the “Favorite” (which used to mean anything from “Save this link to read later” to “Like” to “I acknowledge you made this reply”) into a heart makes Twitter’s complex interface less confusing for newbies.

But it does mean that Twitter is constantly asking itself the question, “How can we beat Facebook?”  And you can’t, with Twitter’s core market.  Twitter is designed as an alternative to Facebook – and Facebook is meant for small groups of friends and family to interact with, whereas Twitter is more global.

If Twitter acquired Facebook’s user base, it would lose Twitter’s.

Yet that’s what Wall Street demands, and that’s why Twitter is flailing both on Wall Street and in the public’s eye – its whole financial success is being judged by the question of “Well, how big is this going to get? Is it going to beat Facebook? Then it sucks.”

Twitter’s user base is angry that Twitter is ignoring them, and Wall Street is mad that Twitter isn’t ignoring its user base enough.

Which is a problem with America.  The new and rapacious Wall Street designed in the “Greed is good” 80s-era punishes markets that might be profitable, but not explosive.  And as such, we’re continually propelled forward in this cancerous cycle of “How do we grow?  How do we grow?” – even with markets that might be more profitable if they stopped focusing on growth and instead focused on satisfying a small but rabid client base.

In a sane economy, Twitter could pause and say, “Okay, we’ve got all these people who love us – so our priorities should be a) to figure out how to make a good profit from these folks, and b) make the people who love us love us more.”  (The two are not inevitably linked – users would love you most if there were no ads involved, but users are often very stupid people who get angry at your attempts to draw a salary.)

But because Wall Street demands SWELL AND EXPAND, what we get from Twitter is this muddled confusion of “Okay, yeah, our users want better anti-abuse tools” (which is critical because, as this Tweet explains, Twitter is the only social network where “being successful” means “you get abused”) and yet they’re pouring resources into “Stuff that people who don’t like Twitter might like.”

Which is something that makes me feel sad for Twitter’s people.  In a better world, they’d be focused on “What do Twitter users enjoy about us?” And they’d understand that question really well, and make a product suited for a comparatively stable user base.

Instead, we get Twitter programmers who are shocked by what happens on Twitter when a Tweet goes viral.

And I think Twitter’s not alone. Lots of America is shaped by this relentless Wall Street command that you must expand and be profitable now.  Your infrastructure? Doesn’t matter.  Your R&D? Fuck that, did you make a profit this quarter?  Your long-term plans for steady growth? Consumed in this blaze of GIMME CASH IMMEDIATELY.  Your boring lumber business? Well, will you sell wood to ten billion people? NOT INTERESTED.

Personally, I think America would be a lot better if Wall Street was less full of greedy cancerous fuckwits willing to destroy companies so long as they get a paycheck today, and more populated with people who understood that businesses have different needs, and some unsexy businesses can make steady profits without funding yachts filled with cocaine-encrusted hookers.

Until then?

We get Twitter.  Spasming in confusion, not doing well, beholden to two masters.

Slowly dying.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I have a lot of rules around my polyamory – rules instigated mostly by my wife and long-term partner.

But they’re good rules.

See, I obsess about things and can’t stop.  So when a relationship goes south, it’s all I can think about.  I’m in the shower, wondering how I could have said things better. I’m at the movies, but I’m not watching, I’m contemplating my next text to her.  I’m cuddled up with my wife and I love being there but she notes that crease in my forehead that signals that somewhere, I’m still wondering, how can I fix my relationship with this other woman?

So they said, “Okay, we need rules to ensure you date more stable women.”  And I said “That sounds great,” because when you’re dating five women and two of those relationships are slowly disintegrating and you’re obsessive, well, it feels like running a goddamned marathon.

But.

But.

Right now, I’m in the process of revising a book, and the third act needs to be broken down and completely rewritten to take this book from “Acceptable ending” to “Awesome finish.”  To properly rebreak an act, you have to be willing to slaughter every darling – yeah, these individual character moments are heartwarming, these plot twists are great, but what happens if we get rid of them?  What happens if I take the entire last act, pretend it didn’t happen, and regrow a new last act like a lizard regenerating a severed limb?

I walked the dog this morning. I think. What actually happened was that the dog tugged me around the block while I examined all the elements in my book and weighed them and proposed theories, and I was back at my doorstep and barely registered the mile’s journey.

I’m unsure whether I’ll be able to fix this book properly – and please don’t tell me “You got this, Ferrett!” because I read that strongly as “If you can’t pull this off, we will come to hate you.”

But if I fail, it won’t be for lack of effort. I feel battered as a moth against a lightbulb, and I’ve only been contemplating this for two days – and I know I’ll spend the next weeks mired in this until I restructure it into something more perfect, or at least more fitting, because I don’t know how to stop.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can take your native neuroses and repurpose them into something productive.  I won’t say I’m happy while I’m rebreaking Act Three, but if I manage to fix it then I’ll have utilized some pretty terrible instincts to create good art.

Much better than trying to repurpose a relationship.  The odds are better, anyway.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So most of these crumbled civilizations are real shitholes, right?  Years ago, there were Great Empires and everything’s gone to shit since then and there’s a bunch of farmers eking out an existence in the ruins.

Well, in Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs and City of Blades, those ancient civilizations exist.  Except the today-civilizations are pretty much us, a hundred or so years ago.  There are scientists who study things, and politicians who are frighteningly smart at taking advantage of situations, and nations who are fully rebuilt and functional.  You wouldn’t mind living in his cities.  They’re troubled, but they’re on the move.

The problem is that the Great Empires were founded by Divinities – literal Gods, who warped the flow of physics and created the impossible.  One of the reasons the current nation-states are building their way out is because once the Gods died, the laws their cities ran on also vanished, and so they collapsed or sank into the sea or disintegrated in an event called The Blink.

And in both books – no real spoilers here – the heroes run across remnants of the Divine.  (Usually because, like Scooby Doo investigating a haunted amusement park, the scientists of the day just can’t stop hunting for shit that does literal magic.)  And when the heroes find the Divine, they have all the technology that people in the early twentieth century would have access to, they have all the cleverness that you or I would have, they are smart and insightful and clever…

And the echo of a Divinity is enough to almost destroy them, even with all of modern civilization backing them.

And I like that. I like that the past civilization is, effectively, science-fiction – and it’s not that humans are dumb or degraded, we’re still really clever, it’s that the Divinities were actually that terrifying in their heyday. And given that the Divinities were insane, you really don’t want ’em back.

They’re good books.  You should check ’em out.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Like all good nerds, I loved Mad Max: Fury Road. So when I asked my Mad Manicurist Ashley to do me up some Mad Max nails, we…

Ran into some issues.

She’d never seen Fury Road, and trying to explain to her “Yes, teeth spray-painted chrome is a major icon of the film and need to be on my nails” went over pretty poorly, with her going, “What? Why would that be a thing?”  And in the end, thanks to some technical difficulties where she just started doing art deco (not really a Mad Max style), I got what are pretty nails – but nails I have to explain to people, because they’re not iconic:

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Ashley’s nails are always amazing, but this is sadly at the bottom tier of amazing.  Oh well.  There’s always more nails.

And though I posted a small video, I’m not sure if I ever posted my Star Wars nails – which were very amazing, and I was ridiculously sad to have to take them off my body!

20151207_200005

20151207_200025

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So you go to a party so packed tight with burly men it’s hard to make your way to the exit. When they bellow a laugh, they clap you on the back hard enough to leave bruises. Their merry handshakes compress your bones, leave you shaking your hand to get the blood flow back.

On a table in the center of the room, set prominently, is a cake.

The men joke a lot, debate a lot, engage in shoving matches at the slightest provocations. And when one of them oversteps the line, the other shouts, “Shut your piehole!

Except when they say “piehole,” the other guy has to be held back by his friends. “He’s just jokin’, Phil,” they whisper. “Nobody thinks you eat pie.”

The other dudes go out of their way to mention that they’ve never seen a pie in real life. Just pictures. They looked disgusting.

At the height of the party, the dudes slice up the cake reverently. “This is the only dessert a person needs, you know? Cake.” And after they eat the cake, sitting back and relaxing blissfully at the table, Phil – fuckin’ Phil – brings up the time he went to visit his brother in Minneapolis (“Pie central,” they grunt knowingly), and opened up the fridge and what did that sick fuck have inside?

“Pie,” they say, and a couple of ’em crack their knuckles like they wish Phil’s brother was here right now.

They ask if you’ve eaten pie, except it’s an easy out – the very idea is presented as a joke, ’cause they like you, they know you wouldn’t. They jab you in the ribs with their elbows hard enough to almost knock you off your seat.

Somebody mentions this survey people took in the media the other day – “The media,” they groan – and these fuckers report that 21% of Americans have eaten pie in the last month.

“Gotta be a lie,” Phil says. “I don’t know anyone who eats pie.”

Everyone agrees, their lips smeared blue with frosting.

———————-

Now, my FetLife feed has been ablaze over the last few days over one single word – and it’s not “pie.”

It’s “they.”

As in, “If someone wants to be called ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she,’ you should call them ‘they’ as a courtesy.”

And a lot of male doms – because it’s pretty much exclusively male dominants suckin’ up the oxygen in this particular flame war – have said that this whole argument is dumb anyway, because they’ve never met a person who was uncomfortable being called “he” or “she,” and even if they had then those people are so rare as to not exist, so why bother forging a new pronoun for them?

Except one idiot who claimed “I’ve never met anyone who wanted to be called ‘they’ in real life!” had in fact met at least one person at a club who did want a gender-neutral pronoun – and that gender-neutral person remembered them explicitly because the idiot in question had harrumphed and walked away when they expressed a preference.

You gotta remember the pie.

If you create a culture that is actively hostile to a certain type of person, then you have to remember that you don’t actually know how many of that people exist.

Has Phil never met a person who’s eaten pie? Phil – fuckin’ Phil – thinks that’s because those people don’t exist.

But in truth, it’s because Phil swims in a cake-positive culture where the idea of eating pie is so repellent that you literally risk getting your ass beaten for mentioning “America” and “apple pie” in the same sentence. Or if the cakeheads are feeling mercilful, you’ll just get razzed for your love of pie forever until it feels shameful.

Right now, yeah, we’ve got a whole culture of people who accept “he” and “she,” because honestly, you’re gonna get a lot of Phils – fuckin Phils – who are going to go, “What the fuck? I’m not calling you ‘they’. You’re a ‘he.’ Go the fuck home.”

And when Phil’s your employer or your parent or someone else you need to function in life, that’s hard to get by without. You accept this gendering not because you like it, but because you’ve done the hard math and determined that it’s less troublesome to be called “she” than to battle every Phil – fuckin’ Phil – in your path.

But Phil can’t say, “Nobody wants to be called ‘they’! It’s freakish!” Because by *stigmatizing* it, you *suppress* it.

Look. I don’t know how many people would be comfortable with gender-neutral terms – and like homosexuality, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a minority. But I am certain that the number of people who desire gender-neutral terms are a lot bigger than the number of people facing down Phil in a big burly party.

Only after we remove the stigma can we know what people actually want.

And look, if you’re gonna be some anti-pie activist, then be honest. Tell people you think pie is harmful and will ruin your kids and giving them alternatives to cake will ruin their lives forever.

But what too many Phils do – fuckin’ Phils – is to conflate the argument, to go, “Look, people who eat pie are freakishly rare, and we don’t have to pay attention to them because nobody eats pie.”

Bullshit. You’ve made the people who eat pie rarer through shame and intimidation and the inertia of a cake-positive culture. There’d be a lot more people eating pie if you didn’t make retching noises every time someone opened up a Marie Callender’s and quietly dumped the pies at the banquet into the garbage.

What you’re doing is purposely suppressing pie-eating, and then using that suppression as proof that nobody normal does it. And to you, I say, “Fuck that, and fuck your piehole.”

In the meantime, how many people don’t like “he” or “she” and would prefer a “they”? We’ve got no concept. The idea’s still so new to American culture that people are having negative reactions to it just because it’s unfamiliar. With luck, we’ll come to see how many people desire an alternative, and then we’ll get a concept of how many folks have secretly longed for this all along.

Life’s full of weird closets. But it’s the height of dumbness to stuff people into closets and then claim you never see them around.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So here’s a dumb thing: I read only a handful of books in 2015.

But I played a loooooot of phone games.

Which felt like the moral equivalent of subsisting on Pop Tarts and McDonald’s breakfasts. But if I had an hour to kill in the evening, I’d play Ascension until I fell asleep. And people kept talking about all these great books they were reading, and I’d read maybe 15 books in the last year – which sounds like a lot to people who don’t read a lot, but I usually read about 60.

When I finish a book, I feel like I’ve expanded my life – I have learned new things about writing from watching some woman’s techniques, I’ve got a new conversation-starter with other people who’ve read it, I’ve inhaled a couple of interesting ideas.  When I finish a phone game, I feel sort of vaguely disappointed.

And I thought that it was that the phone was too distracting – which, yes, it was.  But it was also too small for me to read comfortably on, with my age-blurred eyes, so between that and the constant stream of texts, I just sort of gave up reading on it.

Yet I got a Kindle Paperwhite earlier this week, and last night was glorious.  Instead of killing time with my phone, I slipped into bed and read 15% of Traitor Baru Cormorant, which I’m sure will be on all the awards ballots that I’m not this year.  And when I got tired, I put it down and fell asleep…

…and in the morning, I realized why I’d stopped reading.

The lamp was too high.

When I’d read a lot as a kid, I had a nightstand at bed-height – I reached over and darkened the room. (I can’t fall asleep with the lights on.)  But in our bedroom, I had a big torch-style light that was five feet high. I had to get out of bed to turn it off.

And God forbid I wanted to read when Gini was trying to sleep – I’d flood her face with luminescence.  So I’d just learned to live in darkness.

Time had been, if I wanted to read, I went off to my reading room – but both of my daughters had moved back in with me over the past two years while they hunted for new jobs, and they both moved into the room I used to go and read in.  So I had nowhere I was comfortable reading.

It was all little things.  A lamp.  An unavailable bed.  A TV in the living room that made me think “Living room is for television.”  And if you’d tried to tell me any one of those things would have caused massive changes to my lifestyle, I’d have laughed. But all those little things nudged me into Not Reading.

A larger screen with a backlight turned that back on.

And I think that as humans, we often dismiss the idea that little environmental stimuli can alter our behavior. “We’re big people,” we say.  “I’d know if I was being affected!”

But the world is full of little tweaks like this. I never consciously thought, “God, that light is up too high” – or if I did, I never connected it with my reluctance to read.  I was, and am, an animal of low instincts, where I now realize I read best lying down and if I can’t lie down then some small switch in my brain tells me it’s not time to read.

And there’s all these other things that control my behavior that I doubtlessly don’t think about, but other people do. I know the dish size in a restaurant can control my portions.  I know colors can affect my mood.  I know that smells can make me hungrier or calmer.

And the frightening thing is, I don’t notice these nudges.  They just happen.  And then my reading is cut by 75% in a year.

And I think about racism and sexism, and how much of that is kind of like a too-tall lamp or a blocked bedroom.  Hardly anyone means to be racist, but maybe we look at a black face and that’s another environmental stimuli.  Hardly anyone means to be sexist, but maybe a woman speaks up and that’s another environmental stimuli.

And that sort of sedimentary discrimination is hard to battle, because not only do people not notice it happening, but when you do notice it there’s no bravery in overcoming it.  You don’t get to go, “Well, my parents taught me a woman’s place was in the kitchen, but I overcame that with logic and my own opinions!”  Instead, you have to go, “My subconscious makes me react more negatively to a woman interrupting me, and, uh, that’s something nobody ever taught me, I just sort of picked it up like lead in the water.”

That acknowledgement feels stupid. It reduces you to some lab mouse.  It makes you a dumb sea anemone, tossed about by currents you don’t fully control, and that’s the same terror of We’re bound by our biology that makes people deny evolution and put off seeing the doctor about that mole on their breast because this can’t be cancer.

I dunno.  I do know that last night, I read for ninety minutes straight, and it was lovely.  And now that I’m aware, I know that I need a) a larger box that’s b) backlit, and c) doesn’t bombard me with messages, so I can read in the dark while my wife sleeps.

I’ll be reading a lot more.  That’s good.

I’ll be wondering about what other subliminal things affect me a lot more. That’s unsettling.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

NOTE: It has now been five weeks since the new Star Wars came out, and I’m finally gonna discuss the movie.  There will be spoilers here; not big spoilers, but enough to make theories as to what would be interesting to happen in the next movie. If you’re still trying to avoid incidental spoilers, well, at this point you should see the movie.

So everyone has theories as to who Rey’s parents are.  They’re combing through the film, looking for evidence, deciding whether Rey is a Skywalker or a Kenobi or the reincarnation of Anakin Skywalker or whatever.

And let’s be honest: there’s just not enough facts on the ground here.  If she turns out to be Luke Skywalker’s kid, well, nothing in the film contradicts that narrative.  And if she’s Obi-Wan’s granddaughter, well, nothing in the film would contradict that, either.  “Looking for evidence” is a mug’s game, because if they gave you enough evidence to decisively determine “Who Rey’s parents” were, the crowdsourced wisdom of billions of fans would conclude.

And then Episode 8 would be predictable.

However, I am a writer. And when I write, I am notorious for Not Plotting.  I never know what happens next; what I do do is find the maximum point of havoc, trigger it, and then ask, “…so how do my characters get out of this mess?”  As such, I am extremely skilled at determining what the most catastrophic and interesting change would be.

(If you’d like to disagree with that statement, please buy my books first, read them in their entirety, review them on Goodreads, and then come back to argue.  Thank you!)

Anyway, I’m not asking, “What evidence leads me to believe that Rey is $CHARACTER’s kid?”  There’s not evidence, or at least not enough of it.

I am instead asking, “If I had to choose her father/grandfather*, what decision would create the most interesting set of character reactions?”

And the most interesting reactions comes from Rey being the granddaughter of that Big Baddie, Emperor Palpatine.

See, right now, if she’s anyone else, Luke’s default mode is “Sure, I’ll train you.”  You can fling some plot in the way to create tension, probably PTSD from watching his last set of students die – but Luke’s always believed in the best in people.

If Rey is Emperor Palpatine’s kid, and she just went toe-to-toe with Kylo Ren untrained and beat him, well… Luke’s gotta wonder whether training someone so unimaginably potent in the force is a good idea.  The only time he beat his father is when he turned to the Dark Side, and he had a lot more training.  (And remember, Luke didn’t see the battle, so he has no reason to take Rey’s word for it that she was calm.)  So does he really want to take a chance on Rey, especially after what went wrong when he trained a kid with good heritage like Ben?

“I am a Jedi. Like my father before me.” That lesson gets inverted when her father was not a good man at all, ever.

So that sets up a natural tension between Luke and Rey, and it gives a reason for Luke not to be so open with Rey.  The counterbalancing reasons why he should trust Rey comes down to plot, which you can manufacture easily; here, um, “Luke gave up his saber, knowing through Mysterious Force Powers that it would land in the hands of the person who needed it most, and he’s surprised to find that worthy person is Rey Palpatine.”

There. Creating plot to justify your interesting decisions is the least of an author’s powers.

The Rey Palpatine plot-take also explains why Rey’s been dumped on the ass-end of a planet in the middle of nowhere; if the First Order knew that the Emperor’s Granddaughter existed/had survived, then they would stop at nothing to find her.  And they wanted to dump her in a place with no hope, because it turns out the Force is strong in this family and they do not want her to get trained.  At all.

And Rey, who has always longed for her parents, waited endlessly for them, is suddenly torn to shreds.  Her father, like Luke’s, is a monster – but unlike Luke, they didn’t put her on dumb-ass Sand Planet for her benefit, they put her there specifically to neuter her.  All those hours toiling away for portions can be placed at the feet of whoever made that decision.  She’s got a right to be angry, they told her her family was coming back and instead she was going to rot there, turn into that old lady scrubbing parts….

We don’t know who made that decision – but oh wait, we’re plotting! We can just say who it is!  And we’d choose the most interesting person to make that decision, at least in terms of “Whose relationships that person making the decision would change the most,” and thaaaaaat’d be Luke.

But wait; what’s that do to her relationship with Vader-hipster Kylo Ren?

Oh, my friends, that’s the sweet sauce.

Suddenly, Kylo – who worships the ground his grandfather walked on – sees the Emperor’s granddaughter, and they are clearly Meant To Be.  The irony!  Goddamned Luke swayed his father back from the Dark Side just long enough for a rebellion; wouldn’t it be so luscious if he rescued Rey from Luke’s wussy Light Side tendencies to show her true heritage?

It’s unclear what Kylo Ren would want, after acquiring this information. Maybe he’s looking for an apprentice to break out from under General Gollum’s control, which would be a bit depressingly cookie-cutter; maybe he’s looking for someone stronger than him to lead.  But in either case, Rey Palpatine would push every one of that kid’s “I’ve gotta out-Vader Vader” buttons hard.

…and it also provides a deeper and darker resonance for Rey shouting “You’re afraid that you will never be as strong as Darth Vader!

(EDIT: And Holy crap, I just realized the most catastrophic plot development in this Rey-Ren-Snoke triangle:

(Envision Kylo Ren saying, “I found the Emperor’s Granddaughter, we have to protect her.”  Envision Supreme Leader Snoke thinking, This chick is way too bull-headed to convert, and she’s the only real threat to my Force domination, we need to bump her off.  There’s instant conflict there.

(Now imagine what happens when Kylo Ren starts a civil war in the First Order to protect the last heritage of the Great Empire.  Kylo’s not a guy who thinks ahead, so he’d only recognize what he’s done to the First Order only after Snoke’s lifeless body hits the floor  – and you think he hates Rey now?  Oh, God, getting her and converting her would become so personal.)

Now, you’re asking, “What evidence in that movie says that Rey is Palpatine’s daughter?” And again, you’re looking in the wrong place.  After the fact is made, we will retrofit every action in the movie to fit whoever Rey’s parents turn out to be – just like we now assign so much more meaning to Obi-Wan’s hesitations and sadnesses in Episode IV.  But if you must…

I mean, she’s got her grandpa’s technological skills; do you think the old man built something as complex as the Death Star without understanding machines himself?  And Han Solo, the way he looks at her; note that he’s adventuring with her, but is very reticent to do anything for her, until he sees the way she loves that lush green planet.  After that, he asks if she’ll come with him – and in the post-Palpatine decision, that’d be viewed as a clear move to keep an eye on this kid, he likes her, now it’s time to see what she’s made of.  The fact that Chewie likes her – and Chewie’s instincts are far better than his – is a sign.

In that sense, Han watching Kylo Ren walk away from Maz Kanata’s palace takes on a new light; he’s debating whether to potentially kill his son in order to save the Emperor’s granddaughter.

Leia, on the other hand, may or may not know; one would suspect she doesn’t. Or she could have been against this decision from the get-go, and instead wants her to find her destiny with Luke.  Either way, if Rey turns out to be Palpatine’s kid, we’ll manufacture plot to support the decision, and viewed in retrospect we’ll all buy it.

As for Luke, well, if we go with the simple version of “His saber found the worthiest student,” well, he pulled that pseudo-mystical stuff with Artoo and can do it again.  He’s a Jedi Master, and my hope is that Episode VIII will show us more than the haggard old tripartite Force powers of mind trick/telekinesis/force lightning.  I’d like Luke to have some really crazy powers – and I mean, Luke did crash blindly in the one spot where Yoda was waiting, so it’s not like Yoda didn’t have some planet-scale fuckery at his disposal.

(And while we’re at it, here’s my dream Luke-plot for Episode VIII: He’s at the first Jedi Temple, where he trains Rey in all the mystical ways of the Jedi order, and it doesn’t frickin’ work.  He’s teaching her just like Obi-Wan and Yoda taught him, utilizing the millennium of old Jedi teachings, and he’s baffled by why he did all that and wound up with Kylo Ren…

(Until Rey points out that hey, Luke, you’re mindlessly emulating teaching techniques that created Vader and Kylo Ren, and the only time you broke the cycle was when you ignored Obi-Wan and Yoda to go do the right thing – so maybe, just maaaaybe Luke, you should stop trying to teach me like these old blinkered fuddy-duddies and teach me like Luke Fucking Skywalker would.

(Cue Luke’s enlightenment.  Cue Luke becoming an actually good teacher.)

Anyway.  The point is that yeah, Rey could be a Skywalker and could be a Kenobi (my personal hope), but you have to work harder to make those alternatives interesting.  Rey as Palpatine is like the old films, but like the new films it also inverts it – the difference that Rey was not sent away for her protection, but to purposely isolate her, is a huge difference, as would the relationship with Kylo Ren.

There’s no firm evidence either way.  It’s just more interesting.  And alas, in the ever-incestuous Star Wars universe she’s gotta be some player’s kid, because as my friend Richard noted the most shocking plot twist of all would be to have Rey’s ancestry be nobody we’ve ever seen before.

* – Alas, it has to be her father/grandfather and not her mother, as Star Wars takes place in an alternate-universe scenario where the lead roles are actually sentient insects.  Don’t blame me for this theory, blame Max Gladstone.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

The elevator doors slide open, and I walk out into the convention bar.  The room’s filled with the chatter of happy authors, people standing in small groups, smiling, ordering drinks.

My brain locks up.

I see an author whose work I enjoy, and my brain stabs me with the thought of: She doesn’t want to talk to some random schmuck.  Why would you bother her?

I see a person I stayed up with until 2:00 in the morning at the last convention, talking until we finally had to slog off to bed, and my brain shrieks: He doesn’t remember you. You’re going to introduce yourself, and get that long awkward silence, and then slink away.

I see someone who I’ve been friends with Twitter on forever, with strings of long @-exchanges that made me laugh, and I go, Well, that’s Twitter, we’re not real friends, and besides, they probably don’t remember our interactions as fondly as I do.

And on the rare occasions I see someone I do know really likes me, who’s told me they actively want to speak to me at this convention, they’re talking with other people I don’t know, and the thought of shouldering my way into that talk feels like poking grizzly bears.

I stand outside of the elevator, blushing furiously, feeling this dumb animal need to run back to my room and call it all off.  Except I’ve spent the last hour in my room psyching myself up for this, sweating, telling myself that this is what I came here for, it’ll be fine, it usually is fine once I break this frozen river of ice, trying to buy into my own hype that yes, people actually want to see me sometimes.

I pick a target.

I step out.

If I do my job right, they never realize that literally four hours of effort have gone into crafting that first casual “Hello.”


 

At this year’s ConFusion, at least three people said they wanted to talk to me, but they saw me “Holding court.”  I get that a lot.  I tend to accumulate groups of people when I’m chatting.

And I realize as I write this essay that part of the whole “holding court” thing comes from the fact that I try to be aware of my surroundings.  If I see someone creeping up on the edges, I try to welcome them in.  I know how scary that shit is, hanging around the periphery, listening, hoping not to intrude… and so I tend to talk in groups of five and six.

But man, I am not holding court. Or if I am, I am a naked and terrified king, never quite sure why anyone’s here in my presence, thrilled to see you but eternally bewildered.

The thing about breaking the ice is that for me, once I get going, the bravery snowballs.  If I talk to three people, I can usually strike up a conversation with the fourth at no effort.  If I’ve talked with six people, I can snag an invite to dinner.

Yet that effort evaporates ludicrously fast.  I remember spending all of Thursday and Friday chatting effortlessly once I’d finally broken into my first conversation – and then I went up to my room on Saturday for an hour’s nap.  When I returned, I was freeze-locked again, and my good friend Amy had to come down to help me through my anxiety.

I love people, but man, they terrify me.

Yet what I hear over and over again is how well I do at conventions. I always seem to be talking with somebody, or several somebodies, I always seem to be in the thick of social situations, I always seem to be making friends –

– and sometimes folks tell me this with a secret degree of envy, as though they wish they had the trick.  And there are tricks you can deploy; have a rock-solid friend you’ve hung out with outside of conventions to be your wingman, chat a lot on Twitter so you know people without “knowing” them, recognize that you can be scared and still act.  (Also, sometimes? Anti-anxiety drugs.)

But mostly, it’s just stepping out onto the killing floor and discovering that on the whole, people are more welcoming than you’d thought.

And so if you see me holding court, please realize that this isn’t a fiefdom.  It’s a shelter.  If you’re as socially anxious as I am, I want you there.  I’ll welcome you as best I can. I’ll introduce you around. I’ll say hello and be friendly, because man, I’m in the zone now but I am one nap away from being knocked back down to feeling like the out-of-town kid walking into a new classroom full of hostile students.

But if you have to view me as a king holding court, then please view me as a benevolent leader wishing to knight you.  I come from humble origins.  My skills are overrated.

Please. Step into the circle.  Speak “friend,” and enter.

Because you and I are knotted by the same stupid fears.  The only difference between us? Is that maybe I have a little more experience navigating these anxious waters.

I’ll talk to you.

I’ve been there.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Here’s a “news” story I despise:

1)  A Newsworthy Event happens.
2)  Intrepid Journalist goes out onto Twitter to hunt for the dumbest, most upsetting reactions possible.
3)  A clickbait article then presents these Twitter reactions, going, “PEOPLE HOLD HATEFUL OPINIONS LOOK AT HOW STUPID THEY ARE.”

Look. There’s lots of places that do genuinely attract cesspools of hateful reactions – Cleveland.com had to shut down comments on Tamir Rice news articles after being swamped with racist assholes, and certainly if you look through Anita Sarkeesian’s @-replies you’ll find tons of loathesome sexist comments.

But this is a big world, guys.

Even when 99.9% of the world agrees this is fucking awesome, there’s always going to be a handful of douches who react like a fucking moron to any news story.

And I think making a habit of seeking out the twenty dickwads in order to engineer rageclicks actually hurts us. I think it’s a variant on the “local news” segment, where reporters go around finding every break-in and mugging and car accident and report it until people feel like they’re under siege in their own homes, even in a safe suburban town.

There are incidents that indicate a genuine outswelling of distressing behavior, of course – but those are because there’s hundreds of thousands of people, say, believing Trump’s lies that “thousands” of mythical New Jersey Muslims were cheering on 9/11.

But there’s also news stories where 99% of the population goes, “Eh, no big whoop” – and these clickfuckers go out searching for the dumbest, most racist/sexist/homophobic reactions because they know you’ll get pissed.  And I think if you treat these clickbait articles as though they reflect real life, like Fox gins up the terror of Muslims, you become convinced the world is out to getcha, when in reality it’s probably the same massively overwhelmed and outvoted segment of the population expressing some opinions their Facebook friends would probably consider douchey.

(And it’s also impossible, out of context, to know how many of those people were trolling.  There was a lot of baby boomer outrage when Paul McCartney played with Kanye West and folks went, “Who’s that old dude?” – and at least some of those accounts were purposely trying to piss off people.  Not that there’s anything wrong with a seventeen-year-old kid not knowing who Paul McCartney is anyway.)

And I think that the “find the douchebags” game presents a burn-n-slash presentation of “winning” – because it implies if you can find one moron shouting out in the wilderness, we have yet to achieve victory.

Which is never going to happen.  That goal implies a thoroughly Orwellian world, and it’s the same world where fundamentalists think they can make every single person love Jesus.  Humanity is messy, and sloppy, and it is impossible to get everyone believing what you do, no matter how noble you believe your cause is.  It just doesn’t happen. It never has happened.  There will always be dissent.

The best that rationally happens is to have these people so overwhelmingly outnumbered that they’re not taken seriously.  Sure, there’s always gonna be some idiot who thinks the world is ruled by snake people – and you can find their Twitter, too! – but that guy’s never gonna muster voters into overthrowing the snake people, his core values are never gonna be taken seriously by the press, he’s never gonna live his dreams.

He’ll find a cluster of snake-people-haters online, and he’ll be thoroughly convinced he’s right, and nobody else will care.

That is victory.

And like I said, because people tend to get pissy about these things and then shut down their reading comprehension, I’m not discussing stuff where there are thousands of responses and people polling significant digits in the populations and elections at stake.

But there are also issues where really, pretty much everybody’s like “Yeah, whatever” except for this handful of idiots.  And if you shine a light on these idiots, then suddenly people feel like they have to have opinions, and you get a ginned-up wellspring of idiocy like The Starbucks Cup controversy, where nobody fucking cared until people realized you might be pissed off about it, and they found That One Moron, and then it became a Cultural Issue where morons started climbing aboard because hey, if liberals are against it then I must be for it…

And realistically, what happened was that websites converted your outrage into advertising dollars, and you felt like the world was full of maniacs, and the truth was that there were like six maniacs total, living out where nobody cared, until people hunted them down to scare you.

And sure.  Those maniacs exist.  But they didn’t have any real power.  And blowing them up into the Next Big Assault makes it seem like you’re continually under siege, and it blends into the real sieges, and the next thing you know you’re as paranoid as a Fox News viewer.

So yeah.  Not a fan.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“‘I’m going to analyze my own experience with women in order to shed some light on what women are really like,’ Jared had written. What followed was a list of his sexual conquests, evaluated with a numerical score that ranked each woman’s face, body, and personality, as well as a brief description.”

And all I can think is, “…why would you do that?”

Yet I know that a lot of men – particularly the Red Pill dudes referenced so lavishly in that article – in fact, *do* rank everyone they sleep with.

And all I can think is, “Man, that has to be the saddest sex ever.” Because when I’m with someone, I’m looking to be swept away by sensation – I want that kiss so fierce it shuts out the world so all I think about is this moment. I want it to feel so good when she touches me that my sole remaining thought is more. I want to lose myself in her body, to create this vibrating loop of organic and orgasmic feedback that leaves us both spent and shuddering.

I’ve watched Star Wars as a young boy. I’ve also watched Star Wars as a critic. And lemme tellya, walking into the bedroom with a critic’s eye carries a certain intellectual satisfaction, but it sure gets in the way of cheering for Luke.

Fucking them while also accumulating the data to later tally whether they were a 5-face or a 6-face seems like you’re not so much a sexual partner but a polling method using a dick instead of a phone call.

More importantly, gaining that critical knowledge seems like a way to never be satisfied. While you’re in the bedroom, you have to be thinking, “Could I be doing better? Why have I settled for a 7 personality tonight?” And I doubt the guys who do this think that far down, but their subconscious has to be burbling with thoughts of “Am I so desperate for affection that I’ll lower my own standards just not to be alone? Why can’t I consistently nail a 10/10/10? What will I do if I ever find the perfect woman?”

Man, I think those guys have to be roiling with bizarre insecurities. This isn’t connection; this is grinding Achievements on X-Box.

Which is not to say I don’t have flashes of scientific thought in the bedroom – those dim ignitions of Oh, she liked that move, maybe I should try that on someone else later on

– but when I’m with someone, it’s because I want to be wholly with them. I’m not comparing and contrasting them against everyone else I might have slept with, I am appreciating what is there before me. They’re revealing themselves, and I’m revealing myself, and together we’ll see what sorts of unique chemistry we can unlock.

I think ranking like that always means a part of you is elsewhere, hoping for a better experience, leaving you itching for novelty even when you’re kissing someone for the first time. Whereas I think it’s far superior to focus on extracting the joy and passion and sweetness that can be gotten from a partner who you’ve decided to be with not because you wanted to see if you could fuck them, not because you wanted to check off a new tally on their score, but for the simple reason that they turned you on.

It’s easier. And I think, ultimately, brings you to a better and less bitter place. And I wonder if so many Red Pill guys seem miserable from a distance because they’re not actually connecting with women, but instead are playing this constructed strategy game with their ego where accumulating bodies serves as a replacement for self-worth, and they get increasingly angry when they realize they’re getting everything they wanted but it’s like seawater – you can drink, and drink, and drink, and drown.

Maybe the only solution is to walk away. But I don’t know if any of them could do that.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

They taught me about Martin Luther King in fifth grade. I would have been ten years old.

Funny thing is, normally they never would have mentioned Martin Luther King.  History was all old things, like Washington and Lincoln; I don’t think I heard the words “Vietnam War” in school until I was in tenth grade, minimum.  But MLK had woken a lot of people to the concepts of prejudice and equality, so they shoehorned him in.

Which was weird.  Because they talked a lot about Martin Luther King, and how he made the world safe for black people, in that reduced blend of facts and mythology we always hand out to young kids.  And they talked about how great he was, and all the work he did…

But fifth grade, for me, was 1979.

Martin Luther King got shot in 1968.

And what the teachers never made clear was that he’d been shot the year before I was born.  The echo of that shot was still ringing through our lifetime. Things hadn’t been solved.

But because MLK had been slotted in, MLK acquired the patina of all the other historical figures we talked about, like Washington and Lincoln, these ancient struggles that we won.  We won the war for American Independence, and we won the Civil War, and we won the war for equality – these distant, dusty struggles we should be grateful are now over.

Nobody made it clear that people who’d marched in the Civil Rights Movement were, in many cases, younger than my teacher.

And I wonder how much of the Black Lives Matter movement is an extension of that weird-ass historical shading.  The teachers meant well.  But they made it sound like MLK was some ancient event, not something ripped from yesterday’s headlines, and as a result they taught us the inadvertent lesson that the whole prejudice thing had been fixed.

I think a lot of white people my age today are so upset over Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement because they got taught that Martin Luther King fixed this shit.  And to them, going back and discussing it again is kind of like fighting England all over again for independence, we did it, don’t these people realize we won?

And what the teachers didn’t, perhaps couldn’t, perhaps didn’t want to say, is that MLK’s blood was still drying on the pavement while we were in class, and the ramifications were still spilling outward, ever outward, and things were never as closed as we would have liked to believe.

But we like to believe in closure. And we sure like to believe that MLK shut a door that we never have to open again.  We like to believe that a lot.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I have three distinct personalities as a writer: scribbly-guy, edity-guy, and marketroid. I don’t let the three talk to each other.

Scribbly-guy just writes. I don’t really know where the stories come from; I just get a weird first sentence and I roll with it.  Likewise, Edity-guy doesn’t question the submissions he’s getting: he’s got a story on his desk, and it’s time for him to make it better.

Mr. Marketroid, the part of me that actually has to go out and find a place to buy these stories, gets the final product and weeps.

And no story made him weep harder than “Rooms Formed of Neurons and Sex,” because it’s a story about a phone sex operator who falls in love with a BDSM-obsessed brain in a jar. Not only is this story extremely sexually explicit, not only do the words “brain in a jar” appear unironically and repeatedly throughout the work, but it is also 6,400 words, roughly 1,500 words more than most story markets will take.  (For the record, this whole post clocks in at a hair over 300 words.)

Yet after years of reworking, the fine editors at Uncanny Magazine just sent me back the contract, so “Rooms Formed Of Neurons And Sex” will appear in a future issue of Uncanny.  Which is awesome, because every short story writer has a couple of markets they long to be published in, and Uncanny Magazine has been knocking it out of the park lately with kick-ass stories from some of the authors I admire most.

It’s not out yet, obvs; the wheels of publishing grind slow and fine, and they’re committed with stories through February.  I’ll letcha know when this absolutely psychotic weirdie of a story will be available for your perusal.

But I sold it! And you’ll see it. In a place where I’m in great company.  And soon you’ll be able to put your eyes on Lydia and the Naughty Nurse Hotline and how she comes to fall in love with, yes, a brain in a goddamned jar.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Looking for some awesome sci-fi and fantasy series? Well, Barnes and Noble is trying to lure you in to reading pure awesomeness – and so as part of that, they’ve discounted Flex on the Nook to $2.99 to get you started!  (And don’t forget the sequel The Flux, which is currently out, and Fix – which isn’t even up for presale, but will be arriving in September of 2016.  I’m a series, you see.)

(You can also start on some awesome series like Mirror Empire, which I’m currently reading, and Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter, which has been highly recommended to me.)

Anyway, my book’s on sale for a short time, so I’d go purchase it post-haste, were I you.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Look. You’re telling me Google’s developing self-driving cars, but condoms remain mired in old-school technology?  We all know that condoms are a) necessary and b) suck; shouldn’t someone have created a better, more pleasurable, condom by now?

As it turns out, people are trying. And the government’s insane standards of safety are making it more difficult.

That article I linked to is one of the most educational I’ve ever read – it debunks some of the “lambskin condoms are unsafe!” discussions I’ve had in the kink community.  (Short version: the government mandates a label that says, “Not to be used for prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). To help reduce the risk of catching or spreading many STDs, use only latex condoms.” And that label is based on outmoded tests created when we were most ignorant on how HIV was transmitted.)

Yet here’s the thing about condoms:  is it better to have a condom with a 99% protection record that people only use 70% of the time, or is it better to have a condom with a 97% protection record that people use 99% of the time?

Because that’s an ugly truth about condoms: so many people hate ’em, they refuse to use ’em.  (Even though, yes, they should.)  And if we’re judging safety by real-world standards, it’s a very legitimate concern to say, “Yes, latex condoms are very safe, but also uncomfortable enough that maaaaaybe it’s better to develop a slightly riskier condom that people will use more consistently.”

It’s a weird math there.  But it adds up.

And I used that math the other day, because one of the lasting effects of my triple-bypass emergency heart surgery is that I have to take a medication called Welchol. It comes in a packet, and it’s this gritty sand with a saccharine lemony aftertaste that is just awful to drink. But the doctor says it’s the best.

After months of not taking Welchol on the road because it’ll make you retch to drink it with straight water and it’ll ruin any cup you put it in, I thought:

Is it better to have a less effective medication that I take every day, or a better medication that I struggle to take four days out of seven?

I called the doctor and we changed my prescription to a pill.

And now that I’m aware of it, I use that condom-logic a lot: yeah, it’d be better if I worked out for forty-five minutes at a shot – but if I commit to that, then I get around to it maybe once a week. Whereas if I commit to a twenty-minute workout, I can do that three or four times a week.

With condom logic, I take my own foibles into account and stop asking, “What would be best in a vacuum?” and instead ask, “What would I be more realistically likely to do on a regular basis?”  And if there’s a less effective alternative that you know you’d use more often, then stop trying to hold yourself to this gold standard that you’ve proven you’re unable to achieve consistently, and go for the bronze standard you can hit all the time.

Because here’s the weird thing about bronze standards: Used to be that I worked out three times a week for fifteen minutes.  Now, on average, I’m working out four times a week for twenty.  You make that stuff a regular part of your habits, and there’s a good chance they stick and grow.

Which, of course, is not to say that you should excuse the non-usage of condoms, or missing heart medications, or couch-based exercise programs.  But something’s almost always better than nothing.  And you see that in New Years’ Resolutions, which at this stage of the year are often crumbling away because people vowed “I WILL LOSE FIFTY POUNDS!1!1!!1!” after years of vowing to lose fifty pounds and never keeping it off – instead of vowing something more reasonable, like “I’ll stop buying Frappuccinos from Starbucks on the way home.”

Look. It’d be nice if you lost fifty pounds and slid into your teenaged swimsuit and then went to the high school reunion to swan your figure around. But maybe losing fifteen pounds and getting a little more jogging in is what you’re capable of.  And doing the condom logic won’t make your life as good as, yes, the gold standard would, but if you have yet to win the gold after years of trying maybe you should see what you can realistically accomplish to less fanfare.

But seriously, kids. Use condoms.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I was never a David Bowie fan – but one of the strange pleasures of a great man dying is that you get introduced to him again all over.  My Twitter-feed lit up with all of the wonderful things David Bowie did, from performing at the Berlin Wall to calling MTV out on not playing black artists to pointing out his best music to me…

…and to having sex with a fifteen-year-old girl in what’s undeniably a case of statutory rape.

Now, it’s been widely reported that the girl in question was thirteen when Bowie had sex with her – a claim my friend Bart Calendar, a former rock journalist, has thoroughly debunked.  (Short version: Lori Maddox was American and born in November of 1958 and had sex with Bowie on his second tour in America in September 1974.  The age of thirteen may have been given by Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, who is not necessarily a treasure trove of accurate information.)

(EDIT: The dates I gave initially were incorrect, and have been explained in greater depth here.)

If you believe those facts are wrong, I encourage you to go over to Bart’s journal and argue with him; I admit I’m not familiar with Bowie.  But Bart’s been unerringly correct on rock and roll trivia for the decade I’ve known him, so I have no reason to dispute his version of events here.  If you want to discuss that, go argue with the man who could change my mind, not me.

Still, “She was fifteen” isn’t much of a defense.  That’s still three years under the legal age limit where the sex act took place, and in any case a man in his mid-twenties having sex with a teenager is at best kinda skeezy. It’s illegal, and it’s creeptastic.

So given that I’m notably big on consent, you’d think that I’d be calling in SJW airstrikes on Bowie’s legacy right now – as, in fact, many people are doing.  Bowie undeniably violated consent by having sex with someone too young to legally give consent.

Yet years later, in her mid-fifties, as a fully grown woman, she’s still happy with the decision.

And I think of the first time I ever made out with a girl.  I was blackout drunk – the only reason I had vague memories of the act the next day was because she left my neck ringed with hickies.  I know I didn’t initiate, because back then it wouldn’t have even occurred to me that a girl would like me.

That girl did sexual things with me when I was legally and morally unable to give consent.

Yet when I woke to discover those murky hangover dreams I’d had were real, I pumped the fist.  We dated that whole summer.  She took my virginity.  I still think of her fondly.

Now, that starts to seem like a fond argument for date rape – “Why, I had this wonderful experience while I was blackout drunk, so initiating sex with unconscious people is a good thing!” And I’m not gonna let people go down that path.  So let me be very clear here:

Having sex with people who are unable to give consent is bad, and you should never do it.  Much of “having people unable to give consent” is illegal – as was the case with David Bowie and his fifteen-year-old lover.  And when it’s not flat-out illegal, making the move on someone who’s too drunk to move, as I was, is skeezetastic.

The reason for that is because bad outcomes happen frequently when someone breaks someone else’s consent.  Yes, I am happy that I was taken advantage of by my first girlfriend – but there’s a lot of date-raped people, both men and women, who were traumatized by being fucked when they had little choice in the matter.  A lot of fifteen-year-old girls were pressured into unwanted sex by predators who’d honed their act simply because they knew teenagers were easier prey.

Consent matters, and for a good reason.

Yet in the rush to perpetuate the (very good) idea of consent, I think people often come to fetishize consent – coming to believe that breaking consent automatically equals horrific outcomes.  If David Bowie broke consent, then he must be an Evil Man.  If my girlfriend gave me highly visible hickies when I was all but passed out, she must be an Evil Woman.

Yet what we forget is that the ultimate judgment of consent has to be, “Was the person happy with what happened?”  And Lorrie Maddox, who still loves Bowie after all these years, clearly is.  And while I disagree with some of Bart’s post, this statement stood out strongly:

“If we want to create a society where women are given the benefit of the doubt and believe them when they say they are raped, the flip side of that is giving them the benefit of the doubt and believing them when they say they were not raped.”

The fact is, “consent” is merely a best practices, and not a guarantee of good results.  As someone who goes to kink conventions where consent-friendly BDSM is firmly in effect, I have seen very intense scenes where consent was practiced as thoroughly as possible every step of the way and yet the participants still wound up traumatized.  I’ve also seen, like me, people who’ve made sexual decisions while blind drunk that they were super-happy with.

Good consent does not guarantee good outcome.  Bad consent does not guarantee bad outcome.

Which is why ultimately, the gold standard of consent has to be “People were satisfied.”  And life’s frequently messy, and it’s not fun to say “This was executed hazardously, and could have hurt people, but things turned out well,” but…

It happens.

And if someone’s happy with the outcome, years later, when they’ve had literally a lifetime to consider it, we should respect that.

Which isn’t to say these acts of breaking consent shouldn’t be illegal, or roundly criticized. They should be. Sure, maybe someone drove home drunk without killing anyone, but that doesn’t make drunk driving an awesome thing to do.  Drunk driving is illegal not because every drunk driver kills a person, but because their risk of hurting someone goes way up. It’s too dangerous to chance.

And I think that life is, also, too messy to label people Good or Evil.  David Bowie clearly lucked out with this one woman, but who knows what else he did?  Maybe new allegations will surface in the wake of his death.  Maybe we’ll find out he did some pretty scummy things.  Then again, I think every celebrity did scummy things because every human does scummy things, and I think it’s very rare that one evil act obliterates all the good they did in their life, just as I think it’s very rare that one good act obliterates all the evil they did.

(Your mileage may vary. I acknowledge that. I allow for it.)

David Bowie’s not my hero, as mentioned.  But I think in this one widely-touted case, he made a mistake that turned out all right.  And it’s okay to live with that unsettling paradox that he did a bad thing warring with but it turned out all right without having to justify the act as something we should laud.

Every hero has a few sins. And while I suspect David Bowie fucked a lot of underaged girls on his tours, I also suspect most of them were okay with the decision – as opposed to, say, Bill Cosby, whose victims were clearly unhappy with the outcome.

In the end, I think it’s good to promote models of consent.  And it’s good to call out people who violate models of consent.  But if we get so caught up on the model that we actively ignore people saying, “No, wait, this was actually a positive event in my life” after they’ve had literally decades to ponder its effect, then I think we’ve abandoned some essential principle of humanity in the pursuit of an ideal.

Life’s messy.  Sometimes things go okay when they shouldn’t have.

We should be able to sit quietly with those moments without abandoning the pursuit of a better world.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I didn’t get many visitors in the hospital after my first suicide attempt.  I was mostly too embarrassed to see my friends.

But two of the coolest guys I knew showed up, Andy and Mark, and they gave me precisely what I needed – to show up and shoot the shit with me.  I felt like a broken doll, but needed to be treated like a human being, and they kept the solicitous “…You okay?” questions to a minimum.

They were the first to make me laugh.

And I remember very clearly when they didn’t make me laugh.  Because Mark said there was a Zappa song that referenced me, and Andy put a hand on his arm and said, “Come on, man, don’t reference that, he’s not ready.” And I asked what song, and they demurred me, saying they’d tell me later.

A couple of weeks later that summer, when I got out of the hospital, I asked them to play whatever that song was for me.  And they bobbed their heads, embarrassed, and got out the tape and played the first Frank Zappa song I ever heard:

“Suicide Chump.”

You say there ain’t no use in livin’
It’s all a waste of time
‘N you wanna throw your life away, well
People that’s just fine
Go ahead on ‘n get it over with then
Find you a bridge ‘n take a jump
Just make sure you do it right the first time
‘Cause nothin’s worse than a Suicide Chump

They watched my face, horrified –

And I burst out in laughter.  Who the hell would say that?

“What else did he write?” I asked, thinking that Zappa was a guy like Tom Lehrer – all clever lyrics embossed over bog-standard tunes.  And they grinned and said, “Oh, you’re in for it,” because they knew what I didn’t – that song was among the most uninteresting tunes in the Zappa archive, a simple blues riff.  They knew that Zappa had complex polyrhythms that would get wedged in your brain for days but be impossible to play.

They unveiled You Are What You Is to me, and the top of my head blew off.

The thing about Zappa is that he was fearless in every direction – he’d make fun of anything.  (His first album notably pierced the hypocrisy of the hippie movement, in 1966.)  He hit conservatives and liberals with the same incisive glee, and nothing was sacred.

Yet he did so with a cold intellect.  He’d go dumb on purpose, sliding into dippiness because it amused him, but always Zappa would retreat to that high ground of thoughtfulness and he would not abandon it.

But he was also fearless musically, striding boldly into every territory to grab orchestral music from over here and doo-wop music from there and a snatch of heavy metal and then weld them all together with complexity that made his musicians have to do actual work.  He’d snag the most talented drummers and guitarists and keyboardists of his generation, and they would have to work ten-hour days to figure out how to play what he wrote.  Touring with Zappa became like graduating Juilliard – you couldn’t do it without a magnificent set of skills.

Yet for all that, his music never felt as studied as the prog rock movement, which often felt like they were doing crazily-hard stuff just to show that they could do it.  Zappa’s work, with rare exceptions such as The Black Page, felt organic – yes, the diabolical stuff was in there, but felt like it had a purpose.  It was singable.

And so Zappa saved my life.

Because Zappa showed me it was okay to be weird, so long as I kept observing.  He followed his dream so recklessly that he didn’t really give a crap about his fans, or the record companies, or even his musicians – he just wanted to explore whatever was interesting to him.

What interested Zappa was dissection.  He liked looking at things.  He liked tinkering with both ideas and notes.  I liked tinkering with ideas and words.  He liked changing styles, and I liked changing styles.  He hated pretentiousness for the sake of looking good for other people, treasuring honest exploration –

So that’s what I set out to be.

Zappa told me it was okay for me to be me, and maybe even Zappa wouldn’t approve of me, but that was okay.  The core message of Zappa was that he was living for his own amusement, and he didn’t give a fuck what you thought because he enjoyed what he did –

Which gave me permission to be weird.  And not the kind of performative weird I saw so much in high school, that Hey, look at how kooky I am guys, do I make you laugh? but the actual weird that comes from looking at things that nobody thinks should be cool and hugging them to your chest.

To this day, it’s hard to describe what I like musically.  I’m all over the map.  People hate my mix tapes.  Because I’ve got so many loves and they don’t have much in common except they called to me.  (It’s also why I have such a hard time whenever someone asks me what my literary influences are.)

And there were a couple of times I was tempted to commit suicide from then on, back when I was young and still working through what would eventually come to be known as my Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I thought of Zappa: Do you want to be a suicide chump?

I eventually came to realize that some significant portion of my suicides were, indeed, performative.  (The other portion was needing a vacation, which I came to realize suicide was not.)  And if Zappa wouldn’t feel sorry for me, then others wouldn’t, and if I was going to make a show out of my death then why would I do that for such an unappreciative audience?

Zappa’s one of the major reasons I’m here today.

And I think of David Bowie dying, and I see all the outpouring of love for him because for so many people, he was the first person who told them, “You can be yourself.”  They saw someone blazing their own path fearlessly, and they realized they could create their own life.  And to have that inspiration go away so suddenly, so unexpectedly, made them remember how much of their life was only possible because one person had been so unimaginably brave.

Their sorrow calls to mine.  Their grief is fresh; I lost my hero twenty-three years ago, in 1993.  I know this because I have a Frank Zappa print in my bathroom, right over the toilet – I’m pretty sure he’d have laughed at that – that marks his demise.  I think of him almost every day.

And in a sense, it’s good that Zappa’s gone.  He was already getting cranky, and I suspect he would have become insufferable in his later life – maybe he would have remained a hero, maybe his humor would have boiled away to leave him with nothing but arrogance and he would pucker into some Richard Dawkins-shaped asshole on Twitter.

But I don’t know. Zappa evolved a lot. It was exciting to see where he’d go.

And Bowie is gone, and Zappa is gone, and all our heroes must march into the sky eventually.  It’s a day of mourning for those beautiful freaks who found a different hero.

But we all marched down the same path, basically.  You and I, Bowie fans, we both had that moment where a man shook us by the shoulders and said, You don’t have to be this.  And pointed down a more limitless direction.

You.  Me.  Zappa.  Bowie.  We’re all part of the spectrum.

We all became our own heroes.  At least a little bit.

That bravery serves everybody, in time.

So be weird. Be bold. Be as big as your heroes, even if they’re gone. That’s what they would have wanted of you, and it’s the blessing I wish upon you, on a day that still feels a little colder and emptier than it should.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

After months of playing evil vampires, I have agreed to step back up again and become DM for my gaming group.  They’ve been asking me to.  We stopped right in the middle of a very exciting plot twist in my Numenera campaign, and I know vaguely where it’s going…

I hope I won’t punk out on them this time.

But it’s hard to GM these days, because as it turns out my GM headspace lives right in the middle of my novel-writing headspace.  I plot my novel in my empty spaces: when I’m walking the dog, I’m marking out the beats for this epic soup-making action sequence I’ve got planned. When I’m driving long distances, I have conversations in-character, mapping out dialogue paths through the epic soup-making action sequence.  When I’m in the shower, I’m envisioning the tiny details of soup-making – what the bowl feels like in my hands, trying to master the little tidal shifts in a five-gallon pot.

All that primes the pump so when I eventually sit down to write that epic soup-making action sequence, it’s as good as I can make it.

(NOTE: You may think I’m kidding. I’m not. I am actually writing an epic soup-making action sequence.  Well, consomme, to be precise.)

Anyway, the issue is that most of the good bits of my novel are created when I’m not staring at a screen… and the same can be said for my GMing.  I plot out campaigns on my walks, on my drives, in the showers.

Switching modes doesn’t work. I can really only novel-plot or GM-plot.  Not both.

So my campaigns have suffered for some time now, ever since I’ve started writing (and selling) novels. I don’t have this problem with short stories; short stories don’t require me to keep an entire world juggled in my head the way that both games and novels do.  When I wrote short stories, I could switch modes easily, because short stories aren’t exactly easy but they are compact.

The thing is, I’ve gamed with Cat Valente, author of the Fairyland books, and I know that she’d make an awesome GM… but she also has the same issue of “novels vs. GMing, novels win.”  Mike Underwood, who writes the Genrenauts series, experiences the same problem.

In my ideal world, GMing would be its own financial career path, where the really good GMs were stars – maybe not Brad Pitt-level stars, but MC Lars-level stars where they have 20k followers and earn a nice living off of merch and video streams.  And in that world, novelists would have a lot of overlap of skills – no, you don’t get to control the characters precisely, but there’s a lot of related talents in worldbuilding and character tension and plotting and motivation that get hauled out when you’re a top-tier GM.

And I wonder how many novelists could run awesome long-term campaigns – not the one-shots you occasionally get at ConFusion, but those epic months-long games where you have character development and get hooked into the world because you’re both in it and changing it.

I dunno.  I know the world often loses me as a DM.  And I’m sad I never got to sit in a Cat Valente campaign.  And I’m sad that GMing isn’t more valued, because god damn there’s a lot of great sci-fi and fantasy writers I’d love to see behind the screen.

 

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Riding Atlas” is one of the weirdest stories I’ve ever written, in a career of writing weird fucking stories.  And I’ve had some people call this one “weirdly erotic,” which I didn’t exactly intend, but I guess you write about anything bodily-intimate and people respond.

Hey, I’m happy to be a springboard for all kinks.

Anyway, “Riding Atlas” is over at Apex now, and it starts like this:

They were naked, now, on a dirty mattress.

“Neither of you have eaten or drunk anything for twenty-four hours?” Ryan asked, hauling equipment into the room: sloshing plastic buckets, packs of hypodermic needles, coils of tubing, straps. “And no drugs in your system? This is a pure trip. Just two bloods commingling. Any impurities stop Atlas from getting inside you.”

Stewart didn’t answer. He was too distracted by all the naked couples. The attic’s flooring was covered with bodies, lying belly to swollen belly on bedbug-blackened box-springs. Their arms were thrust out above their heads, ears resting on their biceps; they clasped hands like lovers, their circulatory systems knitted into a single bloodstream.

Stewart felt his arms itch where the needles would be inserted, anticipation and fear churning into a sour mix in his gut. But Tina was ready, as she always was for things like this. She’d dragged him here, telling him they had to do this now, before they outlawed consanguination just like they’d outlawed LSD….

Go read the rest. If you can.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

If you’re out on a date, and get that flutter of “STRANGER DANGER” jolting its way through your nerves, then you need to pay attention to that and cut this date off right away. Because your natural instincts know better than you do, and it’s time to start acting on those hunches.

You know when you’re in trouble. You just don’t know you know.

And if you’re out on a date and feel unloved, and your instincts tell you the best way to solve this is to have a crazy breakdown in public so her protective instincts will kick in and you’ll know how much she adores you, then it’s time to huddle up against a wall and tell her you can’t do this! Follow those impulses! You –

Wait. That’s bad advice?

Okay, I’m gonna level with you: About half of you need to pay attention to your instincts, because you folks do have good instincts, and you’re not listening when the alarm systems start blaring “ABUSER.” Chances are good you had such good instincts that an abuser in your distant past muffled them to make you more compliant, and it’s time to start listening.

But the other half have terrible instincts that make them feel all warm and fuzzy when someone subtly mistreats them with a feisty round of negging, or have instincts that tell them to do horrible selfish things when they feel bad, or even have instincts that make them homing missiles for the worst and most self-destructive relationships.

So you know what? As usual, universal advice fucks over a lot of people.

Here’s the truth: if you’re not sure yet, pay attention to your instincts. Write ’em down, if you need to. Then go along with ’em and see what happens.

You might be the sort of person whose instincts get them out of jams, in which case, hell yeah, follow those instincts! Pay more attention! Activate those instinct-sensors! Lift instinct-weights until you have the confidence to speak the fuck up when something triggers the DANGER WILL ROBINSON part of your brain!

Or you might be the kind of person who, like me, has Darwin-destruction instincts that lead them to walk into blazing bonfires of drama – in which case you need to put a ball-gag on those instincts, and work overtime to develop artificial habits that compensate for this anti-consigliere in your brain who consistently advises you into ruin.

And after you’ve done that for a while, you might find that you have really good instincts for some things and really terrible instincts for others, at which point, shit, you gotta break it down and determine which category you’re in before following or running away from those subliminal impulses.

The point is that all advice is two-sided, and can wreck you if you listen to the wrong advice. “Speak up!” you say to a shy person, but the local friendless Donald Trump fan just heard you and he’s gonna talk louder now because clearly nobody’s listening. “Learn to trust people!” you say to someone who shoves everyone away, but the person who falls in love with the checkout clerk has heard you and they’re now justifying quitting their job to move in with someone on the second date. “Be yourself!” you say to the person who spends all his time quashing himself down to fit in, but Mister “I don’t bathe because that’s robbing me of my germ resistance” is giving you a thumbs-up from his reeking seat on the subway.

It’s not about getting advice. It’s about getting the right advice.

Learn to listen properly, man. And that’s literally the best advice I can give you.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So I was thinking about the lack of imagination in the prequels versus the Force Awakens.  And some of that’s evident in the costumes.

Because I just saw a picture of Obi-Wan… and he’s wearing basically the same outfit in the prequels that he wears in A New Hope.  Which implies that Obi-Wan basically has dressed the same for, well, his entire fucking life.  He retreated to Tatooine as part of a secret mission, wearing what are clearly fucking Jedi robes in retrospect, and Lucas didn’t care because, well, the characters weren’t what he cared about.

How ridiculous is it that someone would wear the same outfit for seventy years if he wasn’t some sort of bizarre cartoon character or performer?  Especially if he went into hiding?

Whereas Han Solo is wearing his smuggler’s outfit in The Force Awakens – except on each rewatch, it seems a little more ridiculous.  He’s supposed to be a little sad for going back to his old smuggler days – and I think of a fashion show I watched that said, “People wear what they wore when they felt the most sexy.” And a lot of that show, which was devoted to helping people dress better, was about making them realize that it was a little sad to wear that outfit that no longer suited you.

He looks a little itchy in that outfit.  And it’s the exact same outfit, down to the belt buckle. Which makes us happy as Star Wars fans, but the script itself seems to indicate that being a smuggler really doesn’t suit Han any more – he just doesn’t know what to do with himself, and is trying to recreate his old magic by dressing up in a costume and hoping that hey, the good feelings will return.

Leia, you may note, is wearing a different outfit.  That’s because Leia’s a little wiser.

As is, I think, this movie.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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