theferrett: (Meazel)

1) So I had a helluva time at WorldCon, hanging out with tons of people I adore and waving at many many more of them as they passed by in the hallways.  My social anxiety was on low flutter, so mostly I just chatted with people and collected the astoundingly good Pokemon-hunting that Kansas City has to offer.

That said….

2)  While I otherwise loved Pat Cadigan as the host, I cringed every time she (or anyone else) mispronounced – or did not know how to pronounce – someone’s name on stage.  As someone with a funny name, I may be hypersensitive to getting names right.  But in many cases, particularly for people who couldn’t make the convention to attend the George RR Martin afterparty, hearing their name spoken on stage may be the high-water mark of the nomination – that final flash of hope before the winner is announced.

Having that moment be a botch is something that shouldn’t happen.

Yet it did.

Multiple times.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the Hugos have phonetic pronunciations of the people’s names printed on the readouts – and if they were, I don’t think it should be too much to ask of the hosts to get them to practice it until they’ve gotten it right.  The Hugo ceremony is usually a fairly informal affair, and I get that, but we should afford the nominees the dignity of getting their name spoken correctly in their moment upon a very large stage.

3)  You might think I’d complain about the Dave Truesdale Dumpster Fire Panel.  (Read the link for details, but the short version is that on a very prestigious panel filled with the best fiction editors SF has to offer, a whacky moderator started with a ten-minute rant on how PC sensitivity was destroying the field – and, ten minutes later, not only had he not introduced his fellow panelists, but he had brought out a box of fake pearl necklaces for people to clutch if they needed to.)

I wouldn’t complain.  That panel was a magnificent icebreaker.  200 people were in attendance, and throughout the night I heard at least twenty of them giving their accounts of the horror.  If you didn’t know what to say to someone, utter the mystic words “Hey, what happened with that panel?” and bam!  Conversation a-go-go.

Dave Truesdale wanted to get people talking.  He did!  Admittedly, it was mostly about what an idiot Dave Truesdale was – but we sure talked!

(Disclaimer: I don’t mind Dave Truesdale going off on his particular brand of wrongness.  I myself have started out moderating panels by starting with an unpopular opinion to get discussions flowing.  But I expressed that opinion in under sixty seconds, and I started by introducing my fellow panelists.  There’s a distinct difference between showing up to start a dialogue and showing up to inflict a monologue – and props like that are part of a monologue designed to alienate.)

4)  Let’s be honest: If I ever got an invite to the Hugo Losers’ Party, I’d go.

But I didn’t, and that party kinda felt like The Room Where It Happens.

I get that the Hugo nominees should have an awesome time afterwards, and I support that!  But though I had a great time barconning and SFWA suite-ing it, I kept seeing people checking their texts – someone had snuck into the Losers’ Party!  Someone said that it had been opened to the general public!  No, wait, that wasn’t it.  Did you know who got in as a plus-one with who?  Someone said…

And I kept seeing people low-grade thinking, “Well, how do I get in there?”  Which felt a bit alienating.  And I wanted to see some of the Hugo nominees and winners to congratulate them, and if they did leave the party they were nowhere to be found.

…which could also be this WorldCon’s weird “room party” issue, which mandated that room parties be held at the convention.  I didn’t hit any.  It was a mile away from the bar. So maybe that’s this WorldCon’s con-space, because the weird thing about conventions is how much the structure of the hotel and the convention space affects who you see at that convention.  (If there’s a bar in the middle of the hotel, then everyone washes up there; if not, a convention tends to be fragmented, with eddies of people catching up with each other in various places.  Do enough cons and you wind up critiquing hotels.)

But the last WorldCon I went to, I saw winners swanning around other parties, and I missed that.  And my (potentially erroneous) impression is that the Sad Puppies have had the unfortunate side effect of elevating the Alfies and the post-Hugo party to a much more exclusive event, and I was sad to not be able to congratulate all my friends and the people I admired in person.

Or maybe that’ll be different at the next WorldCon in Helsinki and I’ll see everyone and be proven wrong.  But for me, the awesomeness of any con is that I can be chatting with some random people, and oh, jeez, hello author of this book I loved, nice to meet you.  And anything that potentially waters down that stewpot experience saddens me.

We’ll see what happens at Helsinki.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I meant to watch The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore.  I’d always liked him on the Daily Show – not loved him, but he always had some good insights and I respected him.  Then his show switched over, and…

I forgot.

Which happens.  I’m slow to put shows on my DVR.  Jon Oliver was on HBO for a solid year before I finally remembered, “Oh, yeah, I can add him.”  I adored Samantha Bee, having linked to her videos three times in my blog, and I still haven’t put her show on record.

But Larry?

He wasn’t viral.

Which is a weird thing to say, but that’s how it worked.  I’d have forgotten about Jon Oliver except that every other week he did some fifteen-minute segment that blew up my Twitter feed and had me saying to Gini, “Oh, you gotta watch this.”  I keep meaning to put Samantha Bee on my DVR because she keeps popping up from time to time when she goes viral, albeit with less frequency than Jon “One Shot, One Kill” Oliver.

I can’t remember a viral Larry Wilmore clip.

Oh, I can remember a number of Tumblr GIFsets going around wherein Larry said something appropriately snarky, but a GIFset is basically a one-liner – which is a good thing, but there’s a difference between a good one-liner and a full set.

Whenever Jon Oliver went viral, he had a solid eight minutes of show that told me, “Okay, when he’s on, he’s worth watching for eight straight minutes.”  When I saw Larry Wilmore going around, his GIFsets told me “When he’s on, he’s good for fifteen seconds of wry exasperation.”

So I never watched.

And now he’s cancelled.

Yet virally speaking, Larry’s got it way better than Noah Trevor, who is theoretically broadcasting but I’ve never seen a friend link to anything he’s ever done.  (I’m sure one of you has, calm your jets, but compared to Larry Wilmore?  Maybe one in a hundred, if that.)  Noah is like the least viral host I can remember.

I’ve never seen a new Daily Show, either.

Those two things are connected: Virality and me watching.

Now that Larry’s cancelled, I realize the bias of preferencing TV hosts who are good at getting snippets out to Twitter and Facebook.  Not every comedian can sum up things in a pithy five-minute video.  It’s entirely possible that Larry Wilmore was really great, and I didn’t watch simply because he didn’t have mastery of a viral medium; that doesn’t necessarily reflect quality.

(It’s also possible that my Twitter and Facebook are too white-skewed – but I get a lot of RTs from Black Twitter, and I didn’t see Larry popping up all that much.  Still, could be me.  Still, if it is me, that means there’s a good chance Larry wasn’t showing through to my segment of White Twitter.)

And, I think, Larry’s handicapped by being black.  Not in the sense you might think; Larry’s angriest moments that I’ve seen on the Daily Show and in the Twitter GIFsets tended to be more eye-rollingly peevish than actually furious.  And I think of the viral videos from Jon Oliver and Samantha Bee, and they were sputtering – but that anger’s often a white privilege, because white people can get angry and cutting and crude and not be tarred as the angry incoherent black man.  Just like Trump can scream and yell, whereas Obama has to be this cool, calculating man because if he loses his crap he’ll get dragged into a lot of stereotypes that will absolutely destroy his message with white America.

(Cue Key and Peele’s “Obama anger translator” routine.  And I watched Key and Peele because they went viral with clips like that, though Key and Peele could be angry through characters they played, not the news-host personality that theoretically reflected them.)

Yet, I think, anger is a major component of virality when it comes to comedy news.  That fury is something viewers react to. And maybe it’s that Larry and Noah express their rage in a much chiller fashion and that’s their personality, not their tone-shifting – but I try to imagine a black Lewis Black, raging and spluttering and calling people idiots, and I don’t see that guy climbing the ranks at Comedy Central.

But viral videos have become one of the things that determines ratings.  It’s the assurance that says, “Hey, this person’s consistently funny, you keep seeing them all around Twitter, don’t forget they’re still here.”  And I eventually remembered Jon Oliver, and I’m gonna throw Samantha Bee on the DVR after I finish this, but Larry Wilmore?

I won’t get the chance, now. ‘Cause I didn’t see you on Facebook enough.

Sorry, Larry.

(Though honestly, I’m hoping Jessica Williams gets her own show soon.  I wonder what her virality would be.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So you wake up in the morning with a hangover, and a tattoo of Spongebob Squarepants farting on… you’re not sure who he’s farting on, actually. The tattoo is poorly enough done that you’re only certain it’s Spongebob because it says “SPANGBOB” in wavering letters above it.

Scratching the clots off your blood-sticky arm, you stagger off the couch. Your friend Micah’s there, his tattoo kit by the wayside. “What happened?” you ask.

“Wild night,” he grins. “You got hammered.”

“Obviously. Why do I have a tattoo?”

“Ah,” Micah says, shrugging it off like you’re making a joke. “You’ve been talking about getting a tattoo for months.”

“I’ve said I’ve been saving for a tattoo.”

“No need to pay! You know I need the practice. Been telling you that for months. I’ve been wanting to do it for free on that lovely forearm of yours, and last night you said ‘Eh, go ahead.'”

You’re doubtful of that. You don’t recall last night. It could be that maybe you thought that Farting Spangbob was a hoot, or maaaaybe that Micah decided to break out his newfound tattoo skills upon you when you couldn’t say no. You can’t say.

But now you’ve got a tattoo. And Micah hoping to do another later this afternoon.

————–

Now. This is obviously a “should you have sex with drunken people” metaphor, and particularly dim men will say “A tattoo isn’t the same as having sex with someone! Tattoos are permanent!” And before you say that, kindly ponder the fact that there’s people who’ve gotten HSV during drunken escapades, and there’s no laser removal for that.

(Not to mention that little risk called “pregnancy” if you’re of the female persuasion, which guys often forget about as when pondering the permanent consequences of sex. Which is a shame, as an unwanted pregnancy in a sex partner can affect a guy a hell of a lot as well.)

And this essay’s a bit of a mirror. Many people will look at it and conclude the lesson of this narrative is, “Well, the protagonist shouldn’t have gotten that drunk.”

But you know what the other lesson is?

Micah’s kind of a dick.

Micah did things of potentially permanent consequence to his buddy, fully aware that he might regret them come the next morning. Because we all know stories of people who’ve done things when they were hammered that they wouldn’t normally have done sober, and while one lesson that can be extracted is “You shouldn’t drink a lot,” the other lesson that should be extracted is, “If you’re interacting with someone who’s drunk, you shouldn’t take them at their word.”

This is well-known. Legal contracts have been voided because someone was drunk when they signed them. In many states, bartenders are legally obliged to cut customers off after a certain level of drunkenness because drunk people can’t make good decisions. In fact, reputable tattoo parlors won’t take drunk people at all because they don’t want the risk.

By sleeping with someone who’s drunk, you’re a disreputable tattoo parlor, which is to say you’re Micah.

Do you want to be Micah?

Again, this is a reflective lesson, because some folks will double down on the “The Protagonist was drunk, he deserves anything that’s coming to him,” all the while avoiding the independent issue of whether Micah should be doing things to drunk people that he’s well aware they might not want come the morning.

If we’re talking about “personal responsibility” and “the known risks of being drunk,” then at the very least Micah is being unwise by exposing himself to the hazard of taking a drunk person’s word as bond. And at the worst, Micah’s a scumbag predator waiting for someone to get drunk so he can do things he is fully aware they would dislike when sober.

Literally the best thing you can say about Micah is that he’s not quite as dumb as his friend, and that’s being kind.

So I personally feel the lesson should be, “You should avoid doing things to drunk people whenever possible.” Don’t be a Micah.

Ah, but that’s if Micah’s sober. “What if Micah himself is drunk?”, and that’s a trickier question if Micah is himself impaired.

But it’s kinda funny. When The Narrator is drunk, lots of people would say that any dangerous activity he consents to is foolish, and he deserves any consequences he gets.

But when Micah is drunk and doing things to the narrator, those same people would say that the dangerous activity that Micah has consented to – which is to say, exposing yourself to potential accusations of unwanted tattoos – is foolish, Micah shouldn’t be expected to know what’s going on then, and this all becomes the narrator’s fault.

Strange, how the script flips when you’re invested in Micah’s well-being.

Whereas I’m consistent in my beliefs: I believe that whenever possible, you shouldn’t aid drunk people in making potentially unwise decisions, even if the drunk person is really hot.

Because trying to sleep with drunk (or otherwise judgement-impaired) people is a risky goddamned business with potentially permanent side effects. If it’s a decision I know with 100% certainty that they’d be okay with in the morning, I might do it – if my wife, who has slept with me regularly for seventeen years, decides she wants to bang me shitfaced, well, I’ll take that risk.

But it is a risk. And I wouldn’t do anything new or crazy in bed with her, because the next morning she might wake up and be very mad about Spangbob.

Why take that risk, when I can ask her sober the next morning and, assuming she’s as into as she was the night before, potentially Spangbob the shit out of her the next evening with assured consent?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Yesterday, Ancillary Justice author Ann Leckie wrote a really great essay on chasing trends in fiction and why writing novels on the “next hot thing” for the sake of fame and fortune alone is a generally unwise idea.  She packs a lot of wisdom into a handful of paragraphs.  You should go read it.

But I wanted to expand on something she said, specifically this:

And if folks in your writers group or message board or whatever are telling you things like “you have to have a POV character that’s like the reader so they can sympathize with them” or “don’t write in first person” or “editors won’t buy stories with queer main characters” well, frankly, no.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give to fledgling writers is to remember you can ignore your fellow writers. And often should.

Look, if you’re serious about writing, you’re eventually going to get feedback from top-class writers.  Those writers are very good at writing their stories.  They may not necessarily be good at writing your stories, and incorporating their advice can leave you with this hamstrung half-hybrid pastiche that lacks both your strengths and theirs.

In workshops, I often write down someone’s feedback along with the notation: NMK.  That stands for “Not My Kink.” Which is to say that yes, this story could be good if I followed this person’s advice and turned the savage were-pterodactyls into genetically engineered cyber-pterodactyls, but then that story wouldn’t be a story I’d be excited to read.

(Who am I kidding? I’d read both of those stories.  But anyway.)

NMK advice is not bad advice.  It’s just advice geared towards writing a story that doesn’t hit my personal hotbuttons.  And for a lot of writers, “refining the hotbuttons” are what sell your craft.  Because a truly unique voice comes from taking all that goofy shiz that you adore and finding ways to make it work.

For example, Quentin Tarantino loves 1970s B-movies.  His work would suck without a heavy dosage of exploitation flicks and hyperaware movie references.  And a lot of writers’ workshops would have looked at early drafts of Pulp Fiction and said, “Okay, Quentin, you need to pull this back, you’re too excessive,” when the actual truth was that Quentin needed to figure out ways to take his love of crappy films, extract the goodness, and refine it until he amplified everything he adored about those films in ways that resonated with people.

And what you’ll often get at the early stages when your talent does not match execution is to pull back.  No.  Try pushing forward.

…but don’t forget that writing is about communication.  You’re trying to build a bridge out to your reader, saying, “I love this, and here’s why you should love it too.”  That takes skill, compromise, an understanding of what people expect so you can subvert and distill it.  You can’t just shout the same old thing through a foghorn and demand that your audience Get It – you have to question people closely to ask, “Okay, they didn’t love the were-pterodactyls, but why?”

Plus, you wanna lay aside that foghorn because you’re not here to regurgitate your source material, but to transform it.   Quentin Tarantino didn’t slavishly imitate the B-movies of his youth – he added his own strengths in terms of razor-sharp dialogue, shaking up the timelines to make thoroughly nonlinear stories.  Shout that love of queer characters, or second-person point of view, or despicable main characters – but do it in ways that are exciting and new!

Figure out what really thumbs that hotbutton, and amplify it.

Also: One of you is sitting there sniffing, “I hate Quentin Tarantino, why is Ferrett talking like Quentin Tarantino is such a great director?”  And that’s the final point: with great love comes great hate.  I adored Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice because it does fascinating things with viewpoint and gender, but it has inspired a tidal wave of hatred from people who are like, “THIS IS TURGID CRAP.”  Yet both Ann Leckie and Quentin Tarantino are fantastically successful at what they do, despite critics who loathe them!

When you receive a critique from a Very Important Author who is telling you that your story Does Not Work, question whether that person would enjoy your story if you’d perfected it.  That guy may be the person who hates Quentin Tarantino movies.  And he’s not wrong to hate them!  Repeat after me: Tastes are subjective.  But if you’re Quentin Tarantino, taking his feedback to heart is going to leave you working in the video rental store, not putting you on the path to World-Famous Director.

The rule of thumb is this: If three people tell you your story has a problem, it’s a problem.  You need to listen when beta readers get bored, or confused, or revolted.  But the way to fix that problem has to come uniquely from you.  Sometimes, the solution is not to cut, but to double down.

And sometimes, the problem is that these writers providing feedback are not an all-knowing Godhead, dispensing objective wisdom from above, but a bunch of nerds stumbling around in a bookstore – loving books you hate, hating books you love.  Sometimes, the bad feedback comes from someone saying, “Hey, George Martin, I love your characters but I’m not down with all this violence and nihilism, you need to get rid of that.”  Except getting rid of that will defang your books from the thing that makes you unique.

You can still get good feedback from those folks.  They can clue you into pacing issues, or enlighten you as to why your love of 1980s horror movies isn’t stirring people who don’t give a dry turd about 80s horror movies, or point out character decisions that make no sense.

But as a professional writer, you have to mark the difference between critiques that point out problems and critiques that are trying to rewrite your book into something you don’t want it to be.

One critique is worth incorporating.

The other needs to be chucked away, fast, and hard and fearlessly.  Because that’s what professional writers do.  And don’t forget the need to protect your own special brand of weirdness.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So just to keep y’all up on the events in the McJuddMetz Household:

1) I’m Getting Handier.  
Folks on Twitter will recall my Woodworking Wednesday photos, wherein I get together with two friends and build stuff in my garage.

And I’ve hit a tipping point: I can just build stuff.

Which is to say that Gini and I have an informal collection of Blanton’s corkstoppers.  Blanton’s is a (delicious) small-batch bourbon that has eight different bottle tops, one for each letter in their name, each showing a horse at different stages of a race.  And we had six bottles up there, and I thought, Hey, I could build a shelf for the stoppers.

So, this Sunday, I spent about two hours and devised a shelftop to hold the corks:

Woodworking!

Which is weird.  I didn’t wait for my Woodworking Wednesdays crew to help me; it was just a trivial thing I did, like programming a web page.  I can just build minor stuff, which means I’ve acquired a raw level of skill.

And when I was out in the back yard having drinks and a cigar with Gini, I looked at the workshop we’ve built over the last year, and it’s actually looking like a real woodworking shop:

Woodworking!

And I’ve also figured out the way to finish my projects, which was a huge issue.  The first time I stained a bookcase, it looked like a diarrhetic mess.  But thanks to my sweetie C’s father, who is a Master Wood Finisher, I figured out that a spraygun is the way to go when finishing wood, and so the table I’ve built for my friend Heather actually looks pretty decent:

Woodworking!

So yeah.  I’m a guy who can build simple furniture.  Had I a character sheet, this skill would now be listed as a reasonably solid percentage.  It’s a good feeling, but a bit weird – “building things” is not what I consider to be a core talent, and in fact I’ve considered it a literal weakness for three decades, so it’s a pleasant feeling to go, “Oh, yeah, I can do that now.”

2)  I Am Bereft Of Bees. 
I mentioned this on Twitter, but I don’t think I mentioned it here: Shasta got stung, and had a seizure, and almost died.  Turns out she’s allergic to bees.  So we had to get rid of them in the spring, which was probably for the best, as we hadn’t really taken care of them in years – Rebecca’s sickness really took the wind out of our beekeeping, and we never recovered.

We gave them away to a guy on Craigslist, who seemed very happy to have his new bees.  He promised he’d take good care of them.  I hope he does.  I’m a little worried because the last thing he told us before he left was how Big Pharma was causing cancer and we needed all-natural solutions, but he was taking our bees and he seemed friendly so I let it slide.

I think of them periodically.  I’m sure they’re fine.  They were hardy little suckers.

3)  Counting Calories Is Weird.
On Saturday, I said, “Fuck it, I’m going to eat whatever I want this evening, just go berserk on Chinese food and sweets.”

Then, because I’d been eating so much less, I got bloated, and I went for a long Pokewalk with Gini to gear down, and wound up only 200 calories over my limit.  Which would be offset by the day before, where I’d wound up 400 calories under without thinking.

I’ve been doing this for two weeks as of today, and we’ll see how it goes when I get to WorldCon, which is not the home of healthy eating.  But speaking of which….

4)  I Am In Slow, Continual Panic. 
So I’m going to WorldCon this week, arriving on Thursday night, and I’m in my usual pre-convention mode of “This will be a disaster.”  I’m sure it’ll be okay, but my brainweasels are telling me that this will be three days of me wandering through an endless lunchroom, looking fruitlessly for people to sit at a table with.  Which is ridiculous; I’ve had some folks offer to buy me drinks, and I still have to shoot my number to a couple of folks who’ve offered to hang out, but still.

(Also, if you wanna hear a sneak preview of the new ‘Mancer book, show up to my reading on Friday.)

And oh yeah, my book is coming out and I’m having the usual heebie-jeebies about it being a huge failure where, paradoxically, nobody will read it and yet everyone will hate it, which is my broken brain shouting, but it’s hard to tamp it down.

I remember going to my doctor before the book release last March and saying, “I need a large prescription of Ativan to alleviate stress.”

“Well,” said my doctor, “I don’t like prescribing pills like that randomly.  Can you do anything else about your stress?”

“I have made this the best book I am capable of writing.  Everything that has been done can be done, the book is typeset, it’s printed, and now all I can do is wait for the reviews and the sales numbers.  There is literally nothing I can do except stress the fuck out.”

“Maybe you could try…” he said, before discussing various stress-reduction techniques I’d tried.

“Look,” I said politely.  “I’m coming to you because I want someone professional to track my usage of anti-stress medication, because addiction runs in my family. If you don’t prescribe me Ativan, I will go down to the liquor store where I can get all the legal, free stress relief I need, and no one will be tracking that, so I’d really prefer your method.”

“I’ll get you some Ativan,” he said.

So these next few weeks will be an Ativan-frenzy, as the book looms closer and the book tour impends and the conventions loom and the impostor syndrome goes crazy.  I’ll handle it, I always do – but I have this weird dance between “Not revealing my mental health issues,” which makes me look really cool and leaves people who suffer from stress thinking “Nobody else goes through this, I’m a freak,” or putting it out in public and letting other people see how a neurotic, socially-anxious person functions and looking like a freak to some people.

So I repeat: I’ll be fine.  But if you wanna hug me at WorldCon, or say hello, or come to the book tour when I visit Seattle, Portland, San Diego, and San Francisco (or even Cleveland), well, I’m happy to see you.

And I will be so happy when the book is out for a few weeks and I know whether it’s a success or a failure, because god damn, the worst thing about the book industry is uncertainty.  I dislike failure.  But I can at least look that in the eye.  Unknowns are like a strobe light, flickering between GREAT HOPE and DISMAL FEARS that induces seizures.

Anyway.  I’ll be cool.  But yeah, some people have tremendous anxiety and still do this stuff.  Somehow.

I handle it by building shelves.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

You know what I wish everyone wore all the time?  Nametags.

Because I’m bad with names.  I’ll look at a friendly face and remember all the times we’ve been at cons together, and that great conversation we had about Steven Universe, and that time we had a bourbon tasting up in my room… And I’ll get a sort of stoners’ paranoia whenever I talk to them, going “Do I remember their name right?  I know their Twitter handle.  What if someone asks me to introduce them, I can’t introduce them by their Twitter handle, this is going to be awkward.”

I love the nametag.  Because it ensures I get things right, and don’t embarrass people who I know.

Know what else I love?  Asking for hugs.  “Oh, it’s so good to see you!  Are you huggable?”  And they either answer “Yes” and fling themselves into my arms, or they answer “No” and I wave gaily, and I love that answer either way because I’m positive that I’m carrying out their preference.

I don’t want to wrap my arms around someone and feel them stiffen.  I don’t want to surprise people with ninja hugs they didn’t want.  I absolutely adore asking people because I like satisfying their needs when I’m satisfying mine.

And I hear all the time about folks at conventions who Don’t Get It, who run up and hug people who they barely know just because they’re happy to see them – “Oh, it’s an author I like!” or “Oh, we met once!” or “Oh, they’re tiny and they look huggable!” – and it strikes me as a sort of whacko narcissism, wherein people make that very necessary distinction between “I like this” and “Others like this.”

Some people have past traumas where being suddenly mauled is Not Pleasant for them.  Others reserve their physical touch for people they feel comfortable with, which may not be you.  And still others like bodily autonomy.

What I like is being free of that stoners’ paranoia when I’m hugging someone I like.  What I like is being absolutely certain that when I am hugging someone, they have specifically okayed me to hug them, and that they are not merely tolerating my presence.  What I like is feeling someone hug me back instead of that stiff-bodied “Oh, fuck, they’re going to tell me off, aren’t they?”

I like getting it right for people.

Which is why I like to ask.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Food is one of the hardest addictions to quit, because there’s no way to go cold turkey. (Mmmm, turkey.)  Even if you manage to remove, you know, food from the equation – which I tried to do with tasteless-yet-nutritious food replacement Soylent as a test – you walk into a world that’s literally advertising all the goodness of food on every corner.  New strains of food are being made every day, with commercials exhorting you to taste everything. Serving sizes have swollen to vast proportions.

Scant wonder so much of America is fat.

Now, I don’t mind “fat and healthy” – which is, actually, a thing, as I’ve known 250-pound women who regularly run triathalons.  But for Mister Former Triple-Bypass, any extra weight is risking death.  And I’ve been creeping up the scale over the past year, and though I’ve amped my exercise looking in the mirror is still an unpleasant process.

So for my health and my self-esteem, I’m trying some new approaches – with technology!

And for the past ten days, I’ve logged every calorie I eat in into myFitnessPal, which is…. surprisingly enlightening.

The thing I like about myFitnessPal is that it makes it super-easy to track my goals.  I tell it I want to lose a pound a week, and it tells me how many calories I have.  It logs into my iPhone and counts my iPhone steps, and adds those calories to my daily total.  I can scan in foods by their bar code, pretty much every major restaurant chain is included, and I haven’t been able to find a food that’s stumped it yet.

The main benefit, as it turns out, is not counting calories.

The main benefit is tying “food” to “exercise.”

Because I don’t much like having only 2,000 calories to eat a day, but I can up that by taking the dog for a walk or getting on the elliptical.  I frickin’ hate exercise, always have, always will – and don’t tell me “it’s just finding the right exercise,” because what I hate is that sweaty tired feeling – but doing it so I can have an extra glass of milk in the evening incentivizes me to get off my ass.

(And carry my iPhone everywhere so I don’t miss a step.  Every step could be food.)

The other aspect, which I did predict, is that seeing how much of my day is consumed by snacks forces me to consider whether I actually want to eat it or not.  My mother counted calories back in the day, but that was in the 1980s when you had to carry a book around with you, and look things up, and guess a lot because the book was in tiny print and still didn’t cover all the food (also see: America having food everywhere), and then write everything down in another book to do math.

Counting calories now is as trivial as it’s going to get, for the time being.  (There’s talk of an app which can calculate calories by your Instagram snapshots, but that’s not gonna work well for years.)

And being so easy makes you be honest.  I was at Jersey Mike’s the other day, and I saw those little chocolate chip cookies.  They’re tiny, and delicious.  They’re also 190 calories apiece.  But 190 calories doesn’t seem like much, except when you have the math right there to put in three of them and see that it’s basically a quarter of my allotment for the day, and would I enjoy them that much?

Which isn’t to say that I don’t.  I love chocolate milk. A big glass of chocolate milk is like 630 calories, a huge proportion.  But I fucking love it, so some days I have all that milk and am shameless.  But I’m doing so consciously.

But the end result is that I’m forced to consider, which is good.  Being thoughtful about food is good for heart patients, even if it’s not fun.

And I don’t know whether I want to do this long-term.  In September, I know that I’ll be going on a big ol’ book tour soon – visiting Seattle, Portland, San Diego, and San Francisco, all foodie places – and visiting their finest donut shops.

Will I be able to splurge on my vacation and put that shit in the myFitnessPal?

Can I look my own unhealthy happiness in the eye and enjoy it?

And honestly, I believe that you deserve to go nuts every once in a while.  I want a Voodoo Donut when I visit Portland, and I don’t mind if I don’t lose my pound that week, but I’m not sure I can enjoy a Voodoo Donut knowing that one of them is literally a third of everything I’m supposed to eat that day.

That’s the horse you fall off of.  Sometimes, there’s this hard conflict between “The enjoyment I seek” and “The restrictions I’m under,” and it’s really hard to enjoy yourself on lockdown.  Part of the reason some alcoholics go off the wagon is not that they can’t have a single drink and stick to that, but they want to have the enjoyment of not worrying about their inebriation level all the goddamned time.  And so they go on benders because why the hell would you give yourself an evening where you’re luxuriously not counting beers and not pound ’em down?

So I suspect that myFitnessPal will become like my exercise – something I do for periods of time and better myself, then stop it and be shamed, and then start it up again.  And it’s not as good as exercising and calorie-counting all the time, but it’s better than never doing it, so you wind up with a net benefit even if the net benefit isn’t full-throttle.

But for right now, I had a glass of orange juice.  It’s full of Vitamin C, myFitnessPal tells me, and it was also 143 calories.  I can burn it off with a walk around the block for 167 calories.  Which isn’t even a full Pop Tart.

But combine it with the possibility of hatching a Lickitung in Pokemon Go, and it just might be worth hauling my fat ass out the door.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

In four weeks, Angry Robot will release the final book in my ‘Mancer series, Fix.  And then, just like I did for the first book, I’m going on tour!

And as usual, when I go on tour, I will not only provide a dramatic reading, but I will also provide you with donuts (because a key plot point in Fix revolves around the choice of a proper donut), and will go out afterwards for drinks with as many of you as care to hang with me!

Last tour was an absolute hoot, and the joy of the tour was introducing my online friends to other friends and watching new and interesting alliances burble out afterwards.  (There have even been a few scandalous hookups.  God bless you people.)

If you’re planning to go, I’d kindly request that you a) say “Yes, I’m going” on Facebook, and b) Invite your local friends who you think would be interested.  Because honestly, I have no idea where any of you people live.  And Facebook said, “Hey, a Seattle event!  Would you like to invite your friends?” and I had zero idea who lived in Seattle except for Amy Sundberg, who I only remembered lived there because she just moved there.  My geography is weak, so if y’all could cover for me by clicking the city link and then inviting interested local folks, that’d be greeeeeeat – I don’t mind people knowing and not attending, but I do mind people who’d want to attend but didn’t know because I am a doof.)

So!  If you’d like to meet a Ferrett, here’s where I’ll be:

CLEVELAND! 
Tuesday, September 6th.
Loganberry Books, 7:00 pm.
13015 Larchmere Blvd, Shaker Heights, OH 44120-1147, United States

SAN FRANCISCO!
Saturday, September 17th.
Borderlands Books, 3 p.m.
866 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110-1739, United States

SAN DIEGO!
Friday, September 23rd.
Mysterious Galaxy, 7:30 p.m.
5943 Balboa Ave Suite 100 San Diego, CA 92111
(With special co-reader J. Patrick Black, author of Ninth City Burning!)

PORTLAND!
Tuesday, September 27th.
Powell’s Books, 7 p.m.
3415 sw cedar hills blvd / beaverton, or 97005
(With special co-reader K.C. Alexander, author of cyberpunk thriller Necrotech!)

SEATTLE!
Thursday, September 29th.
University Of Washington Bookstore, 7 p.m.
4326 University Way NE, Seattle, Washington 98105

There may also be one or two dates to drop for the East Coast and/or Michigan, but those are taking a little longer to fit together. Remember, this is all taking place on my dime, so as much as I’d love to travel to Australia or Abu Dhabi or Texas, me being everywhere just isn’t possible.  (Thanks much to Mike Underwood and Penny Reeve at Angry Robot for making this all possible.)

But you can encourage me to come back by showing up at the signings, if you can! I’ll sign whatever you put in front of me, assuming it is legally permissible to display it in a bookstore.

 

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Here’s one of the huge problems I see driving the rise of Trump and Bernie Sanders: our economic measurements have almost nothing to do with how my checkout clerk at Target is doing.

Like, it’s great to have the S&P 500 to tell me how corporations are doing, but Google can be making a fortune and that only really affects people who own stocks.  Which, with 401ks and such, is more people than you’d think – but even then, what happens to people’s 401ks, which sane people don’t touch except in times of emergency or great opportunity, has little to do with their bills this month.

The GDP, likewise, tracks large-scale levels of motion – which has an ill-defined affect on how many people are employed, but it doesn’t say what kinds of jobs they have or their potential for forward motion or their monthly expenses.  The job creation indexes would be just as happy if I got fired from my skilled programming job and had to take the minimum-wage pay of a checkout clerk.  The unemployment index doesn’t count people who’ve given up looking for work because there’s no jobs to be found, though admittedly tracking the inactive is a hell of a task.

The statistics the government uses to set policy, in short, have zero to do with how well Mabel the Target checkout clerk is doing.  That’s why Bernie and Trump have gotten so much traction – what’s good for corporations is often not good for blue-collar Americans, yet everything we have is aimed at corporations.

In a sane world, we’d have some sort of “quality of life” factor for people who don’t have college degrees, or who work nonsalaried jobs – a very finely detailed combination of reports on average debt, average rent/housing expenses, average medical care, average income, so we could have one number that says, “If you’re forced to work down in the trenches, here’s how fucked you are.”

Assuming that quality-of-life measurement was widely touted enough, politicians would be incentivized to use that number as part of the calculations they do to set policy.  And things would get better for Mabel.

But we won’t do that, because then we’d have to admit how crappy things have gotten for Middle America.  Hell, we voters can’t even bring ourselves to acknowledge that Middle America has shrunk to the point of emaciation, and the politicians on either side don’t want to create an index that makes it starkly apparent how much of America they’ve just given up on.  And even if we got it, chances are good that every department that fed numbers into that ultimate report would skew them as pleasantly as they could.

I understand why we won’t get it.

That doesn’t stop me from dreaming of wanting it.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I’m not going to claim to understand all of Trump, because frankly, Trump’s nomination is the culmination of hundreds of intersecting cultural trends.  Anyone who claims to have a simple answer for Trump’s appeal and his rise to power and his history is lying as badly as, well, Trump.

But I have figured out a few things.

Trump’s Not A Good Liar.  America Wants To Believe Rich People.
The slightest fact-checking would tell you that Trump has always lied to the press, often when he didn’t need to, often in ways that are trivially verified.  I grew up in the shadow of New York City, so I’ve been watching Trump get away with flagrant and fragrant whoppers almost all my life.

Trump is an awful goddamned liar.  I’ve seen five-year-olds who lie better than he does.  You want to watch a good liar, watch Bill Clinton – his speech of “I did not have sex with that woman” was impassioned, believable, precise in what undeniable truths it left out, and took hard-dug evidence to contradict him.  That’s how you lie convincingly, folks.

But the horror show of America is that Trump doesn’t need talent.

We’re so in love with wealth that we assume anyone with money is telling the truth.

Trump’s always been a consummate bullshit artist, but he’s always had fans because he was born wealthy, and Americans are desperate to believe that wealth is the sign of talent and hard work.  (And, conversely, poverty is the sign of indolence and incompetence.)  To much of America, “having lots of money” means “You made smart decisions, so we should listen to you.”

Thankfully, I grew up Connecticut among trust fund kids, so I am deadened to that lie.  I’ve seen dumb, lazy kids given millions and still wind up with hundreds of thousands.  Being rich and well-connected means you can make catastrophic fuckups that would get other people jailed or bankrupted, and come out with more than most people have.

Now, some people have worked hard for their money and made wise decisions.  I support those guys.  But America’s inability to distinguish between “earned wealth” and “luck wealth” means that all millionaires are essentially self-made Gods to many, these greater-than-human people who don’t err.

People don’t fact-check Trump because that would break the illusion.  They need Trump to be someone who tells the truth, because otherwise millionaires might be fallible human beings, and deep inside they burn for the day when they become wealthy and perfect and inevitable.

We subsidize patently awful lies to keep this illusion going.  Which is why Trump has gotten away with it all along.

Part Of Why You’re Hearing Trump’s Flaws Is Because The Machine Is Turning On Him.  
I posted this Tweet this morning about how Trump asked, repeatedly, during a national security briefing, “…why can’t we use nuclear weapons?”

But.

Note that this unsourced accusation is from Morning Joe, a conservative talk show.  A talk show that, several months ago, was vaguely pro-Trump.

Note how he said this meeting happened “several months ago,” and yet somehow he’s only bringing this topic up now.

I’m not necessarily saying that the accusation is a lie.  In fact, I suspect it’s absolutely true.  (But that’s my anti-Trump bias showing.)

What I am saying is that the conservative party has always held a tight focus in what their journalists have been allowed to say, and Morning Joe would have lost viewers, support, guest access, and support had he allowed this to be spoken on his show when Donald Trump was in favor with the Powers That Be.

I’ve said that you have to keep in mind that the leaks you got about Hillary the DNC was orchestrated by Putin to affect the election.  You can get mad – because what happened there was suuuuuuper shitty – but also keep in mind that someone is purposely magnifying Hillary’s flaws to make her seem unelectable, and keep your outrage, if not checked, at least within a firm context that it’s part of a smear campaign.

Likewise, I loathe Trump, but a lot of the things that are being said by conservatives are things that are allowed to be said now, because key figures to conservative media have finally decided it’s okay to take a potshot at Trump to keep the party together.

Get mad.  But also remember that Trump hasn’t changed; what’s changed is the opinion of the guys who hold the reins on people like Morning Joe.  And you should be asking yourself, “Hmm, I wonder what stories from other Presidential candidates who sucked up more effectively got swept under the rug?”

Because, you know, several months ago Trump was baffled why he couldn’t lob nukes around like tennis balls.  You’re hearing about that now, along with all sorts of other things that are undermining his campaign.  All the facts that fit this “Trump is unfit to be President” narrative were there all along, it’s just that the media chose not to display that until now.

Question that process.

Trump Is What Happens When You Remove All Possibility Of Apologies.
People were shocked when Trump went after Khizr Khan, a grieving father of a decorated veteran. But that was Trump’s only strategy!

Look.  Trump is about two things that appeal to narrow, yet terrifying, portions of the electorate:

  • They want a strong candidate who’s not afraid to go toe-to-toe with anybody.
  • They want someone who never apologizes.

For a lot of people, “an apology” is a weakness.  It means you did something wrong – and remember when I said the people who believed Trump were seeking someone who’s infallible?  They don’t want a President, they want a Godhead who dispenses perfect decisions the first time, every time.

Any time Trump breaks that narrative of “Trump is never wrong,” he loses core votes.

So you can’t apologize.  What’s left?  Well, you could ignore the remarks, but strategically, then you look weak if enough people are addressing it – and Trump’s gotta go toe-to-toe.  Once an issue gets enough media attention, which Khizr Khan’s speech did, Trump can’t afford to not bring it up.

So what are Trump’s options?

He’s gotta go on the attack.  When you can’t back down, and you can’t ignore, the only option is to go assault the person and tear them down until they’re no longer a worthy opponent.  You’ve got to go after their moral standing so the things they said are compromised; that’s exactly what he did with Hillary.

And I’m not saying this is a campaign strategy, but it’s the sad strategy of the Alpha Dog who believes very firmly in status.  If someone’s risen to a challenging status, you have to lower their status.

I doubt that even Trump understands what he’s doing, but watch his Tweets – he’s literally confused by the concept that someone, anyone, would get to say nasty things about him and he’s not allowed to respond.  Alpha Dogs can’t ignore threats, and he perceives himself as the ultimate dog.  WHY SHOULD I BE LEASHED.

That’s why he lies all the time.  He can’t say “I was wrong,” because that would indicate weakness.  Instead, he pretends he never said what he said and never did what he did.  This is what happens when you remove “Yeah, my bad” from the equation.

(And if, as a conservative, you’re upset at what Trump has done, keep in mind that y’all opened the door to this when you mocked Kerry’s war record in 2004. Either veterans are deserving of respect no matter when they disagree with you, or you’re mocking a decorated veteran by wearing “Purple Heart” bandages to show that any idiot can get the medal. That is on you.)

Why Does Trump Appeal To Poor White Voters? 
I don’t pretend to know.  But I think this interview with J.D. Vance, who wrote a book called Hillbilly Elegy, which discusses the motivations of the white working poor, talks a lot about how desperation and culture affects you. I’d definitely read that; I plan to buy his book.

That said – and read that guy more than me – I’d remind you that “dignity” is a thing that people will literally kill for.  People will tolerate being poor, as long as they’re seen as worthy members of the community.  But they cannot tolerate being shunned or mocked.  And the saddest lesson of history, shown time and time again, is that folks who get the shaft will almost always listen to comforting lies that assure them their lives are worthwhile.

The rise of Trump is fundamentally an upper-class liberal failure.  When we bitch about hicks and idiots, we’re exacerbating the problem.  I’m not sure how to reach to them, because part of the issue is that I don’t connect to people like that on a regular basis.  (I know a lot of poor people, but they’re all Democrats like me.)  But I am smart enough to know that this failure to connect is an issue.

Which is not to say that the people who vote for Trump are somehow correct in what they do, or free from unexamined racism.  But I think the only way to change that culture is to interact with it in more positive and less dismissive ways, and that’s something upper-class liberal twits like me have consistently failed at.

We need to do better.  I need to do better.

But again, read that interview.  And maybe the book.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Friday, 8:30 pm: Ferrett Reads From Fix!
If you’re looking for a sneak preview from the next book in the ‘Mancer series, I’ll be reading the chapter where Aliyah starts out playing a soccer game and ends up destroying large swathes of Kentucky.  And I will be reading it dramatically.

Saturday, 5:00 pm: Ferrett Signs Books!
I’ll be signing in the same room with John Scalzi, so I’ll just sit there with a sign saying “MY BOOK’S NOT AS GOOD BUT MY LINE IS SHORTER.”

(As usual, I will be so happy to be there that I’ll sign anything.  Doesn’t necessarily have to be my book.  Or even a book.  If I can put a pen on it, I’ll sign it.)

Friday, 2:00 – 3:00 pm: Second Childhood: Cartoons For Adults
Hear me squee about Steven Universe and Adventure Time with several people on a panel!  Because I assure you, I can squee about Steven Universe ALL DAY.

Entire Convention: Hey, Text Me.
If you wanna get a lunch or a dinner or hang out at some point, I’m amenable.  This is a light schedule, and I’m there to say hello to people, so if you’re there let’s find someplace to meet!

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Want to know what it’s like to go senile?  Pokemon Go is the perfect way for teenagers to experience what it’s like to get old, so much so that I presume your trainer just dies when he hits level 30.

Because in Pokemon Go, you start out as a young and hale Pokemon trainer at the top of his game.  Every monster is capturable.  You can track down monsters easily, and the rewards for getting them are plentiful.  The world is your oyster.

But as you level up, old age settles in.  Your senses dull.  Monsters you once tracked easily become findable only with great effort, and by today you can’t even find them at all – you know, maddeningly, that the Clefairy you so desperately seek is somewhere in the neighborhood, but deafened and blinded, you have no idea where it might be.

Your grip weakens, too, as you level up.  Trivial Pokemon that once took a single ball to capture now require you to weakly lob five or six balls with your arthritic, useless hands.  The rewards you used to get for accuracy and skill get removed, so the 50 extra XP you used to get for a nice throw no longer count – presumably because you’re so bitter and jaded that you no longer believe you deserve reward for an excellent throw.

Other games, foolishly, have equated “levelling up” with “more power” and “greater skill.”  Pokemon Go breaks with that tradition by demonstrating that levelling up is merely crawling closer to the nursing home – with each level and Pokemon Go patch, you lose power and skill.

I’m level 19 now, and I dread becoming level 20 because I can barely catch a Weedle as it is, and how do the poor bastards of level 24 shuffle about?

You may think I’m kidding here: I’m not.  Thanks to a combination of poor game design and inexplicably terrible patches, Pokemon Go has become a game that actively punishes you for playing it, and players are not happy about this.

Let me first explain how I play Pokemon Go, however, because there’s two ways you can play the game.  A lot of people are concerned about levelling up their biggest Pokemon so they can battle for dominancy of the gym markers placed all over the map.  Personally, that’s of no interest to me.  Pokemon Go released in summer, which means that teenagers and college kids have nothing to do except squat near their gyms and battle.  If I, the underlevelled fortysomething, do manage to squeeze a Vaporeon into the gym, the seven camp kids squatting near the Rocky River pool will ensure I’m kicked out in short order.

No, I play Pokemon Go for Pokemon’s very mandate:

Gotta catch ’em all.

There are a hundred and fifty or so Pokemon, and the only way to catch them is to go wandering for great distances in real life.  My wife and I, who know little about Pokemon, get a thrill every time we find a Pokemon we didn’t know about – “What the hell is that magnet thing?  Look at that” we cry happily, as one of us captures some weird-ass beast we had no clue existed.

We could look up the list of Pokemon on the Internet.  We don’t.  For us, as for many people, the joy is in the exploration.

And Niantec has actively started punishing us for exploring.

In the beginning, the game gave you a list of Pokemon in your neighborhood, along with a rough estimate as to how far you needed to walk to get them.  You had no directional element – but you knew there was a Ponyta roaming through this Target parking lot somewhere, and you could play an elaborate game of cold/hot to find it.

After a few weeks, Niantec removed this feature.  Now you could see the Pokemon in your neighborhood, but they were only sorted by distance.  You couldn’t tell how far away you were, only that you were closer to the Ponyta than you were this useless frickin’ Weedle.

And now, with the latest update, Niantec has removed the order.  You can only see the Pokemon in your neighborhood.  You don’t know which direction to go, merely that they’re within about a half a mile of you.  Good luck!

If you started playing from the first week, in the last month you have watched your ability to find Pokemon degrade.  That’s Pokemon Senility, Part One.

Now, “finding Pokemon” is pretty much the largest reason people play – so much so that there are multiple sites that fake geolocations to map out the Pokemon in your neighborhood.   Or there were.  Niantec has shut them down, ostensibly because they were overloading the server – but their game trailer promised that you’d be able to find Pokemon by direction and distance, so basically Niantec has eliminated third-party services that provided what they promised.

Want to find a rare, specific Pokemon?  Hell with you, buddy.  Now you can’t.  And by the way, we’re going to punish you for wanting to do anything else while you’re hunting for rare Pokemon.

Punish?  How?  Well, as every Pokemon player knows, your local neighborhood is infested with Com Mons – Pidgeys and Rattatas are everywhere.  You will, quite literally, find Pidgeys and Rattatas on every corner, sometimes two or three at a time…

…and you will hardly find anything else, if you live in a “Pokedesert” like I am.  See, Pokemon are generated according to the number of people playing Pokemon Go in your local area.   If you live in a big city, rare Pokemon spawn all the time, because the game goes “Oh, there’s fifty people there, let’s drop some good loot.”  But if you’re walking through the sleepy suburbs Rocky River, you will hardly ever find a Pikachu – just Pigeons and Rats everywhere.

Which would be fine, if the game encouraged you to capture pigeons and rats.  But as you level up, it encourages you not to.

See, Pokemon Go’s way of encouraging you to make in-game purchases is Not Subtle. In fact, it’s so blatant that it literally makes you feel feeble.  Because as you level up, Pokemon become much more likely to escape your tossed balls, until eventually a Pidgey that would have taken a single ball at level 5 suddenly starts requiring four or five balls.

Now, admittedly, quietly ramping up the difficulty on pay-to-play games is a long-standing tradition.  Seriously; go read this article on a guy who’s spent $9,000 on his iPhone game, it’s terrifying.  But Game of War has tons of fiddly options that confuse the user – which doesn’t sound like a strength, but at least when the game screws you over, your dignity is preserved because you’re not sure what’s happening.

Pokemon Go has so few stats that it’s blatantly apparent the game is jacking you.  Pokemon have a single rating: Combat Power.  And you know that at level 12, getting a Pidgey at CP 45 never took more than a single ball, but when at level 18 it takes two or three balls to capture it, there’s no denying the game is making you less effective as you climb the ranks.

And that Pidgey breaking loose is maddening, because you don’t even want the Pidgey.  You’ve captured literally hundreds of Pidgeys, and if your goal is to “catch ’em all,” then Pidgeys are an active annoyance because they’re taking up a spot that maybe an exciting Staryu or a Bulbasaur might occupy.

Why would you try?  Because the game is boring otherwise.  You’re just looking for some small entertainment while you’re endlessly wandering around, hoping a Squirtle appears.  Having it burn up four or five of your precious supply of Pokeballs, particularly in Poke-dry areas where you can’t refill them except by buying them or driving to better locations, means that when a Squirtle does hove into view you might not have the balls left to capture him.

(Oh, and Niantec inexplicably removed the XP reward for super-accurate throwing of your Pokeball.  That didn’t matter when your reward was a rare Pokemon, but removing rewards when all you’re getting is a Pidgey makes the grindy parts even grindier and less fun.)

So you wander, the game encouraging you not to interact with its low-level entertainments, rendering you unable to find its high entertainments.   And you can’t have the game on in the background, you can’t text while you have Pokemon Go on, you can’t do anything but Pokemon Go and maybe have some tunes on.

Basically, Pokemon Go demands PAY ATTENTION TO ME and then, as you level up, actively punishes you for trying to interact with what it offers the most often, and has taken away the tools that allow you to find the things you want.

That is the epitome of bad game design.

And unless Niantec can deal with this problem, it’s going to start hemorrhaging users soon; oh wait, it already has.  Unsurprisingly, people don’t like feeling stupid, and the entire game is currently devoted to making its most invested users feel feeble.

They can fix this; I know the stated issue is “server overload,” but honestly if the game allowed me to home in on rare Pokemon, I’d be okay with it not working more often.  Helping you find rare Pokemon is a must-have feature in a game that is about capturing and exploration; otherwise, why do I even have this thing on?

Likewise, yes, technically speaking we’re “encouraged” to buy Pokeballs when the game ramps the level up.  But that ramp is so apparent, and for Pokemon we actively have come to hate, that we’re more likely to quit the game out of disgust, or only check it when we’re in a high-traffic zone.

This game is broken, and broken in a way that screws over its most heavily-invested users.  It can be fixed, but that’s gonna require communication – Niantec is infamously closed-mouthed, but an announcement of “We know how important Pokemon-tracking is, we’re working on that, it’s our top priority” would keep me playing more because I’d know they knew why I was playing.

As it is, Niantec looks clueless.  That’s not a good look.  Especially when you’ve taken an interesting game and patched out all the features the “Gotta catch ’em all” people liked.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So as y’all should know by now, I’ve been live-writing my latest book The Song That Shapes The World to raise funds for the Clarion Science Fiction Workshop.

I’m now going to trash three weeks’ worth of work.

It’s not because what I’ve written over the last few weeks is bad.  It’s typical first-draft stuff that needs cleaning, but it’s a strong start: a musician fleeing an abusive marriage stumbles into the mystical world of Backstage, where once every decade they have a Battle of the Bands that determines the song that shapes the multiverse.  I like the lead character.  She’s got depth I could explore in a different manuscript.

But she’s the wrong character for the book I want to write.

The book I initially described was “Pitch Perfect with magic.”  I want something that is, if not light, at least full of weirdness and humor and bizarre situations.  I want friendship.  I want oddball.

And what I wrote was mundane, everyday angst.

Now, I know why I wrote angst: it’s a last-book hangover.  See, the manuscript I finished before this one is the as-yet-unsold Savor Station – which is, hands-down, the best thing I have written.  And that novel is mournful and elegaic, because, well it’s the story of a prince who’s been starved of everything good in life (including food and dignity) and regains strength by finding the finest restaurant in all the stars.

And I hit that book so out of the park that when I started writing The Song That Shapes The World I was like, “The last time I wrote a very sad person in a dire situation, I wrote a great novel, soooooo…. let’s do that again!”  I even, I am shamed to admit, went back and reread the opening to Savor Station to go, “Okay, how can I duplicate that?”

But rehashing what I did well last time is not delivering what got me excited about this.  I could make a good book about this, but that book wouldn’t be “Pitch Perfect with magic,” it’d be “Savor Station with music.” And while it’d be nice if my muse decided to write tonally-consistent books, apparently I write novels like I write short stories – continually switching valences.

(Rich Horton, noted short story reviewer, met me at a party and said that I was notable for the way no two of my short stories sounded alike.  He did not make this sound like this was actually a strength.)

I could continue and write a book I’m capable of writing, or I could set everything on fire to write the book I am thrilled to write.

Yet!  This is a fantastically interesting situation!  Because what I’m going to do is swap out the lead character and write the exact same story, and show you how the story needs to change when the protagonist changes!

Gone is Gwendolyn of old, who’s practiced in her husband’s recording studio for three years but has never been certain of her talent before live audiences.

Arrived is Gwendolyn the new, the samurai musician, who sees fame as a virus.  She hitchhikes from obscure bar to obscure bar, waiting months between performances, playing for people who don’t even know she’s supposed to be there.

In both cases, the Gwendolyns stumble into a bar, hoping to play.

In both cases, the Gwendolyns flee the bar and head to the mystical world of Backstage.

In both cases, the Gwendolyns meet the dragon-riding, cello-playing nemesis who escorts them into this bold new world.

But what you get to see – at least if you donate and get your membership for the Clarion Echo blog I’m doing – is how a book’s plot is tailored to its protagonist’s weaknesses and strengths.  This isn’t a matter of swapping out personalities – a story’s elements are about showcasing what the protagonist can do and jabbing at their weak spots, and so the bar that Gwendolyn the old walked into would be no challenge at all for Gwendolyn the new.

The bar changes.  The people changes.  The attitude changes.

And if you donate $10, you get to see how mutable a world is when a writer’s starting out.  You can read the old chapters, then see the new chapters as I write ’em, weigh in, maybe help me refine the magic system a bit.  And you do that by donating the cost of a couple of coffees to the Clarion Foundation, which is a good cause that helps writers.

Anyway.  I’m starting that tonight.  You can come watch.

I’m kinda excited about this.

So as always, here’s the steps to do this:

Step #1: Donate at least $10 to the Clarion Foundation.  More is good if you can spare it.  You don’t have to donate in my name or anything, because honestly, their Write-a-Thon webpage forms are dreadful.

Step #2: If you don’t already have one, create a LiveJournal account.  Rejoice in this feeling of web page time-travel, as one suspects there’s not a lot of new LJ accounts created!

Step #3: Email theferrett@theferrett.com with your Clarion receipt and your LiveJournal handle, with a header of “HEY FERRETT LET ME IN.”  I’ll do the mystical LJ gestures to get you access.

Step #4: Watch me figure out how to introduce you to the new Gwendolyn and her new challenges.

Step #5: Share this post if ya can!

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

(NOTE: On Friday night, raw and exhausted, I posted this essay to my FetLife account through a faltering Internet connection.  And I debated whether I wanted to publish this one here, on the open web, as it’s intensely personal to me.  But I ultimately decided it was the second part of a longer essay I’d started with “Yes, Of Course” – and as such, am posting it exactly as I’d written it then with no edits.)

So last night, I drove out three hours and took a day off from work to hold my girlfriend’s hand for about an hour.

She was going in for surgery. She’s shit-scared of surgery. I’ve seen her beautiful eyes go wide as she says “No, no, no, I do NOT want any needles” and there were no needles around, just her memory of needles. So for her to be wheeled into a cold place where they were going to cut her open…

She would have made it without me. But it would have been worse. So I went.

And it was a weird day. I spent a lot of it in that liminal space between “sorta family” and “maybe not” – her dad was there, and so was her mom, and they know about me and they like me but I’m not, you know, her husband. Everyone was perfectly pleasant but there was always that weird hum of “Hi, I’m new here” even though we’ve been dating for over a year because yeah, hi, family emergency oh and look who’s here.

(And like many times of comfort, it’s hard to tell how effective you are. She tells me – and I believe her – that she only got through it as well as she did because I was there. Yet aside from a couple of tight “Don’t you fucking let go of me” moments, she looked fine. Some days, you really could use an alternate world where you peer through a window to a crying wreck and have them say, “See? That’s who I would have been this morning without you.”)

Anyway, the surgery went without a hitch, and a few hours later they rolled my love back in. And there was a brief pause because her husband went in to see her, and then her Mom and Dad went in, and there I was in the waiting room like a schmuck and eventually they brought me in and her husband and I got her back to her feet and out the hospital door and home.

Then I went to my hotel, because frankly, she was sleepy and needed rest, not “Time with Ferrett.”

And here I am. In a hotel room on the ass-end of Pennsylvania, alone, except.

Except.

She said something.

She said something magnificent.

When I saw her she was zonked out, like you are after they’ve put you down deep enough to cut you open without waking you. But eventually she told me, “Yeah. They kept asking me ‘Who’s waiting out there for you in the lobby?’ and I I told them ‘My husband and my boyfriend’ and they stammered and asked like six times and I kept saying, “My husband, and my boyfriend.’ And eventually I just told them, ‘Look, I lead an alternative lifestyle, all right?’ and they did the surgery.”

I keep thinking about that.

Because even for me, who’s pretty much as out as someone can be about polyamory, there’s still so much secrecy that it fucking burns.

“Ah, yes, this is my wife I’m checking into with this hotel room, sure.”

“Kids, this is Ferrett, he’s a… friend.”

“I met him at a – oh, well, a conference, I guess.”

And it’s never *meant* to be an erasure, it’s always with acquaintances or strangers or kids who don’t necessarily need to know who Mommy is fucking. It’s a thousand “Do I want to open this discussion with the clerk at the Holiday Inn?”s and “How much do my co-workers need to know?” and “My family’s got a couple of conservative fundamentalists, I don’t want this shit blowing up on Facebook.”

They’re not quite lies, but they’re not quite truths, either.

And they’re good reasons, you know? I want to be a value-added. I don’t want to stir up a fuss in anyone’s life. Hell, half the time I’m um-erring at someone I’ve just met, deciding whether I want to be someone’s educational experience today, and so how can I really blame someone for not wanting to blast my name out to everyone?

Yet my girlfriend did not give a fuck. She was exhausted, and tired, and when she was stripped raw the last thing she wanted to give up was to acknowledge the love that was sitting out there in that lobby for her and fuck, I’m crying now.

But it’s a moment. It’s a moment where her don’t-give-a-fuck punched a hole through to another world where I saw what it might be like not to have really good reasons not to just be buried under a tide of assumptions, and in that moment our love felt realer than it ever had before, this thing where yeah, we don’t live together and we’re never going to get married and we’ll never have once-a-week dates and all the traditional pathways designated as “serious about each other” somehow didn’t fucking matter.

We don’t call each other, but I’ll drive out to hold her hand when she needs me.

We only get to see each other once every couple of months, but she’ll fucking face down a bunch of surgeons in the place of her to tell them, Give that man respect for what he is.

And I get shit sometimes because my relationships don’t look like the relationships traditionally considered “deep,” and sometimes I buy into that. Maybe I’m shallow. Maybe my girlfriends just function because they don’t ask too much.

Then moments like that happen and I remember what love is.

I’m alone in a hotel room. Ironically, I’m texting her. She’s still up, still talking to me, and with luck I’ll see her tomorrow and go to her parents’ house for breakfast.

I love her.

I love her.

I love her.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So my sweetie C. is going in for surgery tomorrow. She’s shit-scared of hospitals, uncertain of what the surgery means, and terrified.

I’ll be driving down to hold her hand in the hospital.

And the sole pleasant thing about this ugly turn of events is that this is a twinned decision. My wife Gini and I had a weekend planned together at home after a bunch of visits and travel, the long slow weekend where we’d curl up and reconnect. We’d both been looking forward to that.

Yet when C. texted me with her medical results, and it was clear that surgery was the only option for removal, I shared them with Gini. And she said, “Yes, of course you have to be down there. She’ll be terrified.”

That’s because our partners aren’t partners, but our friends.

This is a consistent pattern. When one of my sweeties was – and is – experiencing legal trouble with their visa to America, Gini kept asking what she could do to help reduce F’s anxiety about possibly having to leave the country. “Yes, of course we must help them.” When another sweetie needed some emergency supplies sent to her, Gini authorized the expenditure without a second thought – “Yes, of course she needs that, send it to her now.”

I should note that Gini is not dating any of these people. They’re my partners alone. Yet Gini’s had dinner with them, hung out, heard me talk about them. She cares.

And that goes both ways. When Gini’s partner wound up in the hospital, I asked her whether she needed to go to him. As it turns out, she didn’t; every partner is different, and her boyfriend was suitably stoic that he neither needed nor wanted hand-holding.

(For the record, when I had my heart attack, I told Gini to stay at her boyfriend’s place that night and catch up with me in the morning, there was nothing she could do in the ER except sleep shittily in a crappy bucket seat and the nurses were taking care of me. I panic about many things, but hospitals are not one of them; we all have our individual times when we need someone to hug us.)

But when her partner was in trouble, I said, “Yes, of course.” Just that the “of course” was Gini slightly spent more time texting him.

What I’m grateful for in our relationships is that we don’t endure each others’ partners, we embrace them.

And part of that is me changing my dating habits. I used to have a lot of churn in my love life, having torrid two-month relationships with scores of partners. Those partners were of varying levels of compatibility with me, and I wasn’t good at filtering out the good people whose needs just didn’t mesh with mine, so Gini was pleasant but she didn’t get attached. How could she? If she really liked someone, the average time I spent dating was about four months!

But as I’ve honed the concept of my polyamorous Justice League, my partners are much better suited for me; everyone I’ve been dating now, I’ve been seeing for at least a year. And Gini’s had time to see how they’re good for me, and to know them well enough to understand why I love them (even if she doesn’t necessarily have the time or inclination to date them herself), and so when something bad comes up….

Her natural reaction is “Yes, of course.”

I’ll be driving tonight to see C. And Gini and I have already rescheduled our reconnection date for next weekend, when hopefully we’ll see movies and snuggle and catch up.

But tomorrow, there’s someone who is terrified of doctors who’ll be in a cold hospital bed. And she’ll have her family there, and she’ll have her friends there.

She’ll also have me.

Of course.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

My friend Bill is now selling prints of his fantastic Valentine fan art.  Which, if you’ll recall, looks like this:

Flex Fan Art: Final, Colored Edition!

I told him I didn’t think he’d sell that many prints, but he was free to do so. (I don’t get a dime; that’s beautiful art, so I told him he could keep the profits.)  So there it is, gorgeous as always!  Check it out if you wanna.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

On Monday, I posted my essay “Oh, For Fuck’s Sake: A Gentle Talk With My Republican, Democrat, And Undecided Friends.”  By this morning, it’s up to 24,000 Facebook “likes” in a viral politigasm.

Which is weird. I’ve gone viral before, most notably for my essays “Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Awesome Sex” and “Can I Buy You A Coffee?”  And I’ve found that those who haven’t gone viral have the wrong impressions about how this works, so let’s bust a few impressions:

1)  You Don’t Get Famous.  The Essay Does.  
The next day, I wrote a followup to the “For Fuck’s Sake” essay called “Why Your Presidential Protest Vote Is A Wretched Idea,” and as of now that essay’s got 170 likes on Facebook total.

That demonstrates that when you go viral, 99.9% of the people show up for that essay, read, and leave.  Hardly anyone goes, “Oh, I’ll read what else this fellow had to say!” and proceeds to trawl your blog.  You’re a one-stop entertainment, worthy because someone’s friends linked them there, and then you go.

It’s nice to have that level of attention for a while, but people tend to think, “Oh, you’re famous!”  No.  That essay has been widely read.  I doubt most of its readers could pick me out of a lineup.

2)  A Viral Post Doesn’t Sell Your Books.
You may note I have my three books for sale, and I didn’t notice any significant bump in sales on the Amazon sales rankings.  (Well, okay, I saw a bump, but that’s because my book Flex is on sale for $2.99 this week.)  Again, people liked what I had to say, but most of them ghosted afterwards.  Which is normal.  (And fine with me.  I don’t write essays to sell books, as a rule.)

Now, sometimes, if a post blows up huge, you’ll get offers related to that post.  When “Dear Daughter” passed half a million likes – still my high-water mark! – on the Good Men Project and the Huffington post, I got an agent asking me if I wanted to turn that essay into a book, because they had a publisher who’d expressed interest.  I told them “No, but I have this novel” and they went, “Nah” and disappeared.

3)  …But It Kinda Does.  
If you’re looking to sell books, blogging is the long con.

See, when I published my webcomic “Home on the Strange,” I noticed a weird pattern: I’d have a huge hit, with 10,000 people linking to our Doctor-Who-As-Jesus strip or our alternate ending to Harry Potter, and then the next comic would be bare-bones normal in terms of traffic.

But the overall numbers kept creeping up.

Eventually, I came up with my “Pepsi machine” theory – which is to say that a fan is like a big, cumbersome Pepsi machine that you’re looking to tip over.  Hardly anyone tips over a Pepsi machine in one muscular push.  No, you gotta rock them, a little at a time, until eventually they sorta wobble over.

Likewise, most people – me included! – have established habits.  I hit the same six webcomics every morning.  Adding a new webcomic to my list?  For no apparent reason, that seems like an effort.  But if a webcomic keeps getting linked to by my friends, with each visit I’ll think, “Oh, I should come here more often!” and then I don’t.

Eventually, I accrete enough good will that all right, I’ll add this to my regular trawl, and suddenly I’m a fan.

Likewise, I have a lot of fans (comparative to the normal person, not at all comparative to a true celebrity), but they’ve all arrived in dribs and drabs; some liked Home on the Strange, others liked my essays, others liked my books.  Most of them had to see me around a lot before they eventually started reading me regularly, for whatever definition of “regularly” counts.

I’m not going to have 24,000 fans tomorrow.  But I’ll probably walk away from this with maybe fifty people who now read me regularly.  Maybe five will read my book, maybe two will like it enough to recommend it to other people.

That’s actually a decent ratio.

Which is why I wouldn’t recommend this method if you don’t actually enjoy blogging. It works, but it’s like panning for gold; lots of time knee-deep in mud, a few flecks.

Better enjoy the outdoors.

4)  Hardly Anyone Knows What Goes Viral.  
There’s a couple of people who know how to go viral easily – I see Chuck Wendig churning out essays once a month that everyone seems to link to, and I go, “Man, even accounting for his larger audience, that guy knows how to connect.”

The rest of us have no idea what connects, or why.

Look.  “Dear Daughter” was an angry essay I wrote in fifteen minutes on my lunch hour, and that writing will probably be referenced in my obituary.   “For Fuck’s Sake” was a Sunday evening writing which I put a lot of thought into, but I’ve written a lot of thoughtful pieces and I still don’t quite know why that one took off.

I just write a lot, and about once every eighteen months, one catches fire.  And I assure you, if I knew how to craft essays that consistently drew 24,000 Facebook “likes,” I would.  Even now, I have no clue why that “For Fuck’s Sake” essay launched into the stratosphere versus my usual political rantings – it feels about the same to me, but it resonated with others.

Every so often on FetLife, some moe without an audience will get a wild hair up their ass, belligerently bumping chests with people who do have an audience to say, “Why don’tcha write an essay anonymously, HANH?  Why don’tcha prove that it’s the WORDS that make you popular, but your AUDIENCE?”

Well, first off, why the fuck do you think my audience – such as it is – sticks around?  Because I’m writing things they think are shitty?  Come on.

But secondly, if you think “writing an essay” is “one shot, one kill,” then you’re wrong.  I’ve written probably ten thousand essays.  Of them, three have gone viral enough to spread across the Internet.  The Venn diagram between “What I consider quality” and “What resonates with people” is a mystery indeed.

Oh, I’m confident that if I wrote a lot of essays under a pseudonym, I’d eventually regain my current levels of notoriety.  But expecting one essay to be as popular as, say, “Dear Daughter”?

The only person who could say that is someone who doesn’t fucking write.

5)  Your Reputation Sticks With You, Though.  
As mentioned, maybe people couldn’t pick you out of a lineup, but they get a rough impression about who you are.  There’s a lot of people who don’t read me who know that I’m loudly polyamorous and sex-positive, I’m left-of-center even though I’d like to be considered center, that I’m depressive and occasionally psychodramatic.

Lots of people really don’t like me for any of those.

So when I meet people at conventions, I sometimes have folks doing the stop-and-stare moment of “Do I want to talk to this asshole?”  They have formed an opinion of me from my writings, and they do not like me.  Sometimes they make excuses and GTFO.

Which is why I’m always baffled when people are like, “Oh, Ferrett just makes up shit to start controversy!”  No, man. I get enough side-eye for the things I believe.  There are real-world consequences to my writing, and as a dude with social anxiety I assure you I feel every one.

There are doubtlessly people who do start up controversies for “fun” – I’ve met them, scrappy assholes who want to start “a feud” to “get traffic” – and they’re usually people with small audiences.  And I wonder whether they’re so enthused over these mock-fights because they’re never planning on going out in public where their rep is attached to their face.  And after a couple of thoroughly faked essays, I wonder if they’ve lost any friends.

But me?  I put my face and my books on these essays, because if one goes viral and I wind up getting shit on by a thousand people for some opinion I’ve opined, I want that shit to be from people I actually don’t like.  I’ve got enthusiastic Trump supporters leaving insulting comments, but hey, I’m okay pissing off those people.

Like I said: most people can’t tell what’s going to be a hit or not.  So pretending to be an asshole in the hopes that someone pays attention to you?  Seems like small pay for idiotic work.  You probably won’t go viral, but you’ll have real-life people who read you – if you have real-life people – believing you’re either a genuine asshole, or a manipulative fake asshole, and I’m not sure what’s worse.

You may think I’m an asshole, but at least it’s for things I believe.

 

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

If for some reason you have not read my book Flex – which features snortable magic drugs, a paperwork magician who turns his filing cabinet into an FBI hacking device, and a chubby videogamemancer who enjoys pegging – then you can get it at Barnes and Noble for $2.99 this week!

(NOTE: Amazon usually matches B&N’s prices, but I’m not checking there because B&N instigated this sale, and you should throw ’em the cash if you’ve got a Nook.  But wherever you buy it is good.)

As an extra-special reminder, the finale to the ‘Mancer trilogy is coming out in six weeks, and you can preorder Fix.  (In fact, if you want to support an author, you should always preorder their books.)  If you’re a fan of the series, @Gaileyfrey Twitter-reviewed it last night, and she had this to say:

Y’all have read FLEX and FLUX right

Hell yeah you have, you love great speculative fiction

WELL FERRETT DID IT AGODDAMNGAIN with FIX

Here’s what I will tell you: BADASS SUPERMAGIC TWEEN GIRL ON A MISSION TO FIND HERSELF AND SAVE THE WORLD AND SAVE HER FAMILY

I’m just going to be over here changing how I write young characters because RUINED IT by showing how BEST to write a tween

[grumping] like it wasn’t bad enough he schooled us all in worldbuilding now he’s gotta go and raise the bar for young female characters too

TL;DR: – is a jerk – go preorder FIX immediately

I’ll be a jerk for that.  So in short:

Message ends.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Pop Quiz: What do you think when I say “President Bill Clinton”?

All right, your first thought is probably “the bawdy things you can do with a cigar.”  (Ah, Billy.)  But then your mind likely wanders to Clinton’s Presidential accomplishments; if you’re a conservative, you fret at all the damage he did, if you’re a liberal you think of the economic prosperity he wrought.  Eight years in office is a long time.

Now: How many of you thought of Bill Clinton and thought, “He was elected because voters were sick of the two-party system?”

Ah, but that’s arguably true!  People forget that Ross Perot was the third-party candidate in that election, acquiring 18.9% of the popular vote – more than any independent candidate in modern history.  And while mostly Perot held relatively even support between conservatives and liberals, conventional wisdom is that Perot siphoned away votes away from Bush – the first Bush – to help tilt the race in Clinton’s favor.*

Did you remember that?

Or did you remember “EIGHT YEARS OF DEMOCRAT IN OFFICE”?

See, that’s the problem with Presidential protest voting.  You think you’re sending a message, but the guy who wins the Presidency hears “I won, I get to do what I think is best.”  The guy who loses maybe hears a message, but that guy lost.  And after two years of President-in-office, all those Presidential protest votes evaporate in people’s memories to become, well, another Democrat or a Republican won.

Note that I’m saying Presidential protest votes.  Because here’s the thing: if you want to make legitimate change in what is and has always been a corrupt system, placing a single vote in the ultimate winner-take-all race is the worst fucking idea ever.

You want to change that system because it’s corrupt or nonrepresentative or what-have-you?  Well, there’s a sliding scale here:

Voting in Presidential races to change the two-party system?  You might as well poop your vote onto toilet paper.

Voting in Congressional races?  Better.  You have a chance of being heard.

Voting in midterm Congressional races?  Now you’re getting golden.  Midterm races are where only the ancient and entrenched vote, and a fresh face showing up when there’s not the Presidential dog-and-pony-race has an actual chance at producing change.

Writing letters and emails to Congressmen while they’re still in office, telling them what you will or will not support?  Oh, you’re approaching the beatifics now, my friends.  The truth is that most corruption isn’t actually hidden. It’s out in the open.  We all know how much the NRA is paying politicians, we know how much the Koch brothers are pouring into races.  But no one cares.  If you care, well, that’s one politician who has to worry about losing your vote.

Voting smartly for local candidates?  Oh my God, that’s right, your state governor and mayor and other officials exist, and chances are really good a few hundred votes can make a difference.  Hell, mayors have gotten flung out of office because some old fart didn’t like the way the trash collectors left their cans on the lawn and mounted a crusade, so if you want to make a change, hey, start here.

And the absolute thing that will guarantee a change insofar as any one person can make a change?

Volunteer.  Get out there and canvas.  Get the local politicians indebted to you.  Get voters on your side.

That’s how you make a difference.

I’m not saying not to vote in the Presidential elections.  I am saying that the Presidential elections are the accumulated corruption of literally the entire country funneled through an avalanche of votes, and if you think you can change the system by showing up once every four years and spending ten minutes standing in line, then fuck are you egotistic.

Look, if you’re a disenfranchised Democrat who was disappointed with what Obama could accomplish, let Samantha Bee remind you how the 2010 election – where you young spitfire Democrats didn’t show up – completely fucked Obama by ushering in a new tide of crazies:

If you think you’re “fighting corruption” and “sending a message” by one third-party vote in the biggest campaign ever and then going home for half a decade, you done fucked up.  Because the government is not just the President – you may note Obama struggling to pass laws through a Congress who hates him.  And that Congress, in turn, is beholden to politicians in their home states.

Want change?  I support change.  But I don’t support it through the weaksauce mechanism of a single Presidential vote.  You’re not going to get Jill Stein or Gary Johnson elected – which isn’t to say you shouldn’t vote for them if you believe in their candidacy, because if that’s the case you should.  But if you’re voting for someone else to “send a message” to Hillary and/or Trump, well, a lot of people sent messages care of Ross Perot and yet somehow that package never got forwarded.

You can’t get Jill Stein or Gary Johnson elected – but with hard work you do stand a reasonable chance of getting a third-party option onto your city council, or into the mayor’s office, which may demonstrate that your neither-Democratic-nor-Republican policies are effective, which is the only way you’re going to actually send a message for the necessity of a third party.  You need to work from the ground up, paying attention when the news headlines are not shoved into your face daily, actively participating in democracy as opposed to passively sitting back and having CNN stuff you full of poll results.

The Presidential Election makes it easy to know what’s going on.  But the elections that you can use to change the system in are small, undocumented, often overlooked.  The corruption is endemic, but part of the reason that corruption is endemic is because people don’t bother to show up – at the ballot boxes, at the volunteer office, at their politician’s mailbox.

Corruption sails by because people like you aren’t watching.

So yeah.  If you’re pissed off about how Bernie got screwed by the DNC, voting for someone else in one election is a positively dumb way to fix that complaint.  Former Bernie staffers have rallied to create Brand New Congress, which has as its goal electing, well, a brand-new Congress. Volunteer for them, donate to them, do something other than dorking up the ballot box with your single vote and going back to Netflix.

Or if Bernie’s not your guy, there’s plenty of other options out there!  Google them!  Find the local levers of change and start tugging those fuckers.  If you’re furious, use that rage productively.  I want you to go make permanent alterations to the fabric of our society.  I want you to fight corruption, and entrenched interests, and politicians who no longer give a crap about you.

But you will not do that with your crappy Presidential protest vote.  You’ll have to put more skin in the game.

Good luck.  Because I damn well hope you do.

 

* – Not that he needed much help, honestly.  Bush was a weak candidate.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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