theferrett: (Meazel)

So there’s a fairly repellent article on the plastic surgeon who’s created what he calls “the perfect vagina.” It is, according to the article, “pink, plump and hairless.”

And I’m like, “What the fuck WHO GETS TO DECIDE WHAT THE PERFECT VAGINA LOOKS LIKE AND WHY IS IT A GUY.”

Honestly, whenever I’ve written about my unfounded insecurities about my dick (link goes to a FetLife essay), women write in to say that most of them don’t care much about the size of the dick as long as it works. This despite the fact that porn of all stripes would tell you that every guy’s packing 7.5″ regular and everyone really wants to have a 12″ cock. And speaking as a guy who’s heard his share of locker room talk, I don’t recall a man having a firm (heh) preference on vagina visuals; generally, we’re just happy to be there.

It’s weird, because to me this is the downside of porn; once you start seeing lots of vaginas, you start ranking them in ways you wouldn’t if they were presented to you by people you loved, or at least hopefully liked. I don’t think anyone really starts out looking at porn and goes, “That pussy’s a 3 out of 10. TRY AGAIN, PORN STARLET.”

No, what happens is a slight preference over hundreds of vaginas; “That’s a little nicer, I guess. I might do with less hair, if you asked.” And those tiny shrugs add up into porn stars slowly converging towards some rude mean, and then over time – compare presentations of pussy in the 1970s to those in the 2000s – people come to expect that this is what a pussy should look like, and then suddenly outliers look weird.

What gets slowly nudged to the front is this denuded white-girl ideal, a mild predilection amplified by an abundance of poon and a market desperately eager to gather dollars. And that pussy, largely, doesn’t exist except for when it’s created, usually by painful Brazilian waxing techniques.

But like dicks or female bodies or male bodies, people have their own preferences – ones they don’t talk about, because a) objectivization is always weird, and b) they’ve been trained to think that their own preferences are somehow bizarre when really, if you did a survey, you’d find that people liked all sorts of female bodies, not just the skinny-model types.

They just don’t discuss it because, well, the skinny-model types are the ones you’re societally-authorized to drool over. Going, “Melissa McCarthy is so hot” gets people going, “Hey, man, she’s a comedienne, is it really cool to uncork such volcanic lust on her?”

So there’s this weird reverberation wherein people are authorized to like a specific form of body, and because they speak out that’s the body type people become conditioned to like (even if that conditioning doesn’t necessarily take), and all of society seems to desire this thing and this thing only when really it’s a mild majority preference by a lot of people who’d also be equally (if not more) happy with something else.

And so we’ve converged on this so-called “perfect” pussy – so much so that women feel the urge to spend tens of thousands of dollars to get professionals to cut them into a different configuration.

Which I can’t shame them for. I have severe depression, and sometimes you need to take shortcuts – you can all but kill yourself fighting this thing you know to be untrue, or sometimes you just say “Yeah” and take the path of least resistance. If the surgery makes them happier in the end, then I can’t blame them as long as they don’t start pussy-shaming other people.

(Nor can I blame the folks who get surgery for practical reasons – hey, yeah, if your lips stick out enough that it’s painful to ride a bike, sure. So really, I can’t blame anyone.)

But I think the whole syndrome is a shame that society is quietly shaping what a pussy “should” look like. Like I said, I don’t think most guys really have hard-core preferences on the matter, and those who do generally are the people who’ve had their mindset sculpted by porn to an uncomfortable degree.

What people like in porn and in movies is generally different from what people like when they’re dealing with, well, people. And thank God. Because those preferences are some idealized convergence created by abundance, reinforced by familiarity, and I hope none of us are as narrow as what the media would want us to desire.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Sure. I have nights where my girlfriend’s out on a date with a new guy, and he’s fantastic in bed (as all new guys must be, in my mind), and she’s going to leave me because the only thing I have to offer is the ability to provide orgasms and he’s clearly better at that (as all new guys must be)….

And those are sucky nights. I text my friends, plan movie marathons, brace myself for a breakup.

But you know what?

I got insecure in monogamous relationships, too.

She’d smile at a guy who she was “just good friends” with and I’d go, are they really only good friends? Can I trust this dude? They seem close. What’s going on here?

She’d hit it off with a girl at a party and I’d go, Are those romantic sparks? That girl just touched her arm, should I be jumping in to head this off? Or will I look like a possessive jerk?

She’d go out for a night with her friends and I’d wonder, She’s probably just seeing a movie, but… what happens if she meets someone new? Or what if she’s cheating on me?

And here’s the thing: that wasn’t just me. I had insecure girlfriends as well who hated the way I flirted (even though I was, and am, never sure what things I do that make me flirty), and they’d interrogate all my female friends, and they’d get anxious after I went out for a night on the town.

And in a lot of those cases, the fix was simple:

Shrink.

Tired of fighting? Well, don’t hang out with people you find attractive, and I’ll feel better.

Maybe we should do everything together. You know, drop the boy’s/girl’s nights out. Just make sure I can always tag along, not quite a bodyguard, but… see? Isn’t this fun?

Oh, you liked that person at the office get-together? I dunno. I got a bad vibe off of them. Yeah, I’m not saying you shouldn’t hang out with them, I’m just going to reiterate my concerns every time you discuss them until you get the hint.

A lot of those monogamous relationships died on the vine because, well, we quietly pruned off any insecurity-making activities until all we had left was each other. And strangely, a lot of what we liked about each other was the stuff that came out when we were out with other people.

Monogamous people talk about monogamy as though it’s the cure-all to insecurity (just as polyamorous people talk about polyamory as though it’s the cure-all to cheating, with equally incorrect results). They tell you they couldn’t take the insecurity of dealing with multiple partners, when the truth is I’ve seen too many monogamous people (including me!) who couldn’t take the insecurity of dealing with a single partner.

I’ve seen monogamous people get insecure because their partner is paying too much attention to their child, and frankly, the fact that you can love your children enough to have more than one is one of those diehard, unspoken assumptions in the communities that shit on polyamory.

Monogamy does not get rid of your insecurity. It just makes it easier to quietly cut away all the things that bother you.

I’m not saying that monogamy is inferior to polyamory, mind you. Polyamory has its own myriad and well-defined dysfunctions. Yet this quiet repetition that “I couldn’t handle the insecurity!” often fails to note that the insecurity is not something caused by polyamory, it’s something you bring with you into a relationship.

Any relationship can trigger insecurity. It’s how you deal with that insecurity that defines your relationship, polyamorous or monogamous.

And in the end, you have a stark choice: you can work to get your partner to stop doing all those things that make you insecure in the hopes that you’ll survive the culling of all the things they love that you don’t. Or you can work to discover whether your partner is genuinely trustworthy (because some aren’t), and figure out which portions of your insecurity are dark reflections of your own self-worth, and which portions are the canary fluttering weakly in the coal mine.

Polyamory, by its structure, makes it more difficult to get your partner to stop doing things that make you insecure. But people still manage to do that. And what I’ve discovered is that even though facing down my insecurity is fucking terrifying at times, what I’ve gotten by surmounting it is stronger, healthier relationships where my partner can walk away, have fun, and come back without being punished for having that fun.

My wife and I learned that back when we were monogamous.

It’s especially true now that we’re polyamorous.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Last night, I wrote, “Tonight’s the sort of night I wind up writing messy emails to my crushes if I’m not careful. (The nights you’re most tempted are, in my experience, the nights you should definitely call no-gos.)”

Yet people asked, “Why shouldn’t you email your crushes, Ferrett?”

There’s a couple of reasons for that, most of which are specific to me:

First off, it’s a bad move for me to chase after a crush as a specifically selfish move. Generally, the only reason I think you should reveal a crush is if there’s something potentially in it for them – as in, “Hey, I like you, I think there’s a good chance you like me, let’s see if there’s any potential for something interesting happening.”

(Even if that “something interesting” is as minimal as “occasional chats and sexting, with no hope of ever meeting in real life.”)

But where I am right now is not a fertile bed for anything happening. I’m polysaturated with partners, so a crush wouldn’t lead to anything date-like. And my health issues have left me as a moody, irregular hot mess – I’m not even necessarily texting the friends I have, let alone reaching out for new ones, so even if I went with my usual offer of “occasional chats and sexting,” well, I’m not even up to that consistent enough to call it “occasional.”

So for me to contact a crush would be to say, “Hi, I like you, this would be more of an inconvenience for you if it was reciprocated.” Which is not a nice thing to do to someone I like.

(How many crushes do I have? Oh God. Hundreds. I am a crush-making machine. If I were to follow up on every one of them, I would die.)

And second, not only am I in a bad place to accept a crush, but I’m also in a bad headspace to be reaching out. I have a bad habit of forging new connections when I feel unloved or unattractive – hey, are you feeling like a fat invalid, Ferrett? Let’s ignite a couple of new relationships!

Honestly, what I should have done in a better headspace would be to reach out to old crushes (or current partners) and reconnect. But in the depression I was mired in last night, everyone’s absence was proof that nobody wanted me, and I had an irrational fear that I’d text them with “Hey, sweetie, how’s it going?” and hear nothing back because shit, I didn’t want to talk to me, why would they?

(I could reach out to them and say, “I’m feeling lonely tonight,” but alas, that would involve me not being sick of the sound of my own depressive struggles, which depending on the night I totally can be.)

So new crushes for me, when I’m in that funk, are a bad idea. (Also see: I try not to turn my crushes into something that’s exclusively good for me.)

And lastly, there’s the eternal issue of that informing someone about your crush is an obligation. A mild obligation, yes, but if I’ve misread the signals and they’re not into me, I’ve just given them a burden, not a joy.

If I like you enough to crush on you, my goal is to give joy.

So last night I stayed silent. I’m not opposed to crushes, aside from the fact that I am haloed in them, but I have my own wisdom on how to act. I have wonderful partners, and wonderful friends, and wonderful crushes who occasionally send me texts out of nowhere to tell me how they’re doing.

And if I was in a position to respond to the people who know me already, I’d probably have said, “Sure, maybe emailing someone I think is vivaciously gorgeous to tell them how much I admire them.” But I wasn’t, so I didn’t, and I have zero regrets about that. Especially now that the morning has arrived, and things seem brighter.

Still. Last night would have been vastly improved if one of my secret crushes had texted me to unveil their neverending attraction to me. But how often does that happen? And how often do you know the perfect moment to reveal that crush?

You don’t. So I usually don’t.

For me, it’s the smart move.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)
  • No, you probably wouldn’t have tackled that rampaging gunman and brought his workplace shooting to a halt.
  • No, you probably wouldn’t have stopped that dangerous scene at the kink club.
  • No, you probably wouldn’t have punched out that abuser who was molesting you when you weren’t expecting it.

Because those last words are the critical ones: when you weren’t expecting it.

The problem is that you’re not continually braced for the unexpected, and so when these extraordinary things happen to you, you’re not in the frame of mind of “This is a shooting” but rather mired in a muddled stew of “Wait, what’s going on here? Are those firecrackers? Am I overreacting? Does that guy really have a gun, or am I going to tackle some random dude for no good reason and make a fool out of myself?”

Don’t believe me? Well, let’s see what someone who survived the Columbine massacre has to say:

“I was thinking it sounded like firecrackers, and that it was just a weird sound to hear at that time of day.”

By the time you hear about it, you’re presented with a nice headline that is also an easy conclusion: Mass shooting. Kink scene gone wrong. Rape. But you wouldn’t have had information like that available to you at the moment of the incident.

Instead, you’re spending time you could have been a Big Damn Hero merely trying to figure out what the hell is happening.

And there are significant disincentives to coming to the wrong conclusion. Yes, it’s awesome if you see that rope scene is dangerous, and override the dungeon monitors to swoop in with a knife and scream, “THAT HARDPOINT IS INSUFFICIENT FOR THE BOTTOM’S WEIGHT!” But you know what’s not awesome?

You swooping in and ruining someone’s scene because you, you idiot, didn’t understand how hardpoints worked at this club and in fact everything was just right and you now have made a total ass of yourself.

Again, it’s easy to Monday-morning quarterback when you know what the results were – but here in not-action-hero-land, you’re contemplating what an idiot you’ll look like if you make a bold, dangerous move and it turns out you were wrong.

Tackle a gunman, you’re a hero. Tackle a guy holding a stapler, and you’re the talk of the office for years.

Then add that to the fact that things don’t often look like they do in movies. Gunmen don’t always burst in through the door, dressed in conveniently color-coded black, to shout their intentions. Your molester probably isn’t wearing a balaclava and jumping out at you from the bushes, they can be an acquaintance who’s saying quite nice things as they ignore your discomfort. And the people running dangerous scenes aren’t comedy-doofy – they often look like they’re taking things quite seriously.

So you’re likely to do what most people do, which is to take your cues from the people around you – wasting more time as you make eye contact and go, “Is everyone else seeing this?” And of course, most of them are looking back to you, herd instinct in search of a conclusion.

Because at this point, you don’t really have a conclusion. You just have a bunch of facts fluttering around. Tomorrow’s headlines will have the conclusions, but you’re not reading them.

Yet even when you do come to the conclusion of something as distasteful as Yes, I am being molested, then there’s that final layer of confusion: Am I positive this is happening?

Because, remember, this is an unexpected situation. Thankfully, you probably don’t deal with people trying to fondle your genitals without permission all the time. So when that happens, your brain often glitches from the unexpected input, throwing up a dialogue box that wastes more time: “This is really weird! Are you certain this is what’s actually going on? Y/N.”

And by the time you finally process through all of this confusion, and the potential embarrassment of getting it wrong, and the unreality, it may be too late to do anything worthwhile. The guns have been fired, the bottom has fallen, your body’s been violated.

Then people will yell at you because “They would have known” what to do.

There is one exception, however. Quite often, you would know what to do, because it’s not unexpected to you. You’ve experienced this before – perhaps under tragic circumstances, but this is nothing new to you.

Most of the folks who’d know what to do if some random asshole threw a punch at them have, not coincidentally, been in lots of fights before. Lots of the people who have no problem raising the alarms when some skeeve starts making nonconsensual moves on them have, sadly, dealt with an abundance du skeeve. And the people who’d be comfortable intervening solo in a dangerous scene are often experienced DMs, or teachers, or both.

And I’m glad those people are there to step in. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t step up when the time calls – you absolutely should, if you can do so and protect your own safety. Any time someone in the community can rally and shut down a dangerous event before it gets rolling is a good moment.

But every time some bad incident happens, I hear people saying, “Well, that wouldn’t have happened if I’d been there.” They say it by the hundreds, until the Internet would have you believe that everyone in existence is a coiled spring of justice, eternally braced for the most unusual incidents, and these constant dribbles of disappointment are some whacky exception.

Alas. We’re human. Humans generally react poorly to unexpected stimuli. And as much as I’d love it if we all had the correct initial reaction, the sad truth is that by the time we’ve figured out what’s happening, whether we’re sure it’s happening, and what to do to stop it from happening… it’s happened.

The best you can do is try to expect the unexpected. But how easy is that, really?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

My Uncle Tommy loved mysteries as a kid.  I was more drawn to his science fiction collection.

Weirdly, that absence actually hurts me as a writer.

Because I never read any mysteries (and I never watched ’em), I never internalized the rhythms of mysteries, nor picked up on how to structure them.  I understand, vaguely, when a clue gets dropped, but I have never ever once in my entire life solved a mystery before the story ended, and that includes really dumb and easy-to-understand clues like the rogue taxi driver in the first episode of Sherlock.

Me reading mysteries is like a dog watching television: I’m entertained, but I can’t say I’m getting it.

And that’s actually kind of a hindrance when it comes to writing a long-running series with a small cast.  Mysteries are an excellent backbone plot to stick characters in, because the characters don’t have to change all that much; their concern is figuring out who the killer is and what they’re up to.   You can have lovely little character bits sprinkled through, but the motivating force is not something that the character is deciding to do because they need to change their lives, but instead is an external event that’s hampering their life.

Which is why mystery writers can write series that go on forever.  There’s a dab of character evolution in there, as everyone wants a character arc – the cold detective warms slightly to people, or the bumbling sidekick creeps towards competence, or there’s a background romance that inches forward – but 95% of the novel is Interesting People Investigating This Distressing Conundrum, and only 5% is based on the character making new decisions they would never have made before today.

And it’s not just Mysteries that use mysteries.  Most long-running urban fantasy series are mysteries in a magical wrapper.  House ran forever, and that was basically “medical mysteries.”  Harry Potter had a lot of characterization, but still, 60% of what drove the plot?  A mystery.

Whereas if you don’t have an external mystery to drive the plot, what you have left to move this story forward is  character arcs.  And those are dangerous.  Because if you don’t have a mystery, the character arcs become wide – if Batman isn’t investigating some string of Joker-crimes, then the impetus for events has to be that Batman’s philosophy is threatened in some way.  It’s not “Batman chases down the Riddler,” but instead “Batman’s forced to decide when killing is an appropriate response,” or “Batman must question whether the sacrifices he makes to save Gotham City is worth it,” or “Batman must choose between loyalty to family or loyalty to his life’s mission.”

And there’s only so many of those you can do before a) they become really repetitive (because if Batman keeps rejecting his personal life to save Gotham City, then the outcome’s never in question), or b) the decision creates a change that fundamentally alters the character so they don’t have the same appeal (as “The marital conflicts of Bruce Wayne, no-longer-adventuring-husband” are unlikely to appeal to teenaged boys).

I ran into this when I was writing my ‘Mancer series.  Without a mystery-of-the-week to drive the series, there were three stories I could realistically tell: Family of magicians comes together, family of magicians is driven apart by an evil force, family of magicians is driven apart by a good force.

And I’m proud of the ‘Mancer series, I am, but people keep asking me, “So what comes next?” and….I got nothing.  (Well, not nothing, I’ve got my new novel The Uploaded coming out in September, but that’s in an entirely different universe in an entirely different genre.  Although it’s also about families.  And yet I digress.)  In the ‘Mancer series, these characters have changed radically from their inception, and I can’t think of anything else they could do that would be as compelling.  I could go on to tell the stories of other ‘mancers in that universe (and might, some day), but that’s different from the bestselling urban fantasies that have fifteen novels on the continuing adventures of That Character You Love.

Because if I could write mysteries, it’d be fun to plop Valentine and Aliyah into the Mystery Machine and have them go around solving magically obsessive crimes.  But…. I’ve tried, and I never internalized the rhythms of how mysteries work.  I don’t think in mystery terms.  And that is a real handicap for a guy who already doesn’t know how to plot in advance.

Not that it’s a bad thing that I write novels with huge, sweeping character arcs.  It’s just a mild issue for my career as a writer, because even if by some miracle I wrote The Bestselling Novel, I couldn’t then spin out endless tales with that person at the center.  I’d tell three, maybe four stories and be done.

(Which isn’t to say that many famous writers haven’t done well off of that model – they have – but it’s sure nicer if you can Jim Butcher your way into a situation where every annual installment helps sell copies of the other 14 books in the series.)

I’ve pondered how to solve that, or even if it needs to be solved.  I’ve wondered whether I should do nothing but read a mystery book a week for a year, hoping that I might start to think in mystery ways.  I’ve read books on How To Write A Mystery, and they seem cold and distant to me.

And maybe it’s because, ultimately, the mystery isn’t that compelling to me.  Reason I’m writing this is because last night I picked up a mystery by an author who I really enjoyed, and the first three chapters left me cold.  It was a perfectly good book, and yet what was a really interesting take on a locked-room mystery still had me shrugging.

In the end, this may be like the appreciation I wish I had for jazz, or 80s rap; I’ve listened, I wish I was educated enough to find the joy that other people take in it, but I’ve tried and it doesn’t seem to work.  And maybe mainlining it for a year would give me that joy, or maybe it’d turn out that it’s just not for me no matter what I do.

Some days, I write essays that come to firm conclusions about how things should be.  This isn’t one of them.  It’s not like my writing career hinges on getting this down; it’s just a tool in the box that I lack.  And you can get by as a writer without possessing all the tools, as there’s plenty of writers who don’t really have the rhythm of traditional plotting or character arcs down, and they compensate with other strengths.

But it’d be nice to be able to write a story and not have it all hinge on the growth of the characters.  I’d like a little mystery in there to serve as the spring.

Maybe some day.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

It sounds kinky, but one of the major problems in computer programming is deciding how much you need to expose.

The same is true of polyamory, but let’s start with the far less confusing topic of computer programming as an example.

Let’s say you have a program that calculates sales taxes: you hand it an order, and it tells you how much money you owe. Many programmers would argue that the ideal way to do this is a “black box” method – you hand the program an order, and it gives you a tax percentage.

How did it come to that conclusion? You don’t need to know how that program made that decision. What happens inside the program is a mystery.

But life is complex, and sometimes you need to peek inside the box – say, for example, if you need to know which tax code to apply to the order for accounting purposes. In which case, you might need your box of a program to return a little more data – say, a tax percentage and a tax code.

And in weird cases, maybe you need to get a breakdown from the box to know how it came to its conclusions – maybe you need to know which things you ordered were tax exempt so you can tell your customer, so you have to expose the box’s calculations to a much greater (and more complicated) extent.

So what’s the best way to program this tax-calculating device? Good programmers will trot out all sorts of theories to prove that you should always go with the simplest method, or the most flexible approach, or the most maintainable one.

Smart programmers, however, will answer: it depends what you need. Programming is not an absolute. There are solid, well-tested guidelines in programming, but every good programmer’s had to hold their nose because dammit, this clunky, inelegant solution is the best fix for this specific problem.

And that’s a lot like the way you process how your partners have sex with other people.

Right now, one of my partners is starting a new relationship with someone else. This is normally a time that provokes jealousy and insecurity.

For me, I need my partner’s sex to be a black box. I don’t need to know too much; I send a query going, “SEX GOOD?” and she replies with one of three answers:

  • Great!
  • Good
  • Meh

And that is all I need to know to function. Any more information on what’s happening inside my sweetie’s sex-box would cause me to start comparing, and I’d start to wonder if they were way better in bed than I was, and of course if they were better in bed then my sweetie would of course have no reason to stay with me and I would freak the hell out.

So they just tell me, “I had a great time!” and that’s sufficiently abstracted that I can be appropriately happy (or concerned) for them.

Of course, that information would be too much for many poly people. For them, the black box is even more abstracted – they send a query that says, “WAS SEX PROTECTED?” and the answer is Y/N, aaaaaand that’s all they need to know. Good? Bad? Irrelevant. “Unlikely to serve as a staging ground for STIs” is the only answer they require from their sweetie’s sex-box.

Then again, some people would find that information stifling. Some poly couples have to get a good, solid look at the sex-box’s internals, walking through the sex moment-by-moment, sifting through the other sex for tips and tricks they might use on their own, getting turned on by the knowledge of their sweetie’s pleasure. That box is flexible, man.

And which box is best for your polyamory? Let’s ask the smart programmer:

It depends what you need.

Because defining that black box of your partner’s partner is a vital survival skill in polyamory – and it’s not just sex. Personally speaking, I don’t need to know the fine details of my sweetie’s sex life, but I do need to know their emotional details – are they falling in love? Are they getting along? What sorts of happy things do they geek out about?

Yet again, for other people, that box may be a little more encapsulated. For them, they have an emotional partner-of-partner box that asks, “RELATIONSHIP GOOD?” and they get the answer of:

  • Great!
  • Good
  • Meh

And that is all they need to know to function. And that’s great!

(Or you can start exploring the VantaBlack box zone of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Relationships, where you literally are not even aware of who your sweetie is dating, but that risks some fatal miscommunications if you’re even slightly out of sync. Nothing wrong with DADT in the abstract – but if I were to describe it in programming terms, it’s known to be a very buggy approach.)

The point is, a lot of novices to polyamory freak out because their partners are either exposing too much or too little information about what’s happening in their other relationships. And part of learning to do polyamory comfortably lies in determining what sorts of feedback you want when you query the black box of your partner’s other relationships for information.

That answer may vary from partner to partner (I have a partner who’s a swinger, and I do love hearing about her sex parties), or topic to topic (as noted, I need way less information on sex than I do emotional realities). But framing it in terms of “What I need to know about how my partners are getting along with their partners” – even if that answer is, “I don’t” – is key to happily managing an active polyamorous network.

In the end, like programming, there’s no wrong answer. It lies in what you need…. And if it doesn’t work, you go back and refactor it! There isn’t a programmer in the world who hasn’t finished a perfect black-box tax calculator that hands back a single percentage, only to be told, “Oh, wait, we need the tax code too.” At which point they sigh, roll up their sleeves, and change the code.

Which is hard work. But like programming, things will go a lot better if you think things out in advance instead of just making everything up as you go.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Okay, so I hate asking people for recommendations because it always, always goes like this:

“Whenever I see romantic comedies, I break out in blistered rashes and have to go to the hospital for three days. So do not recommend a romantic comedy.”

“Oh, but I love romantic comedies, and this romantic comedy is really different so you should watch…”

STOP.

DO NOT.

HALT YOURSELF.

(And also stop the not-quite-as-funny-as-you’d think joke of recommending a romantic comedy to me in the comments.  It’s also been done.)

What I’m looking for are very specific recommendations because I am a man with very specific needs.  So I’m gonna ask you to share your favorite books, podcasts, and morrors with me – but only if those wonderful books, podcasts, and mirrors match the criteria I’ve asked for!

(And if I sound exhausted, it’s because I’ve literally spent fifteen years saying, “Can someone recommend a band similar to  They Might Be Giants?” and having people hand me their favorite death metal band.  It’s great that you love death metal, or even this band!  But is it that hard to understand that This Thing You Love isn’t at all like what people are asking for?)

So!  Let’s try this!

Podcasts!
I have to find a thirty- to forty-minute podcast so I can exercise longer.   Currently, all my favorite podcasts (Planet Money, 99% Invisible, Writing Excuses, Revisionist History) clock in at around 20-25 minutes, and my doctor says I have to up my exercise game to keep my heart clean.

So I need a thirty to forty-minute nonfiction podcast that is an actual focused topic  – while I like the looser podcasts where two guys just ramble on for an hour, that’s not enough to keep my concentration during the agony of the elliptical.  If it’s a shorter podcast, or significantly longer, it literally won’t work for me.

Suggestions?

Books!
So I’ve been reading stressful books lately, which isn’t very fun given the stressful politics.   I need a light series of books to get me through that are a) short, b) fast-paced, and c) not urban fantasy.   Snappy patter and lovable characters a significant bonus.

(These do not have to be series.  A one-off, enjoyable book is just fine.)

…Mirrors? 
My mother has asked me to get her an “artistic” mirror for her living room.  She doesn’t have anything in mind, but wants to see cool mirrors with artistic frames and/or glass that are at least large enough to see her face in.  (Larger is better, up to a point.)  If you’re an artist or know someone who is an artist who works in this medium, point me to it!

(Warning: If you’re posting links on the LJ version of this entry, URLs are automatically screened thanks to Russian spammers filling up my text.  I’ll see ’em eventually, just not immediately.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So my wife and I saw the Green Lantern movie in the theater.

The big twist was that the film ended when we weren’t expecting it to.

Which is to say that a final battle in an action movie should, ideally, bring in all the lessons that the protagonist has learned over the course of the story.  They’ve learned from their mistakes, they’re motivated more because the things they love are more in danger than they’ve ever been, and the villain’s philosophy is no longer compelling.

And Green Lantern had a big, knock-down battle that both Gini and I went, “Oh, this is the fight where Hal Jordan loses, and realizes why his strategy isn’t working, and limps away to come ba – oh, no, wait, the credits are rolling.”

Because a good story has a climax.  It’s a series of events that are amplitudes, slow shakes that build upon each other to create an earthquake.  That fight is not a fight – it’s the hero’s new mindset, weaponized.

Bad stories end with a fight.

And I’m thinking of that because I finished Watch Dogs 2 last night, which is an entertaining game and a terrible goddamned story.  Watch Dogs 2 features HIP MILLENNIAL JUSTICE HACKERS who make zany movie references and HACK FOR FREEDOM and wear millennial outfits.  They’re like a Saturday morning cartoon version of Anonymous.

The storyline is complete garbage because the story writers and the game play designers apparently lived on separate continents and never spoke to each other.  Watch Dogs 2’s story would have you believe that DedSec, the Millennial Champions Of Fair Play, are deeply concerned with the lives of Joe Average Sheeple, hacking into political servers not because they want to get rich, but because they are in search of Truth and Freedom.

Watch Dogs’ game has you carjacking random civilians before running them over in the street.

In fact, there’s one mission where some bad hacker outrages the noble compatriots of DedSec because he is – gasp – feeding the wrong addresses to SWAT teams and sending them crashing through the door of innocent civilians!  They take him down in the most humiliating way possible, because DedSec are heroes, and oh wait one of the standard powers you have at your disposal is literally pressing R1 to tag some poor random bastard as a false SWAT target and watching the cops Rodney King the fuck out of him.

Whoops.

So the game is a seesaw of characters protesting very loudly that they are good guys before beating up hookers and stealing their money.

But I beat the game last night, and I was like, “Wait, that’s the end?”  The only reason I wasn’t surprised by the end credits was because the game had, helpfully, thrown up a warning saying “HEY THIS MISSION IS THE FINAL MISSION U OKAY BRO?”

And again, Watch Dogs 2 had a fight, but not an emotional moment of catharsis.  The missions were not lessons in which the characters learned anything – they were excuses for DedSec to release a propaganda video decrying Modern Evils like hacked voting machines or the militarization of the police force.

People died, and it seemed random, because our hero Marcus didn’t learn anything from the death aside from “I want revenge upon the gang members who killed him for no good reason, and here’s a mission where I drop bombs on this person’s killers.”

A good action climax involves the character making hard decisions that affect their outcome.  Maybe they’re crawling through duct vents to save innocent civilians when the cops are doing their best to betray them.  Maybe they’re fighting computerized agents and they need to learn the certainty that love gives them before they can unleash their full power.   Maybe they’re a dark knight protecting their city, and they need to become comfortable becoming the scapegoat so their city can keep running.

There’s a philosophy driving that final fight.  It’s not just people punching each other – it’s the hero learning something they didn’t know before, and synthesizing that knowledge to help them win.  Sometimes, in the case of Die Hard, it’s a question of finding a new faith in that philosophy – or in the case of the Matrix, it’s discovering what a new philosophy gives you.

Or you have Watch Dogs, where the characters don’t learn because the writers have given them no challenge to their philosophy.  As a writer, DedSec should be an easy challenge – okay, these hackers believe in freedom at all costs, so much so that they’re all casually willing to die for it.  What happens when they stumble upon information that’s genuinely better kept secret?  Or what happens when, as actually happens during the game if not the story, they’re so certain of their morality that they become the evil they’re fighting?

None of that happened in Watch Dogs.  There was a lot of philosophy tossed about, but nothing about what the heroes believed was ever challenged.  Every threat DedSec faced was a straw man, so laughably evil that there was never a question that they might have a point.  DedSec never doubted their goals – they just doubted they could pull them off, which is very different than “Should I be doing this?”  Even when they died, it was like, “Welp, that person was devoted to the cause, pour a bottle, move on.”

So the end game was a surprise.  There was no buildup.  There could be no buildup. There was nothing to build up to, aside from endless setpieces and action montages.

You can’t hate a villain who doesn’t make you question your life.

And if you don’t hate the villain, doesn’t matter how big the final battle is, it’s just going to be a big ol’ “Oh, he’s gone?” before the end credits roll.  Just like Watch Dogs.  Just like Green Lantern.

Just like a hundred other stories you’ve already forgotten.  And if you’re a writer, “being forgotten” is always your real enemy.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

What I thought I had written was an essay on how it’s okay to like different things than I do. What I’d actually written was a plea for everyone to debate the merits of Internet poetry.

Because in my essay, as an example of Things I Disliked That Other People Loved, I discussed
how
I didn’t think that
putting random
linebreaks
into an essay
made it poetry, man.

And I specifically said that it was cool that other people loved that style of poetry.  I told people in the essay that the point was that even though I didn’t like that poetry, it was great that other people did.

Yet my comments
section
became a huge
(blazing)
fight
on whether that sorta poetry
was cool, man.

The problem was that I’d used an example that was more controversial than the point I’d intended to make.  I could tell people all I liked that “Hey, this essay’s about freedom of choice” – but what their eyes focused on was “Ferrett raises the question on What Constitutes Good Poetry.”

Because honestly, that minor point about poetry was both more interesting and more debatable than the point I was trying to make.

Welcome to the Distracting Sub-Argument.  You didn’t mean for that brief aside you made to become your whole point  – but by introducing something more contentious than the point you were trying to make, that’s all that anyone will take away from your essay.

Which happens all the time in politics.  You’ll see someone, say, debating the merits of sex work, and they’ll say something like:

“I agree that sex work should be legal.  These poor women who have no better options should be protected.”

What that person meant to say was, “I am for sex work” – but they just also called every sex worker a) female, b) poverty-stricken, and implied that sex workers were c) so damaged someone had to look out for them.

As much as the author of that comment would like people to walk away going, “Wow, that person is for legalizing sex work!” they are instead going to have people debating the far more contentious point they didn’t actually mean to raise.

 

The problem with the Distracting Sub-Argument is that quite often it pops up as something you naturally assumed to be true, and didn’t realize it was debate-worthy – so you didn’t back it up with other arguments.  And then people will take umbrage at this controversial point you didn’t even realize was controversial – and the irony is, if you’d taken a moment to make your positions clear on the topic, most people would have agreed with you.

You see that in consent essays a lot.  People will have these heartfelt write-ups on Why No Should Mean No, and in the middle of it they’ll casually toss off some statement like “And you’re not obligated to tell anyone if they violated your consent” without backing it up.  And the entire comments section becomes people dragging that idea – “HOW CAN YOU EXPECT US TO LEARN IF YOU NEVER TELL US WHAT WE DID!”

Whereas if, instead, you’d put in a slightly better-defended subargument in, people would have gone “All right” and argued the topic you’d wanted them to argue.  If they’d said, something like, “Given that predators can often be abusive, and will actively work to get the community to shun you once you let them know you’re onto them, you’re not obligated to tell the person who violated your consent what happened” –

– well, there’d still be debate, but the Distracting Sub-Argument wouldn’t obscure the main point you were trying to make.

And it happens all the time.  I wrote a heartfelt essay on how “Be Yourself” isn’t necessarily the best advice for people, and what too many people took away was the inadvertent question of “Should teenaged Ferrett have paid more attention to his personal hygiene?”   I wrote an essay wondering whether sex is easier for men to get than people traditionally think it is, and what lots of people came away with is the question of “Is Ferrett shaming guys who can’t get laid?”

That’s not necessarily the fault of the audience.  If I hadn’t inadvertently introduced a more compelling sub-argument, folks would have had a better chance of getting the message I’d hoped to broadcast.

Learning that difference between what you’d intended to write, and what you actually wrote, is a survival skill for anyone writing on the Internet.  You should understand what parts of your essay and/or comment are going to be of the most interest to people – and if the most intriguing portion you’ve written isn’t your main point, then a) choose a less-distracting example or b) flesh out your sub-argument so it’s not standing alone with no logic to defend it.

Otherwise,
you’re just
starting
bad poetry debates

And no one
likes
that kind of
poetry,
man.

NOBODY.

 

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Six years ago, I went to a Rise Against concert and flung myself bodily into the mosh pit.  I was sweaty, beaten, and in pain.

What I didn’t know was that my appendix had burst.

How could I?  My body processes pain differently than most people, apparently.  I walked around with a belly ache for two more days before finally hauling myself to the doctor’s on Monday.  When he asked me what my pain level was, I infamously said, “Four, maybe five out of ten.”

“You should have been screaming,” he later told me.  Because sure enough, my body was flooded with poison, and though I didn’t know it at the time, I had only a 40% chance to live.

Whoops.

So about two years after that, when I was laying in bed on a sleepy Saturday morning, turning over because I had some chest discomfort that kept waking me from a thin rest, I stopped.  “This is a one out of ten,” I thought.  “Maybe a two.  But the last time I had a five, it nearly killed me, so maybe I should go the ER.”  And I got my daughter up, and griped that I was wasting $2,000 on some stupid ER visit but better to safe than sorry, and….

99% clogged in three arteries, including one known as “the Widowmaker.”  They cracked open my chest, gave me an emergency triple-bypass.

And it’s not like I’m insensate.   If I stub my toe, I will shout profanities to the high heavens.  When I got stung by bees back when we had a beehive, it hurt.  I just seem to have some upper limit to pain wherein literally life-threatening amounts of pain do not register.

So when I was in the cardiologist’s office yesterday after I failed my nuclear stress test – which is a totally badass name of a thing to fail – he asked, “Have you had any chest pains?”

Yes.  All along.

But I don’t know what they mean.

Because after you are diagnosed with a potentially-fatal heart condition, you feel chest pains all the time.  Because you are super-focused on that area that could, you know, kill you, and so any gas pains or random aches suddenly become this billboard-sized panic of “IS THIS THE END.”  I’ve talked with other heart patients, and it’s funny how many random twinges we all ignore right up until the time you can’t.

“Have you had any chest pains?”  And I don’t know how to answer that.  Yes.  No.  The last time I had chest pains they put me on a Holter monitor for three weeks where I wore EKG electrodes day and night, carrying around an electronic pack that registered by every heartbeat, and they found nothing even when I specifically said, “Yes, this hurts.”  On the other hand, I’ve specifically been in at least two situations where my pain should have been broadcasting “YOU ARE DYING, YOU ARE DYING,” and, welp, dying apparently wasn’t that bad.

So what do I tell him?

How do I know?

I literally have a body that doesn’t know what’s dangerous, and unfortunately there’s no easy way of calibrating it.  I’m going into the hospital next Tuesday where they’ll slither a tube up my arteries and literally poke into my heart like a tapeworm to see what’s going on, because I am incapable of self-diagnostics on any meaningful scale.

And that’s a low-grade fear I can’t get rid of.  Any time I feel any pain, I have to wonder, “Is this just your normal forty-year-old dude ache, or is this a harbinger of my impending demise?”  And that constant surveillance is exhausting.

Yet I don’t have a choice.  And maybe it’s better than the alternative; I mean, I didn’t want to be screaming in pain when my appendix burst.  But maybe I’d have had a lot nicer surgery if I had more finely-attuned sensors than these blunt-force nerves I had at my disposal.

As it is, I’m going in Tuesday to have them check out my heart.  Maybe it’s bad.  Maybe it’s not.

I have no way of knowing.

(Incidentally, here’s another thing that’ll kill me: repealing the ACA without a valid replacement for risky patients like me.  There’s no way I can actually afford the treatments I’ll need, and the preliminary rumblings from Republican Senators imply that the new laws might actually be more lenient in who they allow to be kicked off a plan – yes, even if I am gainfully employed – so calling your Senator to tell ’em the ACA should be retained, or at least the replacement should cover unlucky schmucks like me, is critical.  I wrote up an easy how-to manual to do it here.  You’d be doing me a solid if you did call.

(And no, plugging for the ACA {or at least a reasonable replacement} is not why I wrote this, but it’s sort of impossible in this day and age to write about my critical health conditions without pondering whether I’m, you know, going to be able to get coverage I can afford.)

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

If you thought my wife and I couldn’t get into a fight about which TV show to watch next – for the record, “Star Wars: Rebels” vs “Mythbusters Search” – well, you’d be wrong.

Stupidly, we fought because we thought the other person cared more. I wasn’t really in the mood for Rebels, but I didn’t feel like making a fuss if that’s what the family wanted. But Gini, sensing my reluctance, immediately concluded that seeing Mythbusters was the height of my desire, and so we wound up in a brief shouting match of both of us screaming that THIS WASN’T FUCKING IMPORTANT TO US.

Dumber fights have been had. But not by much.

And I was really wrecked by this three-minute fight. I was con-dropped from being “on” all weekend for ConFusion, and I had my doctor’s appointment tomorrow (now today) to determine when I’d be going in for a heart catheterization, and when it was done I just slouched my way downstairs and fulminated. I felt awful, and sullen, and drained.

Thank God it wasn’t anyone’s fault.

Look, I’ve seen too many people who have to assign blame for every clash. Someone had to have screwed up to make me feel this bad – and that screw-up has to be addressed, now.

But no. Gini was coming down with the flu, and also peopled out from having presided over a wedding that weekend, and so she was as exhausted as I was. This wasn’t something that needed to be fixed, or apologized for – we were both punchy, communicating poorly, and we’d inadvertently smacked each other around in, ironically, an attempt to be courteous to each other.

Sometimes, you have fights because neither of you are in a good headspace. That’s not to excuse the hurt, of course – but I recognized that my wife was trying her best and failing for reasons that had little to do with her normal communication patterns, everything to do with the fact that I was more sensitive because my batteries were redlined, and this wasn’t A Problem To Be Fixed but A Bad Day We’d Rather Not Have Had.

Some days, if you’re in a good relationship, you write this off as a Mistakes Were Made, and retreat to your separate corners, and come back again when you’ve gotten over yourself.

That’s less satisfying, particularly to those of us who grew up going to therapists. You’re taught that you should come away from a fight with some sense of advancement, that you’ve learned something from this, that you’re smarter and braver and wiser for the conflict. You’re trained to sharpen your communicating skills so that you won’t have the same fights over and over again…

But the truth is, no matter how good you have become at honing your discussion skills, some days you’re just not up to the task. Even the best hairstylist has a bad hair day.

On those days, you can tear yourself to pieces trying to improve the situation, or you can just accept that today’s a write-off, hug it out, and hope you feel better tomorrow.

We hugged it out.

It’s tomorrow.

Let’s hope this day works better.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

New rule: if you have spent more time complaining about FetLife’s new bans on FetLife than you have spent time complaining to your politicians, you probably deserve to lose access to FetLife.

And you might.

If you haven’t been paying attention, FetLife founder John Baku has explained why he’s going to have to ban a host of  topics on FetLife – including non-consensual consent, hypnosis, raceplay, incest, and anything involving drugs and alcohol. Hint: It’s not because he wants to.

It’s because political issues and lawsuits are in very serious danger of shutting FetLife down.

And I hear people saying “Well, we’ll just go somewhere else!” – not realizing that there are whole swathes of society that are out to shut down kink everywhere. If you don’t fight for FetLife now, whatever kinky website you go to will be closed down next, or will be so overlookable that nobody else will be be there. (Mainly because PayPal and credit card companies are ensuring that porn and porn providers cannot get paid. No money for webservers == no internet porn for you.)

And that may not be just FetLife. It may also apply to those happy local kink clubs you’ve watched grow over the last decade or so. People wanna shut them down, and unfortunately, those people are in power. Read @Zetsu’s discussion on how Trump’s Attorney General’s #1 priority is stamping out porn. Read @NCD’s post on what happened to porn providers during the Reagan years. This isn’t just in America – England’s pondering new laws, Germany is, all around the world the tide is turning.

Look. A lot of you – perhaps the majority – have said, “I don’t wanna talk about boring old politics! I go to kinky websites to get away from all that crap.”

And that might have passed in years where politicians weren’t necessarily in favor of kinky shit happening, but at least they weren’t actively out to shut it down.

Unfortunately for you, everything you do is a political act, whether you realize it or not. You may have thought that swooning over The Wolf’s erotic adventures was a nonpolitical act, but unfortunately helping to popularize the guy is putting FetLife in the sight of lawsuits now that he’s been arrested for rape. You may have thought that jerking off to hot porn was a nonpolitical act, but that porn involves the dynamics of who gets paid to make it, and how, and whether they’re in danger of getting thrown in jail. (Even if it’s written porn.)

Everything you do is a political act. Even if you choose not to participate in politics, your non-participation is a big rubber stamp to the Powers That Be that says, “Yes, please, keep doing that.”

Which, as noted, might have flown in an age kinder to kink. But the pendulum is swinging back – not just in America, but all over the globe – and now your abstaining vote is saying, “Yes, please, keep working to eradicate kink.”

…and possibly eradicate your job, should you choose to keep participating in kink. The legal protections for kinky people will dry up unless we speak up.

Look. This isn’t a conservatives vs liberals sort of thing. If you’re a conservative, please remember that you don’t have to vote in lockstep with your party line, just as I’ve complained about Obama’s heavy usage of drone strikes. We’re actually all in this together, because frankly, the one thing we have in common is this kinkiness that we know, and love.

You can call your Senators and your local government to tell them what you want, and what you don’t want. (As I noted in my post on calling to save the Affordable Health Care act, “calling your local official” is the one thing they really can’t ignore.) You can, as John Baku has suggested, to support the National Coalition For Sexual Freedom by visiting their site and possibly donating your time and/or money and/or both.

But unfortunately, kink is now fighting a rearguard position. (I hope that’s your kink.) And your previous position of “I just want to see my porn and not think about all this stuff” means you’re not going to see nearly as much porn as you did before.

That’s not a hypothesis. That’s already happened. Look at the list of everything John Baku is going to have to take down from this FetLife in order to keep it functioning.

That list of things you can watch is going to shrink more unless you speak up.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Four years ago this weekend, I went in for triple-bypass surgery to fix three clogged arteries. I wrote one final entry in my blog, “How I Pray To God” – which I wrote as though it were the last thing I might ever get to say – and then the doctors put me under.

The recovery from the triple-bypass was bad. Very bad. Life-changingly bad. I’ve not been officially diagnosed, but I do have some form of flashbacks and emotional trauma whenever someone goes through heart problems.

Last week, I went in for my four-year checkup – a radiation stress test on the treadmill.

Which I failed.

The stress test showed two arteries with partial blockage. Which… might or not be a problem. If I have a problem, the perfusion stress test is literally the most efficient tool at seeking it out – it’s 92% likely to pick up any serious issues.

Unfortunately, if you don’t have a serious issue, the test has a 30% chance of delivering a false positive.

What’s happening next is that I have to go in for a catheterization where they run a tube up the artery in my leg to look directly at my heart. If it’s a false positive (as my doctor believes), then we laugh and say “Well, weren’t you lucky!” If not, they put in stents to wedge my arteries open, which is a minor procedure and can be done outpatient (but they prefer an overnight stay).

Worse, the doctor who does these catheterizations is on vacation for two weeks, and so I have to wait to make an appointment at his office to make a reservation at the hospital to do all this, which means probably a month minimum of stress and concern.

The doctor calls this “minor course corrections.” Clearly, he’s okay waiting two weeks to do anything; I’ve seen the pictures of my arteries and yeah, it looks really minor.

But it also has a feeling of inevitability. I’ve been exercising more, eating better, trying my best to keep myself healthy, and it’s still back. This feels very much like creeping death – my first blockage was largely the result of a genetic disorder that floods my system with small-particle cholesterol, and at the age of 47 I’m feeling very very mortal. I’m genuinely wondering if I’ll make it to 50, which is a shitty overreaction because this is probably fine, but damn, what happened to me during the bypass seriously fucked me up.

And I think of Hamilton:

*Why do you write like you’re running out of time?*

I am. I very much am. Even if I’m healthy, I am. I hear the clock tick with each heart beat, knowing that each one is no longer guaranteed. And I should be telling more friends directly, but honestly, I can barely bring myself to text about this, so if you’re hearing about this indirectly it’s not that I don’t love you it’s that, well, this is about the bets I can do right now.

And I think of that final post I made; the one where I thought I was going to die. It’s still a good post. If I do die, well, remember me for that.

In the meantime, I am most likely going to be fine, even if I have to get stents. “Course correction,” the doctor says. And it is.

Yet when you’re sitting in a darkened bedroom, trying to get to sleep, and all you can hear is the erratic rhythm of your heart, wondering whether each pulse will be your last – or whether you’ll wind back in the powerless hell of the ventilator – it’s hard to see the good in life.

The joy will come back. It generally does. But for right now, I’m going to curl up into a ball and recover as best I can.

Message ends.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Everyone always quotes the “I Have A Dream” speech, which is of course magnificent. But I always prefer the deeper tracks from “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” – particularly this quote, which still resonates today:

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

“I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I had a friend who posted Facebook status updates like:

“Any opposition to {$presidential candidate} stems purely from misogyny. I don’t want to debate this. If you disagree, keep your opinions to yourself.”

Now, I disagreed with that. Thoroughly. But you know what I did?

I kept my opinions to myself.

And later on, during the election, when she said she didn’t want to hear any of her friends talking about how {$presidential candidate} was a flawed candidate, I sent her a message telling her I couldn’t do that and quietly unfriended her.

Because frankly, she’d said she didn’t want to hear it – and I thought the least I could do was to respect her wishes as to how she wanted her Internet space to look, even if I disagreed with them.

But I continued to post about {$presidential candidate}’s flaws in my space, because, well, it’s my space.

And yesterday, posting about how there was nothing shameful about Trump’s alleged watersports play in the unlikely event he’d done it, a friend of mine replied how they were humiliated by all the coverage. They were into watersports, and it was painful for them to see all the jokes because it felt like the jokes were aimed at them.

Another friend replied directly to them with a series of bad watersports puns.

I called him out on his assholery, and he flounced.

But I don’t regret his flounce. Because in my mind, if someone says, “I don’t want this thing,” and you push past their objections to directly hand it to them, on some level you’re an asshole.

Which is not to say that there aren’t tons of people out there who I think are racist, and sexist, and rude, and ignorant – and yes, I’d like to change their opinions. And yeah, I think my first friend lived in a bit of a bubble.

But I’m practical. Hell, Internet debate barely moves the needle when open debate is welcome. When someone’s actively said, “I don’t want to hear this,” crashing into someone’s personal space like the Kool-Aid Man to go “OH NO, LET ME EXPLAIN ALL THE WAYS IN WHICH YOU ARE IGNORANT” has almost never worked in the history of mankind.

So even if I had the arrogance to believe that I was 100% right on a topic – and sometimes I do! – I’d also have the self-recognition to realize that this person is not in a place to listen to me right now, and as a result this effort is wasted time.

Plus, it’s just rude. If someone says, “I don’t like the scent of coffee,” shoving a can of Maxwell House into their face to prove a point isn’t funny – it makes you an asshole.

The line gets more complex in other people’s spaces, or in public. If someone says, “I don’t want to debate this” while they’re making comments on my journal, well, that’s my space. If you don’t want to debate it, don’t come into a place where I’m specifically inviting debate. And if they’re making controversial statements and not wanting anyone anywhere to refute them, even if those people’s own personal spaces, well, I’m sorry, shutting down the entire world for your convenience is a bit much.

(Just as if someone hates the scent of coffee, you prooooobably shouldn’t walk into a Starbucks and expect to have everything shut down to match your scent profiles.)

But there is such a thing as a private space. Even on the Internet. I think we can respect the space, if not the opinion, or even the person.

Because occasionally I see someone going off on a frothing rant on, say, dogs on how dogs aren’t nearly as good as cats and they’re filthy animals and lame and have no dignity and nobody could ever respect them. It’s clear from their tone that their opinion’s not going to change – and that replying to them will be seen as a personal assault against their well-being.

What they say is clearly not true. For I respect dogs.

But I also think, “Well, here’s a person whose opinion I’m not going to budge, and clearly they’re not looking for dissent in their mentions,” and move on. Because all I’m going to do is anger this person, anger myself, and not cause one damn bit of change anywhere. And contribute to the idea that my opinions are so earth-shattering that the world is not complete unless I weigh in on that topic, at that moment, in this inappropriate space.

Which is not to say that all dissent is inappropriate, or that all frothing rants must be left alone. (Particularly if that person is talking to a large audience.)

What I am saying is that sometimes, the studied usage of silence is the wisest move. Because I believe that people have a right to control their own Internet spaces – through blocks, or filters, or whatever controls are handy.

I do not always agree with how these people use these controls. But the very point is that the world is not so uniform that everyone should act precisely according to my approval. And sometimes – most times – I respect the way they want to shape their private spaces, even as I don’t respect the opinion.

Complex? Maybe. Lots of people don’t seem to get it. But it’s what I do.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So the Republicans voted last night to show what the repeal of Obamacare (a.k.a the ACA) will look like, and it looks grim:

  • They’re getting rid of preexisting conditions, so insurance companies can drop you when you get sick;
  • They’re not allowing children to stay on their parents’ health care plans until they’re 26;
  • They’re getting rid of contraceptive coverage.

It is important to note at this point that they’re repealing the ACA with no replacement plan. They claim they’re going to put in a replacement at some point – but if you’re a conservative who believes this, I ask you, “Is now the point where you start trusting politicians?” (And they haven’t settled on a plan, which is because nobody can agree on a plan, which means that in the way of politicians they’ll repeal the ACA and then kick the replacement can down the road while innocents suffer.)

(And Trump will not veto the repeal if it passes. If you’d like to argue this, I will bet you $50, placed into escrow in a third party, that he will not. Put your money where your mouth is.)

The ACA hasn’t been repealed yet, they’ve just laid out the blueprint for how they intend to repeal it.  You currently have 36 hours to call your Senator and save the good portions of the ACA. Yes, even if your Senator is a conservative.

Here’s how you stop that:

CALL, DO NOT EMAIL.
Politicians can ignore emails the way you do. They can’t ignore calls. Their staffers have to take the calls, which means their staff doesn’t get anything done while they’re handling calls, which means the Senator is far more likely to hear about how the office is slowing to a crawl because the ACA issue is jamming the lines.

In addition, most Senators don’t get that many calls; under normal circumstances, 15 people calling a day is *huge*. For an entire state. If you can get 50, that’s usually off the charts. So even one call can make a significant difference.

(For the record, I’ve called my very conservative Senator four times, and twice he’s reversed his position. In one instance, it was specifically mentioned that the call volume on the issue changed his mind.)

SAY YOU’RE A VOTER FROM YOUR TOWN.
Let them know you’re local. Calling Senators when you’re not a potential voter generally does diddly. You do not have to give your name, though you can if you want; they may ask you for your zip code.

HAVE A SCRIPT READY, IF YOU’RE SOCIALLY AWKWARD LIKE ME.
A good script is something like:

1) I’m disappointed in last night’s Affordable Health Care act vote;
2) Please do not repeal the ACA without a strong replacement (they’re going to repeal it, the idea is just to keep the parts that keep people alive);
3) If you have a preexisting condition or the ACA has helped your life in some way, talk about that and make it personal how your life (or the life of someone you love) depends on this;
4) I will not vote for any Senator who helps repeal the ACA without a strong replacement, either in the primary or the general election.

You’re free to go on, if you like, but be polite. They kind of have to listen. In my experience, they’ll generally say they’ll pass the message onto the Senator, and hang up. But if you want to be that person who the office groans when they have to handle them – that polite-but-firm person who will be heard – then hey! You can contribute to the office gossip that people are *really* concerned about this ACA issue, which is good in politics.

CALL YOUR SENATORS, NOT YOUR REPRESENTATIVES.
That means you have to make a maximum of two calls, which will take ten minutes max. (Unless your Senator’s line is already clogged, in which case, keep calling.)

You can generally look up your senator by using Who Is My Representative, but if not you’ll find a phone number on their website. Calling the local number is generally viewed to be slightly better.

And here’s the trick: If you’re a conservative who’s opposed to mandating that insurers must be able to insure people with preexisting conditions (for some reason), flip the script and call as well. This is a republic, and you deserve to have your voice heard.

That said, I fully expect the ACA will be repealed without a replacement, and politicians won’t bother to replace one for years, if ever. If you don’t like that very real fact, then call now. The vote’s going up very soon. You have until Friday evening to get your calls in.

Call now.

TWO EDITS:

1) Some people are suggesting calling the “pivot” Senators who live outside your state. As a former Congressional staffer told me:

“If someone is not a constituent (and I worked for a progressive D who was very welcoming to all) they will politely take your info and toss it. Their salaries are paid by their district and that is where their focus has to be. That is why it is so very important to call *your* representative and voice your concerns.”

Calling the Senators you don’t vote for is wasting your time – if you want to do it, fine, but call your home Senators first.

2) Other people are asking, “Is it worth calling my Senators if they’re already supporting the ACA?” My response is, “Telling the Dems that this is important helps make them realize their next election hinges on satisfying the liberals, not the conservatives.”

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

If you’ll recall, my mother is legally blind.  So this one means a lot to me:

My novel Flex is now available in large print and Braille for anyone who wants to read it.  (I’m unsure if this applies outside the UK, but still.)  Which warms my heart; I know of some sight-challenged people who’ve been “reading” Flex and The Flux on audiobook (I’m told Fix will be coming along soon), but it’s nice to actually be able to read at your own pace, in your own voice.

While we’re discussing “Things for sale,” I should also add that my upcoming novel The Uploaded is still available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  Initial editorial feedback says that it “provides a new take on both the cyber and post-apocalyptic genres.”  Which is a nice way of saying “Ferrett can’t do anything that anyone else has tried before.”

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Every year, Gini and I watch every Oscar “Best Picture” nominee… well, except for last year.  And then the Oscars sucked.

Because the Oscars get way more exciting if you’ve seen the films involved – it shifts from “Oh, Leonardo won!  Good for him!” to a frothing “I SAW THAT MOVIE AND HE WAS OVERACTING AND ROBERT’S PERFORMANCE IN THIS FILM THAT NOBODY SAW SOOOO DESERVED TO WIN.”

Which is, really, the point of Oscar movies: Nobody’s seen them.  Everybody’s heard about them, but if it wasn’t for the Oscars they’d be resigned to their tiny, art-house backwater, culturally irrelevant.  An Oscar win can take a movie that nobody’d heard of and turn it into a movie that people feel guilty for not having seen.

Now that’s power.

Anyway, so the Oscars haven’t been announced yet – but people who follow the scene know that there’s at least three locks on this year’s nominees, so we went to go see them.

La La Land.
This is the first musical I’ve seen in a long time where I didn’t buy at least one track off the soundtrack.

La La Land is beautifully visual; a lot of movies are basically old-time radio scripts set to film in that you can turn off the screen and the actors will tell you “QUEEN MORONA! WATCH OUT FOR THAT KILLER MANATEE!  NOOOOOOO!” Dialogue and sound effects will tell you all you need to know.

La La Land tells its story exclusively through visuals much of time.  And it’s clever, and creative, and a joy to watch…

And the songs are pretty forgettable.  Not that they don’t do their best, because the songs are rooted deeply to the storyline, and the story is a very good one about Hollywood ambition and love.  You may wind up remembering the songs because what the characters did during those moments the songs were playing, in the same sense that John Cusack could have been playing any song on that boom box hoisted overhead but it’s going to be Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” until the end of time.

But the songs themselves are meh.  They’re not offensive.  They’re nice.  They do what they’re supposed to do and leave.  And I think La La Land would have been a knockout film for me if the songs had been as memorable as the beautiful dance numbers and that wonderful ending and the chemistry between the two leads, but as it is what we have here is a musical number where the music is the weakest part.

Whooops.

Unfortunately, La La Land is also a tale about how Hollywood Magic Makes Things Wonderful and Isn’t It Hard To Be An Actor? – which means that regardless of its merits, La La Land is most likely going to sweep the Oscars like it did the Golden Globes, because there’s absolutely nothing actors like being told better than how wonderful they are.

La La Land is a solid B+.  This director’s impressed me; I loved his last film Whiplash, and now I’ll see his next film without waiting for the reviews.  But it’s picking up a lot of attention just because it’s kissing Hollywood’s butt, which is a shame because it’s simultaneously overrated and quite good.

Manchester By The Sea.  
This is a slow film – positively Stanley Kubrickian in its pace.  But whereas a lot of films try to take Kubrick’s measured sluggishness and instead become boring (I’m looking at you, VVitch), Manchester by the Sea leaves the camera on long enough that you’re forced to look at the humanizing elements of a dehumanizing situation.

The trick is that you pause the camera on someone, and leave it there until the audience starts to squirm a little and their uncomfortableness matches with the person on screen, and then they start looking for the tiny details about how this character feels.  Done right, you can make someone study a character just by refusing to look away – which means you need a cast who can give you the small details that make this hunt rewarding.

Manchester by the Sea is immaculately acted.  Casey Affleck is beautifully, instinctively, uncomfortable in his own skin.  And I don’t want to tell you what the movie is about, because part of the film is that slow grind of lingering on the “Why are we spending so much time on this mundane detail?” until the light blooms and you realize oh, yeah, that’s what this means.

It’s a super depressing film, but it’s not despairing. Bad things have happened.  People are trying to survive in the wake of them.  They’re doing their best to be kind.  They’re just… not always able.

(And this film would have been 15% better if they’d been a little more restrained with the melodramatic background music during the key scenes.  Still, well worth seeing.)

Moonlight
My friend Charles said that Moonlight was very good at handling complex relationships.  In the beginning, I didn’t see that.  The relationships start out simple – a young black kid is fleeing bullies in a poor neighborhood, and meets a guy who’s eager to help him out.  Cue father figure relationship.

But then you find out who the kid is, and why he’s being beaten up, and things get complex fast.

Moonlight follows the kid through three very critical moments in his life, played by three different actors, and he does not have an easy life.  In that sense, it’s easy Oscarbait because it’s pain-porn.  But too much of the Oscar pain-porn is a bleak howl of despair, and Moonlight works hard to find those small moments of happiness within the pain, and is trying hard to ask difficult questions about redemption.  And whether it can even be done.

And the final performance of the kid should win Best Actor, except it’ll probably go to Ryan Gosling because he’s playing an artist and he’s smooth and graceful and, well, basically Ryan Gosling.  But Trevante Rhodes plays the kid grown up, and he’s hardened into something angry and thuggish – except for these beautiful moments he does with his eyes, where he has to be cruel to survive but somewhere within is this beaten kid who only wanted kindness.

Moonlight is the movie I am rooting for to win Best Picture, currently.  (I may change my mind as I see the others.)  It’s the dark horse, because it’s a film about black culture, and frankly those can’t traditionally compete with the rah-rah isn’t Hollywood great? films.

But.  I bitch about going to see all the Oscar films.  I talk about how it’s a drag, and it is, because a lot of Oscar films are turgid arthouse circle-jerks.

The reason we go is because occasionally we stumble across a film as good as Moonlight.

Hidden Figures
Some of NASA’s greatest mathematicians during the Space Race were black and female.  This is their story.

This is a box office hit, and deserves to be.  It’s what I call simple-complex – it’s a drama, but the three lead characters are drawn in broad strokes (The intellectual visionary!  The fixer!  And the sassy smartie!), and the plot points are pretty predictable.  It’s not going to challenge anyone intellectually, because it’s the polar opposite of Manchester by the Sea – whereas Manchester holds the camera until you figure out what’s happening, Hidden Figures tells you outright and moves on.

Which makes it hellishly enjoyable.  You’ll laugh, you’ll clap, you’ll boo at the right times.  But you probably won’t be surprised, because in the end this is a feel-good film and what you think is going to happen largely happens.

Yet that is not bad.  Predictability isn’t a detriment when everything else is entertaining, and those three characters are smart and capable in a world that’s stacked against them – and what’s unusual is that almost nobody’s racist as white people today define race.  Nobody’s actively out to get our three black heroines – they’re merely enforcing the status quo, they don’t see themselves as bad guys.  One of the refrains of the film is “That’s just the way it is.”

It’s not a complex look at institutionalized racism, but then again when you’re making a cheery feel-good popcorn film you don’t want complex.  The point is made, and made well; nobody has to mean to be racist to wind up perpetuating racism.

Gini proclaimed this the best film she’s seen this year, and we’ve seen all these films this year.  I’m still giving the nod to Moonlight, but damn I hope this picks up a nomination.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

About three years ago, I had a triple bypass.  Which was, if you’ll recall, the most traumatic incident of my life.  And mostly, the heart condition wasn’t my fault – I have a genetic predisposition that really sprays fine cholesterol particles everywhere, which requires medication to clamp down upon.

Tomorrow, I go in for a cardiac stress test to see if everything’s okay.

I’m prepped.  I shaved my chest, because those leads will do a number on a furry guy.  I’ve got my alarm set so I drink no caffeine after 6:00.  And I’ve been working out regularly, and doing long walks with the dog, and eating better, but…

There’s also chest pains.  There always are, of course.  Part of the issue after every heart problem is that you always have little pains around, things you hadn’t considered big deals before the diagnosis, but now every gas pain is a concern that maybe this is it, maybe you’re dying.

Maybe tomorrow they look at me and discover that all this has come back, and I’ll have to go in for more surgery.  I hope not.  I’ve tried to keep myself relatively healthy.  But I’m terrified that some time after tomorrow’s test I’ll get a call from the surgeons saying that things have deteriorated, that it’s time for more stents or open-cardiac stuff or just the clampdown where I never get a chocolate milk again and it’s nothing but kale for the rest of my life.

I’m more terrified than I let on.  But that’s what it is.  Tomorrow I get the evidence for what my life will become.  I won’t know for a week after that, of course, but this is a scary time and maybe it’ll be nothing but I have firm evidence that at least on one notable occasion it wasn’t nothing.  It was a something.  A something that’s affected the rest of my life.

I need to know, of course.  I can’t just stick my head in the sand.  But I understand that urge.  I understand that sense that it’d be better if you didn’t know, if you just kept trundling along in life and skirting that huge cardiac elephant in the room until you just keeled over and died, because maybe it’s better that death sneaks up on you rather than you looking it in the eye.

It’s probably nothing.  It’s probably nothing.  It’s probably nothing.

But I’ll know what it is soon.

Let’s hope it’s nothing.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So Cleveland has a gigantic indoor center for conventions – so large it has a Ferris Wheel, which you can actually miss seeing within the IX center’s vast expanse.

Which means when they park five hundred RVs in there, you’ve got room to wander.

And the RV show is our favorite attraction of the year, because it’s this wonderful tension: people want to have their home with them, but they’ve also got to drive this fershlugginer thing, and also afford it.  And the designers have to make each one unique enough that someone else will buy this RV over the 200 others with the exact same dimensions.

So there’s a lot of people trying to do a lot with a 20″x8″ room.  Bumpouts have become standard, where you have a portion of the room on extensible hydraulics that slides out to one side.  You’ve got attempts to make RVs into two-floor monstrosities that can still fit under a bridge, usually by giving you a claustrophobically flattened upper floor. And you’ve got chandeliers, and fireplaces, and mantelpieces….

But anyway!  I documented this extravaganza so that you could see it!  First, we have the ridiculously stupid blurry video I took to intro this (trust me, the rest of the videos are better-quality):

And then, just to sample what the lower-end RVs look like that can be videoed, here’s the $17,000 RV.  (There are $10,000 RVs, but you can’t really get good footage inside of them because there’s only about five feet to move around in.)

But even small RVs often come with big amenities – as you can see, this RV has a second floor, a ceiling fan, a walk-in shower, and fine woodworking:

The 2017 RV show!

And fireplaces and wall-mounted TVs are basically de rigeur now:

The 2017 RV show!

Along with some other unique extras:

The 2017 RV show!

Aaaand, of course, THE STAIRCASE (which is slightly unusual, as most of these have ladders and not staircases):

But if you wanna see a $50,000 RV, which is not quite top-of-the-line but definitely upscale, then you get this.

Realize, however, that both the $17k and the $50k are towed RVs, so you have to pay not just for the RV itself, but for the truck to drive it around, which is usually another $50k or so. Also, RVs have pretty much zero resale value, deteriorating by 60% the second you drive it off the lot, and you’re lucky if you get an RV that lasts for ten years without repairs so big you might as well buy another RV – so you really have to view this as an expense if you’re planning on driving around.

(Although every bank plan assumes you’ll be taking out a 20-year loan. I wouldn’t.)

Now, every year at the RV show brings a couple of weird extras that eventually become commonplace. When we started going, fireplaces were something rare enough to “ooh” and “aah” over; now they’re just part of even the lowest-scale models. (They’re technically space heaters with a fireplace cover, but still.) Then big-screen TVs. There’s an RV arms race, and it gets better every year.

Gini and I couldn’t decide which of this year’s two major additions were more ludicrous: the drop-down front porch:

The 2017 RV show!

Or the walk-in closet (which, yes, in an RV is still big enough to walk into):

The 2017 RV show!

And if you think the walk-in closet isn’t that big, you’re not used to RV crunches, where everything is tiny. This won our personal “smallest sink” award, but it’s not that much smaller than a lot of sinks in the RVs:

The 2017 RV show!

Though if you want the quote-unquote “big” models, you gotta go to the “Class A” models, which are the ones you don’t hook up to a car. Those get pricey quick, because the chassis to carry these things get ridiculous – and they also subtly encourage drunk driving:

The 2017 RV show!

But if you wanna see the $120,000 version, well, here it is:

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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