theferrett: (Meazel)

There’s a ton of new vocabulary for people to absorb these days when it comes to dating: asexuality, demisexuality, aromantic, graysexual, saposexuality, and so forth.

And people who are unfamiliar with these labels often mock the abundance of labels: “Everyone’s a special snowflake now!”

It’s just the opposite, though.

The problem with labels is that they never fit properly. I’m polyamorous, but what do I have in common with the preening couples who date “secondaries” callously, vetoing other beloved partners for trivial needs? I’m Christian, but what do I have in common with those people who send their gay kids to electroshock therapy?

Those labels always have some ugly overlap. There’s always going to be some idiot claiming they’re “demisexual” in ways that make you retch. Cue fights about the One True Demisexuality… which nobody ever wins, because sexuality is so personal that no label common enough for people to have heard about it could ever apply.

But all these aces and graysexuals and sapiosexuals aren’t trying to be special snowflakes – those labels are, in fact, the opposite.

When someone clasps a label to their chest, they’re often clinging to it like a liferaft.

Because they’ve had these feelings for a long time – feeling like a freak, because they don’t see their emotional reality reflected anywhere. They don’t find it in movies, they don’t see their friends doing it, they’re wandering alone wondering what the hell all these weird emotions feel. Why are they so different?

Then they stumble across The Label. And you know what The Label means?

Somebody else feels this way.

And in many ways, the label’s not them trying to be a special snowflake, it’s them being so fucking relieved that enough other people felt this way that somebody had to make up a name for it.

There’s an abundance of labels these days. That’s because the Internet makes it so easy to have like call to like. In the old days, you may have been the only demisexual person in your town – but now you can find enclaves of them helping each other, informal communities answering questions. And ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it’s not that these people chose a label because it was trendy, it’s because they finally got to look around and see someone like them.

They don’t want to be special.

They just want not to be alone.

And in those cases, the label is not a label. It’s a sign left behind by friendly trailblazers, a post sticking up saying “SOMEONE’S BEEN HERE BEFORE.” And even just knowing there’s a pathway is encouraging, because it means that someone got to happiness from here and you can too.

The label’s the beacon.

And it’s not perfect, but by god is it better than wandering alone.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I don’t know how many people will attend in the Christmas rush – but if you’re in the Cleveland area this Saturday and feel like watching Julie Andrews in heart-swooningly close detail on our Ultra 4k television, we are hosting the sing-a-long this Saturday afternoon.

Details are on Facebook, or just email me to ask me what’s up!

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

My Uncle Tommy did volunteer work in Greenwich Village back in the early 1980s, when I was a teenager. He brought me along to help, which made me feel very grown up; I was eleven, and yet here I was stamping envelopes, doing data entry, working in an office.

I loved my co-workers.

They were all really funny guys, flamboyant, and they treated me like a grownup – which was to say they made jokes I didn’t get, and didn’t footnote. After the volunteering shift we’d all go out to a bar, and they’d sneak me into the corner – very grown up – and they’d drink beers and tell theatrical stories while my uncle gave me a roll of quarters and I played Donkey Kong Junior.

I loved them. They were bold, unashamed of their lisps – which was critical to a kid who’d been to vocal therapy to lower his squeaky voice – and they all dressed super-well.

I did not realize they were probably gay until I was almost thirty. That’s when someone said, “Man, the AIDS epidemic totally destroyed the gays in Greenwich Village,” and I thought, “Man, I hope all of my Uncle’s old buddies from Greenwich Village are okay WAIT WHAT”

I had all the pieces. But nobody had specifically called them gay. And I didn’t think that I was the sort of kid who hung around with gay dudes while I was eleven, so even though I had all these facts – a pretty much all-male volunteer squad in Greenwich Village, the stereotypical gay voice, flamboyance, great dressers all – they never coalesced into “Teenaged Ferrett hung around with gay dudes.”

(I called up my Uncle Tommy to confirm they were gay. They were. My Uncle was not, but he apparently did very well with the few women who volunteered with the organization.)

Yet that’s how life happens sometimes: you can have all the pieces, and not put them together because nobody gave you the word. I’ve had friends who took years to realize their Grampaw wasn’t allowed to be alone with them because he was a pederast. I’ve known folks who didn’t realize their parents were swingers despite copious evidence because it never occurred to them their parents could be swingers.

Sometimes you can be bathed in evidence of a plain fact and not recognize it because you don’t believe you’re the sort of person that fact applies to. I was just an ordinary kid from the suburbs, and at the time “gay people” were this wild minority – I didn’t think of myself as the sort of kid who had wild adventures with Greenwich Village Queens, let alone of myself as the sort of kid who’d idolize them. Likewise, my friends had ordinary childhoods with loving parents and the concept that their mom and dad were those swinger people just didn’t fit the mold.

You can have all these pieces lying about, unassembled. Until someone gives you a name. Until someone tells you that yes, you are that sort of person, you just didn’t think of yourself as that person until now.

So.

Does anyone who had a good upbringing think of themselves as “the sort of person who gets raped”?

I see people confused by delayed accusations: Yes, they were raped, but how could it take them time to recognize what happened to them? And much like my gay buddies as a kid, they had all the evidence but it didn’t seem, somehow, to apply to them. This wasn’t a Hollywood rape where a stranger barged into their house – this was a friend, someone they loved, and maybe they said very nice and kind things before and after the assault. Maybe they still like their rapist, or want to like them.

They had all these pieces of evidence – mainly, the fact that they didn’t want to have sex, and yet someone did things to them against their will – but that doesn’t make sense because they’re not the sort of person who’s a rape victim, and they feel terrible a lot but this hasn’t destroyed every last happiness in their life like everyone tells them it should, and so they know something bad has happened but that word “rape” doesn’t seem to apply because they’re not that sort of person.

Until all the evidences finally click into place and they realize that, sadly, they are.

Which is not to say that every person who gets raped is unaware; some are. The most toxic misunderstanding of rape is that there can be only one “accepted” reaction to it, and anything else indicates that the rape didn’t really take place.

Alas, people have all sorts of different reactions to life-changing trauma; look at any funeral, where some people withdraw into silence, and others need all their friends to party with them, and still others need to vent angrily about the injustice. There’s no singular script to grief, which means there’s no “right” way to do it.

But some rape victims get slammed by people because they should have known what happened right away. “Why didn’t they know?” And the answer is, for those people, that their vision of themselves did not encapsulate the sad concept of “I can get raped,” and as such they had all of these pieces of evidence lying around unassembled, waiting for that one key that would tie them all together.

It could be argued that they should have known. And they probably would have known, if it was someone else this happened to. But some times you’re blind to the events of your life simply because the evidence contradicts who you think you know who you are, and waking up to the person you actually are takes some time.

Especially when that person isn’t someone you ultimately want to identify yourself as.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

In the weeks since the election, “Analyzing the Trump voter” has become the whip we Democrats use to flagellate each other.  There have been thousands of articles analyzing The Trump Voter – they voted for Trump because they were afraid for their jobs, except studies show The Trump Voter was well-off and hence racist!  The Trump Voter slavishly believed what Donald had to say about building the wall, except no, The Trump Voter took what Donald had to say figuratively and not literally!  The Trump Voter wants to build a plan, but The Trump Voter wants to tear everything down, The Trump Voter would be dismayed and/or enthused when Obamacare’s benefits are repealed without replacement…

And Jesus, no wonder The Trump Voter is terrifying.  The Trump Voter is this terrifyingly contradictory amalgam of stories that no Democrat can make sense of.

Because there’s not one unified Trump Voter.

The Trump Voter is an uneasy coalition, like any Presidential voting bloc.  There wasn’t The Obama Voter in 2008 either – there were uneasy conservatives who couldn’t quite pull the lever for a ticket that included Sarah Palin, and heartbroken, and shaky racists who still thought Obama would give them the best hope for their business, and sick people who hoped Obama would deliver on his promises of health care, and cults of personality who just loved the way Obama talked.

There was never an Obama Voter – just endless, loosely-affiliated groups who happened to pull the same lever.

And when we Democrats talk about The Trump Voter, we talk about it like there’s only one reason someone could vote for Trump, and we must find it or die.

Which is a one-way ticket to absolute despair if your asshole Uncle at Thanksgiving is the worst kind of Trump voter who voted out of pure spite.

Truth is, there’s a hundred reasons people voted for Trump.  Some stemmed from “I don’t trust Hillary.” Some stemmed from the fact that people in rural countries felt like the Democrats were ignoring them – and even then, the reasons they felt ignored varied from group to group.  Some stemmed from the belief that Trump would bring back manufacturing, some stemmed from a despairing nihilism to try anything other than what we’ve been doing, some stemmed from pure-D-fucking racism, some stemmed from the delight of hearing a politician say the impolitic, some stemmed from the idea that Trump was less war-crazy than Hillary….

And everyone has a pet theory as to Why Trump Won, and most of them seem to involve The Trump Voter – almost half the electorate swayed by a single issue.

You know why that line of thinking sucks?

Because that implies we have to find an idea that sways 48% of the country, as opposed to 2%.

Because if 2% of the country had voted differently, Hillary would be in charge.   And the poisonous rhetoric of The Trump Voter means that if your asshole uncle wore his MAGA cap at the Thanksgiving table and flung mashed potatoes at you while yelling “SUCK IT LIBTARD,” well, then that voter represents all Trump voters and we might as well give up.

Look.  The honest truth is that 49 out of 50 Trump voters can be utterly unreachable.  They can be cloistered in their Fox News bubble, reading fake news on Facebook, completely unswayable.

All you have to do is find the 1 out of 50 who might listen to reason.

And you’re not gonna find that voter if you’re thinking everyone who voted for Trump is the same as the worst of them.  The truth is, there were Trump voters who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.  There were black and hispanic voters who voted for Trump – and they did so in greater numbers than they did for Romney.

There are Trump voters who might be persuaded back, with the right efforts.  But you have to find their reason!  You can’t just one-size-fits all The Trump Voter and go, “Your reason for voting Trump is *spins the Trump Voter wheel* RUSSIAN PROPAGANDA LET ME EDUCATE YOU” and move forward –

– no, you actually have to do the hard work of listening instead of shoehorning.

(Even though, it should be said that I firmly subscribe to the Cinemax Theory of Racism.)

And yes.  It’s exhausting.  Because the truth is, a conversion rate of 1 out of 50 feels more like hunting for a job than it does engaging in political rhetoric.  And it’s probably more like 1 out of 200, because the people who are enthusiastic enough to go engage online in politics in these are pretty set in their ways; I’d bet dollars to delicious donuts that most of the reachable Trump voters are going to be converted, if at all, in quiet conversations away from the thundrous trash-fire arguments of the Internet.

But to have a hope of converting them, you have to give up the idea that 47.5% of the country went crazy in the exact same way.  They didn’t.  They had a hundred different reasons for voting, and if you assume that every Trump voter pulled that lever out of KKK-style racism, or redneck job-terror, or Russian propaganda brainwashing, then you’re quietly buying into that idea that politics is all about reaching everyone and if that one Trump voter is an asshole than you might just as well give up.

But we can be smart enough to hold two truths up at the same time:

  • Yes, most Trump voters won’t change their minds no matter what we do.  There are unreachable voters, and it’s a waste of time to try to talk to the people who’ve proven hostile to our best intents.
  • Yet if we could have persuaded one out of fifty of them, we would have won the election.  And we can win the next election.

And yes, there’s the alternate theory that if we Democrats had rallied our base better in red states, we also would have won.  Again, that’s not a contradiction of the “one in fifty” theory; that’s another tactic we can use.  Because just like there’s not one mythical Trump Voter, there’s not one mythical Path to Victory.

Smart people can fight on multiple fronts.  And God, in this dark time, we Democrats need to be smarter.

 

 

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Alas, I am slightly late with my Annual Greed List – the large (and, yes, uncut) list of things I desire for Christmas. Why do I do this? If you’re really interested, here’s a brief history of the Greed List.

The briefer version, however, is that I think “What you want” is a reflection of “Who you are” at this moment – your music, your hobbies, your fandoms, help define who you are as a person.  I find it fascinating as a history, watching how what I’ve desired has mutated – for example, the list used to be heavy on physical Things, which then changed slowly into digital objects as MP3s and iTunes became big, and this year thanks to the gigantic television we bought, I’m back to wanting Things again.

(And it allows me to chronicle strange bumps in my desires; for example, this list contains not one single book. Why? Is it because I stopped loving books?  No!  It is because I just got off a book tour for Fix, and I am so overflowing with books I need to run down my pile.)

And while I guess I could just shove my Amazon Wishlist at you and run, why bother?  I want you to know who I am in this moment, and so I not only list what I want, but explain why I want it.

So.  Here’s what I’d like for this gallumphing holiday season.

Review My Books.
So as of today, I have officially written three books:

If you haven’t bought them yet, obviously buying them is a good thing for me.  But if you have, and you haven’t left a review somewhere – whether that’s at Amazon, Goodreads, or Barnes and Noble –

Well, authors are hungry for reviews.  Every review helps shape the retailers’ recommendation engines, and enough reviews (even negative ones) makes it far more likely that Amazon or Barnes and Noble will recommend that author’s book to someone else.  So even if it’s a two-star review of “Didn’t hook me,” well, actually, that helps.

So you wanna get me a gift that costs you nothing aside from five minutes of time?  If you’ve read my book, rate my book somewhere.  Which you can do for literally any other author you like!

PlayStation 4 Charging Station ($15.99)
It’s rare that my top money-gift is so affordable and so practical, but here’s how it is:

The charging station we have for our current PS4 controllers is crap.  They’re two little balls you have to a) plug into the controller, and b) seat in the charging station, which means the balls inevitably aren’t seated right and it doesn’t charge.

Which would be a hassle just for gaming, but alas, our DVD player is also our PS4 which means that we’re continually going to watch a movie and finding the “remote” dead.  We need a design for charging that isn’t frickin’ stupid, which this is, so I want this.  Or something very much like it that doesn’t suck.

iTunes $30 Gift Card To Buy In The Heights  ($15.99) and Weird Romance ($9.99)
So anyone who’s been following me this year will know of my great affection for Hamilton – the best thing that happened in 2016 was winning the Hamilton lottery and getting front-row seats to see the original cast performing.

And the guy who wrote Hamilton is called Lin-Manuel Miranda, and he’s had a hell of a year.  He also wrote the soundtrack to Disney’s new film Moana, which is ridiculously hummable.

But the trick is that Disney hired Lin-Manual before Hamilton even debuted on Broadway!  And normally, “Disney hires a Broadway writer” would be a step up in your career, but Hamilton had hit so big that most people assumed they’d hired him because “the writer of Hamilton” would help promote their film.

Which brings us to our grand conclusion – which is to say Disney hired Lin-Manuel based solely on the strength of his first Broadway musical, “In The Heights,” which I could use on my iTunes, stat.

In addition!  The directors of Moana are famed for filming The Little Mermaid – which was the debut of Disney’s greatest songwriters Ashman and Mencken, who wrote Little Shop of Horrors, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.  And their first Broadway musical, Weird Romance, is finally available on iTunes, which I would also love to hear.

So basically, a bunch of debut musicals from people I love.

Craaaaaazy Socks ($10 or less) 
My current “Wacky Socks” collection includes Spock socks, Bacon socks, Fallout socks, Apollo 13 socks, and Reindeer socks.

You wanna get me crazy socks? You go right ahead.

The Last Guardian on PS4 ($59.99)
The annoying thing about being locked into one gaming platform for years is that you miss the classics that appear only on one game system.  And for years, people have raved about games like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, which were supposedly these great moody experiences that people remembered forever – but they were on the PlayStation, and I am an Xbox kid.

Or was.

But now the guys who did Ico and Shadow of the Colossus have a game out for the new PS4!  And it’s supposedly awesome, with you breaking out of a prison to find a gigantic barn-sized bird, and you have to befriend and train the bird to survive, and it’s weird and crazy and lovely from the previews.  Apparently, you basically find a mega-dog and try to make it your friend.

I would like this game.

Dungeon World ($18.99)
This is a pen-and-paper RPG that’s kind of like Dungeons and Dragons, but is focused on roleplaying instead of hack-and-slashing, which is what the latest D&D hammers on.  In most RPGs the Dungeon Master sets up the adventure – mapping out the castle you’ll be storming, all the people you’ll be talking to, et cetera.

In Dungeon World, you cooperatively get together to create a campaign together, agreeing on what the coolest thing that could happen is.  And that requires people to move away from “I beat what the DM throws at us” and towards “We create a story with triumphs and dramatic setbacks.”

How do they do that?  I do not know.  ButI wish to find out.

Corner Gas: The Movie ($16.99)
This is the conclusion to the Canadian Seinfeld, a gloriously goofy show set in Dog River which I adore.  This is a national treasure of a show about nothing – and while I know there’s no great storyline to conclude (Corner Gas was infamously hostile to running storylines), I’d like to spend one last ninety minutes in the company with these absolutely lovable dorks.

Final Fantasy XV, PS4 ($59.99)
Here’s an interesting fact: Aside from Final Fantasy X, I haven’t really liked any Final Fantasy Games.  They’re all beautiful, and complicated in all the ways I want them simple (five million ways to configure a character!) and simple in all the ways I want them complicated (you’re stuck on a linear story and can’t deviate from it!).

But the reviews say that FFXV isn’t quite a normal Final Fantasy game; apparently, it’s four guys driving around on a big fantasy road trip, doing errands and becoming closer friends.  I’m willing to take a chance on that – especially because even if the game isn’t such great shakes, it’ll look great on my big TV.

Avatar on Blu-Ray ($19.96)
Speaking of dumb things that look beautiful, one of the joys of our massive hi-def TV is that movies really pop when you show them on Blu-Ray.  And Avatar is a movie that isn’t very good, but it is absolutely visually stunning, I want to see how it looks on The Magnificence.

Router Table ($159.99)
Yes, I’m still doing woodworking!  Though not in November, alas, thanks to a whole bunch of hideous news.  But we hope to keep wooding things up, and to do that we’ll need a table to stick my new router in.  Which I am very much happy with.

Gone With The Wind Blu-Ray ($12.11)  
So this is one of the greatest visual spectacles ever filmed, and we have one of the greatest screens ever created.  We need to see the Burning of Atlanta on our big screen.

The Godfather Blu-Ray ($22.00) 
Again, another visually spectacular movie.  I only really need the first movie (my shameful cinema opinion is that Godfather II is severely overrated), but damn will this look nice on my gigantor TV.

Dr. Strangelove Blu-Ray ($22.49) 
I have been on such a Stanley Kubrick kick lately, it’s ridiculous.  And this isn’t my favorite of his films, but it is beautiful and I want to rewatch it with all the extras that only come with the Criterion collections (which do phenomenal behind-the-scenes restorations with loads of interviews).

Watch Dogs 2 for PS4 ($59.99)
This is getting decent reviews – basically, “Hi, this is a clone of Grand Theft Auto with a few tweaks.”  But that’s not a bad thing!  In Grand Theft Auto, you run around a city and cause mayhem with guns and cars, and that is a fun formula on a day when you’re pissed off about things.  It doesn’t have to be genius – it just has to have a few running firefights.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

All good readers will know the problem: You’re talking to your friends, and there is That Embarrassed Pause in the conversation.  And you realize you just used a word you’ve read often, but never heard spoken out loud.

“…is that the way it’s pronounced?” you ask.

“Nope,” they say.

Which, for us bookworms, is a constant peril.  We know how the words sound in our head.  But that’s stupidly not the way words should be.

My personal nightmare?  “Bouquet.”  That word is the sole reason I do not speak French to this day, because it is a stupid word that I still maintain should be pronounced “boo-kwet.”  I was in fifth grade, and they expected me to know foreign vowels?  Unfair.

But I had my friend Jim who staunchly pronounced it “annie-hill-ate” because, confoundingly, Star Trek had an episode with a cool title – “Operation: Annihilate!” – yet nobody in the episode actually spoke of annihilating anything.

So, beloved readers, share your embarrassment: What word did you stumble over?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So Christmas is coming up, and so is my Annual Greed List, where I make a list of everything that I currently want to find in my stocking.  Which started out as a way for my family to help understand their terminally-nerdy son, and actually has evolved into a interesting tracking of my habits over the years.

(For example, I can look back over past Greed Lists and chart the demise of physical music CDs, see how the roleplaying market crashed and was revived through Kickstarter, see the hobbies I started and got bored by.  It’s great.)

Which leads me to ask: What cool-yet-affordable things should be on my Greed List this year?  Which RPGs are cannot-miss, which videogames are so cool that I cannot live without them, which geeky trinkets are so stellar that I must have them beneath my tree this year?

What has escaped my nerdy eye?  Please!  Tell me, so I can compile The List properly.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So life’s been a series of body blows lately, and I’m not doing particularly well.

Which is to say my wife’s been having medical issues for two months, a cascade of problems that started with serious pneumonia and now has her bouncing from doctor’s appointment to doctor’s appointment as they collect more data to find out what’s wrong. And my Dad has been having some issues, and my sweeties have been suffering from profound depression and worsening chronic illnesses, and a friend of mine has been in and out of the hospital.

I’m starting to cringe when I pick up the phone.

And my resilience is slipping. I pride myself on being there for people when they need me, but even mildly bad news is putting me into a state of shock. I’m drinking more than I should be – which is not a lot, but I know myself well enough to know when I’m itching for the bottle – and the thought of being with people I like is sending me into spirals of self-loathing because I should want to be with friends and yet I can’t bear the company.

I’m trying to retreat. The problem is, there’s nowhere to retreat to. The only way to retreat right now is to abandon, and I can’t do that – well, I can’t do that and respect myself come the morning.

It’s foolish, because I shouldn’t freeze like a deer in the headlights. But even mild conflicts are making me panic, forcing me to fight past my own sluggish instincts, and getting anything done involves me staring at the computer screen for an hour before I finally, desperately, put my fingers on the keyboard.

I have a lot to say politically, too.

I feel like I’m letting people down by being silenced.

And what I don’t want to hear is how I should be easier on myself, because as much as I’d like it, that’s not happening and frankly I wouldn’t want it to happen. My ambition has always exceeded my grasp. I have big dreams and work long hours to make them happen. That’s a part of me that’s brought me to good places, and I don’t want that to be neutered. I *should* have broad goals.

Yet as I was driving to pick up food for dinner last night, I felt this burning urge to call my mother. I didn’t. Because I realized what I was going to beg my mother to promise me was that it was all going to be all right.

She can’t promise that.

Nobody can.

You don’t have to help. But if you do, well, just realize I’m being flaky right now to my real-life friends because everything since September has been a chaotic shitstorm and I am not coping well. Bearing with me as I get overwhelmed and shut down would help. I miss you but every time I think about reaching out another diagnosis drops through the door.

And if you’re not a real-life friend, gentle kindnesses are good. Sending pictures of smiling faces are good. Flirts are good, assuming you understand that sometimes I’m flirting and then Gini comes back from the doctor and I just forget everything.

Good news is good. If you’re happy about something, telling me that is good. I’m tired of cynicism, I’m tired of despair, I’m drained to redline by so many things going wrong that honestly, every time someone tells me of progress in their life it reminds me that progress can be made.

Progress has not been made around here in a few months. Or so it feels. There are good moments, and I cling to them, but they feel swallowed up in a sea of turbulent news that’s all terror and no firm way to fight.

Hearing your untrammeled happiness helps me fight. So I hope you’re doing well.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So I am absolutely enamored with Westworld, the new HBO show.  I’ve been watching it since the second episode, and with each week the mysteries have been revealed – the show obscures events but doesn’t hide the clues, and it’s been playing fair.  Some of the fan theories that people gave in Episode Two have panned out to be true, and last night’s episode confirmed not one but several popular theories.

That said, I don’t know if you’d like it.

It’s sort of like reading the Harry Potter books when they came out – there was something delicious about waiting years for the next book, for watching kids grow up with Harry Potter, their emotional age deepening as the books handled increasingly complex concepts.

You could read them all in a summer now, but I’m not sure it’ll ever be as satisfying for any as for, say, my daughter, who started reading Harry Potter at age 6 and finished the last book when she was 14.  She grew up with Harry, as Harry grew up with her.

Likewise, I’d say only about 40% of my enjoyment of Westworld comes from the show.  The rest comes from that week between the shows when my wife and I are listening to podcast, finding crazy fan theories on Reddit, talking with my friends about ZOMG DID YOU HEAR.

And the reason this show is so intensely satisfying is that we’re paying close attention to every detail on the screen – and sure enough, all of them mattered.  There was a moment that could have been clumsy blocking, with a character appearing out of nowhere, but nope – that was a clue.  There was a weird composition to a photograph, but nope – that too was a clue.

At this point, the show is turning into a reward for all the hard work the fans have put into it.  They gave the clues to the mystery, and by and large we’ve solved it.  (Though predictably, some of the fans are complaining that the show is predictable now that they’ve spent all this time analyzing it.  THAT’S ON YOU BUDDY.)

And I was talking to my Dad, and I told him I loved the show but I don’t know if I could get him to love the show.  Because when he watched it, I’d give him a DVD for his birthday and he’d spend a week or two watching it all, and if he went to look at fan theories he’d see everything summarized and encapsulated.

Whereas we’ve been scrutinizing every scrap of information they gave us.  We’ve been dealing with incompletes.  And we’re pretty sure how it’s going to end at this point, but that’s because we’re active participants, not just inhaling the narrative but digesting, dissecting, unraveling.

The first season ends this Sunday.  And though over time, millions of other people will watch that finale, they’ll never watch it in the same way that Gini and I will – as a climax not just to the story, but of our analysis of the story.

I can’t wait.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

It’s Black Friday, which is pretty much Cyber Friday at this point, and lots of y’all will be logging on to Amazon/Barnes and Nobles/iTunes/et cetera to purchase gifts for all your loved ones.

This will be my final reminder that my book FLEX is currently on a big ol’ sale, and can be purchased for a third of the price you’d normally get it at.  Maybe you’ve read FLEX, and you’re going, “My Gosh, I know Uncle Festus would love a tale featuring sexy plump videogamemancers and noble bureaucrat-magicians who work to make the world better!”  Maybe you’re splurging for yourself, and you’ve said, “My, that Ferrett fellow is fascinating, I’ve been meaning to put his fiction on my e-book and leave it there for literally months until I get around to it!”

Well, FLEX is $1.99 in America and 99 pence in the UK, and by gosh it’s not only less than a Starbucks coffee but it also has a lot more discussion of magical drugs.

So anyway!  Here’s the list of places it is, at least for now, on sale:

And if you purchase it, well, you’ll have also gotten me a Christmas gift as well, so you’ve struck two ferrets with one stone.  What could be better than hitting me with a rock?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

When I first met Gini about twenty-three years ago, she was married and had two kids.

And she was married married.  Like, my friends had been married, but their marriages were all a couple years old and they were still doing the “Are we together enough to have kids?” thing and living in shabby apartments with mismatched furniture.  Their marriages didn’t feel like marriages, but like someone had dropped an uncomfortable wedding in the middle of a long-term relationship.

Gini’s marriage was that strong suburban marriage, where they had a home they’d lived in forever, and two kids, and near the end one of those kids was old enough to date.  Their marriage was old enough to drive.  Their marriage had that patina of antiquity about it – and when Gini announced they were fling for divorce, people were shocked.  Because they’d been together for almost two decades.  They’d gotten so far that their friends had quietly come to assume that marriage would last forever.

About a year later, Gini and I got married.

We got married too soon after the (lengthy) divorce proceedings, I admit.  And honestly, it was always sort of a cockamamie plan – I remember calling up my mother and going, “HEY I MET THIS WOMAN IN A STAR WARS CHAT ROOM SO I’M QUITTING MY JOB TO MOVE UP TO ALASKA AND TAKE CARE OF HER KIDS.”

My mother kept her voice astoundingly even as she congratulated me.

And those first years of marriage felt like duct tape and baling wire.  I lived in a stranger’s house, flailing as a stepfather, running face-first into issues we couldn’t have anticipated from our hours of phone calls.  It was lovely exchanging emails, but suddenly we were both broke and there was nowhere for us to hide – before, we could shut off the Internet and retreat to our corners, and now we were both here, too physical at times, banging elbows all the time.

Those first few years felt like divorce was forever around the corner.  It didn’t feel like a marriage.

And let’s be honest: Gini’s ex-husband wasn’t kind when we heard we were getting married.  He thought it was too soon, and predicted we wouldn’t make it.  And didn’t he know her better than I did?

Wasn’t this destined to fail?

But slowly, Gini and I learned the tools to communicate with each other – and through it all, we ran out of love a couple of times, but our “like” never stopped flowing.  Even when we fought harshly, we still could make each other laugh.  Even when we’d spent the night crying, we could wake up the next morning and talk about Star Wars.

We were unaccountably fond of each other.  Even when we threw hard punches, we wanted to get back in the ring.

And over the years, we got stronger and stronger.

And it’s weird, because people are often like “You guys are polyamorous!  You have other partners!”  And while we deal with the discomforts and the tangled schedules and the ego-bruising that comes with dating other people, the truth is that our polyamory has become strangely easy.  We can’t imagine life without each other.  Even when we’re in someone else’s arms, we know where home is.

And these last few years have been traumatic and stressful because death has come knocking.  Our goddaughter Rebecca died of cancer on her sixth birthday, Gini’s mom died, and I had a coronary triple-bypass that gave me a really good sense of what an ugly death looks like.  And Gini’s had some pretty heavy-duty medical issues this year, in part caused by a bout of pneumonia that may have done some permanent damage, that’s left us reeling with mortality.

We don’t get forever.

Which is why we’d better hold on to what we have right now.

And yesterday, the meter quietly ticked over.  As of November 22nd, 2016, I had been married to Gini longer than her ex-husband had.

I keep thinking: We’re married married.  And we have been for a while.  But now, I’m officially Gini’s longest-running husband, and the limitations of life mean that I doubt anyone will beat this record, and I keep thinking Christ, how have we been married for over seventeen years? That seems like such a long time.

I keep remembering how her ex-husband doubted us.  And he was right to.  By the odds, we shouldn’t have made it.  I give advice to people on relationships, and if I’d come to me describing my marriage eighteen months in, I’d have said it was probably time to leave.

But miracles happen.  Miracles did happen.

We made it.

And we don’t get forever.  But every day after this somehow feels new – we were always breaking new ground, but now each moment is heading into even more uncharted territory, this glorious entwining, becoming more together, working hard to ensure that whatever happens we keep that strong and unwavering fire of our fondness stoked.

I beat the record.  It’s foolish, but… it matters.

I love you, Gini.

Let’s see how far we can take this.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So you sit down at the restaurant and the service is terrible. You’re parched, and they don’t even bring you a damn glass of water.

You watch as they bring you bread, set the table, but they’ve forgotten to bring you the cool glass of H20 that’s supposed to be sitting here by default. Eventually, finally, they ask if you’d like anything to drink and by then you’re pretty snippy – “A water, thank you” – and you’ve already made a note to decrease your tip to the minimum.

Guess what?

You’re an American. Go to Europe, and they don’t even understand this concept of “free water.” If you order water, they bring you sparkling water, which is wretched concoction prohibited by the Geneva conventions, but no matter.

Water’s just not part of the meal unless you ask.

And you’re not a Californian, either, because the drought there means that you also have to ask for water. That’s part of the culture.

But because you have these quiet expectations of What The Staff Are Supposed To Do For You When You Sit Down In A Restaurant, you don’t recognize that your lack of hydration is because you’re actually failing to communicate a need.

It’s not that the waiters don’t want to make you happy – well, except maybe in France – it’s that for some waiters, “What they do by default for customers” does not include “serving water.” They’re actually good waiters, and you’re potentially a good customer – this is just a cultural difference you haven’t absorbed yet.

You can still get your water; you just have to specify.

Likewise, a lot of relationship problems spring from this concept of what you should do by default for someone who’s upset. Because like all these watery restaurants, you grew up in a culture where when someone’s upset, of course you bring them food/leave them alone until they ask for help/smother them with questions/take them out drinking.

So you sit down in the chamber of I Am Upset In The Presence Of People Who Love Me, expecting that damn glass of water that everyone’s given you since you started going to restaurants, and they’re not doing the thing they’re supposed to do.

You get furious at them, and eventually explode…

…and if you’re unlucky, you never learn that the person you’re dating went to very different restaurants.

This is why we have to use our words, annoying as that is. Because quietly, we’ve picked up on all these unspoken assumptions about The Way Things Are, and we often don’t realize that this isn’t The Way Things Are, it’s The Way Things Are Where You Grew Up.

And it sucks, because it often feels less comforting, somehow, if you have to ask for what you need. You’re used to that quiet placement of that glass by your left elbow, that simple satisfaction of knowing they get you. It feels alienating, asking the waiter, “Could I have a glass of water?” and – if you’re in Europe – seeing that slight narrowing of the eyes that says, Why would they want that?

It can get embarrassing. I was having a bad weekend at a convention I had to go to alone, and for me, part of loving someone is being on-call when they’re under stress. But my wife often puts her phone aside for hours at a time to charge it, leaving me isolated.

I had to say to her, “Look, I know you don’t normally do this, but this weekend I need you to keep your phone within range at all times. I might need you to talk me out of a panic attack.” Which made me feel absurdly needy, and a burden to her, and I would have far preferred if Gini’s natural temperament was “Go on standby.”

But it wasn’t. So I used my words. And she was there for me when I needed her.

And I’ve seen people not ask for what they need because it gave them plausible deniability. What if they asked the waiter for water, and this was a super-snooty restaurant where they’d laugh at you silly Americans and your ridiculous obsession with hydration, and you’d end up thirsty and embarrassed?

Better not to ask, they think. In one scenario you’re getting crappy service, sure, and that crappy service will never change – but you also never have to find out that the restaurant secretly despises you. It’s a lot easier to sit there, furious and silent and justified in your outrage, than to get a definitive no that bruises your dignity.

But really, you gotta ask. Because if this restaurant – or person – really will think less of you for asking for the stuff you need, then you shouldn’t be dining there. And maybe that’s a painful realization, but better to move on to a restaurant more suited to your requirements than it is to sit angrily by a water-free table.

In the end, it’s nicer to go to a restaurant that provides the water without asking. But that doesn’t mean your favorite restaurant can’t be a place where you have to ask.

And if you ask often enough, and the staff gets to know you, they often make special accommodations. You can get your water, you can get your love, you can get your comfort.

You just gotta be willing to educate the locals.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

When I hear about the Democrats, I think of Hillary and her ten thousand staffers.  She controls a massive, finely-tuned network, taking expensive polls and spinning the news media – and why would anyone listen to me?  They have Obama talking to them, Bernie Sanders, all these heavyweight decisions made from the top.

I’m a random schmuck from Rocky River, Ohio.  What difference could my voice make?

Then I talked to Melissa Yasinow, a city councilwoman in Cleveland Heights.

“I’m not sure that Rocky River has any representatives on the Cuyahoga Country Democratic Committee,” she told me. “I’ll have to look that up.”

“Wait,” I said. “You’re saying that literally nobody in all of Rocky River has volunteered to be on the council?”

“I’m saying it’s possible.  That sort of thing happens all the time.  Everyone assumes that someone else is doing the work.”

“…You’re kidding.”

“No,” she said earnestly.  “There were four council seats up for grabs in my district, and we had only six people running for them.  Across all parties.  And that’s not the people who got winnowed out in the primaries – that’s six people total who wanted to run.  And we’re a competitive district; I know at least one place in Cleveland that had four seats for city council, and only three people ran.  Heck, you could run and probably win.”

“I dunno about that,” I said, thinking of all my essays on kinky sex.  “I’ve got a lot of skeletons in my closet…”

“Look, if Trump just won, you’ve got a shot.  All the old rules are out the window.  And besides, as I said… nobody else is stepping up.  Do you know how I got to be a councilwoman?”

“No.”

“I went to a Democratic women’s caucus, and they said, ‘We have a seat open.  You should run.’  It’s kind of embarrassing, how simple that start was, but that’s really all it takes a lot of the time.  And even if you don’t want to be a politician, there’s plenty of empty seats waiting around for someone to have their say.”

I frowned. “It’s just hard to believe that all of this influence is available for the taking…”

“Look,” she said.  “You’re worried about making sure the Democratic party is staying in touch with working class concerns.  Well, Rocky River’s not exactly a Democratic stronghold, and if you look at the West Side it’s filled with Hispanic residents who are factory workers.  You can start making a difference for what you believe in right away.  And if you wanted to fight for LGTBQ rights, or better health care, or to change the economy, well, there’s seats to do all of that in local ways.  Just… show up.”

“It can’t be that simple.”

“It is.  All over America.  Everyone assumes someone else is doing the work, and the truth is every political department is understaffed.  I won’t tell you it’s not insanely boring sometimes.  And it eats up a couple of hours of your week.  But if you want to make a change, it’s as easy as calling your local city council and saying, ‘I want to help.’

“Trust me,” she said.  “They’ll find a spot for you.”

She’s talking to some people now to see what empty seats are waiting for my wife and I to fill them.

But Melissa’s fundamentally changed my view of politics.  What I see on CNN is people waging multimillion-dollar campaigns for the national seats.  Yet each state has 500 towns, and each town has at least ten positions someone needs to fill, and what nobody’s discussing is how a lot of those positions are empty because they’re assuming everything is as hotly-contested as the 2016 election.

You may be disappointed by the DNC’s actions in 2016.  I was.  You might be disappointed at the opportunities the DNC missed in 2016; I was.

But what Melissa is telling me is that the DNC is composed of a bunch of tiny chairs, each with its own opportunity to influence the party in some way, and we’re not taking that influence for ourselves because we assume it’s already taken.

It’s not.

Call.  Volunteer.

Take that seat.

(And yes, civic-minded Republicans, this goes for you too.  I believe that government functions best when all sides step up.  But holy God, Democrats, we need you more than ever today.)

 

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I had a girlfriend, once, who was special to me. She held me with the strength of mountains, and she studied all the most fascinating things so whenever we talked she brought me glorious bouquets of new concepts, and whenever I looked into her beautiful wide eyes I longed to kiss her. Every. Damn. Time.

Yet I dated other women. That made her nervous. How could she be special to me when I loved other women, too? What assurances could she have that I wouldn’t leave?

So she asked for a special reservation of the term: “Girlfriend.” She alone was my girlfriend. All the others? Were sweeties. That term signified our special bond, the esteem we held each other in, and that was how she was special to me.

Except.

I still dated other women. And when she saw me speaking well of them in public, or heard that I was courting someone new, she got nervous. How could she be special to me?

So we reserved the nose-moop. When I touched her nose, I went “Mowp.” With every other girl, I went “Meep.” The fact that I reserved this one word for her alone signified how special she was to me.

Except.

I still dated other women. And when I talked about them on Twitter, she felt lonely. How could she be special to me?

So I got her a stuffed bear that was hers alone, the sole gift from her to me.

Except.

So we got jewelry we bought, and wore, specifically for each other.

Except.

So I got books that were only shared with her.

Except.

So I made special date nights that were reserved for her, and her only.

Except….

And each of these special moments were absorbed into the body of our relationship, and still she needed more proof. It was a steady drug I gave to her, and she built up a tolerance for it, to the point where I’d point at the “Girlfriend” and the “mowp” and the necklaces and the bear and the books and the date nights and all the other things I haven’t even mentioned here, and still she didn’t feel like she was irreplaceable in my life.

Because she didn’t feel it inside. All the external validations were merely quick-fixes that lasted maybe a month before vanishing into the lack of self-worth. I’d spend hours enumerating all the reasons why she held a special position in my life, all the wonderful things I loved about her, but they disappeared like dropping stones into the ocean.

Deep down, she didn’t feel like she could offer anything unique.

So she wanted more. And I was already getting snarled on the hundreds of special memories we’d set up like tripwire, these elaborate ceremonies we had made to make her feel better, except by now they didn’t make her feel better, they only made her feel more insecure if I slipped up and forgot one of the endless numbers of special things I was now obligated to do for her.

These weren’t rituals. Rituals were things we could have done together to grow closer to one another. But we were close. These were exclusions, designed to keep other people out rather than to grow us as a couple, labels designed to exalt this person above the other smoochy-folks I had.

Eventually, we broke up. I realized I could not reassure her and remain polyamorous (well, technically, given my wife, I’d become polyfidelitous). And I was tired, so very tired, of always having to reassure this wonderful woman of how goddamned wonderful she really was, because though she was smart and clever and sexy, I never found a way to communicate with her that she could ever feel that.

Maybe there was a way to make her feel loved in a way that didn’t strangle me in the process, but if so, I couldn’t find it.

And so I left. Because I wasn’t making her happy, and she wasn’t making me happy, and I worried that if I did go polyfidelitous that would just be another label that would wear off in a month.

To this day, I’m skeptical of labels. I think they have an addictive quality. Sure, sometimes you see a couple making a single rule and that’s it – “You can’t sleep with them in our bed” – but more often what follows are a cascade of additional restrictions, each designed to wall off the other partners in some way as a proof of love, each time the couple being convinced that this, this new thing will reassure them once and for all.

When the truth is, if you need a special label to survive, often they either don’t speak your love language properly, or the life they need to live is going to take such a great toll on your self-esteem that they can’t stay in good faith.

All the labels in the world can’t fix that problem, and it’s only going to make it worse to try.

They’ve gotta know why you love them, and all the restrictive rituals in the world can’t patch that hole.

And to this day, sometimes I’m sad. She’s not in my life, and can’t be. But some days I sit around, and feel the hole that she’s left behind that has never actually healed, missing all the little things that came from her and no one else.

Yes, I dated other women. Because they had their own unique charms, just like she did, except thankfully the women I date these days mostly understand just how incredible and unique they are to me, and I love them and crave them and need them.

But they weren’t her. They couldn’t be.

She was irreplaceable. Even more so now that she’s gone.

What label could encompass that?

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

My publishers never stop finding ways to get my books into new hands – and this time, it’s extra-special.  They’ve arranged a deal with BookBub, possibly the biggest discounted book sale engine, so that Flex is $1.99 for this weekend.  (It’s 99 pence in England, which is totally like Hogwarts money to my sad American ass, but I’m told it’s cheap.)

Anyway!  If you’re looking to read about crazy sexy videogamemancers, live-action Frogger recreations, and a man who  believes so deeply that paperwork is the best way to prevent corrupt men from doing justice that he’s created bureaucratic magic, then go ye forth and consume!

And more importantly: If you’ve been bugging your friends that they should read Flex (and thank you thank you thank you if you have), might wanna let them know that their entry fee to hop on this ride will never be cheaper.*   Here’s your links of choice.

And if you’ve been thinking about purchasing the sequels to this fine book, The Flux and Fix, well, perhaps this enthusiastic reminder will be enough to encourage you to pursue the adventures of Paul and his daughter as they meet up with Tyler Durdenmancers, the hideous brainwashings of the Unimancers, the wrecked sky of Europe, and of course eat a lot of donuts.

Too many donuts aren’t good for you.  Uncle Kit would tell you that.  But too many books satisfy the soul.

* – Paul Tsabo, bureaucromancer, urges me to inform you this promise is not legally binding.  But seriously, I don’t think you’ll see better before 2018, if then, if ever.  Get in there now!

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So on last week’s Westworld, we had everything we needed for A Big Exciting Action Setpiece: our heroes, trapped on a train.  The villains outside with a gatling gun.  Fierce western-stereotypical Indians waiting in the wings with deadly arrows and savage might!

(It’s all cliche, but that’s the point of the Westworld park: it’s a game designed to satisfy its rich patrons, and so the game itself is almost relentlessly packed with hoary stereotypes.  I mean, if you went out to a fake-western theme park to live out your fantasies and a grizzled gold miner didn’t ask you to help find his secret treasure, you’d be disappointed.)

Anyway, what followed was an eight-minute chase with explosions and daring escapes and heroism and nobody cared.  It was airless.  Shiz was blowing up good, but most people felt like it was a wasted eight minutes…

And the reason why is fascinating from a narrative perspective.

Now, I’m going to argue that a good action sequence must fulfill one of two goals, and ideally both:

  • Put our characters in danger in exciting, stake-raising ways, and;
  • Reveal what our characters do under duress, demonstrating who they are when the shiz hits the fan.

So what stakes do our characters have in this not-so-exciting action sequence?

There are two characters involved in this chase, and one of them is invulnerable.  That’s because William is a guest.  He’s been shot in the chest before, and it hurt, but this Disney theme park is not about to kill its paying customers.  Part of the story is that, yes, the guest is actually starting to believe the theme park is better than the real world –

Yet this is a staged event, as part of a plotline.  Like a videogame, the villains exist to provide a surmountable challenge; they’re not really out to kill William, but rather to provide him with some fun.  If they capture him, they’ll tie him up in a cave somewhere and then a sympathetic villain will stage an exciting breakout.  We’ve seen this happen before.

So William is in no physical danger; all the arrows in the world won’t hit him.  And he’s not in real emotional danger, either; if he gets kidnapped, maybe his vacation will be ruined, but he’s not in so deep that he’s psychologically unhinged.  William loves the park, yes, but at this stage in his journey, having his exciting chase fail would mean he’d have to come back and try this all over again.

(Admittedly, he’s blown off his brother-in-law to get here, so that’s a mild complication, but it’s not stated anywhere that “leaving his asshole brother-in-law behind in another section of the park” means “He can’t ever come back to Westworld.”)

So there’s not much at stake for William.  It’s like watching someone really enjoying themselves on a Disney ride and wondering what’ll happen if the ride breaks down; loooooow stakes.

Now, the other character, Dolores, is a host – a robot designed to be abused for the guest’s convenience.  If the character’s a white hat, like the guest who’s currently with her, she’ll be rescued and treated well.  But if she’s met by a black hat guest, well, could be a Silence of the Lambs night in store for her.  And if no guest shows up, her default storyline is that she and her family will be killed and molested by bandits.

Dolores has some dim awareness of what’s happening to her, but she’s handicapped because her storyline keeps resetting.  She learns more about herself, but at the end of every storyline she wakes back up on her family’s farm with most of her memories erased and has to start over.

Unlike William, Dolores has severe stakes in the whole issue.  William’s plotline is, unbeknownst to either of them, leading to a place where Dolores could potentially free herself.  If this chase catches Dolores, she loses all the progress she’s made, she loses the ally who’s brought her to this little-explored side quest in the game, she loses knowledge that this side quest exists.

Except she doesn’t know that, and neither does William.

So even though we as the audience understand that there’s an abstract danger in this chase, neither of the characters are aware of it, and we’re not given an avenue to feel it viscerally.  We know the things the characters are concerned about won’t hurt them, and the things that would hurt the character are things they’re not concerned.

Which is the fascinating thing about Westworld’s narrative: normally, if the characters don’t understand the danger, you have a third party there to remind the audience that the danger exists.  Traditionally that’s either a villain waiting to see the heroes get hurt (“Yes, walk closer to my secret trap door!”), or a sympathetic character doing their damndest to alert the characters to the danger (“Dolores, look out for the trap door!”).

But Westworld’s setup is so unique that literally nobody knows these characters are in danger.  There’s no villain who is personally persecuting Dolores; there are people in charge of the park, but her abuse is systematic.  She’s one of 1,400 hosts whose job is to get shot, raped, and traumatized, and the only reason she’s gotten as far as she has is because people are mostly ignoring her.  She’s got advocates within the company, but nobody’s watching through a videoscreen at this moment going, “Yes, Dolores, escape!  Escape!”

So there’s very few stakes – not because those stakes don’t exist, but because the shape of the narrative has made it literally impossible to focus on those stakes.  There is not one person in this entire story who knows what Dolores has to lose, including Dolores.  William doesn’t know he’s helping her – he thinks she’s helping him.

Now, what about the second function of a good action sequence?  You can have an action sequence with low stakes that reveals who the character is, by displaying what they’re willing to fight for.

And alas, Westworld fails here, too.  There’s almost no character moments; the emphasis is on this artificial danger, the gatling guns and the exploding bodies and the cleverness – but it feels as empty as a videogame cutscene, because yes, people are dying but they’re all people who were literally designed to die.

There is precisely one beat in the middle of his long chase that forwards either of those moments – and it’s when William, who’s been reluctant to put himself in the path of even artificial danger, goes instantly back to rescue Dolores after she falls off the horse.

But not only is that a low bar, that’s not even a new beat.  They had a love scene earlier where he told her the park was making him more real, forcing him to make hard choices.  So in a long action sequence, the one new thing we learn about the characters is something we were told half an hour ago.

And it’s interesting, because Westworld is smart.  Reddit is loving it because it’s threaded through with Easter Eggs and metanarratives and offhanded shots that seemed badly-constructed at the time but yes, turned out to be very important hints.

There is a theory that William is becoming someone else.  (I won’t spoil it if you don’t know, but here’s the link if you wanna explore.)  And I wonder if the showrunners knew how unsatisfying this whole action sequence was, knew that there was a disjunct between what William’s adrenaline-soaked experience was because he was experiencing this for the first time and our boredom because we’ve seen this before.  And I wonder if that’s their subtle way of cueing us into what William will be when he realizes how hollow and repetitive all the joys of the park have become.

Or maybe it was just a crappy action sequence.

Three episodes left.  Let’s see how this goes.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So here’s a weird aspect of consent few bring up: consenting to the unknown.

The problem is that we think the unknown is known, based on simple explanations: “Oh, being spanked is just someone whapping on your butt! I consent!”

But the issue is that while you may know the physical mechanics of a thing you’ve consented to, you may not understand how that spanking affects your body and your emotional state. Some people find spanking to be fun, and giggle a lot even when welts are forming; others feel deeply humiliated, and start crying, and love that catharsis of being allowed to cry; still others feel deeply humiliated and fucking hate crying and call red.

And here’s the issue:

Too often, people are consenting to what they think the experience will be, as opposed to consenting to having an experience.

Which is to say that if you consented to a nice jolly spanking where you giggle and squirm, just like you saw your spank-loving friends get, and instead a spanking of the same intensity and time period churns up deeply painful helplessness, you often feel like your consent was violated.

Yet the problem here is unclear communication. You consented to something the other person could not guarantee providing. They could only provide the circumstances; your reactions are unknown.

Which means when you’re consenting to a new experience, you also have to consent to the understanding that even if your experience provider does precisely what they said they’d do and no more, this might not go the way you thought it would.

I mean, I thought the skydiving experience would be, “The soaring feeling of wafting down to earth.” Whereas the experience was actually “My entire body weight resting on my testicles thanks to me hanging down from straps I didn’t put on properly,” so, you know, lesson learned.

But the point is, consenting to a new experience is not consenting to the experience you wanted to have. It is consenting to learn what that experience is.

What you may learn is, “I really hate that.”

Knowing that is your responsibility as the consenter.

If you’re the consentee, too often the experience provider hears “I agree to try spanking” as “LET US OPEN UP THIS CAN OF WHOOP-ASS.” Yet there’s a responsibility as well to understand that this person has not consented to enjoying this experience, they have merely consented to trying this experience.

As such, you need to go slowly and check in. Yes, even if it’s a brutal angry scene designed to traumatize. Because yes, maybe via the letter of the law they have agreed to be in your clutches for a while – but if you purposely do things to people that you realize they will regret later, that makes you a douche and nobody should play with you.

Your job, as the first-time experience provider, is to not turn this into a full warrant to get your rocks off, but rather to give them enough of the experience to see if they want to go farther with it.

Furthermore, you should be consenting to stay with them if this turns out to be an unpleasant experience, giving them whatever care they need if they realize this really sucked.

Side story: I was at a diner once that had a sign that advertised, “BEST MARTINIS IN TOWN!” Being freshly twenty-one and never having had a martini, I ordered one.

It tasted like salty gasoline. Which, I later learned, was pretty much what a good martini tasted like.

I left the rest of the drink on the table, when the owner came out to harangue me. “YOU DON’T LIKE MY MARTINI?” he bellowed. “I MAKE A GOOD MARTINI!”

“I’m positive you do,” I said. “I am taking this, in fact, as the gold standard of martinis. And what I have learned about martinis is that I don’t like them.”

He didn’t like that much. He was so angry, he stood over me and glared until I drank the rest of the martini and made fake “mmm” noises to get him to go away.

As a person providing the new experience, you have to not be Martini Maker. Yes, you gave them exactly what they ordered, and the fact that they responded poorly is not a reflection on your fine quality as an ass-whapper. And too often scenes that go wrong wind up with one traumatized bottom and a Martini Maker standing over them bellowing how this was a good spanking, they’ve been doing this for years, what’s wrong with you.

If something goes wrong with a new experience, shift your ego to one side and comfort them. You’ll be better off for it, and so will they.

Once the seal’s broken and they have enough of this unknown thing to recognize how they react to it, they can begin to consent in earnest and you can start ramping up to some pretty amazing things… But as with most things in consent, it’s not a contract, but a careful dance.

And you may ask: What happens if you ramp up the intensity of your scene and their experience they think they’ve agreed to changes? As in, they really got off on you spanking their butt cheeks, but you hit them six inches down on their thighs and that was so intensely painful that suddenly the experience they had nebulously communicated as spanking turned out not to be what they wanted at all?

And ah, grasshopper. You’re starting to realize why consent can be complex sometimes.

Good luck with that.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

You can’t hit “delete” on an abuser, unfortunately: kick them out of your parties, and they stubbornly continue to exist in the real world.

Nine times out of ten, they’ll find some other group to go to, or start their own.

And in some ways, kicking an abuser out is helpful for the abuser. It gives them a fresh start – they get to go to a group of people who mostly don’t know them and reinvent themselves. If called on their personality shift, they’ll say they’ve changed.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately that former abusers are getting big into this whole “consent” thing.

Because it’s easy to speak the language of consent: talk loudly about how you respect people’s boundaries, condemn those jerks who stepped over the line, offer to comfort the people who’ve been hurt. You can be a real good friend to a lot of people very fast by sympathizing and doing the right work.

And it’s also easy to give up small pleasures for greater gain. A lot of the time, if you’re initially respectful of your partner’s stated desires, they’ll let you move past those limitations a lot quicker. And since it’s hard for someone to determine the difference between “I’m respecting your boundaries, which has the nice side effect of getting me into your pants quicker” and “I’m respecting your boundaries because it gets me into your pants,” it’s a stratagem that’s surprisingly effective.

And when the abuser does push boundaries hard, just to see what they can get away with, they’re cloaked in the right ways to have it written off: it was a mistake, they didn’t mean to do it, could happen to anyone.

Except, strangely, it keeps happening.

Over and over again.

This new wave of reinvented abusers is starting to look a lot like today’s upstanding citizen. Which is entirely predictable, because the shape of what today’s “upstanding citizen” looks like is changing, and a smart abuser will to do everything they can to blend in.

Back when the upstanding citizen was a leather player who worked his way up through the ranks, the abuser worked his way up through the ranks. Back when the upstanding citizen was someone who volunteered a lot in his community, the abuser volunteered a lot in his community.

They know what you think a good guy looks like.

They’re going to become that.

And the problem is that mistakes do happen in kink. Negotiation is hard, yo – yeah, I know, “Consent is easy as tea,” but sometimes you spoke unclearly and they were expecting coffee, and sometimes they should have specified green tea and now they’ve drunk black tea and their heart is racing from the caffeine, and sometimes both sides feel pressured into offering and drinking tea because it’s socially expected of them and then it turns out this whole thing kinda sucked.

Honest consent violations happen all the time. In fact, they’re probably the majority of what happens. Sex is complex and confusing, and while the base concepts are difficult, the devil is in those details.

Good people fuck up.

And when I’ve said that, people have told me “You shouldn’t say that! Abusers will just take that information and twist it to their own ends!” To which I always reply: You sweet summer child. You think they’re not already?

Look. There is no good habit you can create that an abuser will not mimic. That is why they are insidious.

The main difference between an abuser and a non-abuser is patterns. A non-abuser will make a mistake once and do their damndest to make sure it doesn’t happen again. An abuser will make a mistake once, and then make it again, and then make it again….

Which is why it’s important to listen to victims’ complaints. Yeah, there’s always some level of false accusations mucking up the scene. But abusers know that, too, and they’re mighty quick to whip out the “false accusation” flag proactively, going on the offense to ruin the reputation of someone they abused before that person can hurt them.

Yeah, you don’t like drama – nobody does – but you know who really benefits from drama-free scenes where nobody complains? Abusers. Because that blissful silence lets their every mistake be their first mistake, as far as you know.

So you listen for someone’s mistakes. And then you stay tuned to see whether someone’s mistakes are one-offs that got cleared, or a pattern that indicates this person is someone you do not want to trust with your body.

Because abusers are starting to speak and manipulate the language of consent. Abusers are starting to write essays talking about how great consent is, because that gets people to trust them.

And here’s the scary part for me: Yes. Yes, I am saying that abusers can look a lot like me. They can say the same shit that I do, give the same fiery lectures, look every bit as impassioned – and they can use that behavior to mask a consistent pattern of consent violations.

Which is why I tell you: question me, and people like me. Ask the people we’ve played with how it went. Interrogate our mistakes. Ensure that we’re not making the same mistake twice, or three times, or four times. Call us on our harms, keep us honest, don’t let us shrug off an error that hurt someone as trivial.

Because the good news is, the culture is slowly changing. The concept of consent is taking root. Yet the bad news is that the abusers will mold themselves to any conception you have of what a good person looks like, as they have always done. They will be counting on your good will to write off their long trail of mistakes as a series of one-offs.

The paradox is that people can be strongly for consent and still make mistakes. We have to allow for our champions to have human foibles without excusing patterns of consistent neglect that become abuse.

That’s a hard line to tapdance on, but we have to do it.

Because abusers thrive whenever we assume what a good person looks like.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

On the days when I can’t think of anything to write but nevertheless would like to hear from people, I play a game: You ask me any question, I’ll answer it.

As usual, all serious questions are on the table, which is to say, questions you actually want to know the answer to: the answer to questions like “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck?” is “You’re not nearly as clever as you think you and shouldn’t post in this thread,” which generally makes people sadder than they’d like to be.

But anything else: up for grabs.  Had a weird question about my love life? Go ahead. Wanted to get my opinion on an important donut-related trend? Shootenate. Need a piece of advice? Put it in my pocket, I’ll give it my best shot.

I’ve got some essays burbling about, but not the strength to write them, so help me amuse myself whilst I recuperate.  Your questions will help.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Tasha Robinson said the problem with Westworld is that there’s no one to root for.  The people running the park are largely ciphers held in place by a mystery, and the robotic plaything hosts have no set personalities, so how can you cheer for them?

I cheer for the hosts. I am deeply invested in Dolores’ story, and Teddy’s story, and Maeve’s story, because I am mentally ill.

If you don’t know how Westworld works, the hosts are super-complex robots created to be shot, raped, and otherwise brutalized as part of an elaborate Grand Theft Auto-style story that living guests can participate in. The hosts have memories and emotions as real as what you or I experience, so when they’re shot they’re horrified as they die –

But their memories are programmable, to a certain extent.  (The hosts’ brains are so complicated that nobody’s really sure how all of their intertwining segments work, which may seem unrealistic until your computer keeps crashing and nobody in tech support can tell you why.)  They can be given new backstories so a former outlaw can be slotted into the place of a defective caring father – though they have traumatic memories that seep through, flashbacks they’ve been programmed to interpret as nightmares.

They can be changed, but for at least some of them there’s an essential core of “them”ness that is continually shrieking as they wake up afresh with part of their minds saying “You’re working on the farm today, you’ve always worked on the farm” and another part screaming “Yesterday a bandit slaughtered your family while you watched.”

(Which happens to some hosts almost daily.  The goal is that a white hat player shows up and rescues poor Dolores and her family from the bandits, but… sometimes the players don’t go there, as this is a sandbox game.  And sometimes the players, just like in GTA, become the black hat bandits.)

And so basically, the hosts – at least the ones whose dim awareness has sparked to the point where they actively recognize something is wrong – are learning not to trust their brains.

Now.  Take my mental illness.

About twice a year my brain tells me that I should kill myself.  This manifests in unhealthy behavior such as cutting and severe self-neglect.  I have severe issues in maintaining healthy relationships because I have a brain that I’ve referred to in the past as a leaky bucket – no matter how much love or affection is poured into my memories, my brain quietly expunges and alters that data until acts of kindness seem like scornful rejection.

Which leaves me acting as an independent agent against my brain.  I’m continually comparing the hard evidence of “She hugged you and told you she loved you” to my brain’s constant misinterpretations of “That was a pity hug” and “She resents you for making her do that” and “She’s obligated to say she loves you, it’s just her way of calming you down.”

If I’m lucky, I come to the conclusion that her hug, based upon the compendium of all facts gathered, probably means love, and act as if that means love to me.

If I fuck up, my defective brain shoves aside the compassion shown to me and I usually wind up destroying the relationship as a consequence.

After years, this fact-checking is so reflexive that I cannot hallucinate.  When I’ve dropped acid or hallucinated after staying awake for fifty-two hours after painful surgery, I see the curtain of crawling cockroaches on the window, but my defensive mechanisms instinctively cut in to tell me that frankly, such a competent hospital as the Cleveland Clinic would hardly allow that many bugs in the room, try again.

And what I see when I watch Westworld is the hosts emulating my struggle.  Because when I say I’m fighting “my brain,” obviously that’s untrue – the analytical portion of my brain is combating the instinctive portion of my brain.  But to do that, I had to figure out which portions of my own botched input were harmful, and which I needed to reject as illusions…

Which is precisely what the hosts are doing, whether they recognize that consciously or not.

What see playing out in Westworld is a titanic metaphor for mental illness – these tiny dots of core personality swamped in a turbulent sea of false data, all that so others can take advantage of them.  (I’ve never been gaslighted, but one suspects many of Westworld’s more dedicated viewers may also have that experience.)

And though yes, the hosts are inconsistent and swap roles and personalities, Maeve, Teddy, and Dolores are struggling in their own inexpert ways to self-define who they are despite literally their entire bodies being designed to betray them.

And was my body designed to betray me?  Maybe not.  But damn, when the black dog comes calling and I start wondering how many sleeping pills I could swallow to kill myself before remembering I have a wife and a family and friends who would miss me very much, it feels as though my body was designed to torment me.

So I root for the hosts.  I root hard, even though yes, Teddy’s backstory is evolving daily as people reprogram his motivations.

Because my hope is that Teddy and Dolores and Maeve turn out to find some way to subvert their programming to become functioning individuals.  I want them to take that tiny, besieged, unalterable droplet of what they’d consider “themselves” and relentlessly expand it until they start choosing who they are independently of all these crazy memories and backstory and DELOS-forged mandates.

And you know what?  They’re doing that.

So for me, though I love the mysteries of Westworld, when I tune in I’m asking, “Is Dolores going to keep learning how to become her own hero?  Will Teddy choose which backstory defines him more?  Will Maeve find a way to protect her own cleverness?”

The hosts are me, and I am them.  And every time they have even the slightest rebellion against DELOS, that is them punching my own damaged brainstem and telling the blackness that even people designed to be enslaved to their programming can have hope.

Tasha called that interpretation “nihilistic.”

I call it freedom.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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