theferrett: (Meazel)

I’m at the peak of my Seasonal Affective Disorder, and I’m mired in suicidal depression. Texts from people I love are going unanswered, my work output is pathetic, and I’m damaging the relationships I have.

I wish I had the skill to express what it’s like to you, living through this time of year. But then again I don’t.

See, if I was better, I could write a flourishing emotional essay describing What It’s Like To Be Mentally Ill, with the same detail that sometimes I describe What It’s Like To Be In Love, and give people a taste of what it’s like to realize that your brain sometimes just gives out on you like a bum knee. If I was healthier, I could write it up in a way that you got it.

And it’d probably get me hospitalized.

I get bitter. I do. Because whenever someone says, “You can talk to me,” I know that’s not true. That’s what my illness takes away from me. Thirty years of talking has taught me that I can’t be honest with anyone, sometimes not even my own therapists. Because if I reveal the suicidal ideation I’ve dealt with for decades, that can land me in a stint in the hospital, which could cost me my job, which would, not surprisingly, not make me better mental healthwise.

People say “You can talk to me.” Yet the profound truth about chemical depression is that it’s boring, and talking doesn’t necessarily cure it. Sometimes talking accentuates all the worst parts of your life, revealing this sagging weakness in your foundations makes you seem more pathetic with every word, and you come out of it feeling worse.

And that’s bad, because when people say “You can talk to me,” what they often mean is “I want to be your hero.” They don’t mean to, but they’re often looking for that shot of pride at having Helped A Sad Person Overcome Their Trauma, to be the star of their own movie, and when they talk to you for two hours and you’re actually worse off then they quietly think you’re no fun to be around and they start quietly distancing themselves.

The number of people who can sit in a dark hole with you and simply hold your hand are rare. Most people want to see you improve in real time, or they’re going to step away.

You may say you’re the exception. Most people say they’re the exception. But there are terminally ill people in hospitals who are terribly lonely because people tell themselves they’re the exception but quietly find excuses not to be with a dying person who needs them but isn’t going to get better.

There’s a lot of exceptions to those exceptions.

And if you do find someone who can sit in a dark hole with you, your thoughts are corrosive and insulting. Because you question everything they do. Your self-loathing is secretly attacking their reasons for being here, every time you tell them how worthless you feel you’re also informing them that really, they either are stupid for showing up or deluded or both, and enduring that subtle abuse is its own skill, and a debatable one.

And then, as noted, uncorking someone’s depression can be fucking terrifying if they’ve seen you as a mostly functional human being. Talking is walking them backstage, saying, “I know you thought this was a beautiful show, but the truth is this furniture is fake and this wall collapses if you push hard and the makeup looks cheap close up.”

They rarely say, “Oh, wow, you did a good job with what you had.”

They just see the gaps, and decide this show has to be fixed. Because if you tell someone, “Yeah, I’ve considered killing myself two or three times a week my entire life,” and explain that there are days you don’t drive because of your concern that you’ll yank the wheel to one side and destroy yourself, their reaction is not to go “That’s how life is for this person, they’ve fought this for decades” but rather “JESUS THAT WOULD TERRIFY ME LET’S CHANGE THIS PERSON NOW” and again, if you tell the wrong person about these continual sadnesses, you wind up being flagged a danger to yourself and hauled away.

There are a few people I do talk to about things, when I get really depressed. But I don’t talk to them about it often. Because I know that sharing this unending wail of torment I’m in will corrode friendships, and I need friendships, and the issue with being as mentally ill as I am is that the survival technique is to conceal portions of myself to protect the people I love from my madness.

Because I don’t want my mental illness. And I don’t want to inflict it upon others unless I have to.

So I conserve discussing my depression until I really need to, because otherwise I won’t have anyone to discuss it with. And whenever I say that, people are like, “Oh, if you had real friends…” and my response is, “Maybe you have a nice, happy disorder that you can open up to your friends about, and that’s a lovely fucking place for you to live, but don’t you dare dismiss my friendships because your disorder is people-friendly.”

Mine isn’t. Mine is toxic. And even talking about my mental illness this much – this is the light version, people – inspires people to come out of the woodwork and tell me that I need to cheer up, that I don’t understand how friendship works, I just need to find the right people and all will be well.

And what I’m asking you to examine is your need for the Hollywood friendship – the one where you have a chat with your buddies and they get better and you get to be the hero.

Maybe that’s a disorder of its own.

Maybe that’s not helping.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

People kept asking me what classes I taught, so I made a list and put it on my website.  If you want me to come to your town and run some sort of poly workshop, that list summarizes what I got for ya.  (And if I have the class notes public, they’re listed there too.)

I should note that I have a vague recollection of someone from Fet emailing me to ask if I would teach for them, but I cannot find it in my mail.  It may have been spam-trapped.  If you haven’t heard from me lately, please ask again.

If you don’t want me to teach a workshop in your town, then keep on doing what you’re doing. Chances are good I won’t show up spontaneously to teach in your living room.  But I can’t promise anything.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

A guy asked this about a convention where several boy/girl bathrooms were temporarily repurposed into unisex bathrooms. (Not all of them – you could still find your standard male/female pooping places if you were uncomfortable.)

And I’ve been thinking about that question. “Why do we need unisex bathrooms?”

Because the answer is blazingly simple if you’ve attended Penguicon: look around that convention’s room parties, and you’ll see a fair number of genderqueer and trans and cross-dressing attendees. Some of them go to conventions specifically to have a weekend where they can relax and present as whatever gender they choose and not get hassled about it.

Going to the bathroom and deciding which box to check is, presumably, a buzzkill for these people on an otherwise-supportive weekend. Hence the unisex bathrooms.

But that’s not the question the guy was asking.

He used “we,” but he meant “he.” As in, “Why do I need a unisex bathroom?” And being a cis dude who dresses like a dude, he didn’t see any need for them. As such, he concluded the convention was doing stupid things for stupid reasons.

Which was a stupid conclusion, alas.

Because this addled man’s affected with a sad disease that can strike at anyone, but tends to afflict straight cis men: They have forgotten the difference between “we” and “me.”

I personally don’t need unisex bathrooms either. But when I ask the question, “Why do we need unisex bathrooms?”, I am capable of looking around to more than my experience and doing the elementary deduction work required to uncover why. Sometimes I even ask other people than myself and the people who look like me.

Why do we need unisex bathrooms? Because not everyone’s you, dude. I have never once attended a panel discussing gun safety or libertarian philosophy, but if someone asked me the question, “Why do we need those panels?” you bet your bippie I’d pull my head out of my neon-rimmed ass and look around to other people before answering the question.

Solipsism’s a helluva drug.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So the murder zombies are in your town again, ripping limbs from torsos. Everyone knows the best way to survive the murder zombie onslaught is to hide in a closet.

But humans react to murder zombies in funny ways, even when they’re not being personally devoured by the zombies’ hoof-hard teeth.

See, because “hiding in a closet” is the best way of riding it out when the murder zombie herd comes ravaging through town, you’ll have people who get really good at hiding in closets.

With each Culling they survive, these people will become increasingly cocky about their closet-hiding techniques.

Eventually, they’ll start making fun of people who don’t know how to hide in a closet properly. Complaints about the way the murder-zombies ate your child will be met with a sneering, “I guess somebody didn’t have their closet ready.”

And the end result will be, unbelievably, people who have more scorn for zombie victims than they do a hatred for the murder-zombies who want to tear them to shreds.

Yet that’s not the weirdest thing. The *weirdest* thing is that these expert closet-hiders genuinely come to think they’re fighting the murder-zombies by teaching these hiding techniques. “See, if you starve them, maybe they won’t murder so much,” the closet-hiders say.

But that’s not actually fighting the murder-zombies. That’s just surviving the murder-zombies. At best, the murder-zombies might slaughter the people in the next town over – but the expert closet-hiders think that’s just great, because at this point anyone who gets eaten by the murder-zombies is so stupid they deserve to die.

They think they’re fighting the murder-zombies, but in a way they’re actually very much aligned with the murder-zombies.

Whereas the truth is this: hiding in a closet is a useful skill to learn, and you probably need to learn it. But reducing the murder-zombie hordes to mere nuisances will take more than one person. You need an entire town to rise up, grab guns from the burning houses of those who have fallen, the mobilization of thousands of people so their response is not “Shit, murder-zombies, better prep my hiding-from-murder-zombie camouflage techniques” but “Sound the alarms, get the pitchforks, let’s make sure these murder-zombies don’t hurt another person!”

You need an organization to fight the horde, man. One man (or woman) can’t stop the undead stampede. One man (or woman) might as well just hide in the closet.

But the problem is this: that expert closet-hider is mocking the people who want to go out and fight (“What, don’t you have a closet?”), and telling everyone that the people who died deserved their deaths. And yes, maybe some of the people who died were unwise in some of their decisions. We might need a couple of staunch closets until we can recoup enough resources to take the fight to the murder-zombie larvae in their terrifying butchernest, and if you want to lead a respectful class on “Closet Hiding 101” then okay, sure, it can help.

Yet when you spend more energy denigrating the victims than you do saying, “*Of course* the murder-zombies are an evil necrotic horde who deserve no sympathy,” then you’re sapping the town’s efforts to rise up, man. We need to get out and shine sunlight on the necromancer’s cursed butchernest jewel and dissolve this murder-zombie horde after all – and your reliance on “BUILD A STURDIER CLOSET” just makes us all live in increasingly smaller closets.

So, you know, survive the zombies. Nothing wrong with that.

Just don’t forget that survival is very different from changing the landscape so zombie-survival is no longer necessary.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So I’d hoped the Republicans would grow up after being trounced in their first attempt at repealing/replacing Obamacare.  I’d legitimately love it if Republicans said, “People are being bankrupted by out-of-control health costs, and health care is complicated – why don’t we take some time to get the law right and come up with something America doesn’t hate?”

Instead, natch, they’re trying to ram through a hasty bill that’s even worse than the last one.  They may vote as early tomorrow.

Which is why you have to call your Representatives now.  And here’s how you stop do 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.

Last time, my super-conservative rep changed his mind on the repeal/replace from “YEAH LET’S DO IT” to “Uh, maybe?” because the calls were literally running 20 to 1 in favor of keeping Obamacare around.

SAY YOU’RE A VOTER FROM YOUR TOWN.
Let them know you’re local. Don’t bother calling if you’re not a potential voter. You do not have to give your name, though you can if you want; they may ask you for your zip code.  You may wish to force them to take your name to ensure they got your message.

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

1) I’m disappointed that there’s a rush to shove through even worse health care legislation;
2) Please do not repeal the ACA without a strong replacement;
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 Representative 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 Representative, 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 REPRESENTATIVE, NOT YOUR SENATOR.
That means you have to make a maximum of one call, which will take ten minutes max. (Unless your Representative’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 weird reason), flip the script and call as well. This is a republic, and you deserve to have your voice heard.

That said, there was a ridiculous idea last time that the ACA repeal only failed because it wasn’t conservative enough.  That wasn’t true.  The reason it failed was most because tacking to the right to appeal to the hard-core conservatives cost them more votes in the center, and trying to appeal to everyone made their base splinter.

So calling to register your complaint actually does work.  We’re not guaranteed, of course; the Republicans are desperate, trying to shove through a law they wrote in less than a month that nobody’s even fully read (as opposed to the ACA, which was introduced in July 2009 and voted on in March 2010 after heavy debate).  They may manage it.

But if they do manage to replace the ACA with something that literally punishes those with preexisting conditions (and that could easily be you, even if you’re healthy now!), let it not be because you didn’t try.  Make the call today.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Last night,  I finished the first draft of my maintenancepunk novel – which is like cyberpunk, except you spend way more time troubleshooting device conflicts and field-stripping your cyberlimbs.

I’m looking for about seven to ten people to beta-read for me and give me feedback. (Why seven to ten?  Because I’d like four to five people, and generally I find that you hit about 60% on getting beta readers to get back to you in time.)

I’m giving special preference this time to military folks and gun nuts, because this is a novel written by a pansy-ass civilian about a veteran in future combat, and I am positive I’ve gotten the details laughably wrong.

Now.  If you’re saying “Let me do it, I’m really good at proofreading,” alas, I shall pass.  Assuming I sell it to a publisher, we’ll have professional copyeditors and proofreaders sniffing this sucker like a hound dog.  Flagging misspelled words and grammatical errors is a distraction from the overall point of “Did this book deliver an emotional cyberpunch?”

No, what I want are the sorts of people who can explain four separate things, each cogently:

•         The things that confuse you (“Why would $character do that?” or “Wait, cyberlimbs shouldn’t be able to do that?”)
•         The things that throw you out of the story (“Character wouldn’t do THAT!” or “Factually, that’s so wrong!”)
•         The things that give you ass-creep (“I got bored here”)
•         All the things that make you pump the fist (“This moment was truly awesome, and unless I tell you how awesome it is, you might cut this part out in edits”)

So if you think you can do all that in five weeks, do me a favor and email me at theferrett@theferrett.com with the header “FERRETT, I WOULD LIKE TO BETA-READ YOUR MAINTENANCEPUNK.”  This service comes with the great reward of being name-checked in the acknowledgements, if this eventually sells.  I may get filled up on people, but if I do, I’ll put you on the list for the next revision, if there is one – I’ll need to give this one two more drafts in the next four months.

(And if you have beta-read for me before and are asking, “Ferrett, why didn’t you ask me directly?”, kindly remember that I am shy and dislike bothering people.  If you’ve got the time and want to volunteer for another go-round, pitch in!)

(Also note: I’ve not been blogging much on my main blog because, well, I’m still deciding what to do about LiveJournal’s recent TOS change, and moving away from LJ involves some technical preparation I hain’t had time for.  If you’re on LJ, well, consider bookmarking my main site.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

From a gameplay perspective, every one of Mass Effect’s missions is cut-and-copied:

  • You travel to a location where:
  • You fight a group of alien beings, OR:
  • You search for a place where you can press a button.

If you’re super-lucky, sometimes you combine the two!  You press a button, and then fight people!  Or when the fighting is done, you get to look for a button!

The excitement never ends in Mass Effect.

The only thing that stops Mass Effect from being endlessly repetitive is the narrative wrapper.  Quite literally, “story” is the sole difference between missions – and, largely, it works.   Because let’s say the three missions are:

  • An innocent girl has wandered out into the desert and been kidnapped by slavers.
  • An evil scientist is formulating a new plague, and you must track him down to his lab to stop him.
  • Mysterious monsters have awakened and are threatening a small frontier town.

All three of those missions are perfectly identical gamewise – you go to a set location and kill alien beings.  Yet the feel for each of them is subtly different solely because of who you talked to in order to get the mission!

Furthermore, your emotional reward is often skewed by the mission.  Let’s say that you chose “an innocent girl has been kidnapped by slavers” mission.  You find out when you get there that the slavers have turned her into a monstrous techno-beast, and you must kill her.  From a gameplay perspective, hey, you fought another monster and got your XP for finishing the mission.  It’s the exact same procedure as every other mission.  But chances are you now feel bad.  Maybe you’re more willing to take on missions destroying these slavers.

What fascinates me is that how these games become pure storytelling.  They are literally the most inexpensive way of making the game better!  I mean, BioWare could have spent money on setpiece battles – places where you’re battling on a plummeting airbase, or the rain makes visibility dim and the ground slippery, or created unique enemies for each location.

Yet instead, they resorted to a trick literally as old as cavemen.  We used to sit around fires and, with nothing more than a voice, tell crazy stories about the gods.  Story is the cheapest entertainment we have, because our imaginations will fill in so many details.

And BioWare, in a cost-saving mechanism, uses story to make the same “go here, kill things” quest into a hundred different emotional shades.  Because sometimes you’re going there to kill things because your friend is in trouble.  Sometimes you’re going there to kill things to get to the treasure.  Sometimes you’re going there to kill things for revenge against those evil slavers.

Without that story, nobody would play Mass Effect.  Other games that focus more on gameplay do the actual gaming better – I’m told that Overwatch has practically no story, but Blizzard has focused on making the game deep and rewarding for those who invest hours into it.  Not so with Mass Effect, alas; I’m now a 57th-level tech, and I’ve been using the same three powers to sleepwalk my way through battles for at least 30 levels.  (Overload, Incinerate, Remnant VI.)  There is zero need to change up my tactics, or indeed, to learn any new ones.

And let’s be honest: Mass Effect Andromeda is one of the weakest BioWare games because you don’t even get to make any choices that matter to the story.  In previous Dragon Age and Mass Effect games, you could make decisions that alienated your teammates to the point where some of them would no longer work with you.  Your decisions determined who among your companions lived or died, and who ruled which empire, and which species survived.  ME:A, alas, has minimized that influence to the point where literally everything you say to your companions will make them love you more – if you’re snarky, they love snark!  If you’re a romantic adventurer, they love adventuring!  There’s now no decisions that will lead to you being unloved by all (which is, I think, why Mass Effect 2 is BioWare’s high point).

But even stripped of choice within the larger story setting, I play these repetitive missions because, well, BioWare’s always got a new story twist to make me go, “Okay, what happens?”  As does Bethesda.  I think the reason I’m drawn to these games is because essentially, you take away the story and there is no game worth playing.

Every mission has me as a writer going, “Oh.  That’s another spin you can put on an identical set of events.”  Mass Effect is all about shading, all about nuance, all about that wrapper we put on the same old grind to liven it up.

Stripped bare, Mass Effect: Andromeda might not be a good game.  But it’s a good example of the power of storytelling.  And while I wish we had a new BioWare game that combined the two effectively, it’s proof that tons of people will prioritize storytelling over game play any day.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

After I presented at Kinky Kollege a weekend ago, I had some people asking for my class notes on my presentations.  I’m a little leery on that, because my notes are sketchy – they’re not detailed notes, more like waypoints to remind me to hit all the topics I wanted to cover.

However, a lot of these cryptic class notes are referencing essays I’ve written in the past – and so I went through and linked to those essays, so you can read more in-depth if you’d like.  This isn’t quite the in-depth seminar experience I give when I’m yammering before a crowd – but if you’re looking for a cluster of Ferrett-thoughts on a topic, well, here they are.

Jealousy Is Not A Crime: Troubleshooting Broken Polyamory
If you’re dating multiple people, bumps will occur, sure as death and taxes. The question is, how do you figure out what’s wrong… and how do you repair the faults so that you emerge stronger and saner? Kinktastic writer Ferrett Steinmetz will lead a discussion about how to fight fairly, how to be respectful to all the people in your poly web, and tout the merits of a solid set of dealbreakers.

Class Notes for Jealousy Is Not A Crime

You Don’t Perform Surgery With A Butter Knife: Holding Safe, Sane Breakups
One thing’s guaranteed in every poly community: eventually, you’re going to run into your exes. And as such, learning how to break up responsibly becomes of paramount importance – you don’t have to adore them any more, but you should be able to at least function in the same spaces. So how do you call it off with a minimum of drama, even when people are trashing you in public?

Class Notes for Safe, Sane Breakups

As a reminder, in addition to these I also teach the following classes:

  • How to Fight Fairly
  • Ten Perilous Poly Patterns
  • Wet With Words: Writing Erotica
  • Burninating the Peasants: Fireplay 101

If you’d like me to teach at your event, feel free to contact me at theferrett@theferrett.com – I usually ask for travel/hotel fees, and a small stipend.  But if my schedule’s free, I’m happy to come teach wherever I’m wanted.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I’m my wife’s secondary relationship, even though we’ve been happily married for almost twenty years. And it’s been that way since Day One, when she said to me:

“Look, Ferrett Steinmetz, I love you with all my heart. But if there’s a house fire and I can rescue either you or my daughters from the flames, there will be Ferrett Flambé.”

And that is the truth of our marriage: her kids come first. Which I’m fine with; even though I’m technically their stepfather, they’re my kids too. I’m very content to be secondary, which means there’s been any number of times the kids have been prioritized.

But here’s the trick:

“Secondary” does not mean “Continually overshadowed.”

Just because the kids’ needs come first does not mean that I am expected to have no needs. My wife juggles. If, on a scale of one to ten, I am having an absolute meltdown day of a 9 when our eldest is having a pretty poor day of a 6, she’ll do triage on our kid and then come and comfort me. Likewise, if our youngest is having a horrible 8 day and I’m having a mildly depressive 4, she’ll still make time for a hug or two before heading out.

Because “secondary” does not mean “dispensable.”

Yes, technically speaking, if there is a flat-out conflict between my daughters’ needs and mine, I will lose. But the trick is that my wife does absolutely everything she can to ensure that direct conflict never happens. She advocates for both the kids’ needs and also mine. She negotiates with all three of us to see if there’s some happy medium we can all reach, asking whether this might be a “want” and not an actual “need.” And when an argument breaks out, she serves as mediator and not arbiter.

Which is why, in almost twenty years of marriage, there’s been no dealbreaking conflicts. Life is not a television drama, and moments of absolute need (the “10” on the one to ten scale) are rare for any actual functioning human being, let alone for two human beings to be in absolute crisis at the same time.

Which is why I hate it when I see the term “secondary” used in polyamory to indicate an auto-lose situation – sorry, I know you want me to be with you at your mother’s funeral, but my husband needs help washing the car.

The truth is that a secondary’s important needs should sometimes take priority over your so-called primary’s sorta-wanna needs. “Being secondary” should not be an excuse to blow someone off, just as “being primary” should not be an excuse to become a tyrant. The job of a functional relationship should be to balance needs to make as many people happy as possible, not to cut off emotional support when it becomes inconvenient for the “primary” people.

I’m okay with being secondary to my wife because I trust she’ll be there for me when I need her most of the time. I’m not “someone who’s important to her as long as the kids don’t yell too loud,” I’m someone she advocates for and defends when I need it and also, yeah, if the kids are in a bad place she’ll be there but she also elbows space to make room for me.

It’s a good space.

I wish I could say the same for a lot of secondary relationships.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

My corner of Twitter has been talking about women, typing books.

Not their books.

Their husbands’ books.  Often when they’ve also just had a child, and also had an academic position (sometimes at the same damn college), they were expected to type up their husbands’ notes into manuscripts as well.  Because, well, that’s what wives did back then: clerical work.

Which has sparked a discussion among my writer-buddies about how often, the wife is expected to do the housework and take care of the kids if she’s a professional writer – there’s a fair number of working examples of that in the field – whereas if the man becomes a Writer, the default is that he is cleared space to Do Important Writing.

This is actually true in our house.

Basically, for about two hours a night, I head downstairs to the word mines.  My wife does more of the cleaning because it’s understood that I am trying to make a career out of this, and so she takes on a disproportionate brunt of the housework.  She runs more errands, because she has more free time.  She cooks the meals so I can get three hours in if I have to.  And my God, does that poor woman have to endure me yammering on about how this plot point doesn’t make sense, I’ve written myself into a corner, what do I do, let’s go for a walk and try to hash this out?

My wife works a lot more to support me at being a writer.  That’s just how it is.  We didn’t discuss it, we just settled into that mode.

Except.

When she was going to law school and working full-time, I did all the cooking.  (In fact, I taught myself to cook nice meals to make things easier on her, but that’s a separate story.)  I did more errands back then, because I had more free time.  Looking back at our history, if something’s been important to either of us, we’ve made the necessary sacrifices to try to make it happen for each other.

And if I weren’t conversant with how privilege ought to work in the field, I would scoff loudly and go, “See?  There’s no privilege here!  Look, we are equals, pass by, we have done it correctly!”

But the truth is that the fundamental nature of understanding privilege – in this case, the male privilege of “Men’s work is generally considered important, women’s work is generally considered less so” – is that you’re not supposed to flog yourself with guilt for it.

You’re supposed to use it as a corrective lens to consider.

Because the deeper truth is that one of the reasons our household works is because I am, in fact, aware of traditional gender roles, and I am aware that I’m leaning on Gini heavily to make my writing career easier.  If I see a mess lying around the house, I go, “I’ve been acculturated to let women handle that, but I should really take care of that for her if I have the time, just to make things fair.”  I make sure to thank her profusely for sorting my pills and doing the laundry.

I don’t lean on privilege – I interrogate it.  Is what I’m doing actually fair, or just a decision I’ve sleepwalked through? If it’s not that fair, what can I do to even the scales?

And in this case, the personal scales are “We both make time for each other’s dreams.”  That’s a healthy dynamic.  But underlying that is a quietly sexist assumption of “The wife does the housework” that could actually undermine that healthiness, if I didn’t work to combat it.

That’s what privilege should be, if you could acknowledge its existence.  Privilege often winds up being a club because folks don’t want to admit that any portion of their good luck might have come from millions of people lining up and quietly deciding you randomly benefited…

….Because my wife has “assumed she’ll do the housework” as one of the minor dings of being woman,  but she also benefits from being born white.  Privilege isn’t The One Benefit To Rule Them All, as it often gets argued by mooks, it’s a complicated intersection of identities, some of which are helpful, others are not.  Privilege often gets dumbed down a game of playing Identity Uno, in which everyone’s trying to score the most points instead of working to see who can learn the most.

As I’ve mentioned before, I had a lot of privileges in being able to publish my first novel by being physically healthy, by having solidly middle-class background that helped get me a desk  job so I had time to write, by having the wealth to attend the writers’ workshop that unlocked the stall I was in.

None of that takes away from my relentless work ethic, or the mental illness that makes it harder to write.  It’s just something I consider as I write: Wow, I benefited from that.  Is that something everyone gets?  If not, is there something I can do to make it easier for those people?  

(Hint: Even if you can do nothing else, acknowledging “Wow, that’s hard for you” usually helps people by letting them know they’re not deluded for seeing a division in circumstances.)

In my case, there’s covert sexism threaded through my marriage.  We work to examine that, to pluck out the threads and sew those gaps up with healthier patterns.  If I didn’t, I’d probably just quietly go, “Yeah, that’s what she does, she’s a good wife” whenever Gini picked up my slack, and Gini would actually be more overworked, and our marriage would suck a lot harder because I’d be bellowing at someone in an online forum that I don’t ask my wife to type, I worked hard for my novels, I don’t have any privilege.

I have privilege.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing if I use that privilege to examine why I’m privileged, and to make my world as fair as possible.

That’s what it should be for, in an ideal world.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

1) Pokemon Nails!
It’s been a couple of months since I updated my Pretty Pretty Princess Nail Gallery, where you can see a visual history of my fabulous nail designs – but this week Ashley damn near killed herself to do Pokemon nails for me.  She had to redraw Jigglypuff like four times, and now hates Jigglypuff. But the nails came out great!

Pokémon nails!

Pokémon nails!

2) Fix On Audiobook!
For you fine audiophiles, the final book in my ‘Mancer series is finally available as an audiobook on Audible! For a mere $14.99, you can listen to weaponized paperwork magic, a battle at the heart of a dying Europe, the struggle of a brainwashed daughter, and also – as always – testimonies to the goodness of donuts!

(EDIT: And apparently, if you bought Fix through Amazon, you can get the audio upgrade for a mere $3.49. Nice.)

Also, I hesitate to mention again, but my upcoming book The Uploaded is available for pre-order, and pre-ordering super-helps authors. I’m also stoked about it because for the first time, the copyeditor made an alphabetized list of all the proper names and terms used in the book to keep everything consistent, and the lists make this book sound even weirder than it is.

3)  Me In A Story!
So I was complaining to my friend Alex Shvartsman (a name old Magic fans may recognize as a former pro from Magic’s Grand Prix circuit) that nobody tuckerizes a guy with a name like “Ferrett.” I mean, my books are rife with names of real-life people I’ve slipped into there as minor characters, ranging from Ken Liu to an appropriately gender-swapped Ann Leckie to Sean Patrick Kelly and other buddies… but it’s hard to put in a guy with a name like “Ferrett” and not have it stand out.

“I’ll do it,” Alex said. “I like a challenge.”

So he wrote me into a science-fiction golfing story. Seriously.

And I thought, “Wow, that’s great,” but then Alex had to sell the story. And who would buy a story about science-fiction golfing with a guy named Ferrett as a side character?

The question I should have been asking is, “Can Alex sell that story?” And you bet your buns he can! He even sold it at pro rates, damn his talented soul! And so if you want to read that tale – and why wouldn’t you? – it’s currently free to read for the next five weeks or so.

Thank you, Alex. Seriously. It’s nice to see my name in print.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I can see where it’s getting the “meh” reviews.

Because I love the backstory of the new Mass Effect.  It’s a great sci-fi story with a lot of room to maneuver, classic space opera – and it feels big.

I just don’t see how I connect with it.

Like, as an example: an early mission has you scanning walls to find enough evidence to stop a saboteur – your standard “Find the foozle” quest, wrapped in a story to make it compelling.  And you scan enough evidence, and the trail leads you to your saboteur.

Except the game says, “Wait!  That’s not the saboteur!  The real saboteur is trying to frame these two people!”

Which is a great twist, if I the player had any decision in that process.  If there had been some evidence I could have overlooked where I might have accidentally jailed an innocent person, thus having to make the hard decision of putting away someone who claims they didn’t do it, that would be dramatic!  Maybe I could do the wrong thing by mistake!  But literally your AI buddy kicks in to go “WHOAH, NOPE, YOU GOT MORE WORK TO DO.”

And so the tension is defanged.

Then you find the real saboteur, who is mildly angry about how the previous administration did his family wrong.  But again, the game doesn’t ask you to take sides – the guy doesn’t even tell you what the new administration did except in really abstract terms.  And you don’t even get a chance to let him go, or try to talk him out of his deadly saboteur nature, as far as I can tell from the dialogue options – either way, he’s meekly caught, even though you’re just one dude and you didn’t bring any security and I guess the game didn’t feel like ending this mission with a chase or a battle or a dramatic emotional decision or anything.

So my reaction at the end is, “Uh, well, I guess some people are angry at the government.”  But I don’t feel it.  I’m not invested in any of these schmucks because while it’s a great story, Mass Effect seems to have forgotten to add the decision points that get me involved.

I could have jailed the wrong person, thus getting mad at those fiendish saboteurs.

I could have been asked to side with the saboteur thanks to the righteousness of his cause.

I could have been presented with a chase sequence to stop some suicidal madman.

But instead, I got railroaded along a series of decisions that weren’t actually decisions.  And if Mark Rosewater has taught me anything, games are about interesting choices.  If I ask you, “So do you want this magical wand of destruction at to fight with, or this stubby pencil?”, that decision is automatic for everyone but the people who want to make it purposely hard.

“Do you want to continue this quest or not?” is not an interesting decision.

The decisions in Mass Effect thus far aren’t interesting.  The story is interesting, on a meta level.  But I am not given an access point so I personally am invested in what happens.

I mean, it’s still fun.  I like levelling up.  But if these guys want me to care more, they need to have less people telling me, “Oh, here’s a gout of backstory” and more of me making emotional decisions based on that backstory.  And until now, there’s a whole lot of people telling me how they feel and very little of me deciding how I should feel.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

One of the running responses to yesterday’s discussion of female attraction was that women frequently fall for handsome assholes. I can’t really debate that. Those of y’all who remember The Wolf’s abuse will recall that he was propelled into the spotlight in part based on Hot Abs and in part based on a cadre of women who really wanted to get Wolfucked. (And yes, unbelievably, that was an actual term.)

However, I will also note that men frequently fall for women who are also completely wrong for them. They see a pretty girl, they sand off all the potentially-conflicting bits of their personalities to try to masquerade as what this pretty girl wants, idolizing away all her manifest flaws because she’s got a curvaceous figure – and then wind up miserable because “OH MY GOD I WAS SUCH A NICE GUY AND WOMEN DON’T LIKE NICE GUYS.”

Turns out “making riotously bad decisions” isn’t confined to one gender. Whoops.

Look, there are people making terrible decisions all over the damn world. And the sad thing is, you gotta let them make those awful decisions.

People have a right to ruin their own lives.

Part of that is because often, the people who want to “rescue” people from bad decisions actually just want them to make equally bad decisions that benefit them. The guys who are lamenting about womens’ bad decisions are, quite predictably, hoping that these broken women will take a deep and meaningful consolation from their penis. You’ll see spouses and family members shouting, “You can’t leave me? Where would you go!” when what they really mean is “I’m dependent on you and you abandoning my abuse would inconvenience me!”

Part of that is because often, the “bad decisions” people make are only bad from an outside perspective – the born-again Christian mother who’s convinced her daughter living in sin must be miserable because she would be miserable. The cis dudebro who’s convinced his trans friend must be transitioning out of a need for attention. The vanilla girlfriend who’s convinced her boyfriend’s need to be beaten bloody means they’re on the path to suicide. You know, people who just don’t get it.

But the main reason is simple: the people who bear the brunt of the consequences for their awful decisions are the only folks who should get to make them.

(It gets a little more complicated in interdependent situations, of course, particularly if your 50/50 rent roommate decides to quit her job to become a professional sparrow-raiser, but in the end you’re the one who can probably scrounge up a new place to live when her broke ass cannot.)

I am a fan of disseminating information. I’ve spoken at length of the known dangers of the one-penis policy. I’ve talked about the myriad ways in which polyamory enables abusers. I’ve discussed how men can be bad to women, and women to men, and people to people.

But in the end, if someone’s making a bad decision, that’s on them.

Maybe it’ll work out. Sometimes things do – because other people didn’t understand what you needed, or because of dumb luck. (I had unsafe sex with better than 50 women in my slutty 20s, and every test I’ve taken indicates I picked up no known STIs from it. I took a really insanely dumb risk, and yet I wouldn’t advise you to play the STI lottery and hope the odds are ever in your favor.)

But you gotta let ’em go.

Yeah. People make staggeringly dumb decisions all the time. It’s a truth of life. But the question has to be, “Why are you so attracted to these people who make staggeringly dumb decisions?” Why are you spending your time chasing stupid people who aren’t interested in you in the hopes that one day they’ll change their mind?

Isn’t that a pretty staggeringly bad decision on your own?

I can’t stop you from making that decision, of course. Not my tempo. But I can at least raise the question that maybe you could be looking for partners who aren’t looking to date people you despise.

Just a suggestion.

You are free, of course, to ignore it.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“The fact that a behavior is considered harassment or not based solely on how attractive {the women} find you is bullshit.”

This is a comment I hear often, usually from dudes with ugly personalities. Because they’re awful at knowing when and how to approach women for a date, they instead decide that “picking up women” is entirely about looks that they don’t have, and not about a personality that they could potentially cultivate.

The truth is this: knowing when a woman doesn’t want to talk to you is, in fact, part of the process.

The fact that dudes are whining, “Well, you’d probably like me if I’d spoken to you when you actually wanted to be spoken to!” as though it’s some grievously unfair principle of the universe is proof that they’re missing the fundamental point of the discussion.

Look, I am a catastrophic nerd. I have original RPG art framed on the wall of my living room. I go to RPG conventions specifically to geek out about roleplaying….

And still there are annoying people who bug the crap out of me by yammering on about their anime campaign when I’m just in line trying to get a sandwich, man.

These are people who don’t read the signs that I’m not interested right now. They don’t talk with me so much as they open up a fire hydrant of their interests, drenching me in overexplanations about things I’ve told them I already understand, blithely assuming that I know the fine details of the Dark Sun setting when I’ve said I’ve never played, cornering me wherever they can trap me and blathering on.

And a fundamental truth is this: knowing when and where to open up a discussion is part of why people will or will not like you. I love RPGs, I love nerds, I’m at a place specifically to find fellow RPG nerds, and yet even with all those advantages there are still wrong approaches.

As such, attractive women sitting in public are not quest-givers in a World of Warcraft game, signaling the start of mission “GET INTO THEIR PANTS” – some do want to be talked to, others do not, and still others only want to be talked to about certain things. Figuring out which ones are amenable to which conversations is the actual mission if you’re out to find someone to smooch.

Reading body language to know when someone has zero interest in talking to you is part of the process of dating women. If you’re not a Herculean specimen of bohunk physicality (and note that I am not), then discovering those levers and working them to the best of your ability should be your primary focus.

(And for the record, “Being a Herculean specimen of bohunk physicality” is not a universal access point when it comes to picking up a woman, either. The guys who bitch endlessly about how “it’s all about looks” generally settle on “a buff movie-star look” as the sole thing that All Women Would Never Call Harassment. But some women prioritize skinny paper-pale geeks, and other women long for pudgy biker dudes, and some women are, you know, gay. So maybe calm down on the idea that all you have to do is look like Ryan Gosling and nobody will ever call you on your shit? Because looking like Ryan Gosling would help your odds, but it ain’t a guarantee either.)

Anyway. Acting as though every communication should be identically well-reacted to is the inane logic of someone who doesn’t realize they’re arguing that you should be flattered by every robocall, should be thrilled rather than annoyed by spam, should be overjoyed when your boss tells you they want you to work an extra three hours tonight because ZOMG IT’S SO UNFAIR THAT YOUR BOSS HAS TO BRING YOU GOOD NEWS BEFORE YOU LIKE THEM.

And if it strikes you as burningly unfair that a woman is happy to talk with someone who approaches them with things they feel they might enjoy, and is unhappy when someone they don’t like forces an interaction upon them, then I’m gonna suggest that the real unfairness here is you. Because what you’re actually saying is, “It is unfair that I can’t do what I like and have everybody love me.”

Top tip: if the message you’re quietly putting out to everyone is “I wish you’d all stop wanting things so I can get some sex,” don’t be surprised when people don’t want to date you. Because if you’re expressing outrage when someone asks “What’s in it for me?”, you’re actually telling them there’s really not much there.

(EDIT: And because people keep sailing past the point I was trying to make, the point is not that “Handsome men don’t get more slack,” because of course they often do, but rather “The fact that women want to talk to people they find attractive is not unfair.”

(Unless these guys would find it somehow “fairer” for everyone – including them – to be forced to date people they personally find unattractive, what’s actually being said when once you dig underneath that cry of “That’s not fair!” is a version of “It’s unfair that women can’t be forced to tolerate people they don’t actually want to interact with so I can fuck them.” And yeah. Zero surprise that this approach is not met with positive feedback by women.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

I’m in the final stages of editing a complex book which prominently features two disabled characters, and I’d like to hire someone who is wheelchair-enabled who can tell me whether I’m making any obvious insults and/or errors to wheelchair-enabled users.   It’s a 95,000 word manuscript, and the pay isn’t magnificent but it’s about 6% of what I got paid for the book after agent’s cut, et al.  If you can give me actual feedback on the book itself, all the better.  Turnaround time would be 4-6 weeks, preferably for someone who’s done professional critiquing/sensitivity reading before.

If interested, please email me at theferrett@theferrett.com with the header “Sensitivity Reader,” so you don’t get lost in spam, with your qualifications.

(And yes, I am aware of Writing In The Margins’ Sensitivity Reader index, which is an excellent resource I’d recommend to those looking to ensure that they’re not accidentally elbowing people in the face with hoary cliches and/or botched details on the life of marginalized people.  I’m just seeing if there’s anyone who I know/knows me who’d want the job first.)

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Humans want absolute certainty, and they will fold, spindle, and mutilate other human beings to get that illusion of perfect consistency.

The easiest example of that is politeness.

Politeness is, on the surface, an awesome idea. People get stressed because they have a terror of offending people – what if you say the wrong thing and make them mad at you? Suddenly, every meeting with a new person is this wild gamble – what conversational topics will offend them? What level of bodily contact will they find acceptable, whether that’s a hug or a handshake or a stiff nod? When is it okay to introduce yourself?

Every time you meet someone new, it’s a roll of the dice. You might insult someone. You might actually make the wrong decision and have someone loathe you – which is scary! (And if you have social anxiety, you probably feel those odds keener than other people do.)

Enter politeness – a social construct where we all agree on weird things like, “When you meet people, you should shake hands and say ‘hello,’ and then talk about neutral topics like the weather.”

Basically, politeness is a way of reducing the uncertainty in social interactions. If everyone around you knows the standards of politeness, then “Doing what’s expected” will lead to positive reactions more often than not.

And if you run into someone who’s germaphobic and thus doesn’t shake hands, they should – in theory – understand that you meant no harm by offering the handshake, it’s just customary. At which point, in an ideal and sane world, you can override the generic standards of politeness with that person’s personal stated preferences.

Which is a sane, wonderful thing to do! Basically, every around you quietly agrees on a set number of actions you undertake until you know someone better, at which point you quietly switch from the I-don’t-know-you-that-well mode default behavior and into the oh-yes-we’ve-met behaviors.

(It gets a little awkward if someone doesn’t know the local rules of politeness, but there’s no universal fix for these sorts of issues.)

Politeness changes the odds. Maybe once there was like a 40% chance of total awkwardness if you talked to a stranger, but shared conventions reduced that chance to 5%.

Which is awesome. I am totally in favor of reducing awkwardness wherever possible.

Yet here’s the folding, spindling, and mutilating bit: people will get so attached to the reduction of uncertainty that politeness brings them that they’ll start to prioritize the rules over people.

The easiest example of that is “Merry Christmas.”

Time was that saying “Merry Christmas” was a social construct that provided an illusion of consistency. When the snow was falling and the Christmas trees were up, you could say “Merry Christmas!” to anyone while you were out shopping and people were socially obligated to smile back at you.

Now, keep in mind that not everyone wanted to smile back at you. People who were Jewish may have felt understandably pissy that saying “Merry Christmas!” meant that non-believers were required to translate your holiday greeting into a generic sentiment of “Good wishes!” – but if you said “Happy Hanukkah!” to someone instead, suddenly some significant percentage of Christians would get furious because they were not obligated to translate Jewish sentiments into generic good wishes. (And God forbid a black man said something to an unsuspecting white person about Kwanzaa.)

Likewise, there’s people who don’t think of Christmas as a positive event, and so to them wishing people Merry Christmas is akin to affirming other people’s
sick habits of spending themselves into bankruptcy for no good reason. Yet the social constructs of politeness required them to say it back, or they were the dick.

And yet, over the years, that definition of politeness has quietly changed. A significant number of people have come to realize that whoah, actually, this whole “Merry Christmas” thing can be a little unfair and obscuring of non-Christmas-having faiths. So “Happy Holidays!” became the default.

And people

lost

their

shit.

And the interesting thing is that most of these folks probably aren’t really upset about “Merry Christmas” as such. What they’re actually upset about is that at one point the odds of offending someone with a jaunty “Merry Christmas!” were so low that they never even had to think about it, and suddenly those odds have changed.

Now there’s some 10% chance that saying “Merry Christmas!” might be met with an implication that they’re the dick. They’re fretting all the time because their formerly sure-fire greeting has a chance of misfire… and they fucking hate that.

And rather than saying, “Oh, wow, every social interaction (no matter how minor) has some percentage of going awry, and circumstances have changed so that people are free to express a distress they’ve always actually held and yet were constrained by social constructs until now, so maybe I should alter my behavior to lower my risk of offense in the future”….

These people weaponize politeness by saying, “ANYONE WHO DOESN’T FOLLOW THE RULES I GREW UP LEARNING IS AN OVERLY-SENSITIVE ASSHOLE.”

In other words, they’re willing to fold, spindle, and mutilate other human beings’ emotions so long as they get to hold on to this precious idea that “following this rule means nobody can be mean to me ever.”

But the truth is this: there’s no interaction you can have that doesn’t risk offending someone somewhere. Every time you speak is a gamble – you can minimize that risk with politeness, and clarity of speaking, and knowing who you’re speaking to, but every time you open your mouth you might hurt someone’s feelings.

And the proper answer to that is not “Well, fuck all those people” or “Please shut the hell up for my convenience” but to accept that communication is not a certainty, and to accept that risk of accidental injury, and to look at every situation individually to decide whether that person is justified in being hurt or whether you think they’re being unreasonable. (Because sometimes, yes, they’re being unreasonable.)

And you see that certainty everywhere – here’s the young guys getting furious because they followed the rules their older friends taught them to pick up women at a bar, and the women who that patter doesn’t work on are “bitches.” Here’s the people who are furious because the terms for trans people and black people keep transforming (in part because people keep turning the mere names for these states of being into an insult, but that’s another essay for another time), and they’re furious because dammit they should be able to learn one term always and never have to change it ever again. Here’s the Baby Boomers who are furious because they got taught to say “You’re welcome” and the Millennials say “No problem” instead and that makes them feel awkward even if the Millennials don’t mean it as awkward so you Millennials stop saying that right now it’s rude.

But here’s the trick: Prioritize people over rules whenever possible. You can’t do it all the time, because “people” are not a uniform mass and someone risks getting offended whatever you do. (I keep seeing various minorities standing up and speaking for all their fellow minorities as if they were a hive mind, only to be snarled up by debates from very visible and very dissenting other members of that minority culture.)

But you know, realize that any idea you have of “If I do this, I’ll never offend anyone” is a lie that you’re telling yourself in order to make you feel comfortable. Recognize that this lie suppresses people in order to perpetuate an illusion that does not, in fact, exist.

Recognize that you’re always risking discomfort when you talk to people. And that’s okay. You shouldn’t need certainty to thrive, because it doesn’t really exist anyway.

Be comfortable with percentages instead of certainty.

Well, be as comfortable as you can.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

“You guys have so many friends,” my father once told me. “You don’t ever have to spend a night at home alone, if you don’t want. You’re lucky that way.”

We weren’t lucky, though. Some days, we were frickin’ exhausted.

The thing nobody tells you about “having a vibrant social network” is that building one and maintaining it takes a lot of effort. For every night we can call up people and magically conjure a social gathering, there’s two where we’re slumped on the couch going, “I guess we have to go out.” We’re reaching out, we’re coordinating dates on Google Calendar, we’re squeezing in time between my writing and Gini’s quilting and the kids visiting…

And that assumes we have a friends’ group to begin with! Hoo boy, if we don’t have a variety of close friends then that process gets agonizing. Suddenly, you’re going out on buddy-dates, hanging out for an evening full of awkward to see if you click as a group, and then doing it again with the same people even if it was a little awkward because honestly, most initial friend get-togethers are clunky and sometimes you need three or four gatherings before the edges rub off and you feel comfortable with each other.

I’m tired just thinking about it.

And yet when I see movies about friendships, I always see these effortless groups where friendship is a purely positive force. When the lead character has her big let down, their friends are there to catch her – yet there’s never the scene from the perspective of the friend who was planning to curl up and watch Netflix in glorious solitude and yet they had to throw all that away to be a shoulder for their buddy to sob on. (Or if they have that scene, it’s proof that friend is a bad friend for inconveniencing you, which is equally toxic.)

Friendship bolsters you. But it also costs.

And I think about that today thanks to an excellent article in the Boston Globe from a guy who doesn’t think he’s lonely. He’s got kids, plenty of people at work, a lot of friends on social media….

But after his boss assigned him the story on loneliness, he realized that he was lonely. Because he had a lot of activity in his life, but no close friends outside of his wife and his kids, and as every parent knows, your kids can be a delight but they can’t quite be your friends (at least when they’re young).

There’s a difference between staying superficially in touch with lots of people and having a few stalwart buddies.

And I think of this paragraph:

“‘Since my wife and I have written about loneliness and social isolation, we see a fair number of people for whom this is a big problem,’ Schwartz continues. But there’s a catch. ‘Often they don’t come saying they’re lonely. Most people have the experience you had in your editor’s office: Admitting you’re lonely feels very much like admitting you’re a loser. Psychiatry has worked hard to de-stigmatize things like depression, and to a large part it has been successful. People are comfortable saying they’re depressed. But they’re not comfortable saying they’re lonely, because you’re the kid sitting alone in the cafeteria.’”

I think he’s right.

I think a lot of people who are depressed are, at least in part, lonely – and they’re not sure what to do about that. (And a therapist is often just paying someone an hourly rate to listen to you, which can often be a rent-a-friend business.)

And I think part of that process of combating loneliness involves acknowledging that close friendships aren’t necessarily easy. It’s like exercise; some people are naturally drawn to working out all the time, but most of us like “having exercised” but still groan as we schlep down to the gym.

The most successful healthy people are often not the people who love exercise, but who have accepted that the minor unpleasantness of putting in an hour down at the gym will make their lives infinitely better.

Friendship, at least for me and my wife, is a weird balance, because as introverts we have a natural reluctance to going out with people. Left to our own devices, we’d rather nest in at home every evening – we’ve spent time working, we want to relax, going out with people and putting out more energy seems exhausting.

Yet we do it. Because we realize that if we followed our natural instincts all the time, we’d be unhappy in the long run. We need friends. But we can’t just call up our friends when we need them – that’s treating them like tools. So we gotta get our duffs off the couch and say those precious, precious words:

“Wanna hang out?”

We need to reach out and cultivate those relationships in advance, to schedule nights out, to go to events we’re not really thrilled about when we start out – because, like exercise, a lot of the time it actually turns out to be pretty awesome once we’ve started. You feel pumped, you feel jazzed, you feel glad that you went and did it.

A lot of maintaining good friendships is getting past that inertia of “Don’t wanna.” (The other half is knowing which nights you’re absolutely right to spend at home alone.)

Friendships are wonderful, and empowering, but they’re not a free natural resource for most of us. And I think a lot of people wind up lonelier than they should because they’ve got this weird, sitcom-fed idea that friendships just happen – Joey and Monica and Chandler just wind up on the couch at the coffee shop by magic every night.

Whereas the truth about friendships is that those “you wind up in the same place every night” usually only happen when you’re living in the same place, which only really happens in college. Once you’re a grownup, your friends scatter, and you have to chase them down – Joey’s at the cafe every Tuesday for open mic night, and Monica lives on the other side of town but really wants to see that show at the Capitol Theater, and Chandler’s working lots of overtime but hey do you wanna catch a drink when he gets off work at 8?

You have to schedule. You have to go to places with people you’re not 100% comfortable with yet. You have to decide to leave your apartment.

That all takes a certain amount of labor. And you get rewarded big in the end – there’s nothing better about walking into a room and seeing that smile when your buddy shows up and getting that hug and knowing that yeah, this evening was totally worth going out for because you stuck with these people until you had a history together.

Yet that takes effort. That effort isn’t not good, it’s not bad, it’s not wrong. It’s just… what it is. And if you don’t put in that time, you wind up lonely.

Sometimes that loneliness decays into depression. Or sometimes the depression saps your efforts to get out, which decays into more depression. (Gini and I have both been battling sickness lately, and that shows in the sad way we’ve let some of our regular social engagements slip. We want to fight that. We need to, honestly.)

But to fight that loneliness, you gotta organize outings. The get-togethers no longer come for free when you get past a certain age. And I think the sooner you can acknowledge that, and get past the reluctance to fight that, the better your life will end up being.

It’s okay that it’s not effortless.

It’s not for most people.

Now get out there and friend it up.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So on Saturday, I started the finish to the shadowbox I’ve been working on for my sweetie.

On Saturday, everything that could go wrong with the wood did.

A “shadowbox” is a recessed case – basically, a frame you can put a three-dimensional object into.  The object in this case is “a sock.”  Because my sweetie refuses to tell me where she wants to go when we go out on  dates, and I have to remind her in true Harry Potter style that Dobby has been given his sock, and so I’m officially going to give her her sock so she’ll remember that I’m never going to get mad at her for expressing an opinion.

So I’d prepped the wood on a previous weekend, and Saturday was cutting grooves into it and cutting it into pieces that would fit together into a box.  And it was a frustrating day, because I’d lost several tools and had to go hunting around for them, and then I didn’t know how either one of my routers worked to switch bits efficiently, and I couldn’t figure out how to get the table saw set up for bevelled cuts, and when I finally did I cut the pieces the wrong way so the box shrunk from seven inches to six inches to five inches as I kept adjusting, and when I finally assembled it the grooves were half on the outside of the box, half on the inside.

I’d spent two sessions, only to end up with a useless partial case.

A little disheartening.

But on Sunday, my wife was feeling sleepy so at 8:00 I decided to get out and put in another couple of hours in the shop.

I killed it.

Now that I knew where all my tools were and how to use them, I cut myself a perfect shadowbox in 52 minutes.  All my measurements were right, my safety game was on, and I was in the zone.

And that may be the first time I’ve felt competent as a woodworker ever.

Woodworking is weird.  I do it because I like it, but there’s also that odd pressure because woodworking is a traditionally masculine skill, and I’ve never been good with my hands.  (Unless they’re typing words at a keyboard.)  Whenever I fuck up a cut, I think of all those videos where the bearded confident guy quietly assembles a mahogany end table in a half-an-hour show and never says “oops” and never has to stand there calling Norm over to go, “Okay, now, how do we fix this damn thing?”

And I know, I know, that’s not reality.  I’m told by professional woodworkers that half the time at their shop is futzing around for that tool they laid here somewhere.  But there’s this image, somehow, of the woodworker I should be which is partially of the man I should be and I never quite get there.

Last night, dear reader, I got there.

And I know I’ll screw it up again.  The guys are coming over to assemble Eric’s shelf on Wednesday, and we’re gonna screw things up like nobody’s business.  There’s no shame in screwing up.

The real reason I’m proud of Sunday night’s shadowbox is because everything I did so quickly was purely because I’d screwed up.  How did I change that routing bit so easily?  Well, I remembered where the wrenches were and knew how to get at the collar.  How did I know how to bevel the boards properly?  Because I’d spent half an hour learning how to use the table saw and learned a valuable lesson on how to cut angles.

Basically, last night’s speed run was where I turned mistakes into lessons.

That sort of conversion is what it’s all about.  There’s no shame in screwing up.  In our shop, we call them Valuable Lessons – as in, “Well, I think we’ve all learned a Valuable Lesson tonight” – and that’s how we get better.

Last night, I got better.

I’m marking that moment here so I don’t forget.

The shadowbox.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So!  I have sold my time-travelling soup novel Savor Station to Tor, one of the biggest publishers in science fiction!  And you may have some questions:

What Is Savor Station about?
According to the press release, it is “Kitchen Confidential Meets The Fifth Element by way of Wes Anderson, about a destitute philosopher who wins a free meal at the best restaurant in the known universe and ends up gaining life lessons with a sense of good taste along the way.”

…don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t sell your weird novels, kids!

But what is Savor Station really about?  
The secret to Savor Station is that it’s a sideways sequel to my Nebula-nominated novelette Sauerkraut Station, taking place on the same station many years later.  Things have changed greatly on this nowhere station after the events of the war, obviously, but some characters put in reappearances.  If you loved that story – and holy crap, after Flex, it’s the story I get the most fan mail about – then you’ll be happy to see what Lizzie is up to.

(Which means that when Ann Leckie bought that impossible-to-sell novelette, she helped me acquire not only a Nebula nomination but a book deal.  Thank you, Ann.  In the unlikely event you haven’t read her won-literally-every-science-fiction-award book Ancillary Justice, do so now.  It’s amazing.)

That sounds awesome!  Where can I buy it?  When?  How?  
…you can’t buy it yet, because we literally just announced the book deal.  It’ll likely be out in spring of 2019, traditional publishing being glacially slow, and it’ll likely be my first hardcover.  Believe me, I’ll let you know when you can buy it.

If you’re desperate to read an upcoming book from me, allow me to remind you that my post-singularity thriller The Uploaded is due out from Angry Robot this September, it is currently available for preorder from both Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and that preorders really, really help an author out more than just about anything else.

It says this is a two-book deal.  So there’ll be a sequel to this sorta-sequel?  
Probably not.  Sequels are tricky beasts; even though I think the ‘mancer series ended really well (and I learned to be a much better writer along the way), the third book’s sales were predictably less than the first book’s sales.  As a writer, it’s a little sad to put so much effort into a book to have it be some shadow of the first book.  So chances are it’ll be an entirely different book – quite possibly the one I’m working on now, maybe another one if my editor doesn’t care for that one.

Will you be doing a book tour for Savor Station? 
Jeez, if you thought I went nuts with donuts on the ‘mancer book tours, imagine what I’ll do when it’s a book literally devoted to the beauties of fine cooking in the future.  I may have to buy that liquid nitrogen canister I’ve been dreaming about….

Are you happy, Ferrett?  I mean, really happy? 
I will never be satisfied.

But given that it took me twenty years to get good enough to publish my first book and I am now contractually mandated to publish six of them, I’m doing pretty damn well.

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Our goddaughter died after a long, drawn-out battle with cancer. Then, a few months later, my wife’s mother died after a long, drawn-out illness.

Gini kinda checked out for a while after that.

She was overwhelmed by crowds, which felt too big and fast and inquisitive, so she didn’t want to go out much. She retreated to the bathtub, spent hours soaking in water reading comfort books – she read over ninety Star Wars books, losing herself in the happiness of spending more time with Luke and Han and Leia.

I couldn’t ask much of her.

Her grief went on for months. She wasn’t completely absent – she still held me if I asked her to, she still laughed if I told her jokes. But her normal desires had been shattered. She fought hard to find her way back to some semblance of normality, but two mortal body blows had robbed my wife of her usual resiliency.

And I, also grieving for our goddaughter, responded in a different way – I needed to get out, to feel the vibrant love at parties and conventions, to go a little mad in the opposite direction with crushes and new friends and oh my God please talk to me.

But you know what I did?

I held a space for her.

Yes, I went out to conventions and spent weekends lost in furious makeout sessions. Yes, I went out with friends and cuddled buddies and found other things to do.

But I was very careful to keep some necessary emptiness in my relationships. There was a Gini-sized hole in my life, and I made damn sure nobody else crept into that sacred space – which meant some nights, I cradled myself in loneliness while Gini was in the tub, reading a book I didn’t want to read because I wanted to be out somewhere. I watched reruns with her in the living room, which felt like a straightjacket because we could be out in the glorious darkness of a theater, that movie filling our eyes and leaving us nowhere else to go but into the depth of someone else’s story….

But Gini couldn’t go out.

I held that space for her.

And on the days when I was emotional and I knew Gini couldn’t handle the strain of playing therapist, I talked to other friends. And there was that temptation to turn this revelation into OH MY GOD YOU AND I ARE SOULMATES, LOOK AT YOU, YOU UNDERSTAND ME, to react to all this sadness by kindling new and intense relationships, to find someone to fall in love with in a way fierce enough to drive back all this ennui.

But if I did that, the relationship would grow into an odd shape – it would be a real love, yes, but it would be a love nourished by the absence of an old love. I would love this new person partially because they were there for me in a time that someone else wasn’t. And experience has taught me that those relationships don’t necessarily flourish once they’re hauled out of that strange ecosystem of loss and asked to thrive on their own merits.

So I held that space for her.

And over the course of a year, Gini finally came back to me. Not all at once; an “I think I can do this party” here, a genuine interest in seeing that movie there. She started to tell her own jokes, that warm smile creeping back to replace the stunned expression on her face.

And when she returned, she found the space I’d held in my heart ready and warmed for her. It hadn’t been easy keeping it free of entanglements. I’d had to stand alone in the center of that space sometimes, wishing for company, longing for the wife I wanted her to be – the wife that she herself wanted to be again, but could not.

And I thought of what a younger, dumber me would have done. I would have short-circuited at the idea of purposely enduring some discomfort while my partner handled some necessary issues, and I would have run out and found something to fill that emptiness, and I would have been absolutely, furiously puzzled when my partner eventually returned to find that the space that had once been devoted entirely to our relationship was now entangled with other commitments that I clung to with a new and frenetic love, and now that she was back it was not with relief but with a regret that I had to set down these freshly-found joys to have to make space for this old one.

And when she returned, still tentative and uncertain from her journey, would she have really wanted to argue with me about hey, I’m doing this now, you have to make room for this new thing I did while you were away. Would she be happy to come back from a long and difficult struggle, only to find a newer struggle of trying to figure out where she fit into a life that closed over like a scab when she left for a while?

Which isn’t to justify neglectful abuse, of course. Some partners are so dismissive of your needs that honestly, refusing to let them take up space they don’t even value is simple common sense.

But sometimes, your lovers will go through difficult times that are no fault of their own; they want to be in that space, but depression or grief or poverty mean they can’t be with you in the way they so deeply long to. They’ll get back, eventually, but for now they can’t be there for you in the way they want to.

And this is a problem in monogamy, too – but especially in polyamory, all too often the answer to “I feel distant and lonely” is to go chase a new shiny. To find someone, anyone, to fill up the temporarily-vacated spaces in your heart.

Which sounds good – but when your lovers have fought to come back to you, they find not a set of welcoming arms but the ugly paperwork for an eviction process.

Gini came back to me. You never recover from the death of someone you love; you just find ways to reroute around the damage. And Gini did her damndest to reroute and rework and renew until she could step into the space we’d carved for each other in our lives in the way we wanted to.

There was nothing there but me.

Thank God there was nothing there but me.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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