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.

theferrett: (Meazel)

Hey, my first novel Flex was published two years ago today!  (But it’s not my last novel, thankfully – don’t forget my immortality cyberpunk thriller The Uploaded, due out this September.)  And as a celebration and thanks, I figured I’d give you the songs that helped inspire the ‘Mancer series.

Because every book I write usually has a couple of core songs I listen to on repeat.  They’re what convey the mood to me – sometimes it’s the lyrics, sometimes it’s the instrumentals.  When I’m stuck on the eternal novel question of “What happens next?” I’ll listen to those songs over and over again until they lead me back to the central themes of the novel.

Or, as it happens from my poor wife’s perspective, “Are you still playing that goddamned song?”

Now, the central song of Flex was so obvious, I wanted to use the lyrics as part of the book.  But here’s an interesting bit of trivia for you: getting permission to use song lyrics in a book these days takes months of paperwork and can cost you $5,000 to use a popular lyric.  (I was severely misled by Stephen King’s novel Christine, which was written in the 1980s and uses lyrics at the beginning of every chapter.  I doubt even he could afford that now.)

So instead, I used the lyrics of this song as section titles in Flex, which I’m told is perfectly fine.  References are cool, wholesale quotes are not.  The music industry is weird.  But I mean, if we’re discussing the life of Paul Tsabo, the bureaucracy-based magician who longed for magic, isn’t this perfect?

Watch out, you might get what you’re after
Cool babies, strange but not a stranger
I’m an ordinary guy
Burning down the house

(The live version from Stop Making Sense, of course. I’m not a savage.)

However, Paul’s most essential nature comes from, weirdly enough, an Epic Rap Battle.  Because readers of the book will know that one of Paul’s weirder powers is that when the universe starts to fragment thanks to overusage of magic, his stubbornly bureaucratic insistence that the world must make sense helps stitch it back together.  And whenever he did that, weirdly, I took inspiration from Weird Al rapping as Sir Isaac Newton.

Because if you listen to this, when he bellows “First Law!” and that bass note drops in, to me, that is Paul, outraged, reminding the universe that there are laws and physics damned well better follow them.

Now, as to Valentine, everyone’s favorite videogame-slinging, sex-crazed girl gamer, she’s got her own theme song.  I was looking for a song with swagger, and I stumbled upon this in my iTunes library – if you listen to Sirah rapping through her segment, to my mind that voice is Valentine’s.

(Though thanks to electronic filtering, I didn’t register that the voice said “Big white girl, don’t let her bite your dick off.”  Valentine wouldn’t do that; she’s far more likely to jam one of her collection of dicks up your ass.  She loves that.)

Interestingly, Skrillex (of all bands!) is rooted deeply in the ‘Mancer series, because when I was looking for a song that summed up the franticness of a drug deal gone wrong because Aliyah was fucking up everything.  And the song that rooted The Flux down was Bangarang, a song whose lyrics make zero sense but whose intensity really mirrored how the family was flying apart at the beginning of the book:

Now, if you want proof that I don’t always listen to lyrics, for the third book in the series Fix, I wanted a song that summed up the appeal of the zombified Unimancers – the military brainwashing that was harsh and yet somehow appealing.  And… well, I don’t listen to lyrics.

So the feel of the song that drives Aliyah deeper into Unimancy is dark, mysterious, and alien.  To me, it’s an ominous terror.  But alas, the lyrics of Timbaland’s “Bounce” involve the classic line, “Bounce like yo’ ass had the hiccups,” which in retrospect is a little embarrassing.

Still.  I listened to this song on endless repeat when writing Fix, so here it is.

And lastly, a bit of a sneak preview: the song that roots my upcoming novel The Uploaded needed to be about rage and betrayal – because in a post-singularity world where digitally uploaded humans are immortal and the living are considered quaint slave labor, useless until they’ve transitioned into their electronic death, I needed a song that carried the seeds of a sweaty, breathing rebellion.

So for The Uploaded, there was no other song except for Rise Against’s Re-Education (Through Labor).

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

So as someone with a few published novels under his belt, I get asked all the time: “How do I become a professional writer?” As in, “How do I make writing my full-time job?”

The most surprising component to that is this:

Make sure Obamacare doesn’t get repealed.

Seriously.  Being a full-time writer, at least on the lower levels, is being eternally on the hustle: working your Patreon, mixing up self-publishing and traditional publishing to see which earns you more income, waiting those dry months between paychecks because publishers pay you when they damn well feel like it and acceptances can take forever.

It’s a tenuous existence at best for most writers.  For every Neil Gaiman millionaire, there’s a hundred “pro” writers scraping by on a $400-a-month Patreon and sporadic book advances.  The life of a creator is hard.

And if they go to the hospital even once without insurance, well, that’s usually enough to tip them out of this writing career business.  They literally can’t afford to write, because even trivial health issues cost them thousands of bucks they don’t have.

So they get day jobs for the steadier income.  Or they get day jobs because the insurance they can afford on their individual writer’s income is way too expensive.

Obamacare, for all its manifest flaws, let artists flourish.  America’s supposed to value the small businessman, and allowing an artist to go out and start their own jewelry company, or their publishing company, or their recording business is the height of the values Republicans usually claim to espouse.

Every artist who goes full time is an entrepreneur taking a risk.

And without affordable health care, without the BS of being barred for preexisting conditions, or being asked to pay out of some nebulous savings account that won’t cover your first major surgery?

Your chances of being a full-time author are only as good as your health.  And your health is always a crapshoot.  You can work out all day and still get hit by a car.

Maybe you can make it if you’ve got a partner who’s willing to cover for you.  Yet even that risks putting you into an abusive relationship where some jerk of a lover can mistreat you because they know you need the health care.  (That’s not theoretical, by the way.  I’ve seen that happen.  Multiple times.)

So if you want to be a full-time writer, the usual caveats apply: write a lot, because you need to learn your craft and you can’t do that by writing once a month when you’re inspired.  Get good feedback from honest people who like the kind of stuff you’re trying to write.  Submit everywhere, and dance that tricky flamenco of “changing your work in response to good criticism” without “selling out the things you love about yourself.”

But honestly?  If your dream is to be a full-time writer, call your Congressmen and tell them you want a health care program that protects all preexisting conditions, that isn’t a savings account, that doesn’t have lifetime payout limits.  I’ve written up how to do that here, and it takes about ten minutes out of your day.

And if you don’t want to be a full-time writer, but you enjoy all that great writing and indie music and Etsy art, contemplate also making the call.  A lot more artists than you’d think depend on Obamacare to keep producing that work you love, and if that gets repealed they’re going to have to quit this to get a day job.

Obamacare protects a lot more small business people than anyone wants to admit.  We just don’t talk about that because we don’t think of artists as business people – but they are.  They’re hustlers.  They’re working to survive.

Help ’em out by making a call or two.

 

 

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

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

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

But you know what?

I got insecure in monogamous relationships, too.

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

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

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

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

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

Shrink.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You don’t. So I usually don’t.

For me, it’s the smart move.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

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

Weirdly, that absence actually hurts me as a writer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe some day.

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

theferrett: (Meazel)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Great!
  • Good
  • Meh

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

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

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

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

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

It depends what you need.

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

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

  • Great!
  • Good
  • Meh

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.

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