On Stagnation, Entropy, and Other Change-Related Things

This post is in response to this other post, by my friend Leslie. She has a huge brain full of important thoughts, and you should be reading her posts and everything else that goes up on Black Nerd Problems. In my neverending commitment to progress, I am trying to make sure I boost the range of under-privileged voices, so I would really appreciate it if you would read the entirety of her post first. This is crafted assuming you have done so.

OK, we good?

Great.

(Full disclosure: We do actually know each other IRL and spend time in each others’ company in a friendly capacity. Take note, ye hoary trolls of the Intertron.)

So, first off: I 100% agree with her.

This is a pet peeve we both share; that a community that is explicitly supposed to be about celebrating creativity and inclusion and being weird is so very, very committed to keeping things how they always were.

More particularly, it bothers me that nerds claim to be outcasts, to be the “weird” people, to be against the exclusionary behaviors of the “jocks” or whatever the popular group du jour is, but that the type of “weird” nerd culture is so committed to preserving is a “weird” that is actually a very specific subset of traits and behaviors, that were enshrined in days of old and have not been allowed to change since.

This already erupted, albeit briefly, on a Facebook thread, so I will say it here: no, nerds are not the only people who are afraid of change. No, nerds are not the only people to behave in an exclusionary manner. But we are focusing on them because a. they are a culture that claims to be about embracing that which is fringe and different, but which on the whole does anything but, and b. because that is the topic that is at hand right now. This is not a witch-hunt nor is it a rejection of the idea anyone else ever excluded somebody. Capice?

Nerds are exclusionary about a great many things, and they react poorly to change in general, and they actually have a tendency to pigeonhole certain pursuits as “not nerdy.” You can see this in the “Edition Wars” that crop up whenever a new edition of a roleplaying game comes out (look up arguments about Third, Fourth, or Fifth Edition D&D, or the condemnation of the switch from the Old World of Darkness to the New), or at your board game night, when your group will not play Eurogames or “Ameritrash,” or when someone wants to play Munchkin or Fluxx and people roll their eyes (this happens to my wife on a regular basis).

They also have a tendency to declare media “ruined forever” whenever there is a major shift in their franchise of choice. And there are unfortunate implications, and just outright unfortunate statements, that come up whenever this happens in reaction to media with increased diversity: stories focused on people of color, or women, or LGBT people. And especially stories where those underrepresented parts of humanity replace a white/male/straight version of a character. Like, say, when someone made Marvel’s Thor a woman, or when someone decided to do a new Ghostbusters movie with an all-female cast. There’s even backlash about having non-white characters in fantasy novels at all, saying that somehow it is “not fantasy” if there are non-white people in the story. Yes, really.

It seems so weird to me, and actually enraging, in fact, that, in a culture that has a well-known problem with excluding people, to the point of not excluding toxic and dangerous people, we are so quick to exclude people who do not conform to far less harmful behaviors. And while it’s bad that we try to say someone is or is not a “real nerd” or “real gamer” or whatever based on the weirdest judgments, and that we treat all change as something to shun, it is worse that we are also often being racist and sexist in the process.

Now, the most common defense I hear when these arguments are called out is that race/gender is not the issue. It’s about the change. This argument takes a great many forms. And I would like to go over the most common ones right now, because I want to discuss the ways in which the argument looks problematic, and in which it is possible the argument is a result of problematic cultural programming.

So, without further ado:

Argument #1: The “We’re Past All That”

But there are established female/PoC/LGBT characters in this franchise already; why did we have to add another one/replace a white/male/straight character with one of those?

Why is it a bad thing if there are more now? Why do the majority of characters have to be white, and why can’t non-white characters adopt some of the mantles previously held by white guys? Why does Captain America always have to be white? Why can’t Thor, who has previously been turned into a frog and also had his hammer wielded by an alien horse-man, also be a woman? Why can’t women bust ghosts? We are not erasing the fact that character was white/male/straight before. Why is it a problem for that to change? This goes double if you were also complaining that they have run out of stories to tell with the character in question.

Argument #2: The Appeal to Tradition

This character/franchise is a classic, and to change it is to undermine the original.

Why does having a new version diminish the old one? We’ve done a million spins on Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth and the Ring Cycle, and no-one (well, no sane person) is arguing we have ruined Shakespeare. What is it about Ghostbusters that makes it immune to the same kind of cultural adaptation?

Argument #3: The Capitalism Shield

This change is just about boosting sales and getting ally cookies from the “PC patrol”

So? Comics and movies have done far stupider things than add a black person to boost sales. Also, if adding a black person reliably boosted sales, wouldn’t everything just be black people, all the time?

Or is what you’re saying that they are trying to expand their market to include people who are not represented in the old version? If that’s the case, why does their buy-in have to preclude your own or vice-versa? Why does reading about people who are not you insult or offend you?

Argument #4: The Fascism Parallel

This change is just about the “PC patrol” forcing us to adhere to their views.

We’re actually not asking you to conform to any view; we are asking you to be willing to read about people who are not like you. That’s not really a “view” so much as “a natural byproduct of a global community, and of everyone getting an equal chance to write about/read about/see people who are both like them and different.” See Item #3.

(Also, eat me, Hypothetical Interlocutor; “politically correct” is only a bad word to bad people.)

Now, I did my best to not be inflammatory up there, and knowing myself, I probably failed. So please, if you are still feeling vehement about not wanting the new version of Cap, or the Ghostbusters, or DuckTales, or whatever…please take a deep breath, understand that I am not mad at you, and ask yourself this series of questions:

Is it really about liking the old version better? Are you sure it is not because you have been taught that media becoming more inclusive must necessarily come at the expense of inclusivity toward the people who are represented by the old version? Are you sure it is not because of some other belief you have been raised with, unquestioned, that you may not feel is correct once you do examine it? I have those too, believe me, and it’s a struggle to parse them all out and stop letting them control you. You are not a bad person for all that; you are a person. I just want to help you see what might be going on that is fueling your reaction.

And if, after all that, your argument is that it changed, and now it sucks, and race or gender or orientation don’t enter into it…why is change at all bad? Why does something changing undermine your ability to enjoy what came before? Why can’t you just go back and read/watch that other version that you like better, and let other people read the new thing? Or, perhaps even more important, why can’t the new thing be given a chance to be good just because it is new? As Leslie wisely said, if we took that attitude all the time, we’d still be living in caves.

So this is me saying — nerds are supposed to be about inclusivity. Maybe we should consider actually behaving that way.

Now excuse me, I am going to go read about the new Thor and Captain America while I play Fluxx.

On Valentine’s Day

I am very excited about Valentine’s Day. Sonya and I have plans to go on a food tour together, something we have not done since the first year of our relationship, and to do it in Monterey, which is lovely and which we love and which is full of restaurants we want to try.

However, I have already gotten the first couple of ads that I know always crop up around Valentine’s Day. The icky ones that tell you how to avoid being alone. The gross ones that tell you what to do to “make a girl yours.” The ones that refer to women as girls, that talk about surefire ways of getting her in bed (it’s always a dude trying to make a play for a lady, isn’t it?). The ones that are for chocolate “Perfect Men,” because they are made of sugar and don’t talk. The ones that are about how women will let you do freaky stuff if you give her a bouquet of flowers or a diamond, and the ones that indicate that the only socially acceptable way to go about Valentine’s Day is to be a cishet couple, probably white, and for the man to pay for everything. Use of royal or noble titles of address for the woman is also required, and you had better have sex that night or clearly your relationship is terrible.

I am a cishet white dude in a heterosexual relationship. I did buy Sonya a gift for Valentine’s Day, and there might be flowers or gourmet chocolates, and we are going out to eat enough times that yes, I will probably pay for food. There may be sexytimes if we are both in the mood physically and mentally for sexytimes. But it is equally likely that Sonya will get me a gift, that Sonya will pay for some of the food, and that we will decide to do precisely whatever the fuck we want in our hotel room because we are adults and we get to execute our relationship the way we fucking want. I probably won’t call her a princess, nor a queen, nor will the expectation be that one of us be pampered any more than the other.

I hate the toxic mess that is gender normativity, and I hate the way Valentine’s Day has all these rote expectations that you must meet for your relationship to be “healthy” or at least “normal” (which ain’t the same here in a country where Fifty Shades of Gray is somehow popular). Seeing all these ads, and worse, seeing people on my social media feeds buying into this stuff as How Valentine’s Day works, is honestly making me dread Valentine’s Day because of the massive social pressure placed on me to perform a specific role on that day, even if it’s a role I am not wholly interested in performing in the first place.

So, let me clear about a thing here:

If you :

  • say something about being a “real man” or a “real woman” because you do x culturally expected thing, or about how something is your due or responsibility because of your genitals;
  • say all men or all women do x thing and that thing is not either a basic biological function;
  • denigrate others for not fulfilling some item on the supposed Valentine’s Day checklist;
  • give anyone grief about not going out with someone on Valentine’s Day, or worse try to claim being single on Valentine’s Day is a personal failing;
  • use pick-up artist or men’s rights activist buzzwords;
  • suggest any route, any, is a dead-sure-fire way to make someone have sex with you;
  • make a rape joke;
  • endorse Fifty Shades of Gray as somehow actually representative of actual BDSM;
  • or retweet or reblog any advertisement containing the above-mentioned attitudes (and are not retweeting or reblogging to help drive views to a work-related link you manage whose message you can’t control),

I will block you for a week and add one dollar to the amount I am donating to an equality- or rape-survival focused charity when I get my next paycheck. At the end of the week you will be reminded I did this and why.

(If you are actually awesome and want me to donate a dollar in your name as a platonic Valentine’s Day present, you can tell me that, too. I won’t block you, though. Especially not if that’s your fetish.)

Let me be clear: you can do precisely whatever you want. If you and yours like playing princess and servant, or have a relationship where one of you pays for everything, or whatever, that is totally fine — for you. What I am saying is, do not make these categorical statements about anyone who is not one of your partners and with whom you do not have an agreement about how shit goes down romance-wise.

Don’t get an annoying, vitriolic message from me. Gender does not have to be concrete and it sure as hell doesn’t have to represent your entire personality, and no-one owes anyone, anywhere, sex for any reason. Don’t let anyone tell you it does, for even one day out of the year.

Hayes out.

Donation Total So Far: $2 ($1 because a friend asked, $1 because seriously if I counted every repost the same person did about 50 Shades of Gray I’d go bankrupt)

On My Week, Featuring Ozzy Osbourne

This has not been a horrible week, and that’s why I want to write about it.

I easily fall into the same trap that many, many, many bloggers do — I write when angry, or sad, or when rote tells me I need to write. I realized I was falling into that with my Progress Friday posts, which is why you haven’t seen any in a couple weeks. Well, that and any weekday is basically the worst day for me to be trying to write a blog post and hit my fiction word count in the same day. I’m trying to decide what to do about Progress Fridays (possibly a Facebook update?), but in the meantime, I am blogging when I want to blog.

But, the point of this post is this: I am happy with where I am right now.

Maybe not literally where I am literally right at this moment, which is at my day job desk an hour early because I got asked very late yesterday to attend an 8am meeting; but in general, where my life is at. It’s not perfect, at all, and there are things I need to handle, but this is so much better than what I used to think was better.

Let me explain that through the medium of talking about Ozzy Osbourne.

I did my undergraduate work at UC Santa Cruz, a beautiful, hilly college with its identity stuck between being a sprawling research university and a loose, let-your-hair-down hippie school. I majored in Literature, which may explain why I find myself having to either power through books or find myself taking aeons to read them because I stop every page or so to examine the symbolism. And of course, this is the place where I forged my identity. So of course, I find myself nostalgic for it. Like a lot. It doesn’t hurt that I had many fewer responsibilities at college than I do now, at least in terms of hours I am specifically expected to be spending in specific places. I still have a yen for the level of socialization I got to do in those days.

Nowadays, my day job is a copyediting gig at a wonderful little technical book company that I will not discuss more here, in case I have fans who would try to come find me. And being a copyediting gig, I sometimes need music or podcasts to get myself through the tougher assignments. Or on days like today, through everything. My iPod is a weird beast, a mix of high-tech stuff and old, old music of mine; my access to a CD drive with which to upload albums and money with which to buy MP3s has been highly varied over my adult life, as cloud storage and media delivery has become more and more prevalent, so a large amount of what is on my iPod is stuff I added the last time I owned a desktop computer with an internal CD drive — which is to say, when I was in college and graduate school. KMFDM. Corrosion of Conformity. Portishead. Ministry. Dead Kennedys. Ozzy Osbourne.

Yesterday, on a whim, I decided to accompany my editing work with a little listen to Blizzard of Ozz. It’s a great album, with some great post-Sabbath Ozzy work, though often on the extreme end of either melancholy or angry. I started up the album, and I heard the opening strains of “Perry Mason,” and I got hit straight in the solar plexus with depression. Not a literal depressive episode, but just a total bottoming out of my emotions. Luckily, my first instinct was to pause, and my second instinct was to wonder what the hell just happened.

I first got Blizzard of Ozz around about the time of my nineteenth birthday, which for an October baby meant my sophomore year of college. In my sophomore year, I hit the well-known slump. Bad. I lived in a dorm that was partially below ground, so I got almost no sunlight except during daytime classes, with roommates who blamed me for the mess of another roommate (and let’s be fair, some mess of my own) and hated me on sight. I took a lot of classes that were general-education chaff, stuff I knew I could handle in the sciences and composition department, so I didn’t feel inspired. Even my Creative Writing class left me feeling terrible, because while the Intro course was great, I was rejected from the Intermediate course (and had to then add a new class two weeks late to keep my financial aid) because they refused to accept genre fiction writers.

Academically, I was troubled, and socially and medically I bottomed out bad. I had two unhealthy relationships and a pair of just-as-unhealthy flings. I slept too little and then too much. I ate mostly junk food, and was so out of shape walking to class managed to hurt. I was a flake, unable to keep a lot of my promises because with my low energy levels all I could deal with taking care of was myself. I was so clingy with one of my best friends that we stopped talking to each other for about two weeks. All around me I watched friends’ relationships implode, barely avoided failing a couple classes, got yelled at by one old friend and cried on by another, and in between, I LARPed to try to take the edge off of how miserable real life was. Because that is a healthy way to handle things. I think around now was when I started being so bad with money that I got yelled at basically weekly by my parents. I remember playing credit card roulette at Jeffery’s Diner in downtown Santa Cruz, with me and my other friends all seeing who had the money to pay for post-LARP dinner that week. I still cringe when I see bad money management on TV, and I always think my own money management is bad. I’m grateful I didn’t have a credit card in those days, because I would assuredly be ankle-deep in debt to this day.

And during all this, during days where I was pretty sure someone had painted a tinfoil glaze over the sky just to make sure the sun couldn’t shine too bright for me, I listened to Blizzard of Ozz. And Corrosion of Conformity (mostly Deliverance), and Faith No More (Angel Dust) and Acid Bath (When the Kite String Pops). And now, whenever I listen to any of those, I become a mess. I tap back into how miserable I was, and how sure I was that there wasn’t a way out.

I don’t say this to get empathy for how much my life sucked. I say this because yesterday, sitting there with “Perry Mason” on pause, I realized, that was the life I was pining for all this time. That was actually how I felt at UC Santa Cruz, and that was actually who I was, when I was still learning to be me.

My life now may not be the most glamorous or the most amazing. But, I’m married to my best friend and one of my all-around favorite people. I have had my writing published, and am working to publish even more. I work at a job that allows me to pay my bills, and save a little, and challenge my brain. I’m running the single best campaign of a tabletop game I have ever run. I get to unabashedly and unashamedly enjoy Sharks hockey, and pro wrestling, and comic books, and Kurt Vonnegut and Raymond Chandler and Philip K. Dick and every other amazing author who is now at my fingertips because of modern technology and the amazing media access it gives me. Some mornings are bad, and sometimes my anxiety crashes down on me because I am convinced it is all going away. But most of the time, the large percentage of the time, I’m happy.

I have another memory from my sophomore year. It was spring quarter, the final quarter of the academic year. I had finished up all my gen eds (except two that would have to wait until the next academic year), and I was taking some classes in the major I had just decided I wanted to do — English literature. Among those classes was “Intro to Horror Film,” taught by one of the greatest film/literary theory professors I have ever met, Marsh Leicester, who was taking us from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari all the way up to Aliens, with stops at Halloween and The Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I took the class with Nate, Matt, and Joe, three of my best friends at the time; and after class, in the afternoon when the air was warm with the oncoming summer, we would walk back to our dormitories (or in Matt’s case, the parking lot where he caught the bus back to his apartment), which took us through most of the west end of the UC Santa Cruz campus. We talked about the class, and video games, and the shit-storms we were all going through in our lives; and we found ways to laugh about it.

Twelve years later, Matt, Nate, and I have all stood at each others’ weddings; and Joe was at my wedding with his own fiancee, both ready to hug and congratulate, and soon the two of them should be getting married, too. Trying to be near Nate and Matt was what brought me to Mountain View, which is what brought me into the online dating circle that caused me to meet Sonya, so in an indirect way they helped me meet my wife. I see Matt for games of Wild Talents and whenever else we can fit into each others’ busy schedules, and I have a pseudo-weekly date with Nate and his wife to play whatever roleplaying game we feel like playing that week. Joe comes by for board games and updates me on how his own life is going in his neck of the woods. And we all sometimes reminisce about UCSC, or this or that LARP, or this or that phase of our lives; and we smile, and we move on, and we do the cool stuff adults in their mid-thirties get to do.

And what’s most important to me in that shared history is not that those times were necessarily the best; it’s that without having gone through those times, I would not have known those upstanding men, and gotten to share in their weddings, and gotten to do with them all the things we have done since. And it all started with that awkward pancake breakfast where I met Matt, and with Nate coming over to my house and asking if we wanted to room together at UCSC, and those horrible days in my sophomore year…but those horrible days led to those walks after Intro to Horror Film…and to those weddings…and to today.

So, that’s the way I want to remember UCSC: as a place I walked through on the way to this awesome thing I have now, that I am privileged to call my life.

Letting go of those days being my halcyon days is one of the hardest things for me to do; but I think, just maybe, I’ve finally done it.

Now excuse me, I need to go edit some textbooks and then read about the Avengers traveling through time to stop their ally’s future self. And maybe cry.

On Progress, 1/9/15

Here we are; the first progress post of 2015. And you thought I’d already gone to bed.

Edits done this week: Finished “Date Night” second pass; did research for a short comics pitch, for which I am still waiting for a query response.

Words written this week on Secret Project X: No new words, but 5000 words edited, plus a half-hour of research.

My grade for myself: B. I would judge myself more harshly for the somewhat unproductive research day on Thursday, but part of that was due to me realizing that I had to query for an invite to pitch (yay for making sure you read your submission guidelines!), and part of that was due to me hitting a dead-end on my subject matter much faster than I anticipated. Still, next week I expect more serious work out of myself. With “Date Night” out for a beta-read, that’s going to mean a week of working on the new novel, which I’m pretty excited about, actually. (I plan to resume Eyes of Stone edits after I finish “Date Night”; one major editing project at a time, thank you.)

Good things about writing this week: I like “Date Night” even more the more I read it, which is an excellent feeling. Also, I have just generally begun this year feeling good about my writing. It may have to do with Not Our Kind and Beast Within 4 getting published so close together; it may also have to do with a general uptick in mood lately. (See “Real Life.”)

Bad things about writing this week: I was not nearly as productive this week as I would like to have been, and I am finding myself having a little bit of fear of getting involved in the Eyes of Stone process again. There’s nothing to do but face said process head-on, and I know I will be stronger for it, but I still feel the fear right now, y’know?

Writing life: Life in general is very good right now, and that includes writing life. Someone asked me yesterday what my current projects are, and I realized that I actually have about five of them in the works. Five! That’s a lot of writing work, plus I’m running an RPG campaign and holding down a full-time job. I’m actually very productive creatively, and early feedback says my work is actually pretty dang good. There is always room for improvement, but right now I feel good about trying to do it, and that is perhaps the most important thing. I’m just going to let this glide right into…

Real life: Real life is great. After a very rough Christmas, I decided to start this year by taking care of myself, and that means taking care of all aspects of myself, and of the people who are important to me and help me forge the life I want to lead. It’s just been little things so far — taking time for self-care, eating lighter, getting more sunlight, that sort of thing. I’ve started buying myself a new work wardrobe that actually fits me and flatters my shape and body type, and that looks professional, rather than the superhero Ts I’ve been wearing to work lately, and it’s changed my whole attitude about myself and the way I feel at work. (Rugby shirts and I were apparently made for each other.) I’ve stopped feeling guilt for my guilty pleasures while at the same time recognizing the need for moderation and diversity. And I’ve started making a point of trying to see the people I want to see and do the things I want to do and take care of the people and trying to be a bit more open and vocal about the positives in life. There is tons of pessimism out there, and tons to be pessimistic about; but I can also take time to appreciate how smart one of my friends is, or how amazing the pizza at my favorite place was. It’s important to challenge the bad things in life, and to oppose the bad things in life, but that does not mean I can’t share my smile when it comes up.

Of course, there will be periods of rage and upset and anxiety and all those other dark emotions that are part of the human brain-brew, and I cannot forget the need to take solid, long-term care of my body and brain with the help of medical professionals. And of course there will be days when I am low on spoons. But right now I feel pretty sanguine about dealing with that, and I look forward to channeling that enthusiasm into more thoughtful self-care, a better-lived life, and more optimistic writing as the year goes on.

Yeah, things are pretty great for me right now. Thank you for being a part of it.

Recommendation: This week, your recommendation is Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. It is likely you have heard of it, but really, it is worth a read. For those who do not have a synopsis, it is a look at the system used by the Oakland Athletics baseball club to build their rosters, and the much-maligned role of statistics and mathematics in the building of a baseball team; and along the way, it’s a fascinating look at the American struggle to deal with the war between data and intuition, and the ways in which institutions react to challenge and change, and also one of the most interesting and quirky looks at the sport of baseball I have ever had the pleasure to read. If you are looking for some non-fiction to spice up your reading life, check this one out.

And now, my words are spent, and I am ready to go wrap up the tail end of my Friday. Have a great weekend, everybody, and I hope we are all this full of smiles at the far end of next week.

 

 

On 2014

So, here we are. The precipice of 2014. The yawning chasm we need to leap across to get to 2015 and all the unsullied promises it offers. The big day. The annual liminal state. New Year’s Eve. Which means it’s time for one more annual tradition: the year in review.

One of my resolutions is to be willing to do the things that make me the most comfortable and happiest, where it does not detract from another’s comfort and happiness to do so; and to that end, this post is going to have a bit more structure to its format. (You may have noticed the same thing happening to the Progress Friday posts.) Hence this big bold title right here:

High Points

The two words I see reflected in this year are “Discovery” and “Refinement.” Discovery of truths about me and the things I like and dislike, and refinement of my experience as I explore those likes and dislikes further and attempt to both broaden my horizons and seek out that which I know will please me.

Let’s start with the obvious and the most important: this year I lucked out and got to marry the love of my life. Sonya is my favorite person to spend time with, and one of the most interesting, intelligent, and enjoyable people I have ever had in my life. Colors are brighter and tastes are stronger when she’s around, and I’m so glad to know her. The wedding itself was a hell of a celebration, and a reaffirmation that we know some of the most high-quality people in this world, that we are loved and supported from without as well as from within, and that we can give ourselves the kind of celebration we deserve. Also that we’re pretty awesome at this whole party-planning thing.

Writing was also fantastic this year. I got not one, but two stories published, one of them via crowd-funding, which makes me feel so wonderfully supported and cared for. I tried my hand at writing comics, and in doing so discovered both that I love writing comics and that there are vast unexplored territories of possibility within prose that it took turning away for me to discover. I’ve now twice been in the same anthology as my good friend and Best Man, Matt Marovich, along with now having appeared alongside both Jennifer Brozek, a favorite editor of mine to work with, and Ekaterina Sedia, whose long-form fiction has always made me hold my breath. I had another story rejected that had some truly revelatory commentary for me — both in terms of highlighting my weaknesses, and telling me that, yes, people really do like my writing, and not all of my little embellishments are appealing only to me.

Perhaps most important from a writing standpoint, this has been a year of discovering my voice and my writing comfort zones, and discovering the cool things I can do when working outside those comfort zones. I’m reaching deeper and stretching farther when I write, and it’s bearing some sweet and redolent fruit that I hope I get to keep sharing with all of you. I hope this is the year I get to publish something…longer.

On a hobby level, the year just kept getting cooler. I rediscovered my love of comics, and for the first time in my life have my own comic-book subscriptions. I rediscovered my love of professional wrestling, and have drunk deep of the entertainment that bizarre medium offers. I have read some heartbreakingly beautiful books, and some dryly funny ones, and some that go all over the place, and feel enriched for the journey. And of course I’ve gotten to do some great gaming.

“Deserve” is a word I use a lot in this post, and that’s a major aspect of my personal journey this year. I can’t pinpoint one single reason this was the year it really started to happen, but for a variety of reasons, this is the year I started to fully recognize that not only do I have my own particular needs and desires and quirks and pecadilloes, but that as long as I am not hurting anybody, there is no reason not to indulge them. Whether it’s little things like letting myself have a plant at my desk even though no-one else does, or big things like allowing myself to admit that sometimes I just don’t want to deal with people, I’ve found myself more willing to give those things to myself; and perhaps better yet, also willing to give that kind of space to others. It does mean I get fewer wry and cynical jokes about the nature of humanity flowing out of me, but I am also somewhat less angry than I used to be, so I figure this is a net gain for me as a human being.

Low Points

You knew that was coming, didn’t you?

“Refinement” is the big one in this category, too — specifically, the refinements I still need to make to myself. It starts with my stress management and my conscientiousness about my stress management. This year was far, far more stressful than it had any cause to be, and with that stress has come a truly Herculean level of exhaustion and anxiety that has made it very hard to enjoy the latter quarter of this year or so, culminating in some bad meltdowns in the middle of my honeymoon and twice around Christmastime.

Some of that is a failure on my part to self-soothe and manage properly, and some of it is about my improperly QAd brain chemistry, and some of it is because I was in the way of a lot of stressful stuff that I need to not put myself in the way of anymore. The wedding was absolutely worth it, though I consider it a primary culprit. Some of the ways I’ve been expending my social capital have been sub-optimal, though, and I need to focus myself away from involvement in those things. See my resolutions for more on that subject.

Really, that is the major low point of my year — just stuff I need to work on. Which brings me to my New Year’s Resolutions.

HIGH RESOLUTIONS:

Submit more stories

I really face-planted on this one this year; yes, there were two publications, but I didn’t submit more than three or four total, which speaks to a great percentage but a lackluster effort. In 2015, I want to get at least six stories submitted, plus at least 3 novel submissions to agents. My hope is to be more prolific than that, but I’ll start with something manageable so I don’t get myself in a tizzy right off the bat.

Form a writing group

I need a writing group, bad. Conducting it online is fine, even just via email; but I need an outlet for creative exchange and feedback that isn’t dependent on going hat-in-hand to my friends on a case-by-case basis. I made a deal with myself that I would handle this after the wedding, and dad-gummit I am going to handle it in 2015.

Take care of my body

This is a three-part process. The first is starting to get more regular exercise; I need to get my body moving. The second is to get new glasses; I’ve had this set for a couple years, and even if the prescription doesn’t need to change, the frames are beat to hell and back (we’re going to pretend the damage is ninja-related). And when those are both handled, I want to find a new doctor who takes my shiny new (married!) insurance, and get back to getting yearly physicals. I’ve been bad about that, and I’m approaching the age range where I need to stop being bad about it. Not getting perfunctory treatment from a secondary Kaiser facility will help, too.

Take care of my mind

This is going to be a little self-indulgent, so bear with me.

Number one: I need to get back into therapy. It felt good while I was in it, though that particular setup was not sustainable, and I have insurance that will help me do it again; no reason not to take advantage of that. If meds are suggested as an option, I have my own permission to get a second opinion before I start them, and to ask to be weaned back off them if it really does impact my ability to enjoy life.

On a less medical level, I need to be more honest about what I want out of my social time and more willing to duck out of non-obligatory social stuff without feeling guilty. I passed up a lot of things because of the overwhelming stress of getting the wedding handled, and I do not want to do that this year, even if that means having to pick and choose my engagements with scheduled play a bit more. I need more time for unstructured play and cooking and date nights and adventures and conversation with my amazing friends, and when I see I am trending toward not enjoying something that is taking over a chunk of my schedule I need to be honest with myself and just not do that thing anymore, which looks easy on (digital) paper but is really, really rough in real life. I was not brought up to really put myself first, and trying to find the balance between being cordial and being selfish is rough.

I also need to be much more aware of the little things that affect my mood — both making it good and making it much, much worse. This means more reading time, a little more careful planning of my diet to include things that help boost my mood like fresh fruits and high-quality coffee and Cuban food, and also more taking time for self-care. This also means preparing better for autumn and winter and the stress they bring. Lack of sunlight really kills, and next year I need to be better prepared for the winter — some winter clothes I feel comfy in would be a good start, along with arranging more time outside in the sun during my work day and increasing my self-care time to account for the heightened anxiety and lowered energy.

LOW RESOLUTIONS

Stand up more for your boundaries

Outside of work functions or going to events that are important to friends (weddings, birthdays, etc.), I do not have to spend time around people who push my buttons. If I dislike someone, that is both my prerogative and my business, and I get to not do that when I don’t have to.

Cook more

I’m going to try to cook a big meal at least twice a month; this may require having people over more to incentivize it, but hey, that means more of that unstructured socialization time!

And some self-explanatory items: Eat less fast food; read more books this year than last year; read more literary magazines; keep a better grip on new and best-selling speculative fiction.

So, yeah. That’s my year in review, and my plans for the year to come. Overall, despite the darkness of winter, it has been an incredible year, and I look forward to spending another one with my wonderful wife and incredible friends. May yours be a year of growth and awesomeness and something, at least one thing, absolutely worth laughing yourself to tears over.

Talk to you on the other side.

~Tyler Hayes

Standing Over the Corpse of 2014

On Progress, 12/19/14

Edits done this week: Finished “Date Night” first pass; finished two rounds of PDF, mobi, and epub proofs of “Hero Town.”

Words written this week on Secret Project X: 640 (<1% of maximum word count, <1% of estimated final word count)

My grade for myself: A. I could probably have done the full 1000 words on Thursday, but I am now over a week ahead of schedule on “Date Night,” and I managed to get some solid proofreading done for the soon-to-be-published story. It’s really not been a bad week.

Good things about writing this week: I am really loving this new novel I am working on. The character and the setting are coming to me very naturally, and it has a voice that is not quite Randall Chatham or Raven or anyone else who I’ve written before. More than that, I feel a lot of affection for this story and setting, in a way that has only happened a few magical times before. I’m so grateful to be here and alive and working on this project.

Bad things about writing this week: The proofing of “Hero Town” was a rough, rough process for me. It needed to be done and I am glad it is being done and that I am getting to partake in the process, but the galley proofs are always kind of a challenge for me, because I keep seeing all these minutiae that I want to fix and fix and fix. I keep reminding myself, as already said on Twitter, that Aldous Huxley wanted to completely revise the ending to Brave New World, and that there is still disagreement over whether A Clockwork Orange should have twenty chapters or twenty-one. This is a part of the writing life, like it or not, and all I can do is do the work and hope it gets easier and easier with time.

Writing life: I had one of those good-and-bad moments in writing this week. The novel I am reading right now (you’ll see it named in the recommendations) is a fantastic bit of urban fantasy — and it also reminds me so much of one of my own works that it hurts a little. It’s a bad thing, because my ego is sort of fragile right now and I could stand to not get tempest-tossed by the winds of self-criticism until I have somewhat fewer holiday stressors leaning on me. It’s a good thing, because seeing someone else tackle similar subjects, but do it in a different way that met with success, is really showing me what weaknesses in my writing I have already overcome, and what weaknesses I have before me to overcome. It’s daunting, at times, but it’s also really good for me. (Note: I am not suggesting I should write exactly like Seanan McGuire. I am suggesting that she addressed some things that I now see are lacunae in my own writing, and that I need to find a way to fill them that is consistent with my goals and my voice and my story. This is why writers need to read.)

Real life: Real life is a mix of decent and stressful. This Christmas season is really brutalizing me; I’ve spent more time stressed about the season — Do I have all the presents? Will it be raining on the days we’re supposed to travel? Will this be the year I don’t get sick right before New Year’s? — than I have actually celebrating it. Sonya valiantly helped me stay out of the doldrums by mailing a miniature cypress (complete with tiny ornaments!) to my workplace, and now we have our full-size(ish) Christmas tree in the house and it keeps randomly brushing my nostrils with the sent of pine, so things are starting to come together. If nothing else, this time next week I will have given and received presents, and sipped a few holiday tipples, and will probably feel much more sanguine about the holidays.

Recommendation: This week, your recommendation is Rosemary & Rue, by Seanan McGuire. This is exactly what urban fantasy should be — interesting main character, solid world-building, artful use of tropes, and a take on the base layer of mythology that doesn’t run into the same problems so many fairy-based stories seem to fall into. The biggest sell for me is the narrative voice; McGuire/Daye use a smart, breezy, sardonic style that really anchors you in the emotions behind the story and helps make the entire ride smooth even when it’s bumpy. Go read it.

Have a good weekend, everybody — see you again after the holidays!

 

On Progress, 12/5/14

Words written this week on Secret Project X: 1100 (1% of maximum word count, 1.2% of estimated final word count)

Words written this week on Eyes of Stone: 3800 (rough draft complete, no percentages necessary)

Total word count this week: 4900

My grade for myself: A. I could probably have squeezed a little more out of myself on one or two of those days, but that puts me only 100 words shy of my bonus word count every day this week, and I had a very busy week marred with some serious stressors and anxiety issues, so I’m giving myself the win.

Good things about writing this week: My writing just keeps getting looser, easier, and more relaxed; and as I suspected might happen, moving back to reading prose after a long break for all the comics friends have loaned me has woken my brain up and left me more able to write boldly and honestly. I’m not saying I’m suddenly bestseller material, but I feel and see and taste the growth in my writing, and that above all is what I want to see.

Bad things about writing this week: I got myself badly stuck in Eyes of Stone. I had a note to myself about a new scene I need to insert into the draft, and my note was clearly written with the idea that I was going to be struck with a blinding bolt of inspiration before I got there and would just, you know, write it. I wasn’t inspired, and I didn’t write it, and now I need to figure out how to make this chunk of dialogue natural. Luckily, it’s time for me to switch back to work on “Date Night,” so I can let this ferment for a bit longer.

Writing life: As I mentioned on my Facebook page (which you should totally follow!), this week I had another “this is happening” moment in the form of getting edits back from the editor for my next published piece. I’ve done this part before, and I’ll do this part again; but every time I do it, I’m reminded that someone decided my writing was good enough to pay me money. And heck, this time, I have officially made a professional sale! All aboard the party train!

Real life: Real life is decent, though this week has been a bit rough in the brain-spider department. Something — I know not what — has kicked off my anxiety very badly, culminating in me getting triggered by essentially nothing yesterday morning. The good news is, my new insurance has kicked in, and there are shrinks in my area who are in my network, so hopefully some good will come of that in the New Year. (I’m going to start trying now, of course, but Christmas and New Year’s have a way of causing gaps in my coverage.)

Recommendation: This week, your recommendation is to go and look at this list of nearly-perfect films, and watch every single one of them. All the ones I have seen are among my favorites, ever, and I think completing this list could enrich us all, as storytellers and story-listeners.

Have a good weekend, everybody!

 

On Rat Queens

Today, I have things to say that are relevant. Trigger warning: domestic abuse; all the links in this article will also be triggery, more so than this post itself.

Let’s get the facts straight:

So, there is a comic called Rat Queens. It is an excellent comic with a great feminist bent, superb writing and characterization, fantastic (in both senses) art, and great basically everything else. You should go read it. You should give the creators lots of money. I’ve recommended it before, and I’m recommending it again.

Yesterday, it came out that the artist and co-creator of the comic, Roc Upchurch, has been arrested for domestic abuse.

Upchurch alleges to Bleeding Cool that it is a situation where she attacked him and he lost his temper; Upchurch’s ex-wife (whose name I have not been able to find) acknowledges in a now-deleted blog post (Google Cache here) that she has been the aggressor before, that their situation was bad, and that they had separated because of it, but that in this incident specifically she was not the aggressor. The details she provides suggest that physical altercations were not unusual, but that Upchurch’s behavior has tended to be much more extreme than her own — as she puts it, “a smack across the face” from her triggers an “hour-long beatdown” from Upchurch.

Kurtis J. Wiebe, the writer of Rat Queens and Upchurch’s creative partner, released a statement today indicating that he is aware of the situation, and that Upchurch will no longer be working on Rat Queens as a result of the allegations.

So, there are the facts as we have them. Now, to get political: I completely support the ex-wife in this situation, though I do not condone her bad behavior; and I believe Wiebe has done the right and just thing in booting Upchurch off the project.

I believe this because I believe proactively divorcing abusers and similar criminals from their professional lives is not just a good PR move, it is exactly the way people should be reacting to claims of domestic abuse or sexual assault or other such heinous behavior. The reaction should be exactly as Wiebe’s has been: to believe the victim, and to revoke or check the privilege of the perpetrator while the situation is investigated.

Now, I know there is already an argument against this brewing in the bottom half of the Internet, and I want to address those points right now.

1. Upchurch has not been convicted, and we should not convict him in the court of public opinion first. No-one rational is saying Upchurch should not have a fair trial. What I’m saying is, it is absolutely fair of Wiebe to distance himself from Upchurch after these allegations have come out especially in light of the body of evidence and testimony from his ex-wife, and that this is a much better alternative than the victim-blaming that usually occurs in these situations. Upchurch should get a trial, and if he is found innocent, it is within Wiebe’s rights to begin working with him again if he feels that is the case. The damage to the good name of his victim is liable to be much worse than the damage to his name over this. I mean, people are trying to claim that all of the women accusing Bill Cosby of rape are lying, and he has a much higher expected level of wholesomeness than a guy who illustrates a comic where the main characters are mushroom-dropping professional murderers.
2. Losing his job over an allegation is not fair to Upchurch. Wiebe is not a labor union; he doesn’t have legally binding reasons to keep working with Upchurch, and if he feels Upchurch’s behavior conflicts with the project they were working on together and has the executive power to remove Upchurch, he can damn well do so.3. These accusations will permanently damage Upchurch’s career even if he is found innocent. First of all, yeah, sure, this one guy’s career is worth someone staying silent about being thrown down stairs; I think not. Second of all, no, it is unlikely that this will permanently damage Upchurch’s career prospects. Men’s versions of these kinds of events are pretty uniformly believed over those of women, so even if he is convicted, there will be people who either want to give the ex-con a second chance or who will not see this as a big deal, or even those who will want to hire him to spite his detractors. This is doubly true in the creative world, where it’s unfortunately kind of acceptable to be a terrible person so long as your art is good (says the guy who once, to his embarrassment, tried to defend Roman Polanski). This is not going to hurt Upchurch that badly.4. His ex-wife hit him! If the words of his ex-wife are true, yes, she did, and she cops to that; but “she hit me first” is not a valid excuse for hitting her back, even if it flies legally, and again, everything we know suggests that Upchurch’s reactions were much, much worse than what she did to him. The bottom line is this: When abusive behavior comes to light, it is valid, even for the best, for the assumption to be that the victim is telling the truth and for there to be an investigation, and for the accused to be removed from positions of power, influence, or privilege during that investigation; that is doubly so when the person’s behavior is at odds with the message they claim to be trying to send via the work they are now divorced from, as is the case with Upchurch. It sends a message that the victims’ stories are to be believed, which reinforces the idea that coming forward is a valid, safe thing to do; and it sends the message that abusive behavior will not be defended and will result in loss of privilege and power. What Wiebe did was brave, and right, and heroic, regardless of the results of any investigations or trials regarding Upchurch’s behavior. I sincerely hope Upchurch gets his fair trial, and if he is guilty, that he is found to be so and receives counseling, therapy, medication, whatever he needs to become a more functional adult human being; and that his ex-wife receives the support and, yes, counseling or therapy or medication she needs to move past this relationship and the damage she and Upchurch did to each other. In the meantime, I am glad to know I am supporting a person who chose to believe the victim, and who chose to stay true to the message of the art that he makes. So seriously, read Rat Queens. The pages smell like justice.

On Progress, 11/21/14

Words written this week on “Date Night”: 6000, for a total of 10,914 (72% of maximum word count, 90% of estimated final word count)

My grade for myself: A+. That total represents hitting more than my bonus word count every day.

Good things about writing this week: Again, it is reinforced that I have the capacity to balance Day Job and Real Life and Recreation and Writing, always Writing. This isn’t NaNoWriMo levels of output, but it is solid, healthy output for someone who is not a full-time writer (or at least who is constrained by the travails of a full-time job with a set schedule).

Bad things about writing this week: I need to carve out more time in my schedule that is just writing time, straight up with no chaser. I was busy this week, so it’s forgivable, but I need more writing to happen at a relaxed pace, in my writing chair, at my writing desk, and less of it to happen in my office chair at work. Even if the feeling rushed does not deeply affect my writing quality, I feel bad about having it be something I get done in between other things. Next week will both be a chance to remedy this, thanks to the Thanksgiving break, and also be a challenge to work around — thanks to the Thanksgiving break. The only thing left to do is dive in with both fists swinging.

Real life: This week has defined “mediocre.” Nothing bad has happened, but nothing great, either, and the weather continues to erode my energy levels and my mood in equal amounts. On top of that, I am dealing with some low-grade social drama and it’s got my anxiety kicked into high gear. But, at the same time, I’ve mostly done a good job fighting the brain-spiders and keeping myself focused on writing and work and merriment, and Sonya has been very sweet and supportive when the brain-spiders have gotten too large and Shelobesque for me to fight on my own. Plus it’s Friday, so, that’s probably got me feeling a bit more sanguine.

Recommendation: This week, your recommendation is a comic book. Check out Superman for All Seasons, by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. It’s an older Superman story (which is to its advantage; I’m looking at you, New 52), and it is another retelling of Kal-El’s early days in the tights; but it has an emotional aspect to it, along with an affection and appreciation of the Superman mythos, that really makes it stand out from the pack. If you love Superman, you’ll love this; and if you don’t love Superman, this might help you understand the people who do.

Have a good weekend, everybody!

 

On Progress, 11/14/14

Words written this week on “Date Night”: 4914 (33% of maximum word count, 41% of estimated final word count)

My grade for myself: A. That total represents hitting bonus word count every day but one, and going over my base word count on every day.

Good things about writing this week: I remember now that I can churn out word count with the best of them when I have a deadline; I’ve definitely found my voice in places, even if I might pare out some of the bits I like best as per standard editing procedure; I might finally get to write a story with an emotional tone I’ve been wanting to use for years.

Bad things about writing this week: Yesterday’s writing was a trip to the dentist (as in, it felt like pulling teeth, he said, explaining the metaphor). I really struggled through the first 500 words, and the last 800 only happened after one of my not-so-favorite cycles of complaining about not having anything to write and then exploding into inspiration. While I will not discount the magic of inspiration and the creator’s need to travel whatever road they must (as long they aren’t hurting anyone), I will say that I really don’t like carping on Twitter. At least the descent into difficulty occurred on the last writing day before my writing weekend, I guess?

Writing life update: What a week! You can now read more of my work on real dead-tree pages, via this link to order The Beast Within 4: Gears & Growls.

Also, thanks to you incredible people, you will soon be able to read me in Not Our Kind, which contains a story I am so very excited to get to share with the world. I got to write about superheroes, you guys! I got to make superheroes say things! It’s not quite Neil Gaiman summoning Batman and making him do his bidding, but it still feels so great to work in a genre (or a subversion/deconstruction of it, at least) that has captivated me for basically my entire adult life. I’ll have a link for those of you who are not getting backer copies as soon as it is available; and again and forever, thank you to everyone who chipped in, or shared a link, or told someone. I owe this success to you people, and I will never forget that.

Real life: I do not have a lot to say about real life this week, my dears. It’s been good, though I am still fighting off the horrible face-planting of my energy levels every afternoon. I finished reading Hell House, putting me at 60 books this year. Reading graphic novels really bolstered my count, since I just plain process them faster than novels; next year I think my deal needs to include the book being no less than 60% prose or something, just to avoid that workaround. Not that I don’t think comics count as reading, but I want to keep things balanced. To that end I think my next book will be non-fiction…as soon as I finish reading everything my friend loaned me in the graphic novel department…

This weekend is one of our first weekends in months where we have had nothing scheduled, and we plan to spend it getting a couple things done, but mostly a whole lot of nothing. My hope is to tackle our thank-you notes from the wedding and maybe deal with a box or two of junk in the garage; but my other hope is to sleep in late and play some of the new games from the October Humble Bundle. Adulthood, yo.

Recommendation: Big Hero 6. No, seriously, Big Hero 6. It’s a great superhero movie, it’s a great CG animated movie, but it’s also a great movie. It’s sweet, and it’s funny, and it’ll break your heart and make you laugh and do a little bit of everything in-between. The characters are well-realized, the story is both simple and complex, and it’s great, great, great. Go and give it a gander and then see if you change the way you fistbump forever.

Have a good weekend, everybody!