On Not Being Political

I saw some wonderful advice on a friend’s Facebook page the other day. I have since allowed the link to slip through my fingers, so please accept my apology for not having the exact wording to hand. But, basically, it boiled down to this: that to be against things and to make enemies is to put your artistic career at risk; to instead be for things, be for people, be a positive force in the world. That gets you more friends and more allies and it helps your career.

And I agree, though I think the progenitor of this idea was a bit categorical about it. I’m sure that’s a casualty of them saying it in an eloquent way, or possibly of them being of a life experience that is disconnected from a lot of the tragedies and injustices going on today (in an empathetic way where they see it’s terrible). I’m sure they didn’t intend that. But I only agree to a point, and that point is this:

I don’t think there is anything wrong with being angry about some things.

There is nothing wrong with being angry about inequality. There is nothing wrong with being angry about injustice. I won’t sit here and itemize, but being upset at people and at institutions that believe in the idea that some people deserve a better life than others because of some accident of geography or birth or ability is a perfect legitimate, human reaction to things, and I think that the fear of it limiting our success if we say something is partially born of a desire to not offend, to be friendly, to get along, but also of a system that will do anything it can to keep us from talking about those things. It’s the system that gets prominent web personalities to dismiss the Puppies as just another voting block and ignore the very real problems underlying their stated goals; it’s the system that gets mad at us whenever our reaction to mass shootings is to maybe talk about gun control. Because our outrage, and our desire to fix things, is seen as some kind of verbal flatulence, something unsightly that people do not want to deal with.

And yes, there are times when that is inappropriate to bring up — spaces where people are there to relax and blow off steam. You shouldn’t interrupt little Jane’s birthday party to talk about what you think the latest shooter’s motivation was, and you shouldn’t go into the con suite and apropos of nothing make the discussion about Teddy Beale’s loathsome beliefs. (Though I’ll be fair, if I for some reason saw VD in a con suite I probably would not be very civil with him.) And certainly there are topics outside of, like, civil rights that are perhaps best left behind when in public spaces — I’m not going to push my socialist agenda while on a panel at a sci-fi con. And yes, you should try to be positive when you can. But being angry because people are being treated poorly, are dying — especially when you know that is happening because of a trait you or a loved one share, especially when there is a centuries-old legacy of people being treated this way, especially when you live with the threat of it every day — is not indecent, and it should not make you enemies, except among those who were enemies to humanity already.

So, I will try to be positive, to be an advocate, to be a fan, especially because I do not believe in co-opting the rage of marginalized people for myself; but I will not be pleasant for the sake of being pleasant, if it means that we are silent when someone speaks out in favor of oppression. The choice there is, and should be, obvious.

End of line.

On Dice

As of about a week ago, there is a large glass cookie jar on one of the shelves of our gaming bookshelf (slash bar), into which we have poured all the dice we are not using for an active RPG campaign.

Initially, the idea was one of convenience and aesthetics. The jar looks much cleaner on the shelves than a bunch of loose bags of dice, it gives us a place to put dice not currently being used, and it makes it very, very easy for people who come over and forgot their dice (or don’t have any) to know where to grab a few for the session. But as I looked at it and thought about it, and considered the fact that eventually the yellow d6s I’m using for Mouse Guard will go into the jar, I realized it’s something more. It’s an excuse to tell stories.

That cookie jar contains a lot of dice, random d6s and d10s especially, that I cannot track back to this game or the other. But it also contains the special “d’oh!” polyhedrals I got as a gift during the beta-test of Pathfinder, and that saw me through Joe’s 4th edition campaign. The teal dice Sonya used for her first-ever D&D character. The dwarven-rune dice I used for the first, now-shelved run at Sonya’s “Hammerhome” D&D campaign. The green dice Sonya used when we first playtested 5th Edition D&D; the pair of percentile dice that steered Ellis into disaster in Roo’s Eclipse Phase game; the speckled polyhedrals I picked up as an emergency, when my dice went missing (temporarily) right before I was slated to run “Lost Mine of Phandelver” from the D&D starter set. It even has the crystal-shaped d10s I used for my famous college Changeling: the Dreaming campaign. And some time soon, it will have the Lion Clan d10s that back up Ikoma Hanzo in our Legend of the Five Rings game, and the aforementioned yellow d6s, and whatever stormy color of polyhedrals I glom onto for Karai al-Amun in Matt’s run of “Princes of the Apocalypse”; and eventually, sad to say, the pile of d10s that I use for “Great Responsibility,” my Wild Talents campaign.

So any time I want, I can pick up that cookie jar, and I can tell you all about what stories I’ve gotten to take for a spin with the dice you might be reaching for to get through a difficult session.

“Oh yeah, those dice rolled the damage that killed Corwin the troll in the sewers underneath Los Angeles.”

“Those dice? Those were how I placed third in the Topaz Championship. Sonya got first.”

“Those dice were how Red Death nearly killed the New Firm during the Night of the Red Death.”

“I don’t remember any of the numbers that die rolled, but it was with Tome all the way from level 1 to 10…”

This is what gaming is all about, for me: a chance to talk about the successes and the failures, to remember a story we shared in a more direct, if also more mechanical, way than a movie or a book. A reminder of the great times I’ve had with great people. A chance to remind myself that for all it may not feel like much, I’ve accomplished a lot in my life. It’s just that some of it is fictional.

And maybe, if I’m lucky, that jar is a chance to hand off some dice to a new friend, or an old one returned to my life, or one I am glad to have around every day…or a pair of tiny hands, ready to carry a torch and fifty feet of rope into their first crypt.

It started out as something convenient, but it made itself into more. And really, I think that’s the best we can hope for with any part of our lives.

On KublaCon 2015

So, I am back from KublaCon, and I have gotten the apparently requisite ten hours of post-con sleep, so it’s time for my con recap post.

tl;dr: This Kubla did some things better than last year and some things worse, but averaged out to the usual superb gaming con that I would recommend to anyone who wanted to get their game on.

I view KublaCon as a chance to relax in the middle of a very hectic part of my year. May is often a brutal period in our publishing cycle at work, and it’s often just starting to warm up in my area, with the concomitant discomfort and fussiness from me and my high natural core temperature. So finding something good to do on Memorial Day weekend is important for my sanity, and Kubla offers exactly what I need — gaming, friends, and some enforced relaxation away from the travails of the word processor and the writing desk. It’s one of my few moments of total unplugging, and this year it couldn’t have been timed any better.

I went to Kubla with the goal of getting a little bit out of my comfort zone and trying some new stuff – nothing that would ruin a vacation, but some things that would keep said vacation from being staid. So on Friday, I made a point of answering a request for an RPG that needed players, and throughout the weekend I tried to sign up for things I hadn’t played before or that wouldn’t normally sound all that interesting to me. I even took a stab at trying Ultimate Werewolf, but honestly the conference rooms they were holding those games in were too small for me to deal with and remain sans anxiety.

I played in a few more games this year than I did last year, partially due to our very smart decision to only try to Shuffle for RPGs that actually sounded like fun to us. As a result, there was more tabletop gaming, though the sign-up sheets were often very congested and I didn’t get into as many as I might have otherwise. I played in a game of 7th Sea on Friday afternoon (the aforementioned game that needed players) that was a real blast from the past, though not as much fun as the games I used to play in college, partially due to a problematic player (more on that in a minute), and Saturday was a D&D 5th Edition game that reaffirmed my love of 5th Edition and left me with a new GM whose games I will make a point of shuffling for in future years. Sunday I played about four or five straight hours of Sentinels of the Multiverse, a game of Lords of Waterdeep, and a game of Pitchcar, which was completely new to me and which I highly recommend. And then Monday I wrapped it all up with a nice game of Paranoia that left me with yet another new GM to watch. I’m hoping I don’t pull the stories about my Team Leader being telefragged and then killed by teleporting into a closed suitcase at too many parties, but there will be at least a few.

I also ran a couple games this year. The Sentinels of the Multiverse demo was again a success, with me getting to play the game with a mother-and-son pair who were attending their first convention together in a couple years, and who not only bought the game after I showed it to them, but also bought the Silver Gulch environment deck specifically because I had a card in it, which was a sweet gesture on their part. (They were disappointed when, during the big bout of SOTM the next day, they didn’t actually get a chance to fight my card.) The “Ghostbusters Bay Area” session I ran was a success, with an unexpected twist ending engineered by my players; the highlight of that for me was hearing two of my players talking about how fun it was in the hall afterwards, without them realizing I could hear them. I think Fate Accelerated may not be the right generic system for me, and I’m going to be taking a look at Fate Core in the intervening year before I try to run anything again. Though it may not matter; I recognized a gap in the programming in the form of very few supers games (other than ones where players were playing characters from existing IPs), so I think there is more Wild Talents in my future. I ran a game set in an…er…alternate reality of my main Wild Talents campaign last year, and it was well-received, so I think I may go back to that well.

(I feel weird saying that I’m running an AR game in a universe of my own design. It sounds too much like too many nightmarish gaming stories I have heard. Which is why I’m making myself say it, because it’s nothing to be inherently ashamed of. Comfort zone.)

My only gripes with the con were things that I think will be gripes with all cons, in one way or another. The results from the randomizing RPG sign-up system posted too close to the sessions themselves, and in one case after the session started, leading to a bit of decapitated-chicken action here and there as I found out I was in a game with too little time to reasonably get to said game. There were a couple games that didn’t get going particularly on time, and a couple cases of standard-but-still-unacceptable nerd rudeness that stick out in my mind even through the haze of pleasant memories. The sushi restaurant next to the hotel is inexplicably closed on weekends. That kind of thing. But it’s nothing that would keep me from going next year or recommending the experience to others; not in the slightest. I am confident that next year those problems will be fixed and replaced with new ones. It’s the nature of humanity.

Speaking of convenient segues, one thing that Kubla did for me was make me extra-grateful for the great gaming groups I’ve had over the years; and it did that for me by reminding me that not everyone is that great. Over the weekend I met many wonderful people, some a bit awkward, some trying a bit too hard, but all good at their core. I also met a GM for a tabletop game who got derisive and stuttery when faced with a woman holding a baby who wanted to play in his game (it seemed to be more tone-deaf than outright judgmental, but it was still lame behavior); and a player in a game who wanted to make sure at every moment that we knew she knew the system better than us, and who literally broke into song when we stopped responding to her and then started shouting at us about acting poorly near the end of the game; a guy who felt the need to tell me at length about what sounded like maybe a minor kidney infection or food poisoning while he debated whether to go to the E.R.; and my least proud moment of the weekend, an encounter with a teenage player who checked off all the stereotypes of the teenage player at a gaming con. I won’t enumerate them, because he does not deserve to be shamed for being at an age when we’re all frankly both poor and insane unless we are leading a particularly lucky life, and that’s all it was; but he does deserve my apologies for getting curt with him in the middle of one of his many, many rants about the pragmatic (read: full-on bag-of-rats dungeon munchkinry) way we should be approaching the dungeon-crawling experience. I could have handled myself much better, and I am grateful the others players and he did not seem to get too upset about it in the long run. I’m also grateful, in a weird way, that my outburst was not as explosive as some of my temper issues have been in the past. Progress! (I feel weird sharing this, too. Comfort zone.)

The one thing I really want to fix on my end, besides watching myself around teenagers, is the sleep issue. I have had trouble sleeping enough at every con I’ve been to at that hotel. I suspect it’s the dry recirculated air, or possibly the kid-on-Christmas emotions of being at a convention, or possibly both or some other thing, but it has to stop, because by Sunday I was just constantly tired, and even ten hours of sleep last night didn’t fully purge the feeling of fatigue from my body. I’ll be at the same hotel this autumn for another convention, and I’m going to use it as a chance to experiment with natural sleep aids and maybe bringing my own pillows and some other stuff to help me get to bed. It’ll be doubly important then, since I’ll be a panelist, and I’m hopeful that I can get this problem licked.

I believe in ending on positives, so I’m going to end on two. The first is that I got a chance to game with a few friends I haven’t seen in a while, including one who was one of my original gaming buddies back in Fort Bragg, and that was just so nice. The other is that I made a couple new friends – probably just friends I’ll see at con, but people I really enjoyed gaming with and who it was a pleasure to be around. I plugged into the community at KublaCon a little more this year, and that was exactly the kind of experience I need. I love games on the face of them; but the way games can be the pillars on which rest a community is what attracts them to me even more. I can’t wait until next year.

On Confidential Battles

The following may contain spoilers for the recent arcs of the Avengers comic and for Secret Wars Issue #1 and Issue #2, but I needed to share this somewhere. I take no responsibility for you reading past the next two lines of asterisks.

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Alright. So here’s this idea I have in my head.

Right now, it looks like Battleworld/Latverion is the product of Doctor Doom’s imagination — he’s salvaged parts of the worlds the Beyonders were just going to destroy, but he’s done it in a way which makes him the centerpiece. This implies that it is possible to bargain with the Beyonders (possibly with the Molecule Man as leverage) or, as was the case back in the original Secret Wars, that it’s possible for a mortal to hijack a Beyonder’s power, and thus do we have Latverion and Doomgard and all that other self-indulgent pomp and circumstance that makes us love Doom.

It also looks like at least some characters are coming out of Secret Wars with more or less the same personality and the same ongoing narrative arc. Thor, Goddess of Thunder has been guaranteed to return post-Wars, and her arc is definitely coming to a middle, not an end. Ms. Marvel appears to be the same person, along with the newest Captain America, provided the Free Comic Book Day issue of All-New All-Different Avengers is accurate in its portrayal of the team makeup. So this doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a hard reboot of the entire Marvel Universe; some things are going to retain their inertia. But, for now, not everyone appears to understand that Battleworld is something new — at least some characters, including canon main characters like Apocalypse and Sue Storm, seem to see Battleworld as what has always existed.

So here’s what I want to see. Here’s where I feel the plot going in my head.

Over the 8 issues of Secret Wars, and possibly some in the related miniseries, we’ll start seeing characters figuring out that Battleworld is not the only world that has ever existed. Some will learn it from the Cabal, others will piece it together from evidence buried in Battleworld’s firmament, others may have it shoved into their brains via magic or other means. Some characters will start feeling that this state of affairs is not acceptable and/or tenable; either because they rankle under Doom’s yoke, or because they feel like they could make a better world, or because they think they are who should be in charge. The actual “Wars” of the title will then be the fight to figure out how Doom pulled off what he pulled off and/or take control of that power through various means.

And at the end, there’s a group of heroes and villains, all with their fingers on the proverbial button. They have figured out how to reboot the universe and end the reign of Doom and bring back Earth and Knowhere and Asgard and all the bits that used to be around before the Beyonders decided they were bored, with some changes — some history altered, some memories erased.

And the villains — I’m picturing Doctor Doom, Thanos,  will think “I could make a world where I rule.”

And the heroes will think, and say “You know…we should not mess with people too much…but maybe a fresh start is a good idea.”

Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, looking at each other, and imagining what the Avengers could be if they had never gone through Civil War or the battle to save the world from the incursion.

Scott and Alex Summers, imagining a world where they and the Brotherhood never took some of the steps they took, and the dream of mutant harmony could be a little more within reach.

Reed Richards and Sue Storm, looking into each others’ eyes, and saying “You know, we were great once. We could be great again.”

Ms. Marvel, head ducked, thinking she just wants to see her parents again.

Of course, the villains will not go gently into that good night; and so some compromise will have to be made with them in order to prevent them insisting on just hoarding all the power for themselves, they have to allow Thanos and Galactus and Dr. Doom and, yes, Magneto to come and exist in their world, too. And of course, there will be changes that no-one is comfortable wreaking — a certain Uncle Ben, perhaps, or maybe a well-known exposure to cosmic rays…and so, good and evil and self-involved will all work together, and tear down Battleworld, and out of it will come a world that seems similar, but is a little bit shinier, a little bit newer, a little bit more capable of working toward that better tomorrow the Avengers and the X-Men lost sight of near the end of 616…a world where the Goddess of Thunder is still doing her best with a terminal diagnosis, and where Kamala Khan gets that call-up to the big leagues…a world where Iron Man and Steve Rogers are friends again, where Professor Xavier and the X-Men can trust each other again…but a world that also has to be ready to deal with the darkness waiting in the wings.

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That’s how I hope Secret Wars ends. And the fact I can see just the barest threads of this and give them a good, cosmogonic tug; the fact that there is room for conjecture and interpretation, and that I am this excited about the possibilities; are why I am currently not at all worried this will be like Crisis on Infinite Earths.

I can’t wait to see what Marvel does next.

On Being Prepared (Convolution Post the First)

So, I had a few arguments today. Some of you may have seen them.

I am proud of myself for standing up for diversity; I am not necessarily proud of the all-caps rant I went on on a friend’s thread. I feel kind of bad about that. Not because I don’t think the people there didn’t need to be stood up to; but because I really don’t like losing my cool. I am not one of the voices that needs to be raised right now.

But this is a post about my first appearance as a guest at a con. I’m appearing at Convolution 2015, and I’m so excited and also so scared. Scared because the con chair has specifically said this year is going to be about talking about issues of inclusion and equality in fandom, and this is the very issue that I tend to get angry about, because…Jesus Christ, is it important to me people all get a fair shake in this world, and in fictional worlds.

So, I am nervous about my ability to stand up to this conversation, especially if I start seeing some of the arguments I dealt with today that made me pop off. But I want to represent my cause better — not just for the cause, but because I think a reasoned argument might help turn some people who are on the fence about diversity, and that should be a goal of mine. (I won’t claim it should be a goal of everybody’s; but since I am one of the most privileged people I know, I think trying to help bring other privileged people around is a good use of my time.) In the interest of calming my nerves, I’m collating some good stock responses and useful data to help support my efforts toward sane, logical arguments about diversity, equality, inclusivity, feminism, intersectionality, etc. If anyone wants to help me out with some of their favorites, I would really, really appreciate it. I’ll keep them here, in this post, ready for anyone who needs it to access.

Note: the intent is not to develop “snappy rejoinders”; the intent is to help people using the list to remain logical and to have useful data and time-tested arguments to use as anchors in difficult conversations about social justice.

Note the Second: Poking holes in arguments is not an appreciated input here. If you disagree with the cause of social justice, um…I’m not sure how you get here…but I’m also not interested in having that argument here, right now. I am happy to engage with you later in some other context.

Ones where I don’t have a really solid argument yet are blank and presented as things I could use help with. Let the grand experiment begin.

(When referring to a fantasy/sci-fi piece) “Diversity in this instance is not historically accurate”: Neither are the fantastic elements of the story. It is OK to give underrepresented people representation in a story that is already diverging from reality.; Bonus: It’s not historically accurate to not have ANY people of color; there were black people in Elizabethan England, there were Chinese and Japanese people in 1940s New York, etc. etc. Homosexuality has been a thing for millennia. There is no reason not to have some of that stuff in some scenes.

It’s just fiction, it doesn’t matter”: What we tell each other in our stories absolutely matters. Everyone deserves to be able to see themselves in stories, and also see other people in stories; it helps humanize them through the characters. Martin Luther King wanted Nichelle Nichols to stay on Star Trek for a reason. Christians worked pagan symbolism (Pan) into the “evil” characters of their religion (the Devil) for a reason.

“What I say about a fictional character doesn’t matter”: 

“We’re/you’re being too sensitive”:

“This is too much diversity”: How can something be too diverse? Why is it a bad thing if we want to see a wider variety of people in our media? How is that preventing people from enjoying it or taking away from anyone?

“Adding diverse characters would be tokenism”:

“Adding diverse characters prevents the story from being fun”/”Why can’t we just let this be fun?”: How is it not fun to read about characters who are not white men? Yes, you have to stretch to identify with them if you are white and/or a man, but that’s what POCs/LGBT characters/women have been doing this whole time, and they seem to be doing alright.

“Replacing a character with someone of a different race/gender is wrong”: Why is it wrong for a story to be about someone different? Why can’t a woman be Thor, or a black guy be Captain America, or Starbuck be a woman, or whatever? There’s nothing inherent to any of those characters (given the fact Asgardians are not actually directly the myths they inspired in the Marvel canon) that prevents them from being something else. Women can pilot ships, black dudes can lead, and women can kick ass. Requirements fulfilled.

I’m sure there are more, and I’d love your help with it all. Thanks in advance!

On Mementos Mori

Hi, I’m Tyler, and I’m terrified of death.

I’m not terrified of it in the sense that it’s imminent; I’m not wounded, I have no terminal diagnosis or indeed diagnosis at all, and with the exception of probably needing to lay off the red meat and Cheez-Its a little I have a pretty healthy diet with an attempt at regular exercise. I’m terrified of it in the sense that I want it to never, ever come anywhere near me or the people I love.

It’s to the point that I lose sleep over it. There will be nights that Sonya will hear in my breathing and my movements that I’m tense, and being the person she is, she’ll check in on me, and all I say anymore is that I’m having my existential crisis, because I have so thoroughly exhausted the topic beyond any sane person’s capacity to tolerate that there’s no need to elaborate further. But it doesn’t change that I worry. I worry about cancer, and car crashes, and heart attacks, and the thousand ridiculous no-shit story ways a person could just suddenly die. I check myself for tumors so often I’ve actually caused skin irritations. It’s pathetic, a lot of days.

Death terrifies me because I don’t want this to end. I feel like I’m just really becoming a real person, like I’m just getting a handle on big concepts like good and evil and the balance between “adulthood” and mental well-being and how to tell a good story and the idea that everyone is gross sometimes. I want to keep growing, and learning, and improving. I want to refine myself into a sparkling diamond, and raise kids who get to refine themselves into sparkling diamonds. I want to have the time to save up the money to buy a house, to raise a kid in an environment we know is ready for it, to write every novel that pops into my head, to read all of Terry Pratchett and every Superman story and build a house and try out pro wrestling and…

As Roy Baty once said: I want more life.

I don’t know what happens when we die, and I wish I did. When I’m awake at night, eyes screwed shut, listening to the highway growling and the occasional detonation of late-night parties, I find myself hoping for an afterlife, but also terrified of what the afterlife could be. What if the afterlife is eternity in a cramped box, alone? What if it’s always like I’m having trouble breathing? What if it’s just blackness and contemplation with no filter to keep that from being exactly like my current consciousness would experience it? Will Sonya be there with me? What about my friends? What about any of my cats?

I know, I’m supposed to take this as a sign that I need to seize the day and really drink deeply of life. I try. But at the end of the day, it’s a thought that always haunts me, waiting in the wings for when the joy and the laughter and the sweat and the tears all subside, asking me questions about what comes next. It’s the one question I can’t know the answer to, and the one question I have to hope I just get more comfortable with as my life goes on.

I don’t have a concluding point on this one. I don’t have any kind of revelation. I’m also not looking for an outpouring of sympathy. But I’m hoping, maybe, someone who reads this finds some comfort in it, or something interesting. Because if nothing else, that’s one more life I know I touched on my journey across this weird suspended ball of mud.

End of line.

On “Stories Matter.”

So, I say this a lot: stories matter. I said it in my post about superheroes (you know, the only one I did, ever), but I also say it all the time on Twitter. What I mean by that is that what I said back in that post: the stories a culture tells itself affect that culture, sometimes in broad ways and sometimes in subtle ones. That includes the way different parts of that culture are represented in the stories of that culture, but it also includes which character traits we decide to lionize and which we decide to vilify, what we consider to be a “happy ending” and what we consider to be “just desserts.”

This is a topic near and dear to my heart, but it’s also one I often have trouble conveying to people, particularly people who are resistant to shifts in representation and tone in the media they prefer to digest, whether that’s about black mothers who are also pirates or about transexual superheroes or about whatever. An argument I hear a lot is that stories don’t actually matter that much, that we shouldn’t take this stuff so seriously, that this or that medium is “just for fun” and should not be construed as having social impact.

I want to combat this idea, which is why I want to collate as large a list as possible of links about why stories matter. Of course, I am just one man, and a man with a full-time job and an anxiety disorder, so I only have so many spoons to devote to hunting these links down. But the magic of the twenty-first century is that crowdsourcing is easier than ever.

So, I am asking all of you, my loyal readers, to point me to any resource you find that is evidence for, or a study of, why and how stories matter. Scholarly links, tumblr posts, other movements like this one (the #ComicsEmpower hashtag comes to mind), anything you find that bolsters the argument and provides data for those interested in the subject, please forward it on to me. I’ll be setting up a page on my happy little website for just that data. And hopefully some day, posting those links helps one of us make a point or changes a mind. But for now, I just love reading about why stories matter.

So please, fire away.

On Excuse Me?

I am trying to write fewer bellicose and/or lachrymose posts, but, then I saw this today, and I was reminded that some of it is the world’s fault.

This here is Very Important Comics Creator, Erik Larsen, speaking out against “practical” womens’ outfits, and implying that they somehow diminish how attractive the female characters are, and that most people prefer them the other way.

I don’t even know where to start peeling this onion of stupid. Fortunately, three major players in comics right now were there to tell him just how stupid he was being, and I want to first and foremost focus everyone’s attention on Gail Simone’s really excellent discussion that is far more than Larsen deserved. If you’re going to read that or read my blog post, read that.

For those who are still here, let’s make sure we are clear on exactly why what Larsen said is not at all innocent and particularly heinous. Larsen has:

  • implied a one-dimensional axis of attractiveness that requires (we presume) a more revealing outfit. (Presumably he is suggesting one of the classic Carol Danvers “Ms. Marvel” outfits shown here, as opposed to the most recent one she wears as “Captain Marvel”)
  • implied that sexy is more important than practical in female superheroes’ outfits via his assertion that “practical” is different than “attractive” and that practical is somehow bad or undesirable.
  • downplayed and vilified those fans who like more practical outfits, which includes not only feminist readers interested in outfits that are less objectifying (note I did not say not objectifying; these are still superhero comics), or readers who do not feel being sexy is the main point of female characters (or even something characters in comics need to be doing for us as readers), but readers who find something sexy that is different than what Erik Larsen finds sexy.
  • dismissed any amount of progress away from classic comic portrayals of characters as the work of a vocal minority, which even if we are very nice and assume he didn’t just mean “women” does imply that disagreeing with Erik Larsen means you can’t possibly have any kind of popular opinion.

So, in other words, Erik Larsen is a Gator. He’s not as vitriolic or criminal as GroperGarb members tend to actually be, but he is touting essentially the same idea about comics that they are about games: that women are a vocal minority who are fucking it up for everyone else, that any amount of change is a sin, and that there is only one right way to Comics and anyone who Comicses differently should be called out for the damage they are doing to the hobby. I would be inclined to be as incredibly magnanimous as Simone has been here and say that Larsen probably just put his foot in it, but given his involvement with the somewhat infamously sexist Image Comics titles of the 90s*, I do not have it in me to forgive right now.

I’m not currently calling for a boycott of Larsen, but I am trying to make sure I boost the signal here that he has said stuff like this, and to make sure my readers get an opportunity to understand exactly how much words matter, and how much stories matter. And also to make sure you all know how awesome Gail Simone, Jamie McKelvie, and Stephen Wacker are so you can decide if maybe you want to check out their work. Wicked + the Divine and Captain Marvel (which is not Wacker’s book, but, since he helped with the costume design I wanted to mention it) both come with my personal seal of approval already, and this makes me feel even better about spending our money on those things. I think after this I might also check out The Movement; Simone deserves a little more of my support.

Also, I want to call attention to what Simone said: “When I am done making comics, I hope it is very clear that I wanted to be on the side that was for INCLUDING people, not excluding them.” Those are the words that I want to resonate for her, and for me when I’m done making art, and for every other artist out there. That what we — the feminists, the activists, the allies — are doing is not excluding; what we are doing is including. It only looks like excluding to people like Larsen because they have not yet opened their eyes to just how magically multifarious humanity actually is. They’re Blue Meanies, unable to figure out that turning everything blue and shutting out music because they dislike it has caused them to miss out on…life.

And that’s why I don’t feel the need to boycott Larsen. Frankly, I think living like that is the worst punishment of all.

Edited to Add: Oh, hey, Larsen is doubling down! Never mind, boo this man and do not buy his silly little funnybooks.

*And also given the fact I am not a woman working in the same industry as him and am therefore not as (rightfully) concerned with avoiding damage to my brand (please note it was two men who had to do the actual calling out here). NOTE: I am not saying Simone was at all cowardly; I am saying Simone is in a position where she cannot talk as stridently to Larsen as he perhaps deserved without significant backlash. Wacker and McKelvie are men and so will suffer less professional damage than she is likely to for saying the same things. That’s me, pointing out how unfair the world is.

On Impostor Syndrome

10:18. Restate my assumptions.

I’ve had a very bad week for impostor syndrome. Not worse than any other bad week for impostor syndrome I have had in the past; but on par with some of the worse weeks. We’re somewhere near the place where I think writing is a waste of time because I am so bad at it; I would be happier if I didn’t try to write anymore; I should give up and accept I will never be as good as the awesome writers I am reading. Most of the thoughts revolve around those three key tenets. This is pretty typical for my impostor syndrome, really; it starts as a tickle of doubt about my skills, grows from there into direct comparisons to writing I am impressed with, and ends up in me calculating exactly how many more video games I could complete if I wasn’t writing. (The answer is a lot, for those who are curious.)

I’m not writing this down to weave a sob-story for you, but more to harness a period of lucidity into some insight on what my impostor syndrome feels like, what common triggers are, and what I can do to fight out of those common triggers. So this is going to go from a little introspective to a lot introspective. Those who are not interested in taking a look at my thought processes…probably shouldn’t have been reading this blog in the first place? But, still. You have been warned this will be a richer mixture than most.

There are clear warning signs that impostor syndrome is coming. Typically, the first clue is me having to ask my wife, directly, if I suck at this writing thing. I may also direct that question to my beta-readers. Or just tweet that I am feeling down. Usually this means the wave has just started to crest on the horizon; after that, I’ll generally find myself reading or viewing an amazing piece of narrative craftsmanship/wordsmithing, and immediately after the first thought that it’s amazing will come a thought along the lines of “I will never write anything as [sad/funny/creative/poignant/sexy/whatever] as that.” That’s when I know my brain cells should be evacuating the beach.

But what do I do about it? How do I try to minimize it happening? And, if trying to minimize it does not prevent it — it’s a thought, after all, and so can openly be controlled so much — what do I do when the wave does come crashing down.

Well, that’s kind of where this post came from. This week, it has become increasingly obvious to me that there are also situations and behaviors that are likely to result in a bout of impostor syndrome. Call then increased risk factors, I guess. (Talking about impostor syndrome like it’s a viral infection is probably the best way I can categorize it, in terms of my own approach to it. An infection is something you can work to prevent, and something that, once you have it, everyone agrees it’s best if you treat it and try to let it heal itself.)

Naturally, I am at the highest risk for it after a rejection letter; and sometimes, beta-reader feedback can trigger the same thing. That doesn’t seem particularly odd — of course being told you have something to improve can spark a small flame of doubt! — but it’s worth saying because sometimes what’s prosaic to one person is arcane to another. And bviously, neither of these is a negotiable part of my writing experience, unless I suddenly become a cash-cow writer (and God, doesn’t that sound like the best possible nightmare?), so the best I can do there is try to remember the feelings these situations can enkindle and act accordingly.

But, there are other things that cause me trouble. They all go under roughly the same heading: putting myself in writing situations that will lead to writing being very difficult, or that put pressure on me to do something besides write. From least to most terrible, the ones I have identified are:

  1. writing with social media active (i.e., I don’t have to open a new tab or pick up a device to look at Facebook)
  2. writing when I have a time-sensitive problem or opportunity to address (e.g., I need to get a bill in the mail by 5pm)
  3. writing something on a self-imposed, specific schedule (e.g., every Friday)
  4. writing when I have a hard time limit on my time (e.g., on coffee breaks)
  5. writing while intoxicated
  6. writing while tired

All of these can be addressed, but all of these can also be a challenge to address. Well, not all; #1 is pretty easy for me to fix. (Though I am of course writing this with Twitter and Facebook open on either side of it. Yeugh.) #5 is also easy to avoid; it’s not like I get paid to be drunk. #6 can be handled with some lifestyle and habit changes, as can #3 (you’ve already seen that with my decision to excise mandated Friday blog posts). #4, though…dear God, #4.

I realized this week that I have not been making enough time in my schedule for writing. My current schedule has been that I get Friday and Saturday off, and write Sunday through Thursday. I have a minimum word count, doubled if I am on a deadline, doubled again for editing vs. writing new prose. I have a whole schedule worked out of what projects I am working on, with backup projects for days that a given literary pursuit or narrative voice is just too much for me to handle for whatever reason. The last two parts work great; the Sunday-Thursday schedule is not working so well, and for a very weird reason: more of my social life takes place on weeknights than weekends these days.

My friend’s Legend of the Five Rings game is on Mondays. My Wild Talents campaign is on whatever Tuesdays my players are available. Another pair of friends meet sort-of-weekly-ish on Wednesdays to try out a variety of games. Our only constant, standing engagement on weekends is an anime/Marvel Cinematic Universe night with one of our friends. All of the above of are of course not weekly in any sense, and all of the above can also tolerate having to skip a week or two when people have had bad days at work or kids are sick or what-have-you. But what this means is, my weeknights are very much not free most of the time, and my weekends tend to be busy with stuff that it is much easier to move around in my daily schedule. I need to catch up on grown-up stuff, but it’s OK if I do the dishes late at night, or if we run errands first thing in the morning. I can also find time for writing on weekends even when we have plans with friends — noon-time tabletop game? I can get up early and write, or write after I get home. WWE pay-per-view in the evening, possibly necessitating I be up late? Lunch and prose at the same time! God, even just writing that is filling me with joy.

I think the Friday-Saturday days off is an OK default, for weeks where I do not have significant weeknight obligations and so can write in the evenings; and in particular, having Friday off is a good idea most of the time, because five straight days of work can be draining and having a day where all I do is finish my day job and come home to rest can be valuable for my sanity. But for weeks like this upcoming one, where I may be out with friends for four of the seven nights available to me, I should really be considering the need to write on Saturday. Really, I am overjoyed at the thought of writing on Saturday, which is all the sign I need that I should be making it a default. I really think that this schedule — as rigid as the Progress Update schedule, in its way — was a byproduct of a different time in my life, when weekends tended to be the absolute busiest times and we were getting stuff done on weeknights. That is not this time, and the rush to get writing done on weekdays. during coffee breaks and such, is affecting both my day job focus and my writing focus, and increasing my bouts of impostor syndrome.

And when impostor syndrome does hit — and inevitably, it will hit sometimes, no matter what I do — what should I do about it?

Well, self-care, I guess. Work on writing that is “easier” for me, or that is just for me (for the time being), so I can avoid trying to feel so critical about it. Do writing exercises so I feel like I am working on improving myself. Drink lots of water. Eat my favorite salads. Drink a mango Gatorade. Play some Sentinels of the Multiverse. Read some Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl or Saga. Do things I love that do not take energy and refresh me and inspire me to write again. And if it really comes down to it…I guess take a few days off, and wait for the fire to rise in me again. Because it always does. That inexorable fact is the thing that always keeps me coming back to writing — I can tell from the way I react that regardless of profession success, writing and getting better at writing are things I absolutely need to do.

I had some thoughts about my quest for my writing voice, and my need to unleash my id a bit more in places; but those can go in a separate post, when I have not already written 1500 words and when I am feeling more focused on those concepts. For now, I think I have made some good changes, and gotten together a good list of problematic situations and behaviors. So, this coming week, I am going to let myself have some time off during the week itself — not every day, but a day or two; and then when the weekend comes, I can reap my word count in earnest. I may also give myself Friday off, but we will have to see. Putting things in stone is clearly not the best idea for me.

I hope reading through all this was helpful to someone; and I look forward to blogging at you again very, very soon.

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.