Those Cap Feels

CN: Mention of the Holocaust, Nazis, and the current political climate; mention of anxiety and suicide.

For all that warning, this post is actually about saying thank you.

Backstory: Over in my capacity as a blogger for The Ace of Geeks, I wrote this piece on why we will not be covering Marvel Comics’ Secret Empire crossover event. I’d love it if you read it, but tl;dr: because I think making superheroes into secret fascists of any stripe, but especially secret Nazis, is too tasteless to give the time of day beyond saying I won’t give it the time of day.

I posted this yesterday, and the cloak of dread immediately descended on me. Being anti-Nazi shouldn’t be a controversial stance; but, it being 2017 in the Darkest Timeline, Secret Empire has had a legion of apologists standing behind it, insisting we need to give the story a chance, that we’re exaggerating how bad it is, and of course that old chestnut, that we’re just as bad as them if we infringe on their freedom of speech (which of course we are doing by not listening to them). And riding in the sidecar with that dread was the other dread that every artist feels sometimes: the one where you’re afraid that this stand, right here, is the one that torpedoes your career — a feeling that lingers no matter how small or basic the stand is, no matter where in your career you are, because it’s hammered into every artist that any stand at all is career suicide. (A feeling that my dude anxiety only amplifies.)

But it needed to be said (my editor-in-chief and I both agreed), and so said it was, and so dread I did. And sure enough, the initial comments were critical of the decision to varying degrees, most of which I could respond to with “did you read the article?” or “we go into that in the article.” I focused on my day job and just tried to accept that people are going to be people. But then, we got into the comments that inspired this post:

People thanked us. People supported us. People — and I want to say, largely women, people of color, LGBT+ people, people whose families fought against and/or died to the Nazis in World War II — said that it meant a lot that we made this decision. These voices rather vastly outweighed the ones that felt we had done wrong, and they definitely spoke with more emotion than the critics. We had — my words had — touched them, and we had made a difference for just a little bit. It wasn’t the end of The Dead Poets’ Society or anything, but it was enough to make it feel like taking a stand of any kind was worth it, and almost as important, that my words have power.

Being a writer is lonely business, and you spend a lot of time feeling not good enough — the nature of the industry is that you get rejected, a lot, and that successes will tend to be modest, and even when you get a taste of the rarefied air, it’s been so difficult getting there that you can wind up feeling you don’t deserve it, because how could you after all that? But then sometimes, you touch somebody and you feel like things are worth it; and that is how I have felt every time I’ve gotten to approve a comment these past two days.

So thank you, friends and loved ones and anonymous Internet commenters, for making me feel loved and supported and like I did a good thing. I hope I continue to do good things in the future. Let’s all do good things for ourselves and each other, yeah?

Homebody

How Missing People Is Actually Better For Me

CN: Anxiety, mental health, talk of schedules and politics, the 45th President

I include the above photo to show that I am actually pretty happy lately, especially compared to the end of 2016 and the beginning of this year. Some of that is, well, because I’ve been resisting — calling my elected representatives, signing petitions, doing all I can to emotionally support protests even as mental and physical health keep me at home; it feels good to be involved, though titrating to avoid burnout is definitely still a work in progress. Some of it is because the sun is coming back out, with all the joy and Vitamin D that brings. But some of that is because I’ve just finally accepted a truth about myself: I’m an introvert.

I used to tell myself that I was an extrovert, and for a long time that seemed to be the case. I mean, I like being around people; I like (love…really love…cannot stop) talking, listening, having discussions and exchanges of ideas; I sometimes find it difficult to be silent for too long or to go too long without seeing people. When I have plans, I can find it arduous to do something in the hours leading up to them, unless those things are directly related (which may be a secret reason I also love hosting, but…more on that later…). But as I rounded into my mid-thirties, I started recognizing a pattern in my behavior:

  1. I make recurring plans with friends
  2. I make recurring plans with other friends
  3. I start also making one-off plans
  4. I discover I have weeks and weeks where I have almost no free time
  5. My anxiety starts to rise
  6. My anxiety actually outgrows my body and I achieve flight, traveling everywhere by floating on a cushion of pure terror
  7. I start skipping out on recurring plans
  8. Skipping out intensifies
  9. I cancel recurring plans
  10. I realize I have a lot of free time
  11. Go to 1

Being human, I recognized this far ahead of actually doing anything about it, but recognize it I did. It was, frankly, diabetes that finally broke the spell. When we received our diagnoses, we had to step back from a lot of plans while we a. took time to be upset at the bad news, and b. figure out how to live life with this new dimension. So regular gaming started to dry up. Standing plans started to dry up. We spent our nights learning how to eat properly, how to exercise, how to take our glucose readings, watch for symptoms, etc. And in and among learning how to do all this, and the vast oceans of stress that came along with it, came a realization: I felt better. Not just physically, but mentally.

I liked having free time. I liked spending the bulk of my evenings at home with Sonya. I liked being able to focus on my writing, to catch up on books I meant to read and video games I meant to play, to have quiet weekend mornings where I just sat and read comics while I sipped my tea. The apex of the experience came at Christmas 2015, when due to a confluence of events, Sonya and I wound up having a quiet Christmas Eve at home, just the two of us, and it was one of the best Christmases I have ever had and I was more refreshed on returning to work than I have ever been.

I think my aversion to the idea I was an introvert came from a boy I knew in middle school, who was the first person I ever heard use the term “introvert,” and who used it to mean “self-centered.” Even when I learned later in life what it meant, I had taught myself to think extroversion was good and introversion was bad. It doesn’t help that Western culture in general privileges extroverts, so I was inundated with the idea I needed to be that to get anywhere. (Never mind that the stereotype of writers runs counter to that, no, don’t reflect on that, that’s silly.) But loving a proud introvert, and being forced into introversion for a while, showed me the truth about myself and gave me a chance to see it in action: yes, I love people. I am also an introvert. And finding a balance is fine.

So these days, I don’t see people as much. Yes, I have some regular (monthly) gaming groups. I have a bimonthly board game night. We have friends over sometimes, and sometimes we go to friends, and those things are fun and fine and good. But unless people ask for us, most days are left open for us to do us things. I won’t lie, there are times I want more; there are days I miss people, especially people who live farther away from us. But the truth is, at the end of the week, having a Saturday that I am just spending with Sonya is often the most amazing feeling in the world, and on your average weekday, a rendesvous with her and with my writing desk is all I would ask for. This isn’t because I love or treasure my friends any less, but because I am finally figuring out the truth I wouldn’t let myself learn for years: I actually am OK being a homebody.

So, yeah. The world is a struggle right now; but in this time, in these moments, I have found a way to make myself happy. And any time that happens, for any of us, is a victory.

 

2017, Year of the Dog Reviewer

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Wherein we discuss art, politics, and good dogs, Brent.

Hi, everyone. I hope your first three weeks of 2017 have gone well. Mine have gone as I expect the next four years to go: Things are very good on a personal level, but up in the political ether are horrible people making horrible political decisions that affect people much less privileged than me. I’m managing to work my way through with a mix of good self-care and righteous activist rage. And writing. Lots of writing. Which is really what I am here to discuss.

This morning (January 23rd), Twitter user and actual badass Naomi Clark posted this screenshot of an exchange with We Rate Dogs(tm), a Twitter feed dedicated to tongue-in-cheek reviews of cute dog pictures, most famous for the current meme “They’re good dogs, Brent.” In this screenshot, the Dog Reviewer takes flak for posting a picture of a good dog with a Women’s March protest sign, and decides to fire back. It is no secret that I support the Women’s March; so reader, I retweeted them.

Mostly, my post got Liked. But one good friend (and fellow artist) did express concern about this phrasing. Reading what they have to say, I feel the issue deserves greater expansion on my part. So here goes!

When I implore artists to “be political,” I am not saying “Be political in the same way We Rate Dogs was.” An Internet friend (in the same discussion as the above) put it very nicely, actually: “I’d say its less about artists needing to be as political as this– artists can’t fail to be political– so much as it is artists need to own their political positions at least as much as this.”

Really, there are three issues at work here. One is a semantic issue with regards to what counts as “political.” Layered on top of that issue is the cultural issue that (as the Internet friend put it) “political” is often conflated with “controversial” — which, again citing them (thanks, Internet Friend!), is a problem because it means that dominant cultural ideas that are, in fact, political tend to go unquestioned. The third is the classic weapon deployed against any artist who dares to be political: The idea that owning one’s politics is inherently damaging to one’s brand.

To the first point: I am saying that if you believe in a cause, any cause, put that in your art. That cause does not have to be one with a fancy name; it does not have to be art about the Women’s March, or the Republican Party, or socialism. It has to be something you care about that you are putting out in the world through your work; a change you wish to see in the world, to quote the oft-CafePressed slogan. Do you need to talk about abuse you or someone else suffered? Paint a painting that shows us that pain. Do you believe it is important that people practice radical compassion? Show us through your main character. Are you angry about the hypocrisy displayed by or about a particular public figure? Make a movie that draws uncomfortable parallels.

Room is political. Steven Universe is political. Rogue One is double-bonus political. Any art that holds a mirror up to the world and says “There’s a better way” is political. And the passion the creators have for the messages they are conveying echoes through the work and enriches it. And this is the thing I am trying to say: Never be afraid to let your art reflect your beliefs, and never be afraid to own those beliefs when questioned.

And if you are not putting a cause into your work deliberately, consider what cause you might be putting into it accidentally. As mentioned in the second point, all art advances an agenda, even if that agenda is to reflect the conventional wisdom of your place and time. And that can be OK, if those are beliefs you own, but I do think that being aware of the message you are sending is important. I’m not trying to talk down and say “You just don’t see your own politics, nyah.” Nor am I trying to say “If you are not being deliberately political, you are Doing Art Wrong.” I am trying to say that if you see those beliefs you hold so dear leaking in, that’s not a bad thing. Never be afraid to let your art reflect your beliefs, and never be afraid to reexamine your beliefs through your art.

Now, sometimes art is done to pay the bills, because we all need to eat and capitalism really sucks. Never, ever let anybody tell you to not take care of yourself, and that includes me. If that means you produce a story that advances an agenda that is signing your paycheck? A photograph that is total vanilla stock footage, carefully trimmed of any subtext? A kid’s show script that is painstakingly inoffensive? Good. You take care of yourself. It’s also OK if you are doing those things because you want that kind of comfort available to people; that’s a belief. Never be afraid to let your art reflect your beliefs, even when those beliefs are not “political.”

Before I wrap up, I want to just take a second to be violently annoyed with the inculcated artist’s fear of losing followers and fans. This is not an illegitimate fear; I am sure that choosing to speak my mind has lost me some fans, and maybe a story sale or two. However, the effect tends to get grossly exaggerated. Award-winning actors have come from both extremes of the political spectrum, and have rarely been shy about it. Wil Wheaton, a nerd icon, is so far left I look like a Young Republican by comparison. Twitter is full of writers talking leftist and liberal politics, including Hugo Award winners; not to mention writers for Marvel Comics, who until recently were helmed by an out and proud Trump supporter. You can flourish in the arts without ever having to hide your beliefs. In fact, speaking personally, talking more about my politics has actually increased my exposure: I have more followers since I started getting real about my views, and I have more enthusiastic followers, too. Your mileage may vary, of course — I am in a position of relatively great privilege — but it’s gone very well for me.

The point of all this is that I do not say what I say re: political art to make anyone feel bad. You do you. Always do you. That’s really my point, actually — that if you want to put your politics out there, want to be empathetic, or angry, or just make people think — do it. Own it. Don’t be afraid of it. Because art is powerful. It’s why fascists gun for it. And if you do, I’ll be here supporting you every step of the way. And so will a lot of dogs.

They’re good dogs, after all.

2016: Good Riddance

So here we are: December 31, 2016.

It’s not unique nor surprising for me to say that 2016 was a terrible year — the deaths of people my generation idolized, American politics doing a belly-flop straight into a dumpster fire, a cavalcade of wars and horrors and accidents great and small — but I was fairly lucky with 2016 on a personal level.

As I go into the details, CN: anxiety, violence, sexual assault, Tr*mp.

Looking at my Facebook memories, I went into 2016 full of hope and optimism, and ignoring truly horrific world events, that was mostly rewarded; but where it wasn’t, man was it a kick in the teeth. A long-time friend turned out to be a multiple-offense abuser and sexual assailant, and I learned when that came out that several long-term friends had covered up how bad his behavior actually was. When the local gaming community saw a direct action to excise another sexual predator from its midst, a different long-time friend caped for the perpetrator. Two different relatives-in-law turned out to be awful people with awful politics. At least one friend lost a beloved pet; another lost a beloved relative; yet more friends got evicted. We totaled our car right before Christmas Day (everyone is fine; the car took all the abuse).

But the good parts were superb. I celebrated two years of marriage with S., and our relationship is in a fantastic place, even better than where it was in 2015. My health was excellent, to the point where my doctor forgot I was diabetic until I reminded him. I started reviewing comics for The Ace of Geeks, a dream gig if there ever was one. I joined a monthly actual play podcast of one of my favorite indie RPGs (World Wide Wrestling; here’s the website, for those interested). I made new friends who are supportive and kind and interesting, both online and in meatspace, and I maintained and improved several other relationships that I am grateful to have. One of my best friends got engaged. I found joy in a little game called Pokemon Go. I got to see the Sharks make it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time, and was there for their first ever Stanley Cup Finals win, 3-2 in overtime. I wrote two short stories I was extremely proud of. I had “The One About Jacob” accepted for publication. And I finished writing The Imaginary Corpse, the novel I am most proud of yet in my career, and one I am elated to be shopping around later this year after I’ve finished post-beta revisions. I figured out how to walk the walk on social justice issues, and learned it is both easier and harder than I gave it credit for. I got a much better handle on my anxiety, though post-election it’s been pretty rough.  I learned how to be more authentically myself — even when I am anxious or sad or angry, I am able to accept that it’s OK to feel those things most of the time, and I’ve stopped being ashamed and embarrassed of my likes and dislikes — again, most of the time.

I am stumbling to the finish line, bloodied and exhausted, and I anticipate a marathon of horrors coming out of the new White House. But I also anticipate my community being there for each other, and I know we will celebrate together in victory and comfort each other in defeat. I know there will be good art, and good love, and fun times, and people building toward their dreams. We may take a few body-blows this year, but we’ll try to protect each other from the knockout punch.

I’m off to go clean up and get ready to see friends this evening, but before I go, I want to say: thank you. Thank you for reading this blog, and the Pull List, and my fiction. I don’t know exactly how many of you there are, and I don’t need to, but knowing that these words are not just falling into the void and vanishing means a lot.

And now, I’m off to vacuum, and then play Sentinels of the Multiverse in my penguin kigurumi.

Yeah. That feels like the right way to end it.

Happy New Year, everybody.
Photo on 12-31-16 at 11.17 AM #2

How Zanzer Tem Got My Groove Back

Preamble: It’s been a rough time in the United States of America lately, a rough time reconfirmed yesterday with the Electoral College officially casting their votes. I’m not gonna lie — I don’t think this POTUS is going to be good for the country. I’m scared of what he’s going to try to do and what will be done in his name. I’m gearing up for a marathon of working to make sure the wheels of democracy turn for everyone, not just the already privileged and the hateful. I’m terrified, and already exhausted, and my mental health has been taking it on the chin since well before election day and only getting worse since then.

And that’s the thrust of it: I’ve been a bad friend for the last half a year, and while DJT is the catalyst it’s not an excuse. I totally dropped the ball on beta-reading for a colleague. I have been scattered and unproductive at my day job. The holiday one-shots I promised people I’d run basically all fell apart except for the few I got done before DJT sewed up the GOP nomination, and every time I think “I should run those” my mind turns to a dead radio station and I just hunch over my desk until the horror passes. Exercise has been difficult to make myself do (though the endorphins always really do help), and a lot of nights after work I get on the train and cannot focus on anything except doing my daily Duolingo lesson (I’m learning German, which is making me uncomfortable for historical reasons). Writing has basically been the only easy thing, and that’s great, but there are days that feels like fiddling while Rome burns. The tiniest thing will shatter my cool: a difficult-but-not-impossible work project triggered no fewer than six anxiety attacks over two weeks, and on Sunday I fell into a deep funk because we misjudged our time budgeting and I didn’t get to make Star Wars: Edge of the Empire characters with Sonya. I try to self-care and half the time it doesn’t work, because I inevitably come across something that makes me think of the election, something that isn’t funny anymore in context, something normal that I’m worried I won’t get to keep thinking of as normal or something horrific that I think might become all too common. And it’s not entirely getting better, though there are definitely moments, even sometimes whole days.

Some of this I can only do so much about. Some of this I have to handle as I have energy, not before, or risk making it worse. But last night, I got an unexpected shot in the arm courtesy of my wife’s Reddit Secret Santa gift.

When it arrived, it looked like a board game to me: long, flat, rectangular. She opened it while I was washing dishes and heating up dinner, and she told me it was two boxes of tea, which was great, but clearly not all that was in the package; I asked what else it was, and as I was washing, she suddenly said “Baby! Look!” And I came back into the living room, and I saw…this.

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The 1991 “Easy to Master” boxed set of Dungeons & Dragons.

I started shouting. I nearly started crying. This boxed set was a tiny piece of my childhood in Los Angeles, a birthday present that carried fond and also sad memories. Fond because this came into my life when I was just starting to figure out this “roleplaying” thing, when I used to try to read the 2nd Edition AD&D Player’s Handbook cover-to-cover and desperately wanted any sourcebook my parents could afford to give me (an urge that also got me Paranoia, which is still a favorite, and Shatterzone, which is…less so). Sad because…well…I never got to play it.

It took me a lot of years to find my people; I had friends as a kid, but nothing that endured the way friendships later in life did (such is growing up, I think). And this Dungeons & Dragons set serves as a reminder of that in-a-crowd isolation: the set that I pored over, got excited about, but could never actually execute. The closest I got was an offer from a post-surgery relative who wanted to play with me but wound up (understandably!) too low-energy to do so, and a cousin who when presented with my attempt at an elevator pitch said “Why are you talking to me about this? I’m not interested.” (At least he set strong boundaries…)

So last night, looking at this battered but never-played copy of this game that some thoughtful Redditor sent to Sonya, I felt a chance to do something that it never occurred to me I’d wanted to do, that it never occurred to me I’d ever have a chance to do: I could finally run a party through Zanzer’s Dungeon. I could finally run the encounters with Dmitri, and Axel, and everyone else in that little box. I could actually play that D&D set that lived, loved but unused, in my many childhood closets, even if it was a different copy from an entire continent away.

2017 is likely to be as tough as 2016. Parts of it might be worse, as a person interested in tolerance and inclusivity. And it is likely to include a lot of triumph, too: The Imaginary Corpse will start going out to agents and markets next year, and I’ll mark three years of marriage to my best friend and favorite human, and I will get to finally unbox Sentinels of the Multiverse: OblivAeon and finish the game I started loving five years ago. But one of the things I know I can look forward to, one of the bits that will help me get through during the most slogging, bloody sequences of the year, is that I will finally deliver on a 25-year-old promise I hadn’t realized I’d made myself. In 2017, I will finally read the boxed text for Zanzer’s Dungeon to a group that is actually excited to have me read it. That’s a win money can’t buy.

So thank you, anonymous Redditor. You gave me hope, and you made us smile. And that’s what the holidays are really all about.

The Scalp Says: This is Not Normal

Photo on 11-19-16 at 2.18 PM

So, hi again. How are we all doing on this far side of reality?

I haven’t blogged about the United States of America’s recent Presidential election; I haven’t been able to find the words for it. I’ve been throwing myself into activism and self-care and partner care in equal measure, trying my damnedest to find some magical balance that will fix this world — if not mystically undo the election results, then make them safer, make them make sense. So I haven’t been writing in this space, preferring places where I write about comics and geeky stuff, or my own fiction where I control all the tuning knobs on reality. Until today, when I accidentally shaved my head.

That’s incongruous on purpose; bear with me here.

So, no big shame or secret: I’ve got male pattern baldness. The hair on the top of my head is very thin, with a noticeable “bald spot” taking up, oh, most of my skull. So my “haircut” is really more of an every-month-or-so going over with a hair and beard trimmer, trying to make sure the whole thing looks somewhat serviceable. Well, today was the day, I decided, as I woke up and felt that “standing straight up on end” was synonymous with “too long.” So I confirmed S. could help me clean it up when I was done trimming, got the trimmer ready, and started in — and forgot to put on the guard before I started. You know, the guard that lets you set how short you want to trim your hair? Yeah, that one.

I shaved a portion of the hair on my right temple down to stubble before I realized what I had done. I put the guard on, set it a bit lower than my normal setting, and went over the rest of my dome, seeing if maybe it wouldn’t stand out. But, no such luck; even that low setting still looked like a lush carpet of head-covering compared to the site of the incident. So I explained what happened to S., and after she tried a still-lower setting, we agreed there were no two ways about it, the best option was to buzz the whole mess down with no guard and let it grow back while we’re on Thanksgiving vacation next week.

“No problem,” I said, “I’ll just wear a hat for a week. You know, so people don’t think I’m a neo-Nazi.” That’s when this blog post hit.

Looking like I wear the trappings of racism is something I worry about a lot when it comes to my haircuts and clothing choices. I’m blonde and blue-eyed, and on top of it I’m tall and (these days) fairly well-toned, and so inherently might come off as threatening from that. I worry about days when my hair is freshly trimmed and how I might present. But today, the reality of what I might be projecting with this too-close shave really smacked me in the face: I might not just be mistaken for a racist. I might be mistaken for someone who voted for the new President of the United States.

Not because everyone who voted for him is a neo-Nazi. But we know the neo-Nazi “alt” “right” definitely went in big for him, and we know that hate crimes are on the rise, and we know that both of these things are because of the horrific things he said on the campaign trail. Whatever is lurking in his policy that got him the necessary votes (sorta…), we know that a tide of hate was a major factor. We don’t know exactly what to expect, but in the communities I am a part of, we are expecting — and speaking out against — the worst. It looks bleak out there right now, like we’re in for a four-year marathon against a Hydra that wants to put the rights of people and the planet where they live on a political chopping block, and I don’t know if my legs can carry me that far without stumbling. Self-care leaves me feeling numb a lot of the time — sometimes I manage to truly distract myself, but then all of a sudden I’ll plummet back down into the horror of what might be coming in 2017, 2018, 2019…

And I’m relatively insulated. If it is just about me, I’ll more or less be fine — I’m white, I’m male, I’m heterosexual, and I identify with the gender I was assigned at birth. My wife, the most important person in my life, is in a similar spot, though as a woman there’s a lot to worry about there. But this is not true of all my friends, not by a long shot, and even if it were, I would still fear for the millions of Americans who the extreme policy proposals of this administration would affect, even if I never met them one on one. And even if the policies never pass, the normalization of disgusting, racist behavior is a wound that will take a long time to heal and may never properly scar over. But somehow — and this is such a White Dude thing for me to say — sitting here and realizing what I am worried my hair says to people I pass on the street has made it all real for me in a way it hasn’t been before.

I plan to resist. I plan to dissent, as is my Constitutional right. I’m calling my elected officials to voice my stances, I’m making sure we do not normalize the troubling and outright disturbing things we are hearing in the news, I’m donating to civil rights and poverty outreach groups, and I am doing everything I can to help others feel safe and like we’re here for them. And I’m making art. Inclusive art. Kind art. Art that brings hope and shines a light in the darkness. Art that I hope will prop up someone besides me as we move forward. I’m sure I’ll find more I can do, for them and for myself.

But in the meantime, I am wearing the cap my wife knit me while my hair grows out, and I am trying to figure out what I’ll do for the 200+ weeks we’re going to have to walk down this path, and hoping that the worries I have on a day like today do not have to get too much more real. This is not normal, and I never want it to be.

 

 

 

Gaming for Charity (Yes, Really)

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Hey everybody,

I am emerging from the word-mines with some news: Next month, November the 5th, I will be joining the Ace of Geeks team for the Extra Life charity gaming marathon!

For the detailed low-down on Extra Life, you can check out their website, but the tl;dr version is this: Every year, Extra Life gets together gamers like myself to participate in a worldwide gaming marathon. We all pick a day (official day is November 5th, but you are not held to the larger group’s schedule) and attempt to game for 24 hours straight. Games can be of any sort, from board games to video games to tabletop RPGs. 100% of the money raised by Extra Life goes to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

The Ace of Geeks will be gaming from November 5th to November 6th, 2016; exact schedule and details will go on our Extra Life team page when we have them.

I’ll be putting the donation link on the WordPress main page until the day has come and gone, but for now, if you want to donate, you can find my personal donation page here; if you want to sign up, click the “Join” button on their main page. Thank you in advance!

How Night Vale Made Me Less Scared

welcome-to-night-vale-hc-c

(I’m abandoning the “On [TOPIC]” format for my titles…it’s a little too precious for me.)

CN: Anxiety, violence, profanity, mention of electoral politics

This past Monday night, I had the privilege to accompany Sonya to an author appearance by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, best known as the creators of Welcome to Night Vale; they were in conversation with Mallory Ortberg as part of a publicity and speaking tour for the new collections of WTNV scripts, Mostly Void, Partially Stars and The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe. The conversation was funny, insightful, incisive, and full of very deep thoughts about the life of a writer; all three participants were charming, and I highly recommend you see any of them any time you get a chance to do so.

What this post is really about, though, is the big inflection point I experienced early in the talk. The exact quote escapes me, as does who said which part, but it should surprise no-one that with these three on stage, they started talking about anxiety, and this brought Ortberg around to the topic of Welcome to Night Vale‘s overall theme: the weird, scary, dangerous nature of this little desert town, and the way its inhabitants think of it as normal. The creators of the show agreed, and said that they felt this was a reflection of real life: That the world is full of some really scary shit you can’t control, and you have to just find a way to live your life. Specifically, that you have to say “OK, I can’t do anything about Donald Trump’s Twitter account…[or] about stomach cancer…” This would have been mind-blowing, but this year of all years it was really important for me to hear that.

(Begin election stuff) Look, I have made no secret of the fact that I am terrified of this year’s Presidential election in America. I’m not here to claim Hilary Clinton is any particular thing (I am in favor of her but recognize she is not perfect), but her opponent absolutely horrifies me. I believe that electing him will do genuine harm to the people of my country, especially people of color and LGBT people, and will set us back decades of progress toward equality of any kind, not to mention possibly kill a lot of people. I, personally, may not be seriously affected, living in California and being an able-bodied white man, but that doesn’t mean I am not scared, because there is no telling what a loose cannon with well-documented racist, sexist, and fascist ideologies will do with the power of the White House (especially if he also maintains a cooperative Congress).

(End election stuff) . I have not even been sure how to keep breathing day-to-day while waiting for this to be over, and I’m not sure if it will even be over in November. And that is on top of my normal everyday anxieties: My worry about police shootings and how they seem to keep getting worse. My worry that my diabetes is going to go back out of control. My worry that I might get cancer. My worry that tomorrow my wife and favorite person in the whole world could get clipped making the left turn she makes after dropping me off at the train. My worry that I’m going to be fired. And on, and on, and on. I get told not to worry about these things, and I get help calming down, and then I get right back on the big, fire-breathing horse. But somehow, hearing it from these two — from these two great creators — made dealing with it feel real and possible. Not because I needed to not be scared, but because I needed to learn how to live my life despite that fear.

There is a movement toward empathy in art over the past couple of years; toward the idea that it’s OK to feel things, that emotion, even negative emotion, is alright and that you don’t need to stop feeling it. You see it in Steven Universe teaching us it’s OK to feel. You see it in Jessica Jones‘ titular character being the second character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to wrestle with anxiety attacks. You see it in the heroes of Stranger Things being scared, confused, and angry, but still coming back together and being friends not despite it, but with it. It’s in Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it’s in The Mighty Thor, and it’s in Welcome to Night Vale…and those words coming from that stage are what made two things crystallize for me:

1. We all have to decide to live our lives, despite how scary and overwhelming the world can be.

2. You can measure your privilege by what events are easy for you to decide to live your life through.

I am very lucky with the privileges I have been handed, and I owe it to the world to use my own ability to live through fear to help others to do the same, whether it’s people who need help coping with their anxiety, people who need shielding from the excesses of a certain spray-tanned politician, or people who just need someone to say “it’s OK to be scared of that.” And I owe it to myself to look fear in the face and accept it as a part of me, and figure out how to find the blooming flowers in the middle of the war zone that is life. Thanks to this weird podcast from the East Coast, I feel like I’m not alone in that mission.

So, that was my Monday.

On Convolution 2016

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I mentioned this on Twitter, but now I’m making it official: I am once again a guest at Con-Volution! I’m very pleased to be joining the convention again. My panel schedule is as follows:

Friday, 5:00pm – 6:30pm: Classic Scary Stories: Shelley, Poe, and Others

Looking back on some of the classics of literary monster-makers and scary storytellers

Saturday, 12:0opm – 1:30pm: BOF: Marvel Universe

There’s SO much to love about the Marvel Universe, both in Comics, and in Cinematics — so come join other fans to chat about what you think has been done well, could have been done differently — and even better — what’s next! (I’ll be moderating this birds of a feather meetup; I’ll be the one in the Avengers t-shirt. You know, the one.)

Saturday, 5:00pm – 6:30pm: Building a Better Monster: The Nuts and Bolts of Monster Physiology

It may seem like the more tentacles and claws, the scarier the monster, but when it comes to writing a monster worth its scales, sometimes less is more. Or is it? We’ll discuss!

Sunday, 12:00pm – 1:30pm: How Far is Too Far? Introducing Change to Established Characters

Just three words: Captain. America. Hydra. When does an evolving, long-time character get driven too far off its original basis, and is that a good thing, or ultimately bad, no matter what?

Sunday, 2:00pm – 3:30pm: We Love the Scare

Discussing the need for horror in pop culture, modern media, and fiction. Why it works for us, and why we need to keep it working.

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In and around all that, I’ll be attending some of the other programming (I’m not only a panelist at Con-Volution, I’m also a member!), and I’ll be around and available to chat as much as anxiety allows. I’ll probably also camp out in the gaming room for some Sentinels of the Multiverse at some juncture, though I’m going to have to schedule that on the fly. If you’re looking to see me, I’m going to be most available on Saturday; I am commuting to and from the con this year, so it’s very likely that on Friday and Sunday I will be leaving soon after my panels, probably after having dinner with friends and performing some of the (pleasant) duties that come with being a convention guest.

Also, my now-usual disclaimer: I suffer from society anxiety. I’m medicated for it, but it does mean that sometimes, talking to people is very difficult for me, and it is likely to be even harder after a day of public speaking and answering questions. I won’t blow anyone off, and I encourage people to talk to me, but if I need to make a hasty exit, I am not being trite when I say it’s me, not you.

I hope to see you there!

On New Ventures

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This post will be brief; all I’m doing is announcing the new place you can go to see my words.

I am proud to announce that as of today, I am officially a contributor to The Ace of Geeks. Every week I’ll be writing The Pull List, a review column focused on the comics I read this week, as well as new trade collections I recommend. I’ll be contributing other articles on a more ad hoc basis, but The Pull List is the guaranteed place to see me.

I’m pleased as punch to be joining the Ace of Geeks staff; I’ve loved them since I first got introduced to their podcast via mutual friends, and I was absolutely delighted and flattered when Mike asked me to start writing for them. This feels like a big step for me and I’ve been very excited ever since he pinged me; it’s nice to finally get a column out so I can say something about it!

Currently, the Pull List will publish every Thursday; if that changes I’ll make sure to let you know. I’ll post links in my Twitter feed rather than spam them at you both there and here (SHAMELESS PLUG FOR MORE TWITTER FOLLOWERS), but for now, the first one is here.

I hope those of you who aren’t already Ace of Geeks fans join us on the regular, and I’ll look forward to seeing you in our comments sections!