Archive for the ‘ Real Life ’ Category

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

On Mary and Also Sue

tl;dr: As of today I am going to make a conscious effort to use neither the term “Mary Sue” nor the term “Gary Stu” any longer, as after reading some very smart posts from my very smart friends and colleagues, I believe the roots of those terms to be misogynistic, misguided, and mean-spirited.

Disclaimers:

  • This all got started in my brain thanks to a Facebook post from a friend of mine. I want to give him full credit for inspiring me here, and to say that the root ideas here are his; I’m only not naming him because I don’t yet have his permission to do so, and it’s the Internet.
  • Trigger warnings: mention of violence, rape, racism, homophobia, transphobia.

Longer form commences. It may get a little essay-format in here. I have tried to avoid spoilers and do not mention anything about Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

So.

Mary Sue.

For a definition of the term(s), I turn to the august Web sites Wikipedia and TV Tropes.

From Wikipedia’s entry on “Mary Sue”:

Mary Sue or, in case of a male, Gary Stu or Marty Stu is an idealized fictional character, a young or low-rank person who saves the day through extraordinary abilities…”Mary Sue” today has changed from its original meaning and now carries a generalized, although not universal, connotation of wish-fulfillment…the “Mary Sue” is judged as a poorly developed character, too perfect and lacking in realism to be interesting…

From TV Tropes’ entry of the same name:

…the term “Mary Sue” is generally slapped on a character who is important in the story, possesses unusual physical traits, and has an irrelevantly over-skilled or over-idealized nature.

Okay. That’s enough to go on.

Let me sum up my feelings: this is garbage.

I say it is garbage not because bad writing and wish-fulfillment do not exist; but because bad writing and wish-fulfillment should be allowed to exist, and shaming people for involvement in them is simple cruelty.

(Well bad writing should not be allowed to exist without criticism…I’ll follow up on that later.)

Life is hard. Life as an oppressed class of person (woman, person of color, LGBT, etc.) is especially hard. Wish-fulfillment, escapism, and fantasy are perfectly reasonable responses to how hard life is, and legitimate ways of coping with getting through the hard parts of life.

We could argue back and forth all day about how much escapism is too much escapism; we can throw around words like “addiction,” and maybe even ableist nastiness about discerning fiction from reality; but the bottom line is that basically everyone, in every culture, sees the value of living and learning vicariously through entertainment, whether that’s a win by your sports team, a painting that speaks to you, seeing a fictional character succeed in the face of adversity that looks a lot like your own, or seeing someone who looks like you be socially accepted and noticeably successful.

Let’s hang on that last line for a second. “Seeing someone who looks like you be socially accepted and noticeably successful.”

You don’t have to look far to see the kinds of venom that are spit daily at women — say, rape and death threats when they criticize any form of media in any way — or at people of color — a potential Presidential candidate calling for all “Muslims” to be banned from the country or forced to sign a registry — or at LGBT people — the entire Westboro Baptist Church. I’m not going to link to real examples, because those monsters do not deserve the attention, but they are out there and easy to Google or ask your friends about.

If you have to deal with that on a daily basis, you probably want to see a ray of light somewhere, right? Some indicator that it is possible for someone who is like you to be a badass, strong in the face of difficulties, successful in the face of insurmountable odds? Hell, you probably want to see that on your harder days, even if it does not involve being threatened with sexual violence, right?

And you acknowledge the idea of “different strokes for different folks,” yes? You recognize that your wish-fulfillment/stress relief/enjoyment/whatever does not necessarily look like the method of achieving said state that works for spouse, or your best friend, or your next-door neighbor, right? If nothing else, do you understand intellectually that when your team plays the rival team, your idea of “fun” is probably going to look a lot different than the idea of “fun” held by most fans of the other team?

OK. Great.

So, assuming no-one is actually being hurt, and I mean actually being put in an actual negative place that lessens their actual quality of life…

Where do you get off deciding that another person’s way of having fun and feeling better about themselves is bad?

That is one of my three root issues with the term “Mary Sue.” No-one should be shamed for enjoying wish fulfillment. No-one should be shamed for wanting to have a good time, so long as that good time is not coming at the cost of the well-being of others.

I’m going to tap into that last statement in a moment, but I want to finish up my issues with “Mary Sue” first. My second issue with the term “Mary Sue” is the inherent gendering of the term. Yes, we have now come up with “Marty Stu” and “Gary Sue”; yes, people talk about how the term is not gendered; but, as TV Tropes says, “The prototypical Mary Sue is an original female character,” and if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck…

The term grew out of Star Trek fanfiction (specifically, it “comes from the name of a character created by Paula Smith in 1973 for her parody story ‘A Trekkie’s Tale’” [Wikipedia]), and it’s an accepted if not concretely observed notion that fanfic writers were, initially, largely female. It is also overwhelmingly applied to original female characters who get to be as important as canon male characters — and as it has grown into a term used in fiction at large, it has continued to be disproportionately used to describe female characters. The only male character that I hear routinely get called a Sue/Stu is Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: the Next Generation; other male characters who are just as obviously given a disproportionate chunk of the spotlight (e.g., Wolverine and Cyclops from the X-Men franchise) or just as obviously get to save the day when the chips are down despite not being the only ones canonically capable of same (e.g., Batman in any DC universe fiction), either do not get slapped with the label despite qualifying, or get the label alongside so many jabs at either their “feminine” traits or their sexuality that it’s hard not to see this as being about shaming women for wanting to have rad protagonists available to them.

And that’s gross, people. Gross.

And now, my third and final issue with the term “Mary Sue”…it is generally used as a hallmark of bad writing, right? We are all agreed on this point? Well, bad writing needs to exist.

Writing bad stories is the only way you figure out what doesn’t work and get to good stories. Just like every hockey player (except maybe Wayne Gretzky) had to play some truly terrible games of hockey before they figured out how to reliably play well; just like every baker’s first-ever batch of chocolate chip cookies was likely inedible; just like if I went out today and tried to run a marathon, I would wind up calling someone to come pick me up in my new superhero disguise as the Human Cramp; every writer has to write bad stories. Most of us even keep doing it, because everyone has their off days!

Even if something is bad, it may represent the absolute best a person can do right now, not because they are in any inherently bad, but because they are still learning how to be good. Criticism is a part of helping that person to grow, but dismissive criticism may snuff out their fire while it is still just sparks. Also, not everybody is ready to be put on blast just yet; that’s why I don’t publish every rough draft I ever write on my blog, and that’s part of why fan-fiction communities exist. We need safe spaces to figure out how to be the best us we can be. Why invade and dismiss that just because you don’t think my How to Train Your Dragon/WWE crossover fic is the next Aenead?

Now, there are forms of (or elements present in) “bad art” or “bad escapism” that are truly, objectively bad. Those that uncritically glorify rape, racism, murder, or other forms of violence and hate. Those that reinforce negative and problematic social narratives, like the idea every rape victim “kinda enjoyed it” or that a person of color is “asking for trouble” by behaving in a certain way. Those that stir up hatred toward a real-world group. Those that encourage hateful and destructive urges rather than offer a catharsis that prevents the need for actualizing those urges. In short, things that actually hurt actual people, even if only by making it seem OK to hurt those people. And those do need to be taken out behind the woodshed sometimes, and called out as either “problematic” or even sometimes outright hate speech.

But…

Don’t deride people for doing their best, just because their best isn’t the same as somebody else’s best.

Don’t deride people for liking things that aren’t hurting anybody. Liking things is cool.

And don’t ever forget that everything is problematic in some way, and that criticism and dismissal are not synonymous.

Like stuff. Make stuff.

Figure out how to be you.

Figure out what doesn’t work.

Figure out how not to hurt people.

The world will be a better place.

That, in a 1700 word nutshell, is why I will never, ever again call any character a Mary Sue.

On Rat Queens

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

Let’s get the facts straight:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Cats, Nuptials, and Reluctant Collard Greens

This post was supposed to be about the countdown to my wedding. Instead, it is largely about the cat.

As of this last Friday, we were eight days away from my wedding, and I was due to cook dinner that night: collard greens with barbecued chicken and grilled pineapple. I was feeling overwhelmed by what needed to be done, and concerned about cooking something would take as long to make as collard greens on a work night; so Sonya and I decided we would address what needed to be done by going to Trader Joe’s, buying our usual “picnic” (some meat, cheese, fruit, and crackers), and then eating it and crafting wedding decorations while watching My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s a dinner plan that requires very little kitchen prep and is easy and fun and relaxing for us, and would be the perfect way to get us to push into the final few things we needed to do – finish the decorations, choose the last of the music, decide on the first dance, etc. We drove to Trader Joe’s, the whole way trading off the ball of stress we’ve been managing the last couple of weeks, as well as doing our usual Friday decompression, thinking about our weekend, etc. Plus we had Sonya’s bachelorette party to talk about, which was due to happen Saturday the 30th and was a source of excitement for both of us; she would get to be celebrated the way I was celebrated, and I would get the house to myself to play Sentinels of the Multiverse. Then we got home, and we knew this entire plan was going to be cast aside.

Our cat, Yossarian (“Yoshi” to his friends), has been having some issues of late. He’s been treating the tables and bench as his restroom, without regard to what objects he may actually befoul in the process. He’s also been dealing with our (apparently pretty gnarly) flea problem, courtesy of poor insulation and a local feral cat population. Given how old he is (well into his teens), we were monitoring him for signs he was getting worse, but also assuming it could just be age taking its toll and possibly the fleas annoying him into misbehavior. Also given how old he is, we were avoiding really harsh chemical remedies for the fleas, since the one time we tried that it seemed to make him nauseous and logy for several days and we didn’t want to risk killing him in the process of saving him. So we’ve been vacuuming dutifully, and spread diatomaceous earth, and waiting for a sign that we needed to do more.

Friday night, we got that sign. When we came home, Yoshi looked kind of dazed and lethargic, clearly a little upset and very, very tired. He complained at us, as he always does when we first get home, but it was very weak compared to the usual feline lambasting, and he didn’t try to make us feed him or pay attention to him the way he usually does, just sort of…sat there. We debated whether he needed to go to the doctor, or whether this was yet another bluff by the cat to get us to give him our undevoted attention. It was more extreme than his usual, but we weren’t willing to swear that it wasn’t just because his usual had stopped working as effectively.

Sonya set up dinner, putting out plates and knives and forks and washing the grapes for our little living room picnic, and we watched about thirty seconds of an episode of MLP before Yoshi tried to walk over to his food and water, wobbling and staggering the whole way. He got to his food, and just suddenly sat down, not a graceful sit so much as a slump after a failure to agree with his feet about standing. We paused the show and shared an alarmed look, and we asked ourselves “Does he need to go to the emergency vet?”

Sonya gave him some pets and some whispered queries about what he needed, and decided to try taking him to the litter box, in case maybe he was wanting to be escorted across the house (something Yoshi feels is his royal due) or was just out of sorts and couldn’t get there on his own.. When she put him down in the litter box, he stood for a moment, and then fell down again.

We agreed not long after that this was something that required a professional’s attention. Sonya went out to grab the cat carrier from the garage, while I sat and held him, trying to see if some time hanging out on one of our shoulders would revive him to his usual purring self (the thing he mostly wants when he plays at being weak or sick), and I found that he was not as warm as I was used to, and also not holding on and clawing my shoulder the way he usually does. When Sonya came back to the door with the carrier, Yoshi twisted away from my shoulder (exacting his usual price of blood in the process) and ran to the door, barking out his low, strained distress cry that means something is really wrong. Then he hunkered down on all fours there in the doorway, yowling and looking up at nothing in particular, acting as though he really could not understand what was happening to him.

For a second, we thought that could be it. That this could be the sounds of a cat in their last moments, and that we needed to comfort him and love him. But the possibility of safety was more important to us, and so Sonya hustled him into his cat carrier while I got the picnic put away and got the address of the local emergency pet clinic. We put him in the back of the Prius, and started driving for the clinic, as fast as was safe. Yoshi whined and yowled in his usual way, a little sharp and a little high and a lot angry, and we had hope that this was just sickness, not fatality. Then, as we got on the freeway, he went silent, and would not respond to us calling his name or making the kissing noises that mean we want his attention.

I say a lot of things are the worst thing in the world, or the worst time of my life, especially when the brain-spider has me in its clutches and I’m dealing with the way the world looks from inside its mouth. But there are few things I have ever done or experienced that were as harrowing and as heartbreaking as those ten silent minutes on the highway and in the low, dark suburbs of Palo Alto, trying to get Yoshi to respond to us and not being able to turn and see him. I found myself thinking that we had done everything we could to watch for signs something was wrong; that we had both loved him and snuggled him before he went in that carrier and that he knew he was loved by the actions we took to help him; and then I found myself thinking about the exact questions I would need to ask the clinic if we got there and I needed their help with memorial services and interment for our beloved ginger cat.

About three blocks from the clinic, we hit a red light, and from the back of the car, we heard a plaintive little mewl. The relief in the car was palpable.

The rest of the night was a haze of institutional white. We got the cat checked in for testing and analysis, and were told it would be an hour or so while they took his vitals and put him on heat support for his very low temperature. Dinner became a sluggish affair at McDonald’s, both of us trying to joke around and lighten the mood while we killed time on our iPads and watched the clock to see when we could go back and see the cat. Eventually, it was that time, and we listened dutifully while the doctor told us that Yoshi was anemic due to flea bites, and that we would probably need to bring him back in for a blood transfusion in the morning. They told us the fleas needed to be brought under control, and that the meds and topical cream they’d given him (on his shoulders where he couldn’t eat it, of course) would help with that, but that it was a threat to the cats life. Then we brought home a traumatized kitty and fed him the pills required by the doctors, as well as force-feeding him some red-meat-based baby food to try to help get his blood built back up; and we set about trying to get some sleep.

Sleep is impossible when you have a sick baby in the next room, whether that baby is human or is a tiny desert predator who has decided you are his parents. It’s cliche, perhaps, but I spent the night thinking about who our cat is, in between hyper-alert listening to his movement in the next room. I thought about how he’s selfish, and vocal, and persnickety about his needs and desires, but also always runs over to check on you when he hears you crying. I thought about how he likes to wake us up every morning to demand his cat treats; about how he charms everyone he meets, so much so that our corner of the Internet flooded my Facebook inbox with virtual hugs for the cat; about how he loves the Harry Potter films and will almost instantly sack out with us when we watch them; about the way his shouting echoes through the house, the way his claws dig into our shoulders when we hold him, the way he absolutely does not care if he’s inconvenienced you if he’s found that your current position affords him a choice way to sit and sleep. I thought about how lucky we are to have him in our lives, and how whatever we have to do for him is worth it if it means that his dotage is peaceful and painless.

The hour for his pill-giving came earlier than anyone wanted, but when it came time for him to eat, he at least did climb down and get food and water for himself. Then not long after came the hour of the transfusion, so we stuffed ourselves with the scones that had been intended as dessert for the living room picnic and drove Yoshi over to be dropped off. It would take between 6 and 14 hours to finish the transfusion, so we knew Sonya had plenty of time for her bachelorette party that afternoon, and that the board games I had planned would be a welcome distraction. We were able to wave bye-bye to Yoshi through the door to the back room as we left, and we counted our blessings that the vets at the clinic really, truly cared about our little man.

Saturday was honestly even more of a haze than the night before. Two good friends came over, and two others came by and dropped off their wedding gift to us – a window-mounted air conditioner, which was truly a blessing for us sweaty California gamers in our house with no AC of its own. We played Sentinels of the Multiverse after a late lunch, and found ourselves stuck waiting for the vet to call and so playing The Red Dragon Inn to pass the time while we waited (next to no setup, so easy to tear down and keep track of if we had to leave suddenly). I spoke to the doctor tending Yoshi around 7 and heard “the little stinker is eating us out of house and home,” and that he’d be ready soon. Some emergencies caused us to have to wait until 10 to get the little man, but ultimately we were able to. We spent an amount of money that did not matter, because we had it and it meant Yoshi was taken care of.

And that brings us more or less to now. Yoshi is in the house as I type this, basically rotating between eating, sleeping, and sometimes pooping somewhere inappropriate. He is not as weak or as sad as he was on Friday, and we’re not hearing distress cries, but he’s clearly not up to speed yet, either. The flea situation is mostly under control, and we’ll be getting a proper exterminator in the week of our honeymoon – the doctor’s orders are that he not be subjected to stress for a week, and with the meds and our brand-new vacuum cleaner taking the fleas to task we figure a stranger coming in and spraying weird stuff on the floor, nontoxic or not, counts as stress. Tomorrow he goes in to have his red blood cell count checked and see if the transfusion took properly, and we will hope for the best from there.

Sonya and I are both exhausted, due to the early-morning pill feedings and the constant state of alertness about his behavior. We both know we need to handle wedding stuff tonight, but in a way, we are both in a state where we almost forgot the wedding was happening. It doesn’t even feel distant; it feels like it was a part of a different life, a different schedule, one where we didn’t have our cat look like he was about to breathe his last breath on the little red welcome mat inside our front door. This took priority so heavily it actually reshaped our honeymoon plans – we’ll be day-tripping or overnighting our stay in Monterey, and later on in the week, after Yoshi’s pill regimens have already finished (which does have the bonus effect of us getting to spend time with a bridesmaid who is staying on our couch and whom Sonya has never gotten to spend time with in person). We may not get anything done tonight, really, though I have at least ordered my shoes and Sonya’s gift for the bride and groom gift exchange. I was supposed to cook the collard greens and chicken and pineapple tonight, but I simply do not have the energy. It can wait for Labor Day, it really can. It doesn’t matter in the face of our cat being safe.

In a way, as stressful and as exhausting as this has been, it has also been good. It’s proof that Sonya and I can partner up in a stressful situation, can make big financial and scheduling decisions without falling into an argument, and that we are able to do whatever it takes to take care of a small, helpless life together. Whether the next life we are tending to is Yoshi’s, or that of a baby, or a metaphorical life like a house or a car or an art project, we know we are capable of managing the stress of it together, and that the load is lighter for the other carrying it. It’s also encouraged us to tighten our budget – we’re not broke now, but we don’t have much left, and we now see very starkly the importance of having some extra cash around in case something goes wrong. But more than anything else, the stress and the exhaustion are worth it because our cat is in his heated cat bed, snoozing away with his limbs oozing out the sides, periodically getting up to chow down on his food; and not hunkering down in silence in the darkness of the back of the car, making us wonder if he’s dead.

We get married in seven days, almost to the hour; and I cannot imagine a person I would be more proud to spend my life with than the funny, smart, caring, quick-thinking, generous woman I have gone through this with. I, and Yoshi, are both lucky to have her.

One last thing. As tempting as it is, I am not asking for a handout; we had enough in savings to pay for Yoshi’s treatment and then a little bit more. However – if you want to get us a wedding gift and have not yet, money into our Wanderable account would be really, truly, vastly appreciated – it can go to the honeymoon, which gives us fewer expenses in the week to come and makes it easier for us to start recouping the cost of Yoshi’s medical treatment.

Now, I am going to go eat dinner and nuzzle my kitty, in that order. If you have a pet or a child in your life, please give them some love from us. And I hope you never experience the drive we did.

 

On Progress, 9/12/13

I’m not late yet.

This last week, unfortunately, has been a little prosaic. Well, prosaic for me. Which is still, I guess, pretty awesome. I mean, I’m exercising again, which is wonderful, and refreshing in its own exhausting way. I’m eating healthier than I had been, barring some misadventures with pizza. I’ve wandered face-first into one of those apps designed to gamify your life and life goals, which is legitimately amazing and is legitimately helping me get my butt either in the chair or out of it, as needed. (I’m still having issues with all the overtime I’m working, and sleep habits, and of course inertia, but it’s a lot better when I’m getting experience points for it.) And, lest I overlook it, there’s the part where the Sharks have started up their training camp; and in less than three weeks I’ll be in the Shark Tank, head to toe in teal, cheering for those rubber-smacking, ice-skating, bone-crunching knuckleheads once again.

Then there’s writing. Writing is going…well? I am currently working on a short story that just isn’t. Working, that is. I’m loving the concept, I’m loving the ideas I had that underlie it, I’m loving the theme, but on the page it’s just not quite clicking. The good news, though, is that I’m not letting this dismay me. I’m getting it out on paper (digitally speaking), and I’m completing it, and then I’ll let it sit a week, and work on something else, and come back and see what’s wrong with it. I suspect it may be that I need a shift in my writing habits again, and I accept that as a distinct possibility; but I will not just stop because it isn’t clicking, I will get to the end and then look back and see if I can find a better way to connect points A and B.

I have a few recommendations for you. If you want to gamify your life the way I have, check out HabitRPG. (Also let me know if you want to group.) If you need something to read, check out Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts, or Horns. Seriously, both are jaw-dropping. And for your ears and eyeballs all at once, try out Justice League: Doom, an excellent little superhero story. I like to pretend the DC Animated Universe is the true canon; it feels…divorced from so much of the ugliness plaguing the comic book universe right now.

All this is to say that this week has actually been pretty good. This weekend is planning, and board games, and exercise. This weekend is rest and relaxation. And Monday…well, Monday’s a new day with new goals…and new chances to earn experience points.

Have a good weekend, everybody. I’ll see you next time.

On Embiggening

So, I have now officially been publicly attacked on Twitter for the first time. I think I’ve “arrived”? Anyway, I needed a space in which to think about it, so I’m blogging. This may be even more navel-gazing than some of my other posts, so please feel free to skip it; I won’t be offended.

Now, some ground rules for me:

  • No revealing who did it. It is unfair to both of us professionally if I publicly shame them for something that should be between the two of us.
  • No attacks; no statements of my superiority; no using my blog to get in the last word without technically engaging them.
  • No swearing.

What’s this about? So, funny story…

You are probably all aware of today’s news item regarding Jason Collins. For those who aren’t, here’s an article. Read that before you start the next paragraph.

I’m firmly in support of Jason Collins doing this, no ifs, ands, or buts. Color barriers, gender barriers, and sexuality barriers are pointless, and somebody had to be the one to take the first step and come out; the assumption (as I understand it, via my interest in the You Can Play project) is that no-one has come out because everyone is scared to be the first. Hopefully this echoes throughout all of pro sports and throughout all other walks of life. That’s where I stand on it.

Unrelated to this (originally), I had a possible new Twitter friend recommended to me today, I assume because we both say a lot of things about writing. I thought, why not, and followed them, and they followed me back. OK. Sure. This is all good so far. Then I read their first tweets in my feed: a multi-tweet statement in which they say two key things:

  1. Jason Collins’ announcement is a publicity stunt
  2. No-one cares if “you” are gay, why bother announcing it except to get attention?
The former is impossible for anyone but Collins to know for sure; he may have ulterior motives, or those ulterior motives may be his only motives. As such, this is firmly in the realm of opinion and I have no beef beyond a gut reaction.
The second point…I couldn’t let sit. Even saying it galled me because it discounts the very real prejudice people experience because of their sexuality, religion, skin color, disability, etc.; and in the case of people who are “passing” as straight, white, what-have-you, the very real fear they experience at the thought that someone might figure out they are not what they claim to be. Maybe not every gay person experiences this; maybe not every woman, or African-American person, or Muslim, experiences the prejudice others of their status experience; but to dismiss Collins as doing it for the attention on the basis that no-one experiences it seemed to me really high-falutin’ and unfair.
So I told this person so; I didn’t exactly say it diplomatically, either. And I quote (Twitter handle dropped):
@[REDACTED]: Tons of people care if athletes are gay and will discriminate them. Look up “homophobia.” #BLOCKED #GOODBYE
Not exactly my finest hour; but I didn’t feel right following this person when they said something I disagreed with so strongly.
Yes, given that they are also a writer, me being a bit of a dick to them could have cost me a contact somewhere down the road (it certainly cost me this guy as a contact); but what if someone else came along and saw we were Twitter friends and didn’t want to touch me on the basis that I might agree with his statements? Besides, it’s not like my Twitter feed is the Library of Congress; me not having him on it is not an oppression of this guy’s right to freedom of speech. I’m not telling him he can’t say it, I’m disagreeing with his statement and walking away from dealing with him.
I figured it was over at that point. I might get a nasty tweet back (deserved, I was a little douchey), but that’d be the end, right?
Oh no. Then I see this in my “Connect” feed on the Twitter web client, retweeted by someone I’ve never met.
This brilliant person @the_real_tyler blocked me for speaking my mind. Tyler, you have the brain of a snail.” LOL @ [REDACTED]!
Um. Ow.
I definitely take a lot of pride in my intelligence, and one of my greatest fears is the loss of my mind, to Alzheimer’s or a traumatic brain injury or any of the other myriad things that can dismantle your head-computer. So even though that is maybe one rung above being called a silly doody-head, it still stung. And having it retweeted by somebody made it even worse; how far and wide is this insult traveling? Did I just ruin my career? Am I going to be Snail-Brain Hayes in every extant literary circle for the rest of my life?
I was literally shaking thinking about it.
But then I asked myself the next question: Who cares?
Even if this guy becomes hugely influential; even if he decides to use his influence to blacklist me from the literary world; even if I get this stupid, anxiety-conjured moniker whispered behind my back (all of which are unlikely); does it affect me? Does it make writing feel less good? Does it keep me from getting a day job? Does it prevent me from continuing the quest for a market that wants to publish me? No. At worst, it makes what I am trying to do a little bit harder.
And really, what did I do? I didn’t insult him, except indirectly. I didn’t tell him he couldn’t say what he was saying. I disagreed with him on the facts of what the experiences of gay people in modern culture are like. I stood up for my belief that what Collins did, regardless of his motivation, was a brave thing to do. I do not want to associate with a person who is dismissive of that struggle, so I blocked him. The worst I can say about myself here is that I was a bit reactionary and may have misread what this Internet person had to say; a possibility that I consider unlikely given that his reaction was to (a) suggest I had done something wrong by blocking him and (b) insult my intelligence.
I shouldn’t really care about this tweet, but it gets to me that somebody felt it was acceptable or necessary to attack me like this; and it hits me where it hurts to have my intelligence attacked, which only makes me feel worse because now I’m letting it get to me, and that’s something I was raised not to do. So, here I am, knowing it bothers me, and knowing that I feel I did the right thing and really wish I had a way to communicate this to the guy. The desire for the John Hughes ending where the uppance comes and I get to walk off with the girl.
Oh, except I do get to walk off with the girl. And my own blossoming writing career. And my intelligence. And my sense of integrity. I get to know I am not the guy who threw out the insult. I get to be annoyed about this for a while and stop feeling my feels when I am ready to do so. The person I responded to, however, will always be the guy who called me stupid on the Internet in response to a (pointed) disagreement. That may never, ever affect their career, or even their sense of well-being; but it’s there, and I can stop myself from stooping to their level. And that is the closest I need to get to a “win” in this little two-man debate club.
In closing: Please, if you are incensed on my behalf, do not seek this guy out and give him trouble. I know the Internet is an archive and it’d be easy to track down who it was, but that is not something I want to happen. I posted this by way of getting it out of my system, not by way of causing trouble. And if you disagree with me about Collins, that’s fine; I’m happy to have this discussion with you. Ease of discussion is the best part about the Internet.
I just wish I hadn’t wound up having that one.

On Progress, 12/7/12

Embrace the lateness. Let it flow over you and throw you.

What to say? This week has been very busy for me, on a social level. I found out on Monday that a good friend is leaving the state, as I have already blogged about. I also found out on Monday that another good friend went to the hospital due to having contracted norovirus. (For added fun, he has a genetic disorder that leaves him with a poor immune system.) We had his girlfriend (an equally good friend) over on Tuesday night for wine and conversation and a safe space to be upset, and last night we went over to their place with board games to celebrate him being out of the hospital and cleared for human contact. In between that, on Wednesday night, we had our weekly D&D night. So, it’s on the near side of plausible that I am happy for all the contact, but also feeling a bit exhausted and needful of some personal space and me time.

The good news in there comes in the form of the writing update. I’ve written close on 3000 words so far this week, and I have Sunday free to write more; so despite the social deluge and the need to say goodbye to and support friends, I have managed to maintain my writing practice. I’m actually pretty happy with the prose I’ve churned out this week, too; I had a couple places where I got bogged down into false starts and red herrings, with my characters leaping not into behaviors that weren’t what I expected but completely out of bounds into behaviors that make no sense no matter how hard you think (when your college-dropout John Constantine-wannabe is suddenly a hardened gangster with no trace of his usual identity issues there’s a problem). Yet, somehow, I pulled out of the literary nose-dive and got back to something I think makes real sense for the characters.

In other writing updates, you may not see any word counts from me for a couple days. Yesterday, I received my edits for “The Captain’s Wife,” so that is going to be my writing focus for the next week or two. I’m planning to look at the file this evening when I’m off work and figure out an action plan for getting it done over that time span; when I have that I’ll be tweeting my editing goals for each day and keeping you updated as normal. Fear not, oh lovers of my word count!

That is all the news that’s fit to print for now; soon I hope to have some stuff up about my thoughts on Christmas, my feelings this winter, and life in general, but I have work that needs doing and words that need writing. So, have a great weekend, and I’ll see you on the other side, still catchphrase free.

On Adulthood

As a 31-year-old, I feel I am sufficiently advanced now to comment on adulthood with some minor degree of accuracy.

I have this to say: Adulthood is emotional exercise.

Let me contextualize that comment for you. So, I have this friend, L., who will otherwise remain nameless. L. and I met just over a year ago via the local boffer LARP. In that time, I do not feel I have gotten to know him intimately, but I’ve gotten a good feel for the guy. He’s military, but without a lot of the sandpapery edges that can give a person; he’s got religious faith but it just informs him being a good man rather than forcing him to be a judgmental one. He has a lovely wife, and two beautiful daughters, who I have had the privilege to see grow up just a little in the time I have known them. He is a friend, in short, and was becoming more of one as time went on. Yesterday, L. announced via Facebook that after two years of searching, he has found a job. Unfortunately, that job will take him overseas for six months, and then off to the East Coast for some indeterminate amount of time while he builds up the experience to come back and get a similar job in California (land of the high cost of living). He plans to stay in touch, which in the age of social media is really not a chore at all, and he plans to come back to our fair state when he can; but that may not be for five or more years depending on the job market, and it’s not as if the economy is making a lightspeed recovery.  It should come as no surprise that these events were not welcome news.

I am glad L. has a new job, I really am, but I am not glad to have a friend who will be at best at arm’s length for the next five years. I know he’s in an even worse place, having to leave his family for six months and then uproot them and take them cross-country.

And yet…when L. came over to hang out and say goodbye, there was no sadness. It was in the room, a little, tinting the air; but mostly, we were just happy to have each others’ company, and to get to spend some time together, and we didn’t let the fact he was leaving taint anything. We understood this is what had to happen.

Adult life is not as easy as childhood. There’s a lot more out there to fear; a lot more hardships you are no longer sheltered from. Things you heard might come back to get you later in life (a debt, a disease, a second helping of fried chicken) start to come calling. Consequences become very real and very personal. Invincibility starts looking like a joke. And people start having to make choices you would have thought at age eight were the worst things in the world.

And yet, at the same time, there is a certainty to adulthood. A knowledge that you are capable of tackling problems, of solving issues, of weathering whatever storm has come to your door. Maybe not the way you want to; probably not alone; but you will. Our struggles are miles on an emotional treadmill, making us better able to make those sorts of hard decisions when they come along, and better able to appreciate the good times when we have them.

I’ve gotten very lucky in my life (though I’ve worked at it, too); and I’ve had some suffering here and there, emotional, mostly; but the way I figure it, the suffering just means I’m a little bit tougher, and the luck means I have the energy to spare when people need me. And it means that when a friend tells me they’re leaving, that they need to make the hard decision, I can put aside the worrying for long enough to give them some of my time and a few good stories to take with them on the journey.

In theory, this is called growing up; in practice, I prefer to think of it as an acquired skill. Because it didn’t just happen with a little watering; it took some serious work.

On Vacations, 11/26/12

Date-stamp added because I’m not 100% sure I haven’t used that title before.

So, here I am, back in the blogging saddle. I’ve been gone eighteen days or so, which means not one, but two Progress Thursdays have been missed. Or rather, I skipped them due to being on vacation.

And what a vacation it was. Sonya and I have spent the past couple of weeks traversing a good chunk of northern and central California. I have traveled to Mendocino County, the Santa Cruz mountains, a ranch-house in Somerset, a suburban two-bedroom in Sacramento, an under-over house in San Francisco, and several hundred miles of highway. It’s not travel in the traditional sense, but it’s been eye-opening nonetheless.

Mendocino County was originally planned as a post-LARP vacation, but became a pre-LARP vacation unexpectedly thanks to some issues with reserving our campsite. We stayed with my parents, eating home-cooked meals and drinking local-brewed beers, watching Wreck-It Ralph, and playing games. It was kind of a strange visit home for me. I am usually a lot more proactive about leaving the house and absorbing Fort Bragg, and have a couple of ritual stops I make while home. This time, I was pretty sedentary, choosing to stay in the house pretty much the whole time I was there and not really conversing with anyone but family. I did wind up trying breakfast at a restaurant I had never been to before…more on that subject in a paragraph or two.

Post-LARP, there were two days of work, barely a hiccup; then it was a day off to sleep in and play Lego Batman 2 and eat pizza, with a surprise visit from two very good friends who wanted to borrow our set of Cards Against Humanity and stuck around for a little bit to chat. It was one of our few days of proper decompression, which is good, because the next day…was Thanksgiving.

This was our first year rotating which family gets us for Thanksgiving and which for Christmas, so Thanksgiving was spent well outside my comfort zone, at Sonya’s aunt’s place in Somerset. (For those who don’t know where Somerset is, I’m not sure I do, either.)  They live in a beautiful, sitcom-perfect ranch home up an unpaved road, with a grand view of the mountains outside Sacramento and approximately one million dogs. I spent the entire ride up there trying to make sure I didn’t violate any family traditions, and discovered that in reality, the “very casual” Thanksgiving I am used to with my family is not the most casual it gets. Thanksgiving dinner with Sonya’s side consists of a couple tables worth of people catching up with each other and trading loving barbs, followed by football. I watched three times as much football as I have ever seen in my entire life, and it would appear that I will be watching a lot more. It seems like I can handle that, but I still think the sport needs a few skates, some more padding, and a little quasi-legalized fighting.

Er…changing the subject really quick, we crashed that night at S.’s sister’s house, to be awoken when she had to take the kids over to their mom’s house. (Long story, also not mine to tell.) I have known people my age with children for a good solid five years, but somehow, it still always blows my mind when I see my peers with kids. Moreover, it blows my mind when I see how naturally I deal with the presence of kids; that the need to change diapers or be quiet after nine or remind people not to swear quite so much is just a part of the tapestry of life and does not really change anything else about it except for time management. And, you know, the deep emotional shifts that totally change lives.

So it was up in the morning, and off down the highway to see my folks, who were in San Francisco for the annual Thanksgiving on their end. This year it just so happened that other attendees being unable to make it on Thursday caused Thanksgiving to be pushed back to Friday, so rather than the original plan of vulturing some leftovers I wound up having a second Thanksgiving with my family, as well. It was strange, not because it wasn’t normal for us, but because it was weird seeing how normal our Thanksgiving really is. Maybe a bit more political, but really not that odd. And yet, it was uniquely ours, definitely a Hayes family experience. The dichotomy is one I still haven’t fully parsed.

And finally, back to Mountain View. A long, deep sleep, and then into Saturday and our monthly game night. Originally, the plan had been to have people bring by leftovers and share them; but instead, it wound up being my third Thanksgiving, as Sonya cooked a whole new turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, yams, Brussels sprouts, and green beans. (The battle cry was “It was all on sale!”)  Friends flooded the house, including a couple who rarely attend due to distance and scheduling. Elder Sign was played, and of course Sentinels of the Multiverse, and Cards Against Humanity, We Didn’t Playtest This At All, and Munchkin, thus bringing my vacation back to where it began: board games and beer.

If you hadn’t guessed it, the theme of this vacation was new experiences and new perspectives. I didn’t even mean to do that, really, but it makes sense; this was my first real vacation since I started having honest-to-God jobs instead of pursuing academic degrees. I entered vacation feeling exhausted and crispy, and unsure of how 10 days (with a break for work in the middle) was supposed to make me feel any better. I assumed there must be some trick involved. But how wrong I was. Vacation woke up my brain again, helped me de-kink a lot of tension I had been dealing with, restored my focus, and left me feeling altogether renewed. I am excited about writing again; I’m reading more than I had been; and my outlook on life is miles more optimistic.  The things that have to get done don’t feel like so much of a burden, and the things I get to do feel like the unique and awesome experiences they are. In short, I fully endorse this vacation thing, and recommend it become a regular trend.

The other theme of the vacation was games. As I realized over the course of the vacation, games seem to come up a lot, and the truth is, I’ve decided that’s OK. As I said a couple weeks ago on Twitter, my entire life is a celebration of stories and games. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. In fact, I refuse to think that’s a bad thing. It’s not a laser-like focus; I still love interesting food, the feel of some good exercise, the way fog makes everything twinkle late at night. But there are few things that wake me up, that ripple my neurons the way games and stories do. It seems like poetry, then, that my vacation started with Wreck-It Ralph, a story about games; and ended with Elder Sign and Sentinels of the Multiverse, games that really work to tell a story.

And now, I need to get back to work, which includes work on Done with Mirrors and the couple of short stories I started cooking while I was vacating. Progress Thursday should hit at its usual time this week, and I will be back to spackling Twitter with word counts come tomorrow, the comments about this blog post notwithstanding. I hope the past couple weeks have been kind to you; and I hope you get to take your own vacation very soon.

On Progress and Coming Up for Air

Hi everybody!

As stated previously, the site was down for a good, long time; I’m honestly not sure how long, but at least two weeks. I have tried to stay active on Twitter and Facebook in the meantime, but I’m sure you’ve been missing my blog posts, so, let’s get the band back together.

Regarding the website: I am currently wrestling with getting it away from its current host and on to the next one. I have one lined up, their prices are great, their customer service is good, and I know their politics align with mine. The only bump in the road has been that it’s proving exceedingly difficult to get away from my first host; they keep giving me bad authorization codes, or poor instructions, or this or that and and and. It’s annoying, partially because you can almost taste the technical legality of it, like they figured out exactly how to be inconvenient without actually entrapping me.

Regarding Done with Mirrors: The rewrite continues apace. It’s going very well, I think; I’m getting a lot more mileage out of the interstitial segments this time around, Tom feels like a stronger character for the work I’ve done, and I’ve realized that this story ends in a blighted lot, not a hotel suite.  I’m eternally grateful for the full-time job that lets me spend this extra time with my friends in this little world I made up.

Regarding writing in general: I’ll put up the official announcement in a post immediately after this one, because all publications deserve their own post; but I done got published again! Celebrate woo!

Regarding life: Life is pretty good. For those who didn’t know, next Tuesday is my 31st birthday; tomorrow, we plan to celebrate in the usual fashion. Which is to say, we are having more people over than will reasonably fit in my apartment and we are drinking and playing board games. My good friend Matt has promised to bring me a flask of Writer’s Tears Irish whisky to celebrate our achievement of once again being placed in the same anthology, and I have promised my guests a tour of my two favorite games of all time, Sentinels of the Multiverse and Arkham Horror. It should honestly be a really good time; I get a huge kick out of hosting parties, especially with the help of my dear S. I’m a very lucky man to have people in my life who want to make my birthday party special.

The only fly in the ointment is a bit of a scratchy throat I developed the other night, which has made sleeping hard and thus made me really sluggish.  Writing is thus not going as well as I would like, but meh, I just got published, I’m allowed a day or two to rest on that particular laurel.

That’s all we have for now. Hopefully, this will be the last post published under my current host, but you never know for sure. For now, it is back to work and a nice cup of tea. Excelsior!