A less tech-savvy friend recently needed help uploading a file into a Slack channel. I posted the above pic with a line of explanation. And it occurred to me that a lot of software use, as well as website use, is searching the damned screen for icons that might, conceivably, be useful for what you want to do. Because software nowadays is designed like shit. Everyone wants to be special and look unique and slick, rather than being functional. Take the Slack “+” for example. It breaks both the “looks like a paperclip icon” rule for attachments, and the “is on the right-hand side” rule.
I swear, I thought all those “Find the hidden object in the picture” puzzles from my Highlights magazines was just a way to waste my time as a child, but it looks like they actually taught me the valuable skill of figuring out modern user-interface “design.”
The worst offender is the Ribbon, of course. The team that invented that godless abomination should all have a fingernail ripped out, or spend a full year experiencing 100% sexual rejection; their choice. (Or something just as unpleasant for any asexuals in the group). This monstrosity takes up way too much screen real estate, lacks any sort of organizing sense, has buttons of random sizes scattered everywhere in a way that doesn’t allow your eyes to simply scroll in a straight line, uses arcane short-hand icons rather than words so that as much bullshit junk can be crammed in those boxes as possible, randomly includes drop downs and expansions, doesn’t show any hotkeys by default, and freakin’ changes with forced updates! It looks like a hostile act against info-worker productivity, likely perpetrated as sabotage by Soviet agents!
I’m coming out as a single-issue voter, and this is my coming-out post.
Scott Alexander recently defended the use of disproportionate action to defend settled bright-line norms. I recommend reading the whole article, it’s short and explains it very intuitively. The short version is that constant war is costly, and having a very strong taboo against certain actions means you don’t have to constantly be fighting wars and can use that energy for other things/battles. Strong taboos require disproportionate response to their violation, almost by definition.
The strongest taboos should be those defending the principles that make our society possible. There are some principles so vital to society that without them our way of life would be impossible. The Rule of Law. Prohibition of Slavery. Freedom of Speech. Freedom of Religion. Freedom of Association. Reproductive Self-Determination.
And by Reproductive Self-Determination, I mean unrestricted and unrestrictable access to both contraception and abortion, without caveat. Yes, our way of life depends on this.
The past is another planet, and generally a horrible one. As I learn more about the environments our ancestors had to survive in, I find myself slightly less disgusted with their societies, and pity them more instead. Because most (if not all?) social adaptations are forced by the environment.
Starvation was a real fear for most people fairly frequently. The average pre-industrial laborer would spend half or more of their daily income just on food. “If I have another child, how will I be able to feed them?” was a legitimate fear for many. Simply having children could people populations locked in a cycle of poverty for generations. Patriarchy is primarily about male control of the womb, and it flourished because men who didn’t take draconian measures to make sure they only gave resources to their actual genetic offspring were out-competed by those who did. This is how you turn half your population into property. All you need is Malthus and Azathoth.
Women also had incentives to perpetuate patriarchy. Medicine was rudimentary. One in ten pregnancies were lethal to the mother. Half of children born wouldn’t survive to adulthood. While pregnant one can do far less physical labor, and this is in a world where most labor productivity is already directly correlated with physical strength. Child rearing is a huge burden, and securing the full productive output of someone who can’t get pregnant is a huge boon. With the health risks and physical handicaps that come with pregnancy, and the general lack of ways to prevent or treat STIs, sex is always a risky proposition.
So we get cultures that treat women as the property of men, either their fathers or their husbands. Young women are a hot commodity. Children can be disavowed by fathers who don’t believe they are theirs, and abandoned to die. Women can be legally put to death for suspected infidelity. Sexuality is suppressed throughout society, which is drastically bad for mental health. Sex is a need for most people, as strong as the need to eat (although not inherently lethal if denied). Poor young men have it the worst, because older/established men have enough resources to be able to find a mate. In the interest of attracting a mate, or seizing enough resources to do so, young men are willing to go to extreme lengths. It’s entirely likely much civilizational advancement is due to men being willing to toil in awful and/or dangerous conditions, and take lots of risks, for the purpose of securing a mate. But it also leads to all sorts of neurosis, and often violence. The survivors of a war come home with lots of riches. To a lesser extent, so do the survivors of a raid. Or a robbery. Incel may be a new term, but only because it is now rare enough that we see it as a horrible failure, rather than the terrifying norm that surrounds us all.
Industrial advancements have reduced many of these pressures. The most productive labor is now completely decoupled from physical strength. Our society is so rich that no one fears death by starvation (even if people do sometimes go hungry). Medicine has reduced child mortality to below 1%. People expect to live through pregnancy. All of these have paved the way to loosening the stranglehold that society had on sexuality.
But none of these alone is enough. Child care is now an even greater burden. In the past, children could care for themselves after the age of nine or ten, and could even contribute productively to the family by that age. Now they are massive investments of time, energy, and money, until the age of 22 (or longer). Forcing a child upon someone is akin to a light form of slavery.
Pregnancy still isn’t easy. I’m seeing the pregnancy process first-hand for the first time, and it’s fucking terrifying. Tendons and ligaments are loosened and elongated. Organs are compressed and pushed out of place. The placenta fights for control of the woman’s body like a hostile invader. Hormones are dumped into the blood which make it harder to concentrate and think, literally impairing the mother’s mental functioning! Many of the changes to the body are permanent, and all this is before we even get to delivery.
Complete control over one’s own fertility is what gives us the society we have today. It allows women to pursue whatever life they wish. It makes the investment in education worthwhile for all. It allows the entire populace to engage fully in the workforce, if they choose too. Which means that every person can now be an independent, self-sufficient, autonomous person. Not beholden to another or dependent on their good graces. Everyone has the ability to exit a relationship and know they can survive and even prosper, and no one has to stay with a rapist or child molester ever again. Men have to be actual good people worth having a relationship with, rather than simply controlling enough resources to ensure the compliance of a mate.
Furthermore, women are more free to have sex with whomever they wish (or not to!). Much of the pent-up frustration over repressed sexuality is defused. The warlords and bishops have one less thing to use to control those under them. People are happier. Society is less violent.
All of this is because the biology of reproduction is brutal, and forces society into brutal, desperate measures to fight it. A society without contraception is a slave society.
Our contraception, as good as it is, is not flawless. Sometimes it fails. When it does, safe and effective abortion is the back-up that keeps us free. Only with unrestricted, on-demand abortion is there true Reproductive Self-Determination. Without that, all sex is still taking a risk. It may be far less of a risk. But those underlying forces, which pushed us into those hellish societies of the past, are still there, subtly pulling like a slow tide. There is a risk your body can be distorted without your permission, and the next two decades of your life redirected to labor you do not wish to undertake. That twists everything. It alters all of society for everyone.
I think that the anti-abortion forces know this. They want to revert us to an older, sicker society. They know that an environment of reproductive fear is one that favors their society, and erodes ours.
There are likely many people who think it’s dumb to focus so much on Reproductive Self-Determination. It’s certainly not the only principle that our society depends on. Freedom of Speech is even more important, because without it the only way to change things is with violence. Rule of Law is paramount, without it we don’t have any society at all. But neither of those is under the same level of threat that Reproductive Self-Determination is. Neither of those has several of the world’s most populace and wealthy religions working to destroy it. Neither of those has been declared an enemy by half the US government!
All the other principles I listed in the preamble are protected in the US Constitution, our most important political document. I firmly believe that if the Founding Fathers had access to the same level of safe and effective contraception and abortion that we have, they would have protected access to it in the US Constitution as well. To attack that fundamental right is to attack the very thing that makes us Americans. The love of liberty. The hatred of tyranny. The desire for a better, more peaceful, and more prosperous tomorrow.
Stripping the populace of reproductive self-determination is the first step towards totalitarianism. It’s far more important to a modern potential dictator than stripping people of their guns ever could be. Forcing us back into the environments that made such violent, patriarchal states the best answer our species had to that situation is the only thing they need to do. The rest is the inevitable grinding process of survival in a hostile world. As has been said (also by Scott Alexander I believe, but couldn’t find the direct quote) — if you take ten thousand modern, enlightened, educated Americans and drop them into the Nile delta with Bronze Age technology, they will have reverted to worshiping a god-emperor within one generation. Given those conditions, that is the social system shown to work.
So this is my bright line in the sand. I will judge every political decision I make based on how strongly it supports the rights to reproductive self-determination of the American people. Up until the point that something else becomes a bigger threat to our way of life. I get the feeling it’ll be a long time before that happens, though.
To head off any questions of why I’m focusing on my own society when there’s so many in the world that live in much worse conditions — our society is in a position to help those others as long as we are healthy and strong. We should do so as we can. But we must stay vigilant, or the forces that wish a return to the horrors of the past will sicken and destroy us, and we can’t help anyone when we’re crumbling into totalitarianism.
Here’s a popular but shitty entry in the culture wars. It’s a defense of bigotry, dressed up as humor.
First, let’s cover why some people like it. All the following was said by friends or friends-of-friends. I cannot take credit for the words, which is why they are well spoken. They are slightly snipped and paraphrased here and there for brevity.
[Critics of the comic] appear to believe that the girl in the comic, and those she represents, is a bigot who speaks in “all X are awful” generalizations for any group, from white people to men to heterosexuals. This is missing the point. [“Not all X”] statements are meant to derail. I see them ALL the TIME in response to people NOT saying “all.” You want her to defend herself from an unfair accusation instead of explaining her rationale by insisting that her not adopting the language of the accuser is proof of guilt. I’m pretty sure the artist didn’t have her specifically say those words because it’s so obvious to them that the accused don’t say all in most of these cases that pointing it out is redundant to the actual message being conveyed.
To get nitpicky for a moment, the word “all” itself isn’t even what really matters. “All police departments need to crack down on prejudice among their officers” still doesn’t justify “not all cops are racist.” The argument is still being shifted away from a system of cover-ups of abuse of power, and toward a new topic of the prevalence of racism among individual police themselves… Which the original speaker now has to address, or else be accused of being prejudiced against all cops.
One of the major problems is that liberals so often speak of institutions and systems, and those who aren’t on the same page take it personally. This is why the “it’s just a few bad apples” defense is so frustrating. The quote is “a few bad apples spoil the batch” NOT because some racist cops make all cops racists, but because the institutions that allow that rot to continue ruins even the non-rotten apples. Entire populations in this country don’t trust police anymore because the bad actors have been protected too often and for too long. Hell, it’s often not even about racism really, or even sexism or prejudice, it’s about power imbalances and lack of accountability. But the most vulnerable in society are always going to be the first to speak out.
The same goes for other institutions or establishments that don’t enforce equality. It’s not that men are never raped or harmed by sexism, but institutionally, men run the military, men run the government, men run the majority of major corporations, men run the police departments, etc. The harm of “patriarchy” is systemic, and insofar as it harms men too, the sentiment that it is men who need to help solve the problem should not be taken as an accusation that they are inherently part of it.
The gal in the comic here doesn’t actually represent someone who is saying “All men are <bad thing>” or even “X proportion of men are <bad thing>.” She’s supposed to represent the view that “long-running institutional norms in our society empower or permit men to do <bad thing>.”
This isn’t about men. It’s about our society. That’s why “not all men” is a bad response. It’s not that the statement is wrong, it’s that it’s a diversion from something crucial.
The problem with #NotAllMen is that it pulls the conversation away from one about culture and social awareness to one about being personally offended at being accused of something you were never really accused of.
And here’s why I disagree.
I used to call myself a feminist, and I basically still am, though I don’t identify with the group anymore. [This comic] is one of the reasons why. I know people who are genuinely good people. Who want justice and happiness for all. Love a number of men. Only hate those who are awful and deserve it. They would regularly post about gross violations of personhood or other awful injustices, and head it with something like “Men are trash!” Not because they are man-hating nazis. But because that’s just the culture. It’s not seen as a bad thing to do, and gets you lots of cheers. Everyone knows they only mean the bad ones, right? Call them out. End the brutality and patriarchy and oppression. Fight back!
I did it too
And eventually when I realized I basically hate my gender and wish I wasn’t a part of it, and stopped participating, and started asking these kind and caring people to not use that sort of language anymore, I got backlash. Because of course we don’t mean ALL men, just the trash ones. Stop being such a Meninist. Stop distracting and giving cover for your peers (my peers????) who really are doing awful stuff.
And seriously, I just want to stop feeling like I’m trash because of what other people who look like me have done.
So yeah. I assume the percent who hate men is 0%, or close enough to it that it’s a rounding error. The problem is pervasive and systematic and has nothing to do with actually hating men. It has to do with creating a culture/environment that casually destroys a class of people and holds their only acceptable moral condition is one of self-loathing. It’s the daily denigration that wears away at one’s psyche. And it doesn’t have to be “serious”–the people I know who routinely say this are kind people who have male friends, relatives, and sometimes lovers, all of whom they really like. For comparison, how many times can one joke about “black men can’t hold down jobs” before “I’m obv not serious, I’m married to a black guy myself” stops mattering?
(in reply to) “the sentiment that it is men who need to help solve the problem should not be taken as an accusation that they are inherently part of it.”
Thing is, lots of men are working to solve the problem. We’re not omnipotent, despite being born with a penis, so there’s not a whole lot most of us can do. But goddammit, we are trying. And we *still* get subjected to the “all men are trash” rhetoric. In fact, we get it far more than anyone else, because we’re the ones that are friends with the people saying it, and see it come up often. The assholes who perpetuate oppression almost never see this sort of thing. So as good as it may feel to say that men are trash, it’s hurting the people who are trying to help, and not doing anything to fix the actual problem. And pointing that out? That gets you lumped in with the misogynistic assholes.
The problem is that the gal in the comic sometimes says just what you’re saying, and in those cases she’s in the right, and the comic is entirely correct. But other times she’s just saying “all men are trash” and everyone’s cheering about it, and in those cases she’s doing harm and the comic is supporting bigotry. The problem with the weaponization of “Lol, another #notallmen meninist” is that it is used to conflate the second situation with the first situation, and is used by bad people to harm others and make everything toxic.
And of course none of the above really matters. Because here’s the thing.
Most people, and certainly the ones who share this comic approvingly, are still in “there are only two sides” thinking. It’s the message the overwhelming majority of their social environment is pushing onto them, so I don’t entirely blame them. What they’re doing is posting a thing which in their mind is the equivalent of waving the “Heeeeey, I’m on the Left side! wooooo!” flag. It feels good. It fights oppression. It shows support and caring for their hurting friends.
And so anyone saying “Hey, that’s not cool, and here’s why” is, in the poster’s mind, an attack on their side from the other side. Because they’ve been told no one on their side would say such a thing, and there’s only two sides, so obviously the person being harmed by the comic are from the Right side and are here to start shit.
I hope my words, and the words of others like me that are trying to speak up gently, with understanding, but with the message that “You are hurting us because it feels good to you and maybe that’s not so great” will help to carve out a third side. A side that has spent the entirety of their lives learning and fighting for those who are oppressed and ground down by the system, and who hate that system themselves. But who also don’t want to be ripped apart in the process. Who are not content to have to choose between that or becoming the perpetrators of further mass harm. A side that believes there’s actual mutual forward progress possible, rather than just two sides and a war over which side gets to rule.
I think people look sexier with clothes on. I mean, it depends on the clothes, of course. But in a good outfit, everyone looks hotter than they do naked. I would prefer to have sex with my partner clothed in most cases, if it wasn’t such a pain.
Of course the social consensus is that peak sexiness is at the level of complete nudity. Which is why the “swimsuit” competition is the sexiest one. And why Baywatch was the sexiest show. They’re ramping up the sexy by reducing the amount of clothing!
I find burlesque boring for this reason too. The enjoyment is from… watching people get more naked? Everyone else loves it sooooo much though, I must be weird.
I had a bunch of narratives about what had caused me to deviate from the norm this way. I read tons of comic books growing up, and anime in my teens/twenties. I came to identify the ideal visual as sleek, clean lines (as drawn by a pen), and solid, uniform colors (as filled in by an inker or computer). Naked humans have all sorts of imperfections in their lines, and subtle shading and texturing in their skin color. But you put some nice clothes on that, and they sculpt the lines into smoothness, and replace variable skin with a single solid color. Etc etc.
I know a bunch of people tho, and many of them are less than vanilla in taste, and I was curious how many other people like me might exist in the fringes of humanity. So I tossed up a quick poll on Facebook.
Do people look sexier with clothes on? Or nekkid?
And a stunning 80% of respondents said they prefer their partners with clothes on!! 80%!! That’s insane! I realize it’s a self-selected sample, and my bubble of friends isn’t representative, etc. But even so… 80%??
I’m pretty damn sure now that the majority of the human race thinks fully-naked people are less sexy than people with a hot outfit on… and yet (almost?) everyone believes that the consensus position of everyone else is that nakedness is peak sexiness. Nothing else really drives home just how bad humans are at making knowledge public.
This is a follow-up to my last post about Flee, My Pretty One. As might be apparent from some of my writings, I used to be far more leftist. As a younger man, I was ready for the revolution. In large part I think it’s just plain hormonal, I’m quite a bio-determinist when it comes to personality. But in part it was also because I just didn’t have much to lose. When you’re already at the bottom things can’t really get worse, right? As a kid I had nothing except rage, so what did I care? Burn it all, start over, at least this way there’s a chance things will be better. Now that I have well over a decade of labor stored up in the form of property and savings and obligations from the govt, I’m much less excited about razing the world. Like, hey, some of that stuff that’s gonna be razed is my stuff! Can we implement change without incinerating all my stuff? That stuff is years of my life…
But I still understand the urgency needed, the screams that change cannot wait. How many tens of thousands of lives are we willing to sacrifice while we slowly increment our way to a new system? How many who didn’t have to die? But there’s also the realization now that unless things are carefully planned and go slowly, the result of burning it all down is often worse that the previous status quo.
Or at least, worse for those with something to lose. When you’re being killed by the system, anything is appropriate. Everyone has a right to self-defense.
But I’m not being killed by the system, and neither are most people (I think). So it feels like sacrificing the many to maybe save a few. Not a bright idea. OTOH, are you willing to live in Omelas? And all that results in a lot of angst and self-hate, and that’s how we get art, right?
My drift greyward has been helped along by the fact that I’ve always had friends across the political spectrum. And for some time I was one of the most-left people in my circles. It did suck leaving that identity behind. I think what sucked most is that the community I have now is more like a group of friends and other real people. As opposed to what I had then, which was an ideology. A movement, full of fire and passion, which provided instant connection and relatability with everyone else within it. We hated the same things, loved the same stuff, had the same outlook. Now everyone I know is a unique and complicated person and I have to go through a lot of work to get to know them and fit them into my life. It was so much easier, and more fun, when things were straightforward and passionate. People sometimes accuse rationalists of being akin to a religion/cult, but this is a well-grounded community, and isn’t even 1/5th as religion-like as the leftist movement was when I was in it. I miss that. :/ But now that I’m no longer a child I must put away childish things, etc etc
It’s harder to be friends with leftists nowadays, because it’s tough to relate when you can see the Crazy. We’re still friends, but there’s a bit more distance, it takes more effort.
I still remember that anger though, and I still identify with it. Sometimes. When no one else is watching.
I had some conversations with the wonderful Erin over my week at WotF, about gender identity. It clarified some things for me about the meltdown of my previous relationship, which I hadn’t realized at the time.
I don’t have an internalized gender identity. For most of my life I’ve just defaulted to male (poorly) and ignored the issue. Then, for a few years, I tried performing masculinity. I was pretty good at it, and it was fun. Like role-playing, and seeing just how far you can take it! It also came with certain advantages, and finally resulted in a fulfilling sex life. But it was like wearing a false identity. It wasn’t natural, it was a neat mask.
For clarity, I didn’t think of it as wearing a mask at the time–just as trying out something new, and having a lot of fun with it. I was proud that I could perform masculinity well. It’s nice to find a new talent, especially one that’s richly rewarded! And now I know that, when I need to temporarily strap on the masculinity for advantage in certain situations, I can do so. But eventually it got old, and it started to really wear on me to be wearing this mask day in and day out, my entire life. It had taken over every interaction with everything in the world, and that was too much.
Unfortunately, I had met my then-current life partner near the beginning of the performing masculinity phase, and she loved it. Trying to move away from it while in a relationship with her was like coming out as gay while being in a serious long-term relationship with someone of the opposite gender, or deconverting after marrying a fundamentalist. They’re going to be unhappy that the person they married has changed into someone else. It woulda been easier if I’d known more about gender identity and performance when we’d met, but I was just learning and starting to try stuff out then. I couldn’t have any sort of conversation about this stuff, cuz I didn’t know it myself.
This tendency of people to change over time is why I consider all relationships to be limited-term engagements. Maybe we could’ve kept this particular relationship going longer if this was the only thing complicating it. But combined with all the other issues, it could not hold.
This was a delight. It was fun to be treated special and given an award and just the belle of the ball for a day! Of course, it was apparently pretty quickly that this award ceremony wasn’t really for us. It was for the Scientologists. This was their party, for them to say to each other “Look at us! We’re helping these people at the start of their career, and supporting the arts! We are doing good in the world.” And good on them for it! They are helping new artists, and contributing to the SFF world in a meaningful way. They can have as big a party they want to celebrate that, it’s their money. I didn’t mind at all being the excuse for that. It kinda felt what I imagine being a unicorn for a couple would feel like? The experience is primarily about them, but they couldn’t have it without me facilitating, and I’m happy to serve that role to bring them that. Of course that’s probably my super-idealized fantasy of unicorning. But /shrug. I got the literary-award equivalent of that fantasy, so I’m happy. :)
While listening to others give their acceptance speeches it dawned on me that you can only really thank two people – the first person you thank, who everyone notices for being first. And the last person, who stays lingering in the silence after. Everyone in between kinda gets lost in the blur. That’s not to say that they’re unappreciated, but the first and last are the true places of prominence. So I quickly edited my acceptance speech at the table in order to shuffle the Scientologists into the middle and thank my writer’s group and peers that week on the ends. You can see it here.
Afterwards there was partying back at the hotel bar!
The next day was a multi-hour class on how to Sell Sell Sell. Which, to be practical, was probably useful. You could tell they were trying to get us to do a lot of promotion. TBH, I’m not putting in a lot of work for something that doesn’t pay royalties. For every extra copy I sell, I get an extra $0.00. So the only book signing/promotion opportunities I took were the ones I wanted to do for the joy of doing them. The Tattered Cover in Denver, because that’s a rite of passage for all Denver authors. :) And the Broadway Book Mall, a small independent store that has been a cornerstone of the Denver SF community for decades. It was an honor to be at both.
They did talk about “always dressing professional” in that class, “unless you have A Look. Like Gaiman.” Everyone knows he always wears black leather, regardless of the situation, but that is his Look. It can be good to have a distinct visual Look. And I figured “hell, I already do the Goth thing, I can make that my Look.” So boom. I guess now whenever I’m doing Authorial stuff, I shall be Goth!
After that class we were “treated” to a show just for us winners & our guests. First there was an audio drama of Hubbard’s short “The Death Flyer.” The story itself is mildly bad. They had us read it before we arrived in LA, and it’s literally just “There’s a ghost train that recreates it’s crash on the anniversary of its crash. But it was all a dream!” With purple prose and one-dimensional wooden characters. BUT! The people doing the audio drama were SUPER into it, which I guess you would be for any story written by your messiah. They added all the emotion and interest that was lacking from the story. It was actually pretty enjoyable, they did a great job! I saw in person just how a good actor can save a bad script.
Right after that we got to listen to the world’s worst stand-up comic. The guy was ancient, and apparently ran with Sinatra’s Rat Pack back in the day. Allow me to set the stage.
The Scientologists are really out of touch. They seem painfully unaware of the shibboleth of modern society, such as the not knowing one doesn’t refer to south-east Asia as “the Orient.” A couple of our winners were from Spanish-speaking countries, and one of them brought a lot of her family out to see her shine at this great moment! So when the comic opened by welcoming the audience in Spanish, I was very pleasantly surprised. I had not expected this sort of deliberate racial inclusiveness, this was awesome! Then his next lines were (paraphrased) ‘That’s all the Spanish I know. That’s all that my maid taught me before I sent her back to Guatemala. To have our kid.” Holy fuck.
The whole set was that bad, basically non-stop stuff that someone with the unthinking racism and sexism of the 50s era would find funny. It was awful. One person walked out, and I really should have, but I was so pissed I hate-watched the whole thing. OMG.
Anyway, that was the nadir of the week. It did give us something to bond over though. And as far as nadirs go, it could be much worse. But, wow. How can one be that out of touch? I mean… thinking back on it, I certainly didn’t go up and tell the comic, or anyone in the Scientologist camp, about how distasteful that was. Neither did any of my fellow winners. I guess if no one tells you, how can you be expected to know? But yeesh! Isn’t that what TV and movies are for?
Back to good stuff! For the rest of this post I’m just gonna talk about the people I met, because that’s really what it was about for me. And cuz this blog is kinda like a semi-diary thing for me. Probably the rest is boring for everyone who isn’t me, feel free to stop here. ^^ Most of these pics are lifted from the WotF website. They got great photographers.
Tim Powers, as said earlier, is a witty, kindly grandfather. Which also means he can be bad-ass protective sometimes. After our 24-hour stories, two were randomly picked to be critiqued by the whole group. As one can probably imagine, having a story critiqued is much like having you sexual technique analyzed and critiqued. It’s a very vulnerable and private thing. By this point I had forgotten we were being filmed all the time. Tim hadn’t. As the first critique started to quietly walked to the back of the room, laid hands upon the cameraperson, and said “You do not record this part.” The camera person complied and all was well, while our esteem of Tim skyrocketed.
Rob Sawyer gave an hour long presentation on how publishers will attempt to grab all your rights and screw you as much and as hard as they can. He warned us about what to look out for, and what to never sign away. He was very impassioned the whole time. It was my favorite of the guest-lecturer presentations, and very valuable. Kick-ass.
Brandon Sanderson gave a guest presentation as well. At the end of that day there was a barbeque for all the winners and their guests, as well as any of the judges and guest presenters that wished to come. I was sitting with Erin and her family when mother-fuckin’ Brandon Sanderson pulled up a chair and sat down to chat with us for an hour! It was freakin’ awesome. Erin’s mother is such a big fan that as soon as he sat down she stood up and walked away so she could quietly freakout and compose herself again. :) Brandon was fantastic to talk to.
Here’s the wonderful writer peers I met!
Cole is a gentle soul, extremely compassionate and empathic. But he can lay down serious smackdowns when he needs to, doing serious weight lifting and martial training. That’s probably why the kids at the rehab & detention facility where he works respect the hell out of him. He’s the one in front.
Jeremy is basically exactly the person I’d want teaching me history when I was in high school. Collected, thoughtful, and very knowledgeable. A damn cool dude, and I’ll be seeing with him again when I room with him at WorldCon in a few months!
When I first met Jon I was put off by him. First, the visual aesthetic of short blond hair and white skin reminds me of the 50s, and I’m not a fan, but obviously that’s not his fault. Plus it looks good on him. More to the point–there’s only room for one clean-cut office-drone-passing white guy in any given group! What’s he doing, trying to step on my turf? But I was won over very quickly by his eminent reasonableness, commitment to fairness, and being a solid good person at all times. We are now buds. Basically I guess he’s like my WotF equivalent of Pushin.
(Not sure if I mentioned Pushin before, but I was always kinda wierded out and put off by Pushin. I don’t like the aesthetic, and I just don’t get it. Then a lover of mine got a Pushin bathmat. I have poor circulation in my extremities, so walking on a non-carpeted floor in my bare feet, as one has to in a bathroom, is so cold that it’s painful for me. The Pushin bathmat saved me from that pain. Me and Pushin are friends now. ^^)
Natalka is Canadian, former Goth, and had heard of the rationalist movement! Also a pleasure to talk to, I get the feeling she has a lot of things to talk about once you can get into her circle of trust. She totally strikes me as the sort of person who’d be like “Yeah, I had to kill a man once. Fucker shouldn’t have tried to kidnap my dog. Let’s go moose-spotting!”
Vida came from the Philippines, and had quite a few /forehead moments with the previously-mentioned out-of-touch contingent who didn’t realize that there’s, you know, cities and stuff over there. The low-level stoicism of putting up with that sort of thing constantly gave her a very Daria vibe. :)
Erin was my biggest partner in crime. We spent a bunch of time together, both stressed a lot over our 24 hour stories, and man, she’s just the best! Plus she has a very soft visual aesthetic that just feels warm to look at.
Amy is just a ton of fun, and not at all what I expected from a Texas Mormon! She was often out front, leading the charge to the next thing we’re doing. It was great to have her around, and I didn’t even realize she wasn’t drinking when she was hanging with us at the bar. She has enough personality to not need alcohol! O_O
I didn’t get to spend much time with the illustrators, as the writers and illustrators were basically kept in two separate camps as we went through two separate workshops. They didn’t even mix the groups at the ceremony! That being said, we did manage to mix some, especially at the hotel bar.
Alana is the artist that drew the illustration for my story. She’s cool, and seems very excited about the future. I also LOVE the color pallete she uses for herself, it makes her look like a walking piece of Victorian art.
Sidney is the most chill mother fucker I’ve ever met in my life. You know how cool guys don’t look at explosions? Sidney wouldn’t even bother to walk away from an explosion. She’d be like “Hey, there’s an explosion. That’s cool. I’ma chill here unless someone tells me I gotta move.” She’s the one that told the Scientologists she wouldn’t be wearing a dress, and then just didn’t wear one. I am in awe of her cool.
Bruce is super put-together and professional. He wins my award for Most “Has His Shit Together” Person. While still being very personable! He has that hat as part of his look. To the point that he even has a very fancy black version of it that matched his tuxedo. :)
Duncan is talented and fun. He’s the illustrator who was most like the writers, and spent the most time with us. And by “most like the writers” I mean “extroverted.” Which is crazy, I’ve never thought of writers as an extroverted bunch. UNTIL I met illustrators. They totally blew my stereotypes, cuz I figured as visual artists they’d all be super outgoing and social butterflies. Turns out, they just want to stay with their tablets and paint all day and never look up or talk (for the most part). It was hard getting most of them to talk or open up! Except for Duncan. Maybe it’s the expat thing. :)
I barely got to meet Reyna until the last two days, but damn, look at that fierce aesthetic!! She’s a weight-lifter too. Kicked some ass arm-wrestling the other illustrators!
OK, Jazmen and Other Duncan were the two most aesthetically compelling people there. I thought they were visually interesting at first, and took their photos, but it turns out that it’s not a visual thing, because the photos don’t capture it at all. Jazmen is the living incarnation of the super-shy girl in every anime. All the writers think she just fell out of an anime last month or something. The body language, the clothing, the voice, the demeanor. One person swore she saw Jazmen dashing out the hotel door with a piece of toast in her mouth. And Duncan, her friend, looks and acts like someone who came out of a Dating Sim. He’s fucking gorgeous, and with long hair pulled back, except where it cascades down at his temples. He dresses in turn-of-the-century finery, and speaks rather formally. They were such perfect representations of their genres that I thought they were a couple, but I guess they’re just really good friends. Anyway, pictures don’t do them justice. Which, I think, is a sign of true aesthetic mastery. Something like that shouldn’t be capturable in a still image. To get the true impact one really has to be in their physical presence, with the full bandwidth that only real world proximity can accommodate. It’s almost as if people are complex, many-layered things which can’t be reduced to a picture and a few sentences. Which really puts the lie to this whole blog post. So, thanks guys, for breaking my post. >:(
But also <3
Anyway, that’s everything, I think I’m done with WotF posts. Huzzah!
Yikes, where are the days going? I was supposed to write more about this earlier!
The real heart of the Writers of the Future thing is the workshop. The trophy and award ceremony are nice, but it’s the workshop that makes this the amazing event it is. So I’m gonna dive into that for a bit.
Dave on the left, Tim on the right (as one looks at the picture)
On day one we met our instructors, Dave Farland and Tim Powers, both big names in the SF world, in very different ways. I’ve never read Dave before, whereas I’m a fan of Tim Powers, and their different styles came through in their teaching. Dave would talk about putting out 2-3 books a year, Tim talked about working on each of his for 2-3 years. Dave spoke of the joy of writing, how whenever he’s not writing he’d be writing anyway because it’s what he does for fun. Tim spoke about how stressful it is to write and how freaking hard it is, and that the only thing worse than writing is NOT writing, and so he’s forced to do it out of self-preservation. I loved it, they had very complimentary methods, and played well off each other. And of course I came down firmly on Tim’s side. :)
They had me pose for this shot
Throughout the week we were constantly being filmed and photographed, both for publicity purposes and for a future documentary. Some of my fellow author winners weren’t that happy with this, most of them are fairly private. I loved it. I was finally getting the constant adoration I always crave. :) Also I was raised believing God was watching everything I was doing, and I lost that when I realized he’s a fairy tale. It was nice to have it back for a week.
The workshop was basically like a 5-day boot camp, but for writing. The most intense day was the second one, where we were all given a random object, told to interview a random person on the street, and incorporate both things into a new story that we haven’t thought about before. And write it in the next 24 hours. Jesus that was rough. I did nothing but write for 24 hours straight, aside for 7 hours of sleep and 5 minutes to shower. I wrote something that is… vaguely story-like. It has at least one cool thing I can salvage for the future, I guess. Overall, it’s not good at all. But it did teach me that I really can sit down and just do this shit, and put out something new on demand. And now I have a skeleton of a story that I can fill in and polish up over time. I could actually envision being a professional and doing this every day as my career. Which I believe was the purpose of the exercise. It was the 2nd most important thing I got from this week.
This was not posed, we were just talking. Their photographers are really good.
The 1st most important thing was the relationships, of course. You bond a lot with the other people you’re in boot camp with. We’re all newish writers, with some work under our belts, but just getting started. And now we all know each other for life. We can trust each other and confide in each other. I was absolutely sincere when I said in my acceptance speech that this week was made by my fellow winners. This was an amazing experience. There are similar experience to be had, at workshops like Odyssey and Clarion. But those workshops cost thousands of dollars, and last so long that most people with regular jobs can’t attend them. It’s not just that the WotF workshop is free… they also paid for my flight out, and my stay at a nice hotel, AND gave me a very nice check on top of all that. Plus an awards ceremony and trophy.
Seriously, this is one of the best things out there for new writers. As long as you make sure to actually take advantage of the opportunities to bond with people. I suppose every year has at least one person who is chronically absent and won’t talk with others. That is tragic for them, and I don’t know why you’d do that, when the group bonds are really the whole point. But hey, it’s not for me to judge.
On day 3 we got to see our illustrations. There are 12 writer winners and 12 illustrator winners every year, and each of the illustrators is given a winning story and told to create a new illustration inspired by it. On the third day, they usher all the writers into a room with the 12 illustrations arrayed around it (without titles or identification) and we have to find the illustration based on our story. Hot damn is that a cool moment!! To have something you wrote illustrated is just an amazing feeling. It’s beautiful and you feel like there’s a reason you do this sort of thing. Then we got to meet our illustrators and talk with them, and I’m not sure how to say just how great it all is. And I get a framed print of the art to take home! Ridiculous. :)
The next day we had rapid-fire classes by quite a number of guest instructors. I think that overall this was the least useful day, but there was still quite a bit of good information here. We got to learn a lot about how the industry works, including what happens once a publisher gets their hands on your book (and why it takes 12+ damn months to print/publish!). Rob Sawyer spoke very passionately about how ruthless publishers will try to screw you, what rights they’ll try to grab, and what things you should never, ever accept in a contract. That was very valuable, and the whole day was worth it for that part alone.
Of course the best part of most days was the informal session afterwards, where all the writers, several illustrators, and occasionally a big author or two, would get together at the bar and socialize. There was drinking and jokes and gossip and shoptalk, and it was great. :) That’s where a fair bit of the bond-forging mentioned above was done. The epic fucking party we had on the last night before we all flew out the next day was just… amazing. I went and bought three 5ths of vodka for everyone that we could enjoy in our private cove without paying the exorbitant hotel bar prices, and it was the best money I’ve spent all year.
I recently won a Writers of the Future award for my story “Flee, My Pretty One.” The award comes with publication in their anthology, a cash prize, a nice trophy at an award ceremony, and (most importantly by far) a week-long workshop with big names in the industry.
But y’all want to hear about the Scientology thing, so let’s talk about that first. :)
1. The Contest
Everyone in the SF community knows that Writers of the Future (WotF) is funded by the Scientologists, and used by them for PR. And everyone smiles and accepts that and agrees not to talk about it in public, because the Scientologists do a good job of staying the hell out of the contest itself. All the judging and every major decision is made by respected professionals in the field, none of whom are affiliated with the church. And behind the scenes, yeah, we talk about it. When the WotF staff wasn’t around and we were all drinking, there was quite a bit of chat about it. Because it is kinda weird, and we all feel a bit weird about it. But ultimately, they just provided a huge paycheck to the SF community without asking very much in return.
One of my fellow winners even pointed out that it’s almost a scam in the other direction. The Scientologists take a lot of money from rich Hollywood celebrities, and they take that and funnel it back into funding new up-and-coming SF writers and illustrators, all of whom are mildly-to-strongly anti-Scientology. It’s a weird arts-funding program that uses Scientology money for an actual good cause (assuming one considers SF arts a good cause).
They certainly get something out of it too. The big awards ceremony, while it was certainly a lot of fun and made us all free great and important, was very obviously for them. It talked up L. Ron Hubbard quite a bit. I heard more about him in the two hours of the event than in the entire four days of workshop before then. All the content was geared at making the audience of Scientologists feel good about themselves and assure them they’re being good Hubbard disciples. But you know what? That’s OK. It’s their party. They’ve been super nice and very supportive, and they’re allowed to have a big party and feel good! So what if they’re using us as an excuse to celebrate? They’ve spent a ton of money on all of us, they’re allowed. We’re getting a lot out of it in exchange. Let’s not shit on someone else being happy.
This hangs on the side of their publishing building. I imagine most of the employees inside are pretty embarrassed by it.
2. The People
The Scientologists, at least the ones on the ground, are all super nice and polite. They never treated us with anything but respect and friendliness. And, aside from being the biggest Hubbard fanboys/fangirls I’ve ever seen, never even mentioned Scientology. There were no attempts at recruitment. We’re valuable to them as PR, not as new members.
You could always tell who was a Scientologist and who was an outside professional, though. There’s something about the Scientologists. They’re very tightly wound. They hide behind niceness and smiles, never comfortable. I didn’t like being around them, and I ended up feeling very bad for them. In my opinion, they act like people who aren’t sure how to interface with the outside world, and have been hurt by it so much that they expect only more abuse and more pain, and the only way they’ve found to deal with this is to withdraw. When forced to interact with the muggles, they smile past the fear and hope it’s over soon.
I know a lot of people like this. I used to be a person like this. This is a common experience for young nerds. Yes, it was uncomfortable being around the, because they are bad at social skills, and they’re hurt. But by god, who beats up on these sort of people? Spreading tales of how awful and creepy they are is no different from nerd-bashing. Do you talk about how gross aspies are? Then don’t do it to Scientologists.
The church of Scientology may be ridiculous and/or evil, but most of the people in it are just as innocent as most Catholics. Be kind to people. Don’t trust anyone who gives you weird vibes, of course, your instincts are a good first-defense. But man, it’s possible to treat people with decency without going into secluded places with them, ya know?
They keep display copies of everything Hubbard has ever published. Even the Lisa Frank versions.
3. The Cult
When I first saw the crazy devotion the people here have to Hubbard’s work I was downright envious. They adore him, and as long as they’re around, his memory and his works will be kept alive. In that moment I wanted a cult of my own.
It didn’t last very long though. There isn’t any real memory of Hubbard being preserved here. It’s a weird, idolized version of him, drastically disconnected from whatever real person he might have been. There’s only a story that strangers have built a community around, and recognizing him as he was doesn’t advance that purpose. This is a poor imitation of immortality-through-remembrance. It felt lonely.
Of course, when the publicity crew was following us around all week, and constantly snapping pictures of everything we do, that felt right. It was fitting that everything I do be documented, because I’m totes a big deal in my own mind. :) I finally had that “constant watching presence” that I’d been missing since I realized there ain’t no god. Most of my co-winners didn’t like it as much, though.
I will say I was surprised by how conservative they are! With their reputation as a crazy cult in the middle of Hollywood, I expected them to basically be a bunch of liberals. They don’t drink, frown on bad language, and basically reminded me of strict Christians. They wanted everyone to dress conservatively, including strongly requesting the women wear gowns to the award ceremony. That’s a heckuva an ask for 24 artsy types, you’ll almost always get someone for whom that is not OK. I’ve heard about this being a problem in past years, and they seem to have eased up a bit, because our resident “I don’t do dresses” artist ended up going in a red suit instead, which suited her very well! And it sounded like there wasn’t too much kerfuffle about it.
So yeah, I dislike their religion, they can be off-putting, and I hear their leadership has done shitty things. But the people on the ground are nice, they mostly kept to themselves, and they won me over. Given how much I distrust the media when it comes to their portrayal of weird fringe groups, I’m gonna default to not being a dick on this one.
Seriously though, what writer doesn’t want people to love his work so much they enshrine it like this?
Over the next few days I’ll talk about the workshop itself, as well as the award ceremony. Plus more pictures!
I’ve noticed a few of my FB friends still participate in Liars Day. >:(
I hate April Fool’s Day. I’m fairly trusting and I take people at their face. I consider it a better way to live and structure society. Plus, I can’t really help it, I feel like a damn puppy sometimes. Today is a day that celebrates mocking that way of life/neural architecture. It says “Haha, high-trust culture is for suckers, look at those cooperating idiots over there. What rubes. Defecting FTW!”
I guess everyone needs a day off, where they revel in turning the social order on it’s head. Mardi Gras, or Halloween, or whatever. It’s a good release valve. Or maybe today can be used to caution everyone, once a year, how horrible a world it would be if everything was low-trust. Or to remind us that almost all news on the internet is just a year-round Liar’s Day.
Whatever. I still hate the day. I’m going to go be grumpy in a corner.