Seasons in the sun

So, if you follow me on Twitter you might have noticed I’m in Florida. If you’ve followed me for long enough you know this means I’m engaged with my family. In the current climate, I like to employ a certain amount of obfuscation about my movement which is why I was a little bit oblique about the fact that I was getting ready to travel and why I’m not going to have a lot of details here. 

I will say that I’m going to be down here for a while. The first little stretch is a bit like a chill vacation – each day we’re going to a different art museum or similar attraction. After that, it’s going to be a working trip – helping out around the house while also working on my writing (I’ve got a book to put to bed!) and my political commentary. It’s hard to guess how much time and energy I’ll have, though. Some of these visits have been among my most productive creative intervals. Others have been less so. There’s really no way to know beforehand. I mean, that’s true no matter where I am in the country. It’s not something particular to here.

Anyway, I’m trying a few things different this time around that might help me have a better time managing my spoons. I’ve been hydrating like never before for most of March and I’ve stepped it up since I’ve been here. I’ve got a weighted blanket to help me sleep, which has worked to the point that I slept through at least one minute of my alarm – don’t know if I would have woken up at all but it did wake Jack up, and he woke me up. 

I am such a light sleeper that I have slept through an alarm only once before in my adult life, and that was a time I was physically exhausted.

I have a weighted blanket at home but dang, the availability and quality have seriously improved from the time I got it. I might be looking to upgrade/replace by the time this kind of weather gets to Maryland. When the weather is chilly, I just sleep with a ton of blankets… but Florida-weight blankets aren’t that heavy, you know?

So, yeah. Extra hydration, less caffeine and alcohol (which wasn’t a conscious choice, just a side effect of drinking water all the dang time), and better sleep. This could be a really productive trip. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

But right now is for family time, so for now, I’m just stealing a few moments here and there to do my thing when everybody else is sleeping and I’m not, or we’re all just doing our own things. One thing I’m going to focus on once most of the family has departed and I’m settling in to work is keeping up this blogging thing. I am already doing it more than I was. I’d like to be doing it more than I am.

I’ll keep you posted.

Well…

…I’m keeping up my streak of blogging about every two weeks or so. We’ll see if I can improve on that in the coming days.

It feels a little weird to be talking business at this moment in history, but I really do need to blog more often, and to keep up my other professional obligations.

This week I put in my party proposal for WisCon and my proposal for a trans/genderqueer reading group. Yesterday I had my best writing day in a while – I wrote a very short poem (short enough to fit in a single tweet, even!) as a warm-up, and then a 3,500 word short story, and then another story in the form of a 900 word monologue or prose poem, I’m still not sure how I’d best classify it.

The poem and the poetic monologue were written to use as reading material during my nearly weekly appearance at The Flying Camel. Last week I started doing a virtual reading on Twitter’s Periscope service around midnight on the night of the open mic night. I’d planned to do the same last night, but with the news breaking out of New Zealand I didn’t quite have the right mindset for a public performance and I decided to spend my time reporting Islamophobic tweets on Twitter. Weirdly, all the accounts I found that were spreading hatred of Muslims last night were also engaged in anti-Semitism, homophobia, and racism. Go figure.

Anyway. I’ve got a social engagement for the middle part of the day, and after that I’m going to post the two shorter works to my Patreon. The longer one will be up probably next week. When I write a story, particularly one that’s over 1,000 words, I think of it as having three stages of doneness: complete is when the whole story is there on the page. Finished is when I’m gone over the rough bits. Polished is when I’ve looked at the finished story, and often slept on it, and figured out all the ways to really make it sparkle. I wrote a complete story yesterday in about an hour, but it’s not finished and it’s not polished.

If I’m stuck on what to blog about, I might talk about the story some more, because I wrote it as a way to sort of get over some mental hurdles that have been holding me back in some of my longer ongoing writing projects.

New phone, what’s all this, then?

So, I got a new phone recently. It’s part of my ongoing drive to overhaul my life by getting rid of stuff that doesn’t really work, stuff I’ve just sort of put up with. So when I was shopping for a new phone, what I looked at was something that would do the stuff I use my phone for, but fix a couple of things that were causing problems.

One of the biggest problems was that in getting a screen size that let me use my phone as a work device, it wound up being too wide for me to comfortably hold. Even with a pop socket on the back (which helped a lot), I couldn’t use my phone all day without dropping it at least once, and putting a lot of stress on my hand and wrist.

I could get a smaller phone easily. But one big enough for me to work on yet easy on my hand was trickier.

After a LOT of research, I landed on the Galaxy Note 9 as hitting my sweet spot. It has a nice big screen and is only a very tiny bit narrower than most phones with that kind of screen real estate — but phones that size are only a tiny bit too wide for my hand. I found some similar sized phones that were markedly lighter in weight, but they seemed to get there by compromising on battery life and that’s a high priority for me.

The Note 9 wasn’t the cheapest choice, but I’ve always gone for kind of middle of the road on power… and then struggled in frustration when I tried to write on my phone and it was slow and non-responsive at my typical input speeds. So even though I wasn’t buying it primarily for the specs, I have found using it to give me the kind of profound KonMari-esque sense of relief and release that I was expecting from its shape, but all around. I can write on 4TW and it is so fast. It doesn’t reload my pages every time I switch between them. I can write one-handed using my thumb, two handed with the included stylus (first handwriting recognition thing that actually reads my handwriting!) or if I have a surface in front of me, with a bluetooth keyboard that has similar key size to the netbooks I used for years.

But it’s so much more responsive than the netbooks.

So, I have been writing up a storm. This is my second blog post of the day, the first one being up on my Patreon because it concerns the art and craft of writing. I have another blog post I wrote yesterday that I need to reformat a bit before posting. I wrote a whole short story that I had allotted four hours to write, in about 75 minutes.

Listen, if you’ve followed me for years you know that writing on my phone or other handheld device is not something new for me. It’s always been sort of the holy grail for me, of being able to write effortlessly anywhere and just have it sync to the cloud so I can finish it up on a computer. Some of my devices have been better for that than others. Sometimes I had a real working solution for a while. Sometimes I was kidding myself and trying to make something work that was just causing aggravation.

But this is so fluid and seamless. If I sit at a table or desk and prop my phone up and put my keyboard there, it does amazing things for my focus. I can see the whole screen easily, my eyes are focused right on it. I can type at a really good clip but it’s dang inconvenient for me to flip to a different app or tab, so I only do it when it’s necessary, not out of reflex. My phone is there on the table, not at my side where I can just grab it and check Twitter.

For me, it’s all of the advantages of a single-use word processor (as some authors use) without having to carry around a single-use gadget and hoping it doesn’t break or get lost or die before I can transfer my work off it. It’s great. It’s not cheap, but, you know, my last new phone was in fall 2017. A year and a half between upgrades doesn’t feel too indulgent for someone who uses wireless tech as heavily as I do.

Anyway. The phone is Galaxy Note 9. The keyboard I use is the Microsoft universal folding bluetooth keyboard – that’s an affiliate link, just so you know, but this is a true and wholehearted recommendation for people who can type on a netbook sized keyboard, and who will be using it while typing on a hard elevated surface like a table. Those are the caveats. You can’t hold it in front of you and you’ll be frustrated if you try to use it on your lap. But it’s hardy and robust, with a good battery life – I haven’t had it for long but I bought it on recommendations from people I consider power users when it comes to typing and traveling.

I’ve been learning what else it can do (it can measure heart rate and has a built-in pulse oximeter, among other surprises, and can do streaming video muuuuch better than anything I’ve owned before), but honestly, I bought it with the killer app being slightly narrower while still being a usable size, and finding out it’s great for writing on in any configuration has been enough of a pleasant surprise.

49 days into the new year…

I made the decision late last year I was going to resurrect my blog in 2019, as an actual blog, updated nearly daily. I made this decision because I had started daily journaling in 2018 and it was really good for my emotional and cognitive processing, but it also resulted in me being even more closed off from others than I had been before, because I now had an outlet for my thoughts that wasn’t putting them up on Twitter or throwing them into a blog post.

I did a couple of posts at the end of December because I like to get a running start on my resolutions (that’s the secret to getting anywhere with them, in my experience), and then… nothing. I’ve realized this a couple of times in January and again in February, and here we are about two-thirds of the way through the month and I’m making my first post.

I think the allure of journaling instead of blogging is that it’s so much safer, now that I’m something of a public figure. No one ever tries to start a conversation with my journal, or mistakes it for a dialogue already in progress. Nobody is combing through my journal looking for something they can later impress me by having deduced by reading between the lines and figured out. (Usually wrong. Always creepy. Usually well-intentioned. Still creepy.) Nobody’s looking at my journal ready to pounce on things they think are inconsistencies, as every life inevitably must contain contradiction.

Even as I type this, I can hear in my head as people get ready to go on Twitter or Facebook or email and tell me, “That’s alright! Don’t worry about what other people think! Just do what you want to do!” Listen, there are people who need to hear this. People who need or want a push will go digging for one. This is just me, quietly thinking out loud.

So, this is my first blog post of 2019. I don’t want it to be the last one, or even worse, for every blog post to wind up being an explanation of why I haven’t blogged more lately. So what I’m doing is another thing I started in late 2018, which is to take what works (journaling) and let go of what doesn’t. I wrote this as part of my daily journaling. Why not? It’s part of my routine anyway. 4 The Words, the site I use for my journaling (along with my more creative writing), recently had an upgrade that makes it easier to export or copy/paste formatted text from it.

Here’s some highlights of recent events from my life:

  • I’ve started attending open mic nights some weeks at a local literary cafe and bar called The Flying Camel here in Hagerstown. If you’re local, you can watch my Twitter on Thursdays to find out if I’m going to make an appearance. I will be holding a personal reading there on Saturday, April 20th, at 2:00 PM in support of my forthcoming short story collection First Dates, Last Calls, which will be available for pre-order at that time. I expect to hold a launch party there as well.
  • I’ve upgraded my look to include more hooded cloaks, because if you’re going to sit around in a bar you might as well look like you’ve got an important quest to hand out.
  • I got my first respiratory illness of the year. I came out the other side over the weekend, but my energy levels are still really low – we went out yesterday in the cold and I paid for it by being exhausted today.

That’s what’s going on here. Oh, I also poked my head into my patron Discord server for the first time in a while, back on a day last week when I *thought* was recovered from the cold. Haven’t really had the focus for chat since, but I’ll drop back in soon.

For your consideration.

File under “Better Late Than Never” – I said on Twitter back in the fall that I was going to do an award eligibility post this year, and I’ve re-affirmed that commitment to a few individuals since then. I really hoped to get this done in November, but, you know: everything happens so much. Then it felt like it was too late, though I kept seeing other people doing it after I made that decision.

So here we are, the last day of the old year looking back at what I did in the previous one. This was actually a really good ritual because it helped me remind myself that I *did* do things in the past year, I did a lot of things, including things that I’m very proud of. I’m not actually going to list them all here because I’d rather make this a “For Your Consideration” list rather than “here’s everything thrown in a pile, you figure it out”.

Short Stories

The absolute best thing I published in the last year — certainly the thing that made the biggest impact — is a short story called “You Remember This Story“, published on July 10th. It’s the first piece of fiction I’ve written in a long time that I had people come up to me at a convention to rave about. It seems to have stayed with them.

I’m not going to tell anyone what to do with their ballots but I will say that if you have the time and inclination to read any one thing I wrote while you are considering what to do with your ballot, please read this story. You will remember it.

My second favorite thing I wrote this year is a little vignette called “Table Six Needs Drinks“, published on October 26th. It’s short enough that I think any attempt to describe it would spoil it, but I’m very happy with it.

I had planned to leave it at these two things, in order to highlight my absolute best and avoid competing with myself, but close friends have counseled that I would be doing myself a grave disservice if I did not include one more story in this post: “Indelible“. My hesitation is not based on any fear of the story’s weakness, but rather the fact that it’s not a very comfortable story.

It’s a horror story that was published on October 22nd, and it includes references to sexual assault, substance/alcohol abuse, and self-harm.

Poetry

I wrote a few poems in 2018, but I would say most of them are more writing exercises, warm up sketches, literary doodles. The only poem I would like to put forward for consideration in 2018 awards is “A Wizard of Earth“, written in memory of Ursula Le Guin and published on January 23rd, 2018.

Fan Writing

As most of my meta writing and commentary on fandom politics in 2018 was in the form of Twitter threads, I believe that rather than nominating individual “works”, the best way to recognize that I believe would be to nominate me in the category of Best Fan Writer or similar, in awards where such a category exists.

Final Considerations

So, these are the works I would like to submit for your consideration.

Now, you might be thinking something along the lines of, “But these stories were all self-published on your Patreon! Does that really count as being published, for purposes of an award requiring publication in 2018?”

My answer to that is pretty straightforward: they count as published for all other purposes, including any attempts to subsequently publish them (the first rights are gone) and also under United States and international copyright law. I recognize that there are differing opinions and an ongoing conversation and if you have a strong personal conviction in this area I’m not going to attempt to sway you.
However, if you believe that any of the works above are worthy of recognition, then I would urge you to make your voice heard. Let the people who think otherwise vote otherwise. You don’t owe them any portion of your ballot.

If the question is truly not settled, it’ll be settled by the choices we make, this year and in subsequent ones.

Thank you for your consideration.

Coming clean.

Whew. I think I said in the last blog post that my next one was going to be personal. If I didn’t, then I meant to say it, as a sort of accountability thing, to make sure I actually write this post.

One of the reasons that I tend to fall off the blogging train is that I can have a hard time letting people in and talking about what’s going on in my life, when I’m not sure it would make sense. In a lot of ways I’ve left concerns like shame and guilt behind me, but there are still things that have the power to make me feel like hiding.

As a writer, gamer, and fantasist, I’ve always been pretty good at checking out of my actual life. “Maladaptive daydreaming” is the technical term for when you get so wrapped up in an imaginary world it begins to affect your real life. Add a(n un)healthy dose of depression and the kind of disassociation that can come really naturally if you’re trans and… you know, if you don’t feel like your real life is your actual life, then it’s easy to let things sort of fall by the wayside.

And then you start adding in various crises, emergencies, complicated family situations, political upheaval…

Anyway. I let a lot of stuff slide, around the house and in my office and bedroom in particular, for much too long. To the point that it wasn’t just unpleasant, but unsafe and unhealthy. There were reasons. There are always reasons. Past a certain point, though, it doesn’t really matter what they are. Also past a certain point, the accumulated problems all pile up on top of each other and reinforce one another. I couldn’t get my life together without getting my room together. Couldn’t clean up the room without unpacking these boxes and storage tubs; can’t unpack them without a place to put them that’s not a stack of storage tubs. Need to get rid of stuff but don’t have room to sort it. Way more stuff to throw out than we can reasonably leave at the curb in one go.

Stuff like that.

(Did you know? I’m magical. I can see into the heads of all the people reading this, and I can see ideas forming. You want to tell me about organizational systems. You want to tell me that I can donate stuff. You want to tell me about haul-away services and rentable dumpsters and gig economy programs and you want to tell me what worked for you. Don’t worry! You don’t have to tell me. I can read it in your mind. And also this story is mostly being told in past tense, so that you the reader can understand what’s been going on with me. It’s not a question or a cry for help. No audience participation is necessary.)

So then a couple of things happened in November. One is that the new Netflix series, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, came out, and I watched it. Over and over again, actually. I love… basically everything about it, but one of my favorite things is the character Entrapta. Entrapta has several traits I identify with, including a tendency to get hyperfocused on something to the point that she loses sight of everything else (like me, watching the same series over and over again.) At one point, while listing her reasons for building robots, she mentions that she relies on them for basic hygiene and cleaning.

And after losing her robots to a computer virus, she spends the entire series wearing a dirty shirt.

I mean, it’s a cartoon, everybody’s wearing the same clothes every day even when it makes no sense, but hers has a mark on it that really looks like it’s a stain.

And I thought, that’s me. I know how to do laundry. I know the importance of doing laundry. I actually have a whole fabulous wardrobe of terribly aesthetic outfits. But I’d lost control of my life to the point that I would just roll out of bed and immediately put on the same shirt I wore the day before. I did laundry and showered if I had a trip. Otherwise… bleh. My mind was elsewhere.

So I thought, I can’t actually build magical robots to fix these things for me. I’m not a character in a cartoon, and anyway, that didn’t work out so well for Entrapta. But I could still invent solutions. Innovate. Tinker with my life. Devise processes that would work with me, that I could carry out and maintain even when life goes all squiggly around the edges.

“Conceptual robots,” basically.

The problem was that my life wasn’t at a mainenance level yet, and I had no idea how to get there. My room — both of my rooms — were disasters.

Then I went to visit my family around Thanksgiving, and the day I left, our furnace here broke. For several days, Sarah was the only one home, alone with the cats in a house without heat. I know that cats are cats, they’re pretty good at regulating their own temperatures compared to us, as long as they are out of the wind and the wet, they would be perfectly fine, but I kept worrying about them, because they were a thousand miles away from me.

 

And I kept wondering, what if Sarah woke up and couldn’t find them? And she had to go through my cluttered, dirty rooms looking for them? What if one of the cats was hurt because something fell over? What if Sarah got hurt trying to navigate the mess to get to them?

 

Anyway, I came back to my life in Maryland fully resolved to turn things around… and then had to wait a while because we still didn’t have heat and it was too cold to do much of anything.

But once the heat was back on, I started making plans. Identifying things that definitely didn’t work, both practices in my life and stuff I had kept hanging around. It’s amazing the stuff you can hang onto that doesn’t work any more, or that maybe never worked but always felt like it should, or that kind of works but not really but close enough that you feel bad replacing it with something else.

I had a pretty good year this year, financially. Covering the election on Twitter worked out pretty well for me. I had some money saved up. I… well, I was going to say that I blew it, but I don’t think it was blown. I think it was spent. Invested, even, in some cases. Invested in replacing things that needed replacing, in shoring up the parts of my life that don’t work. I’ve been throwing out clothes that are ripped or faded or falling apart. Replacing tools that cost me more time and energy in keeping them working than they saved. Getting flat pack storage shelves and chests of drawers that let me unpack and organize my possessions.

I’ve thrown a lot of stuff away purely on the basis that it was packed up for over a decade and if I hadn’t needed it in the intervening time, I’m not likely to miss it in the future. That wasn’t my only consideration, mind you. I’ve also unpacked stuff that was packed away for that long or longer that I had been really looking forward to finally having the space to use it.

Anyway, as i write this, I’m typing it on my laptop in my bedroom, which has been 100% transformed. From the day I moved in here, it was more of a storage room I slept in than a living space. Now the floor is clear. I have places to put things away, and mostly they are. There’s one corner of it that still has a few storage boxes I need to finish going through, but that’s it.

I’m typing this blog post in my bedroom because my office? My office is still a work in progress, by which I mean a disaster. It was already in bad shape when I basically abandoned it to the summer heat, which I do in the hottest part of every year, it’s just not energy efficient to cool it compared to the ground floor or my smaller and darker bedroom. But this year I never really went back to it, and while I have started cleaning it, it’s also holding things like a giant pile of cardboard from boxes (the ones I unpacked, the ones my new life tools came in, miscellaneous Christmas stuff) that I need to break down and bundle up for recycling, bags of stuff that I need to actually throw out, etc.

In order to get my bedroom as clean as it is, I’ve had to use the office as a holding facility for stuff I move out of here. I needed the space. Once I have the corner in my bedroom I was talking about cleared out, I’m going to be reversing polarity, and that corner will be where I move stuff out of the office in order to have room to work on cleaning it up.

In the meanwhile, I have made a little space in my bedroom that can function as an office, so I’m not just sitting at the dining room table all day when I want to write or tweet. I have a little podium style sit/stand desk and a chair, and it works pretty well.

I’ve already made some progress on the office. As the bigger of the two rooms, it had even more storage tubs and boxes stacked against the wall. Those are all gone. I’ve cleared out most of the empty cans and bottles that accumulated on and around the desk. I took down the old blinds, which weren’t a great fit for the windows in which they’d been installed and so had a tendency to fall down out of their brackets when I tried to raise or lower them, and replaced them with curtains, which I can just open or close.

Anyway. This is all to say that I let my life become a mess, physically, and I’m in the process of straightening it out. At the peak of my bedroom clearing, I was off of Twitter completely — the need to get my space in order wasn’t the reason I took that break, but boy did it help me accomplish my goals.

When I decided to take the Twitter break, my thought was that I would alternate cleaning with writing and editing my fiction. I had a NaNoWriMo project to whip into shape, and stories I wanted to write. But I discovered something: when you’re cleaning up a mess that is that bad, and you don’t have a lot of space to work with, and you have to make decisions about how to even dispose of the stuff you’re getting rid of and where to put it until you have a chance to, and you have to figure out how to work with what you’ve got and what needs replacing, you wind up doing a lot of creative thinking just to get the job done.

So I didn’t have any creative energy for writing. I’d sit down and I’d open my writing program, and I’d find that I could journal my thoughts, which was useful. It kept me writing something every day. And it helped me process my feelings, and make decisions, and plan out what I was going to do next.

I wrote about 10,000 words every day of my Twitter break. All journaling.

Somewhere in there is where I decided I’m going to start blogging again.

Anyway, I worked for about a week and a half solidly on my bedroom, and at the end of it, it was completely transformed. It was satisfying but also unsustainable. It’s not that I couldn’t keep going like that and power through the rest of my bedroom stuff (which at that point included things like the inside of the closet, which is now finished, and inside some other storage furniture, which is still ongoing) and then the office, it’s that I would be trading one set of addictive behavior for another, and while re-ordering my life is work it doesn’t pay the bills. I’ve been spending and spending money all December and not really making any in return.

So January’s going to be more like business as usual, with cleaning mixed in. My goal for my office is going to have it transformed by the end of the month in a similar fashion to how I had my bedroom at the end of about a week, while also keeping up the bedroom. And also doing my thing on Twitter, as that’s what pays the bills.

Once my office is useable and presentable, I’ll start seeing what I can’t improve around the rest of the house. I’ve already got a couple of things to try to get the bathrooms in a better ongoing condition. This is an old house with a lot of retrofits and a lot of decisions for how to handle problems that we kind of inherited that I think we can improve on.

Anyway, that’s what’s been going on with me, why I haven’t been as active on Twitter in the past month and a big part of why I’ve just been more and more closed off in general over the past few years. Things in my life had been getting worse and my response was to ignore my actual physical surroundings which just made other things in my life worse.

I’m getting a handle on things again, though. Bit by bit, I’m getting a handle on them.

An update, out of the wild blue author.

Hello, internet and all the ships at sea!

Been a while since I’ve blogged on here regularly. I mean to start again in 2019, and normally when I’m going to start a new thing in the new year, I start it before the new year. This is both because of a superstition about not starting anything new on January 1st (it’s an elective superstition; I don’t have any beliefs attached to it but I choose to follow it) and because I think a good resolution requires some momentum.

The trajectory of my life has been such that this wasn’t a good month for blogging. It was, however, a great month for journaling, which has given me some habits in terms of both writing and presence of mind that I think will help me with the whole blogging habit. This first blog post is just to say hey, I’m blogging here again, and to drop a couple of recent professional developments.

One is that I have Kickstarted (successfully!) FIRST DATES, LAST CALLS, which is (or will be) a physical, print collection of some of my best short stories. The Kickstarter is almost 200% funded and still has three weeks left to go. Note that I took a very simple, streamlined approach to this, my first Kickstarted product. Due to a lack of experience when it comes to things like shipping prices and logistics, I’ve chosen to absorb the cost of shipping physical copies of the book to backers into the tier price, and I’m limiting the physical copy reward tier to US only.

This does not mean that the book will only be available in the US! Once the book is out, it will be offered through every e-tail platform I can get it onto, and ship everywhere they will ship to.

The purpose of this Kickstarter was just to pay for the cover art (a beautifully hand-painted image by professional illustrator Amanda Sharpe) and an initial stock of the book for myself, so I have the copies to send to backers and patrons who qualify and then have on hand for conventions where I can hand-sell them. This was one of the reasons I wanted to do this: I keep going to conventions and people keep asking if I have anything they can buy and have signed, and since my work is all digital and mostly ephemeral, the answer has been no.

The official delivery date for the project is June but I am going to try my hardest to have them ready for WisCon (end of May), so I can instead say yes.

Jeweled mechanical bees flying through a window in space.

Isn’t it the bees’ knees? And also the rest of them. The entire bees.

Separate and yet related: I have found a couple of event spaces (read: bars) in the area that will host readings and book signings for area authors and I am planning on sending out some feelers to do some such events in like the middle of June (when I’m recovered from WisCon travels but before any prospective 4th of July family trips that may happen).

I will see if I can also swing a dry venue like a coffee shop or the library or something, if I can manage it. Sorry to make that sound conditional; I do see that as an important priority, but it’s still not certain I’ll have any events.

Anyway, one of the two bars, the Flying Camel, is in town even, and I have been attending their open mic nights the past two weeks and will do so the next few weeks and then probably off and on.

Watch my Twitter on Thursdays if you’re in the area and want to know if I’ll be making an appearance. As I noted on Twitter, the open mic readings are done in very short time slots, so my part will be 5 minutes or less. Don’t road trip for it. Buuut I’ll try to give as much lead time as possible for larger, more me-centric events that might happen around the book release.

Anyway, that’s what’s going on. I think my next post will be more of a personal update, but if I don’t get it up tomorrow or Sunday, it probably won’t see light until a couple of days into January.

Kickstarter link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/alexandraerin/first-dates-last-calls-short-stories-by-alexandra

Amanda Sharpe portfolio: http://www.amandasharpe.com

Flying Camel webpage: https://flyingcamelcafe.com/

Conventional Wisdom

Well, it’s WorldCon weekend, and tonight is the night of the Hugo Awards. I’ve only been to one WorldCon before, at which I was a little bit of a cause celebre (that’s French for meme) because of my role in both explaining and skewering what we might call the, ah, alternatively righteous element in the community of science fiction and fantasy literature: those who believed their tastes were the same as objective truth, that their favorites (or indeed, their own works) were the only ones allowed to win awards, and that any other outcome meant the whole thing was rigged, rigged, rigged, I tell you. (WITCH HUNT!)

This is only my second WorldCon. I missed last year’s in Helsinki because of money and other external factors, but the year before that I made a point to go because that was the year of Sad Puppies Review Books and other satirical or analytical works. I knew I’d received many people’s nods for a Hugo Award, even if I didn’t quite make the shortlist, and I woke up the morning of the award ceremony the year before last feeling an overwhelming (and entirely unaccustomed) sense of humility in the face of how the fandom community had rallied against these gatekeepers, this ballot-stuffing clique of bullies who wanted to tell them what to read and who to like and what to do and who were determined to burn the whole concept of awards to the ground if we did not wholly surrender and give them everything they wanted. I wrote a blog post describing my thoughts and feelings about the whole thing.

It is a little bittersweet to read it now, as it is to read just about anything that touches on politics written in the fall of 2016. Before 2016, I would not have expected to be so close to a major industry award for non-fiction. After 2016, I found my always unconventional career taking a very different turn, one which I think my little skirmishes with the so-called Sad Puppies helped prepare me for. On November 8th, 2016, I found myself on Twitter, helping to explain what was happening. Then it kept happening, and it never stopped happening, and I have kept explaining. That’s not exactly a job, but it is certainly a calling, and it is, for now, how I pay my bills.

My burgeoning success as a political analyst, commentator, and all-around Weird Politics Mom on Twitter consumed so much of my attention that I didn’t have much to say about the Hugos last year. When I look at the two blog posts I linked above, though, I feel like that left things a little incomplete, that I didn’t have a finale for the little trilogy, full of pithy thoughts and wry observations about the final and saddest refutation of the Sad Puppies, when their influence died not with a bark but with a whimper.

But then, maybe silence was the appropriate way to mark that moment.

In any event, I am here at my second WorldCon, again on the morning of the Hugo Awards ceremony, and my thoughts are not on the puppies nor really on the awards but the convention itself. This is my second time at a convention larger than my beloved WisCon, and while this time I feel much more like a part of it and much less adrift in a sea of people… I’m now able to fully appreciate both how big a WorldCon is, and how it is big.

The people who sought first to steal and then downplay the awards insist that WorldCon is a little, piddly, rinky-dink little thing, because compared to one of the big media events like San Diego Comic Con or DragonCon… well, it’s just not at the same scale as those things. But it’s also not either of those things. It is its own things. It’s about all of science fiction and fantasy in every form insofar as it brings together people who love it in every form, but at the beginning and in the end it’s about books, which are intimate conversations between authors and readers.

And this is why WorldCon feels so huge to me: because I’m not here for movie spoilers and big announcements and I’m not here for an award, but I am here for the people. There may be more people at a media convention, but the attendees are just attendees. At a lit con, the attendees are the con. The people are the convention and the convention is the people, and if it were twice as long I could not possibly spend enough time with everyone I want to see.

I know (she said with all due modesty) that what I do right now is important to so many people. I know this because, among other indicators, I have had people come up to all weekend to tell me, “Thank you for what you do, it is so important.” And this is both uplifting and baffling to me, but I understand that even when I don’t know what to do with the information, it means something to the person saying it that they were able to say it. So more so than usual, I’ve been trying to keep myself available, make myself visible, make sure that anyone and everyone who want to find me and see me in person has the chance to do so.

But I know that for my best efforts, I’m going to get at least a few “I looked for you and couldn’t find you” messages, because that always happens, just as there are people I’ve been looking out for whom I haven’t seen.

That’s convention life, though. It is a sign of the health and vibrancy of the WorldCon community that even somebody on the fringes of it, as I am, can’t make all the connections she’d want to in the course of four days.

Back in 2016, I said that awards don’t matter so much as the genuine appreciation they represent matters. They’re a symbol, like a flag, and while a flag may stand for freedom the flag itself is not freedom. The map is not the territory. The symbol is not the thing.

Though I have recently become a bit more of a fiction writer again, I did very little in the speculative world in 2017 and I did not have the bandwidth to think much about stories or trophies. This year I have just started to kindle a bit of a spark of the old creativity and curiosity again, and in doing so I discovered what a wonderful thing a spark can be in the middle of a very long, very cold, and very dark night.

And so here is my insight for this year: the awards matter because they represent genuine appreciation, and the appreciation is genuine because it comes from people, from real people, a real community of people, a community of communities — some old, some newer, each diverse in different ways, each with their own competing and conflicting and even occasionally complementary tastes. This community is here at the convention and it is distributed somewhat haphazardly across the globe, wherever people are reading and writing and appreciating science fiction and fantasy literature published in the English language.

WorldCon is a concentration of that community, and the Hugo Awards are a concentration of WorldCon. The community is people, the convention is people, the awards are people, Soylent Green is people, and it is beautiful and it is glorious, even when the community stumbles.

If you have never peeked behind the curtain of a fandom convention, here is a key insight you must understand above all else: the best-run cons have just about enough time, money, resources, expertise, and personnel to not quite throw a convention, and then they do it anyway. When everything come together perfectly and for even a single shining moment it all just works, it’s like a perfect magic trick from the outside because the labor that goes into it is invisible. When there’s a false note or a missed step and something goes sideways or belly-up, those are the moments that the people in charge get the most recognition.

So while I will never not push a convention to do better — I think the essence of science fiction is being able to look at the world and imagine how it might be better — I think we do need to take a moment to recognize the miracle inherent in the fact that conventions get done at all, and then recognize that it is not a miracle, or if it is one, it is one that comes with great sacrifice on the part of people who, all things considered, probably wish they could just be attending the convention like the rest of us.

I am grateful to be here, I am grateful to be a part of this community. I am grateful for all the old friends I have been able to see and the new friends I am making. There is a song that says the latter is silver and the former gold, and if this is true then I have a positive embarrassment of riches, a hoard of treasure any dragon would envy.

My first WorldCon was a bit like a fairytale. I found myself at the legendary Hugo Losers’ Party hosted by the man himself, George R.R. Martin, not because I had lost a Hugo but because the puppies’ machinations had knocked me off the ballot, denying me the chance to even lose it. I was philosophical about this, because my works that had garnered the attention to get me within striking distance of the shortlist wouldn’t have existed without those same machinations, being a response to them. So I went to the convention with no expectations and yet the wildest ones I might have set would have been blown away.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be any closer to a Hugo Award than I was that year. My first Hugo Loser’s Party was probably my last one, too. My interests are eclectic and my career has been unconventional to say the least, and I just don’t see that kind of mainstream success for myself while I am called to do the work I’ve been doing on Twitter.

But even if it never happens, if I never find myself a Hugo winner or even an actual loser, I still had my moment, and if it happened in a way that seems ridiculous and impossible — nearly as ridiculous and impossible as throwing a convention in the first place — well, maybe that’s the only way it could have happened for me. I am, after all, a ridiculous and impossible woman.

I’m going to close this by noting once again that conventions are people, and that we go to conventions to see people. If I am one of the people you came here to see, you should know we are lighting out first thing tomorrow, slipping out for the airport like a thief in the very early morning. That means today is going to be your last chance say hello, introduce yourself, to talk about my writing or whatever’s on your mind, and if that is something you have a mind to do, I encourage you to do it.

Happy WorldCon, everybody.

UPDATE on Queer Rapid Response Team: No safe implementation possible.

When the word got around about how people on the WorldCon 76 staff were treating some of their queer members and honorees, and queer people were talking about feeling unsafe and unwelcome at the con, I made the decision to form a queer rapid response team to provide on-the-spot backup to queer people who felt alone or threatened, whether in dealing with con staff, other members, or anyone hanging around.

I’ve spent the intervening weeks trying to figure out how best to implement such a program, and now, after long deliberation, I have decided that it would be best not to do so.

It’s not that I don’t see a need for it, though the convention has stepped up its game in response to the backlash. But for me, it comes down to one thing: safety. The whole point of this endeavor would be to increase safety. If it can’t be done safely, if it would actually make things more dangerous, then it shouldn’t be done at all.

And after much thought and soul-searching and consultations with my friends who have done similar types of activism and organizing, I do not think it can be done safely.

It comes down to operational security. For such a team to do any good — for it to be any good — then the ability to contact the team and get a rapid response must be completely open to the public. Knowledge of the team’s existence and the procedure for summoning a team member must be widespread, which means it must be shared publicly. If we rely on back channels and whisper networks to spread this information, then it’s not a rapid response team, it’s a group of friends being friends.

My plan was to use a combination of a Twitter hashtag people could post alerts to and a phone number for texting confidentially to, with an automated process to forward all tagged tweets/messages to members of the team.

The problem is there is no way to vet these messages as they come in; stopping to verify the sender and investigate the situation would defeat the whole purpose of a rapid response. With a known fascist presence organizing itself in the vicinity of the convention and a well-established alt-right cultural movement attached to the Hugo Awards, I think the best case scenario is a system being flooded with phony requests and useless alerts, causing the team to be run ragged and preventing anyone who happens to actually need it from getting aid.

Worst case scenario is that the system is used to lure team members — visibly queer people ourselves — into dangerous situations.

Any public bat signals (like through Twitter) could become a lightning rod for further abuse, bringing hostile attention to the person who requested help. And as an unofficial organization, we’d have no way of preventing unscrupulous individuals from representing themselves as part of the team, either to gain access to vulnerable victims or paint the team or queer con members in general in a negative light. A single false flag event could be used to paint the whole endeavor as a violent threat.

My draft of a document for team members included some steps to minimize the danger we put ourselves in, including an injunction against answering distress calls outside the convention area and a suggestion to use a buddy system, but after “wargaming” several situations out in my head I fear that there’s no combination of precautions that would make the endeavor safe.

So in lieu of a team, I’m going to be doing what I do at every con, which is making myself visible and available. I urge other queer con goers to do the same thing. Look for “family” in a crowded room and if you see someone who looks like they could use support, catch their eye and drift over towards them. Wave to each other. Say hi to each other. Practice bystander intervention out loud and in your head so you don’t freeze up in the moment. It can be as little as saying, “Wait, what?” and “Are you serious?” in a loud, clear voice when someone is doing or saying something harmful in your presence.

My family and I do make a habit of making our movements and presence known when we’re at a convention and we do encourage people who need some backup to look for us. Anyone who doesn’t want to be the only queer person in a crowd is invited to join me at any time that I’m out and about in public spaces at a convention. I tweet selfies of my daily looks at conventions, and I am pretty recognizable to begin with — even if you’re face blind (as I am), most of the time if you think you’re looking at me you’ll be right. Being face blind, I design my looks from the ground up with this in mind.

I’ll still be available to help anyone who needs it, anybody who can. While I’m at a convention I have my notifications on Twitter turned up and my DMs open. Cell reception may be spotty inside the convention center (another reason attempting to provide systemic support might only increase danger) but I will do what I can to give aid and support.

Thank you to the people who expressed interest in joining the team. I really appreciate it and I encourage you to be visible, be strong, and be present, but also to be careful and to be safe.

The things that I felt and said when I first announced my intention to head a team on Twitter are still true. I still believe the best response to danger is to “form up like queer Voltron”, even if it’s happening in a less formal fashion. I’m still going to this convention needing nothing from anyone and owing nothing to anyone, which leaves me free to be an absolute gadfly. I am not going to abide any nonsense in my sight.

Queer Rapid Response Team for WorldCon 76

So, this is one of those posts that’s going to be mystifying to a lot of people but make perfect sense to others. It’s a busy day and I don’t have the time or wherewithal to go into the background. The short version is: WorldCon 76 is fudging up quite badly in how it treats attendees, up to and including finalists for its crown jewel Hugo Award. Multiple genderqueer, non-binary, and non-conforming members have spoken up about feeling unsafe and disrespected, and WorldCon’s safety team is not inspiring a lot of confidence.

Accordingly, I am taking one of my standing offers at WisCon and expanding and formalizing it for the larger WorldCon: I am forming a Queer Rapid Response Team. Before the convention next month, I will set up an automated channel that will text any messages onward to everybody on the team. The idea is that if anybody in the family needs an escort, needs a friendly face, needs emotional support, or whatever, we can form up on them like queer Voltron.

If you’re going to be going to WorldCon and you’re interested in participating, watch this space for info as the plan comes together. I am looking for other trans, genderqueer, and especially visibly queer people, however you define that for yourself; the point of this is *not* cis people using their cis privilege to intervene (which you should be doing that anyway) but creating a visibly queer presence to bolster and reassure. If somebody hits the panic button I want them to know when their support brigade has arrived, you know?

The Queer Rapid Response Team is *not* going to be picking fights, *not* going to be escalating, educating, or even mediating in conflicts.We’re not going to be armed, we’re not going to be getting in individual specific people’s faces and shouting at them. This is not about respectability or pacifism, but about making sure we’re allowed to operate within the convention itself.

Things the Queer Rapid Response Team will do: we’ll walk with people to and from their events. We’ll hang out with people so they’re not alone. We’ll sit with someone who has a difficult encounter and listen to them process. We’ll sit in the front row of people’s panels to cheer them on and glare at That One Guy who is making things uncomfortable for them. We’ll be a floating Safer Space for any queer congoer who is looking for a crowd they feel more comfortable in.

You do not have to commit to answering 100% of alerts during the whole length of the con to be on the Queer Rapid Response Team. If I can actually get more volunteers, I’ll make a spread sheet and you can put your likely availability on it. We’re going to be pretty informal, though. If a text alert comes through, you can answer it if you can and ignore it if you can’t. I (like most people who aren’t straight white cis people, apparently) am not on any programming items at WorldCon, so my schedule is pretty free and clear, which is part of why I’m doing this.

I’ll have more details as we get the ball rolling here.