How Privilege Proves Itself

A tip of one of my many hats to Mary Anne Mohanraj for pointing out an article on (no relation) about what internet anti-feminist trolls/Men’s Rights Activists are like in person.

While the journalist behind the piece took the time to interview some of the falling stars of the men’s rights movements, the focus of the piece is one guy he managed to meet up with because he happened to be local and vocal at the right time. The subject, who is identified only by a pseudonym, had this to say during one of their public meetings:

“If both of us stood up on this table right now and started yelling what we think about feminism, somebody might tell you to shut the fuck up. But they would lynch me.”

You hear this a lot, from people who are against feminists or “SJWs” or “the PC thought police”: the fear of the so-called “lynch mob”. And yes, I’m using both scare quotes and saying “so-called”, because… seriously? Every time I see someone engaging in this bit of highly disrespectful hyperbole, I invite the person doing so to consider the implications behind what they’re saying. I’m usually told that words change meaning all the time, which is weird because supposedly it’s us weird lefty fringe types who are re-defining words in order to strip them of their meaning and weaken them.

This example of misappropriating the word “lynching”, though, is almost breathtaking in the stark simplicity of what is happening. If I could talk to the person who said this, I would ask him what I usually ask people in this situation: what exactly is it that he’s actually afraid of happening, when he says that he’ll be “lynched”?

Because I doubt very much he means that he will be publicly tortured and then murdered before a crowd of people who are in little danger of facing any consequences for their actions, which is what lynching has entailed at its historical worst. He certainly can have no realistic fear of even a physical attack for speaking his mind.

So what does he mean, exactly?

What exactly is he afraid will happen?

The same thing that every straight white dude who talks about his fear of “lynch mobs” means: he is afraid he will be criticized. He is afraid that if he were to speak his mind, other people would also speak their minds, doing the exact same thing that he’s doing.

So if we parse out his statement with the hyperbole translated into plain speak, what we would be left with is this:

“If both of us stood up on this table right now and started yelling what we think about feminism, somebody might tell you to shut the fuck up, and that’s okay. But they would tell me to shut the fuck up, too, and that’s terrible.”

This is how privilege proves itself real, again and again: in the fact that its defenders regard any criticism of themselves as being so awful that it’s comparable to the murderous treatment that others have received (and continue to receive) for merely existing.

The Goblin Emperor: Yes, it’s fantasy, and yes it’s a novel.

So, back on June 19th I purchased an ebook of the Hugo-nominated work The Goblin Emperor (by Katherine Addison), but it being a sort of hectic and tumultuous time in my life I didn’t immediately read it and then even forgot that I had bought it. Last week, I got my first library card as a Maryland resident in order to take advantage of their ebook lending library for distracting me during a flight back to Nebraska for multiple family events.

The e-library is great, but even more so than the physical library it’s kind of a “take what you can get” situation if you need something to read and can’t wait, as they only have licenses for so many copies of each book. This is how I ended up checking out World War Z, a book that I’d always been slightly interested in reading but had never actually picked up.

When I opened my Kindle app to download the book, I was surprised to find The Goblin Emperor (I had forgotten about it, if you remember) already waiting for me, so I read it first. Having read these two books one right after another was important, for a reason I’ll get back to.

Anyway, in a year when many Hugo works were nominated whose merits are so dubious that even the people who nominated them aren’t discussing their merits, The Goblin Emperor is a novel whose merits have been rather sharply debated. It has been praised highly from a wide number of quarters, but there are some lines of criticism that have cropped up and been repeated even outside the quarters of the Puppy campaigns (though they are found most often and most vociferously within those quarters).

They are:

  • It’s not really fantasy, so much as an alternate history with non-human races because there’s no magic or other speculative element.
  • It’s not really a novel, because there is no plot/no conflict. This criticism is also phrased as “It’s more of a series of anecdotes than anything.”

The standard Puppy nonsense of “SJWS ARE SHOVING MESSAGES DOWN OUR THROATS AND VOTING FOR STORIES FOR AFFIRMATIVE ACTION REASONS” has certainly come up, too, of course, but it’s hardly worth engaging with them.

Now that I have read the book, I really have to wonder: did the people making those two criticisms of it do so? If they did, I don’t think they could have read it carefully. While the vision of elven and goblin societies in The Goblin Emperor are an example of intricate and engrossing worldbuilding, the magic-using classes of society appear to have been lifted straight out of classic D&D; e.g., there are clerics and there are wizards.

If you need someone to speak with the dead, you call a cleric, just like you would in a D&D game. The book makes it clear that this sort of thing is a bit passé in the modern world, but a major subplot (and the resolution of the main plot) revolves around the fact that it is a thing that clerics can do. And if people aren’t calling on clerics for miracles routinely, magic is still such an integral part of elven society that the emperor is expected to be accompanied by a wizard literally everywhere he goes.

And I mean literally everywhere. The emperor does not go to sleep without his bodyguards, one fighter and one blue-robed, magic-slinging wizard, there with him. The book understandably elides the toilet habits of the emperor, but the refrain about the emperor having no privacy and the bodyguards’ reaction to the few times he requests it makes it clear: they are there all the time.

Since the book opens with the titular character becoming emperor and he’s enthroned very early on and the book never strays from his point of view, this means that upwards of ninety percent of the book contains one of the few wizard characters who occupy the position of Wizard-Bodyguard, and these characters are referred to constantly. Now, they’re not casting magic constantly. They are there to protect the emperor’s life, which means they don’t use magic frivolously, for entertainment or convenience or comfort.

Two spells are cast by our blue-robed mazei (the elven term for mages, apparently) in the course of the book, but they’re both unambiguously magical and also things that would be associated with wizards in D&D: a sleep spell and a lightning bolt spell.

So that’s a lot of mention of wizards and very little wizardry, but it’s also unambiguously “real” magic, not “Well maybe it’s all hocus-pocus and the power of suggestion” magic. Also, in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, the chief duty of a professional wizard is to not use magic, yet few people suggest it’s not really fantasy.

Because the book uses invented language to refer to concepts that hold important places in elven society, I can forgive people for not immediately catching on that the blue-wearing order of people who supply one half of the emperor’s traditional bodyguards are supposed to be actual-fantactual dyed-in-the-robe wizards the first few times that they’re mentioned, especially since the included glossary is 1) in the back and 2) oddly incomplete when it comes to the subject of the wizards and their order.

But by the time they’re mentioned to be casting “cantrips” and throwing lightning bolts around? Well, I can only really conclude that the aforementioned critics did not read the book that far. Both of those events are also moments of pivotal plot development/revelations, which might also do something to explain why so many of the same critics were not aware a plot was there.

The plot criticism… well, when I read those types of comments, including by people who were otherwise defending the book, I was prepared for a non-traditional plot structure, which I’m okay with. But actually, the book’s plot is rather conventionally structured. The conflict is not, as some have said, “Protagonist vs. Self” but rather “Protagonist vs. Villains”. The character does grow and change and come to the sort of epiphanies that some people believe marks a plot. From the first page, there is a mystery that is gradually unraveled over the course of the book.

Moreover, far from being a “series of anecdotes”, the book’s narrative flows unbroken from the moment we first meet Maia on the first page until the end. I’m not saying there aren’t any moments fast-forwarded over, but that they are fast-forwards and not jump cuts from an arbitrary stopping point to an arbitrary starting point. Every time the clock or calendar is advanced, it’s for a reason, taking us from one plot-relevant scene to another.

I suspect that other than “just not reading the book to begin with”, the reason I’ve seen more than one person saying the book is plotless is because they did not understand the plot, because while it was conventional in its structure, it was unconventional in its presentation. The title character, an outsider suddenly elevated to the role of emperor of the elven lands, has to rely on others to provide him with information, carry out investigations, et cetera. So while he drives the plot, he does so indirectly and then often learns the results of the things he sets in motion secondhand. The book is a political thriller in the purest possible meaning of the words, where the viewpoint character is not an intrepid reporter or secret service agent or military intelligence specialist but a politician, or at least a political leader.

Because of the conceits under which Addison was writing (that we don’t stray from the emperor’s point of view, that the emperor is trapped by his role and forced to rely on others, et cetera), the resolution of the actual main plot is largely anti-climactic and the book continues from there through a coda that allows our hero to have a more personal triumph that hints at the nature of his likely long and successful reign. Perhaps this decision contributed a bit to the feeling of “not a novel, just a series of events” that some people complained of, yet the plot was there. And while people have complained of the similar codae to the Lord of the Rings, I’ve never yet heard anyone claim that the decision to show what happens after the plot is resolved robs Lord of the Rings of its essential story-ness.

And that brings me back to World War Z.

Years back, people criticized Rachel Swirsky’s nomination for “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love” in the category of Best SF/F Short Story under similar grounds: that it wasn’t a story as such, merely a vignette. It was likewise criticized as being not worthy of that Hugo category for not being a “real” fantasy story, a subject I’ve dealt with before. The fact that these two Hugo-nominated works were both criticized separately on the same grounds is something that has bugged me before, but then I read World War Z back-to-back with The Goblin Emperor, and now it more than bugs me.

Because you know what is literally “a collection of anecdotes”? World War Z. That’s the format that the book takes. And yet I doubt anyone who has read it would question that it tells a story or that it constitutes a novel and not, say, a collection of short stories.

You know what else is more of a collection of anecdotes than a self-contained novel? Any given book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Sure, we can understand that they’re all collectively telling one story, or something that will be seen to be a single story when it’s completed. We could say they have many plots instead of one plot, but even then we’re stuck with the fact that this plot over here might have begun in this book but doesn’t end until that plot, and so on.

I’m not pointing this out to demand that people immediately start criticizing George R.R. Martin or Max Brooks on these same grounds; I’m just pointing out that by and large, people don’t. And while people have criticized Tolkien for some of the odder vignettes that were included in Lord of the Rings, no one to my knowledge have used it as an excuse to say, “Well, it’s not really a novel, is it?”

It might be that this is only the case because absent an honor being awarded for something that is specifically a novel (or in the case of “…Dinosaur…”, a short story) there’s no point in splitting such a hair, but I suspect that if any of these or several other works that take a vignette/mosaic/what-have-you approach to storytelling were nominated there wouldn’t be anyone trying to refute their eligibility based on trying to pin down an objective definition for a unit of storytelling.

Because this kind of scrutiny is so ridiculous and so pointless that it only crops up at a noticeable level when there’s another purpose being served, such as gatekeeping.

Katherine Addison is a woman who wrote a novel that made it onto the Hugo ballot on its own merits. Rachel Swirsky is a woman who wrote a story that had a radical pro-SJW message shoved down our throats. Nota bene: I still have yet to find anyone who can explain what message it shoved down my throat, but I have been assured that it’s totally there.

People question the legitimacy of these works not because they have any kind of deep and abiding respect for the sanctity of the terms “novel” and “short story”, but because they object to them. They object to their existence, to the fact that they have received positive notice. Puppies and others saying that “If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love” isn’t a story and The Goblin Emperor isn’t a novel is not that different from Gamergate saying that Gone Home isn’t a game. The point is to explain away its success as irrelevant while also trying t head off any further success.

I am not a Hugo voter, but if I were, I would totally be voting for The Goblin Emperor for best novel. It is not a perfect book. Despite having been pinned with a reputation for being a “Social Justice Affirmative Action Message Book” or whatever the puppies call it, it does suffer from some of the most common missteps in fantasy dealing with race. The decision to hide all information about pronunciation, translation, and pronoun casing in the back of the book also affects its readability, particularly in the electronic edition (where flipping from one point to another is trivial, but flipping ahead is a good way to irrevocably lose your place).

Yet for these faults, it’s a great book and it got there on its own merits. It could have been a bog standard “D&D World With The Serial Numbers Filed Off” but it’s so much more than that.

I understand the point of view of people who are voting No Award for the entire ballot on the principle that voting any other way legitimizes the Puppies’ tactics or on the principle, but I believe in the case of the Best Novel category, voting for a work that made it on despite their machinations rather than because of them would not carry such an unintended message.


Note: A previous version of this post reflected that The Goblin Emperor replaced a withdrawn work on the ballot. This was an error of my own memory that was caught by multiple commenters, and the post has been edited appropriately. Apologies for the mistake.

Today, in “history is weird”…

…let’s consider the fact that the Hindenburg had a smoking lounge.

Yes, that Hindenburg. The hydrogen-filled airship most famous for catching on fire and killing three dozen people. The Hindenburg that you’ve probably never even seen a picture of where it wasn’t on fire.

hindenburgThis one. Right here.

The golden age of lighter-than-air travel was relatively brief. It ended in a way that ensures that just one human lifetime later pretty much all we remember about it is “OH THE HUMANITY”. As a result, there’s not a lot of cultural awareness of the day-to-day realities of airship travel, the way there is for other forms of long-distance transportation. Most of us have seen the inside of a luxury ocean liner or rail car, if only in the form of lavishly designed movie sets. I think the only time I’ve seen the inside of an airship portrayed on screen was the famous “no ticket” scene in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The impression that stuck with me from that scene years later was that the passenger seating area on a Zeppelin-class airship was quite a bit roomier than even the most luxurious airplane, but I didn’t know the half of it. I didn’t know the tenth of it. What I took for the entire passenger compartment was in fact simply one lounge. I was using the wrong frame of reference in comparing an airship to an airplane. The operative word in “airship” isn’t “air”, after all, it’s “ship”. Planes have seats; ships have decks full of salons, corridors, and berths.

I think the movie probably did a better job of conveying the scope and scale of an airship than my adolescent memory retained. The big obstacle in realizing how much usable space there was aboard an airship was the fact that when I looked at one, I tended to envision the whole torpedo-like superstructure as essentially being a giant cigar shaped balloon, with any space occupied by the crew, passengers, and cargo necessarily being restricted to a small, gondola-like attachment on the bottom, much like the typical modern blimp.

Now, as it happens, I wasn’t far wrong, just wrong enough.

A Zeppelin-style airship wasn’t a balloon at all. The superstructure was rigid, and housed a set of cells arranged in rings that held the lifting gas. What was mostly inside the structure was empty space. The habitable portion of the ship was limited to a small area near the bottom, but it was mostly enclosed within the superstructure. You can find cut-away diagrams, deck plans, and photographs of the Hindenburg on

That site is where I first learned about the smoking room. They say:

“Perhaps most surprising, aboard a hydrogen airship, there was also a smoking room on the Hindenburg. The smoking room was kept at higher than ambient pressure, so that no leaking hydrogen could enter the room, and the smoking room and its associated bar were separated from the rest of the ship by a double-door airlock.  One electric lighter was provided, as no open flames were allowed aboard the ship. The smoking room was painted blue, with dark blue-grey leather furniture, and the walls were decorated with yellow pigskin and illustrations by Otto Arpke depicting the history of lighter-than-air flight from the Montgolfiers’s balloon to the Graf Zeppelin.  Along one side of the room was a railing above sealed windows, through which passengers could look down on the ocean or landscape passing below.”

Think about that. A double-door airlock protecting a specially pressurized room, all so people can smoke aboard a flammable craft held aloft by explosively flammable gas. Passengers boarding a Zeppelin were further required to surrender their matches and lighters, along with their cameras, the latter of which would be returned once the flight had crossed over into international waters.

You see, in 1930s Europe, there were national security concerns relating to the relatively novel phenomenon of aerial photography.

And it’s that bit of sociological context that is so fascinating about this, and about the fact that there was a smoking room on the Hindenburg. It wasn’t enough that humanity learned to defy gravity, or even that we figured out how to make it decadently comfortable, creating the equivalent of a floating pleasure-palace for leisurely motoring across the Atlantic Ocean. No. Smoking was what the people of the time did, so adding to the marvelous feats of engineering that made the trip possible, we also engineered a solution for how to light tiny sticks of rolled paper or leaves stuffed with dried herbs on fire so we could suck on them in perfect comfort and security.

If there’s a problem with ancient myths like those of Icarus and Phaeton, it’s that they badly underestimated the casual arrogance that humanity can rise to. The word “hubris” usually implies someone who is something of a braggart. I mean, everybody remembers the claims that the Titanic was unsinkable, even if we’re not sure exactly who claimed that. We just repeat “They said the Titanic would never sink!” as if there’s some great lesson to be learned from it. Sure, any ship can sink. Not every ship will sink.

Nobody ever said that the Hindenburg was fireproof, though, and the fact that they had a smoking room on board did not in any way lead to the fiery doom that nevertheless awaited it. It would have burned the same with or without a smoker’s lounge.

The lesson here isn’t about hubris, exactly. It’s about the lengths we will go in order to preserve whatever we think of as normal. Smoking was allowed on the Hindenburg, albeit under heavy restrictions, because it would have been unthinkable to ban it completely.

The Canadian TV show Bomb Girls, set at a munitions factory just a few years after the Hindenburg disaster, shows the period-accurate precautions undertaken to prevent fire hazards at a bomb factory. Workers present themselves for inspection daily to ensure that they have no metal accessories and are wearing the right kind of shoes. And cigarette smoking is only permitted outside the factory, using electric lighters. Not “no smoking on premises”, but “please light your smoldering ember-stick only with a controlled electric spark, not an open flame”.

I don’t point this out to say, “Man, the past was full of some real schmucks!” The ability to contort our lives into abnormal shapes in order to preserve what we see as normal is a constant of the human experience.

Witness the extreme lengths we go to in most parts of the United States order to keep our houses surrounded by lush, green lawns comprised of a single species of grass and trimmed to what we see as an attractive length. It’s not the natural state of our environment. It’s not something that conveys any actual benefit. It’s not the easiest or cheapest arrangement. The zeal with which we pursue it is actively making rendering parts of the country uninhabitable in the long run. But rather than abandoning the practice, we more often seek to engineer complicated solutions to maintaining it.

And no, the point of this post was not to start by talking about the Hindenburg and then segue into an argument for sustainable lawns, any more than it was to point a finger at the past and laugh at it. The green, green grass of our homes is just an example, one out of many.

The subject of this post says that history is weird, but the other thing we can say that history is, is “not over”. We’re still living it. Imagine what weird dissonances about our lives might stand out to future generations.


My Video Game Challenge

Writer, reviewer, and tech blogger K. Tempest Bradford made waves earlier this year when she announced a challenge she was undertaking for herself (and suggesting for others who felt like doing it): to only read stories by authors who are women, or people of color, or queer.

Now, a number of people have misinterpreted her criteria as being way more narrow than they are, thinking that she won’t read any stories by white people or straight people, but the criteria are “or”, not “and”. A number of other people have decried it as discrimination or a call to arms or misinterpreted it as a boycott.

The most concise defense of her decision I can offer is the fact that after she started doing it, she realized that whole issues of some magazines were out of bounds. This is the point: in the absence of a concerted effort to seek out voices that don’t belong to straight white men, you can wind up reading nothing but straight white men without realizing it.

“It’s fine to add more voices to your reading,” some might say, “but not to the point of excluding anyone else.”

“Okay,” I might reply. “How many stories by straight white men do I have to read to earn the right to read something else?”

Anyway, the actual challenge Tempest lays out isn’t for people to read the same books that she reads or to use the same criteria she has laid out, but to think about who they are reading and make deliberate choices. She suggests defining some criteria and sticking to it for a year.

I’m not doing that this year. Not with prose fiction, anyway.

But I did make a decision late last year, around the time of the winter Steam sale, that during the calendar year 2015, I would not buy any video games that do not allow you to play as a female character. I might have tweeted about it, I don’t recall. I didn’t make a whole lot of fanfare over it, though. It was largely a personal decision.

I’ve decided to publicize it, though, because the concept of “voting one’s wallet” means more when 1) more than one person is doing it and 2) there’s some means for the industry being targeted to know on what basis people are making their buying decisions.

So here it is: for at least the space of the calendar year 2015, I am not going to be buying any games that do not allow me to play as a female character, and I invite anyone who is interested in shaking up the status quo to do the same, and to make their decision known.

Now, there’s some room for interpretation in how the challenge plays out.

For instance, a game like Don’t Starve has a male default character and only allows you to play as other characters (female ones included) as you progressively unlock them. To me, this is acceptable. If it had an open-ended character creation system that arbitrarily restricted you to one gender before you “earned” the right to play as another, that would be kind of a slap in the face, but each of the characters in Don’t Starve is a unique individual, half of the available characters are female, and you can unlock the first female one pretty quickly.

That’s my call on a game like that. There are also games that have multiple protagonists that game play switches between. If a game like that has at least one female character, does it count? Well, that’s your call. What about games in long-running franchises that revolve around a single established character who happens to be male? Are they exempt? Also your call!

I certainly play games like that. I wouldn’t buy one this year, but I understand the temptation to give them a pass. The reason I’m not doing so is the fact that there are so many “legacy” franchises like that, and so few with iconic female characters. Also, so many long-running character-centric franchises have added female playable characters that there’s not really an excuse for the holdouts.

It’s also your call, on games that have multiple predefined characters to choose from, on whether any level of female representation is acceptable or if there needs to be something at least approaching parity. I bought the new Gauntlet game, even though male characters outnumber females by 3 to 2, and you have to pay extra for the second woman. That was my call. You can make your own.

On the subject of Gauntlet, where I am more likely to play as Questor the Elf than Thyra the Valkyrie just as a matter of playstyle, so I should make it clear: it’s not that I insist on only playing games as a female character. It’s that I insist on the option being included. I am very happy that each successive game in the Borderlands franchise has moved closer to parity between male and female characters, but I like to play through them with each character at least once. My current playthrough of the first game is with Mordecai.

I know that some people (e.g., gators) will say that I am trying to dictate how game developers make their games and thus something something underpants gnome logic something censorship something anti-art. Nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t owe anyone my time or money, and like anyone else, I have the freedom to let my preferences be known.

The status quo of the supposedly free marketplace of ideas already restricts artists to working within a narrow palette of ideas, which is: whatever seems profitable enough to be worth the effort and resources. I’m just letting any interested artists know where my money is, in case they want a piece of it. That is free speech and the free market in action.

Mid-Week Update

Okay, so I figured out yesterday that trying to do a day-by-day status thing in the midst of my creativity drive was likely to stifle it, as part of the whole thing is to be creative, regardless of whether any specific plans survived contact with reality (or with fantasy, as the case may be).

Monday (and to an extent, during the weekend when I thought it was Monday) I had fruitful results in terms of producing actual prose that pleased me.

Yesterday, I mostly netted insights. I realized the extent to which doubt and second-guessing inhibits my writing.

For instance, when I try to write science fiction, I get caught up in spiraling questions of “But would it really work that way?” and all too often I find myself suspecting the answer is no. Practical faster-than-light travel and communication, antigravity, artificial gravity, time travel… all these things have such significant technical hurdles that I can’t help feeling faintly ridiculous when positing a solution and imagining what that solution might look like.

And this is a sin that I freely excuse in other writers. I realize that Isaac Asimov wasn’t predicting a revolution in antimatter-based computer processing that would lead to practical artificial inteligences; he was writing about what it would mean if we were able to create beings who were superior to ourselves in every way. Arthur C. Clarke wrote about the philosophical and theological impact of visiting other planets and star systems, not instruction manuals for how to get there.

(And just to head-off a stream of comments I know are coming, please save your “Actually they’re working on ________” or “But we already have ________”. If you actually read the links you want to send me, and then read the sources those are based on, and give it a little thought, you’ll see that while we’re refining our understanding of the universe all the time, mostly what we’re learning is that the future is never going to look like what we imagine it to be. And that’s okay. I have an essay that’s tangentially about this in this year’s WisCon Chronicles.)

When I write fantasy, I similarly find myself pulling at the threads of my own worldbuilding to a greater degree than is necessary or helpful. I know, I know… it’s good and useful and helpful to think about why a world is the way it is, why things in that world are the way they are, but the thing is, you never run out of whys. And even though I try to build what I feel is a more realistic level of untidiness into my story worlds than you typically get with fiction, the truth is that fiction has to make sense in ways that reality doesn’t and can’t. That’s part of why we turn to fiction.

And when I try to write in my favorite subgenre, superheroic fiction, I run smack into both problems. I’m too cognizant of the fact that the things people are doing are impossible, and the explanations for them are even more impossible, and the ends to which they’re putting these impossible powers are so petty and trivial. I can’t shut off the part of my brain that says, “If you start with our world, plus magic and people with physics-breaking talents and impossible technology, you don’t end up with anything that looks like our world.” And people might look at that and go, so run wild with it… write a realistic exploration of how superpowers and magic and aliens and technology would change our world.

But the thing is: that’s not what I want to write. And if it was, I’d be stuck with the same basic problems.

Basically, I overthink things in ways that lead to inhibitions. My writing really kicked off when I managed to kick the “Notebook(s) O’ Preparation” method that kept me trying to quantify every last iota of a story before I started writing it, but even without the notebooks, the ghost of the insecurity they represented still catches up with me.

Naming and facing a problem is a start, if not a solution.

Part of the solution, I think, is going to be to give myself the same permission that I reflexively and unthinkingly accord other writers. I believe this is a case of self-compassion trumping self-esteem. My self-esteem as a writer tells me that I should be better than these perceived failings. Ideally, I would stop seeing them as failings, but to get there, I need to be okay with them.

Another part of the solution is going to be creating structures within my workday where it’s okay to write first and think later, in the same way that one writes first and edits later.

And the third part is going to be chemical. I hesitate to say it, but my life has provided me with ample evidence that so much of confidence, doubt, insecurity, motivation, and anxiety come down to brain chemistry. I use a mix of over-the-counter supplements and caffeine to manage my serotonin and dopamine levels, but also, there are reasons that advice like “Write drunk, edit sober.” exists.

I don’t write well drunk, but a small amount of alcohol diluted in my afternoon beverages has historically done wonders for my ability to let go and let flow. I’ve actually referred to buying booze as getting more ink for my word processor. I think the problem is that I’ve set my routine up in a way that I never actually use it while writing. I’ll have to fix that.

STATUS: Monday, June 15th

The Daily Report

Well, my work week has got off to a weird start.Because everything in my life is a little weird right now, I spent much of Saturday thinking it was Sunday and woke up yesterday thinking it was Monday. I actually woke up and started writing, which wasn’t a bad thing at all… it just left me very disoriented when reminded of weekend plans. I think it worked out for the best, though. I did not sleep well last night so I’m off to a very slow, very late start today, so having an extra day where I woke up raring to go isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Some people have asked privately what I mean by a creativity boot camp. Perhaps this phrase conjures a more formal, planned out process than what I actually have in mind. What I actually mean is that I’m going to spend the week focused on writing for the sake of writing.

When I have an idea, write it. When I get stuck, write something else. When absolutely nothing is coming, walk away and do something with my hands like light cleaning and think about what to write. I may dig up or devise formal writing exercises to help keep me moving, and if I do, I’ll try to report on what works for me and what doesn’t.

The State of the Me

The double dose of Claritin is still having a life-changing improvement. My sleep was weird last night, but I did sleep.

Plans For Today

Write, write, write.

General Update Post

I meant to put this post up yesterday, but the trajectory of my days this past week has been all over the place. I had a major depressive incident on Tuesday and then aftershocks of it a couple of times throughout the week.

Here are the major points:

We have been spending a varying amount of time each day visiting a close family member in the hospital. My own personal HIPPA policy is I don’t go into detail on other people’s medical stuff and even more so in public, so in this space I’ll just say that there was a fall, the prognosis for recovery and likelihood of further surgical intervention had been getting worse and worse, but as of yesterday there appears to have been a corner turned.

I have been having some really terrible allergy problems. I think May-June-July in Maryland are typically the worst allergy problems I have anywhere. I felt so much better when I got over my sinus infection because the deep-seated ache and fatigue of fighting an illness was gone, but my nose never actually stopped. The rest of the year a daily dose of loratadine (Claritin) at 20 mg does it for me. Yesterday, in desperation, I Googled to see if doubling up a dose was safe, and found that many doctors recommend 20 mg. I also found a commonly repeated story (though not attached to a source, yet) that the pharmaceutical company Scherring spent almost six years fighting with the FDA over the dose, because 20 mg is the actual clinically effective dose but at that point the side effects—though still mild in most patients—are too strong for it to be marketed as “non-drowsy”, which is where the big bucks are.

Well, I have never had an adverse reaction to loratadine, though I know people it makes loopy at the lower dose. So I decided to risk it, and it changed my world. No more sniffling. No throat-clearing. The only sedative effect I noticed was very mild, and I think the main thing it did was improve my mood by giving me what I’d call a chill edge.

So I’m a believer now. Do your own research, talk to your doctor, et cetera, but if you’re taking 10 mg of loratadine and it’s not really doing it for you, consider this. This could be life-changing for people who spend months out of the year sniffling, hacking, and blowing their noses.

And then, the writing…

Between scrambling before WisCon, being at WisCon, being sick after WisCon, and dealing with the above, it’s been a few weeks since I’ve had the time, energy, space, and spoons to do any substantial writing, and this shows every time I sit down and try to do some substantial writing. The muscles are atrophied, the well is dry, everything I’ve tried to do in the area of creative writing is painful and slow.

So my plan for the next week… to the extent that reality is susceptible to plans… is to run myself through a little creativity bootcamp to get the juices flowing: a mix of free writing and focused writing exercises, mixed in with relaxation techniques, with the overall hope of getting my actual writing projects back on track by the end of the week, but the only actual goal being to write, just write.

Christopher Lee Lived

Sir Christopher Frank Carandini Lee, CBE, CStJ was born in London on May 27th, 1922. He lived every day of his life until he didn’t.

His career as an actor spanned seven decades and literally hundred of films, including roles that were both iconic and sublime. He is not the most famous person to have played the role of Frankenstein’s monster or Dracula, nor the most infamous person to have starred in a movie called The Wicker Man, but he put his stamp on everything he did.

His long career as an actor followed an initial foray into office work and then extensive and storied service for the Allies in World War II. Newly returned from war, he found his old life unsatisfying and the staid paths laid out before him unappealing, and so he reinvented himself as an actor.

He spent a decade doing bit parts and background roles, constantly being told he was too tall for an actor. Lee persevered in the face of what he saw as a non-sequitur, and would eventually prove his critics wrong with a career that ran the gamut from big budget tentpole blockbusters to B movies to prestige pics. It could be surmised that he used his physical stature to his advantage, but if anything, it only complemented the tremendous personal presence he brought to his roles. He played everybody from Sherlock Holmes to Georges Seurat, while also doing voice work and recording several heavy metal albums.

In 2005—at the age of 87—he was referred to as the world’s most bankable star after movies he was connected to posted record grosses. Notably, he portrayed notable villains in three of the biggest movie franchises of all time: James Bond, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings.

In 2013, speaking on the subject of the retirement he never pursued, he said, “Making films has never just been a job to me, it is my life. I have some interests outside of acting – I sing and I’ve written books, for instance – but acting is what keeps me going, it’s what I do, it gives life purpose.”[x]

In 2014, speaking of a lighthearted Christmas album he had just put out, he said, “At my age, the most important thing for me is to keep active by doing things that I truly enjoy.”[x]

Christopher Lee celebrated his 93rd and final birthday on May 27th.

He lived until June 7th.

Despite his penchant for playing monsters and monstrous people, the part for which I will always remind him most fondly is the kindly, avuncular voice of Death in animated adaptations of the beloved Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, a brilliant author who also lived.

Mindfulness: A First-Person Perspective

So, while dealing with being sick and the need to be sitting upright at times when I would rather have been laying down sleeping, I wound up playing a lot of the comic sci-fi FPS game Borderlands. This is a game I’ve played through multiple times with multiple characters, so it can be fairly relaxing, even meditative, when I need something engaging enough to distract me but that won’t take a lot of energy or mental effort.

A side effect of playing a FPS (that’s first person shooter, for those not hep to the modern lingo) right before falling asleep is I had dreams that were from a first-person perspective. The first thing I thought when I woke up was, “Well, that was weird.”

The second thing I thought was: why was it?

After all, I live my life from a first-person perspective. I do not see my body from an outside perspective. I do not watch myself perform things from a distance. When I want to pick up a can of soda and drink from it, I am extending my own arm, guided only by what is visible in my field of view and a peripheral awareness of my arm’s existence and position.

Everything I see is from a first person perspective. Even if I look at a picture of myself, or see myself reflected in a mirror or window, or play a video game that uses a third-person perspective and watch a little figure respond to the movements of my fingers, I am seeing it from a first person perspective.

But I am used to seeing myself in dreams, or someone who somehow represents myself. When I imagine myself doing something, whether it’s the kind of elaborate fantasy that fuels my writing and roleplaying or something as simple and mundane as imagining interacting with a clerk at the DMV so I can psych myself up for it, I tend to imagine it from the sort of point of view that movies, TV shows, comic books, and (many) video games have made so familiar and accessible to me: the third person.

Since I had this realization, I’ve tried—at first, mostly just as an exercise in curiosity—to shift my inner life from that of a cameraman to that of a person. When I imagine myself doing something or rehearse something in my head, I imagine what I will see looking out through my own two eyes. When I’m imagining a character in a situation, I try to imagine it through their eyes, literally as well as metaphorically. It’s not something I can do consistently yet, and maybe not very well, but I think it’s actually doing something for my confidence and follow-through when I think of things like… well, when I conceive of “writing” from the viewpoint of the screen in front of me and a keyboard just visible on my lap, rather than a doubtlessly inaccurate and detached view of myself sitting in a chair in front of a computer.

I don’t know if this will be any kind of great epiphany for most people. I don’t know what percentage of people imagine themselves in the third person what percentage of the time.

In addition to changing how I think about myself when I’m imagining something, I’ve also started just noticing myself from a first-person point of view. People I trust—friends, family, random articles on the internet—have been talking to me about “mindfulness”, but other than things like being aware of my breathing (which I usually am) and sometimes taking a moment to reflect on how I’m feeling, I’ve never quite acquired the knack of it in any larger or deeper sense.

But now I’ll be walking down a hallway, or sitting in a corner, and I’ll think about what I can see, where my hands are, what my legs are doing… not in a “OH GEEZ WHAT ARE MY LEGS DOING NOW?” sense, just “This is what’s happening. This is where I am. This is what it looks like to me when I am in this place, doing this thing.”

And while it might seem like this kind of self-awareness would lead to self-consciously, but the opposite has been true. I find myself moving more smoothly and fluidly through the world I live in. with the same kind of facility I can slide around corners on the alien world of Pandora when I’m playing Borderlands.

It’s interesting. Growing up trans, and coping with everything that comes with that as a young adult, I sort of divorced myself from my body. I stopped thinking of what I have—my body—as me, as what I am. But I never really found anything to replace that.

If I am not a body, what am I? A soul, a mind? What are those? A consciousness? That’s so nebulous. And yet, when I’m trying to explain the qualitative concept of consciousness to someone who’s never pondered it, the first thing I settle on is asking them to think about their field of vision. If a brain really was just a series of physical interactions, chemical dominoes knocking each other over in response to stimuli, the human body that is recognized as you would behave exactly the way you do in response to anything that happens within your field of awareness, but would that field of awareness exist?

Note that I don’t want to bog down this post with a discussion of philosophical zombies, so please treat the questions in the previous paragraph as rhetorical. The point here is that for questions like “What am I that is more than a body? What does my existence add to the world? What will be lost when I’m gone?”, maybe the best answer is “A perspective.”

Or as The Sandman put it, so many years ago now:

point of view