Hugo Stuff: Just taking a moment to acknowledge…

…that the Hugo nominations are going on right now, and they will be an ongoing thing through the end of March. I echo the sentiments of Mr. John Scalzi in saying that if you can nominate (meaning, as I understand it, that you already had a World Con membership as of January 31st, including a membership for last year’s), you should nominate.

Even if you can’t fill out all your allotted choices in every category, nominate what you can, where you can. Please don’t let any sense that you don’t know the field well enough to confidently assert that something is truly “the best” stop you; the purpose of the nomination is not to make that determination, but to provide choices for the wider fandom as a whole to make it later. Nominate your favorites, nominate whoever and whatever you thought was notable in 2015, and if you feel insecure or like an impostor, know that there are people out there who not only never question their own right to participate, they’ll never question their right to dominate.

The fact that a small, self-entitled clique that sought to wrestle control of the award away from fandom at large was able to game the ballot formation so effectively last year came down to how low participation in the nominations historically has been. The fact that this same clique was given a thorough drubbing by fandom at large in the actual awards came down to how high participation was.

I haven’t been talking about the Sad and Rabid Puppies much this year because the Hugo Awards are going to happen every year and I don’t want that to be my life, but I understand they’re still at it, still spinning the same narratives, still spreading the same propaganda, still appealing to the biases and suspicions of the biased and the suspicious. I don’t know how much impact they’ll have.

For nominations, there are three possibilities: they’ll have another walk in the park, their machinations will be shut out entirely, or they’ll have some impact but not be able to seize as total control as they did last year. I think if everybody who was mobilized to get involved and vote on conscience and merits rather than politics stays involved, their ability to unduly influence the process will be nullified, but that depends on a big if.

My name has come up in a few circles as a possible nominee. By that I mean, I know that some people have nominated me, but that’s not the same as making it onto the ballot, even without any puppies piddling in the box. In truth, it is an honor just to be nominated, even if I don’t make the short list. It is an honor to have my name being mentioned in conjunction with some of the giants of the field.

If you’re a Hugo voter and you didn’t realize I was even in the running, the way I understand it is that people are nominating me in two categories: Fan Writer and Best Related Work. Fan Writer, as I understand it, is for people who write about fandom and sf/f media, which is something I do from time to time both in this space, and on my Twitter, and (mostly in the form of Star Trek meta) in other parts of the web.

The fan writing I believe they’re referring to is primarily my writing last year about the Hugo Awards and the puppies and related sad/angry animals, which you can find mostly (along with other similar things) filed under the deliberately dismissive heading of Noisy Nonsense.

The “related works” I have heard people talking up include both my satirical “Sad Puppies Review Books” series (also available as a collection, with a few bonuses, here) and the parody e-booklet John Scalzi Is Not A Very Popular Author And I Myself Am Quite Popular

I am not going to tell anyone how to nominate or how to vote. I do have some mixed feelings about the Related Work category being used in this fashion, but not so thoroughly mixed that I’d turn down a nomination. I will, however, point out that my satirical efforts also fall under the broad heading of “fan writing”, and as the Best Fan Writer category is for a writer and not a particular work, you could safely nominate me in that category and know that I will take it as a nod towards my silly writing as well as the more serious stuff.

Spherical Goblins: Inference of Destruction

One of the first columns I wrote under the heading of Spherical Goblins was on the subject of how to read the rules. This one is, I suppose, a bit of a sequel to that. I’m writing it to address one specific source of confusion for many players, and to use that example to discuss a general case that causes confusion.

This is fitting, as “specific” and “general” are watchwords for rule interpretation in 5th Edition, as in “specific beats general”. These three little rules are meant to be a key that unlocks the rules, or a razor that cuts through confusion, but the problem that some people have is figuring out what is specific and what is general.

There is a whole series of Frequently Asked Questions in 5th Edition that are all founded on the same misconception about a general rule. It’s really just one question, phrased in different ways. Two of the most common:

  • “When I make a bonus attack using Crossbow Expert, do I get to add my ability modifier to the damage?”
  • “If my monk uses Martial Arts or Flurry of Blows, can I still add my ability modifier to the damage of the extra attacks?”

Now, in that column I linked to in my opening, I spoke about how the rules for a special ability like Martial Arts or Crossbow Expert are largely self-contained, how there aren’t more detailed rules governing them somewhere else, only the general rules with which they interact. An attack you make using one of your special abilities follows the general rules for attacking, except where th ability itself lists an exception.

In the case of these abilities, the exception is that you can use a bonus action to do it. None of these abilities say anything about adding an ability modifier to your damage or not, which means you follow the general case. The general case is yes.

Yet enough people are unsure about this that they feel the need to ask, and whenever there’s that much uncertainty about a thing, there are most assuredly going to be people who are certainly wrong about it. There are tables out there where players are shorting themselves damage in every round of every combat. Why? Because instead of following the general rules for attacks, they are inferring the existence of a general rule that governs bonus action attacks in particular, and they are applying it to any ability that grants one.

The existence of this rule is intuited from the specific rules governing what 5E calls “two-weapon fighting”. When you are wielding a light melee weapon in each hand and you use one of them to attack using the Attack action on your turn, you can spend a bonus action to attack with the other one, at the cost of not adding your ability modifier to the damage. So if you’re a rogue and you’ve got Dexterity of 16 and you’re wielding two short swords, you’ll do 1d6+3 with one and 1d6 with the other.

This specific rule is meant to be a quick-and-dirty representation of the ability to make a slightly wild swing or stab with your off hand, though in keeping with 5E’s general economy and simplicity, the words “off hand” and “main hand” never appear in the text. If the weapons you’re using are identical, then it doesn’t matter at all which one is in which hand; if they’re not, then it hardly matters, to whatever extent that it does, you’re subtly encouraged to envision the hand holding the bigger or better weapon as your main one. Any actual mechanical difference comes out in the wash.

The key thing here is that the fact that you don’t do as much damage with a bonus action attack when it’s delivered in this fashion is not a general rule, though, but a specific one that represents a specific thing; the off-hand nature of the strike.

How is this specific rule mistaken for a general one?

Because it seems to be the closest thing to a general case for bonus action attacks. It doesn’t require a feat. You don’t have to be a particular class or choose a particular option. Anyone who can hold a couple of small axes, swords, or daggers can do it.

And because to someone who has not yet grasped the underlying logic and structure of 5th Edition’s rules it feels like there must be a general case to defer to, it feels like this must be it.

As I said at the outset, this is a specific example of a general problem. This tendency to turn towards specific rules for clues to some hidden general one permeates the way new people tend to approach the game.

For instance, another common question is if poison resistance confers advantage on saving throws against poison. Dwarves have both, and it’s hard to get poison resistance as a PC without being a dwarf, which leads many people to conclude that yes, they are inextricably linked.

But the key here is that dwarves specifically get both. As in, the rules specify that they do. If poison resistance—resistance to poison damage, following the general rules for damage resistance—was the same thing as advantage on saves against poison, the description of the dwarves’ particular hardiness against poison wouldn’t need to mention both.

This is counterintuitive to most people, even veterans of most roleplaying games. A lot of rules texts include more clarifying elaborations than 5E does, reminders of general rules that are useful in context but ultimately redundant within the larger system the text represents. In such a rule book, the entry for dwarves would mention advantage on saving throws alongside the damage resistance as a reminder, a reference to a general rule officially spelled out elsewhere. The rule about two-weapon fighting would likewise be repeating a general case, if not establishing it.

5th Edition eschews these redundancies almost to a fault. None of the spells that inflict the charmed condition spell out the effects of that condition, for instance. They merely reference it and add their own specific effects. In another game system, the text for charm person might include language like, “The creature is charmed by you, becoming unable to attack you and granting you advantage on Charisma checks while the condition lasts.”

But that would be repeating information that is general to a condition shared by multiple spells and other effects, so they don’t. Instead they only mention things that are peculiar to the spell charm person in particular, like the fact that the charmed creature regards you the caster as a friendly acquaintance, or becomes hostile to you when the condition ends.

And so, almost predictably, this creates a new source of confusion among people who feel the charmed condition itself must be more than the two bullet points listed under the heading of “charmed” in the appendix on conditions. They look to charm person as being the nearest thing to a general case, in the same way that dwarves are seen as the general case for poison resistance and two-weapon fighting is seen as the general case for bonus action attacks, and so they conclude that the charmed condition intrinsically includes the notion that it changes how the target sees you, or induces hostility afterwards.

In other words, they operate under the assumption that being under the charmed condition basically means “being under the effects of charm person“.

Categorizing these errors and picking apart the thinking behind them might seem mildly interesting to someone who knows better, and pointing out that they are errors might be useful to someone who’s confused, but my purpose here is to do more than that. My purpose in writing this blog post is to help everyone who plays 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons to better understand how the rules work and why they work, so that specific corrections or clarifications about the rules become less necessary.

In my post about procedural logic, I talked about how to read a rule as a process. Now I’m going to zoom out one level and talk about the same thing on a more macro level, how to fit rules into a hierarchy.

Applying procedural logic to a rule is a bit easier if you have any kind of a background in computer programming. The same is true of this skill, particularly if you’ve ever studied any kind of object-oriented programming language or made use of typed data structures.

Basically, it comes down to inheritance.

Imagine the rules of the game as a chart that looks like a family tree, or rather, a forest of related trees. At the top of one tree, we have top-level rules, like “Roll a d20, add modifiers, compare to a Difficulty Class”. That one would have three branches, for attack rolls, saving throws, and checks, and each of those would have their own branches, which would branch further.

Any rule that occurs at any level of any tree is going to be passed down to the branches below it. This includes rules that modify or even negate higher-level rules. For instance, the rules for attacking include rules for damage rolls, which specify that you add an ability modifier to your damage roll. The rule for two-weapon fighting branches off that, and it includes a rule that removes that ability modifier. One branch below that you can find the Two-Weapon Fighting style available to warriors, which puts the ability modifier back on.

The Dual-Wielding Feat, which (among other things) removes the limitation that the weapons be light could be found either branching from the general case of two-weapon fighting or the style of that name, and would inherit whichever damage modifier rule was being followed by its parent.

So when you have a case and you’re not sure what rules it’s inheriting, you just need to figure out what it’s branching off from. This sounds more complicated than it is. In practical terms, it’s just a matter of following references.

The geas spell inflicts the charmed condition. Its text references the charmed condition. So if you’re not sure if you should be looking at the charm person spell or the charmed condition, you just follow the reference to the condition. The charmed condition does not reference any spell; spells reference the condition. So geas and charm person are both just branches hanging below the condition in the inheritance tree. No matter how much it intuitively feels like a spell that charms a person should refer to the spell called charm person, no such reference exists.

Similarly, the rules for Crossbow Expert might read a bit like the rules for two-weapon fighting, but at no point does it say “you can make an attack as a bonus action, as you would if you were using two-weapon fighting”. The reference is simply to making an attack, so the next thing up the tree would be the general rules for attacking.

It’s just an extension of applying procedural thinking: follow the reference, follow the rules that cover that reference, and you’re done. There’s nothing else to do.

Would it be tedious to run through this process each and every time someone wants to cast a spell or use a special ability? Obviously. But it’s also not necessary. For most people, there will only be a small handful of areas where this kind of confusion arises. Once you’ve used this technique to acquire a basic understanding of where a rule fits into the structure of the rules, you don’t really need to do it again for that rule. And the more you do it, the better an understanding of the overall shape of the system you’ll have, which means you’ll have a better ability to intuitively understand how it hangs together when you encounter a new ability, a new rule.

Perhaps the best skill for avoiding this confusion, though, is simply the ability to recognize when you’re making an undue inference in the first place. Once you understand how self-contained the rules that govern a spell or feature are, and you understand how rare redundant elaborations or reminders are within the text, it gets a bit easier.

Then you can read a spell like shocking grasp and realize that the fact that metal armor gives you advantage on the attack roll is not stating a general rule for all spells that do lightning damage, or it wouldn’t be listed in this specific spell.

You can see that wizards and some druids have an ability that lets them regain a few spell slots in the middle of the day and realize that if this were something that all casters could do, it wouldn’t be listed for these two specific cases.

And while sometimes this means you’ll wind up nerfing some great idea you had, in general, this kind of clarity benefits players, both by allowing you to have a better idea of what exactly your character is capable of while also preventing you from applying limitations from multiple unrelated sources.


Alexandra Erin has been playing roleplaying games since 1989, and has been experimenting with game design and related theory since about one week after that. If you enjoy her writing, you can find her original D&D content on the DMs Guild, or support her directly.

With ‘Full House’ sequel, Netflix confirms they’re playing a very deep game.

My first thought on watching the pilot for Fuller House, both a sequel and note-by-note retread of the 1980s nostalgia king sitcom Full House, was, “How did the platform that produces Bojack Horseman think this was a good idea?”

The pilot—the only episode I’ve seen, and the only episode I am likely to see any time soon—plays as an awkward mix of a self-aware “Very Brady” style parody, a winking reunion show, and an overly sincere pilot for a sincerely anachronistic sitcom. And of course, this is because it is all of those things. The entire original cast returns to reprise their roles, with one notable (and noted, in one of the only truly unpredictable moments in the pilot) exception.

Everyone gets a line or two to remind us who they are, what they did 30 years ago, and what stereotypical character traits they represent. Everyone gets a chance to mug for the camera and sneak in their catch phrases. As a side note: with an adult understanding of Bob Saget’s adult humor, it’s hard not to read the repeated references to Danny Tanner’s overweaning cleanliness as a meta-joke. The show ends with a passing-of-the-torch moment that will resonate as being truly iconic for anyone who actually remembers the original Full House pilot and leave everyone else—including people who otherwise watched the show—scratching their heads.

On the subject of predictable moments: despite having had it stuck in my head on at least 11,347 occasions in my life, I never realized before now that the first line of the theme song is “What ever happened to predictability?”

In the original series, this line was meant to be at least a bit of a wistful semi-subversion, as the show’s focus was on a non-nuclear family in a non-traditional household and all the unexpected problems and unconventional solutions they came up with. I say “wistful” and “semi”, because of course, Full House was the late-80s prime time idea of white suburban family entertainment: clean as a whistle, never quite as racy as the carefully coached hoots and hollers of the live studio audience would have us believe. (Have mercy.)

In the tacitly updated version, this same line plays a lot more straight. Whatever happened to predictability? Why, it’s right here where you left it, 29 years ago. “This baby never went out of style,” says Dave Coulier, holding up an amazing technicolor dream shirt from his character’s wardrobe. There’s a comedic beat that seems to last an eternity, by the time John Stamos replies, “That’s because it was never in style,” you will have already heard this line echoing in your head so many times that you feel like you’re stuck in a Groundhog Day loop and haven’t figured anything better to do with infinite time than watch Fuller House.

I don’t want to sound like the show is terrible from start to finish. There are a few genuine laughs early on, most of them having to do with Stephanie Tanner. The character of Kimmy Gibbler, whose defining trait is awkwardness, has the least awkward transition from decades past. She’s never had a problem making herself at home in the Tanner household before, and she still doesn’t. The character works better as a self-assured adult than as a gawky tweenager.

In many cases, the show does work as a reunion show or a nostalgic parody, so on that level it’s worth watching at least the pilot for anyone with fond if hazy memories of the original.

It’s the pilot for the actual sitcom, of which I understand some 10 or so episodes follow, that’s painful. I mentioned Bojack Horseman up above. If you’ve watched that other Netflix show (it’s kind of like Californication, “but, like, a animal version”, with the premise that the main character is a washed up star from a late 80s/early 90s sitcom, and also a horse) before sitting down to Fuller House, you’ll find it almost impossible to not have the lines “Now that’s what I call horsing around!” or “Go home, Goober!” run through your head at multiple points, and this isn’t even mentioning the danger of getting Too Many Cooks stuck in your head.

These things show us that sitcom parodies suffer from their own peculiar version of Poe’s Law. Apparently the best way to lampoon the TGIF-style shows of yesterdecade is to just follow their lead exactly, beat for beat and note for note. When you’re watching Bojack or Cooks, in the back of your head you think they’re probably exaggerating. But then you see an earnest and very conscious recreation of those same sitcom tropes and you realize, no, they worked so well because they were so completely and perfectly on the nose. And in trying to deliberately re-capture the lightning (or maybe the fluorescent lighting?) that was Full House in a bottle, Fuller House somehow does it all in an even more on-the-nose way.

So why did this show get made? And why did it get made by the “network” that brought us Bojack?

To understand Netflix’s plan, we must, as a brilliant surgeon once said, “quietly enter the realm of pure genius”. My first thought when I had actually finished watching the show was “Why was this made?” To judge by the critical ratings, that was a lot of people’s thoughts. But when we’re talking about entertainment media, that question is really, “For whom was this was made?” and if you find yourself asking that question, the answer is, “People who aren’t me.”

Compared to a traditional network, Netflix’s original programming approach seems to be all over the place. They snap up import rights, pick up discarded and discontinued shows from all over the place, make gritty dramas and savvy comedies and bizarre cartoons and licensed properties. A traditional network will cancel even a successful show if it’s attracting “the wrong demographic”, but Netflix isn’t a network at all. It’s a subscription-based distribution channel. Where a network is actually in the business of delivering eyeballs to advertisers, Netflix’s whole revenue stream is based around those eyeballs.

Thus, the point of any Netflix original production is to be the “killer app” to some group of people, the thing that gets new people to sign up. For some people, this was House of Cards. For others, it’s Orange is the New Black. Or Marvel’s [Latest]. Or another season of their canceled cult favorite.

And for some people, mostly older people who have probably never had a streaming media subscription and who otherwise likely would have been among the last holdouts? It’s going to be Fuller House.

Last spring when the show was announced, a lot of people asked questions like, “Is this going to damage the Netflix Original brand?” or “Is this going to be the death-knell for Netflix?” Well, I don’t know if Netflix has released anything like exact viewing numbers for Fuller House, but it’s apparently done well enough for them that they’ve already ordered another batch of episodes. This is not at all unusual for their original productions, and while this means we can’t exactly call the show a stand-out yet, it does seem to signal that their “brand” is fine.

There might not be a lot of Bojack or Orange fans streaming it, but have you seen how many things are under the Netflix Original banner these days? I doubt very many people, or even very many households, watches all of it.

Netflix is living in the long tail of the market, building a broad catalog of things that individually appeal to as broad a spectrum of the market as possible. This is the opposite of the traditional approach, which is to try to make everything you do appeal to the “mass market”. It gives us shows that would otherwise not exist (like Orange is the New Black, Bojack Horseman, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, or Grace and Frankie, or even Fuller House), shows that are not completely watered-down and sanitized and homogenized because when Netflix streams a series, they’re not worried about who they might turn off but who they’re going to hook in.

Simply put, Netflix doesn’t have to worry about the “18 to 35” demo with Fuller House. They already have those people’s subscriptions. Anyone who’s still worried about the future of original programming on Netflix after this trainwreck can relax.

The fact that they’re willing to make a show that does nothing for you personally indicates that they’ll continue putting out shows with no regard for pleasing everybody.

Update: After I posted this, Twitter user @Trevel had this to say, which I think just about sums up the key to Netflix’s approach:

netflix product

“Arguably the best thing about Netflix is that I’m the customer, not the product.”


I’ve had a couple nights of very rough sleep. Didn’t get much done today, except for some notebook writing. I’m hoping for a relatively early night tonight, then tomorrow’s going to be a production day on Angels of the Meanwhile. My recent delving into D&D development wasn’t entirely a sideline… I learned a lot more about formatting in February than I did in the years before that in which I’ve been publishing.

Sleep On It

They tell you to never go to bed angry, but sometimes there’s nothing else for it.

You can’t talk it out. You can’t work it out. You can try to fight it out, but the longer you do that, the less certain you are that out even exists, that you aren’t just fighting your way further and further in with every word either one of you says.

In these cases, maybe there is nothing to do except to sleep it out. When you wake up, maybe you’ll both feel better. Maybe the problems won’t seem so big. Maybe the solutions won’t seem so impossible. Maybe the good won’t seem so small or far away, maybe the bad won’t seem so big and overwhelming. Maybe all the things you fought about the night before will still be real, but it will matter less.

Going to bed angry isn’t a great thing. It’s not fun. It’s isn’t a plan of action or a solution or something you should aim to do. It can be the worst experience of your life, or at least it can feel like that at the time.

But the thing about going to bed is that it almost always offers you something you can get no other way: a chance to wake up.

If you go to bed angry and you wake up still angry, then you know that you’ve got a real problem. If you go to bed feeling hopeless and miserable about your situation and you wake up feeling that way, then things are seriously wrong. If you go to bed seething with frustration and wondering how you can ever possibly get past this huge intractable impasse and you wake up with stars in your eyes, love in your heart, and a smile on your face (or however close you can get to that before caffeine), though, then you can be pretty sure that things are going to be okay.

From general to specific.

Okay, so last post I just made was about procrastination, where it comes from and maybe where it’s going. I spent a lot of time working on it today, more than I expected to, but I think it was an important bit of processing. There are many things I was thinking of when I came up with the major points in that post, but one of them was how difficult it’s been for me to finish Angels of the Meanwhile, and why.

After my computer failed on me last summer and I couldn’t pull it together when I first wanted to, from that moment on, on some level I was waiting for some sign that the project had failed or that it hadn’t. Useless, of course. The project succeeds when it’s released.

When I was working on my own things for my own gain, I had an easier time keeping hold of that. My first big collaborative project, benefiting someone else… it took a lot of gumption to get the thing rolling, but when I suffered a setback, I really fell back on the habit of looking for some sort of external structure to guide me. Which is doubly unfortunate because it’s a collaborative project, benefiting someone else.

There’s a lot of goodwill and social capital and other people’s work tied up in this thing, and the deserving recipient of all that good stuff, Pope Lizbet, is still having problems spinning out from the original incident. So we’ve got to get this thing out the door sooner rather than later. Watch this space for daily updates this week, as part of a new and improved (or old and resumed) focus on accountability and productivity.

In the meantime, you can help her out at the newly grabbed short link of


Procrastinators Unite Tomorrow

When I was younger, I used to joke all the time about what a huge procrastinator I was. “You think you procrastinate?” I would say. “I was supposed to have written the book on procrastination.” As an adult who sometimes struggles very badly with executive function and time management, this seems less funny.

Procrastination is among the least helpful of my habits, though I’m leery of calling it a habit. Procrastination can be a decision or a behavior, but once you’ve done it enough times, it becomes more a way of seeing the world, a way of life. It’s a coping mechanism, a pressure-relief valve, a method of dealing with problems.

It isn’t a good way of doing so, mind you. The word that springs to mind is “maladaptive” — behaviors or traits that emerge in response to a form of environmental pressure that is ultimately detrimental, either because of a change in the environment or because of unforeseen consequences. We pick up habits like these as defense mechanisms in specific situations, but they stay with us long after they have ceased to make any sense.

I can’t tell you why I started procrastinating in terms of an exact origin story, not how I started making the decisions that became a habit that became a perspective that became a lifestyle. I can tell you what it does for me, though, or at least the need that I’m scrambling to address when I do it: it reduces uncertainty to a more manageable level.

What procrastination did for me when I started doing it was removing a step from the decision-making process. For everything I had to do during the hardest, most stressful years of my childhood, I could offload the all-important decision of when to do it (and related decisions about the order and prioritization of assignments) by deferring to the deadline.

“When should I do this thing?” is a small thing to worry about, but it is a thing, and when you’re drowning in things, the small things add up. If you have a one-hour assignment that is due in seventy-two hours, there are an almost infinite number of times in which you could start it, but only one point at which you must start it.

Which moment is the right moment? If you wait, something magical happens: the possible answers to that question shrinks. Uncertainty becomes certainty. When you have only one hour left in which you could possibly do the one-hour assignment, you know—you know, with all your heart—that the moment to do it is OMG RIGHT NOW.

There’s not a lot of margin for error in that kind of operation, and the stakes are actually much higher—in the sense that they actually exist—than if you make an error in choosing an earlier moment.

So why did I do this often enough for it to become a habit, and more than a habit? At a guess I would say that I (along with many other people who fall into the same trap) had far more confidence in my ability to turn something out in the minimum time than I had in my judgment about how things should be done. In the absence of a scheduled start time, the act of procrastination creates a start time. What from the outside seems to be—and in fact, is—a manufactured crisis brought about by dancing with deadlines is instead experienced by the procrastinator as the imposition of structure, the creation of order within a disorderly process.

This behavior reaches its destructive apex when dealing with tasks that most definitely and certainly must be done, but for which there is neither a clearly stated start time or end time. If the task is not seen to, bad things will definitely happen. It might be a disaster. It might be expensive in terms of actual or opportunity cost.  It’s something you definitely want to do, need to do.

But in terms of actual deadline pressure?

It’s more like a sword hanging over your head than a ticking clock.

You not only don’t know when you’re supposed to start, but you don’t know when you have to finish.

Faced with this, the procrastinator’s habitual response becomes an even worse coping mechanism than normal. We wait for the moment that feels right to arrive, because that’s what we’re really doing in our minds when we procrastinate, but that moment is always the last possible one, but we can’t discern when that is, so the moment never arrives.

As time wears on, the procrastinator begins to suspect that the moment already came and left, that things are already too far gone to be salvaged.

When this happens, the procrastination shifts into an even higher gear. How do you confirm that it’s too late to fix something? By letting it ride. Wait for something to happen, some further development that tells you either yes, you are still in the game, you still have a chance to make things right, or no, the whole thing is falling apart.

It’s like not being sure if you left the stove on or not, but instead of going down and checking, you lie in bed until the house catches fire.

None of this is rational in the sense of being objectively logical or making a lick of sense when viewed from the outside, through the cold lens of distance. All of it is rational in the horrible, horrifying sense that a human brain can produce this kind of thinking through a reproducible process of cause and effect, with decisions that not only make sense to the person making them at the time, but in many cases seem essential to psychological survival at the time they are made.

As I said above, procrastination starts (or started for me, at least) with greater confidence in one’s ability to get things done than in one’s ability to structure things “properly”. So what does this mean for an inveterate procrastinator who suffers a crisis of confidence?

Nothing good, I can tell you that.

At least in the short term.

The whole system—insofar as it is a system—stops working. (Insofar as it ever worked.) You miss deadlines, break commitments, sit on opportunities… all of which, of course, only does more to erode your confidence.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Because it means the structure that was originally built to support yourself, and which became a prison in which you were trapped, is crumbling around you. It might take you down with it if you don’t move, but you do have that opportunity to move. The walls are coming down.

Change is hard. Change is scary. But change happens, things change whether or not you change with them. I think when you actually change with the times, you don’t notice it as much. I mean, no one notices that they’re becoming a procrastinator, right?  And procrastination is, as I said, an adaptation to circumstances, which means that anyone who starts doing it is therefore capable of adapting to changing circumstances. All it takes is the right impetus.

Busy weekend.

Just to not drop entirely into radio silence for multiple days after that last post… Friday night’s “going out to dinner” turned into “staying out late at the bowling alley/arcade”, hence why I never finished or posted the blog post. Saturday was D&D day, and today is Jack’s birthday. Since I’ve taken primary charge of Jack’s birthday this year, I’ve been busy since Friday with stuff relating to it. I’m going to be cooking for a good portion of the day today, as well as decorating the dining room as soon as it’s prudent to pen the cats up upstairs.

Breakthroughs, or, Getting Sorted

So, I’ve been struggling really badly off and on for the past year with what I’ve termed at various points anxiety and depression, and this week I think I had a breakthrough about what’s actually happening, specifically, beyond those general terms.

When I was young, I acquired a phobia about phones in general and a terrible anxiety around communication in general. It came from having a hard time understanding social cues and a harder time making myself understood. I preferred writing to talking, and when the internet became a thing, I found a huge relief valve in there. I didn’t really start communicating with the world around me in a way that felt good until the internet, and there was always a clear divide: face-to-face communication was hard, phone communication was harder… but the internet? The internet was easy.

I think it’s in part because my handwriting and speech issues were never a thing on the internet but even more so, it was the fact that the internet was a blank slate for me and I was a blank slate for it. I had no negative formative experiences with the net. The net didn’t have any preconceived notions about me. It was great.

Over the last year and change, though, things started changing. Almost right away, right around January 2015, the internet stopped being as welcoming. There were things going on that turned my email and messengers into a source of anxiety, for the first time ever. Entirely separately from that, there were people out there trying to figure out where I lived and who I was related to, mostly on account of some of the things I had blogged and tweeted about. Over the course of the year, the internet lost a lot of its magic for me. It no longer felt safer than anywhere else. I withdrew more and more, and the more I withdrew, the more the lurking dread around everything intensified.

The only places I’ve really been active online in the past few months are places I was never active before, because the dread hadn’t had a chance to spread to them. I think that’s how I wound up being as invested in D&D stuff as I have lately. That, and it’s always been a refuge for me.

Like most things that happen incrementally and over time, I didn’t realize it was happening. I knew things were wrong. I knew things were off. I did realize I was going quite a long time without checking my email except for the specific things that automatically get highlighted for me, stuff from family and stuff like that. I knew I’d stopped really communicating with my patrons, stopped writing newsletters. I called it depression, because I was depressed and it happened in conjunction with it. But even when the depression was at low ebb, even when I was in a genuinely good mood and full of energy and felt like I could take on the world… it all seemed too much.

My recent experiments in writing by hand again have helped me figure this out, because they’ve been going so well… but mattering so little. I can sit down and write like the very Dickens (or like the Alexandra) whenever I want… but as soon as I start trying to type it up to share with anyone, the freeze sets in, and if I’m thinking about publishing or sharing something as I’m writing it, same thing.

It’s not writer’s block, it’s publisher’s block. Sharer’s block. Communicator’s block.

The real breakthrough came, though, when I was talking to Jack earlier in the week. He has noticed that I’m a lot less responsive to emails, and often I’ll come down to reply to something he emailed me about in person (the first time this happened, I guess I should have realized how bad the problem was, since my inclination has always been the other way around), and that if I don’t have a chance to answer in person, I often forget.

I was trying to explain what was going on with me, and in the course of trying to make sense of it for him, I made sense of it for me: all of my old communication anxieties had crept back in, and spread to my new forms of communication. I have been so isolated and so afraid of basically everyone and everything and so without any outlet, and because I didn’t know what was happening myself, I have been unable to tell anyone.

At the same time, I’ve been making progress. I’ve been chipping away at the other obstacles in my life, self-erected and other. I’ve been improving my work routine, my work environment, my habits. I’ve been managing my mood and my motivation.

But I could only get so far before I’d hit this big, unspoken, unexamined thing that has been in my path, and bounce back.

I guess the best way to describe the way I’ve been feeling lately, now that I’m thinking about it, is that I am all alone in a big house that used to feel comfortable to me but which now has grown oppressively terrifying. One room is this blog. One room is Twitter. Another is Facebook. There are rooms for my stories, too. All the rooms are empty, as far as I know, but I can’t let go of the idea that there might be something in them. I know that if I check there will be nothing and that should put my mind at ease, and sometimes I do and it does, for a while, but the house is still big and empty and I am still alone in it, and so mostly I stay in bed and hide under the covers.

I occasionally go out, when needs drive me to, and when I do I turn on all the lights and talk to myself and laugh to show I’m not afraid, and sometimes I feel better… but as soon as I’m back in the bedroom, it’s like that never happened.

The fear of communication is in part the fear of exposing yourself, of putting yourself out there where you’re vulnerable. It’s partly the fear of letting other people in. But in my case, it’s mainly the fear of what I’m going to hear. What am I going to read, when I open up my email? What’s going to be waiting for me when I sign into Twitter or Facebook? One by one, I turned off all my notifications on every social media site I’m active on, but even then it’s still a lot of effort to make myself look at them.

The point of this post is not to engender sympathy. I don’t have comments turned on at my blog (I think probably in large part due to this burgeoning fear, though I do still philosophically agree with the movement against comment sections being de rigueur) anyway, and I haven’t been looking at the notes and stuff on crossposts. The point of this blog post, as with most of the ones that are about me, self-inventory, self-accountability… and hopefully in this case, self-empathy and self-forgiveness.

I have felt better about this problem since I identified and named it. I felt better already when I told Jack about it, as much as I could when speaking out loud and off the cuff and without a pen in my hands or a keyboard under my fingers, earlier this week. I felt better when I told Pope Lizbet, who has been waiting patiently for me to get my stuff together and finish the anthology I dedicated to her a year ago, what was going on and gave her permission—nay, asked her—to contact me directly and hold my feet to the fire as we finally kick it out the door.

Even though there’s a lot of processing in this blog post, and more processing to do, I felt better even when I made the decision earlier today that I was going to write it.


Naming the problem is not a solution. It’s a step forward, though. I go through this thing periodically where I make a resolution that I’m going to blog more, because it’s my blog and I shouldn’t have to worry about whether I’m blogging right, or what people will think if I’m blogging about something they don’t care about, or what I should be doing with my time, and then I never make it very far, because I’m not dealing with the thing that makes it hard.

I mean, the whole “blog more” thing, it’s not about me not having things to say or time to say it in. It’s not about forcing myself to write anything, it’s about not forcing myself to not write things.

The fact is, I always have a lot to say, about a lot of things. I always have a lot of stories in me. There are a lot of exciting things happening in my life. People are nominating me for awards. I’m up for two Rhysling Awards and there are people nominating me for a Hugo, which whether or not I make it to the ballot is huge. Also, I’m up for jury duty soon. That’s potentially going to be “fun” because trans stuff, but it’s a thing that’s happening.

But instead of talking about that stuff, I’m sitting here in my notional bedroom, afraid to turn on the lights while my big, cold, empty house crumbles around me, talking about D&D because that’s the only thing that feels safe, and even that, the dread is starting to creep into.

I’m going to start another blog post as soon as I finish this one. I’m not sure what it’s going to be about, because I’m going to be making it just for the sake of making a blog post, shaking out the cobwebs from this corner of my internet house. I might not actually finish it before I have to run out for dinner (we have plans tonight with family friends), so don’t be alarmed or think I fell down into the notional cellar if you don’t see it. But I’m going to do it.

I’m also going to crosspost this post in its entirety into my Patreon feed, so my patrons can all read it directly. I’m sorry I have been so unreachable lately, a time frame which for a number of you encompasses the whole term of your patronage. I am going to be talking to you all directly over on Patreon next week, near the end of it. Let’s check in with each other.

It’s going to be hard, because communicating is, you know, the specific thing I’m having a problem with… and I’ve been trying the whole “communicate more” thing a lot without sustained results… but I really think doing it with awareness of what the problem is will work out better.