My One Dollar Dare (Bet You I’m Worth It)

Hello, internet and all the ships at sea! If you’re reading this, then chances are good you either know who I am and what I’m about, or you’ve read my recent viral rebuttal to a terrible essay. In the first case, hi, how are you doing? Great to see you again! In the second case, let me tell you a little bit about myself, and then make you a proposition.

My name is Alexandra Erin. I’m an author. I started doing crowdfunding and micropatronage before we had the words for those things, much less the tools we have now. My life has had its ups and downs. I wrestle with severe anxiety, intermittent depression, chronic insomnia, and a mitochondrial condition that produces chronic fatigue symptoms.

I’ve always been good at writing. The real challenge of my life the last few years has been learning how to do that while other things are happening. In April and May of this year I started to really hit my stride with this, and in May I made some bold plans. June—the month of my 36th birthday—would be the month I started my year of being completely awesome.

Way back before anyone knew who I was, the few people who had heard of me were calling me the most prolific author on the net. I don’t know about “most”, but I was certainly up there, and I meant to get there again. After struggling for years to more narrowly define the focus of my work, I decided to embrace the breadth of it and think of my output as being more like a magazine: you get some humor, you get some commentary, you get some fiction, you get some poetry, you get something of everything.

So I made a checklist of the bare minimum I would produce each month (one work of satire or other humorous piece, one piece of flash fiction or poetry, some amount of commentary, one short story, and a continuation of a longer story). Some of this would be posted for public consumption, some would be reserved for my patrons, but all of it would be rounded up after the end of each month and put out as an actual zine.

I decided I would do this separately from my longest running project (Tales of MU), as that has its own established following and enough backstory (about a thousand chapters of it, and counting) to be daunting for newbies. As of this month, its funding is separate.

I’m writing this at the end of June and despite some personal upheaval and setbacks including illness, my first month has gone better than I could have expected. I’ve met or exceeded every goal I set for myself, in terms of producing work. Getting attention for it has been a bit harder, at least until I had the dubious fortune of encountering the infamous sad boner confessional piece I so recently satirized.

So here I am, with hundreds of new sets of eyes on me, setting aside my insecurity to put myself forward. Are you here because you liked something I wrote? Well, I bet you’d like other things I’ve written, and things I’m going to write in the months ahead. How much do I bet? Well, I’ll bet the time it takes me to write it all, against a a dollar. One thin dollar.

Here’s how it works: you go to my Patreon ( and pledge as little as a dollar a month. That pledge does not get processed until the end of the month, so if you do this any time between July 1st and July 31st, you won’t even be charged. But as soon as you’re pledged? You gain immediate access to anything I post to my Patreon stream.

Now, I bet you that by the time the end of the month rolls around, you will agree that the entertainment and insight you have gained from my writing will be well worth your dollar, but if I’m wrong? Heck, you cancel your pledge, and it costs you nothing. I still wrote what I wrote, and you still read what you read, but you’re out nothing. How’s that for a fair shake?

Of course, you might not have a dollar to bet, and you know what? That’s fine, too! I don’t want you feeling like my work isn’t for you just because you can’t pay. A lot of what I put up in June was free for the public to read and so will some of what I write in July, and through successive months. There will be times when my patrons see something early that everybody else gets to read later. The entirety of Tales of MU is available to the public, and I have no mind to change that.

See, the “crowd” part of “crowdfunding” is as important as the “funding” part. You can’t have one without the other. I don’t much mind if you enjoy my work and you’re not able to pay anything. I don’t want you to feel the least little bit of shame about that. Shame is not a productive emotion, as far as motivators go. If you like my work, I want you to be proud that you read it. How proud? Proud enough to share it. Proud enough to tweet links and recommend it to your friends you think might enjoy it, too. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd.

To my way of thinking, if one reader in a thousand is able to pay me a dollar for my work, what I need to do isn’t find the other nine hundred and ninety-nine and shake them upside down for spare change. What I need is thousands and thousands of more readers! There’s no such thing as a freeloader. Just by reading you’re giving me a little boost. If you have it in you to tell a friend, you’re giving me a bigger one.

But if you’ve got a dollar?

Pledge it.

I bet you’ll think I’m worth it.


Having a good couple of days here.

Well, I’ve mentioned that yesterday I lost some work, but I wound up finishing the short story that was damaged by it, and posted it as my story for June. Today I had a very similar thing happen… not the exact same error, since I was guarding against that, but another in the same family. And again I recovered and powered through and finished the short story I was working on.

So, that’s two short stories in two days. Both of them started with a single germ of an idea but were written in their entirety in a single day. The first one, “Women Making Bees In Public“, is already available to read online. The second one (working title: “The Numbers Game”) will go up next week as my short story for July, while I’m on vacation.

“Women Making Bees…” has only been read by around a hundred people so far, but I’m quite proud of it and it has already attracted some nice comments from people whose opinions I value. I am hopeful that it will find a wider audience, particularly as I believe it has the potential to resonate with many of those who enjoyed my most recent satirical post.

In addition to writing an entire 3,300 word short story from the ground up today, I also wrote a 3,300 word chapter draft for Tales of MU. I call it a draft because that’s what they are until posted, but honestly, it’s pretty well finished. I’ll take a look at it again before I turn it loose to non-patrons tomorrow, but I would be comfortable posting it as is.

I feel super good about this because Tuesday’s chapter was such a slog to write and (as is often the case when the words aren’t flowing easily) I’m not 100% confident I hit my goal for it, which was admittedly a bit esoteric and not likely to pay off soon either way.

Before I got sick the other week, I had really hoped I’d be working a week ahead on MU stuff by this point so I could be confident of a vacation posting schedule. I’m not, but at the same time… well, I can remember when being sick would scuttle weeks or even a whole month for me, and now it’s more like a hiccup. I’m sure a lot of you can remember that, too. I also remember when losing work would make it impossible for me to proceed on a project until some indeterminate point in the future, if ever. I’ve come a long way.

If I have a day tomorrow like the last two days… and I’ll mention that these days have not been free of inconvenience, interruptions both good and bad, and emotional ups and downs… but if I have a day tomorrow like the last two days, then I’ll finish it up with a couple solid chapter drafts for Tales of MU and my vacation will just mean that I’m blogging less for a week. If not… well, there will be the short story. I’ll miss the money that comes from MU chapters, but I think the schedule and my renewed work momentum will survive.

I mean, travel used to disrupt my writing, too, but I started this steamroller of a month off the day after I got back from WisCon.

STATUS: Thursday, June 30th

The Daily Report

Well, it’s been wild, but I do believe that thing I wrote the other day is winding down. It had its smallest yet overnight increase in stats, there are no new major sites/categories showing up in the referral links. In terms of dollars and cents, it brought in $150 of money I can directly link to it and increased my Patreon patronage by just north of $20 a month.

Not life-changing, but it came at a good time, and it’s still a better deal than HuffPo.

Had a bit of a setback yesterday while finishing up my short story for the month. I was writing on my tablet, using a Bluetooth keyboard that has several one-touch shortcut keys including ones that launch other apps. I don’t make a lot of typos, but one errant keypress and my tablet switched screens and dumped something like 46 minutes of progress. Frustrating.

I’ll say one thing about my current comeback as a writer: I’m a lot better at rolling with punches. Before that would have killed my creative drive for the day, and even after that I would have found it very hard to re-create the parts I’d written and lost.

As things stood, I was a bit flustered about it, especially since I was trying to constrain myself to finishing and posting it by end of day yesterday. I succeeded by dint of working an hour late, and there was some sloppy editing towards the end… something I fixed, lost, and then overlooked. It can be hard to edit your own work for things like mistakes because it’s easy to look at the page and see your intentions.

If I could do it over again, I would not have lost almost an hour’s work. But failing that, I would have slept on it and looked at it with fresh eyes before posting it today. Ah, well. At least not many people saw the version with the poorly edited ending.

I’d like to find someone to disable/remap specific keys on the keyboard to avoid this in the future. Failing that, I’ll just have to be more careful about working in Office and not Drive. I got lazy and tried working on the story in Docs because that’s what the default option was for opening a text file I downloaded from ILYS. It’s not yet second nature to me that Microsoft has pulled away from Google in the reliability of their persistent autosave.

Financial Status

Well, the much wished-for end of month has finally arrived. We did get a little lift from the “Sad Boner” piece.  Over the next few days, I’ll be getting a slightly better idea of my current circumstances, re: Patreon.

The State of the Me

A little tired today.

Plans For Today

Main thing I’m working on is Tales of MU. Also going to have to make a decision about next week, which will be based in large part on how things go today and tomorrow.


FICTION: Women Making Bees In Public

She sits at the wrought iron table outside the cafe. The table has six sides, the mesh on top a sturdy hexagonal lace. A cup of tea with honey cools atop a bone saucer, untouched.

She’s wearing an extremely well-fitted double-breasted houndstooth jacket of the sort I think you would call a peacoat. Dark gray leggings protrude from beneath it. Her hair is pulled back and up in a high, tight bun, presumably to keep it out of her face while she works.

Spread out on a soft piece of suede unfurled in front of her are a plethora of parts, tiny, delicate, and beautiful. Gold wire legs and antennae, fine-toothed cogs, wings made of leaf so thin you can see through it. She sews them into place once the jeweled carapace is in place using a needle so small she needs a jeweler’s loupe to thread it, then pokes at a spot where the thorax joins the abdomen to set something in motion within.

The new-minted bee starts with a shake, sets its wings to buzzing, streaks in circles beneath the umbrella overhead and zips off.

There are no chairs at her table save the one in which she sits. She has been there every time I’ve chanced to pass this way, and on the occasions such as today when it wasn’t chance at all. I have been here almost since she began, and now that she’s finished, I stand, frozen.

What to do now? Every time I’ve watched her finish before, I’ve turned and hurried away before I could see what, if anything, she would do next. Pull a book out of her handbag and start reading? Get up and leave?

Except she almost always had her tea, as she does now, untouched.

I watch her watch the bee past the point where I can no longer begin to follow where it’s gone. She then smiles to herself. I can almost hear the soft sigh of contentment she lets out. She settles back in her seat.

I want to go up to her, to tell her my name and ask hers. I want to ask her how and why and a hundred questions but above all how. I want to be her new best friend. I want to do all of this and more, but I can’t bring myself to intrude upon this elegant, solitary woman who makes bees on a coffee shop patio.

Not without some sign, some small sign, that she would be receptive…

Too late, I realize that she’s looking around and that the sweep of her eyes are on a collision course with mine. Her smile broadens and she says, “Hello.”

It is probably a mistake to judge someone’s voice based on two syllables projected across a distance in the open air, and had it transpired that her voice was anything other than everything I’d hoped it to be, I wouldn’t have. But it is confident, clear. It drips with charm.

My hands look for something to do, and wind up pulling both my newsie-style hat and my scarf off and mopping my very not-sweaty face. I realize I’m basically hiding behind them and force my errant extremities to my side, then approach her, hat literally in hand.

“Hi,” I say. “Do you mind if I talk to you?”

“Oh, I don’t mind much,” she says. She reaches for her tea. “I find it doesn’t often help if I do.”

“Oh,” I say. I don’t mean for my face to fall, but I can feel it. I turn away, hopefully before it has a chance to ruin her day. “Sorry to bother you.”

“Excuse me,” she says, “but I do find I would like some company, and I suspect yours will do. Please.”

I turn around.

“Are you serious?” I say.

“Too frequently. Please pull up a chair. Oh! Only, if you intend to have anything to drink, please do order it beforehand. I can’t abide an empty chair at my table. Too many people in this world take it as an invitation.”

“Seriously, if I’m being a bother…”

She slaps one delicate hand on the table. Most of the motion is in her wrist, so it makes a satisfying slapping sound without actually upsetting anything.

“I will tell you what is a bother!” she says. Her wide nostrils flare are her dark eyes flash. “It is that the people in this life who are the least bother are the ones most worried about being one, while those who are the least likely to be extended an invitation are also those least likely to wait for one! Please! Get yourself something to drink and then pull a chair over. If you will not, I shall be very disappointed.”

Well, if there is any prospect in this world that fill me with more streams of hot and cold running anxiety than being a bother, it is the prospect of being a disappointment. I take a moment to throw my scarf over my shoulders and replace my cap, then head into the coffee shop.

As many times as I walk by this place, I have never been inside before. I wouldn’t have any reason to notice it if not for her, and that made it feel like the whole place was her territory, or at least, not mine.

No one is waiting for service when I enter, so I study the board and try to find something I can order without embarrassment. I have always loved the smell of freshly-roasted coffee, which I have regarded as one of nature’s most insidious traps ever since the first time I actually tasted it. Tea is a bit more manageable, but I’m too aware that everyone has opinions about how it should be prepared, taken, and drunk to attempt it in public.

I settle on hot chocolate, though. Coffeehouse hot chocolate isn’t quite the same as homemade on a stove, but frothy steamed milk and syrup is not dehydrated powder and microwaved water, either.

I step forward and give my best attempt at a smile.

“What can I make you?” the barista asks. She has a round, pleasant face with a sparkly stud in her nose and short, spiky hair.

“One hot chocolate, please.”

She rings me up, and I pay, then she turns to start heating the milk.

“Oh!” she says “Forgot to ask: whipped cream and sprinkles?”

The question starts a war within me. On the one hand, if I do not dress my chocolate up then anyone looking at it might suspect I am being very properly adult. On the other hand, whipped cream and sprinkles. Boldness or some approximation thereof has already served me well once so far today, though.

“Yes, please,” I say.


“Yes, please,” I say a little louder.

A man standing very close behind me, as if drawn by my worries of projecting maturity, says in a carrying voice, “What are you, twelve years old? This is a coffee shop, not an ice cream stand. Whipped cream and sprinkles!”

“I don’t actually care for coffee, thank you,” I say, still in interacting-with-customer-service mode.

He’s a little less than a head taller than me, compactly built but wide across the shoulders. His arms seem long to me. That’s the first thing I notice on most guys: their reach. I wouldn’t care to say why. He wears a blazer with patches on the elbows and a smell like bananas clings to him. I suspect the electric pipe in his breast pocket has something to do with that.

“You’ve probably never had good coffee, then,” he says. “You know, coffee is a lot like chocolate: people think it needs a lot of milk and sugar and other rubbish to taste good, because they’ve only ever had stale, over-processed garbage. Did you know the coffee bean is actually a berry?”

“Is that so?” I say.

There is a smile that I have seen on the faces of other women that is both an armor against men like this and a beacon to other women. I don’t know if I really know how to make it, but I give it my best shot.

“Oh, yes! And like any other fruit, it can be very sweet. This is the only coffee shop in town that serves proper coffee, which is why it’s the only one I come to. When I saw you come in, I knew I’d never seen you before, which meant I knew you were in for a treat. I can’t stand here and let you miss out on that.”

“That’s very kind,” I say, “but I’m really trying to cut down on caffeine.”

“Then you shouldn’t order chocolate,” he says. “Carla, she’ll have…”

“I’m already making her order,” Carla says.

“Then she’ll also have…”

“You know, I’m fine ordering for myself,” I say. “I don’t want coffee. I don’t like coffee.”

“Well, you can’t stop me from ordering an extra one,” he says.

“Have at it,” I say.

“And you’re not leaving until you try it.”

“Are you going to stop me?” I say. “Physically.”

“What? I mean, I wouldn’t… but you’re not going to.”

“Well, I’m not drinking something I don’t like because you think I should, and I’m not staying here one second past when I have my drink.”

“Here you go,” Carla says, reaching across the counter with a steamy mug piled with whipped cream. “You know, I had a hunch and added a little splash of French vanilla, not so much that it tastes vanilla but just a hint? It’s how I make it for the regulars, and I think you’ll like it.”

A look passes over her face for a fraction of a second. It’s half apology and half concern. I understand. This guy is a regular. She has to be nice. She sees me, she’s here. I think she’d support me if something were to happen, beyond the drama that’s already unfolding, and probably nothing will.


Most of the men who get in your way and won’t listen when you say no the first time will stomp off with nothing more than a few parting insults. The problem is that the ones who will do worse don’t look any different.

“That sounds lovely,” I say, giving Carla a quick nod and taking the mug with both hands. “Thank you.”

“Oh, so, you’ll let her take liberties, but my suggestion is brushed off?” the man says.

“It’s not my fault if you don’t know the difference between a nice gesture and… what you’re doing,” I say. “And you know what? I bet if I had told Carla that I don’t care for vanilla, she’d have apologized and made me a new one, not stood in my way and told me to try it anyway.”

“Okay, but there’s still no reason you can’t try the coffee,” he says.

“I don’t need a reason!” I say. “Are you going to get out of my way?”

“You don’t have to be so rude!” he says.

“Are you going to keep me here?”

“I shouldn’t have to!”

“You don’t have to!” I say. “No one’s making you!”

“Hey!” Carla says. Her voice cracks when she raises it. “You have to go now.”

“What?” the man says. He rounds on her, and I see the naked fury on his face. I flinch, shrink back within myself, when his arms come up. “What the fuck, Carla?”

“You are… causing a disturbance,” she says. “It’s upsetting people.”

He looks around.

“There’s no one here but me!” he says.

“Her,” Carla says. “And me. Get out.”

“Fine, just get me my coffee.”

“GET OUT!” Carla screams.

He looks back and forth between us. The look on his face says that something very wrong has happened, that he can’t quite make it add up, and then he leaves, stomping out and slamming the door.

“Sorry,” I say to Carla.

“It’s okay,” she says.

“Are you going to be in trouble?”

“Maybe, maybe not,” she says. “There have been complaints about him before. The owner says he hasn’t hurt anyone, though? He’s an artist.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Thank you. For the vanilla.”


We exchange another set of nods and then I head outside. The woman who makes the bees has put away her tools and out a sketchpad, and she’s now bent over it, drawing anatomical sections of insects in what I think is charcoal. They look more like ants than bees.

I watch her from what I hope is a respectful distance, wondering if I’ve missed my window.

“I’ve been thinking,” she says, “about branching out.” She blows on the paper, then looks up at me. “Well, put that down and get yourself a chair.”

I do so, and she resumes working and talking.

“I thought I heard shouting,” she says. “Are you alright?”

“I… yeah,” I say. “It was just a man.”

“I told you about empty chairs,” she says. “Well, one day a man dragged a chair over while I was working. He sat down next to me, and made sure that I knew he knew many interesting facts about entomology. I told him that I was working and he said that was okay, he didn’t mind. I told him that if he distracted me, I might make a mistake. He laughed and said I was a big girl.”

“That’s awful,” I say.

“He asked me to make him something, so I did,” she says.

“What was it?”

“A yellowjacket,” she says. “I told him it wouldn’t sting him if he didn’t make it mad, but he didn’t listen. He called me an unkind name and left.”

“What happened?”

“It got mad,” I say.

“Do you do this every day?” I ask her.

“The sketching?”

“Making bees,” I say.

“Weather allowing,” she says. “I think I’ve seen you watching me before.”

I lower my head.

“I don’t mean to stare or anything, it’s just fascinating,” I say.

“It is,” she agrees. “And impressive.”

“Yes. Why do you do it?”

“Well, someone has to,” she says. “Otherwise we’re liable to run out.”

“How does it work?”

“Oh, there are many aspects,” she says. “Little tricks. I’ve learned them over the years.”

“And you just let them go?”

“Bees have their own lives,” she says. “That’s what makes them bees. I mean, not what makes them bees in particular. But having a life is what makes my bees be bees, and not trinkets or toys.”

“That’s interesting, because I thought bees lived in hives.”

“Everyone’s got to live somewhere,” she says.

“I mean, I thought they were colony creatures.”

“I live in an apartment. I still have my life,” she says. “There are solitary bees, but even in a shared hive, every bee is still its own bee. It still does what it wants.”

“Isn’t that just chaos?”

“What are you doing right now?”

“I… what? Nothing. I mean, I don’t…”

“Are you doing what you want?”

“You mean, with my life?”

“I mean right now.”

“I guess?” I say.

“Is it chaos?”

“Sometimes,” I say. I’m seeing the man in the coffee shop, in my head. He had been doing what he wanted, at least as far as he could without my involvement.

“You’re not running rampant, though,” she says. “You’re not tearing things down or burning things up. You go through life and I bet mostly what you want to do is to get along, right? You want to be comfortable. You want to feel good. You don’t want to be alone.”

“I guess,” I say.

“And that’s your nature, just as it’s a bee’s nature,” she says. “Do you know that honeybees can control the temperature in their hives?”

“I’ve heard they do things like gather together and vibrate to make friction,” I say. “To heat the hive. And that they can use wings for air circulation, like fans.”

“Oh, yes, but it gets subtler than that. There are special bees with higher core temperatures and they can move around and regulate the temperature within themselves to change the temperature of the hive. They control how the brood develops, you know. One degree change in any direction  in a developing pupa and you get a different sort of bee. Do you know how they decide, the heater bees?”

“I’ve always thought the queen directs the hive, somehow.”

“Most people do,” she says. “But there are no gears turning inside the hive, no wires running from the queen to the heaters or the workers or anyone else. Every bee, from the queen to the heaters, just does what it thinks best.”

“So there’s no real hive mind?”

“There is,” she says. “It emerges from the behavior of the whole. Right now, what do you think the neurons in your brain are doing?”

“…firing?” I say. Neurology is not my area.

“Each neuron, how does it know to ‘fire’ or not?”

“I guess you’d say each one is just doing what it thinks is best,” I say. “But you could say that about any cell in my body. The muscle cells in my biceps.”


“But by that logic, the atoms that form the molecules in the cell are also just doing what they think is best,” I say. “And the electrons and protons and neutrons that make up the atoms, and so on.”

“Yes,” she says.

“But subatomic particles and stuff, they’re all following immutable physical laws,” I say.

“Well, aren’t you doing so, too?”

“Well, yes, I can’t decide to ignore the laws of physics,” I say. “But I can decide to turn left or right. I can decide to take the short way home after work, or the long way that goes past the sidewalk cafe.”

“I am not a particle physicist,” she says, “but it is my understanding that they deal in probabilities, that the motion of particles is predictable within large groups over time rather than individual particles in the moment.”

“That sounds right,” I say.

“It’s true of people,” she says. “A social scientist couldn’t predict what you or I would do in a given situation, or even model it properly, but gather enough people together and they can begin to form predictions and determine laws. And if it’s true of people, it’s likely true of bees. And I daresay it’s likely to be true of cells of your body.”

“But if I have consciousness and I’m consciously making decisions,” I say, “and those decisions determine what the neurons in my brain are doing, and the neurons are made out of atoms… there can’t be consciousness in the atoms, or the neurons, can there? I mean, there’s a me that’s making decisions and everything else follows suit.”

“But isn’t the collective action of the neurons the same as you making the decision?” she says. “And isn’t the collective motion of the particles that make up the neurons the same as their action? Or do you imagine a ‘you’ separate from all of those that gives the smallest particles their marching orders and it just goes up the chain from there?”

“I dated a guy once who told me that quantum uncertainty proved free will,” I say. “He said without it the universe would be deterministic, but since it existed, we obviously had free will.”

“I’m not sure I follow how something maybe being random is the same as having free will,” she says.

“Well, we were talking about it in the context of, if you could rewind time and let events play out again, would you do the same thing every time?” I say. “I was saying that you’d do the same thing every time, because whatever reasons you’d had for doing it the first time would still be true.”

“That is completely sensible,” she says.

“He got really mad about that,” I say. “I didn’t understand why. Still don’t. But he shouted at me that I was saying free will didn’t exist. No, actually, what he said was that I was saying he didn’t have free will. Like it was personal? He looked at me like he wanted to hit me, then pounded the wall with his fist and stomped off.”

“‘Pounded the wall with his fist’,” she says. “That is an interesting turn of phrase. In point of fact, he punched the wall, didn’t yes?”

“Well, yes,” I say. “He did. Inches from my head.”

“Scary,” she says.

“It wasn’t at the time?” I say, then I remember how I felt, and I shudder. “No, wait, it was. But it was also normal? I didn’t see him for a day or two, and then he came back, smiling and told me that he’d figured it all out. Quantum uncertainty, he said. The randomness of electrons meant that if you rewound time and let events play out over and over again, he might do a different thing each time, and that meant he might have free will.”

“Did that make sense to you?”

“No,” I say.

“I think he had it backwards,” she says. “If what you do is random, then you have no free will. If you’re doing the same thing each time, that still leaves the possibility that you’ve chosen it.”

“I kind of agree?” I say. “But…”

There’s a scrape of metal on stone at the table behind me, at the same time as a forceful exhalation of air. I twist around and crane my neck to see a man a squat man with short arms pushing back from the table and turning his chair towards ours. He’s wearing an olive drab bucket hat and a pointedly ugly gray and red sweater.

“Hold on there, ladies,” he man says. “This has been an interesting enough conversation to listen to, but now you’re talking nonsense.”

“Excuse me,” she says, “you’re interrupting her.”

“Someone has to!” he says. “Look, the essence of free will is choice, right? And if you have to do the same thing every time, that’s not a choice, and that’s not free. Wouldn’t you agree?”

“That’s an interesting point of view,” she says.

“But I asked you a question. I said, wouldn’t you agree?”

“You already know my thoughts on the subject,” she says. “If you would like to hear more of them, you’re welcome to listen.”

He shakes his head, grinning.

“Darling,” he says, “darling, that’s just not how a conversation works. There’s got to be some give and take.”

“I was not having a conversation with you,” she says.

“Well, it’s a free country, and I have free will,” he says. “And I have chosen, freely, to have a conversation with you. Are you going to respect my autonomy?”

He says this last bit triumphantly, with a gleam in his eye like he has us now. Neither of us has mentioned autonomy as a concept by name, but I have a feeling that in this moment he’s winning the last argument he created with women about how we used our time.

“We actually have somewhere we need to be,” she says. She removes the sheet from her sketchpad and carefully puts it into a pouch, then puts the pad in another pocket. “Plans. Goodbye.”

“Bullshit!” he says. He sounds personally affronted. “I’ve been sitting here since before she got here,” he says, jabbing a finger at me, “and I know for a fact the two of you have never said a word to one another before today.”

“We’re old friends,” I say, “and we really need to go.”

“Yeah? Then you know each other’s names,” he says.

“Katrina,” I say. It’s the first thing that pops into my head. “I call her Kat, but no one else does.”

“Bullshit,” the man says.

“Her parents call her Katie, but she hates that,” I say.

“And she’s Anna,” my Kat says, and just like that I am. “I call her Anna. Are you ready to go, Anna?”

“Yes, Kat,” I say, standing up. “Ready when you are.”

“Bullshit!” he screams again, getting to his feet. “Let me see some ID! If those are really your names, I’ll… I’ll…”

Kat leaps to her feet. She is tiny, and somehow seems tinier standing up than sitting down, but her eyes blaze.

“You’ll what? You’ll let us have a private conversation unblessed by your input?” she screams back at his face. “Let us leave? Let us exist in peace?”

“Don’t make me the bad guy here!” he says. “I’m not the one selling a line of bullshit and getting defensive when corrected!”

“We weren’t selling you anything,” Kat says. “You were listening.”

“It was a public conversation!” he says. “But shit, if you’re just going to be like this about it, never fucking mind!”

He kicks the chair and storms off, his progress periodically punctuated with primal screams of “fuck” and “shit”.

I watch him go to make sure that he’s really gone, and then I turn back towards Kat, who is still standing. Her eyes are closed. Her head is tilted down. She is breathing forcefully but slowly in and out of her nose. Her arms are at her side, straight down, but her hands jut out perpendicular to the ground.

I’m about to ask her if she’s okay when I notice behind her: a whole swarm of glittering mechanical bees, hovering in the air in two perfect formations; a pair of symmetrical angel wings formed of intricate hexagons.

She relaxes, unclenches her body and lets her hands go limp. Her eyes open. The wings break apart, the bees scattering into several streams that stream away in different directions.

“That was incredible,” I say, watching her watch one of them.

“I can certainly barely credit it,” she says.

“Yeah, that guy was something else.”

“No, he really wasn’t,” she says. “I was, though. I’m not usually half that brave, you know.”

“No?” I say, amazed.

“Not at all,” she says. “I’m snarky, which seems similar, but only from the outside.”

“What made this time different?”

“I think you inspired me,” she says. “You know, I’ve never actually balled my fists and yelled at a man like that before.”

“I wasn’t watching your fists,” I say.

“Yes. Well. What were they doing back there, anyway?”

“Swarming,” I say. “Flying in formation. They looked like wings. It was like they were protecting you, or like they were a part of you.”

“That’s interesting,” she says.

“You didn’t make them do that?” I ask.

“I don’t make them do anything,” she says. “I just make them.

“So they all chose to do that,” I say. “Individually.”

“They all chose to do that,” she agrees. “But you were saying?”

“Sheesh, what was I saying?” I say. “We were talking about free will, and doing the same thing over and over again.”

“You said you agree that randomness is not the same as free will,” Kat says. “Do you want to know my name, by the way?”

“…is it weird if I don’t?”

“Then call me Kat, because I don’t think you’d ever not be Anna to me,” she says. “We found those names for each other. We forged those names in fire.”

“Isn’t that a little melodramatic?”

“Compared to him?” she says, gesturing vaguely in the direction in which he’d departed.

“Fair point,” I say.

“I’m up now, I’ve put my things away,” she says. “I would like to walk, Anna. Would you like to walk with me?”

“I would,” I say.

We walk, and we talk. I have so many questions in my head about the bees, but we’re already enmeshed in a broader topic and not only am I afraid to come off as prying, I’m actually enjoying this conversation.

“So, yeah,” I say. “I basically agree that free will and randomness aren’t the same thing. I mean, if we want to really get into it, what we perceive as random might not actually be random, and it might be the levers, so to speak, by which a disembodied conscious can affect the material world. I thought about it a lot, after that conversation, but when I brought it up again, he wasn’t interested. It was like, he’d settled the matter to his satisfaction and couldn’t understand why I was still interested.”

“Do you think that’s likely?” she asks.

“No,” I say. “I think there is something more to us than the material, if only to explain what consciousness is, but I don’t believe in an external soul, and I don’t think consciousness can be explained at the quantum level. I think it’s an aggregate. What’s the word you used? You said it emerges?”

“Yes,” Kat says.

“Yes. I think consciousness is emergent,” I say. “I think it emerges from… complexity. Intricate organizations of matter, complex chains of reactions.”

“So a hive might be conscious, might have consciousness in the sense that you or I do,” she says.

“But then what about the bees?”

“What about them?”

“You say they’re all acting as individuals,” I say. “Are they not complex enough to have consciousness?”

“It’s your theory.”

“Well, I don’t know where the cut-off is,” I say. “But I’m pretty sure my individual neurons don’t have consciousness.”

“Why not?”

“Because I know that I do,” I say. “Cogito ergo sum. If I know nothing else in this universe, and I probably don’t, then I know that I am. And if I’m conscious, then my cells aren’t.”

“How does that follow?” she says. “You know that you have consciousness, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t, or a hive doesn’t. Why should it have any implications for your neurons?”

“Well, you’re not part of me. My neurons are. If I’m conscious, that means that what I say goes, right?”

“You’re equating consciousness with free will now,” she says. “Is it necessarily true that the two coexist?”

“What’s the point of consciousness without it?” I ask. “If it’s all just one domino knocking over the other into infinity, why is there anyone to watch it?”

“If you could set up an infinite number of dominoes, wouldn’t you want someone to watch them tipping over?”

“But there’s no real ‘me’ if I’m not deciding anything,” I say.

“I can credit that,” Kat says. “But why does that mean there can’t be a ‘me’ for each of your individual neurons?”

“Because they might decide different things than I do,” I say.

“Does your body always do everything you want, exactly the way you want?”

“Oh, hell, no!” I say.

“If the heaters didn’t do what the hive wanted, if the workers didn’t do what the hive wanted, if any appreciable number of the bees within a hive did not do what the hive wanted, the hive would die,” Kat says. “Yet, they’re acting as individuals. These are not contradictions.”

“Then who is really making the decision, the emergent consciousness of the hive or the individual consciousnesses of the bees?”

“Why does it have to be one or the other? Why can’t it be both?”

“Because… because… if the bees are making the decision, then the hive isn’t, and if the hive is making the decision, then the bees aren’t.”

“Why, though?”

“Because either way, one of them is bound by the decision of the other,” I say.

“Except that a bee can act against the hive’s decision,” she says. “And it’s possible, albeit unlikely, that so many will do so that in practical terms, the hive is deciding against the bees’ actions. But even if that never happened, if the decisions are being made at the same time, how can one be said to cause the other?”

I don’t have an answer for that. After a few moments, Kat goes on.

“Think about the rewind scenario,” she says. “No matter how many times a moment is replayed, you’d make the same decision. You know you would. It’s still your choice in every moment, but because it’s your choice you’d make it the same way each time, every time.”

“That’s pessimistic,” a man who had been passing by said. He looped back around and fell in beside us. He’s a scrawny guy, with long, limber arms and a well-trimmed beard covering his whole face. I find my eyes drawn to the abrasions on his knuckles. I get them a lot from running my hands into the sides of doorways and walls when I’m walking. I tell myself his could be from that, too. “You don’t think people would learn from their mistakes?”

“Oh, in the scenario under discussion, there’s no learning involved,” Kat says. “Imagine time flowing backwards, moments unraveling, until you come to the decision point once more. Everything then is as it was the first time through. You know nothing more. Nothing is different in any respect. All the factors that led you to make the decision the first time are in play exactly as before.”

“What if I made the decision on a whim the first time?”

“Then that whim and everything that went into it is in your head the second time,” she says.

“I think I’d figure out a way to send a message back,” he says. “I’d fight to remember. I’d overcome.”

“That’s nice,” Kat says.

“You know what your problem is? You’re underestimating the human spirit.”

“That’s nice,” she says.

He looks at her like she’s slapped him.

“There’s no need to be like that,” he says, and then, mercifully, he turns back around and keeps walking.

“What was I saying?” Kat says.

“You were talking about how we’d make the same choices each time, every time,” I say.

“Yes!” she says. “Only it’s stronger than that: because we only experience each moment once, we only ever do make one choice. If you have two paths laid out before you, you can never choose them both…”

We’re passing a row of houses with iron fences topped with fleurs-de-lis, like ornate little spears. An older man, arms long enough to reach around to the front of his mailbox, chimes in as we are almost past him.

“Your first mistake is accepting the choices life gives you as absolute,” he says. “If you don’t do that, you could find a way to do both, or pick a third path.”

“Yes, but in practical terms, that’s still making a single decision,” Kat says. “Which is my point.”

“You’re allowing yourself to be limited by accepting the terms presented to you,” the man says. “Me? I’m the master of my own destiny. That’s why I’m happy with my circumstances. I chose them.”

“I’m sure you are,” Kat says, and I fall a tiny bit more in love with her, just enough to tip some balance in my heart that lets me know I am in love with her, and have been in love with her, and have been falling more and more ever since the moment I dared to speak to her.

We walk faster. The man falls behind.

“You can’t be afraid to seize control of your life!” he calls after us.

“What I was saying,” Kat says, “is that you can only ever make the choice once. This means, in practical terms, that you can’t pick the other choices. But it’s still free will, isn’t it? I mean, if free will exists, it’s not negated by the fact that you’ll only ever pick one thing?”

“I guess not,” I say. “But that one thing isn’t predestined.”

“Well, I’ve never understood people who believe that predestination and free will are incompatible,” she says. “If someone could predict what you would say in a given situation with ninety-nine percent accuracy, you’d still accept that it was your choice. So why would one hundred percent accuracy change it?”

“When you put it like that, the whole thing kind of reminds me of my ex,” I say.

“I’m very sorry!”

“No, I mean, the whole idea that it was more comforting for him to imagine that his actions were random than that they were fated?” I say. “Maybe that’s where my objection is coming from. If we can imagine that time might be rewound, or if we can imagine a point of view from outside of time, with all my history laid out from end to end, then we can imagine a being might exist that can see from that viewpoint and know everything I ever choose, but that doesn’t mean they’re not still choices? It’s not really that different from looking back at something that’s happened and knowing it can’t be changed.”

“Right,” she says. “So, if you can accept that free will exists irrespective of the ability to make an unpredictable choice, couldn’t you accept that maybe there are multiple consciousnesses making decisions that affect you at multiple levels, and they’re all acting freely?”

“I’m not sure I see the connection, except that it’s too scenarios that feel like they should rule out free will,” I say. “But yeah, I guess? You know what the weird thing is, though?”


“The more we talk about this, the less I feel like free will matters as a concept,” I say. “And the less I care about it.”

I stop and look around.

“Are you waiting for something?” Kat asks.

“I’m kind of expecting a guy to jump out of the bushes and tell me that free will is the most important thing in the universe, that without it life is meaningless, or that by giving up on free will I’m giving in to… something. The Illuminati. I don’t know.”

“We could go find a more crowded street, if you’d like,” she says.

“No, this is just about perfect,” I say. “I’m really enjoying talking with you. I mean, I can’t remember the last time I had a conversation like this.”

“About consciousness and free will?”

“A conversation where we’re just talking, not seeking anyone’s approval, or performing, or whatever,” I say.

“I don’t have a lot of conversations in general.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t have a lot of patience,” she says.

“I’m surprised,” I say. “I think it takes a lot of patience to do what you do. I mean, with the bees.”

“That’s me moving at my own pace,” she says. “The materials never try to race ahead of me, nor drag their feet. It doesn’t take patience, just control.”

“Well, it must take a lot of patience to do it in public,” I say.

“That isn’t patience,” she says. “It’s stubbornness. Do you remember the man I told you about?”


“That happened the very first time I took my work to that cafe. It was a nice day, so I thought I’d work outdoors and enjoy the sun. Then that happened, and I found I had to make up my mind about whether I would let it keep me from doing so again in the future. I almost decided it wasn’t worth it to try again, but I realized I hadn’t actually enjoyed myself, or done the task I’d set out to do. So I went back the next day, and it was fine.”

“And you kept doing it?”

“Yes,” Kat says. “Every day, weather allowing. I’ll sit indoors if it’s not too bad to leave the house but not nice enough for al fresco, either. What might have been an occasional thing instead became a habit. Not to spite him, though.”

“It’s not for him,” I say. “It’s for you.”


“So, you didn’t always make your bees in public?”

“No, I started at home.”

“How did you get started, anyway?”

“With cats,” she says.


“Yes, cats,” she says. “They’re larger, more like us, and in some ways, less complicated. From there I moved onto birds, which are smaller and winged. I thought for a time I would need to focus on less-social crawling insects before I could manage something gregarious and winged, but I found I really had a knack for it. It’s my calling.”

“You know how to make a cat?”

“Well, it’s not difficult,” she says. “I so hope you won’t ask me to make another one. I feel guilty enough, in retrospect. We don’t have anything like a shortage of cats. Bees were always the goal, for me. The cats were just a means to get there.”

“Are any of them still around? I mean, do you have any of them?”

“Oh, yes,” she says. “I think I made fewer than a dozen before I was satisfied that I had the principle down. I kept three. One is my first. She’s a bit scattered, but very dear. Very sweet, very shy. You put me in mind of her, actually, peering out from behind your hat and scarf like that.”

“I’d love to see her!” I say before I can think about what I’m doing. I clap a hand over my mouth. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to presume…”

“You know, Anna, you’ve been very accommodating to my whims, but what I want most of all right now is to act my nature,” she says.

“What do you mean?”

“As the bees do,” she says. “As most things do. What did I say before? I want to be comfortable. I want to feel good. And, Anna, I don’t want to be alone.”

STATUS: Wednesday, June 29th

The Daily Report

I had some stray observations about the continuing celebrity of my latest parody piece, but they wound up escalating into a separate blog post. I will only note here that far from having run its course overnight, it appears to be picking up speed.

We’re coming up on the end of my first month of renewed MU updates and refocused Patreon activity, and I have to say I think it’s been going pretty good. I’m still tinkering with my short story for the month, but I expect to have it up under the wire. I mean, I could put it up now. It’s complete. It’s just not finished.

When it goes up, I’ll have completed my goals for the month except for the “compile everything into a zine” one, which necessarily must wait until after the end of the month. That will be an interesting experience.

Financial Status

Amidst all the other hoopla, I almost didn’t notice, but we made it! GoFundMe fully funded! Oh, and as of this morning, I guess it’s “and then some”.

The State of the Me

Doing fairly well.

Plans For Today

Focusing on my short story. The title has shifted slightly and might again before it goes up, but right now I’m working with something like “Women Who Make Bees In Public”. As my first monthly short story, I’m not yet sure if it will be public to try to capitalize on the current small spotlight I’m enjoying, or patron-only. I guess I’ll surprise myself.

Okay. So. Wow.

I thought that thing I wrote this weekend was slowing down, but it crested 10,000 views this morning. The referral notes on it and on my related blog posts are showing traffic spikes from all kinds of places. The Nashville Scene was one of the earliest outliers; they included both the original and my parody without comment in a miscellaneous link round-up. There’s apparently a thread on a ravelry board that have sent a few hundred readers. There’s a thread on metafilter.

The weirdest and most concerning was a couple of errant clicks from the most bigoted corner of the anon image boards. For a moment I was concerned that they’d found common cause with me taking potshots at a man they’d consider a “beta cuck”, but I followed it back and found that no, their take on all this is that I’m jealous of a straight white man’s “success”.

Listen, as I said on Twitter last night: I do resent the fact that his privilege allows him to get away with having such a mediocre hustle, but that’s not that all that particular to him? But in terms of success, I’m not sure what there is for me to aspire to. He wrote one thing that went viral and got picked up by Huffington Post. My most successful viral hit has still likely been read by a hundred times the audience his reached, and it paid exactly the same (i.e., nothing).

Actually, it was interesting reading that and then seeing some of the discussion on metafilter. Among the fringes, there seems to be two emerging narratives of what’s going on: I’m either a big bully established author stomping down on a plucky underdog with spirit, or he’s the established, well-respected professional and I’m a nobody scrabbling to grab his shoelaces.

Both opinions seem pretty firmly in the minority, so I’m not really worried about either wildly distorted view taking root. According to this guy’s CV, he’s had some success in the field of pointing cameras at things and convincing people to look at the footage. I’ve had some success in the field of writing things and convincing people to read the words. Trying to figure out any kind of 1:1 comparison is hard enough between two artists taking different paths through the same field, much less wildly differing paths in completely different fields.

My one piece will never reach as large an audience as the original did. That’s the nature of the beast. Its target audience is a subset of the people who read, saw, or heard about his. And only a subset. The people who read his and see a man talking about feelings and are willing to accept that this makes him honest, sensitive, and mature even when the specific feelings and circumstances reveal the opposite aren’t going to get my piece. The response is never going to have the same legs as the original. I could write a broader piece that takes down the general concept in more general terms, and it might take off, but that’s not what I felt the need to do.

I say this all not as a lament. I’m not bothered by any comparison in the numbers between one piece of mine and anybody else’s. My earnest wish is that everybody who read the original and recoiled from it would know that my response is available, but I never write anything longer than a chat post on Tumblr or a single tweet and think “I want literally everybody to see this.”

Everything I write has an audience. I don’t write anything for everybody. When I write a thing, I want for it to reach as much of its potential audience as possible, but I hate the idea of shaving bits off of something to widen its appeal.

I looked at the dude’s Patreon page a couple of times during the first day I was aware of his work. At the time, I was doing better than he is on that one metric, even before you add in my other revenue streams. I still might be. I don’t know. I’m not tracking that. A little while back when N.K. Jemisin and a few other trad-pubbed authors either made the jump to Patreon or upped their efforts in using and promoting their Patreons, I had a bunch of people in my social media inboxes trying to stir up some kind of feud by asking me if I was jealous.

It didn’t work for a variety of reasons (including the fact that these people are my peers and friends, which makes it pretty easy for me to be happy for them), but chief among them is the fact that I don’t measure my success against other people. I didn’t do it when I was the only person I knew who was using micropatronage. I see no reason to start now that it’s a legitimate phenomenon.

I will admit that the petty part of me that saw that the guy’s Patreon pitch revolves around inviting people to be part of “The First One Thousand” (i.e., his initial funding milestone is $1,000 a month) thinks it would be hilarious if I make it to a thousand before he does, but, I mean, reality check: I want to get there anyway, regardless of what he’s doing and whether it works or not; we’re not competing for the same dollars, so if I’m at a thousand I’m not making any more or less based on what he’s doing; and above all, basing a business model around spite is just not all that sustainable.

I’m sure that my takedown piece seems kind of mean, but I didn’t write it to hurt the author or spread hatred. I wrote it to provide joy and relief and mirth to the people who felt anger or pain over his writing. There have been a few times on Twitter when my frustration with his entitled cluelessness has boiled over, but ultimately, the reason I write parodies is to give people something to laugh about in the middle of a mess. That’s bringing something positive into the world.

I said on Twitter last night that everybody has a hustle, and I try to keep mine simple: I provide value in exchange for value. I’m not going to write a hit piece or hate piece for the purpose of stirring up outrage or a sense of righteousness in the reader. I can. It’s not hard for someone of my talents to do that kind of manipulation.

But it’s not very… to borrow a word from the original piece in question… worthy.

STATUS: Tuesday, June 28th

The Daily Report

Well, my Sad Boner Confessional parody seems to be my first Medium post to really go viral, in its own small way. One of my big weaknesses as a businessperson is that when something I do is successful, I find the success very distracting. I.e., I keep checking Twitter notifications and refreshing the Medium stat page. I want to chart the thing as it happens. I’m using a timer to try to control this tendency, so far not very successfully. We’ll see how things go when I start working in earnest for the day.

I’ve now had a nibble of interest from a Medium-based publication (basically, a curated list of articles with some features of a zine). I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to do about that, but it’s still flattering. I’m interested in the idea of the piece being essentially syndicated, but I’m not too keen on the venue. I feel like I’d be bringing more to them than the other way around, which I wouldn’t mind if I liked what I saw better. So I’m appreciating it as a milestone, but I don’t think I’m going to take the offer.

I’ve already gained $1 in Patreon sponsorship a month that I can directly link to the success of the parody piece, which as near as I can tell is more benefit than the original author got from his HuffPo deal. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

Even more so than the piece itself circulating, I’m grateful to see the phrase “Sad Boner Confessional” catching on and resonating with people. If my contribution to The Discourse is that we have a really great phrase for identifying and instantly dismissing these masturbatory bits of drivel.

Financial Status

We had a large recurring annual expense sneak up on us this week at a moment when no one was paying attention, which made for a scary moment when Jack went grocery shopping yesterday. Really looking forward to next month, when my de facto raise from my new Patreon stuff and the Tales of MU Patreon kicks in.

I’d still really like to be able to close out my WorldCon fundraiser before the end of the month. It’s almost there, but the “almost” feels like it’s hanging over my head.

State of the Me

Feeling pretty good today!

Plans For Today

It’s a Tales of MU publishing day. There’s also a chance I’ll have to run out on an errand, and I’m working to get the house in order for the sitters before we leave next week.


Why @ianmack’s Boner is the Saddest Boner

So, over the weekend, content extortion site Huffington Post (motto: “All The Exposure You Can Eat!”) picked up a piece that had been making the rounds on Medium. This piece, entitled “Love Will Be The Death Of Us: Notes From The End Of A Relationship”, is basically everything that’s wrong with the personal essay subgenre that I call Sad Boner Confessional.

Said sad dude’s name is Ian Mackenzie. I’m going to call him by his social media handle of @ianmack for the rest of this blog, because it’s disturbing to me that both of his names are first names of major characters in my writing. His tale is the story of what one dude learned from cheating on his infertile wife of 10 years, then pressuring her to accept an open relationship as a “solution” to the problems of their relationship so that he can “explore his sexuality” without guilt, and how this inadvertently freed her to learn she was far, far happier with someone else than she’d ever been with him.

You can tell you’re reading a Sad Boner Confessional when the language suggests a high wire act where the author is trying to achieve some delicate balance between “I’m a sensitive man” and “BUT I’M A MAN” and wants you to sympathize with the contortions he puts himself through as  a result. You can tell you’re reading a Sad Boner Confessional when a man is describing the worst trauma of a woman’s life purely in terms of what it means about him. You can tell you’re reading a Sad Boner Confessional when a man is telling you everything he’s learned from the mistakes he’s made but none of those things are accountability or personal responsibility. You can tell you’re reading a Sad Boner Confessional when all admissions of past sins have a sheen of humblebragging about them.

For example: here’s how @ianmack describes the time of his life when he actively and repeatedly betrayed his wife:

“It happens again: always a different and worthy woman. Comfort for a stricken artist at a conference on the Salish Sea. Honor for a delightful dance with a soulful healer in Vancouver. Companionship for a lonely entrepreneurial Athena in San Francisco.

These interactions weighed heavy on my soul. I could not make sense of them. On the one hand, each felt appropriate, life-affirming and needed. Surely these could not be considered “cheating.” What was a kiss anyway? On the other hand, such interactions were beyond the boundaries of our monogamous partnership to which Katherine and I had vowed. In my uncertainty, I waited, hoping somehow the situation would resolve itself.

Eventually, the guilt crested and I crafted a confession.”

It kept happening, you guys. Somehow, it kept happening. He kept meeting worthy women, Athenas, goddessesses, and he kept kissing them. I mean, kisses happened. He concedes on a purely technical level that he has transgressed against a vow, but not against the person to whom he made the vow.

The only person who has ever written worse Sad Boner Confessionals than the aforementioned piece by @ianmack is Hugo Schwyzer, and that’s because Schwyzer literally wrote essays about the important moral and emotional lessons he learned from sleeping with students and raping and/or trying to murder his intimate partners (the takeaway from that last one was “Hey, we’re all human.”), and they were wrapped up in enough language that suggested he was sensitive and progressive that a lot of people with big feminist publishing platforms celebrated them for a while.

I like to think that Hugo Schwyzer’s very public meltdown and the erosion of his reputation did something to inoculate the circles of commercial feminism/progressive writing against the worst excesses of the Sad Boner Confessional.

That was probably naive of me.

Now, the thing about Medium is that it’s primarily a social media site that depends on other social media sites for circulation, which makes it easier for things to go viral within select narrow circles on it, and so first version of the @ianmack essay managed to attract a lot of positive attention for how “powerful” and “honest” it is.

I’m not sure I’d call it honest. One tick that he has is using the verb “craft” to describe the act of creating a message: he crafts a love letter, he crafts a confession, he crafts a poem. I think this is a winking admission that, as a self-identified storyteller, he is putting a lot of thought into how the messages he sends come off. Perhaps he feels—as many do—that acknowledging the artifice behind his sentiment makes it a cool creative choice on a level that makes it genuine rather than artificial.

But knowing the artifice is there just makes it more glaring why he goes so far to explain his first kiss with his future wife as something that just happened; it primes the reader to accept that in his life, a kiss is a a thing that just happens. That’s part of the frame for the narrative of everything that happens afterwards, including kisses with other women.

He also talks about his repeated infidelity and their inability to have children together in a way that weaves them together not causally (because if he were to say “Of course I strayed, my wife is barren,” he’d be an out-and-out villain) but rather in a way that encourages the reader to subconsciously conflate the two issues, so that we forget that the real issue endangering the future of their relationship is his unfaithfulness and so that we accept that his push to open the marriage up to polyamory is somehow a solution to the childlessness.

(If you haven’t read the piece, you might be thinking, well, polyamory could be part of a solution to infertility, but the conclusion of the story makes it clear that the idea they might have children together with other people was never on his radar.)

Anyway, it’s a horrible tale, horribly told, but because it initially circulated in protected waters it achieved some acclaim and some notice, enough for HuffPo to bestow upon it the highest honor it can offer (i.e., exposure). Being published in the internet’s content aggregator of record does not appear to have worked out well for Mr. @ianmack, though. While his piece is being circulated widely, it’s not exactly attracting positive notice. The comments on the HuffPo posting are pretty uniformly negative. The needle on his patreon (which is promoted at the end of the piece) has not moved at all since I first read it yesterday.

As soon as I read the piece, I knew I couldn’t leave it alone. At first I was just tweeting observations on it, likening it to (infamously bad fanfic) My Immortal and commenting on the more pretentious touches. Before long, I “somehow found myself” on Medium, “crafting” a full-length parody that highlights the more problematic, disturbing, or hilariously bad parts of the original. Family plans took me AFK for most of the day, so I didn’t publish the article—entitled Infidelity Will Be The Death Of My Marriage: The Unbelievably Brave Story Of One Incredibly Sensitive Man’s Intensely Personal Journey Towards Divorce until yesterday evening.

I had some misgivings about actually posting it. The number one question in my mind was: is this actually necessary? I mean, there are a lot of people writing self-important blather on the internet. They don’t all need this level of reply.

What made up my mind were the facts that HuffPo had picked him up, and that he’s apparently using this piece to try to launch a whole career of what he calls “new paradigm storytelling”, and it’s like, did we not learn anything from Hugo Schwyzer?

The responses I’ve received even in just the first 12 hours have convinced me I made the right call. People who were creeped out and unsettled by the original have thanked me for validating what they were feeling. People who could not make it through the original without ragequitting have thanked me for giving them something to laugh about in the whole mess. People who have friends and family who thought the original piece was “powerful and honest” have thanked me for helping them find ways to explain their problems with it.

Just overnight, the piece has already become my second-most-read thing on Medium, and probably my most widely shared thing there. I hope it keeps circulating. I hope it reaches more people. I hope it dogs the footsteps of the original until no one ever shares the saddest of the Sad Boner Confessionals without someone else seeing it and posting a link. The satirist’s curse is that the notoriety of our work will almost always be a fraction of that of what inspires us.

But if I can help turn this insipid trend in creative nonfiction writing into the laughingstock it deserves to be? Dang the torpedoes and full speed ahead.

STATUS: Monday, June 27th

The Daily Report

Well, over the weekend I posted a thing to the social media content site Medium (more on that in a subsequent post) that instantly went semi-viral, overnight becoming my second-most read piece on there. That got me thinking about posting more content to Medium.

I would never make it my primary outlet because… well, I don’t fully trust it, to be honest. But I think it gives a better format for readers to read and share stories and poems than posting them to my blog does. So I think I’m going to start copying such stuff I’ve previously published here over there, and in the future when I post poetry or prose for public consumption, I’ll cross-post it. Maybe even when I make  persuasive or informational post.

We’re in the waning days of June. The last thing to tick off on my patron promises for the month is the short story, which I have the body of written. I just need to finish tinkering with it to my satisfaction and post it.

Next week I’m returning to Omaha for a family 4th of July celebration and sort of aggregate of other family milestones/observances. I’ve been traveling a lot for family stuff, but this is likely to be the last big trip I take to Nebraska in the foreseeable future. As my siblings and I get more and more scattered and more established in our separate lives, we’re also trying to hold on to the closeness we had growing up, but the future is going to call for different solutions.

I’m not at all sure what next week is going to do for the MU publication schedule. If I hadn’t gotten sick in June, I would have sufficient padding that I wouldn’t have to give it a second thought. It’s possible I could catch up this week, but I have other stuff I need to do. The fact that people are now pledging for MU per chapter completed gives me an incentive to power through, but it also gives me some slack to take a week off if necessary, as no one gets charged for that.

Financial Status

Well, for a while, it really seemed like the momentum was with closing out my WorldCon travel fundraiser in the month of June, but we appear to have stalled temporarily at just a little bit shy of the target. If anybody wants to throw some money in to help put it over the top, I’d appreciate it:

The State of the Me

Made some questionable life choices yesterday and I’m paying the price for them today. Starting work about an hour late, and it’s likely to be a slow day.

Plans For Today

It’s going to primarily be a creative day. Working on my short story, working on Tales of MU, working on Making Out Like Bandits.  I’m also going to be selecting a few pieces to port over to Medium. Old stuff, but stuff that could find a new audience.

A little stock-taking.

So, the one work thing that I’ve been a little anxious about is the short story for June. I’ve checked every other item on the patron goody list for the month, and while I was pushing back writing it for a few different reasons, every time I looked at the calendar and saw how many (or few) days were left in the month, I got a little nervous.

I’ve always known that I can write a short story in a single day, but it kind of has to be the right day. That is, I can’t sit down every day and do it, however much I’d like to. But when I have an idea? I have a pronounced tendency to kick out the first draft in a day, whether it’s 2,000 words or 12,000. In fact, I can’t think of a single story in the short story format that’s not part of something bigger where the major act of writing took me more than a day, and where I ever finished the story. I have stories I finished in a day, and I’ve got half-finished drafts.

Anyway, all of this is to say that I wound up writing June’s short story today. It needs what I call the “action/description pass”, as many of my stories do, which is both a general editing/polish pass and me going through and adding more visual descriptions and incidental physical business. I’ll probably post the story for my patrons tomorrow. As I teased on Twitter, it’s a story about two women trying to have a conversation in public, and one of them makes bees.

I’ve made the decision that my MU updates are going to go on Tuesday and Friday rather than Tuesday and Thursday. T-Th appeals to my sense of symmetry, but it means I have most of the week between updates on one end, and a day between them on the other. Tuesday and Friday makes the gap between when I have to have a story finished and posted and when I have to do the same for the next one a lot more even. I’ll probably make this change official next week.