March Onward!

Hello, new folllowers! This is both a status post and what I call a processing post, where I reflect on things that have been happening and will be happening. Please be advised that this sort of post is not a request for advice and does not require any feedback. If you’re curious to know what’s going on in my life and in my head… well, that’s what blogs are for. I am more than capable of asking for advice if I need it.

Anyway…

February was an interesting experience after the creative high of January, when I wrote over 60,000 words of fiction and got a lot of amazing things done. I figured things would basically continue on the same, but… stuff kept happening. In retrospect, the same kinds of stuff happened in January. The difference was that in January, my creative momentum let me roll with it. In February, I just crashed and burned. Even trying to edit/format fiction I’d previously written was a lot harder. I kept telling myself that if I could just get past _____, I would get my feet under me and then make up some lost ground.

It was on the very last day of February that I finally gave up and decided it was okay that this never happened. My January word count is still amazing even divided out over two months, and I’d already approached February with the idea that I’d likely write less even if I had another amazing month. So it ended up being way less. I can live with that.

Once I let go of the idea that I was going to make up for my missed fiction-writing plans in the remainder of the month, I realized that the problem all along was that I’d been suffering something like burnout. I did ALL THE WRITING in January and needed to ease off in February. Not a big deal, and something I can certainly account for going forward. As much as I’d like to believe I can take what I did in January and be a fiction-outputting machine year round, that’s just not now things work.

So from here on out, I’m going to take my January approach of throwing myself into one project at a time and add another wrinkle: after a month of hyperfocus, a month to decompress, where I don’t place any creative demands on myself. It’s not a month of, but a month off from the pressure of producing wordcount. The things I did accomplish in February that relate to the business side of writing all happened in times when I excused myself from writing because of temporary physical impediments.

So January was a creative month, February was not. March will be, April will not be (which is handy because it’s a crunch/stress month for the business side), May will be, June won’t be (which is handy because WisCon tends to wipe me out for at least a week, more if I get sick), and so on. It’s not a perfect system as, for instance, WisCon falls during one of the “on” months, but I had my out-of-state family holiday gathering in January and it didn’t break my stride.

As I type this out, it seems incredibly obvious in retrospect that “intentionally trigger hyperfocus on one creative project after another indefinitely” was not a sustainable plan.

It’s not like February was a total wash. My political commentary continued to attract attention (and a lot of new eyes), and even brought in a little money that allowed me to deal with what might otherwise have been serious crises. I’ll need to find a sustainable balance between that and fiction as we go into March, but I managed that okay in January.

The Story on Trump’s Speech: He’s a Good Liar

Late last night, I broke down Trump’s address to the joint session of Congress on Twitter. At the time I said that it was the best speech he’s given yet, though I qualified that this was not a compliment to him so much as a warning to all of us: the regime is stepping up its messaging game, and we all have to be ready.

I predicted a lot of people would be taken in by the shiny new packaging and a patriotic wrapper provided by speechwriter Vince Haley, and when I got up this morning and checked the news sites, I found that I was right.

People sometimes ask me what news outlets I read. The answer is: as many of them as I can. And even beyond that, I look at the headlines and preview text for more. The reason I do this is because I’m trying to get a complete picture not just of what’s happening, but how it’s being framed… the meta-story of a story, if you will.

The meta-story on last night’s speech is: Donald Trump is a complete liar who has never looked more presidential than in this speech where he called for unity while saying things that are manifestly and obviously untrue. He passed a major test in what was sure to be a turning point for his presidency, and he was lying to us the whole time.

By some estimates, he told an average of one verifiable lie or inaccuracy nearly every minute.  And the pundits and talk show hosts and talking heads ate it up and begged him to keep serving more of the same.

Understand, individual people aren’t saying all of this together. Instead, we have fact-checking pieces and rebuttal pieces addressing specific claims and pointing out specific falsehoods, and side-by-side with that we have reaction pieces that talk about how it all came off. What I’m not seeing from the conventional media is anything that puts together the whole picture, of what it means that he gave a surprisingly good speech with a new, burnished and polished persona, and told more of the same lies he’s been telling.

We have a word in the English language for when someone stands up for an hour and says things that aren’t true, but which he wishes to be accepted as true, and which he makes palatable by wrapping up in patriotic imagery and inspiring platitudes and bromides about how we like things that are good and dislike things that are bad, until people find themselves nodding along with conclusions that in better circumstances they would have examined more carefully.

That word is propaganda.

The news media is not about to stand up and say that Donald Trump delivered an hour of propaganda, though, because where the line falls between a persuasive speech that is slickly packaged and actual propaganda is too subjective a determination for any one person to make.

I mean, it would be kind of like saying that someone was being presidential.

Realistically, the media has got to get better at handling things like this if they (and the rest of us) are going to survive Trump’s regime. They have got to stop acting like they’re safely up in an announcer’s box providing color commentary on a struggle confined to a playing field that neither includes them nor has any consequences that extend out of bounds.

This is not a game, there are no boundaries or safe zones or rules or timeouts, and they themselves are very much in play as designated enemies in a declared war.

Anyone who thinks that this speech signals the beginning of a whole new era with a whole new Trump is in for a rude awakening. CNN is already reporting that the White House has chosen to delay rolling out the revised Muslim travel ban executive order, so as to extend the honeymoon period for the speech.

Now, if the problem with how his actions have been received to date really were, as he’s suggested recently, a problem of “messaging”, then the smart thing to do would be to push forward with it now, while he has the public’s goodwill and has had his message accepted by the viewing audience.

If they’re in a position where they’re dead sure that releasing the executive order now would not just fail to capitalize on the momentum of the speech but kill it, they must know it’s not good.

Which is no surprise, since Stephen Miller already admitted the goal is to get to the same policy outcome with different wording.

This means that we who resist can look forward to the belated honeymoon period being over before too long, no matter how worrying it is that it’s happening.

As the day has worn on and the obvious takes get shoved out of the way, there are some signs that some in the media are paying attention to the undercurrents. An analysis piece dropped by the Washington Post shows some real savviness. It makes the point that however many hands wrote the speech, Steve Bannon and Team Chaotic Evil are still obviously calling the shots, policy-wise.

And of course, outside the mainstream media, plenty of well-followed Twitter commentators apart from myself have picked up on the rhetorical tricks that the speech employed. So, I don’t think that this speech will be the turning point at which the American people line up behind Trump or the resistance falls apart. It’s no time to get complacent, but it’s only the first step in a new battle over messaging.

The regime fully realizes how effective it was, but they also know the reality of what they’re peddling doesn’t match the sales pitch. How much mileage they wring out of these new gimmicks before the public catches on to that is going to depend in large part on how badly the tweeter-in-chief does at staying “on message” when he’s not reading a script in the august chambers of Congress.

Here’s hoping he stays true to form.


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Change of Plans (WorldCon 75 memberships for sale)

Until recently, we had been planning on attending WorldCon 75 in Helsinki this coming fall as a family. Given the state of the republic right now, we’re not comfortable being committed to taking our visibly queer, vocally anti-Regime selves across the U.S. border and back. So, with a somewhat heavy heart, I’m announcing our decision to stay home.

Our change of plans can be your stroke of luck, though. We purchased our (non-refundable, but transferable) memberships before the price went up. If you’re interested in attending, please know that we have three adult memberships to sell, one with the first-time World Con discount (80 euros, when we bought it) and two without (120 euros). The discounted one can only be transferred to someone who qualifies for it. The three memberships do not have to be transferred to the same party.

If you’re interested in buying one or more of the memberships, please send an email to blueauthor at gmail dot com. Please make sure you specify how many and which. We’ll be doing this first come, first served. The exchange rate right now is such that we’ll take 80 or 120 as appropriate in either USD or EUR, just to keep things simple. Either way we’ll be losing a little bit on it compared to what we paid, but that’s fine.

I believe the nomination period for Hugos runs through mid-March, so if you snatch these up before then, you will have nominating privileges. Even after that, WorldCon membership carries voting privileges.

Catching up.

It has been a heck of a month. I’ve mainly been talking about what’s been going on in my life (and everywhere else) on the social mediums, because I’ve mostly been on my phone instead of the computer. So, as some of you already know, the prescription ran out in my glasses. I was starting to get horrific headaches when I wore them too long, and particularly when I used them to read the computer screen… combination of brightness, focusing on tiny text, and the distance, I guess.

I’d already mostly switched to doing close-up reading with my glasses off in the past few months; that’s fine on the phone, doesn’t work for the computer, especially with my semi-recumbent setup.

I do a lot of writing on hand-held devices in an average month anyway, but I don’t like editing or publishing things without a full-sized computer screen because you can’t really get the big picture of what you’re looking at when you’re seeing just a few lines at a time. Blogging, too. My last blog post (about the Bill O’Reilly interview) was written 95% on the phone, but I got on the computer to finish it and post it.

I’ve doing well enough that I was able to get an eye appointment at a discount place, at least, which happened a couple days after that last blog post. The bad news is that discount equals not very fast; the good news is that it took a few days less than quoted. I was expecting them to come in, oh, about this Thursday. I got the call Saturday that they were ready. Even better: the back-up pairs I ordered from Zenni Optical at the same time also arrived Saturday.

With working glasses and a little bit of money, we did a lot of running around this weekend, taking care of stuff that we’ve been needing to take care of for a while. Somewhere along the way, Jack and I picked up a respiratory bug that kept me up Sunday night and knocked me out for most of yesterday. I’m still a little under the weather, so today is very much going to be playing it by ear.

For those who haven’t followed me through previous illnesses – I have a mitochondrial condition that manifests as extreme fatigue, and is exacerbated by illness. When I’m sick, I’m sick and tired, and I don’t mean a little sleepy, I mean deep-down, all-over, in-the-bone fatigue.

Now, while I haven’t been able to edit or do writing work on longer projects, I have not been idle. One reason I’m not good at the non-writing parts of the business is – I would rather be writing. Stuck off the computer but with a working phone, I’ve been messaging people, arranging some collaborations and commissioning some artwork and such, to make my upcoming fiction debuts a little slicker and more memorable than they might otherwise be.

Meanwhile – I’ve got quite a backlog of stuff to get through. I’m going to be pretty much posting at least a thing a day for the rest of the month.

I watched the O’Reilly Trump interview so you don’t have to.

Bill O’Reilly opens the interview by buttering Trump up, saying Gorsuch “roll-out” went “very smooth”. Trump talks over him to agree/insist “Yes, it did. Yes, it did.” I think O’Reilly understood he needed to nod to Trump’s dream world in order to start the interview on a good footing. The importance of establishing frame when dealing with Trump cannot be underestimated.

With this goodwill established, O’Reilly pivots to the Muslim travel ban, contrasting it as “less smooth”. Trump responds by repeating the figure of “109 people” out of “hundreds of thousands of travelers”. Now, this was put out by the White House as a preliminary figure early on in the ban’s enforcement. Even if there was a point at which it was ever accurate (and that is not clear), it was very quickly obsolete.

Figuring out exact numbers for who was affected by the ban would be tricky, because you’ve got the people who were detained, you have people who were prevented from boarding flights, and you’ve got people who canceled their plans before they got to the airport or checked in for their flights.

Trump says that “all that happened” to the “109 people” is they were “vetted very carefully”. No part of this is true. People were denied medicine or access to healthcare, forced to surrender their visas (some of which were physically cancelled; we’re told that they’ll be reissued, but the former holders must actually apply for this), deported, turned away at the airport, etc. People who sold everything they owned for a plane ticket wound up stranded in limbo.

The “vetting process”, by all accounts, consisted of “bad cop” intimidation tactics, grilling on social media usage, and questions about their opinions on Donald Trump personally. What value or security this added to the already extreme vetting process that the refugees, travelers, and residents had gone through to get to this point is not clear.

Bill O’Reilly closes this topic by asking Trump if he would do anything different. Trump demures; O’Reilly presses him (at least to a point) by bringing up the apparent fact that some of Trump’s people didn’t know what was going on. Trump rebuts, “That’s not what General Kelly said.” It’s true that General (now Secretary) Kelly of the DHS did come out and do some damage control, pushing back on the reports that there was no coordination or advance warning and DHS was operating in the dark. But it’s also true that this transparently was damage control; it was a case of “Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?” Kelly is clearly a very loyal man who prizes the appearance of an orderly implementation over his own integrity. Trump closes his invocation of John Kelly by attributing the figure of only 109 people affected overall to him.

O’Reilly then (somewhat mercifully) closes the segment, turning to Iran.

O’Reilly’s question is if Trump thinks that our country is on a collision course with Iran. Trump’s response, naturally, is an utter non sequitur. He immediately begins talking about how it’s the worst deal he’s ever seen, a terrible deal. There is no specification of what deal this might be, but O’Reilly is clearly used to Trump’s “conversation” style, as he prompts Trump to clarify.

Trump, of course, is talking about what he and other Republicans categorized as a “ransom”: a cash delivery we made to Iran under the Obama administration. As Trump tells it: there was no reason for the deal, and we have nothing to show for it, so it shouldn’t have been made.

Well, here’s the thing, babies: this “deal” was actually a debt the United States owed to Iran. Iran’s government, pre-revolution, paid us $400 million for some fighter jets. When a popular revolution deposed the CIA-installed puppet government that had bought those jets, the U.S. canceled the deal but kept the money. Iran quite understandably felt the money should be returned, and sought a judgment against the United States. We owed them the original $400 million plus interest, which over the course of three and a half decades added up to $1.3 billion dollars. That plus the initial $0.4 billion payment adds up to the $1.7 billion “deal” that Trump is talking about.

So, basically, the situation is this: for better or worse, we walked away from a contract after they gave us their end of the deal, wihtout holding up our end. We were sued and agreed to make good on the debt.

Of course Donald Trump sees this as a “bad deal”. He breaks contracts all the time. If there is nothing for him in keeping his end of a bargain, he won’t keep it. And if he’s sued, he’ll drown the plaintiff in paperwork and ignore the judgment until the other party agrees to take whatever he feels like just to get something back. I threaded on this the other day, on how he’s trying to apply this “principle” (for lack of a better word) to international diplomacy and how it’s not going well for him.

Now, we paid back the principle (the initial $400 million payment, which was actually frozen in a trust this whole time) and agreed to pay the interest, as part of a negotiated settlement that avoids ten billion dollars in punitive damages Iran had sought. Donald Trump is talking about “possibly tearing up” this settlement because he doesn’t see what the benefit of paying $1.7 billion dollars that we owe instead of facing a damaging arbitration process.

You can read more about the specifics of the deal (and holes in the theory that it was a “ransom” paid) on Snopes.

Trump refers to Iran as “the number one terrorist state” and says they’re “sending weapons and money everywhere”. Well, I don’t know much about that. It’s possible he’s caught one or two more daily intelligence briefings than I have. I’ll take his word for it.

“Sanctions,” O’Reilly says. It’s a statement. It has the feel of a lifeline. “You’re going to start with that?”

There’s nothing really substantive about Trump’s plans for Iran, though, because he is holding to the line that it’s “stupid” to tell people what you’re going to do. It’s clear he views the entire conflict as an appendage-measuring contest, and he believes Iran does, too.

Then they come on to the segment that circulated as a teaser: the Putin question. I think many more people saw this on social media or read about it than watched the interview: O’Reilly asks Trump if he respects Putin, Trump affirms that he does. O’Reilly says, with a credible level of exasperation, “WHY?” Trump’s answer, par for course, is rambling and without substance: Putin’s a leader, Trump respects a lot of people, the fight against ISIS is like super hard you guys, etc. O’Reilly interjects, “He’s a killer, though! He’s a killer!”

And Trump’s response, my hand to gosh, is “Lotta killers. Gotta lotta killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?”

A lot of people with rosy glasses that are half full on the left-wing side of the aisle saw this as a valid critique of our government’s excesses rather than an attempt to excuse Putin’s brutal and self-serving murderous tendencies, but let’s be honest: O’Reilly is talking about Putin’s habit of assassinating critics, rivals, and even allies who know too much and can do too little, and Donald Trump is shrugging and saying that he’s pretty sure everybody does that kind of thing. Everyone makes mistakes! He brings up the Iraq War as an example of a mistake that killed a lot of people, and he’s not wrong there, but it’s changing the subject from “you admire a bloodthirsty autocrat, should we be worried?” to “Donald Trump was always totes right about the Iraq War, you guys. Ask Sean Hannity!”

I think that’s the point where Bill O’Reilly, God bless a piece of him, just gives up. He stops making any pretense of trying to hold Donald Trump to answering any questions. He brings up the call to Mexico. He asks point blank if it’s true that Donald Trump said he would send troops across the border to clean up the “bad hombres”. Donald Trump digresses into what was clearly a very well-rehearsed, well-scripted answer that both neatly sidesteps the yes/no and gives an alternate explanation for the reported remark: he was offering help, which President Peña Nieto was receptive to. Does he consider Mexico a corrupt country? He loves the people, he gets along great with their president. What sort of tariff might pay for the wall? It’s an unfair situation, allthe jobs and plants, but Trump has personally turned it all around already.

Sidenote here: it has been reported that Trump, the Great Negotiator, agreed to completely stop talking about who will pay for the wall in public.

When Trump is bragging about all the companies that he has supposedly talked into bringing jobs back, O’Reilly characterizes it as Trump intimidating them. Trump disagrees, saying they’re just doing what’s right. O’Reilly is kind of beside himself at this. The idea of a president strongarming businesses into making decisions that fit his agenda is the sort of thing that should get any so-called conservative’s ire up. Bill O’Reilly makes an attempt here, but his heart’s not in it.

On domestic affairs, O’Reilly mentions that he just got back from California, whose legislature is voting to become a “sanctuary state”. O’Reilly says that this sets California and the United States on a collision course (isn’t that pretty much what the San Andreas fault is?). He really seems to like that phrase.

Trump immediately starts talking about defunding the entire state of California. O’Reilly seems a bit incredulous; perhaps he is aware that the “coastal elite” states like California actually fund the federal government and pay for the federal spending in Trump’s “real America”. California pays the federal government $1 for the privilege of getting 70 cents back. Trump certainly doesn’t seem to know this; to hear him talk about California’s out of control lifestyle, he thinks the rest of the country is paying it welfare. O’Reilly presses: “So defunding is your weapon of choice?” Trump is sticking to not committing to any specific action: “It’s a weapon. Look, I don’t want to defund anybody!”

Buddy, you brought it up.

Again, O’Reilly has no stomach for pressing Trump. He moves on, and with obvious trepidation and more than a bit of hedging, asks if Donald Trump might not have something of a strained relationship with factual things that can be backed up. This segment is basically like someone talking to Donald Trump’s Twitter. O’Reilly says that “some people” are saying it’s irresponsible for Donald Trump to claim that millions of people voted illegally wihtout any data to back them up. Donald’s first response, right out of the gate, is, “Well, you know, many people have come out and said that I’m right.”

He’s not wrong there. Many people who heard it from him or read on their uncle’s Facebook page (who heard it from him) have said he’s right, because the thing he’s saying backs up their worldview. Donald Trump’s alternate reality take on this sort of thing exists in a feedback loop with his audience, where they say a thing and he picks it up which proves it’s true to them, and he says a thing and they pick it up, which proves it’s right to him. It’s like Beavis and Butthead copying off each other on a test neither of them studied for.

Now, there’s a new wrinkle to Donald’s discourse here. He says, “It doesn’t have to do with the vote, though that is the end result. It has to do with the registration.” He talks about how the voter registration rolls have dead people, people who’ve moved, etc. Which, they do. Clearly someone close to Trump has tried to explain this to him, and made a lot of headway. But he’s still convinced that this backs him up, somehow, in his contention that there are millions of illegal votes.

O’Reilly lets Donald go through his spiel, and then says, “So, you think you’re going to be proven correct in that statement.”

And Donald says, and I kid you not, he says: “Well, I think I already have. A lot of people have come out and said that I am correct.”

Now, O’Reilly does the bravest thing of his career here, in that he contradicts Donald Trump and tries to explain the concept of “proof” to him: “The data has to show that three million ‘illegals’ voted.”

And Trump says, “Look, forget that! Forget all of that!” How many times did his advisors tell him that, I wonder? “Just take a look at the registration!” He then explains he’s setting up a commission headed by Mike Pence.

O’Reilly says, “Good, let’s get to the bottom of this.” and moves on to a real softball: can we expect a tax cut this year? Yes, Trump says, and probably before the end of the year.

Can we expect a new healthcare plan this year? Yes, well, no, Obamacare is a disaster, maybe, but definitely by the end of next year. It’s complicated, Trump says, but “You have to remember: Obamacare doesn’t work.”

Last question is a soft one, though O’Reilly does slip in a reference to one of the worrying factoids of Trump’s life (that he only gets four hours of sleep a night): does Donald ever have a moment, say when his head hits the pillow, where he can’t believe he’s really the president of the United States?

Donald Trump, to his credit, has the good grace to look directly at the camera like a character on The Office for a moment when Bill O’Reilly asks that. His answer isn’t that interesting or that convincing. From there the interview turns into a discussion of the then-upcoming game, which is now over.. It’s only interesting because when O’Reilly tells his subject that Fox Sports is demanding he gets a Super Bowl prediction from him, Trump insists that he doesn’t like to make predictions. This is funny since I can remember him crowing on Twitter about a few things he supposedly predicted. When the Pulse shooting happened, wasn’t he talking about how many people had congratulated him for predicting it?

I think what he meant was he doesn’t like saying a hard number for something that will be settled one way or the other within a few hours, as opposed to predictions that amount to “Somewhere in a nation of three hundred million people, something bad will happen, mark my words.”

Anyway. That was the Bill O’Reilly interview of Donald Trump. It’ll probably be a lot more entertaining when Alec Baldwin does it.


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I’m doing more planning than writing this week…

…but I think that might be good, long-term. My explosively amazing writing week on Secret Sisterhood was a planning session that took off creatively. Not every planning session’s going to do that. But it helped crystallize for me how much good planning and good writing go hand-in-hand. One of the reasons my projects soar like eagles at the beginning isn’t just “new relationship energy”, it’s that… historically… that’s the time I do the most actual planning out of what I’m going to write.

I don’t think of it in those terms, but I’m sketching out characters and relationships and elements of the world, and all the other things that go into what I’m going to write. Formal outlining does nothing for me, but an elaborate framework does a lot.

I just signed into the @talesofmu Twitter account to let people know that the coda chapter will go up on Monday, and the unplanned hiatus/stall will end in March. I went back and forth on that a bunch this week, but the fact that Secret Sisterhood is moving forward (located sensitivity readers and talked to some artists!) helped me make the decision, under the principle of “One Thing At A Time”.

For the next four weeks, I’m going to give one week to Making Out Like Bandits (again, did more planning than writing in the last week given to it, so I don’t have a big backlog for it), one for developing and writing a standalone story, one for Secret Sisterhood, and one for revisiting and reviving another dormant story.

Mid-Week Update: Where Tales of MU Is Right Now

Okay, so. I’m both farther behind and farther ahead than I thought I’d be with Tales of MU.

I’m farther ahead in that I now have solid ideas for *two* subsequent stories I want to tell after the current one is put to bed. I was kind of hopeful that taking off some of the pressure would make things easier, and my mind responded by racing ahead.

The “coda” chapter to wind up the current storyline is getting some re-writes to support the other future storyline. I was trying really hard to get it up during the calendar month of January in order to maximize the usefulness of the Patreon payout for it, but that felt hollow and forced.

My early experiences publishing online got me hooked on the rush of instant gratification. After spending January writing reams and reams of stuff for later publication, taking time to polish and arrange it. And the extreme pace at which the political and civic landscape of the United States has been changing has generated a lot of work for someone who can take in information and synthesize an understanding of it quickly, so the financial hit of deferring Tales of MU’s post didn’t actually hurt much.

I’m still putting together the schedule for when Tales of MU resumes. The fact that I keep jumping ahead mentally to the next-next story is making it complicated. It’s about 50/50 that the next MU story will begin updating beginning this month, or next month.

Protesting & Accessibility – A Bridge Too Far?

Yesterday, a conclave of Democratic United States Senators descended on the Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, for a retreat that was a bit less noticed than the GOP Congressional retreat in Philadelphia. It was likely put together hastily as an emergency measure for an emergency situation, and I’m going to have more to say about it later.

But first.

Women’s March on Washington of West Virginia – Shepherdstown didn’t have a lot of time to put together an organized response to the Democratic presence, but they pulled it together beautifully.

Circumstances prevented us from participating in the Women’s March on January 21st, in part because of accessibility concerns and the need to pace our shows of resistance, given our various disabilities.

But this action was largely stationary, and taking place on and near the Potomac Bridge, in sight of the frankly quite splendid inn where the Senators were gathered. This was important because there are little overlook areas with seating near the ends of the bridge, and the one nearest the inn has a little parking area with a couple 15 minute parking spots for people to enjoy the view or grab a picture, and some handicapped parking spaces that made this action a lot more accessible.

My partner Jack and I arrived at the bridge before sunup, before seven. We were meeting a friend from Shepherdstown who was absolutely needed at work today and could not participate in the action during its scheduled hours of nine o’clock on. So, we got there before anyone else and we parked without issues, and we took up position in the cold and the light rain as the sun came up over the Potomac. We were out there, “doin’ a freedom,” as the youths probably say (hashtag: #DoingAFreedom), flanking the group’s sign (“HEAR OUR VOICE”) on the bridge when the Senators in their rooms got their first look at it in the morning light. We were there when the marchers proper arrived, and had been there for just over two hours at that point.

Jack had to find a bathroom shortly after that, and this is where our trouble began. Rather than searching the campus of the nearby Shepherd University, he took his car and drove straight off to a nearby convenience store he knew would serve. While he was gone, a group of police cars pulled into the access drive for the little parking area for a little inter-agency confab.

And I have to say, there were probably 3 or 4 different police agencies there, at a spot on a state border with U.S. Senators taking up residence and a university right there, and I have to say that they were polite and friendly and supportive of the admittedly very visibly majority white crowd. I have no complaints about their overall conduct.

But they were making the accessible parking… inaccessible.

So, I went over to talk to them (second bravest thing I did all day, given that I am acrophobic and have an especial terror of bridges) and I started by asking, politely, if access to the handicapped spaces was being restricted for security reasons, or if protesters were able to use it.

“Oh, no!” one of them said. “There’s not a lot, but if someone needs it, they can use!”

I pointed out that they were blocking it, and was told they’d just pulled in for a minute to chat. I then clarified that my interest wasn’t hypothetical and that a protester who needed that space was on his way back. They politely thanked me, finished up their chat, and got back into their vehicles and pulled away… leaving behind a third vehicle, which I had assumed was part of the confab, a Shepherd University police van that had pulled all the way out of the little entry lane and was squarely blocking off the small lot.

It was also unattended.

That was about when Jack drove by, and with the lot inaccessible, he kept driving past the protest, to a park area on the other side of the bridge (the old C&O Canal towpath, I believe). Later people were parked in the breakdown lane on the Maryland end of the bridge, but at this point police were waving people past them.

Now, it’s quite a hike from the towpath parking area to the bridge, uphill, on a very cold and very windy day. Jack judged this was beyond his present level of ability (gentle currently able-bodied readers wondering why someone who needs handicapped parking would even consider the hike: disability isn’t a binary switch), and texted me from where he was parked.

Disgusted, I started taking pictures of the university police vehicle in its spot, trying to get an angle that would capture both its position and the handicapped spaces beyond and the fact that this was the only access point. My plan was to find a twitter account for the university and holler @ them about it. The sun was directly in my screen at that angle, so I didn’t actually get a good one that turned out, but… well, maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe one of the officers on site from another agency radioed them that a protester was photographing their vehicle, but while I was trying to get that sorted someone came hurrying out from the university campus and hopped into the vehicle and moved it without a word.

Now, I’d like to be charitable, but the way it was parked, I can only think two things, and I’m not sure which is more charitable. One is that someone thought that there would be a problem with protesters abusing the 15 minute parking or cramming in to the lot past its very small capacity so they’d head that off at the pass. The other was that they needed somewhere to park that vehicle and this seemed like an out-of-the-way place since no one would be using the overlook parking during the protest.

Both of these situations involve completely forgetting that disabled people exist, even while being within 10-15 feet of clearly visible, marked, and posted evidence of our existence.

Whoever parked that van there, for whatever reason, did not so much make the assumption that nobody would need to use those handicapped spaces for any reason (protest-related or otherwise) as they made no assumption whatsoever. Didn’t cross their mind.

In moments like this I am reminded of the blog story “The Elephant Disappears“, by wheelchair user Dave Hingsburger, who almost had his luggage confiscated at an airport by a security officer who tried to confiscate and cart it away from him, saying “All luggage must be attended!” when Dave asked him what he thought he was doing. Now, if your mind is jumping to the most charitable interpretation of this event from the guard’s point of view… well, first of all, ask yourself why “being charitable” or “giving the benefit of the doubt” implicitly means “to the able-bodied security officer” in this situation and not the man whose luggage was being taken.

To be clear: Dave was right there. Attending his luggage. The guard did not see him as capable of attending his own luggage, or did not see him as a person, or just plain did not see him, even though he was in full view and right there. We cannot know. People with visible disabilities are well aware that all three are possible.

People with disabilities already may have less ability to participate in organized action. There may be mobility issues, sensory issues, issues with crowds. I couldn’t have stood out there all day on my best day; we were there from just before 7 to a bit before 11 and I came home after we grabbed lunch and crashed for three hours.

I might have taken a cane with me, but I was concerned if things went south it might be viewed as a weapon, since I am young-appearing enough that people often wonder why I have one. Jack didn’t have his backpack of potentially necessary emergency medical supplies, because it would have added to our bulk on the sidewalk (that had to kept passable) and similarly might be viewed as suspicious. Might not have been a concern for a typical march in a quietly liberal college town tucked away in the Potomac River valley, but… there were elected officials afoot. Security was pretty intense on the other side of the street.

But with whatever difficulties our disabilities present, the question of “accessibility” is often less a matter of what extraordinary things must people do to allow us to access a place or event and more a matter of what things they should avoid doing that block and exclude us. Stairs are not some natural state for the entryway to a building, someone has to put them. A culture and aesthetic that centers assumptions of certain levels of ability makes them an assumed default, but it could just as easily be ramps or (where possible/appropriate) zero-entry doors.

Someone at Shepherd University made a decision that made the event less accessible. I’m sure if the individual who made that call were here, they would say they were only parked there for minutes… and it really wasn’t that long, in the scheme of things. But it was long enough to cause a problem, and more to the point, any amount of time is long enough that it might have been a problem. We’ll never know if anyone else drove past the protest, eyeing the lot and seeing it was blocked off. I’m sure the university police don’t consider “It was just for five minutes!” or “I would have moved if anyone had needed the space!” a valid excuse when they come across someone illegally parking in or blocking off an accessible space.

As I said, I will have more to say about the event itself and the politics surrounding it. I just had to get this off my chest. It’s less about naming and shaming Shepherd University (though not naming them would seem passive-aggressive, as anyone who looked at a map of the area would know who I meant) and more about talking about the general case of thinking about accessibility and remembering that people with disabilities really, truly do exist.

Mid-week update.

Okay, so. I cautioned this week is going to be experimental, and that it might go either way. The mid-week pre-verdict is that it hasn’t. That is, it has not yet gone either way. The state of the union is pretty distracting right now, if you haven’t noticed, so while I’ve gotten some good creative work done I’m not having the same momentum I would have hoped.

But I see a way forward, and I think I’m going to just circle around and focus next week on writing Tales of MU, too, instead of jumping to a different project. I have a feeling the next storyline will just be starting to catch fire tomorrow or Friday. I was talking some casual game design theory with my friend Erin Jeffreys Hodges, completely unrelated to the story, and it gave me a kind of unexpected burst of inspiration. So, thank you for that, Erin.

I’ll still be tying the current storyline off this week, and *very likely* starting the next one next week.

Status Report: Tales of MU

I am feeling a lot of anxiety and uncertainty about my writing this week. I’m going to digress here to say: this is not me fishing for external reassurance, nor do I want any. The odds of anyone reading this coming up with something that is helpful that I haven’t already considered are very low; the odds of saying something that aggravates the situation is considerably higher. So please respect the fact that I’m writing this out to 1) process what I’m feeling and 2) let anyone interested know where I am at, and sit on your hands until the urge to say something about it passes.

Back at the start of January—the start of the year, it now feels like it was months ago—I started a new approach to writing that balances my desire to Make All The Things at once with my need to hyperfocus on a single thing to get anything done: Make All The Things, but one at a time, about a week at a time.

My first week test case was extremely successful, and I talked about having a sort of rotating semi-regular roster of projects I would work on one week at a time, getting material to publish over the course of a month or more each time. I got three months’ worth of material out of my first week, and two months’ out of my second one.  The idea is that if, with a week of focused production I tend to produce more than a month’s worth of material, I could easily have 3 or more ongoing serial projects with room for side projects (like standalone short stories, game stuff, etc.) and interruptions in the work schedule.

I was coy at the time about what projects I was going to try the experiment with after my test, because I didn’t want to either disappoint people when their favorite long-simmering story wasn’t on the initial short list or get their hopes up by mentioning something that might not pan out. This was, after all, an experiment.

The most concrete example of this is Tales of MU, which I knew back at the start of January would either be the story I worked on during the last week of the month, or it wouldn’t be.

My feelings about Tales of MU are complicated. From the start, I thought of it as a freshman story… a story about people making a lot of mistakes and learning from some of them. At the same time, it was (unintentionally and, at first, unwittingly), my freshman story… a story where I made a lot of mistakes, and one hopes, learned from them.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of when I started writing it. It’s a weird thing to be tethered to a story from ten years ago. I was a very different person ten years ago. I thought I knew a lot of stuff that I didn’t, and I didn’t know a lot of stuff that I think I do now. I was working through some pretty heady issues at the time, and it shows in the writing which includes themes I would have avoided if I’d started it now. But, of course, if I hadn’t worked through them in my writing, I probably wouldn’t be able to say that. Certainly I would have made the campus’s human majority population less homogeneously white if I’d started writing it today, and not been as cavalier about applying stereotypical racial tropes to fantasy creatures. I really didn’t know the difference between “saying something about a thing” and “having something to say about a thing” back then.

Tales of MU grew out of my nostalgic memories of Basic D&D and 2nd Edition AD&D at a time when I wasn’t playing then-current 3rd Edition D&D, and it has a lot of original stuff I put in or changed to make things better or more interesting than the distant source material. Since I started writing it, I got really into 4th and 5th Edition D&D, which makes the nostalgia base of TOMU a lot less emotionally resonant to me.

These things might weigh on me a little less if this were a conventional book series. A long running series of books still has each book as a self-contained volume with their own beginning and end. It’s easier to see the “now” of such a series as being self-contained compared to what came before.

Tales of MU is not like that; the “books” are more divisions of convenience and one of my goals when writing it was to tell a story for people who prefer to live in the middle part of a story rather than the beginning or end.

I’ve done that, and I don’t regret doing that, but the problem is, such a story has no natural ending point.

(This is the part where people want to jump in to tell me what they think the natural ending point is. Restrain yourself. That impulse is not your friend.)

Financially, it’s also complicated. I can make more money writing Tales of MU than not writing it, but there was only a very brief window when I first broke out in the crowdfunded writing scene where it was enough to justify the work it takes to make that money. At the same time, the fact that I didn’t write or publish any Tales of MU during my “fiction drought” around the election hurt my finances more than anything else about that period. The financial benefit is not likely to increase meaningfully, as new material is tied to ten years of previously written material of widely varying tone and quality.

Ultimately, whether I want to and am able to continue writing it is not going to be a financial decision so much as a creative and personal one.

And then we get to the fanbase, which is also complicated. The thing is, I know even as I write this that I’m going to see commentary to the effect of “I knew her heart was in it.” or “It was obvious she’d given up and moved on.” I see those messages all the time. Part of the vicious cycle of trying to keep up an update schedule is that any time it slips—even by an hour, literally an hour—I start hearing “SO I GUESS YOU’VE GIVEN UP WRITING TALES OF MU MIGHT HAVE SAID SOMETHING INSTEAD OF GHOSTING” or “please Ms. Erin tell us what we did wrong”… and honestly, it’s hard for me to explain why both of those messages are so disheartening, but they are.

It’s especially hurtful to have people bruiting about their commentary on my “decision” when I’m wrestling with a story, struggling to overcome difficulties in writing. Imagine you’re buried in an avalanche and you’re trying to dig your way out, and people are standing in earshot debating about whether you’re selfish for deciding to be buried, or if your decision to be buried is valid and must be respected. Even the people defending you are calmly talking about how you decided to be trapped under tons of earth, and blithely assuming that at the very moment you decide to, you will effortlessly shift it away.

The thing is, I do better at things—at any thing—when I can document my process and process my feelings here, butI I long ago gave up writing anything about writing Tales of MU and where I am, because every process post attracts these comments. At one point I made a post saying that conditions were untenable in the home office so I was taking my laptop to a coffee shop to finish the day’s chapter and I received a tweet saying “So I guess you’re saying there’s no chapter today.” Not even exaggerating. I made a blog post about my plans to finish the chapter and someone took it as confirmation that there wasn’t going to be one.

This isn’t even getting into the people who don’t understand that writing is not mechanical labor, that it is not a simple matter of sitting in front of a keyboard and pressing the Make Story Button fifteen thousand times in a row. But that’s relevant, because the cumulative effect of the weight of expectations and entitlement and misguided/errant advice is that it makes the creative aspect of the work harder. It pulls me out of my creative brainspace.

Call me a precious special snowflake with delicate feelings (out loud, preferably, where I don’t have to hear it), but this is the quantum interference aspect of direct author/audience interaction – the act of observing an author at work has ways of affecting an author at work. This is a big part of why I’ve been increasingly distant from my fanbase and hard to reach over time. It’s not even about abusive or obviously over-entitled fans. It’s getting the same advice, having people make the same assumptions about what’s going on in my head, hearing my circumstances or outcomes dissected as decisions, over and over again. I’ve been working on toughening myself up and shifting into a mindset of “If they don’t know me, it doesn’t matter what they think.”, but the catch-22 of it is that it’s really hard to do this kind of self-improvement work while you’re still being peppered with it.

To use a metaphor: it’s a lot easier to repair the shields on the starship Enterprise when it’s not actively taking fire.

Anyway. People have assumed that Tales of MU is over or that I’m “on the bubble” for canceling it many times, often while I was trying to gear up to breathe new life into it. There have been maybe two times I have seriously considered canceling it. One of them was last summer, just before my most recent revitalization attempt.

That attempt fizzled out not just because of the election stuff, but because I got right up to the end of the current storyline and found I had no idea what to write next. Perversely, this made it impossible for me to write the last installment of the current story. I know exactly what happens. I could tell someone the nutshell version of it. It’s not very exciting or important as everything about the problem at hand was more or less wrapped up in the currently-last chapter. The last chapter of the storyline was meant to just be a coda.

It’s just that the weight of not knowing what comes next and the need to continue the story makes it hard to tie off the current one with a bow.

 

This is the third time I’ve thought seriously about ending the series. I made the decision at the start of the month that I would, in fact, and I have to tell you: it felt liberating. I don’t think I could have written a NaNo worth of a single story in under eight days if I’d had “…but I need to be writing Tales of MU” running through my head.

During my family vacation, I thought about how I would end it, if I would do a “flash forward/montage” of the characters or reveal some of the things that have been lurking in the background, stuff like that. Which got me thinking about the things about the story that do still resonate with me, and made me start to vacillate a little bit.

And so I ultimately decided that this week would be Tales of MU week in my great experiment. I’d write the coda for the current storyline and then see if I could work out What Comes Next and how it goes, writing it out in advance. I could do regular updates if I could summon a week’s worth of enthusiasm for the story every month, month and a half, or so. And recent events have given me more stories I want to tell in the world.

Now that we’re here… I’m less sure I can commit to having a week’s worth of enthusiasm for the story every 4 to 6 weeks. I’m also less sure that I could walk away from it. To tell you the honest truth, when I started writing this post I had one idea about which of the two options I was going to pick, and it switched back and forth a few times as I’m writing this.

This is what I mean by “processing”, by the way, when I talk about how I process things on my blog.

And as this post approaches what I consider the minimum length for a decent chapter, I come to a decision, or rather a realization: when you’re faced with two choices and neither one is palatable, you should ask yourself if you’re really limited to those two.

Are my choices really to commit to an ongoing writing/publishing schedule or to wash my hands and walk away? No, no they are not.

So, to get to the meat of it: I am going to spend this week working on Tales of MU, finishing the current storyline and beginning the next one. I am not going to stop writing it, officially cancel it, etc. But from here on out, I will be writing stories in the Tales of MU universe and posting them to the Tales of MU site when I have something to say, not merely to perform the rote act of filling out a quota or hitting a schedule.

How many years have I been repeating the line about creativity not being a mechanical act? I’m finally starting to believe it myself.

Anyone trying to glean hints about the frequency of updates going forward from this is going to be shooting in the dark. I don’t know. I can’t tell you. It’s possible that the act of unburdening myself from expectations will turn me into a writing machine and re-ignite the spark of passion completely. It’s possible that it will just be a side thing, an occasional dalliance, going forward. Who can say?

I’ll avoid posting more than two chapters a week, for the benefit of the folks on the Tales of MU patreon who are pledged on a per-update basis (the only fair way to proceed, since I’m not guaranteeing production in a given month), though most of them seem to have sensible caps on their patronage based on their monthly budget anyway.

But that’s a best case scenario, not a baseline.

So here is where the post ends. I’ll tack on a caveat – everything I’m doing this month is experimental. This week’s experiment is Tales of MU. If it goes very well, I will tie off the current storyline with a bow and start the next one immediately. If it goes well, I will tie off the current storyline with a bow and begin prepping the next storyline, for when the next time Tales of MU comes up in my informal, shifting rota.

If it goes terribly? Well, that might be the end. I’m making no decisions in advance here.

Either way, a big thank you to everyone for reading… both this blog post, and anything else I’ve written that you’ve read.