Coming clean.

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

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

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

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

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

Stuff like that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Conceptual robots,” basically.

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An update, out of the wild blue author.

Hello, internet and all the ships at sea!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeweled mechanical bees flying through a window in space.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kickstarter link:

Amanda Sharpe portfolio:

Flying Camel webpage:

Conventional Wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy WorldCon, everybody.

Beating The Heat, Or, Raising Cane

Summer usually kicks my backside in July/August. This year has been worse than most, even though it seems like I’ve been doing less… staying in more, going out less.

Today, thanks to a timely reminder from Jack that I’d wanted to check out a mobility store, I put my finger on why: my general fitness level has gotten to the point that I haven’t used a cane regularly for about a year, so I just fell out of the habit of grabbing one or keeping one with me. And then summer came around, the time of year when I need one the most. And I never got back in the habit. And so in the midst of one of my best years for mobility/fatigue, I have found myself weighed down with exhaustion.

Well, I got two snazzy new canes… one a very lightweight cane that doesn’t fold but does collapse small enough to go in a suitcase, and one that does fold and is lighter than my previous folding cane. And both fit my current aesthetic better than the plain black one. And I will probably be using them for the rest of August, and into September if necessary.

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.

The Internet Is Not Your Global Village


Imagine you’re walking down the street of a small town where you’ve lived all your life, and you see someone whom you see almost every day, and you notice that their shoe lace is untied, or their fly is down, or their shirt is misbuttoned, or they have made some other small, easily corrected mishap that might lead to embarrassment or even an accident.

What is the kindest thing to do in this situation?

I think we all know the answer: you gently, discretely call their attention to the matter, so that it may be corrected.

Some among us might choose to do so with a bit of what we would think of as good-natured ribbing. How this is received is going to depend on how well we know the person and how good we are at judging situations and moods. But even if you’re kind of a boisterous jerk about it, a little “Hey, buddy, XYZ!” on the streets of a small town or in the halls of a school or at the office water cooler is not exactly amiss.

Imagine for a moment that someone snaps a selfie that reveals a similar mishap and posts it to social media. Are the rules the same? The situation isn’t. You’re not seeing the person in real time, but a moment of time now past, a snapshot of a situation. A word to the wise might save the recipient some embarrassment by allowing them to remove the picture and replace it with something a little more composed, if they’re so inclined, but whereas in real space you would have the chance to drop this word before anyone else can see or say anything, the timing is trickier online.

Chances are by the time you’ve seen something, so have many other people, and by the time you’ve said something, so have many other people. No matter how kind and gentle your words are, they are liable to arrive with a flood of other words, some similarly kind and gentle and some decidedly not.

Oftentimes when we interact with people online, we expect them to respond to us as if it were an encounter in what we might call a village setting: neighborly acquaintances passing each other exchanging a few words. Sometimes, often even, when things are going fine for people on both end, that’s even what it feels like.

That’s not what it is, though.

I’ve used the example of a minor wardrobe malfunction up above, but this really has to do with any kind of interaction where one follows the mores and codes of face-to-face interactions. People who give unsolicited advice to strangers or near-strangers on the internet are an example. People who think that any opinion voiced on social media is an invitation to debate (or a promise to defend said opinion against all comers) are an example.

Not everybody who does these sorts of things has actual good intentions, but the ones with good intentions aren’t necessarily that much easier to bear, not when they’re multiplied over time and space.

When you’re dealing with people who are actually your neighbors or colleagues, you have a much better idea what their situation is then the little snapshot or snippet you got online. You can see if they’re on their way somewhere or settling in for a chat. You can see if someone else is already there ahead of you, talking to them about whatever. And not only do you know them, but they know you. Offline, there’s something much more like a 1:1 correspondence between “I know you” and “you know me” than there is online.

The fact is, the internet is not a “village” situation. The people you see on it are not your neighbors. I say this and know that there are people I know online whom I know better and feel closer to than my actual physical neighbors. The point of this post is not to say “ONLINE ISN’T REAL!” or to disparage online friendships, relationships, and communities.

But to be blunt: the internet itself isn’t a community or a relationship. Being on Twitter or Tumblr isn’t like going to the same high school with everyone else on here.

Now, I don’t have a detailed set of guidelines or proposed social mores for interacting with people online to go with this observation. I can tell you this: the ones we use for offline interactions don’t work, and any proposed rule needs to take into account the vast differences between online interactions and offline ones.

So let’s take a quick stab at formulating some.

Existence Is Never Invitation

Only the jerkiest creeps and the creepiest jerks ever say, in so many words, “You wouldn’t be [place] doing/saying [thing] if you didn’t want attention,” and this is extra true when the place in question is a notional space as big as Twitter or Facebook or the internet in general.

Many people who are less jerky and creepy, though, still cleave to the logic of “If something is in front of me, it must be For A Reason.” So if someone posts about a problem and it crosses their sight, they feel asked for solutions (or, in some cases, they feel personally attacked by the implication that the problem exists). If someone posts a picture, they feel the need to say or do something about it. If someone shares an experience, they feel the need to relate it to themselves. If someone shares an opinion, they feel the need to pick a side an start fighting. If someone discloses a trauma, they feel the need to comment upon it like it’s an interesting phenomenon.

Now, a lot of the times, some (not all) of these kinds of responses would be just fine, expected and accepted, if they were responding to something someone said to them personally at a cocktail party or whatever. But they’re not. They’re seeing something and responding to it as if someone had said it personally to them, in some reasonably intimate social setting.

The truth is that if people are looking for something when they put something out there, they’re generally pretty good about saying. People with a question will ask it. People seeking advice will invite it. The difference between a “So this happened.” post and a “I’m at my wit’s end, what to do?” post is that the latter will say, “I’m at my wit’s end, what to do?”

You Having Something To Say Is Not The Same As Me Having Something To Hear

If you and I are having a conversation and what I say sparks some kind of personal connection with you, then by all means, you take that tangent and you run with it. I mean, there are nuances and shades… if I’m talking about the time my true love got caught in a bear trap along with a bear who mauled them to death while a swarm of bees enraged by the bear stealing honey stung them both, further aggravating the bear, and you say, “Yeah, speaking of pain, that reminds me of the time I got a paper cut. Hurt like anything, it did!”… well, I think most people would say that’s a bit boorish.

But if we’re just talking, and I mention a frustration and you’re like, “I know what that’s like, [similar experience]”… that’s a conversation.

The line between “here is a related thing to show that I can relate” and “I just minimized what happened to you and now I’m making it about me” can be hard to navigate when it’s two people who know each other conversing face-to-face. When you’re talking to a near stranger on the internet, though? The line is practically dotted. You might think you know exactly what another person is going through, but again, you’re looking at a snapshot.

To use two personal examples: I’ve blogged about both my sleep issues (chronic insomnia) and my difficulty getting to a grocery store (I don’t drive, for reasons linked to disability), and had people give me advice based on assumptions about what I was talking about (sleep apnea, and anxiety linked to sensory issues specific to grocery stores).

This isn’t to say that if something you read online reminds you of an experience, you should keep your experiences to yourself! Chances are excellent that the very same place you read or saw a link to the other person’s thoughts is also a platform where you can share yours. Before you involve the person whose words sparked your own thoughts, ask yourself if there’s actually a reason to.

Check The Situation

This one is pretty simple, and it comes down to the internet not being the same as a hallway or small-town street: before you rush to tell someone that their conversational zipper is down, check the notes/comments on the post, check the person’s mentions. Take thirty seconds to see if you’re really the first person to notice someone made a gaffe.

Another angle you can take on this: before you say something, ask yourself the likelihood that someone else looking at the same situation would have the same response. Imagine how obnoxious it would be to hear what you’re about to say that many times. Then see if you still feel the need to say it.

Respect Boundaries

Also simple. The hard part is not being defensive about it. Oftentimes when someone asserts or emphasizes a boundary with others, the kneejerk response is something like “SO I GUESS I’M NOT ALLOWED TO ASK QUESTIONS/GIVE ADVICE/GIVE A COMPLIMENT/DEBATE A PROPOSITION ANYMORE”.

But your right to do something does not require others to entertain you, and while some people are so entitled that they do feel they should be able to corner strangers and make these kinds of demands of them, I think most people who do so online are doing so not because they honestly believe they’re entitled to someone else’s time but because they have mistaken the internet for a small town and the semi-random collection of people they see on it for their close friends and neighbors.

The bottom line: the internet is not a global village. While it enables communities, it is not a community, and when you interact with random people you see on it as if you were all part of a single tight-knit community or a face-to-face social situation, you ignore the actual nature of the internet and risk stepping on toes, or worse.

Bank Shenanigans, Part II

Okay, so, I referenced in my status post for today that my bank is playing games with my deposits, holding them for longer than usual to keep my account balance low in order to fish for overdraft fees. This along with selectively processing debits out of sequence “for your convenience” are among the tricks banks are known to use to pad out their bottom line at your expense.

The protection against this is to maintain sufficient cushion in your account as to never give them the opportunity. It’s nice if you can manage, but a lot of people can’t. Just another example of how it costs more money to be poor than otherwise.

Come to find out that they’ve been doing the same thing to the other major bank account in our household, shared by Jack and Sarah. Sarah got paid on Thursday, and originally we were going to get groceries with that on Friday. The money hadn’t cleared, though, and as of today it still hasn’t.

We’ve been limping along on leftovers and odds and ends, and will be continuing to do so at least through some of the meals tomorrow. This is harder for us to do because we have specialized dietary needs that rule out a lot of the cheapest, bulkiest staples for filling out a meal.

So if you can help, I would appreciate the help. The best way to do so is to leave a tip in my PayPal jar (or, or if you’ve been thinking about signing up for my writing class this coming Friday, do so sooner rather than later. Either of those things make money available for me to spend at the grocery store with almost no delay. You can also send money through Square Cash ($AlexandraErin) if PayPal won’t work for you, but that’s likely to be subject to the same delaying tactics.

This is the kind of situation I’ve been talking about when I’ve been describing my financial status as okay but insecure. The growth of my income from things like Patreon and my D&D writing are going to help in the long-term, but none of that is going to come through soon enough to make a difference to our immediate situation. Right now we are skating on thin ice and the ice is getting thinner.

So, that was my birthday.

I had a pretty good birthday. I’ll be celebrating it again on Sunday with the out-laws, but today was my actual birthday and I observed it with a light and low-key day of work after a few weeks of pretty solid pushing. I flogged my Amazon wishlist a bit more than I ever have, mostly because I felt like, what the heck, it’s my birthday? I think I might possibly get some new wigs and pills out of it. Wasn’t really expecting anyone to go for the big ticket items like the window A/Cs, the futon mattress, or the smart watch(es), as they’re mostly saved there for my reference.

I got a nice birthday card from my parents, which had money for dinner, so we went out to dinner and had giant fajita platters, then took a walk along the old C&O canal, a thing I’ve never done in all the time I’ve been here, though we have stopped in at the little park before. We watched a groundhog emerging from its den and creep up the bank to peer over the top at some humans, and then dart back around an abutment to hide like it was in a spy movie.

Friday night is usually when we do Jack’s D&D game, but I wasn’t feeling up for it after going out, so we ended up watching Big Eyes, a movie about artistic plagiarism that I directed.

And now it’s 12:34, thirty-four minutes past my birthday proper and into the year of the me and I am suddenly super tired, so I think I’m going to cut it off there. Goodnight, internet.

Lessons learned at WisCon this year.

  1. It is normal for authors to struggle, financially and creatively.
  2. Past successes are built on by subsequent successes, not eroded by slow or fallow periods.
  3. Every career is different. Every path is different.
  4. Taking the path I’ve taken means I have avoided certain entanglements and compromises that might otherwise have seemed necessary.
  5. The ability to recognize other people as a big deal does not mean that I am not also a big deal; big deals are big in different ways.
  6. Drink more water.
  7. People are far more likely to be touched that they are known/remembered/acknowledged than they are to be wounded that you would claim association with them.
  8. The Prayer of St. Francis provides a good structure for navigating complex social spaces as an awkward person with relative privilege. If you want to feel welcome, welcome others. If you want to feel included, be the one who includes others. It is in making space for others that we find the space for ourselves.

Tales of MU 10th Birthday Party: Next Year In Madison

Okay, so.

Back in June of 2007, I started a serial story on Livejournal to see how that would go and the answer was, it went. Nine years later, it’s still frequently going strong even at times in my life when I am not.

I’ve always resisted the idea of doing “fan events” at cons and such because I didn’t see them as necessary. Like, I’m just a person, right? When I go to WisCon, I’m a registered member like everyone else, including the people who come up and tell me that they love Tales of MU, or who tell me later that they wanted to do so but were to shy… something that happens every year, and so every subsequent year I do more to try to make myself approachable so people don’t feel they can’t come up and squee with me.

This year, I apparently had a banner year for being approachable, because more people than ever came up… to tell me, frequently in so many words, that they still found me too cool to talk to. This is not a problem I ever anticipated growing up.

It was at one point when there was a thread mutual appreciation pinging around the room and I realized that we were all sort of standing there in awe of each other that it hit me that fan events really are necessary. It’s not about self-aggrandizement. It’s not about putting yourself above the people who like and appreciate your work. It’s about what I’ve been trying to do, which is making yourself accessible. An event creates a context in which people know that it’s okay to approach you. It gives them something of a script to follow, if they need one. It makes sure they won’t be the only one doing so.

So next year, at WisCon 41—held, as always, over Memorial Day Weekend in downtown Madison—I am going to be doing two things I have never done at the con. Chronologically second and less ambitiously, I am going to be participating in the Sign-Out, where authors and artists sit at a table in a big hall so that people who haven’t had the chance or the nerve to shake their hand or say a few words or get something signed can come up and do so. First and more boldly, I am going to throw a party: a 10th anniversary party for Tales of MU. (Hat tip to Jack for pointing out the upcoming milestone and suggesting it as a theme.)

Why not? There are a lot of people at WisCon who read or have read Tales of MU. It’s a seminal (tee hee) work in the area of web serials, its success directly inspiring such things as Cat Valente’s initial Fairyland fundraiser and Cecilia Tan’s still-extant Daron’s Guitar Chronicles. I think there’d be sufficient interest among regular congoers to justify a party, as even for people who don’t yet read it, I can’t really deny that my name and presence are becoming a draw for programming events. Then we throw into the mix any MU readers who haven’t yet come to WisCon but might for something like this.

Now, there are limited spaces and slots available for official parties. I’m going to make a pitch for one as soon as they’re open for requests. Apart from my ability to draw people to the party and the con, my party plans are being tailored to the evolving reality of the party/alcohol rules at WisCon. While some grouse that the new rules have destroyed the party atmosphere, I think a lot of people are looking for a different experience, and I’ve gotten really good at inventing drinks using flavor syrups. The MU party is going to have a “mock bar” serving flavored non-alcoholic drinks themed around MU characters and things. My boyfriend Jack will play the role of pretend bartender (or “pretender”, if you will). Our party’s fare will also be friendly for diabetics and people who are watching their carb intake or blood sugar levels for whatever reason.

WisCon parties are the responsibility of the hosts, and we’ve already sorted out most of the logistics re: catering this thing. It’s not pie in the sky. We have plans to make it happen. In the event that we are not awarded a space, though, the party will still happen. It might be a “room party” (a thing that also happens), it might be in borrowed space, we might crowdfund a party space offsite, though that would be less than ideal for accessibility reasons. I want everybody to be prepared for the fact that the actual details and level of officialness are likely to be up in the air until sometime early next year, but also to be aware that this thing is happening. I want to say now, a year out, that this is a thing that is happening, so that you all have a year to figure out how you can get to it.

If you’re a MU fan and WisConite, this is going to be your fan. If you’re a WisCon goer who has mainly known me through WisCon and not my most famous (non-meme) work, this is going to be your chance to get acquainted with my writing. If you’re a MU fan who has never been to WisCon, this post is a good place to start your planning:

See you next year!