In one of the Discworld books, Terry Pratchett asserts the theory that there are only a small number of real people in the world, and the many people you meet are merely duplicates; that’s why you seem to meet the same kinds of people over and over again. I was reminded of this phenomenon by a string of tweets by Anne Theirault being shared around on Tumblr. They begin with her observation of a couple at the next table who seem to be on a coffee date that is not going well.She proceeds to live tweet the conversation she is overhearing. The guy talks about himself constantly, without ever asking his date about herself. Any time she volunteers something about herself, he has to turn it into something about him. Example, she mentions she likes to cook, he tells her that she must taste this exotic sauce that he makes that a friend who is a chef says is great. And so on. Eventually the woman on the date fakes getting a text from her mother as an excuse to escape. A little later Anne tweeted about all the reactions she was getting. Specifically, that most of the men who responded asserted that she’s being unfairly mean to the guy and/or accusing her of making the whole thing up. While the overwhelming majority of women respond that they have been on exactly the same date.
The Tumblr post has been shared nearly 200,000 times as of this morning. I noticed that I was not the only queer guy by any means to share it and comment that we had also been on this exact date. Other people have added the observation that they know it’s true not just because they’ve been on a similar date themselves, but because they know dates like that happen every single day.
I noticed that a lot of people sharing it on Tumblr make the observation that this proves you should never date a writer (the guy describes himself as a writer and says a lot of very cringe-worthy stuff about writing). Which means that these people completely misunderstand. First, Anne Theirault, who live-tweeted the exchange, is herself a writer. That wasn’t the observation she was making. The guy isn’t cluelessly obnoxious and self-absorbed because he’s a writer. He’s cluelessly obnoxious and self-absorbed because he’s a guy.
When I reblogged the Tumblr post, I observed that I had been on that exactly date back in the 90s, and had to fake coming down sick in order to flee. I was the writer in the conversation. The other guy was a performance artist. But I’ve had the exact conversation (not in the context of a date) with guys who are in marketing, guys who are software engineers, guys who are car mechanics, guys who run their own businesses, et cetera. And even worse, I know that there have been conversations I’ve been in when I was the cluelessly self-absorbed guy who only wanted to talk about myself and never let the other person get a word in edgewise.
Guys are socialized to be that kind of person. We’re supposed to assert ourselves, and dominate conversations. If we don’t all have the requisite extroversion streak to dominate, we’ve at least all been socialized to expect that our needs are always important, that of course anything we are involved in is going to be interesting to other people—not just interesting, but exceptionally interesting, because everything we do is special and unique and better than what anyone else is doing. Guys are taught to be entitled. We’re also taught that it is our job to win people over to our side. To be competitive even in a conversation. We’re taught that a date isn’t a chance to get to know another person, a date is an opportunity to conquer and take the other person as a prize.
Some of the specific assertions that Anne tweeted that the guy makes about how incredibly hard writing is, and how he has to struggle with his inner demons to write, even those are not something that is common to writers nor restricted to writers. The performance artist disaster of a date spent a lot of time explaining to me how very very hard it was to do what he did, how he had to dig into his worst childhood memories to infuse his performance pieces with meaning, and so on. It’s a product of the self-absorption and competitiveness. He was trying to impress me, to make me swoon over his great emotional depths and work ethic.
The only inner demons a writer needs to struggle with are Procrastination, Distraction, and the “But it’s not perfect yet!” urge. And those aren’t really demons. They are ordinary (and usually quite minor) imperfections. Our struggles aren’t exceptional. They are the same kinds of things that everybody struggles with.
Not all guys are like that all of the time. There are even some guys who are almost never like that. Some of us have realized we can be like that, that it isn’t good way to be, and we try not to let our arrogance bulldoze everyone else. I am also aware that there are even some gals who can be that way. Humans are not perfect.
Unfortunately, a lot of humans are imperfect in very similar ways.
A few bits of news came in after I had scheduled yesterday’s Friday Links to post, but before they actually posted:
Legendary Blues guitarist B.B. King passed away Thursday night. He was 89 years old but just a few months ago still touring and charming audiences with his velvety voice. B.B. King: A Tribute to Blues Brotherhood.
William Zinsser, writer, editor, and author (and frequent updater) of the legendary On Writing Well, died this week. He was 92 years old. William Zinsser, Author of ‘On Writing Well,’ Dies at 92. He is less famous for another book he wrote, in the early days of personal computing, when a lot of professional writers were up in arms about how word processors would destroy the craft of writing and make literature robotic (seriously), Zinsser wrote Writing With a Word Processor, extolling the virtues of the tool.
At least one of the virulent anti-gay bills the Texas legislature has been cooking up as fast as they can in anticipation of a summer Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality is dead for the moment: Same-sex marriage license ban bill dies in Texas legislature. On the other hand, 93 of the 98 Texas House Republicans Sign Shameful Anti-Gay Letter Pledging to Defy Supreme Court on Marriage.
And this pair of tweets went across my timeline yesterday afternoon. If you don’t know who Vox Day is, you’re lucky. Let’s just say he’s a virulent bigot who hates just about everyone:
Anyway, I thought it was a good thought to remember: holding people responsible for their hate speech is merely that, holding them responsible.
Some parts of this post may fall too far into the “what I had for breakfast” zone for some of you, but it helps me to stick to plans if I share them with people. Not that I get nagged often by my readers, I just am more motivated to do things I have said I would do than to follow through on plans that I keep to myself.
So I’ve been making some changes to my routines in an attempt to improve my writing productivity, and I’m thinking about some changes for this blog…
The other night while I was walking home from work (which takes a bit over an hour) I had this brilliant idea. For a while last year I participated in Throwback Thursday (#tbt or #Throwback) by writing a blog post inspired by one of the large collection of scans of the contents of Grandma’s old photo albums. It was fun. It was an easy way to make me write about something other than politics or the news.
But it isn’t something I really wanted to do constantly. Particularly since I was trying to avoid posting pictures of living relatives without their permission—or at least to minimize it. So that limited which pictures could be used. There’s also only so many childhood memories that I can make at least potentially interesting to other people.
So I took a break, figuring I would do it occasionally, or maybe pick a month next time, or something. Anyway, there I was, walking home in the drizzle, listening to music on my headphones, cars zooming by in the dark, and I had an idea of something else that I could do on Thursdays; make it the usual Thursday thing. It was a topic that could include Throwback Thursday. So I would have the benefits I get from having a weekly scheduled task, that could sometimes be a Throwback Thursday post, but most of the time would be something else. And that something else would, I hoped, be of slightly more interest than just another walk down memory lane with Gene.
It was brilliant! I even thought of a cute name that had the same initials as the short hashtag (tbt). I resolved to start my first post as soon as as I got home.
When I walked in the door, my glasses fogged up. I heard my husband call to me from upstairs, but I couldn’t understand what he said because I still had my headphones on. I had to turn off my headphones, take off (get myself untangled from) my backpack, peel off my wet hat and coat, hang up the coat and the hat, get out of my shoes, get the rest of my damp work clothes peeled off and tossed into the hamper, then pull them back out to check the pockets which I always forget, figure out where I set my glasses down when I came in the door, put on some sweatpants and fuzzy socks—all the while as Michale and I babble at each other about dinner and/or our days or something else that one of us thinks is important—check the mail, collect my phone and iPad and watch and headphones to put on their chargers…
And finally I sat down and woke up my laptop. I jumped to WordPress right away to start the first post in the new Thursday idea…
…and I couldn’t remember what the nifty notion was. I don’t just mean that I didn’t remember what I meant to start writing for today’s post, I mean that I couldn’t remember the umbrella topic/personal meme that was going to be my new regular Thursday thing. The thing that had the initials T B T and could include Throwback Thursdays as a subset.
I remember having the thought. I remembered the entire internal conversation about how I’d do it. But the idea itself? Gone.
And it’s still gone, days later. I haven’t got the slightest idea what it was. None.
I hate when that happens!
The original source of the tweet (which my friend had re-tweeted) was an account named @_FloridaMan. A quick check of the account revealed it was a long string of headlines and links to text or video news stories happening in Florida. And not just any news stories, but specifically stories of men doing things such as trying to shoot an iguana and nearly hitting people in a nearby house instead, or calling the police to complain that he thinks his drug dealer is cheating him, or trying to steal ridiculous amounts of food by stuffing them down his pants and thinking no one will notice, and so forth. Most of the tales involved the police eventually.They are funny and often extremely sad at the same time. And the stories cover such a wide spectrum of activities, you never know what’s going to pop up next. I got a kick out of reading several of the stories, and considered following @_FloridaMan right away. The problem is that I could see how that constant stream of ridiculous and thoughtless and often fatally stupid things that people do could encourage my inner cynic to the point of making me an unpleasant person. A couple of different friends occasionally retweeted cute pictures of cats with humorous descriptions of said pictures. Yes, they’re cute cat pictures. Yes, I am aware of the widely-held belief that only shallow people share cute cat pictures on the internet. But they made me smile. Sometimes they made me roll my eyes, but most often they made me smile. One day, by chance, shortly after I had been reading a heart wrenching story about a man murdering his own teenage daughter because she was lesbian, I flipped over to twitter to try to get my mind off the story, and one of my friends had re-tweeted something unbelievably adorable from EmergencyKittens again, and I no longer felt like my head was going to burst from the combination of rage at the father and sorrow for the girl and everyone who cared for her.
I checked the entire Emergency Kitten feed again, and yes, it repeats itself a bit more often than I’d like, and yes many of the humorous comments are rather obvious. If it was the only thing coming into my feed, it would become annoying after a while. Of course, it wouldn’t be the only thing happening in my feed, as I follow a bunch of people, but still…
And that’s when I had the idea. I followed both @_FloridaMan and @EmergencyKittens on the same day. Both of them give me laughs, but they aren’t the some kind of humor. Both make me roll my eyes or groan. But while one often reinforces my inner cynic, the other just as often reinforces my inner optimist.
Both of them, in different ways, act as antidotes to the outrage that can so easily by instilled reading more serious news stories and otherwise paying attention to what’s happening in the world. So, having both feeds randomly put funny, silly, bewildering moments into my day go a long way toward keeping me sane.
A couple weeks ago there was a rash of op-ed pieces and blog posts debating whether it is the job of various people to constantly educate other people about the realities of oppression, unwitting misogyny, institutional homophobia and racism, and the ways that people unintentionally perpetuate those things. And I understand. Some days I’m just too tired to deal with yet another clueless person…. Read More…
But I don’t want to only write about people being clueless and/or bigoted all the time. I have to remind myself that one reason I see so many stories clustered around particular topics is because I tend to read news sites that report on topics of interest to me, and as an out gay man who was raised Southern Baptist, studied math and science at university, and have always been a sci fi/fantasy nerd, I gravitate toward news sites that cover social justice, science, technology, and nerd culture. So I’m going to see a lot of stories like Gamer Gate, or the propaganda efforts of anti-gay folks, and so on.
It’s not just which news sites I choose to go to, of course. If some sites are covering a story, similar sites will pick it up, even if only to summarize and point to the original piece. Seeing these stories, and seeing people respond to them, make the news gatherers, reporters, and editors look for similar events in subsequent news cycles.
Sometimes, of course, there really are a lot of things happening all related to a particular topic. The recent Appeals Courts’ rulings about marriage equality, and the Supreme Court’s decision to let them stand, has put a lot of states that no one expected to be dealing with marriage equality so soon into the crosshairs. This makes people who oppose same sex couples having the right to marry feel even more threatened. And because each circuit court covers a bunch of states, these people who feel threatened are scattered over a wide geographical area. You have a lot of people in a lot of places all reacting to a perceived threat, you’re going to have a lot of incidents that will rise to some level of newsworthy. A whole lot.
And of course, I’m not the only person who is reading selective news. The folks who feel exactly the opposite as I do about some of these topics are reading their favorite sites. Or should I say their favorite site, singular (Conservatives Converge Around Fox News as Main Source; No Single Source Dominates on the Left)? Where they find the same stories being couched in a very different light, fanning those flames of fear.
I had about four half-written pieces that I could have finished to post yesterday, but they were all about the sorts of stories I link to up in the first paragraph. One of my goals for the year has been to reduce the outrage, and focusing so much attention on those stories does not help me with that goal. The problem is, the only other topic I had nearly ready to publish was about people who look down on other people because of the kinds of books they like to read. Which had a very same-y feel to it.
Which all led me to here, contemplating how everything I’m writing about (other than my novel) is processing exactly the feelings I don’t want to be spending so much time on. I suppose it could be argued by writing them down, I have gotten some of it out of my system, but I’m not sure that publishing them all would further the purpose.
So I’m going to try to concentrate my attention for the next few days on my fiction writing. I’m overdue for writing about the craft of writing, any way.