I had several answers—all of them true:
- It takes a lot of time and energy to try to educate someone on these complex topics, and that’s time and energy I will never get back and which I’d rather spend on writing or editing my own stuff.
- In my experience, very few people actually listen to your attempt to explain such things, they instead become defensive—sometimes extremely aggressively defensive. So you’re asking me to put myself into a fight.
- I’ve been explaining these things my whole life—just look through this blog!—and it’s exhausting. Please refer to the first bullet.
- One reason it is so exhausting to try to answer is because of what Foz Meadows once described as onion questions: “seemingly simple questions that can’t possibly be answered to either your satisfaction or your interlocutor’s because their ignorance of concepts vital to whatever you might say is so lacking, so fundamentally incorrect, that there’s no way to answer the first point without first explaining eight other things in detail. There are layers to what’s being misunderstood, to what’s missing from the conversation, and unless you’ve got the time and inclination to dig down to the onion-core of where your perspectives ultimately diverge, there’s precious little chance of the conversation progressing peacefully.”
- Thousands of other people have been explaining all of these things. There is no shortage of information about these things out there. I’ve educated myself on all sorts of things that don’t directly affect my life, why can’t they do that, too?
However, K. Tempest Bradford recently shared a link to a post she wrote on this topic a few years ago, Pearls Before Swine – Or, Why I Bother and she makes some good points. I’d read the post before, but had forgotten. In the post she’s referring specifically to a long article that astronomer Phil Plait wrote, attempting to answer questions from people who don’t believe in evolution and so forth:
“I’m fairly sure that the reason the creationists in the Buzzfeed article asked such ragingly stupid questions is because no one has ever bothered to answer them seriously before. I know why that might be. Like I said, the questions are really stupid.
“So stupid they can inspire rage. Or stupid enough that it makes people shake their heads and think This Person is Not Even Worth It. Not everyone has the spoons to deal with crap like that.
“If one does have the patience to answer and explain in a real way it helps both the person asking the stupid question and it helps people who have to deal with the kind of people who ask those stupid questions. They can either offer up the knowledge as they understand it thanks to the helpful answers and info behind those links or they can say: “This post over here answers all of that and more, go read it and stop talking to me.” Drop that link and mambo, people!”
And it reminded me of a recent exchange with a friend who shared something with me that was chockful of misconceptions and concealed bigoted assumptions. And I decided that his friendship was probably strong enough to deal with the discussion, so I wrote about a thousand word email explaining the misconceptions, false equivalencies, and so forth. Even though he is a good friend and generally a nice guy, I have to admit I was a little worried he would be upset. Instead, he replied thoughtfully and realized, having read my explanation, that there were some things that he had been taking in and just accepting in various videos and articles and such that were similarly full of false equivalencies, straw man arguments, and so forth.
So, I’m reminded that not everyone gets defensive. Also, as Bradford observes: “Other people have come to me over the years, usually at conventions, and told me how they, at first, thought I was SO WRONG about race and the community and so angry… But then their anger and defensiveness went away and they pondered and listened and read other people saying the same things and finally came to a better understanding.”
I’m not going to go back and unblock any of the people I blocked this week and attempt to re-engage. I am going to think about whether I could keep a list of handy links to certain blog posts or articles on topics that come up again and again and share those links when it might help.
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me.
In case you aren’t familiar, Alex Jones is a radio host who also puts out his show on various Youtube channels and the like (or he did until this week) where he traffics in conspiracy theories and extreme rightwing fearmongering, while convincing people to buy his crappy dietary supplements and apocalypse survival gear. He spent years denouncing the parents of the children killed at Sandy Hook, claiming that the murdered children never existed and that the parents were actors perpetuating an anti-gun hoax. His rants inspired his ravening fans to so harass some of the parents to the point of having to move several times over the years to escape the harassment, death threats, and vandalism.
Some of those parents have finally got a lawsuit going against Jones, and I am among the many people who hope they take him for every penny.
But the Sandy Hook parents aren’t his only victims. And people have been complaining to the various service providers who host his programs for years to take some action. Which they finally have.
Anyway, now that Jones’ podcasts and such have been removed from the Apple podcast library, YouTube, Facebook, and Spotify, everyone on the right is in a tizzy that this is the first step in a coming progrom against all conservative people. And because I retweeted a few of the best responses to this nonsense I saw, I suddenly had a bunch of them trying to convince me that this was a clear example of censorship whose slippery slope would lead to the oppressing of queer people such as myself.
There are several problems with these arguments. The first is that, despite what all these folks claim, Jones is not being targeted because he is Republican. He is not being targeted for who he is. He has been banned for things he has said and done. Specifically, the hate speech and the incitement to harass and worse. The justification of removing his content is clear, egregious, and repeated violation of long-standing policies forbidding hate speech and the like. Example: Facebook bans InfoWars and Alex Jones after calls for drag queens to be burned alive There’s no slippery slope from there to banning large swaths of people.
Second, this is, in some ways, like closing the barn door after the horse has run away. These platforms should have banned him years ago. He was allowed to spew his hate and lies and harass and cause the harassment of innocent people for years, all while profiting from the hate and lies. This is severely delayed justice, at best. He isn’t being censored, he is instead facing consequences for immoral, unethical, and in some cases illegal things he has done many, many times for many, many years.
Third, queer people are already punished by several of these services. YouTube is particularly notorious about disallowing ad revenue for videos that advocate for queer rights and so forth. They label any mention of queerness at all as sensitive “adult” material, even when it is just a trans person giving people make-up tips. I’ll believe these rightwing a-holes are concerned about oppression when I see them protesting YouTube’s treatment of queer people now.
Fourth, this isn’t censorship, it’s consequences. And the consequences aren’t coming from the government. Jones isn’t being carried off to a concentration camp by armed officers. There are people in this country being hauled away by armed officers of the government where they are being locked up for who they are, rather than anything they have done. And it isn’t rightwing people like Jones that it is happening to. So it is particularly infuriating that they’re making this argument now.
There are things happening in this country that could be described by Niemöller’s poem, but those actions are being undertaken by the Trump administration, all the while being cheered on by people like Alex Jones. Jones isn’t a victim, he’s one of the culprits.
Camp NaNoWriMo is underway, sponsored by the same people who do National Novel Writing Month. Camp happens in April and July each year with far more nebulously defined goals that NaNoWriMo’s big word count target. For camp, you set your own goals. Often people use camp to edit something already written, or to write something shorter than a novel, or to get out of a rut of non-productivity. Because of the camp metaphor, participants are encouraged to join a cabin, which is really just a small on-line chat. You can let yourself be randomly assigned to a cabin, or you can set up a private cabin and invite your friends, or you can join someone else’s private cabin.
I like having the expectation that I’ll publish my word-count (or number of words revised, or what ever) regularly and having at least a few people to kibbitz and commiserate with. My attempts at Camp have had a varying degree of success.
Anyway, part of my Camp NaNoWriMo project for this month is to implement some of the new things and changes that I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been revising my goals. I wrote earlier about why I hadn’t posted a list of goals for the year, nor posted monthly updates. The summary is that I’ve been writing private checklists each month, and so far each of those checklists has included at least one item about better defining my long terms goals. The list of long term goals is shaping up, though there are some details I haven’t quite finalized.
I am still using the model of attempting to replace a bad habit with a better habit. I’m also trying to redirect where I’m expending my energy and attention. I’ve been cutting back a bit on my Twitter activity, for instance. Another more obvious change is that I’ve replaced the labor-intensive Friday Links weekly post with a much easier to assemble Friday Five post.
When I start posting monthly updates on my goals, the posts are likely to be put up on Patreon, rather than here. I’m still figuring out how much and where other things I post a lot (such as my Writing Advice posts or my Why I Love SF/F posts) should be posted/cross-posted and how to manage that without it eating up more time than I’m freeing elsewhere.
I hope to finish a longish NorWesCon Convention report to post here this week. There is at least one movie review and one book review about half finished that should go up soon, too.
So that’s what is happening here. If you’re doing Camp NaNoWriMo, especially if you’re interested in joining my Cabin, leave a comment here, or send me a message on twitter, or send me an email with the Contact Me page here—or if you already have another way to ping me use that.
Let’s get writing!
Over the years I’ve had many conversations with aspiring writers. This happened especially a lot when I was the publisher of a small zine and attending sf/f conventions where I appeared on writing and publishing panels and usually had a table selling copies of the zine. A significant fraction of these random aspiring writers would talk about stories that they were working on but couldn’t quite figure out how to finish. And once I got into the details with them, it would eventually emerge that they hadn’t actually written any of the story. It was an idea they had and which they had talked about at length with friends. In many cases they would talk about the files they had full of descriptions of characters and an outline of the history of the world, but when pressed, they would admit that they hadn’t actually written a single word of the story itself.
Planning and thinking and even doodling about a story, gathering research and writing up background information are important tasks which are often necessary to the writing process, but none of that is the actual story. So I would tell these writers a few of rules:
- Stop talking about the story to other people, because that just makes the storytelling part of your brain think you’ve already written the tale. Sit down and start writing it.
- You don’t have to do world building before you start writing. Recently I saw a lot of people online passing around an excerpt from on old interview with one of Tolkein’s kids where the kid asserts that dad didn’t start writing the story itself down until the children started catching him in contradictions. I don’t know if the anecdote is true, but you can tell a lot of story before you have to stop and start making notes about the world building.
- Just sit down and put one word after the other. Don’t worry about whether you’ve started the story at the correct place. Don’t worry about the perfect opening line. You can figure that out later. Don’t get hung up (in the first draft) worrying about if people will understand the story or will like the story. Just start writing. The first draft is you telling the story to yourself. Worry about everything else after you have finished the first draft.
- Don’t stop and go back and re-write scenes again and again. Force yourself to leave things in the story until you reach an ending. Yes, you may scrap a ton of what you wrote later, but don’t fall into the trap of rewriting one scene for eternity.
- Write. A writer writes. Do it!
If you are writing a story, you’re writing. If you’re doing something else, you aren’t writing. Obviously, sometimes you have to take a break, or do some plotting, or jot down background information, or update a timeline, and so forth in order to know what to write next, none of that is actually writing. So if you’re spending more time on that than actually writing the tale, you need to stop, sit down at your favorite word processor or writing notebook, and start writing.
The blog post that angered me this weekend asserted that if you haven’t been published you aren’t a writer. I tend to have a knee-jerk reaction to gatekeeping, but even discounting that, I have problems with that distinction. I understand that the author was trying to address the issue of people who are merely daydreaming about writing. And I agree that we do a disservice to aspiring writers if we enable their mistaken notions that writing is easy or that it’s a sort of magic process of ideas coming to us from the ether.
But getting published is a very arbitrary and classist hurdle. And particularly in this age of self-publishing, it’s not a terribly useful distinction.
Are you writing? Not background notes, but an actual story with dialogue and a narrative moving forward? Then you are a writer. Maybe you’re still in the early stages of learning your craft. Maybe what you wrote this morning was completely awful. Maybe you’re still afraid to show it to other people. Maybe you showed it to someone and they didn’t like it.
That’s not important.
Are you writing? Are you doing the work of putting one word after the other striving to get to the end of the tale?
If you are writing a story, even if you don’t know what you’re doing yet, you’re a writer.
Go! Write! Finish that story!
One of the things that I have enjoyed since moving my blogging to FontFolly.Net hosted on WordPress five years ago has been seeing all the information about traffic to my site at a glance. Such as the Referrers–a section of the dashboard that shows you when someone followed a link on another site to my blog, or used a search engine. That information is available over on my author site (SansFigLeaf.Com), but I have to work harder to get the logs and parse them. WordPress does the work for me.
I used to really enjoy about once a month looking at the list of Search terms that people use to get to the site. As more and more people use private or anonymous browsing options, that list doesn’t change much, with more and more searches lumped into the category of Unknown Search Terms. Not that I don’t begrudge anybody some privacy, but it was amusing to speculate as to why someone had typed “bland relish tray” or “ceramic figurine queen jubilee” into a search engine, and whether whatever post of mine it was that they clicked on was at least entertaining to them.
On the other hand, the person who once typed “collecting dictionaries” so far as I know never left a comment or asked any question about the topic. Which is kind of sad, because if they typed that search term in, I hope it was because they or someone they cared about collected dictionaries, just like I do, and it’s always fun to meet someone who shares your interests.
Search terms aren’t the only thing of interest. Another part of the dashboard lists all of my old blog posts that someone has clicked on today. Certain old blog posts come up again and again. When it is one of my series of posts about why I love science fiction and fantasy (which are usually a review of a book or series of books or a particular author or a movie or sci fi TV series), I understand, and hope that the person enjoyed the post. When it is a particular post I wrote some months back about some infamous closet cases: former anti-gay Congressman Aaron Schock and former Pinal, Arizona County Sheriff Paul Babeu, I know that most likely it means that there has been a new development in Schock’s criminal trial on federal corruption charges, because whenever a story about his case gets published on news sites, I get a few hits. This week, though, it seems the reason why is that there has been a new development in the federal corruption investigation against Babeu. So, it was interesting to learn that he may yet be brought to justice.
I am happy that the all-time most read post is one about writing, Time doesn’t work that way. Makes me think I should get some more of my draft posts about writing, storytelling, et cetera finished and uploaded.
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.