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Monday, September 27, 2021

Do Villains Need Redemption Arcs In Order to Be Sexy? (Guest Blog by Savannah Cordova)

[We usually take Monday's completely off, but we owe a post from Friday when there was a complete formatting fail.]

Can writers make sexy villains without having them redeem themselves? Check out today's guest blog from Savannah Cordova. 

Do Villains Need Redemption Arcs In Order to Be Sexy?

by Savannah Cordova


Everyone loves a bad boy. And by everyone, I mean “a lot of people, albeit with quite a vocally opposed faction on Book Twitter, as evidenced by the endless debate over whether readers are able to separate high-flying fiction from real life.”

And why in the world do we devote so much time to this subject? Because of fictional villains — specifically, the oh-so-sexy villains we love to hate, but just as often seem to genuinely love. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been swayed by a sexy villain or two — hello, Jafar from Aladdin and Cillian Murphy in Batman Begins — but I never thought too critically about them until the past couple of years. This was when I began writing about character development and dynamics on a regular basis, as well as engaging with more media analysis overall.

In that time, hoo boy, have I seen some things re: Villain Discourse. Some of the FAQs, for those curious/fortunate enough not to have encountered them before: Where should we draw the line between questionable and indefensible? When a character has a romantic relationship (or even just chemistry) with a villain, what makes that relationship too toxic to abide? Is it even useful to evaluate villains through a moral lens — especially in SFF, where they’re often so exaggerated as to be almost completely removed from reality?

Despite my eye-rolling at those who claim that shipping unhealthy fictional relationships is equivalent to endorsing them in real life, I do think the answer to the last question is yes. But it’s not because I’m concerned about the IRL consequences of romanticizing villains; it’s more that I care about what makes for an interesting, complex villain in a story — and, on a lighter note, to what extent “interesting/complex” overlaps with good old-fashioned bangability.

This is where we arrive at the question of sexy villains and redemption arcs, of which I’ve posed a somewhat oversimplified version in the title. A better, extended version of this question would be: Does a villain need to undergo a full redemption arc in order to be widely considered “sexy”? Failing that, how much redemptive potential do they need to cross that threshold? And finally, if a villain is given a strong redemption arc — potentially even going all the way from antagonist to deuteragonist — does that make them sexier?

Let’s start with the first query, the most straightforward: does a villain need a redemption arc to be sexy? To those familiar with fandom, it should come as no surprise that the answer is “hell no.” Tons of fans, maybe even the majority, are fine thirsting over characters with no redemption arcs to speak of. From Dracula to Heathcliff to Tom Riddle and oodles of film villains in recent years (including, yes, the villains in the Dark Knight trilogy), these guys may be lacking in the morality department, but that doesn’t prevent them from being seen as sexy.

(Also, before I go any further, I should address the elephant in the room when it comes to “sexy” villains: pretty much all the prominent ones are not only guys, but conventionally attractive white or white-passing guys. Attractive white women are starting to get more sexy villain rep — Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Emma Stone as Cruella de Vil — but with the enormous caveats that a) sexualizing women is a much more systematically oppressive, socially gross practice than sexualizing men [as we all know], and b) that these characters, if not quite good, do typically get more sympathetic explanations for their behavior than their male counterparts.

So for our purposes — because, sadly, there are limited examples of both sexy and immoral female villains, POC villains, and less-than-conventionally-attractive villains, and because the issues around them are weightier and not something I feel as qualified to talk about — this article refers mainly to the villains that dominate fandom discussions today. That said, I do hope to someday live in a world where more villains are considered sexy and evil regardless of demographics. Let’s manifest!)

Moving onto question two: just how redeemable must a villain be to maintain “sexy” status? In youth, I was pretty liberal about this (again: Jafar, Scarecrow, let’s not talk about it anymore) — and while I still don’t need a full redemption arc to invest in a character’s sexiness, these days I do want the author, showrunner, or filmmaker to throw me a few bones.

But plot twist: there are two elephants in this sexy villain room! Not only do most fans seem to prefer those Sexy White Male villains (which, to be fair, is a lot of what lazy creators are offering up), but so many fans also just… don’t care about what a villain does, who they hurt, or what goes on with them internally, so long as they’re nice to look at.

Kylo Ren, the bane of my pop cultural existence, is perfectly emblematic of this problem. (Serious Star Wars spoilers ahead!) As a disclaimer, I realize I’m unusually clear-headed about Adam Driver; maybe it’s because I first saw him as Hannah’s slightly odd boyfriend in Girls, maybe it’s because he’s got bizarre older-brother energy, but I’ve just never felt very attracted to him. The Star Wars fans do, though — and they overwhelmingly ship Kylo Ren with Rey (played by Daisy Ridley), despite their hostile and even occasionally abusive relationship.

I know, I know. Kylo renounces the dark side and helps Rey at the end of Rise of Skywalker — just in time to plant one on her (blech) and die cinematically in the rain. But not only does this eleventh-hour about-face hardly constitute a redemption arc, I would say that it’s not even a great redemptive moment. Critic Kayti Burt explains this much more eloquently than I do, but basically, Kylo Ren barely does any self-reflection or experiences any genuine remorse. He’s overpowered by emotion, yes, but the moment he joins Rey — and his other “redemptive” moments throughout the sequel trilogy, such as when he fights alongside her in The Last Jedi — are impulsive and self-motivated, not a considered attempt to atone for his sins.

What’s more, even before RoS came out and fans could only speculate on Kylo Ren’s fate, it had little impact on their perception of his sexiness — and, by extension, their desire to see him get with Rey. (Note that while shipping doesn’t always reflect fans’ personal attraction to one or both of the characters involved, in this ship — and in the others discussed in this article — it pretty clearly does.) Case in point: in November 2019, just before RoS’s release, there were nearly 11,000 works in the Kylo/Rey tag on Ao3. For context, today there are around 16,000… so if anything, fans found him sexier and more shippable before his redemption.

To be fair, there are other factors at work here — mainly, the fact that any long gap between trilogy installments is bound to be filled with fanfiction, and that the conclusion of said trilogy would leave many fans satisfied enough that they wouldn’t want to write anything more. But the fact remains that it didn’t matter whether or not Kylo Ren would be redeemed in canon. Fans loved him, wanted him, and shipped him unabashedly anyway.

So why does this bother me, someone firmly in the camp of “consumers are perfectly capable of separating fiction from reality”? Again, it’s not because I think every Reylo shipper actually wants to be in a relationship with Kylo Ren, or would put up with his crap if they were; it’s because I value strong, thoughtful narratives and well-developed characters, and that includes villains as well as heroes. Kylo Ren, and villains like him — those who receive the hasty, bare-minimum morality treatment — are an affront to the craft of storytelling.

“But what does storytelling have to do with pure, raw sexiness?” you press. I suppose I like to think that the combination of war-criminal-level degeneracy and a poorly executed redemption arc would preclude other readers and viewers, as it does me, from ever being able to find a villain particularly attractive. (You know, sort of like how the ridiculous and abusive dynamics in Fifty Shades of Gray make it tough to get on board with Christian.) Alas, this is not reality.

The good news is that you can hate a character, not find them sexy, and recognize that it’s okay for others to do so. Again, it’s still pure fiction; it’s not nearly as bad as, say, all those movies glamorizing Ted Bundy. But at the same time, I want readers and viewers to hold creators to higher standards — and it might seem silly, but finding weakly developed villains hot (and enthusiastically shipping them) does lend implicit approval to those stories and characters.

All that said, there’s still a ray of hope — one that arrives in the form of the answer to my third question. To jog your memory, that one was: even if not a prerequisite for sexiness, does a redemption arc still make a character sexier? The answer here, I think, is a tentative yes.

To my knowledge, there are relatively few mainstream villains who have undertaken a full redemption arc — which I define as a long period of reflection, internal change, and atonement (you can see why most melodramatic revelations in Marvel movies don’t qualify). I say this in part to justify the “tentative” qualifier, acknowledging that there’s currently not enough data to say for sure — and also to explain why the next arc I’m going to examine, purportedly in relation to sexiness, is technically about a late-teenage character rather than an adult character.

Certainly, I could have scrounged around a bit more and come up with a decent redemption arc belonging to a canonical adult character. But I’m certain those who have seen Avatar: The Last Airbender will agree: no one does a redemption arc quite like Prince Zuko.

For those who need a recap and/or don’t plan on rewatching ATLA anytime soon (can’t relate), here’s how it goes down, spoilers included: Zuko is an exiled prince who must capture the Avatar — a powerful master of the elements — in order to return to the Fire Nation and regain his father’s respect. In doing so, he will help the Fire Nation win the war they’ve been waging for 100 years to conquer the rest of the world. However, he slowly begins to lose faith in the Fire Nation, their goals, and their values… and over the course of three masterful seasons, Zuko goes from ruthless villain to internally conflicted soul to, finally, a complex deuteragonist who’s fully on the Avatar’s side, even when that means turning against his own family.

There’s so much to say about this arc and why it works so well, but the main reason is that it refuses to let Zuko off easy. He’s a deeply unlikable, annoying character at times, and the show doesn’t try to erase this in a scene or two; instead, he’s seen genuinely struggling over multiple seasons, experiencing setbacks and distrust from the “Gaang”, and only truly redeeming himself once he’s spent some time with them. Not to quote Hamilton in the year of our lord 2021, but one line succinctly captures the difference between Zuko’s redemption and other, less impressive ones: “Dying is easy, young man. Living is harder.”

By having Zuko live with his choices and work hard over time to counteract them — as opposed to flip-flopping to goodness at the last minute and conveniently dying before he has to do much else — ATLA offers up a much stronger, more fleshed-out villain redemption arc than 99% of fictional media. But of course, the question at hand is not merely whether Zuko’s redemption arc makes him good. It’s whether it makes him sexier.

This is harder to evaluate than with other characters because a) canon Zuko is younger than most villains (albeit much older-looking than baby-faced Aang), which makes people (rightfully!) less willing to sexualize him, and also because b) ATLA ended so long ago that it’s difficult to say how viewers felt about Zuko before he was redeemed. However, given contemporary discourse and all the aged-up fanart and fanfiction in the ATLA fandom — Zuko/Katara is by far the most popular ship, despite not being canon — it seems safe to say that his redemption arc is a huge part of how fans perceive him. And how they perceive them is, essentially, as sexy.

Yes, as we’ve established, there’s little direct cause-and-effect between redemption arcs and generally agreed-upon sexiness — and we would need more legitimate redemption arcs in mainstream fiction to draw a more concrete conclusion. But from what I’ve observed (and what the Ao3 tags seem to indicate) it does seem to be the case that the more a villain redeems themselves, the better.

TL;DR, lots of people are attracted to irredeemable villains. It doesn’t make you a bad person, and it certainly doesn’t say anything about your real-life preferences in relationships. But isn’t it more satisfying to love a thoroughly redeemed one? And while not every villain needs a full-on redemption arc, wouldn’t it be nice if we had a wider range of narrative outcomes?

Plenty of villains these days have sympathetic aspects to them: a rough childhood, an understandable objective taken too far, or some other trauma that drove them to the place they are now. All I ask is for more creators not to leave them there… and, if they want to redeem a villain with sexiness in mind, to remember that while looks are extremely subjective, character development — at least in this fan’s eyes — is always sexy.


Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, she enjoys reading contemporary fiction, writing short stories, and marathoning ATLA.





If you would like to guest blog for Writing About Writing, we would love to have an excuse to take a day off a wonderful diaspora of voices. Take a look at our guest post guidelines, and drop me a line at chris.brecheen@gmail.com.


Friday, September 24, 2021

Formatting FAIL!

For those following closely enough to notice when we miss a post, I had a guest post ready to go, but the formatting isn't working with copy/paste. (If you were paying really close attention, you may have even noticed it go live and then get taken back down because it was such a mess.)  I'll have to do it by hand, but I won't have a chance to get it fixed (and posted) until after the window of maximum engagement. (Most of my readers are still in North America, and the east coast starts logging off for the weekend pretty early.) 

So in order to give this post as much oxygen as it deserves, I'm going to do the work today but post the post on Monday (my usual day off) next week.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Best Standalone Classic Science Fiction

What is the best stand alone Classic Science Fiction Book (published before 1980)?

I'll be dropping the original page rerun over on WAW's Facebook page but for everyone else, here is a quick update post. If you haven't yet, please don't forget to pop over to the original page to drop that nomination, see what has been nominated already, second (all) those you agree with, as well as brush up on the rules—there are a FEW after all.

We're looking for Classic science fiction this time around, so there really ought to be a LOT of stand alone books. After all, the trend towards sequels didn't start after 1980, but it certainly wasn't as prevalent before. Plus…all the foundation literature that people rend their garments about is from prior to 1980.

Again, please remember to go to the original page to drop your nomination (and familiarize yourself with the rules if you haven't yet). If you put it anywhere else (including a Facebook comment on this post) it will not be counted.

Thank you all for joining in our Book Rec Conversation. I've really love reading all your comments about the books you treasure and why.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Schedule Update Fall 2021

While most of you just click the link I put on social media when you see that something I have written interests you, there actually IS an update schedule here, and as we enter a new phase of Covid, we are implementing perhaps the biggest, most significant update schedule change in the history of this blog. 

I might lose some patrons for this, but it's time for some significant changes. Both for my ongoing mental health and for my other long-term writing projects (fiction and some compilation e-books of our best articles). I am putting the days of seven posts a week and 70-hour weeks in the rear-view for good, and moving into a more quality > quantity phase of the blog. 


Yippee ki yay!

Writing About Writing consists primarily of one guy who takes care of a couple of kids, tries to keep up with some domestic stuff, is writing a novel, posts on another blog, posts a LOT on his Facebook wall, and sometimes does really wacky shit like try to play a D&D game with friends or get laid or something.

He's also a working writer, though, so he better stop making a bunch of excuses and make with the clackity clack. But that has generally not been the problem. 

This is the schedule we will generally make an effort to keep. I say "make an effort," but I have to be honest about three things. #1- I have written posts from my bed with 102°-fever or from coffee shops out of state while on vacation or during hospital visits to people with cancer, so it is very likely that no matter what happens, you will still get more than a couple of posts a week, and I really do mean MAKE AN EFFORT.  #2 I am absolutely balls at keeping on top of WHAT gets updated on WHICH days, and I am likely to start Tetris-ing the posts for the week if I SNEEZE too hard. #3 I am still working through the full effects of the global pandemic, including the massive, unrelenting, fully permeated burnout that comes from 18 months of 70-hour weeks. (At least one more vacation in the next month or two is badly needed, and after that I'm going to take them on a more reasonable schedule than I did for the first decade of this blog.)

Thanks to my patrons, I have been able to quit part-time teaching, pet sitting*, and cut back on the amount of nannying I do as a side gig to focus more and more on writing. If you would like to help us write more and better updates, even a dollar a month helps me budget.

*I still have a couple of close, super-easy clients, so you might see me post about this stuff, but I don't run all over the Bay Area anymore.

Facebook Writing and Social Justice Bard

Most of my major writing ends up on this blog, but some of my more throwaway thoughts don't. If you particularly enjoyed our Social Justice Bard posts, I still have many bees in my bonnet.

I invite you to follow my Public Facebook Page (you can friend it if you send me a message, but it might be better if you follow it for a while first––unfiltered me is not everyone's cup of tea). I post somewhat more "political and partisan thoughts" there (rather than just social ISSUES) and also often post "proto-versions" of what later become full blog posts (if you're interested in seeing how those things develop). [There's also personal updates and nerdery there.]

I also have another blog called NOT Writing About Writing that I periodically update (once or more a week pre-covid, but now it's a couple of times a month in wild fits and starts), write personal updates, and post political thoughts that don't really tie into writing but that also aren't really short enough for Facebook.

Everything I ever write for any medium (and reruns of my best stuff) gets cross-posted to that Public Facebook Page, so join me there if you want to see everything I write.

Facebook Page Maintenance

Running my Facebook Page of over a 1.1 million followers as well as maintaining all the OTHER various social media (which is essential to the fact that I get to be a working writer) is basically a part-time job in and of itself. It just happens to be spread out so that the work happens in five-minute increments throughout the day, pretty much hourly, almost any time I'm not asleep. 

Mostly I've just done this AND my writing and not really acknowledged the ways in which the aggregate of all these five minutes here and there impact a weekly writing schedule. 

Prepare for More of the W.A.W Meta Plot

Just a quick note: if you've been around for a while (or have dug through a lot of the first-year articles), you may have noticed that we have sort of a running plot and bizarre cast of characters here at Writing About Writing. We're going to be getting back into these kinds of posts.

There is a shame spiral that I get into when I feel like I'm not updating enough, or significantly enough, and I feel like the meta plot posts are "too fluffy" and too fun. So I am more likely to try to push myself to post something significant. (Which is ironic because I'm then more likely to not make it and have to push back the post altogether.)

However my readers have CONSISTENTLY and UNSWERVINGLY said that they like these types of posts and that they make the experience of me writing an ongoing blog more cohesive instead of just being the occasional article they want to see. So I'm really really really going to try to shut off that part of my brain that is insisting that my meta plot posts are phoning it in, and post them more often.



THE UPDATE SCHEDULE

Monday

OFF!

While technically no "off" day is truly off (even the weekends) as I take my own advice and write every day, having Mondays off from the responsibility of posting an official blog represents all the hours I work on other jobs. I have spent far too long beating myself up because they don't "count." Not only will taking time off to acknowledge these things be better for my mental health and "overworked" meter, but they will allow me to attend to both them and my writing without feeling like I'm neglecting the other and getting overwhelmed because I'm not spinning all the plates perfectly.

So after much garment rending and self-reflection, and some deep thoughts about how much I will take on if I let myself, I have decided to take a three-day weekend free and clear. (Although, as I mentioned, I'm always writing—this is more about the obligation of getting a post up.) 

But, of course, once I write it out and look at it in the face, I would give any human being on earth I wasn't being too hard on the exact same advice.
  • Childcare side gig (10-12 hours a week)
  • Facebook Maintenance (10-12 hours a week)
I mean that should probably be two or three days off by the number of hours, but obviously, I'm not going to take THAT much time each week. I'll stick to one and try not to feel too guilty about it.

Tuesday

BEHIND THE SCENES (and an accountability post)

While I would love to get a blog up on every day that I'm clacking away in front of a computer, I also have a significant "behind the scenes" obligation to the folks who keep the lights on around here that takes time and energy. Ironically, if I give these kinds of rewards some dedicated time, I'm not only going to be better about doing them, but also about the blogging itself—they both have a way of distracting me from the other as I get overwhelmed and sit in front of my computer, unable to move in either direction because I feel like I'm letting down the other.

However, I consistently have parts of this job that don't involve dropping a forward-facing blog.
  • Once a month I cannibalize a day of blogging to write my Patrons a newsletter, and now that the pandemic is over, four times a year, I'm going to need to write TWO newsletters. (During the pandemic, I would forgo the monthly newsletter to do the quarterly one, but my goal was always to have both on those months.)
  • I absolutely need to spend a day or two every month just doing admin stuff for Writing About Writing (like catching up on emails, cleaning up menus, and the like), or it gets SO far behind, SO quickly. As it is, I sort of imagine we're going to take a year to "dig out" of the stuff I just put up.
  • My Patreon tiers are perpetually in need of their rewards. Whether it's an early-access post or just a selfie from one of my hikes, I need to attend more consistently to the folks who are devoting their financial resources to my ability to be a working writer.
  • Also, I have a couple of other writing projects that require my time and attention.
From time to time when we are having a VERY busy week and need a second day to clear out the admin issues so that they don't back up, you might see the easier of the two admin posts go up on a Tuesday, but mostly I'll be working hard in the background.

You WILL see an accountability post on most Tuesdays. I'm going to restart posting progress on other projects, and I will let everyone know what I'm working on behind the scenes. But it will be more of a bullet point memo than a post.

Wednesday

We need (at least) one dedicated day a week to kind of take care of what I call "jazz hands," although it might be better described as "admin-ish stuff that HAS to get done at some point." It's not necessarily Total Fluff™, but it usually isn't exactly a new article either.

We are constantly running some kind of "Best Book" discussion, and the calls for nominations and posting of results take up a day of post. The review of the best posts we did in the month prior takes up a post. Often we have some kind of announcement or meta news about what's going on or coming up. You might also see a single entry for the long-forgotten character lists or an update to one of the menus (along the top of the page).


Thursday
We have a number of "types" of posts that are just a little lighter fare. Everything from SHORT Mailbox questions to our aforementioned meta plot posts to personal updates. Not necessarily admin or "jazz hands" but probably a little less "chewy/crunchy" than Friday posts.

Friday

Fridays, for the most part, will be The Big Post™ of the week. If you're here for the hard-hitting writing advice (with the occasional examination of how language and narrative play into broader social issues), Friday is the day to tune in. Longer Mailboxes, full craft, process, and sometimes even style articles.

NWAW

I used to write posts for NOT Writing About Writing and either drop them on my usual days off or post on both WAW and NWAW on the same day. I'm no longer going to be doing this. If I drop something on NWAW, I'll put a notice up on WAW that that is the writing for the day.

The Two-Post Commitment

Some weeks aren't going to go down like clockwork, and they might be front- or back-loaded with side gigs or other commitments. My writing career is also starting to open up occasional opportunities of interest like conventionsspeaking engagementsinterviews, or podcasts. On the advice of my doctor, I'm trying to be better about the (literally) health-shattering 60–70-hour weeks I was working, and I'm working to whittle that number down a lot closer to 40. That's a needle to thread when you are your own boss and you know that people will lower your income if they don't feel like they're getting enough of the content they want. I can't promise every week will go down as smoothly as three posts like end-of-the-week clockwork, but I will try really hard to get three posts up each week, and I can just about promise that I will at least do two. They might just be posted off schedule––landing on a Saturday or Sunday, for example—but barring illness, injury, or fabulously unforeseen circumstances, I will try hard to hit three and at least do two.

The Return of the Monthly Dedicated Novel Writing Time Increase

You may have noticed that any effort to take blogging time to give to my novel was COMPLETELY on pause during the pandemic. But now it is back. The hardest thing I've tried doing as a blogger is keeping my fiction at a high level of priority. It's SO easy to just write a blog and call it a day. And that's what I'm getting paid for, so it's even easier.

But...as much as I've surprised even myself by discovering how much I fucking love blogging, I do want to write fiction too. Finding time as much time for both is impossible, so I have to borrow from Peter to pay Cliché. While I am getting traction out of writing an hour or so of fiction first (so that then I still have to do the blogging in order to do "a day's work"), there may still be times where the needs of fiction completely take priority over blogging.

I'm firmly in the "Write Every Day" camp. But how much I write, what I write, and what I'm impassioned to write can sometimes still be a creative ebb and flow of being at my Muse's whim.

I'm also going to try something new and interesting. Each month I'm going to take an ADDITIONAL, cumulative day off to sequester myself and work on my book (as well as possibly other fiction). This isn't the only time I'll be working on my book, but I'll be diverting my blogging time towards it as well. I'll start with one day in October, and then two in November, and three in December and four in January. I'll reevaluate how things feel to my patrons at four extra days off each month—at that point I would either be updating only twice a week (if I spread the days out) or taking a full week off every month (if I took them all at once). It might depend on how close I am to finishing or a draft or something.

Hopefully, I'll have something to show for these days off by the time Patrons might begin complaining that I'm not updating enough, but I hope that the transparency and gradualness both help in that regard.

Election Week

I'm adding something that I basically realized today (I first wrote this on 3/5/2020). I'm going to take a break in our "regularly scheduled program" during election weeks. Midterms, primaries, obviously the presidential ones. I just need to acknowledge that the writing that happens will be on other blogs (like NWAW) and in other places (like my Facebook page) and that unless I am backing someone polling at 90 points, it's very, very, VERY likely I'm going to have at LEAST one day where I need to go back to bed into a pillow fort with ice cream.

We're probably done with elections for a while, but I'm leaving this here for future updates.


More posts?

There MIGHT occasionally be a fourth or even fifth (?) post in a week. Usually this will happen when I need to cover some ground on "blog business." (Like when I revise an old article so much that it deserves a fresh post, update a menu, write a new answer for our F.A.Q., or otherwise do something that needs to get done, but doesn't fit into our usual posting schedule). In this case, you might see an extra post pop up from time to time on the weekend or two in one day. Fiction will also usually go up independently of our regular schedule. It's less likely during the pandemic, but it used to happen a lot.

Reminders:
  • I still watch kids for several hours a week. Plus my host body occasionally succumbs to these pesky Earth illnesses and requires dental and medical maintenance to serve me well. And every once in a couple of blue moons I even just take a damn day off. So those three posts might not always happen like clockwork or may involve going off the rails of my usual updates. Until my Patreon pays all the bills, my reality is that I sometimes have to prioritize paid gigs.
  • I maintain a Facebook page for this blog that has over a million followers. From time to time a post I put up may intersect with a social issue, and then all the dillholes come out to play, and I have to spend a day basically babysitting the comments. I don't love it, but it has to be done or the bigots will chase off the people I want to be there.
  • This flexible update schedule should also cut down on the thing where I'm apologizing to absolutely fucking nobody that it's Thursday and I've yet to put so much as a taco video up. I know that some people are annoyed by how often I apologize, and the rest don't really care. But this also settles my own inner overachiever. As long as I get in all the entries that week, my readers (who have literally never said anything in six years about my update schedule) and myself can give me a break.
  • I invoke the Anything Can Happen™ real world excuse. In ordinary times, I usually have a couple of "emergency blogs" tucked away, but during the pandemic, I chew through them as fast as I tuck them away. So any bump in the road hits the blog update schedule in real time. Health complications might crop up suddenly and have me needing to do a sudden, unexpected several-hour shift or even an overnight...or maybe even more. Trust me, I'm going to feel ten times worse about missing a post than all of my readers combined. 
  • Admin Long-weekends at least once a month will still be a thing, but instead of maybe HAVING them, I'm going to assume they're on and maybe POST instead. Since I'm not working Mondays and this would normally fall under the purview of a Tuesday "Behind the Scenes" post, I will take the first Wednesday of each month as an extra day if needed. 




Also......folks, if you like what I do, support your "local" artist. (In this case "local" means more independent, amateur, and two-bit than literally down the street.) The pandemic is winding down (as are my 70-hour weeks), but there's still a long phase of transition to work through, and I'm not in a financial position to completely give up my childcare side gig or pay someone to take over the admin of my Facebook page (both major time sinks that pull from my writing hours, but cannot be avoided without losing income). 

If you want to help me focus on writing (without all the side gigs), yeet a few dollars into that "tip jar" at the top left, or even better yet sign up to be a monthly patron through Patreon. (You'll also get in on the back-channel discussions about posting schedules, big changes, and upcoming projects.) I have bills to pay like any other starving artist, and though my schedule is a lot better than it was three years ago, even a dollar a month (just $12 a year) will go a long way.

Note: Hi there, Mr. Elephant. I guess we should address you.

So....yeah. I ABSOLUTELY KNOW that there is a pretty loud contingent of "Who Cares!" from the other side of the Internet, and I'll give you all a nod if this isn't your cup of tea. It's cool. You do you. Posts such as this one are not my least popular kinds of posts (that honor is reserved for meta posts about why there's no regular post…for some reason), but on the other hand, not every post can't be the barnburners of me replying to social justice hate mail.  

However, I'm not going to stop posting them.

Let me say that again: I'm NOT going to stop posting them.

One of our mission statements is to keep "The Process" transparent and give you updates in real time, so there will always be an occasional hat tip to the meta. I want people to understand that writers struggle with their own productivity, schedules, and discipline. We are constantly dissatisfied with how much we're writing (or not) and trying to redefine ourselves. I want folks to see that someone who is making a paycheck doesn't have all the answers. I want them to see how their work/life balance matters, and how easy it is to fall into working TOO much or not enough, and either one causes problems. I want them to see that a successful blog doesn't require nine updates a week (and, in fact, that's too many). And I want them to see how artists are constantly struggling to fiddle with the knobs and get it just right because we are at once human with our ambition and drive, but also human with our INCESSANT need to eat and have shelter. We don't just eat rainbows and shit brilliant prose. Even if a follower or fan never uses my own update schedule or productivity demands on myself as a formula for their own success, let it be a comfort realizing how flawed and human working writers can be.

I want you to see how messy and non-magical it all is.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Schedule Readjustment

For those of you following our update schedule closely enough to know when I've missed a post, I'm currently undergoing a schedule change with new childcare hours and figuring out where the new writing time is. 

Now that I'm done moving, it's time to focus on the next big thing, and that is re-establishing my writing time. 

It looks like I'm going to need to get back into the habit of working a bit on the weekends and also making sure I have most of my week's worth of posts pretty much finished by Wednesday night. After that I kind of get swallowed by the childcare end.

I'm still adjusting to the difference in having 18 months of being alone about 140 hours a week. For that pre-vaccine part of the pandemic, it didn't matter much if I had nothing more than a paragraph to show for an entire morning. The only thing I had to look forward to was maybe a zoom chat or a new Mandalorian dropping. Now I have to get back to dedicated time and focused effort during. 

I'll also be doing some introspection about my current update schedule and whether it needs tweaking—or possibly a complete overhaul. 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Facebook Compilation (August)


For years, I didn't count all the bite-sized chunks of writing I was doing on Facebook as "writing." But it's a post here and a post there, and sometimes I spend an hour or more a day working on that writing, so it's high time I acknowledge the fact that it "counts."

Here is a collection of the BEST statuses (and a few of the most popular memes) from my public Facebook page over the period of July 1st-31st. (You're welcome to follow me there to see the not-quite-the-best ones but read up in the Facebook FAQ [last question] if you want to send me a friend request.) 


Just a thought, but if you look around the world and think, "Man, everything is SO messed up!", then maybe you shouldn't be so quick to harshly judge those who question the status quo.


I place a high value on the truth and try to examine closely the places where my cognitive dissonance is likely to live, but the history of my species is replete with examples of people who believe, fight for, die for, and kill for things that are *demonstrably* not true. This history includes STEP BY STEP PLAYBOOKS, ACROSS MULTIPLE CULTURES, ON HOW TO GET HUMANS TO DO THAT EN MASSE––written by THOSE WHO DID SO, so forgive me if I treat your snotty-ass premise that we're merely going to fact check our way out of the modern wave of white nationalism as suspect.

The reason conservatives are using the rhetoric that we're going to police their bodies and force them to take the vaccine under threat of direct violence is because that's what THEY would do. (A narcissist's accusation is always a confession, and the modern conservative party is a macro social abusive dynamic.) In fact, that IS what they do if given the opportunity to wield power. They have no problem policing uterus-havers' bodies under threat of violence. 

But that's not actually what's at stake. When it comes to the rest of us, if they want to opt out of the social contract, they can. We just don't want them in schools…or Disneyland…or at concerts. Or getting people who CAN'T get vaccinated sick because of their their own pig-ignorant decisions that, yes, we ARE going to point out are amazingly foolish and selfish beyond the telling of it.


Our job as privileged people in this part of the world is to listen to voices that white cis het males usually marginalize. 

Ally: "Absolutely. That's the name of the game. Ally4lyfe!"

To trust that sometimes folks who experience bigotry in the forms of discrimination and even violence can perceive what harms them (sometimes inadvertently) in a way we can't.

Ally: "This is how we do!"

They know better what hurts them and fits into problematic patterns even if that was not their intention. 

Ally: "Totes magotes!"

Marginalized folks: "This seems problematic, and here's why..."

Ally: "Shhhhhh. Hush now. Clearly you just don't understand brilliant satire."


It's kind of revealing to me that people find my social justice posts "too loud" or "too obnoxious" or "too aggressive." 

I rarely talk about social justice in person or on others' walls unless asked. I never go looking to point out that your fav is problematic or police language on other people's walls, and even here I may limit it to something like "I agree but please don't use that word." I arguably don't even lay down enough smack here when people are defending harmful jokes, because I'd rather try to find some touch point for understanding. I certainly don't corner friends at parties or shout on street corners. I speak up, but only at rape jokes or unapologetic slurs, and usually then only when we're alone and I can bring it up so very gently. The last time I brought up a point on someone else's wall, I was tagged and messaged by a friend who was sort of asking, "Can-you-talk-to-them?" The last time I had a conversation explicitly about social justice was maybe three years ago with a friend who had decided he was a feminist, and had a question about what turned out to be intersectionality.

I've also backed WAY off from several times a day putting up things that would fit under a "social justice" label. I've adjusted the "air/fuel" mixture to a lot of personal updates and geekery. I did so for my own mental health (though that's a more "in person" conversation). These days, even if I'm wound up about an issue, I usually don't even post half of what I used to every single day.

So really, the only thing these people are talking about is a couple of posts here on MY wall within my own space, to those who choose to listen. Folks can push one button to unfollow, unfriend, or block me or simply scroll on by those posts they don't like and get on to the silly stuff and life event updates. 

This is what is "too loud."

The only way I could be less "aggressive" would be if I were silent. If I said nothing at all and simply "cared" about equality while allowing its utter failure to go unremarked upon day after day.

Which is, of course, exactly what they want.


Of course people know it's uncouth to come right out and say "I'm smarter than you," but you watch closely enough and you see right away who walks through the world under the assumption that everyone else has something to learn from THEM, but that they don't really have anything to learn from anybody else.

But if you want some revealing homework, take note of how often those people are white men from rich parts of the world with a little bit more money than average.

There are far more efficient and effective ways to go after things like trafficking or exploitation than making it hard for legitimate sex workers to get paid. Targeting websites in a way that actually endangers sex workers is demonstrative of an economic system that—far from being about supply and demand and invisible hands the way such slogans are parroted as the "natural" outcropping of unfettered capitalism—will actually unswervingly act to support the power structure (mostly patriarchy in this case), and punish anyone making swift, clean, and decent money selling what those at the top of the social hierarchy believe they are simply entitled to.


The FDA's approval of Pfizer has demonstrably proven what we knew all along. Antivaxxing isn't about healthy or legitimate skepticism or about waiting until it's not "experimental." It's about whatever sounds plausible and easiest to argue when being antivax. It's about knowing exactly what you sound like when you admit, "Nothing will ever sway me because I've invested my entire identity into this."

Keep that in mind when the goalposts move to "I don't trust the FDA." Or "most vaccines have been tested for years."


Can you just admit that your personality prioritizes "Don't tell me what to do!" over care and concern for vulnerable people and society, and save us all the embarrassment of you pitting your high-school-science knowledge against the FDA's testing integrity and thinking that a YouTube conspiracy theorist is a valid source.


Also 2021

My last day at DVC (Diablo Valley College).

The page turned, and I moved on with some rather spectacular bridge burning*, but it was one of the best chapters of my life. Capital decision. 

(*I called out an admin who was denying teachers our promised raises, had gutted our materials budgets, and was guilting us for bringing it up by invoking the underprivileged kids the program served….…all while not mentioning that admin costs had mysteriously tripled since I'd been there. And then I CC'ed the email to all the other teachers.)

THE LAST ONE IS AN ADDED COMMENTARY ABOUT THE FOLLOWING THREE-YEAR MEMORY:

Oh dear. I didn’t expect this. 

Fee-fees!

I first came to DVC in 1999, took two classes in philosophy, but then ended up getting promoted at my serving job and managing restaurants for a couple of years. I returned to DVC in the summer of 2005 after some write-for-a-year-and-try-to-open-a-restaurant-with-a-slumlord shenanigans, determined to kick ass, transfer, get a degree in creative writing, and continue forward with my dream career. 

And I did.

I kicked all the ass. I got a 4.0 for the rest of my time here, cranking out one bullshit class that wasn’t writing after another. 10-, 12-, even 16-hour days BART to bus to campus and back again. I got grants and scholarships including one that DVC only awards to one person every year. I was recruited to tutor and then supplementally teach English. 

I transferred to SFSU but continued to work at DVC. Back then it was my only job except for a few hours of housekeeping for the folks I lived with, and perhaps the sole reason I didn’t starve to death living on Pell grants and scholarships. 

SFSU was a great school, but I was in and out without any fetters. I graduated in 2012 after some four years of plodding upper-division work in creative writing. I took as many classes (over what was needed for a degree) as they would let me before cutting off my financial aid.  (144 units as it turned out--or basically an extra year of Creative Writing classes.) I kept my head down, took the classes, and wrote. I think there's one professor that might really remember me––I took him several times. 

I kept working at DVC after getting my degree while I began to carve out a writing career in blogging. First, four classes a semester. Then three, as I established some writing income. Then two, even though I had lost a role as a househusband. Then one....

A year ago I was able to give up the last of the night classes for ESL and Developmental English to write full-time, but I still kept coming back to teach the summer school/camp thing. (The pay was just too awesome.)

This year was my last year of that.

I’ve been walking onto this campus on the regular for a decade and a half. And though the final page has not yet been written, of course, today I am walking off of it for perhaps the last time. 

I'd be lying to say that's not a bit of an emotional moment for me. Nostalgia and saudade at once even as I stand and gaze across the buildings one last time. Every building—every single one—I can remember taking at least one class. Astronomy. Anthropology. Ecology. Literature. Math for Liberal Arts. Tutor training.

Thank you, DVC. The promise of a community college and a determined student made manifest. We did right by each other. I hope some 13th-grader on campus right now is about to have as spectacular a journey as I did with you. 

However, mine has come to an end. 

Farewell.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Dental Appointment (No Blog Today)

I'm headed to the dentist today, unfortunately during my prime writing time. So today's post tomorrow, tomorrow's on Friday, and we'll get back on schedule next week.

One of the upsides (and one of the downsides) of trying to update so regularly is that you all can see pretty much see every single day I have something that comes up to interrupt my regular update schedule. Of course this is partially intentional—part of the reason I post daily even when something like this comes up is so people can see that writers are human, and we work hard, but also we need days off and have appointments and not every day is rainbow unicorn jizz and sunbeams from heaven. Some days we have dental appointments.

If I only updated once or twice a week, I could look like I had magic fingers even when I had a dental appointment. The posts would go up, and you'd never know what was going on under the hood and how the sausage gets made.