My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The New and Improved Update Schedule

After a month of trying the new schedule, and shaking out a few bugs out of it, Writing About Writing presents...

The New and Improved Update Schedule for 2015

Writing About Writing will post something every day. 

Every single day there will be something here. Sometimes it might be a few inspirational quotes or a great Youtube video about writing, or just a picture of me looking stressed out and screaming because life is coming on a little too strong to write a blog post about it. It might be nothing but a picture wishing you well for the holidays. But there will always be something here. I will even attempt to schedule a little something during vacations when I'm out of town in a place with no internet. So if you're the type who lies in bed, staring at the ceiling, your stomach roiling with hydrochloric acid and twisted into tight knots over the thought that a post may have passed you by, you might want to follow W.A.W. on one of the "always update," media.

However, most days will not be major articles. You won't "fall behind" if you miss a few days or come back to thirty pages if you don't keep up on the weekends.

I can't promise that nothing will ever go wrong, what with all the intergalactic invasions and evil mystery hackers and such that W.A.W. fields in a typical week, and I usually miss a couple of posts when I go to Burning Man but we will try.

I also invoke the "toddler excuse"!  I'm writing for two blogs, writing forty hours a week most weeks, teaching, and I'm the househusband for my family. There will come days when I look up a half a second too late, only to find that every piece of every board game we own is in a huge pile in the middle of the floor. That might be a day where I get my post up late in the evening or switch out a heavy day for an inspirational Youtube and a couple of funny writing macros.

And I'm not talking about a pile made up of the little hat from Monopoly
and some Hungry Hungry Hippo marbles here.
There is a monthly schedule I follow where I try to rotate in and out through the various running segments here on Writing About Writing. Even in a given month, you aren't likely to see something from each category, but it keeps me from doing fifteen listicles in a row and not writing a prompt for months on. I was going to post that schedule here but it'll be better to keep it in my head since anything I write will immediately become wrong the minute the schedule starts.

Here are a couple of things you can count on though:

Mon- Mailbox! On Monday I will usually run the mailbox. (Ask me anything about writing at chris.brecheen@gmail.com) This enormously popular segment runs weekly (partially because the questions inspire me, but mostly because it's enormously popular and I'm an unrepentant page view whore). As long as I have questions, I will do it every week. There is a non-zero chance that if I start getting more questions (and the finances of W.A.W. support more hours writing and fewer doing day jobs) that I'll bump up to twice a week.

Fri- On Fridays I usually put out a "meaty article" (as in heft not shitty erotica euphemism).

Tues-Thurs- Tuesday through Thursday depend heavily on what else is going on in my life. In theory, I would love to tell you that except for Wednesday, when I teach, I will put out a major article each other day. I would love to tell you that I will do this because I diligently used my time during the weekend to draft articles and didn't waste a moment of it. I would love to tell you that you can count on me to be regimented and disciplined with my time. Unfortunately it might be hard to tell you this, seeing as I will be trying to say it through the tears of laughter.

If there's been a run of passive aggressive sighs in the kitchen from Unsupportive Girlfriend or my weekend involved the words,"I'll just play this Bethesda game for an hour or two and then I'll totally be productive and get back to writing," Tuesday through Thursday might involve shorter articles or revisions or ongoing projects to clean up menus and tab.

Articles? How about these amazing
Of course if you really want to hedge your bets for a good run of articles, a groupie threesome the weekend before will likely motivate me to write for hours, and turn into a week of exceptional productivity. No? Fair enough. Catch as catch can then.

Weekends: Generally, on the weekends, I'm working on whatever is going to go up the next week. Posts that go up on the weekend will usually either be a lighter fare or more of my "slow burn" articles. (That's an article that probably won't be popular at the time but picks up a steady trickle of traffic from search engines.) If you can't read W.A.W. on the weekends, you are probably not missing much, and it won't take you long to catch up.

In theory I will give you more than two solid articles a week, and some weeks it's four or five, but some weeks I'm hanging on to life like a cat caught in a screen door, and this new schedule is a little less overwhelming because I was falling behind in writing fiction and even reading. If I'm driven by current events, unfettered by chores for some reason, or simply exploding with inspiration, I will write more. If you're interested in more, high quality articles, the best thing you can do is to support W.A.W. so that I can work fewer hours of day job and spend more of them writing.

Or groupie threesomes. I really can't underscore enough how much that would work.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

What Is The Best Y.A. Series?

What is the best Young Adult series?

Only one day (and change) remain for our best Y.A. series poll.  Vote today!!!

I have to admit this poll is not shaping up the way I would have expected. I don't think I've seen Harry Potter on a poll where it wasn't at least in the top three--not since I started Writing About Writing.

The poll itself is on the left at the bottom of the widgets.

The poll closes when I wake up on the morning of the 1st, and I'll post the results shortly after. However, please don't forget that the polling program can only hold your ISP for a week, so if you voted early, you can vote again. (Since people were exploiting the bug, I might as well claim it's a feature.)

Also clear the turkey and gravy out from in between your neural connections to start thinking of December's write in nominations for best Y.A. author.

Friday, November 28, 2014

What is Avant Garde? (Mailbox)

Not always a compliment.
What does "avant garde" mean?

[Remember, keep sending in your questions to chris.brecheen@gmail.com with the subject line "W.A.W. Mailbox" and I will answer each Friday.  I will use your first name ONLY unless you tell me explicitly that you'd like me to use your full name or you would prefer to remain anonymous.  My comment policy also may mean one of your comments ends up in the mailbox, but likely only if you ask a question. I can even define poorly defined artistic movements.]  

Holly asks:

You seem to know your shiz way more than most of the other students in my MFA program (and half the profs if you want my opinion). My classmates keep calling my work avant guarde[sic] in workshop, but I don't really know what that means or why they call it that. I wouldn't say that's what I'm going for and I thought it was like Kafka, Woolf, or Ezra Pound--old shit from before the sixties. 

What gives? You asked for questions, so here's mine. Give me the down-low in straight language and make me laugh while you do. Cause you're really good at both.

My reply:

When your honest opinion is so complimentary, of course I want it. When it's critical, you keep that shit to yourself. 

I guess the answer "Uh...I dunno, like Samuel Becket?" doesn't really help you, right? Okay, fine, I'll bust out the two dollar answer. But I must warn you.....there are only so many threesome jokes I can throw into an answer like this, so proceed at your own risk. Given the date, I'm sure this metaphor will not go amiss: I'll toss as much gravy as I can on this answer, but the turkey we're going to talk is a little dry.

"Avant garde" is probably one of those words that suffers from the elasticity forced upon it by people who don't really know what it means, so actually, there are several answers to this question. It's literally SO hard to define that entire books have tried to do so in the sixties, but were considered insufficient and have been added to and expanded and are still contested. I can fill you in on the broad brushstrokes, but it's going to be up to you to decide if your fellow MFA writers are the Machiavellian, back-handed compliment types, or if they might be trying to give you a high five on the down-low from "The Man." 

Or, you know, maybe they just think it makes them sound like they know what the fuck they're talking about.

You mean it doesn't mean whatever I say it does?

Avant garde literally translates to "advanced guard" in French. You know the yahoos that run in and take the first round of cannon fire (probably because they had a threesome with the general's wife and sister or something). I'm sure there's a metaphor for art in there somewhere....

The idea is that avant garde is a group of artists who are pushing forward, defying convention, testing new ground, experimenting, and innovating in the arts. It first sprang up in the early 20th century as a direct descendant of Dada (which was almost explicitly anti-"art") and in addition to the writers you've listed, includes ee cummings, Joyce, Ginsberg, Miller, Nin, Nabakov and a few others you've probably been stuffed with if you've taken 20th Century American Lit. But the timing is important because while the initial stages of the avant guard occur prior, the movement really didn't take off until after World War I.

"These guys are basically the hipsters of the art world."

Seriously there was a time when all the major players were considered avant garde. You were either avant garde or you were Robert Frost. Even Hemingway was playing around with things like having the central action of a short story occur outside the story.

The thing you have to understand about art at this time was that everywhere you looked, artists were saying FUCK YOU to the system. They weren't just bent out of shape because artists like to be snotty and yell at their parents, "you don't understand my pain!" The world, in a very real way, had let them down. The culmination of 100 years of modernism, militarism, technology, industrialization, social darwinism, and imperialism was not the utopia they had been promised it was all leading to, but rather even more capitalism AS WELL AS the worst war anyone could ever conceive of. The sense of chaos and of cultural rejection of the old rules was a driving force throughout the arts.

We were supposed to get flying cars; instead they gave us mustard gas and machine guns.

Now you have all the rules that ever existed getting goatse'ed by the heavy hitter artists. Surrealism and cubism are all over the visual arts. Stravinsky wrote a ballet that was so unlike anything else that it caused a riot in the audience. Plays were fucking with the three act structure (and sometimes even central tension). And writing was experimenting too, writers like Joyce and Woolf were playing with stream of consciousness instead of hard narratives. Cummings ditched grammar. Gertrude Stein wrote in the progressive tense with reductive style...thrice. None of the established art world liked any of this stuff.

Rodchenko's Dance is one of the most famous non-Picasso works of cubism.
Most people have never seen or heard of it.
So all the splinters of meaning that have come off of "avant garde" have this core theme of those who reject convention and experiment. It pushes the norms and conventions and challenges the status quo. So your classmates might just be saying that you're fresh and innovative.

Part of "avant guarde" will always be at its inception as any movement that takes a label, no matter how elastic the label is intended to be. (We still have modern innovations in jazz today, but the idea and flavor of the word "jazz" will always be rooted in ragtime and blues and the New Orleans bands.) Avant garde will always conjure images of Ulysses's stream of consciousness and T.S. Eliot's Love Song–that rich deep immersion into a character's mind that is sometimes devoid of narrative arc or classical plot tension that fucking drove you bonkers in high school and were the bane of your literary analysis in college. These works defy conventions of storytelling or poetry not for mere anarchy, but for the artist's own eclectic sense of order. So it is possible that your classmates are telling you that your work reminds them of the period of American literature between the turn of the 20th century and World War II with works deeply rooted in surrealism, expressionism, and (in literature) stream of consciousness explorations.

However the "avant garde" has also been "claimed" by several more specific movements since the fifties. It sort of shifted from "any artist at all who defies convention" and traced a more formal path through various post war artistic movements. A lot of people and movements have described themselves as avant garde at the time, but it really stuck only with a few particular movements, especially anti-establishment and radical artistic movements.

In the fifties, that means you're talking about Marxism and the Situationists. Yep, dirty commies. In fact, the face of "avant garde" became decidedly anti-capitalist and intensely political and social. Towards the end of the sixties the avant garde label was taken up by the Language Poets and even the Postmodernists. So it is possible that your classmates are suggesting that you are following along the post war "torch bearers" of the avant garde movement, and that your work has a Hemingway/Kerouac/beat poets feel.

At this point (if you know your artistic movements) you might be scratching your head. Or if you're a little melodramatic and flying on pumpkin pie, maybe you've flipped a table. Weren't the post modernists reacting to the modernists by bringing back some of the historical and classic artistic stuff? Yes they were. That doesn't sound like these rowdy group of socialist malcontents you've described at all, Chris. What the actual hell? See at this point what had been avant garde was becoming cliche so these malcontents reacted against the conventions....again.

I hope the theme of "avant garde" is becoming clear here. These guys are basically the hipsters of the art world. If something becomes too mainstream, they immediately rebel against it. They thought everybody's earlier work was better (before they sold out). They were the original "you've probably never heard of it," brigade.

That means that the definition is a moving target. If I wrote a Beckett style play today (and please shoot me if I ever do), people would call it derivative rather than avant garde. Many movements in art begin as avant garde by their nature but then fade as they become popular or mainstream. That's why the term becomes so slippery after the seventies. Everyone was avant garde...until they weren't. Then the conventions of old movements that are broken then become the backbone of new movements that are themselves rebelled against. And sometimes the most radical thing an artist can do in the modern world is to write an English sonnet in iambic pentameter with a proper rhyme scheme or do a novel with a classic three act structure, central tension, and an omniscient third person narrator.

Avant garde is about breaking the rules. It's about defying conventions.  Of course in literature, there is only so much convention you can defy before the text itself becomes unreadable. (But by god, they try.) Sometimes you have things like Avatar (not the Dances With Wolves remake with the blue natives, but rather a hundred and tenish page novel with no punctuation...at all). Some of these works can be intensely difficult to read and of very limited appeal to mainstream audiences. Modern examples of avant garde works that actually are popular would include Infinite Jest or House of Leaves.

But now we're getting into the territory of the three meanings that it is far more likely your classmates mean.

The intense anti-establishment, anti-convention, even anti ART overtones of avant garde means that in particular they hate the ivory tower.

Hate it!

I mean hate it so bad that if an avant garde artist and a professor in tweed see each other across a crowded room, you wills hear two lightsabers ignite, and only one of them is getting out of there not cut in half or falling down a bottomless pit. This antithesis is so pronounced that it is sometimes much easier to define avant garde by what it isn't–or rather what it stands opposed to.

They can fight on this rooftop.

University art programs look lovingly at the last generation of artists (which are now contextualized into formal movements) and of course, the classics, but you have to understand just how much the avant garde artist hates them for not encouraging (real) innovation and experimentation.  Avant garde artists rebel against everything university art programs teach. If crusty ol' professors call it art, they ain't doing it. And if crusty ol' professors say not to break X rule, you can guarantee they'll write an entire work based on breaking that rule. So it's possible that your classmates are saying that you are a raging rebel within your MFA program and calling you "avant garde" is their way of fist bumping your professor-ignoring pioneer spirit.

Oh Holly! You machine-raging rabble rouser you!

The other thing they might mean is sort of a back handed compliment. Avant garde is often tied intimately with modern art's trends of absolute incomprehensibility. These artists often try to be so different and so convention defying that they leave behind influences and recognizable themes, and end up with something that even other artists can't find the artistry in. An open jar of Hellman's Mayonaise sitting in the middle of an alkali desert is billed as "a bold take on avant garde expressionism." Now I don't know what that means, and I suspect the person who wrote it doesn't either, but sometimes the reputation for being complete bullshit is very well earned. People call bullshit avant garde because it's gauche to actually call it bullshit.

But it is actually bullshit.

When conservatives go after the N.E.A., it's always by pointing to some avant garde work and saying "You want your tax dollars to pay for this?" So it's possible what they're trying to tell you is that your work is so inaccessible that they can't think of anything else to call it that isn't laced with expletives about fecal mater.

Given that my tax dollar (and it's an exaggeration to assume I actually pay a whole dollar in taxes to the NEA every year)
 paid for maybe 1/10,000 of one cent for this particular work, it's probably bothering me less than you might imagine.
Plus this is kind of neat.

However Holly, here's my suspicion: they don't quite know exactly what they mean. The convention-defying nature of avant guard work, especially against conventions of structure, and its slipperiness with any particular movement since the 70s or so, mean that it gets used synonymously with "experimental" a lot. That is to say it often gets used instead of, "I don't get it."

Here's the problem: a lot of CW program students wouldn't know really experimental if it bit them in the ass. They put the established "rules" of a Cummings poem in the same box as someone who just puts the line breaks and random punctuation wherever the fuck because it feels "edgy." They can't tell the difference between Gertrude Stein's choice to repeat a sentence and an undergrad who just went through and picked out four random sentences. I've literally seen a workshop of MFAs students who couldn't tell the difference between a powerful literary choice and a grammar mistake.

Clearly this is brilliant....I think.
This isn't to impugn or besmirch your work or your classmates' abilities to read it. (Well, maybe their ability to read it.) It's just sometimes workshops of rushed, distracted young writers (who are mostly worried about their own work being seen for its brilliance) and who have read your work once, probably right before class, aren't the best audience with whom to try something radically different.

So any time a work is weird and a creative writing student doesn't quite know what to make of it, they often go with the vernacular they've heard around them instead. They toss out the "buzzwords" they know. They know that "Shit, man I don't get what the hell you're on about with the butterfly part," isn't going to sound very writerly of them, so they say "This is a very.....avant garde piece and I particularly loved the expressionist juxtaposition with the Dada symbolism you encapsulated in the butterfly and how the chiasmus of contrast gave relief to the part about the butterfly collector with the net. It reminded me so much of Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera, which I've totally actually read."

So, Holly, at the end of the day, I know what avant garde means (kind of) and if you're not asleep yet, you do too, but when it comes to your classmates, I'm thinking an Inigo Montoya quote might be appropriate.

I'm thinking an Inigo Montoya quote might be appropriate.

I'm thinking an Inigo Montoya quote might be appropriate.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Can we all just take a minute to appreciate the sadistic look on Spike's face?
Did I say Thursday for the mailbox? I meant Friday of course. I can't even get Grendel and his mom to come work the cafeteria on bank holidays. If I can't at least get hooked up with a Sloppy Turkey Joe and some powdered mashed potatoes, I'm not coming in to work.

Please have a wonderful holiday if you're a Yank, and a wonderful Thursday if you're not. Stuff a bird or just enjoy the stuffing, depending on what you're into. And I'll tell Holly why her fellow MFA students keep calling her "avant garde" tomorrow.

And I've been asked by the cheese guy on the third floor to convey his greetings in particular. He says, "What would go with Turkey better than some provolone? Happy Thanksgiving."  Yeah, I can't believe I actually agreed to that. But he was going to make me try this stinky Venezuelan beaver cheese if I didn't. I just wanted to get out of there.

I seem to be drifting slightly off the point. Have a wonderful holiday (or just day, depending), and we'll get busy with the snarky writing advice come tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


I'm going to shill another post of mine today on all the social media but for those who follow on RSS feeds or directly through Google, I thought today would be a good day to reblog Why Others' Stories Matter.

I live in Oakland, so last night instead of writing, I watched the protests. I don't mean I watched them on television either. I just looked out my window.  (At one point I had live coverage playing in the background and I heard a siren out my window and on my computer at the same time with that weird distortion effect--like when someone is talking to you on the phone from the same room. That's when I realized they were basically HERE.) Dozens of cop cars parked on my block and riot police jumped in and out of white vans to form lines as the Ferguson protests came within a couple of blocks. The Walgreens you may have seen with the smashed in door is a place I go once or twice a week. I often throw my sandwich wrapper from Genova's Deli into the trash can you saw on fire. The protestors set a trash fire on MLK (which local residents put out). I could see that from my writing room. I spent most of my writing time either watching the police form phalanxes and shift their fleet of cars or glancing at the baby and wondering if the feeling somewhere between helpless anxiety and wondering what the best makeshift weapon in the house might be.

There might be a Ferguson post in me, but I would just end up making a lot of the same points I've made recently about listening and empathy and not getting to tell people who feel betrayed by a system to sit down and shut up and love it. So I don't know. But I teach on Wednesday night and I spent last night hoping for the better angels of our nature to win among a people who have every right to be enraged enough to burn it down

So this rambling bumble is the best I can do today.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On Our Last Episode....

I left a story dangling off a cliffhanger after life exploded (twice) but I never forgot that you all needed to know what happened.

Well, buckle up because the exciting conclusion is coming.

See shortly after someone asked a question about my process a couple of months ago, I realized that I was spending a lot less time working on my fiction than I wanted to because of all the time and energy I was putting into Writing About Writing. Naturally, this caused one of my enemies to inhabit the body of a sexy looking woman, grab a shard of the Mirrorshield, pretend to be the person who asked the question, and flash it at me so that I would be paralyzed while my nemesis (ChronoTron) destroyed me.

Like you do.

Wrecking Ball showed up and there was a brief altercation, and it looked like I was going to get my ass saved , but actually the thing is that Wrecking Ball also has a nemesis named Harbinger. And Harbinger had come to the party just to finish what he left undone before. And ChronoTron had perfected a time dilation field that made him immune to Wrecking Ball's attacks.

With me paralyzed, my nemesis about to suck all the time from me, and Wrecking Ball fighting the one person who has kicked his ass definitively in the last five years (and who only didn't finish the job because W.B. looked dead and needed months of traction), things are not looking good for our intrepid heroes.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bizzaro Blog

The update schedule around here is going to be Bizzaro World for the next couple of weeks. Today, for example, will be taking the place of Wednesday's jazz hands. Wednesday will be the post I would normally put up on Thursday, and on Thursday I will do the Mailbox for this week (in which I will attempt to explain what avant guarde really means).

The Contrarian's grandmother is coming into town, and The Brain has been pulling double and triple patrols so that the streets are cleaned up enough to spend a little time with family during Thanksgiving, and I've been picking up a lot of extra slack. Once Uberdude's mom actually gets here, I will probably have more time to write than normal. Even though her crime fighting days are behind her, she is more than willing to watch the baby--even one with contradictory psychic powers, extraordinary ability to drool, and a burgeoning power to pick up every cold and flu bug in a five block radius that has us seriously considering renaming him The Petri Dish..

So bear with me. The end result of a little bit of jazz hands should be a spectacular fortnight of updates.

Unless of course something goes wrong.

But nothing ever goes wrong when a one year old's child care is concerned.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

I Am the Night...or Something

Listed as free to use with attribution.
Last night I did something I haven't done in over a decade.

I played a Vampire LARP*.

I'll let the few of you who have some sort of negative image of LARPing from the underground Youtube of the dude throwing hacky sacks and saying "Fireball!" think whatever you want. Frankly, there are some smart and funny people dressed in their sexiest ensembles, and I wouldn't want you to crowd in and crimp my style.

However, I suspect that what it might mean is that the fourth Sunday in the month might have a high concentration of reflections on the insight that LARPing provides to writing. Sort of like I've done about the one shot LARPS of gaming conventions. I already know that I'm almost certainly going to get sucked into this game (get it? SUCKED IN? never mind) and that it's going to be on my mind come the next day. I might as well exploit it shamelessly, and keep trying for that ever elusive groupie threesome.

Besides, this is probably going to be like the closest thing I will actually have to a life.

I can't pour out secrets of the characters--not even my own (lest the players who are a little less able to keep knowledge their characters should not know be too tempted to use it in game) or be too explicit about most details in an ongoing chronicle the way I would about a completed one-shot, but I'm sure I can still vaguefy the stories and eke out some wisdom. Cause I'm really ekey when it comes down to it.

*So true story: I'm headed out to this game (which will be my first Vampire LARP in over a decade) and I'm getting ready to go to the character's first Vampire court where my sire is going to present me for acknowledgement. I turned on my iPod, set it to shuffle all, and the first song that came up was "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns and Roses.

That'll do iPod. That'll do.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Updated Bio

Today's entry isn't more than the changes I've made to Writing About Writing's bio page.

I made a few tweaks throughout, but the major difference is that I can no longer say I'm making no money and merely writing for the love of it. (Now I'm only MOSTLY writing for the love of it.) And while it's disappointing that making less than half of minimum wage probably sets me ahead of most writers, I can't go on pretending I'm not getting any benefit but love alone.


So maybe you’re asking yourself “Who is this whackadoodle, anyway?”

He posts about writing, but is there some reason I should read this blog? This one, out of the hundreds of other blogs with better cookie recipes and the tens of gagiligillion of other blogs of random, unsuccessful writers.

Why should I read THIS guy?

He's never gotten a book deal.

He’s not famous.

He doesn’t drop the f-bomb so many times that he makes uninspired ideas and cliché opinions sound edgy and chic. But he also doesn't avoid it enough that I would feel comfortable admitting sharing his articles on a Facebook post my Nana could see. It's like that perfect mushy sweet spot of horrible between edgy and classy.

He’s not even going to publish a good recipe for crab cakes.

Seriously, what the hell am I doing here?

So here’s the thing. I didn’t sit around for my first thirty-coughsomething years accumulating cookie recipes and dreaming of someday finding a place where I could share them one at a time, but I haven’t just been watching Nyan Cat that whole time either.*

What I CAN tell you for sure is I’ve been writing an average of two hours a day for nearly thirty years, and about four hours a day for the last decade, (recently, it’s gone up again—now it’s more like five or six hours a day on average), I will make up to 49% more pop culture references to MMORPG’s, sci-fi media, and generally “cool shit” than your average MFA graduate, and I’m totally not afraid to make up bullshit statistics right on the fly.

All this and my personal guarantee that I actually got the “Ethan Frome damage” joke from Grosse Point Blanke.


This is like UBERwhite fiction.It's the Wonder Bread of fiction.

I’ve logged in my “ten thousand hours” writing, and at this point I’ve clocked in a second ten thousand just to be on the safe side. I think I'm working on about my fourth or fifth set, honestly. That doesn't mean I'm perfect. I’m not above error. My first drafts are shitty. I use myriad as a noun.  I will use the wrong your if I'm not paying attention. But it’s pretty safe to assume I know what I’m doing when I start stringing words together.

I have a degree in Creative Writing. I graduated Summa Cum Laude from SFSU's fairly well-respected undergraduate CW program this Spring (2012). Technically that’s a “lit heavy” English degree “with emphasis in Creative Writing," which means I wrote my share of literary criticism when I wasn’t writing creatively. I know some people take Creative Writing for an easy degree, but I looked for the professors who demanded excellence and had a reputation for eating undergrads. When I found them, I took everything they taught. I didn’t get a 3.94 because I was coasting. I also didn’t take 18 more CW units than I needed to for my major because I just wanted to slam out a degree and bug out. I went back to school in my thirties to hone my craft and I decided to suck the marrow from the bones of every class I took. I even got some administrative side eye for how many non-essential classes I was taking on a Pell grant. The point is, I picked up a couple of things while I was there.

I’ve been a managing editor of a literary magazine. It wasn't the happiest time of my life, and I'm pretty sure my EIC was actively trying to make me cry, but I learned a lot, especially about how and why things get picked for publication.

I teach ESL and Developmental English. Teaching it has been the most liberating experience on the technical end of my writing that I could have imagined, and it’s brought a lot of cultural and linguistic nuance into my world and into my writing.

Age ten. Fourth grade. Halloween prompt. We got a paragraph start and it was up to us to end it. I wrote twenty-one college ruled pages (college ruled, mind you, not that wide ruled crap, and certainly not the handwriting practice paper with the big space on the top half for crayon pictures; I’m talking the real deal here mofos). It was the best feeling I’d ever had. (At ten, I’d never had a smoking hot threesome, you understand.) I knew then what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a writer. I never looked back. Every decision between then and now has been engineered with being a writer in mind. Not a lot of people I know, even the incredibly talented and successful artists among them, knew the score so soon. I’ve been writing ever since.


So very, very badly.

But I have been writing. And maybe a little tiny bit better than before.

I tried to be Stephen King when I was 12, writing stories of self-willed big rigs chasing little kids all over pastoral New England towns. It was crap of course, but if you've met the Creative Writing program at SFSU, you would know that it is actually a MAJOR boon as a writer that I have gotten the "I'm going to be Stephen King" phase out of my system.

I started writing works of 100+ pages in seventh grade. I finished my first real manuscript in eighth grade. I "wrote books" between the ages of ten and fourteen, but they were usually about twenty pages long

Perhaps the best thing that started happening in seventh grade with my longer "books" is that my friends wanted to read them. In high school I was pestered over whether or not I had written any more. In my junior year, I hit another bellwether on this front: a friend of mine read a manuscript I’d written as I was writing it, and when I was done he asked for the whole thing so he could read it...again. "I want to make sure I didn’t miss anything," he said.

I wouldn’t know it for a few more years, but smoking threesomes got nothing—NOTHING—on the feeling of someone reading your work again because they really liked it.

I wasn’t ever just about one art form. In high school I was in band and in choir. (Yeah, I was that guy.) I always loved music, theater, film, and even visual arts in addition to literature. I’ve always pursued arts and humanities with more than just a dilettante interest. (Not that I buy into the bourgeoisie “high art” aesthetic mind…) I find that an eclectic taste in arts has greatly informed my appreciation of literature and my own writing.

I actually am published. Technically. It’s not anything you could pick up at a Barnes and Noble, and most of it (that isn’t blogging) happened before the ubiquity of having an e-version of nearly everything, but it’s out there. It exists in a few dark and hidden corners. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the Rubicon of almighty “publication” can be technically passed with a whimper in a way that feels like it doesn’t “count.”

I won the UCLA Comm. board award for an article I wrote in a student magazine.  The oddball thing about this was that I did this without actually being a UCLA student.  I just submitted to one of their news magazines that my friends worked on. If there was ever a moment I realized maybe I actually could write worth a flip, that was probably it.

I bought into the cultural myth of how to find happiness in my twenties. I took the advice that writing wouldn’t pay the bills and struggled through one “fallback, safety-net” job after another. I married for all the wrong reasons and divorced some years later for at least a couple of the right ones. I played the game by society’s happiness playbook, and it made me miserable.

So in my thirties, I told society's happiness playbook that I was seeing other playbooks and that I’d given it the clap. I let the Jonses pull WAY out ahead and dedicated myself to the things that bring me a whole frikton more meaning in life than trying to keep up with those tools.

I went back to school to improve my craft. I used my summa cum laude degree to become a househusband. Now I’m write for hours a day, and every night I fall into bed with a blissed out smile on my face from the hours of writing I've just done. I describe my life to most people and they scrunch up their faces and wonder what the hell I’m doing with it. I describe it to artists and the smile wistfully and say “that sounds absolutely PERFECT.”

I've been blogging for three years now, and I even publish some of my fiction here. I make money. It's not enough to live on, but it's more money than most writers make in three years (of seriously writing). It's hundreds a month (and I won't be gauche by telling you exactly how many hundreds). The total is more than most writers make in their writing career.

If you’re thinking: “Great. All that and a good Samoas recipe, and I might stick around until tomorrow,” that’s fine. All this sound and fury signifies nothing by way of authority. I probably don’t have any particular bit of knowledge that someone couldn’t figure out (and more) in an hour or two on Google, except maybe for some very esoteric theoretical floatsam about writing or literature I've accumulated by being an obnoxiously attentive student.

I’ve been around the block, but others have been around the block, toured the whole neighborhood, and even know a good shwarma place for lunch (where the lamb kababs are "totes magotes"). I don’t know much more than a Business of Writing class and a couple of day's research worth of information about the publishing industry. I can't tell you how to write a slamming query letter. I have no idea if there's a fast track to scoring an agent that doesn't involve sheer unadulterated nepotism or knee pads and a lobster bib.

But here’s what I do know, and I know it well:

I know how to be an unsuccessful writer.

I know how to not make it.

I know how to write day after day and not make a damned dime. Or to make a pittance.

I know how to keep going for nearly thirty years, and have the temerity to not even consider throwing in the towel.

I know how to write because not writing feels wrong, and that the parts of writing that are cathartic and meaningful and wonderful come in the act of creation not in the acquisition of an agent or the painful negotiation of a book deal. (Not that readers and affirmation and paychecks and fans and groupies and smoking hot groupie threesomes aren’t great, but they aren’t what make the artist YEARN to keep making that art.)

I know how to be artistic and creative for its own sake and to never let the world tell me that I “need” a white picket fence and a sensible car.

 I know how to set up my life to feed my art addiction without dejection over the unfulfilled fantasies of writing the Great American Novel and fat royalty checks and travelling the talk show circuit.

And I know what it means to write when there is no incentive to do so except the sheer love of transforming twenty-six letters and fourteen pieces of punctuation into meaning.

And now I know what it means to work and scrape and write for years, but then finally start to find some small measure of success.

I’m going to keep right on writing. I'm going to do it with forty thousand followers or four and with ten page views or ten million. And as long as I'm at it, I might as well try to make a few dollars along the way. It'll be an interesting journey, and I might learn a few things that I'll happily share. And I welcome you to join me. Perhaps we can even learn from, inspire, motivate, and challenge each other.

That's who this n00b is.

*In fact, I can only claim to have watched Nyan cat for about forty-five minutes at a stretch. Just so you know: I’m not proud of this achievement. The lengths I will go to procrastinate writing a literary criticism paper terrify even me. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Well Deserved

Several of you have noticed that I've been a little on fire this week. Entries (like Tuedsay) were supposed to be short and sweet were quite long and savory....uh.....or something, and even Wednesday's usual jazz hands were a little less jazz handsy. Yesterday's article on Shirtstorm was five thousand words of social justice bardery. That's about ten times longer than a typical Thursday post and even two or three times longer than my usual "big" articles.

So today, I'm going to have a floofy drink....with an umbrella....and a cherry and put my feet up.

Of course when I say "have a floofy drink," what I mean is write some fiction. And when I say "with an umbrella," what I mean is read for the first time in two days for more than a half an hour including a friend's interactive game because the feedback is needed by today at the latest. And when I say "cherry" I mean write some fiction and work on this weekend's articles because I've done nothing of the sort yet. And by "put my feet up" I mean do like five loads of dishes.

Because when my writing is a little on fire, it usually means the kitchen is too.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

20 Shirtstorm Narratives and What's Wrong With Them

In the Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett's characters wage an intricate game, ostensibly about the Maltese Falcon, but that turns out to be a MacGuffin. The truth is that they are struggling to control the narrative (and if I had an extra five pages of your attention span, I could make a pretty good case that they were doing so in an analogy of the attempts to frame World War I as Good vs. Evil, but maybe another time). They are struggling to be the story that frames what is really going on. Whoever among them ends up controlling the story gets to decide whose motivations and intentions are noble and whose are nefarious. By the end Sam Spade has all the power–multiple times–to decide literally who lives and dies by which story he chooses to go with.

Similarly Skyrim has several themes that involve controlling the narrative, including plot lines that are about which side of a story to accept and even one Bard's quest that is literally about changing the text of a story to alter political reality to the benefit of the Bard's Guild.

The word "narrative" might feel like one of those overused, overwrought, chic, cliché catchphrases that show up too often when third rate bloggers are trying to put contemporary social issues into their writing blogs, but "narrative" isn't fucking around. Controlling the narrative means getting to say who is right, who is wrong, and who is batshit crazy for even trying to explain their point of view. Narrative power is the closest thing we get to absolute social control. It is no coincidence that the political campaigns for the most powerful offices on Earth are won or lost by their "war chest," which amounts to little more than funding for their advertising campaigns–that is their ability to reach voters early and often and control the way they think about issues.

Controlling the narrative is power. Never make a single mistake about it. It is why people work so hard to get their side of the story told in any conflict, it's why divorcees say things like "I want to get my point of view on record," to mutual friends, it's why many work very, VERY hard to marginalize and silence stories that don't agree, and why those who have different experiences are so threatening to the power dynamics of the status quo. It's why allowing white, cis, able, heterosexual men to dictate what isn't offensive or harmful instead of listening to other's stories is such a crucial component of modern social justice and understanding social issues.

This is about power, and who has it. It's about people who control the narrative feeling entitled to go right on controlling it. They are upset that their hegemony is being challenged. Don't ever, ever forget that.

As usual, I'm swinging the bat after the ball is already in the catcher's mitt. Shirtstorm outrage is fading on the blogs and FB posts of my socially conscious friends. This joins a Lynn Shepherd rebuke and a Gamergate analysis that showed up to the party long after the pizza and cake were gone and the only soda left was flat generic brand diet orange. Still, it lets me be a little bit more comprehensive.

If you don't know what Shirtstorm (#shirtstorm) is, I highly recommend the Slate article because it properly frames the actual succession of events and where the vitriol really came from. The short version is that a scientist named Matt Taylor working with the Rosetta Project landed a probe on a comet for the first time in ever. During the press conference he wore a shirt with pin up girls in bondage gear all over it. The next day he apologized for causing unintended offense. That's when legions of entitled sphincters went to work. They claimed that Feminists and Social Justice Warriors* (SJWs) had ruined everything.

For the record, I am not a social justice warrior. I am a social justice BARD.

Let's examine some of their most popular narratives and why they don't actually hold much water.

1. Narrative: It's no big deal/Nobody really cares/It's just a shirt/Why does anyone care?/Why is this still a thing?

Problem: Awwww. If only you got to tell other people what they found important, this might actually be a good narrative.

If there could be a better illustration that it's not "just a shirt" than a weeks long social media explosion called Shirtstorm, I don't know what that might be. Maybe something involving lava or rocket propelled grenades?

I'm sure whatever they're on about is no big deal.
It clearly is a big deal. We're fifty-three million blog posts and six hundred gagillion tweets into Shirtstorm, and the only reason feminists are moving on is because a) there are already all new stories of casual sexism to talk about like computer engineer Barbie and b) Richard Dawkins opened his mouth again.

What is happening here is that you want it to be no big deal. You want it to go away because you've declared it beneath you and dismissal of an issue is the easiest way to control the narrative. The trouble is that nothing about the actual events that have unfolded would support such a claim.

And while nothing says "I don't care about your incredibly trivial opinion that makes absolutely no difference to me....really," quite like thousands of people screaming so at the top of their lungs, in this particular case it's becoming apparent that perhaps people do care, it is a big deal, and it's not going to be so easily dismissed.

2. Narrative: Taylor didn't do anything wrong.

Problem: Everyone pretty much agrees that Taylor never did anything intentionally hurtful, but then again only a few people ever suggested that he did. The shirt thing wasn't really even that big a deal. It was a thoughtless doof move not unlike running into someone when you're not watching where you're going. Nobody thinks you're evil, but an apology might be in order. He apologized. That would have been the end of it.

We pointed it out because it was a very visible example of casual sexism–the kind of casual sexism endemic in STEM fields. It's kind of like how people always explain that even Star Wars fails the Bechdel test. It's not that Star Wars is the worst, most sexist movie ever. Han isn't a raging misogynist. Luke never says "Step back Leia, a lightsaber is a man's weapon." There isn't a "Planet of Delectable Whores." It's just that everyone has seen Star Wars. It's a good frame of reference.

Hey she has like five lines.
AND her death makes Luke get his ass whup on.
What more do you Berkenstock-wearing feminazis want???

Taylor shows up on his most public day ever in front of half the world, and it's a great place for women in STEM fields to say "This is exactly what I'm talking about." The shirt by itself is not next level misogyny and his comment about the comet being easy wasn't either (and no one really said they were), but they do make for great illustrations of the "background radiation" that exists.

3. Narrative: The shirt was not really that problematic.

Problem: Oh come ON! What the actual fuck? Are you trying to use the Jedi mind trick or something? This is so fucking ridiculous.

You think you could wear that shirt to your work? Better yet, do you think you could wear that shirt at an internationally televised press conference where you are representing your company and your boss (and then describe your job through a slut shaming sex metaphor)? Or do you suppose that someone might mention it? That someone might have the foresight to imagine that there would be objections?

If you think there's no problem with what's on that shirt, try having women wear one of the outfits displayed therein to work on the day that they will be representing their boss on international an television broadcast about a scientific achievement. That shouldn't be a problem, right?

This is one of the absolutely MOST absurd narratives out there because it's spectacularly 100%, non-debatable exactly why a shirt like this would be objectionable to 99.999% of employers. Take a look around.

Shirtstorm is what is known in the biz as "a PR nightmare." Land a probe on a comet and be remembered for your shirt. It's exactly the sort of reason most jobs have policies about wardrobes and/or sexual harassment, and most bosses would tell you to change–especially before an internationally broadcast press conference. Pretending that anyone can wear anything to jobs where they face the public goes beyond disingenuous into willfully obtuse.

Even the damned AAS weighed in on this (which actually includes their support for those who brought the shirt up and then dealt with backlash).  Get over your fantasy where you WANT this not to be problematic. It was. Let's move on.

ETA: As has the RAS.

4. Narrative: Not that many people really care.

Problem: You know how you can tell it's not just "a few" offended people acting on behalf of the lunatic fringe of some over-sensitive group?

When it's international news.

When literally thousands of people are weighing in.

When it goes on for days in the media and the blogosphere explodes.

When there's a New York Times piece about it.

I don't know when social justice crosses the rubicon between the lands of, "catering to every easily offended person in the world" and becomes, "marginalizing a group by suggesting their feelings are completely irrelevant." I think the exact point is a personal decision for most people. But in this case, it's pretty easy to see that point is in the rear view mirror.

5. Narrative: This doesn't matter to women in STEM fields./It's just a few hysterical women.

Problem: This one boggles me because it was women in STEM fields who pointed it out and who have largely been the voices to object to the shirt in the first place. The lists of people with a problem include other top scientists of both genders.

Feminists/SJWs: "This shirt kind of shows what the problem is in STEM fields."

Shirt Defenders: "Women are welcome in stem fields because it's about *accomplishments* not clothes. We judge people by their brains not their outer trappings. If they're worried about clothes instead of the quality of someone's mind, they don't even belong. Women's opinions and input are highly valued. Because this isn't about sexism at all. We respect them and everything they have to contribute. We really, really care what women think about us.

Women in STEM fields: "Actually we do kind of have a problem with it."

ESs: "Shut up you hysterical bitches."

We only want you in STEM fields if you're one of the guys.

6. Narrative: Women need to toughen up. If all it takes is a shirt to upset them, they don't belong in STEM.

Problem: You mean tough like being able to handle some snarky Tweets? Or are we talking even tougher than that?

There are two problems with this narrative, and they both very clearly illustrate the power dynamic in play. The first is that it ignores the idea of "death by 1000 cuts." I've read a lot on this topic and not one person has said that this shirt upset them so much that they are leaving STEM fields.

Not. One. Person.

Know what else no one said? "This is the first and worst misogynist thing to ever happen in a STEM field."

The, "It's just a..." argument is always predicated on willfully ignoring that it isn't just anything. It's not just a shirt, just a comic, just a joke, just a casual comment, just a slip up, just a webpage, just a commercial, just a show, just a character, just a compliment, just a, just a just a.... It's that all these things add up to an environment. Any time someone calls out the environment an example is demanded; any time someone calls out an example it is just a shirt.

It's not just a shirt.

The alternative way this narrative fails is that if it is just a shirt, it shouldn't be that big a deal to just change it to foster greater inclusivity. Right? No big deal. Accept the apology, don't do that again. Grow as a people. No one is going to turn this into the next feminism vs. anti-feminism battleground if it's not worth the struggle, right?

But, in fact, Taylor got more hostile tweets about his apology than he ever did about his shirt. (ETA: I appear to have closed the browser on my source on this, so if anyone knows where I can find a new source link, please let me know.)

7. Narrative: His shirt was given to him by a woman. So clearly it's okay.

Problem: Oh well shit. If a woman gave him the shirt I guess that means there's no possible context (ever) in which it could be inappropriate to wear that shirt. I have a Black friend who said I could use the N word, so I'm headed down to east Oakland to try that shit out on some strangers. Better yet, I once was given a copy of Couples Seduce Teens by a woman (that's two-girls/one-guy threesome milf/teen porn for the two of you who aren't just pretending you've never heard of it), so obviously I can screen it for my class next week since there's no possible context in which something given to me by a woman could be considered sexist or unprofessional.

If only there were some sort of name for assuming the actions of one person in a group was tacit sanction for that behavior among the whole group.

Maybe this guy knows.

Context is the key here. The woman even wrote her own blog about making the shirt and how she was thrilled he wore it. If she were the only one watching that press conference, it would have been awesome. A few others were too. No one said this shirt wouldn't have been great for the after-party or down in the lab (although you'll have to ask his colleagues about that). But representing his mission and company on international TV...maybe not so much.

8. Narrative: This doesn't make women in STEM fields feel unwelcome.

Problem: One of these days you're going to learn how truly, epically uninformed, unempathetic, and just plain arrogant it makes you look to tell other people how they feel. Especially when they're standing there contradicting you.

Never mind for the moment that you would have to literally ignore all the women in STEM fields who have stepped up to point out that this shirt is part of the reason they feel unwelcome, but you would have to be blithely unaware the current statistics about women's resilience in STEM jobs and the reasons they cite for leaving and generally unaware of the problem STEM has attracting and keeping women overall.

When you could double all but one and STILL not have equality,
you don't get to say there isn't a problem.

9. Narrative: He got completely buried in rage./ Feminists went crazy.

Problem: Gee whiz, Sport, how did he get completely buried if "no one really cares"? You need to get your story straight.

This narrative is fun to repeat to your Reddit and 4chan friends if you hate feminists and think those uppity Bs should have a tall glass of shut the fuck up instead of saying words that you haven't told them are okay, but it doesn't match the timeline, and it doesn't match the facts.

Feminists and SJWs didn't "fly off the rails"–they pointed out something problematic (most of them while hailing the success of the mission–a few even explicitly saying "I am more critical of the things I love."). They pointed at his shirt and said,  "No wonder stem fields can feel a little hostile."

Twitter can make things feel like a dog pile--especially when someone does something that, you know, THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE HAVE A VISCERAL REACTION TO. Unfortunately in media where things are open and equal (like the intertubes) you don't get to control how people react to something. I recommend you avoid this by setting Twitter not to send you e-mails and ignoring the internet for a couple of days. That is something that people suffering from actual oppression can't do.

There were some overwrought articles complete with linkbait titles (how unlike the rest of the internet it was). But the vitriol and incendiary posts about the shirt were nothing compared to what was coming.  Where the real dog and pony show started was the backlash.

10. Narrative: Feminism and SJW's made a huge deal out of it.

Problem: Yes, snark and hyperbole on social media. I can't remember the last time I saw anything so unexpectedly horrible.

If by "huge deal" you mean they pointed it out, yes they did. Some were even mean, but not actually very many.  (Seriously, if you don't actually know what the initial reaction was, click that link and be informed.) Most were pretty reasonable. Pretty measured. Maybe mentioned kids watching or that it was a bit on the unprofessional side.  Only a couple of tweets were even what might be considered hostile.

Are we going to start judging whole groups by the actions of a very few now, because if we are, I'd like to talk about the woman who got doxxed for saying the shirt was inappropriate, and a few of the Tweets that came out about Taylor's apology.

Or do you suddenly appreciate the nuance that not everyone is part of a Borg hive mind when it comes only to your side? Because folks who show up and get "feminism" mixed up with "this one feminist" pretty much show up every issue to try and tell us that this time we really have gone off the rails and we need to shut up. It's not like this is...ya know...new territory for us.

Casual sexism exists. It just does. Get over it. We're not past all that. The world isn't egalitarian yet. Cope. And some people live their lives under the ethos of calling that sort of thing out. Still, most people aren't evil bigots, they just don't realize what they're doing is reinforcing a status quo. Equality dies by a thousand cuts, not by some evil a-hole's coup-de-grace.

However, if you pay careful attention, you can see the power dynamics at work. You can watch which voices are dismissed as insignificant and which ring loud from every mountaintop and media locus. These power dynamics are always there, working underneath the surface to silence anyone who dares to points out casual sexism, to deny that it exists, to tell people that they have no right to their feelings. They manifest in a backlash that considers any reaction an overreaction. They call being called out a "huge deal."

The real shitstorm NEVER comes from people calling out casual sexism (or racism or ableism or heteronormativity or...).

It ALWAYS comes from the backlash. The people who feel entitled to do whatever they want no matter who it hurts and who are offended that anyone had the temerity to point out that their intentions and their effect were not aligned.

11. Narrative: He should be judged by his accomplishments, not his shirt.

Problem: Oh that's rich! Especially given how women's fashion choices are policed to death–doubly so if they are on camera. A woman with large breasts can't even wear comfortable clothing without being told she is unprofessional. Women of color are told their natural hair is too political. And if a sexy picture is found (even from before they worked at a job in the context of their private lives) they can be fired.

People get judged by their clothing all the time. I had a boss who would send me home if my pants were too wrinkled, and I never even appeared on camera. This is just a stupid narrative. If he's some brilliant Dr. House maverick type who is so. fucking. GOOD! at science that he gets to wear anything he wants, then stick someone else in front of the camera for your international press conference.

If he's going to be on camera, we assume he can handle some scrutiny.

11.5 Narrative: Well in that case, isn't this what feminists want? People shouldn't be objectified by their clothes. This is SJW/feminazi hypocrisy. Checkmate bitches!

Problem: Taylor wasn't being objectified. That word obviously doesn't mean what you think it does. Nobody talked about his glasses, his beard, his weight, his tattooed arms or even the way his shirt failed to bring out his eyes. Nobody hyper-focused on his attractiveness and most of the people who said anything at all still lauded his accomplishments.

His fuckability was not what was getting him judged, and this narrative is just false equivalence.

12. Narrative: What crazed feminists did was a witch hunt/lynch mob/gang rape/abuse.

The problem: Really? Do you really see no problem with those particular terms. As the group who has historically done the witch hunts, lynch mobs, abuse, etc using those terms against the groups who have typically suffered them....literally. And you're using them to characterize what? Some social media sarcasm? A nasty blog post? A little bit of a dog pile that lasted a couple of days?

That's beyond douchey. It's extra douchey with douche sauce. It's like a German arian telling a Jew that the Jew is "exterminating" them every time their antisemitism is called out. ("Quit putting me in these 'concentration camps' of your Twitter censure to 'ethnically cleanse' me of my opinion.")

Lynch mobs were actual things that happened in some people's living memory. Witch hunts were actual ways that women were killed (usually for being the "feminists" of their day). Abuse and rape actually happen and they have nothing–NOTHING–in common with a spate of uncomfortable tweets.

Even if you're the biggest fan of hyperbole and figurative language in the universe, you make yourself look so egregiously insensitive and like such a total raging asshole to turn around and use the language of actual oppression when characterizing those who are calling out the very "isms" that have led to these things.

Assuming that it's far far too much for you to spend an hour on Google grasping the complexity of the idea that calling out oppression is never as "mean" as the oppression itself, I'll just say this: if you want to use "bullied," I think it's kind of an insult to every kid who ever got the crap physically kicked out of them or the parents of kids who were harassed so savagely on social media that they eventually took their own lives, but at least that word doesn't have the breathtakingly insensitive connotations of being the violent legacy of oppression to the very movements you are opposing.

What with twitter being mandatory reading and all,
I can't imagine women and POC won't appreciate this metaphor.

13. Narrative: Not getting to wear his shirt is censorship.

Problem: There seems to be some pretty powerful confusion in the "I-just-got-called-out-for-something-racist/sexist/homophobic/ableist/transphobic-I-just-said" camp about what the word censorship means. They appear to have conflated an absence of absolute freedom from any and all consequence or reaction with jack booted government officials threatening to throw them in jail for their words.

I know the difference is subtle, but if you really think about it, you can figure it out. I just know it!

Someone telling you that you said or did something that hurts and offends them is not censorship. But for ten points, see if you can spot the irony in trying to silence their criticism by saying that it is.

13.5. Narrative: Well it may not be censorship, but it does have a chilling effect on the discourse.

Problem: It does? Where?

Let's pretend for a moment that social media is a monocle and brandy sort of environment where you can tell people who are angry to settle down and it won't make them more upset. (Are we pretending? Good.) I still think you're mistaking "someone said something to me that was in any way critical and has made me feel bad" with "chilling effect" because it's pretty fucking clear that not too many people are having a whole hell of a lot of trouble speaking their minds.

If anything, anytime someone gets called out for hurtful remarks, there is a doubling down and their faction gets louder and more obnoxious. There are like a gillion tweets and articles complaining about SJWs and feminists over every issue they ever bring up EVER. I'd hate to see what you assholes would be like if there weren't a chilling effect. Every time we try to correct one mischaracterization, ten more articles come out comparing us to the social Gestapo.

Yes it's VERY apparent that you just want us to shut up and accept the status quo (or only complain about those things you deem worthy), but that's the problem with real, actual, non-lip-service equality. YOU DON'T GET TO DECIDE WHAT MATTERS TO OTHER PEOPLE.

If what you actually mean by this is: "The next time I get ready to say something that might hurt or offend people, I think back to the last time someone called me out, and I am less likely to say this thing in a hurtful and/or offensive way," well then....good. If empathy can't move you to give a shit about how you make others feel, then perhaps the thought of all that horrible sarcasm on Twitter will just have to do.

And by the way, just so you know....you all look like the biggest entitled lot of fucking hypocrite crusty anal sphincters every time you wail about the "chilling effect" (or whatever) of angry words on "the discourse" but are conspicuously quiet when it runs the other way, or when it crosses into abuse, or when people get death and rape threats. When you only police one group's tone....well, they sort of have a word for that.

14. Narrative: This ruined his great day in science./No one should have their shirt criticized on the day they land a probe on a comet.

Problem: I honestly can't figure out what is worse about this narrative: that it is trying to give someone carte blanche because they [WERE PART OF A TEAM WHO] landed a probe on a comet, and there are presumed to be some things that are so cool they automatically make you above reproach, or that it attempts to deny the fact that humans have multitudes and can do complicated mental gymnastics like saying "Awesome landing dude!!! What's up with that shirt?"

If his shirt were covered with pedophilia or images of ISIS beheading Christians we wouldn't even be having this conversation, so can we please agree that there is no moral "get out of jail free" card for landing a probe on a comet and move on to the fact that the people who are advancing this narrative are entirely made up of those who aren't offended.

15. Narrative: Feminists are anti-sex and here they go again with their sex hating nonsense.

Problem: Wait, I thought all these guy feminists were just trying to get laid. How does that work if all the women are prudes?

Look, I don't mean this to sound belittling. (Okay, maybe I do.) But seriously, I'm not even kidding, if you tell me that feminists are sex hating prudes, you have ONLY informed me of the fact that you've probably never actually met very many feminists.

Like...at all.

That is seriously all you just communicated to me with that sentiment.

You're literally talking about the vanguard of the sexual revolution, and the first people in and the last ones out when it comes to questioning traditional gender roles, sex negative attitudes, and even monogamy. They are the ones who want reproductive control because sex is good and pleasure feels awesome. They are the ones who want to smash the ideas of slut shaming because women shouldn't feel bad about having as many partners as men. They are the ones who want your laws out of their bedroom so they can get next level freaky in there without worrying about it. They're some of the most sex positive, freakiest, sluttiest (reclaimed, not shaming), go-after-what-I-wantiest, sure-I'll-try-that-iest, people in the room. Half the feminists I know would take Taylor's shirt and sex toy to bed if their booty call didn't pick up the phone that night.

They just want consent first.

16. Narrative: His apology was forced.

Problem: I love how we are reminded that we can't know that sexism was in his mind when he picked his shirt, but when it comes to his apology, suddenly everyone's a fucking telepath.

The good news is I have perfected telepathy.
Unfortunately, it only works when I'm exonerating cis, het, white men from being called out.

Taylor had the empathy to realize he had offended people, the integrity to care that he had, and the class to apologize. Anyone assuming Taylor's words were fraudlent (probably because deep down they really want them to be) most likley doesn't even comprehend how breathtakingly that assertion serves only to reinforce just how much this really is about those who feel entitled to their sexist, status quo double standards.

This narrative has the fingerprints of oppressive power dynamics all over it.

It's not simply that their world view cannot fathom a person realizing they offended others accidentally and apologizing it. No, it goes beyond a lack of empathy. Not only do they not care that they offended people, but they're actually going to get pissed off at anyone who does. Taylor recieved more hostile tweets about his apology than he did his shirt.

17. Narrative: Feminists are out of control and this is one more unreasonable argument.

The problem with the "unreasonable argument" gambit is that the reasonable arguments are already out there.

They exist.

They have erudite points in high language and even tons of citations for the academics. They are soft and reasonable and not too uppity. They make thoughtful points filled with inscrutable rationality and eloquence. The reason they didn't grab anyone's attention is because they're politely tucked away in reasonable places, and very few people actually care about or pay them any attention. No one noticed them (they were so convenient to ignore) precisely BECAUSE they were not up in people's fucking face.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if "reasonable" arguments actually swayed people, things like Shirtstorm wouldn't be happening.

Plus....dude....if you're on Twitter to get reasonable, that was your first mistake.

18. Feminists have gone too far/Feminism has jumped the shark/They won't get what they want this way.

Right, they'll get what they want by being quiet and waiting until there's no comet landings or other things you consider important going on. Plus they have to wait for everyone who "has it worse" to be taken care of. Then, if they mind their tone, you can pencil them in.

Wait....hang on...that might be unfair of me. Do you know how feminists can get what they want because of your long and illustrious struggles within social justice movements? Because if you do, I owe you an apology.

You're still not getting the concept that the entire idea that you get to decide what other groups ought to find important is predicated on an unequal power dynamic–one that favors you. As long as you're sitting on your lofty throne saying, "Yes, I deem this reasonable." "Yes I deem this reasonable, but there was some overreach. I'm going to give it too you because I'm benevolent." "My goodness that's messed up; of COURSE I care about that!" "Wait? What? Just a shirt? No, I'm sorry, you didn't reign in the responses of your every member. I'm afraid your petition is denied and your entire movement invalidated."

You are still playing the position of power.

Everyone at the top of power hierarchies always wants to be petitioned for redress politely and properly. They want to be begged for their nod and they get infuriated at the people who have the gall to care about what they've decreed trivial or not ask for their concern like proper doting serfs. ("Please sir. Please care about this thing that has offended me. Please. I just don't know what I'll do without you.")

The problem no one should have to ask for things like equality.

Controlling the rules of discourse is just another kind of control. It advances the narrative that people who are angry shouldn't be listened to and can therefore be dismissed.

But just for shits and giggles, I have compiled an extensive and exhaustive list of groups throughout the entire arc of human history who have gained equality by calmly discussing their grievances in a way that bothered no one. Each of these groups were so reasonable that those who stood to lose power never characterized the aggrieved status as "an overreaction." None on this list have EVER heard the suggestion that they would get what they want if they would just calm down and wait for the right time.


19. Feminists and SJWs turn every little thing into a major issue./Feminism is toxic./Blah blah blah.

Damn, isn't it frustrating not to be able to dictate to marginalized groups what are "little things" and what are "major issues." It seems like they should just take your fucking word for it that they're not actually upset. God those pesky people insist on not letting you tell them how they feel.

Oppression is toxic. Thinking that you might get an angry tweet is not. I know that's tough to understand when you only experience one of them, but try hard.

Let me make this clear if I haven't already about seven times. Even if somehow you got to decide what matters and what doesn't to other people (you don't), the shit-storm came from entitlement, not "crazed feminazis." The shit-storm came from telling women that sexism gets a pass when someone is accomplished or that they were wrong about feeling offended or that no one really cared. The shit-storm came when they arbitrated how a marginalized group ought to feel–telling women (women in STEM fields who have said this is exactly why the atmosphere is so toxic) that they were wrong. The shit-storm came when entitled sphincters got mad at Taylor for having the temerity to apologize.

If there IS to be one more battlefield in the culture war between a "We're past all that" status quo, and those SJW "bullies" with their insufferable caring about others and their incessent questioning of the assumptions that have created a status quo in which we are not equal, it didn't happen because nothing was amiss. It didn't happen because Taylor doubled down or defended his shirt. It didn't happen because it was pointed out. It didn't happen because a few individuals mistook fucking foul language and the meanest hyperbole ever in the history of time as being a good argument.

It happened because the people who felt entitled to wear whatever they want, whenever they want, no matter who it offends, with no criticism of any kind, and by God, their word should be the end of all discussion....

THOSE people took to the fields.

20. Narrative: Feminists are making themselves look bad to turn this into an issue.

Who turned it into an issue?

I don't care what your opinion is (well, I do, but you're entitled to it) but at least get your timeline facts straight. Because if it had gone: Call out--->apology that would have been the end of it for 99% of us and it would have been over days ago. In fact most of "us" have moved on. Except for the occasional behind the curve, two-bit blog, the vast majority of Shirtstorm's ongoing momentum comes from people who are still upset that Taylor was "forced" to apologize or that anyone ever had the audacity to say anything at all.

What feminists are "wound up" about is the backlash to this event. That is, they are reacting to the claims that Taylor did nothing wrong, that his apology was forced, that their concerns were "hysterical"....all the earlier things in this article actually. It is emblematic of the way people higher up the cultural hierarchy react to being told they are doing something that hurts others–the first move is always, ALWAYS to attempt to control the narrative by marginalizing the voices of those who disagree.

Feminists are not wound up. Feminists are simply not backing down. There's a big difference.

Let me make this clear: this narrative control thing isn't some new phenomenon. No one in social justice was at all surprised at the reaction of those who wanted to defend the shirt. If anything we rolled our eyes at how predictable it's been. "Yes yes call it trivial, then call everybody oversenstive, then say that it's been blown out of proportion by the other guys, then try to reverse some arguments with false equivalence. ~yawn~ Call me if something interesting happens, okay."

This playbook is as old as dirt. This play is trying to bury feminist voices.

The backlash is where the real vitriol is because entitlement means thinking any reaction (at all) is an overreaction. It is the backlash that belittles the people who mentioned the shirt or continue to speak out about it, who call it a fringe minority even though it's in the mainstream news and millions of people are talking about it, who insist that if no harm was intended, none was done even as the people affected say otherwise, who attack the people who dare to speak out, who create toxic environments for those expressing their opinions (with actual abuse, not just harsh words and dreaded sarcasm), who turn to arguments they don't even realize are spectacularly ironic, and who even turn to the language of real, actual oppression ("lynch mob," "witch hunt," "abuse") to describe nothing more than social media rebuke. It is the backlash that has decided that someone who apologized for causing offense has been unduly harmed and needs to be bought a watch. This entire display has really been entitlement 101.

And the reason every single issue is "blown up" lately is because entitlement 101 isn't working.

The difference here is that for the first time since women's suffrage, feminism has voice, power and allies and can't be quietly marginalized into the background with tone policing or silencing tactics. Feminism gets to decide for itself which issues are important because it doesn't have to run them past the patriarchy for approval. Equality is a nice thing to talk about when you control the narrative. But having your version of any given story challenged is what actual equality is about. The difference is this is the sting of losing that narrative hegemony, and it's got them very, VERY upset.

So feminists continue to repeat the same points over and over again to an increasingly apoplectic group of entitled fuckwits who can't figure out why, for the first time in their generation, the social issues they have declared to be beneath their consideration are not simply going away.

And that is really okay.

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