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

Friday, June 26, 2020

Why Are You So Hard on Yourself? (6 Lessons for the Would-Be Working Writer)

One of the most common questions I'm asked by friends, loved ones, folks who follow my Facebook, my Patrons sometimes, and those of you here who pay closeish attention to the meta of my writing life is why I am so hard on myself. Why do I write so much? Why am I constantly pushing myself, even in the midst of global pandemics, to be more prolific? Why do I worry about my "productivity" when that is a capitalist construct? Why?

These questions have ramped up during Covid and the Shelter In Place rules as I've dealt with a particularly fractured attention span, incredible difficulty writing full articles day after day, and the guilt associated with falling behind on the pace that I usually expect of myself.

These are valid questions. They're worth answering. Let me get my pen. (By which, of course, I mean I shall continue typing on my computer.)

However, before we proceed to the unpacking, I want to share another common theme of questions I get EVEN MORE than the questions above. In fact, other than "Is anyone sitting here?", this (these) are the questions I get the most from strangers. It is also overwhelmingly the most common question I get from folks who like my blog but don't really follow it. From friends who know I'm a writer, but don't pay attention to my work. From any audience I sit in front of, no matter what I'm there to talk about. And from aaaaaaaalmost any aspiring writer who finds out that I scrape out a paycheck from writing upon which I could live if I didn't insist on living in the Bay Area and eating brand name frozen waffles. These questions go like this: "How did you make it as a writer?" "How can I make it as a writer?" "What did you do to break in?" "How have you managed to make writing your job?" 

And while one of my ongoing struggles is threading the needle between self-care and pushing myself, and while I absolutely don't want to make light of workaholism so severe that if I'm not paying attention, it will approach self-harm levels, I do not believe for an instant that these two things are unrelated. Keep this in mind going forward. Because it's important to understand that when I give myself a hard time and apologize and promise to do better, I'm only OSTENSIBLY doing so to my patrons. 

It's really me I'm talking to. It's really that driving passion of an artist to create. That part that has nothing at all to do with "productivity as a capitalist construct" and everything to do with "I must keep creating like a shark has to keep swimming."

People being too hard on themselves is a problem. (And believe me, my doctor told me I was going to kill myself from heart disease if I didn't start seeing it AS a problem.) Unrealistic expectations hurt our self-esteem when we're NOT enduring a collective cultural trauma. We have to be kind to ourselves. We have to self-care. We have to manage our expectations. 

But also a problem is basically giving oneself a pass. ("Eh, collective trauma. Whatryagonnado?" "Capitalism is a scam. Whatryagonnado?") Believing one's own bullshit. Buying one's own excuses. Avoiding work because "self-care." Wondering why one is not a published author after years––YEARS––of writing two or even three times every month. 

I think most people struggling with "the air/fuel mixture" are being way, way, WAY nicer to themselves than will get them to their hopes and dreams, and that the people with careers folks want to emulate almost always have "overdoing it....at least a little" in common.
There's a needle that needs threading, and I'm not saying I'm threading it, but I know it's there. 

Lesson #1- If you have goals, you can't be too easy on yourself. You may have to put in some long hours and weekends when you're still working a day job and writing.

Okay, now onto the response.....


I work too much. I have a few of.....let's call them "issues" that surround writing.

One of them is that I love it, so I hardly think of it as working. (Or it involves being online which I consider "fucking off," so even though it's work directly related to maintaining a Facebook page or networking, it clocks on my internal odometer as "wasted time.") This creates problems when I wake up, write for five or six hours and then go to my second job where I nanny children for five or six hours. Problems like......I come home and wonder why I'm so tired or why a "part time" day kicked my ass so hard.

You're probably already thinking, "But Chris, that's a 10-12 hour day."

Congratulations, dear reader, you are already making better life choices than I usually do.

Lesson #2- Don't be like Chris. (He needs to turn it down from 11 and learn to have some fucking chill.)

Another problem that works against me is how often I forget the little things. I sometimes spend an hour writing a Facebook post reacting to a news article or just trying to frame something so that maybe––just maybe––my fellow white dudes might GET it. Often I fall into the trap of considering that "fucking off on Facebook" and not "buckling down and doing some 'real' writing." 

I also get really stuck in the idea that only certain topics COUNT. I have several totally-FINISHED articles that I could put. And I mean I have dozens of them and they are absolutely final-draft finished. I could put them up for weeks while I let incredibly well-paid fruit dispensers feed me grapes on a beach (right now, from six feet away with a grape launcher). I would enjoy the impossibly white sand and implausibly sapphire water. But I worry that those articles don't "count" towards what people want to see because they are too focused on politics or too rooted in a culture war issue like guns or too this or too that. So I trickle them in when I feel like I've done "enough" on the other writing that I believe people are tuning in for. Which, of course, is a goal that I almost never hit: "enough." And that means all that writing effort is just sitting in the wings as I turn around and write something else that "counts."

Lesson #3- It's really easy to get a sense of "Give the audience what they want" and "Keep them coming back for more" and lose a sense of what YOU want to be doing as an artist. Especially if you're right on the edge between making enough and not.

As if all that weren't enough, I also suffer from the very common, very-normal-for-artists imposter syndrome, and I tend to believe that if I'm not writing "enough," people will see through me. So while I have tons of "filler" posts I could drop or more fun things I could do like check in on the "WAW Staff" ––and perhaps most importantly, IT IS STUFF I REALLY WANT TO BE WRITING––I feel like writing little posts like this wouldn't "count," and people would see through me, and become disenchanted. So I tend to believe I've "earned" these more fun and frivolous posts after I've knocked some good ones out of the park. 

Again with the "enough."

So the first thing I have to do is cop to this accusation of "working too hard." You're right. I work too much. I'm too hard on myself, probably when I don't need to be. Between my personal insecurities, financial insecurities, and artistic insecurities, I am absolutely constantly trying to "prove myself."

Lesson #4- Writing is work. Even if you enjoy it. Promotion is work. Networking is work. Its ease compared to nannying two kids doesn't make it NOT work.



When I have a bad month––and by that I don't mean a month where my fee-fees get repeatedly hurt by cute girls who stop texting me, I mean a month of low productivity––I lose patrons. I might not lose all of them, and let me take a moment to clearly shout from the rooftops that those who are patient while my productivity goes down are wonderful. 

But some do go. 

And sometimes the exit "interviews" they fill out even say shit like, "You don't update enough for me to pay for this" or "You were writing more when I signed up."

Sometimes they tell me my politics suck and I'm the real bigot, and I think, "How did you even end up here?" but that's probably off topic for this article.

Now, before you clutch your pearls, I should nuancify this. Most people who cancel or lower their monthly contribution clearly do so because of their financial situation. They sometimes tell me or leave a note or fill out the exit interview with apologies (which I should take a moment to say here, as someone on a shoestring budget, I totally understand). Still....some definitely have a thing or three to say about how they've ALSO noticed I'm having a bad month.

And all that and $2.19+tax would buy me a single serving bag of Cool Ranch Doritos. By which I mean that people do leave. And maybe they just have a coming-to-budget moment when they notice they haven't seen a good article in a while, or maybe they just don't want to hurt my feelings so they make something up, but a shitty month correlates pretty reliably with me losing around 5% of my income. And believe it or not, if I have two bad months in a row, that pay cut happens again.

I don't know what your life and paycheck look like, but you probably wouldn't want to go too easy on yourself if you knew it were going to mean a pay cut every month.

Lesson #5- Most patrons will support artists through some tough times. Some won't. Unless you can afford to lose the ones that won't, don't go TOO easy on yourself.


The reason I'm where I am, with hundreds of patrons telling me to chill the fuck out and take care of myself, is not because I spent the last eight years tossing up a couple of good posts a month. These folks know I'll be "back" (probably with a trilogy, two hundred articles, and some sort of beard) in a fan-fucking-tastic year of productive utopia because I have established a credibility as a prolific writer (and a massive body of works). I wouldn't be making enough to (barely) scrape by if I had given myself a day off every time I wanted one. (Although I probably should have been a little kinder to myself on at least a FEW occasions. See above.)  I wouldn't have the patrons who DO have faith in me during my slow times if I didn't have a well-established reputation. Frankly, I wouldn't be making as much if I wrote significantly less.

Lesson #6- There's a LOT of content between you and a robust patronage who will have patience through your difficult times.

I know it's shitty to realize that you probably won't establish a writing career if you don't overdo it at LEAST a little, and everyone has to find their own peace with that and their personal strategy for surviving capitalism. Probably most people you ever knew who were fantastically good at something overdid it a little. Had long days. Worked weekends. Gave it more gas than the folks who wanted a functional work/life balance and a robust set of complementary priorities. And while you absolutely want to make sure you know that writing (or art of any kind) is work even when it feels like it isn't, and that you factor in enough self-care to safeguard your health both physical and mental, you also have to understand that you are your own "boss" when it comes to writing, and your ambitions are directly tied to just one fucking metric asston of hard work. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Facebook Gems From the Top of June

What can I say?
My windswept look brings 
all the reacts to the FB yard.
Just a reminder. The world being what it is right now, some of my usual focus has been fractured and I'm doing a bit more writing than I normally do on my public Facebook page in more "bite-sized" chunks. 

I've decided to bundle those posts twice a month to help pad some of my flagging blog content. 

The U.S. has justified the absolute "necessity" of being in an official armed conflict for 222 out of 239 years of its history as a country, was founded on the genocide of the natives living here and built with brutality and violent slavery, actively brutalizes its non-ruling ethnic groups (BIPOC), and has enshrined the right of every single citizen to own a lethal, long-range, semi-automatic weapon, but its ruling ethnic group (white people) will absolutely stand there with a straight face and tell marginalized folks that violence never solves anything.

I keep hearing the voice of my mother speaking out to white people with that tone she always used when she would ask me what it was **I** did to make the dog bite me or the cat scratch me.

"Well, maybe next time you'll THINK about that before you uphold white supremacy for four hundred years."

Could there be a moment more emblematic of the modern Republican party and its leader than calling for a violent suppression of one's own people while brutally dispersing a crowd who are protesting racial injustice so you can go to a special fancy church with lots of opulence in order to be seen doing a high profile photo-op with a Bible that actually proscribes literally everything you just did....and then not noticing that you're holding it upside down.

The protests are too soon to see a spike in Covid-19 cases. Especially as early as a couple of days ago when the claims started rolling in.

What's NOT too soon to account for that spike is the initial start of the cases from Memorial Day. When all those fucking states that just HAD to reopen because not going to Chili's for dinner or a beach party is tyranny.

Now go look at the state-by-state breakdown and compare that with the cities that had protests. I'll wait.

I apologize for snorting derisively at the folks who had "3rd Amendment Struggle" on their 2020 Bingo cards.

Here is a really good story that is emblematic of the reason that the further left you go, the more the rhetoric isn't willing to consider the family member you think is a good person or the occasional moral actors as a counterpoint to the unethical system all police participate in (and the unethical laws all police uphold).

Here's a protester in his seventies who was pushed down and harmed, and while he bled, they walked past him. Then all those police in this photo (basically) closed ranks, lied, and said that he tripped. Like ALL of them participated in that deception (and if one of them had told the truth, that would have been the person who got fired, censured, possibly attacked by fellow officers). The official report was "tripped and fell." Until......it turned out someone was filming and, oh look, he didn't trip after all, but was pushed.

Then when the two people who pushed him got a suspension, 57 officers (that's the ENTIRE BPD emergency response team if you didn't know) closed ranks even further on the A-Brutality B-Brutality that they KNEW was brutality because they knew they needed to lie about it. C-The LIE about the brutality and D-Consequences for the officers involved in the brutality by simply quitting.

So, somehow, not one of BPD's 57 emergency responders saw ANYTHING wrong with anything that happened.......except of course for the consequences.

This is systemic. This is an unethical system that is designed to lie to protect itself even when it knows it's doing wrong. And will further ask and give solidarity to those who behave unethically.

And it's not like you have to look far to find a zillion examples of this Thin Blue Line™ shit. How many officers must know they work with a white supremacist or someone who has control or anger issues and say nothing because that's the culture. How many would actually be penalized if they did bring it up these concerns because that is the culture?

THAT is why people want to focus on the unethical system and do not consider your Uncle Bob, your really not-so-bad cop family member, to be a "checkmate" counterpoint to that examination. The actually good cops who would speak out, report, tell the truth, or support consequences for officers behaving badly all got fired during their first month. And what is left is a system that is rotting to its core, and might need more than just a few "tough reforms."

This is a collection of pictures/comics/tweets/memes that draw attention to how problematic "ALL lives matter" can be.  https://www.facebook.com/chris.brecharge/posts/3154887584531802

I've seen this in action. It really works.

That this works at all is really all you need to know about white privilege, the "no choice" the police have, and about a dozen narratives that come up around civil unrest.

That it works SO well should slap people advancing these narratives across the face, and the fact that it doesn't means they don't WANT to understand.

A lot of people are gobsmacked that I make money writing (enough to do it outside a lot of major metropolitan areas without a side gig), but when I drill down, I find them extremely reluctant to take small steps. They want to one-and-done their career. Even when I explain that the process of getting to this income has taken me seven years where I (very) gradually phased out my day jobs, they still talk about selling their book and just BEING a working writer. BAM! And the one thing that seems to set most modern working authors apart––even a lot of the insta-success stories that sort of gloss over the years of work before "the phone call"––is their willingness to do a lot of work even to achieve baby steps.

Check in on the folks who couldn't be bothered with slow progress ten years later, and they're STILL retooling that one novel and looking for their big break and unwilling to make cell phone bill money with crowdfunding or try to write a short story for a $500 prize.

I think there's an extremely elegant metaphor there for a lot of different situations, personal, professional, and political. Hail Mary's do happen (especially if you've trained all your life to throw and/or receive them), but if your goal is the endzone, you're going to fail way more than you don't (and lose pmuch all your "games") if you are too good to work the ball down the field with some smaller plays because that's not "enough" progress to satisfy you.

I gotta tell you, that the entire police response to their brutality is a "how dare you hold us accountable," escalation is some classic abusive shit, and if you look at it through that lens, the taking-a-knee and the giving ice cream cones to kids and shit fits a much more sensical broader pattern than the idea that only a few of them are bad and the head scratching as to how it keeps happening.

Playing D&D online through Roll 20.

Literally ALL of my "Sponsored" posts just became Dungeon, the video game.

Facebook, if you're going to listen THIS goddamned close, here's what I really want: send me a cute geek who likes pizza, video games, social justice, intersectional feminism, horror and/or sci-fi genre, Star Trek, A:TLA, reading, and the various franchises on Disney Plus, plz. Also who is really ready to add ONE person to their Shelter In Place options. 

Bonus points for severe cuties.

"He was probably a terrorist."

That's what this amounts to.

Days after declaring the decentralized non-organized group of just about everyone opposed to fascism in anything more than a non-committal root-for-the-allies-during-WWII-movies-kind-of-way to be a “terrorist organization,” he then offers an explanation clearly not the reality that anyone saw.

And no one will believe him, but a few people will "believe" him. And moderates (and no small number of liberals) will get caught up in "proofs" and analysis and the ARGUMENT even though it's clearly, obviously a post-hoc lie.

And all the while they are quibbling over what "provocateur" means, or how a 75-year-old man would even be able to fling himself with perfect timing at the ground when (actually) pushed in order to accelerate his fall, or psychoanalyzing whether or not Trump himself wrote provocateur correctly when he can't spell hamburger or coffee, or examining video to show people that it was a helmet Gugino was holding, the bigger picture gets glossed over that the head of the executive branch is Tweet-exonerating police brutality, lies about that police brutality, and the grotesque rank-closing that police everywhere have participated in to basically say, "We ARE the law."

By naming a very vague group a terrorist organization, his insinuation (which could apply to almost anyone who strongly dislikes him) that someone is a member of this group then justifies anything that happens to them.

THAT--not whether he's technically right about provocateur, or if Gugino was messing with police scanners, or if it was "really" him Tweeting––is what should scare the fucking SHIT out of people.

The President is now essentially modeling to his pissed off militarized enforcers how to get away with anything––even murder.

"Could have been ANTIFA."

*shrugs* "He was probably a terrorist."


"How would we even DO that?" asked the society that had spent the last forty years defunding literally everything else.

Me: You know it fits into CLASSIC abuse patterns to get mad and escalate at the people who are calling you out for your brutality. It's like....page one of the abusive tactics handbook.

Police: Fine, we'll just leave. You'll be lost without us. You'll never make it alone.

Me: Okay....so.....moving on to page TWO....

Person on my Facebook Page: Please ban me if you're going to be all political.

Me: K

Woke up, fell out of bed
Bunch of transphobes in my thread
Found my way downstairs and drank a cup (tea)
And banned all their asses even if it made me late

Shook-KA Shook-KA Shook-KA

Part of being a good ally––perhaps the most important part––is listening to marginalized communities tell you that something is a problem instead of informing them that you've decided it isn't.

Folks (usually white dudes) who pride themselves on being surrounded with lots of diametrically opposed opinions and being oh so willing to ENGAGE in the marketplace of ideas over and over and over and over (no matter how much the underlying premise of some of these conversations hurts anyone watching said conversation like, say, their OTHER friends on social media watching their humanity be the subject of an intellectual debate) should really make an effort to understand how the SQiD (Status Quo Defender™) works.

See, your average SQiD never changes. They begin every "debate" with "Prove to me that is even a problem." They attack expertise. They propose ludicrous narratives that rationalize clear-as-day statistics. They argue from bad faith. ANYTHING that would require them to believe that their current world view is anything but utterly unimpeachable must be countered. And if you should ever incontrovertibly "win" such a debate, you will find they often have to depart suddenly. And whether they quit or stay and get trounced (rare), in the end they announce that it has been very stimulating and thank you as if you just had a vigorous martial-arts sparring match with them. Then they must go, but appreciate the discussion. (At least as long as you never got "emotional.")

Then it happens.

The next time you run into them to discuss that issue again they have returned to initial positions like it's a new chess match and not a growth process, which is exactly what they see "debate" as. So they do their favorite opening move: "Prove to me that is even a problem."

And since they never move their "square one," those willing to have that conversation with them ad nauseam are engaged in an endless tango.

If you don't learn that actually there are SOME conversations that are absolutely NOT worth having, you will be quagmired there forever as the Status Quo marches on.

I'd say this is white supremacy TBH.
Privilege means never having to think about it
so long as you steer clear of those pesky "SJWs" on social media

This is a number of images about what it would actually look like if we slowly defunded the police.  https://www.facebook.com/chris.brecharge/posts/3152257644794796

Someone from my Facebook Page: Can we not have posts like this one?

Me: Absolutely. I'll make sure you never see another one.

Just so you know, between having a relatively easy and non-fatal bout of Covid-19 and wearing a mask, I can absolutely tell you that being sick with 104 fever and the chills, coughing up the lava that it feels like is in the bottom of your lungs so frequently that your throat is aching and raw, being completely unable to move for several days, and having to ride out a full-on quarantine for a full week after your last symptom goes away....

....is way more inconvenient than the mask.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Best Contemporary Fantasy Book (or series) SEMIFINAL 1

What is the very best fantasy book (or series) written after 2010?

Our latest poll is live!  Come vote!  

Our poll was pulled from your nominations, and now you get to decide which ones will go on to the final round. There weren't a ton of nominations, so this time I took everything that got a even one second.

Let me just make ONE caveat. This poll is about BOOKS. It's about writing. If you are dying to see The Kingkiller Chronicles turned into a movie, but find the books a little slow, you shouldn't be voting for The Wise Man's Fear.

I'm pretty sure I know how this poll is going to go, at least until the final round, but sometimes y'all surprise the crap out of me. Also yes, someone clearly "technically" followed the rules to get The Dresden Files series nominated. I Spock eyebrowed it, but I do sort of encourage shenanigans. 

The actual poll is on the left hand side at the bottom, beneath the "About The Author" section. Mobile viewers will have to go aaaaaaall to the very bottom of their page and switch to "Webview" in order to access the poll.

IF YOU CANNOT SEE THE POLL- You are part of a small but non-zero group. The free polling app I use recently changed hands and there appear to be some growing pains.  The following link should work for you:   https://poll.fm/10571119

Everyone will get three (3) votes. 

There is no way to do ranked choice voting, so please consider that every vote beyond the first "dilutes" the power of your initial vote and use as few as you can stand to use.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Best Contemporary Fantasy (Last Chance to Nominate or Second)

What is the best Fantasy (book or series) written in 2009 or later?  

I've already told my Patrons this, but my nanny job is kicking my ass to the curb this week. My clients include one who is immunocompromised, so they are wary of using any nanny who can't basically limit all possible exposure except to them. Which is usually only mostly overwhelming to my writing time, but during weeks where they have to do payroll, my hours crawl up to the point that blogging becomes impossible. 

So for today, instead of a regular post, I'm going to give you ONE LAST CHANCE to make this poll a good one.

We now have enough books to run a poll for contemporary fantasy, but it will be a more interesting poll if we get more. If you want to see something get on this poll, the time is now to pop over to the original page (very important) and drop your nomination. You can also find the rules there and any answers to questions about genre, publication date limitations, or what to do if you are having trouble leaving a comment in Blogger for whatever reason––plus how to bring attention to a great book that you think should be recognized, but maybe isn't the "best."

Remember, go to the original page or the nomination will NOT be considered. Not a comment here. Not FB. Not G+. Not Tumblr. A comment on the original page.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

You Can Only Kill the Author....a LITTLE

I'm going to be babysitting comments for most of the day over on Writing About Writing's Facebook Page, because this post will probably bring out the more than a few trolls. 

So instead of a regular post today, I'm going to repeat what I said there.

Okay, folks....

First a reminder: if you can't disagree quietly and scroll on by, find and read the commenting guidelines unless you want to be getting your "You should be writing" memes from somewhere else by this time tomorrow. [This isn't exactly applicable to blog comments, but I do moderate them.]

Secondly, while there seems to be some discourse going on about how far Death of an Author can extend, the voices that we should be listening to (the folks harmed––namely the trans community) are generally not okay with such a flippant dismissal of authorial harm (in this case Rowling's transphobia), so it's important to understand who you're hurting and erasing, even when such things are said in jest.

While I understand the discussion continues, and I've no place getting involved in it directly myself (strictly speaking, I'm not cisgender, but I'm also not trans), I also did not want my taking a seat and listening to begin to stretch my silence into the "conspicuous" length on a platform like Writing About Writing.

My experience has ever been that the separation of art and artist is and has always been an intensely personal decision. Inspiring problematic artists have always existed, and as much as we want to, we can neither undo someone's harm nor reach back into our childhoods or young adulthoods (or even last week) and make certain media be NOT formative to who we are. However, I have always always ALWAYS taken the position that it is important to understand these things and listen to others. That an artist means a lot to one person never means they are exculpated from their hurtful behaviors to another, and whether you consider it an important part of the post-structural analysis of a good little writer or you just want to make sure you're not being a willfully oblivious asshole, understanding that art and artist can NEVER be vacuum-sealed away from each other is vital to one's relationship to either–-and to one's own work (because your bullshit is going to come up in your work too, so you better unpack it).

The post I've seen going around most lauded by the trans community is either THIS POST or a truncated version of it on FB shared by Sophie Labelle. It will sting if you love Harry Potter, but I think it's important for any person who reads extensively (and CERTAINLY any writer) to keep these things in mind. Don't make heroes of artists. Authors, and all artists, are human and most are deeply flawed. 

Please read it with an open mind.

And in case it somehow didn't go without saying, trans women are women, trans men are men, and J.K. Rowling is a writer, and so will be able to obfuscate her bigotry behind a lot of floccose language, but the fact remains that beyond her gossamer words, she is a transphobe.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Best Contemporary Fantasy (Nominations and Seconds needed)

What is the best Fantasy (book or series) written in 2009 or later?  

Have you ever found yourself wondering why your favorite book is not on one of my polls? ("How can you have this category and not have X?? It's brilliant!") Weeeelllllllllll, it's probably because you didn't nominate it. Or you didn't get your pal to throw you a second. All my polls are based 100% on reader nominations and votes.

We (barely) have enough books to run a poll for contemporary fantasy, but if you want to see something get on this poll, the time is now to pop over to the original page (very important) and drop your nomination. You can also find the rules there and any answers to questions about genre, publication date limitations, or what to do if you are having trouble leaving a comment in Blogger for whatever reason––plus how to bring attention to a great book that you think should be recognized, but maybe isn't the "best."

Remember, go to the original page or it might not count. Not a comment here. Not FB. Not G+. Not Tumblr. A comment on the original page.

Friday, June 5, 2020

It's NOT Just Words

It’s not “just words.”

It’s never “just words.”

When we are five and have to learn to shrug off the bruised feelings of being repeatedly called a “doo-doo head” on the playground, we learn perhaps one of the most pernicious and ubiquitous lies of our culture: that it takes a stick or a stone to really hurt us and words don’t have that power.

Honestly, teachers and parents should come back around when kids are ten and say, “Yeah, that’s not really true. We told you that because you were five, and we didn’t really want to deal with “doo-doo head” like it was a hate crime. Wait until you hear what we left out about the Pilgrims.”

I’m always a little surprised when I’m moderating comments over on my Facebook page and someone––who is absolutely always a white man––tries the “you’re afraid of ‘just words’” gambit. Um….have you read…..well an ANYTHING lately? (That joke works less well when you could have literally read anything––a book, an article, a blog, a short story, a poem, a...)  All you have to do is read anything to see that words are far from powerless. 

Out in the world, you might expect that folks have less ability to see how the language around them is literally altering and shaping their perceptions. (“I can’t tell you why, but I sure do want some Arby’s all of a sudden.”) But of all people you’d expect people to understand what words can do, it’s would be the folks who know how certain works shaped the path of history or how something they read left them devastated. They ought to know all too well the power that language holds to essentially warp our perceptions. Prolific readers and wordsmiths that spend all day sighing at those memes of non-English words with no good translation or perfectly cromulent neologisms then turn around somehow think that words are insignificant, powerless things.

I mean, I get the idea. The words do not literally rip the skin off someone’s skull like you just walked into a gritty reboot of X-men. It is all too easy to pretend that in the marketplace of ideas, the worthy words will merit out. And to some degree, that can be true if the marketplace of ideas has a few ground rules (like we don’t start over every conversation having to prove inequality even exists and that we understand the paradox of tolerance), but the ability of words to actually cause mental and emotional harm and be catalyst for physical harm is undeniable, no matter how open your market might be. 

Ironically, mincing words would be all too easy here, so we should be as plain as possible. Words are the building blocks of the ultimate human power. We are a species of stories and if you control the story, you control humanity. 


Corporations that have screwed up and get caught destroying the environment or using abhorrent unsafe practices spend millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions, and even BILLIONS of dollars to hire the greatest experts on the planet at using words to shift blame, and they call upon these experts to complicate what are actually simple issues of malfeasance and greed while assuring people that their most important concerns are their customers instead of their own bottom lines.

Countries’ administrations include entire wings dedicated to how they word things, with everything from highly trained professionals talking to the media to a carefully crafted public relations message to framing nothing as their fault and everything as the somehow the opposition’s. One of the reasons the United States’ current administration has been less effective than it wanted to be at so many of its more horrific policies isn't because some adult in the room pumped the brakes. It is because they have continually slipped up and said the quiet parts out loud, eliciting a powerful pushback. Instead of slick talking points, we got “human capital stock,” “shit hole countries,” and “alternative facts.” Don't think for a second we wouldn't be further down this road if some of those people had been a little slicker with those "just words."

Legislation with clear agendas, like stripping rights or legalizing discrimination, is framed as “freedom of religion”; clear tax cuts––so that the 1% do not have to pay into any codified form of social contract for all the infrastructure and educated workforce they enjoy––are called “relief” and framed as creating jobs (they don’t). Every few years, these failing policies are repackaged––with WORDS––that they might continue. (“Horse and sparrow,” “trickle down,” “supply side economics,” “job creation”….it’s all the same theory that giving rich people money to hoard is somehow good for the economy.)

Stochastic terrorism can be provoked with little more than a few words in clear repudiation of a specific class of people, like one might find in a leader who spews hateful rhetoric.

As I am writing this, the story is going viral of a white woman in Central Park who knew full well that a phone call to the police (a call consisting only of WORDS) would cause the black man she was threatening no end of trouble––possibly violent trouble. She was weaponizing white supremacy and knew she was doing it. 

All with words. “Just” words.

Language is the superpower with which humans have dominated everything they see. Its vast power is the fundamental building block to every lesser ability we have, from splicing genes to nuclear explosions. Language has given us culture, which enables our environmental adaptations to happen with unimaginable alacrity compared to evolution, taking place in less than a generation instead of hundreds. In years instead of generations, we develop immunities that wipe out those diseases that threaten us. With language, we craft narratives that become vise-grip means of social control. We get the victims of oppression to basically oppress themselves by calling their concerns “crazy” or “aggressive.” The right story will justify invasions, topple empires, 

With nothing but “words,” we relegate entire groups of our fellow humans to underclass and even subhuman status and justify their treatment. 

And if that still doesn't convince you, just say, "Black Lives Matter" and watch pretty much 100% of these same "just words" white guys turn a lovely shade of purple and begin to write paragraphs about how they are the real victims of racism. Just three little..........words.

A single word can bring with it the full force of a history of oppression, struggle, and intergenerational trauma. Anyone who mocks folks harmed by "just words," as if the sound waves themselves must be forceful enough to shatter bone if it is to count as harm, has only revealed their breathtaking ignorance of how language works, mental and emotional damage, and a rich history of propaganda. Not one war, not one atrocity, not one pivotal moment in history (good or bad) happened without words shaping every second leading up to them. 

So it’s long past time that a liberal, pluralistic society retire the sophist idea that somehow words are themselves incapable of doing harm, and while expression itself should generally be protected with few exceptions, the attempt to shame anyone who visits a consequence on folks using harmful speech is, at best, fundamentally ignorant of the power of words.

And at worst attempting to preemptively manipulate anyone who dares to hold them accountable for that harm*.

(*Ironically, done with words.)

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Best of FB [Bottom of May]

I'm doing a lot of Facebook writing these days on My Public FB Profile, and added up it is hours of work, so I've decided to repost a compilation of some of the most shared posts here. It's a public account, so you can read it even if we're not friends or even if you don't have a FB account. (Gotta read the rules, agree to play nice, and send a friend request with a PM saying you did so if you want to comment though.) 

The U.S. has justified the absolute "necessity" of being in an official armed conflict for 222 out of 239 years of its history as a country, was founded on the genocide of the natives living here and built with brutality and violent slavery, actively brutalizes its non-ruling ethnic groups (BIPOC), and has enshrined the right of every single citizen to own a lethal, long-range, semi-automatic weapon, but its ruling ethnic group (white people) will absolutely stand there with a straight face and tell marginalized folks that violence never solves anything.

Cops are kettling even peaceful protesters and bystanders so they can brutalize them more effectively during a protest of....police brutality, but sure, let's talk about how violence never works, makes you squeamish, and you're really opposed to it.

This one is a slew of pictures so you'll just have to go check it out.

Reminder that the ACLU has an app called “Mobile Justice” for recording police interactions. Bystanders have power. If you record directly from that app, it streams your video to the ACLU for safekeeping, just in case your phone is taken from you at the scene. It can be accessed in the future if it becomes important. In California the app is called “CA Justice,” and it streams directly to an ACLU chapter in California. You never know when you might need it.

Hi, fellow white people,

It's going to be very, very important for us to stifle the urge to inform Black folks that we "agree with 'the cause' but this isn't helping" or some variation. Or to say that to each other.

Or at all.

Because 99% of us don't have the first goddamn clue what actually helps and doesn't. We're actually WRONG when we say shit like this. Demonstrably inaccurate.

The way we envision perfect protests hasn't changed anything in over half a century. Our teddy bear MLK who we love to use as a cudgel to silence justifiably angry people who are hurting our feelings had some pretty choice things to say about riots and how they are the language of the unheard, and he could NOT condemn them.

The vast majority of us haven't been doing this all our lives. We do not have extensive expertise in activism and "what is effective." Hell, most of us don't ever show up to the peaceful marches. For the vast majority of us, our "agreement" with the cause is absolutely conditional on our fragility never ever ever being challenged and our feelings never being hurt.

We certainly, most of us, aren't aware of how civil unrest puts pressure on the local D.A.s to not sweep things under the rug as is their wont. [June 4th edit: and while we will never know what would have happened without civil unrest, the charges have been upgraded and the other officers charged––which is pretty unusual.] We don't have a peek behind the curtain to know that the officers who gave Freddie Gray a lethal nickel ride were only indicted after Baltimore was subjected to days of violent civil unrest, and that every cop around the same time who killed a Black person in cities that didn't have civil uprisings rarely even faced charges, and sometimes didn't have a gap in their employment.

So it's really rich of us to suddenly be armchair experts on how best to go about achieving desired outcomes in a criminal justice system that has never been dismantled from the days when it was ABSOLUTELY DESIGNED to uphold white supremacy and has, as a matter of record and fact, been infiltrated at every level BY white supremacists.

In fact, our judgemental arbitration of rioters' "credibility" is so absolutely north-star predictable as a script in upholding white supremacy that white (and often law enforcement) provocateurs will often kick off the violence just to get us to start harrumphing and being ten times louder about some burning trash and broken windows than the LIVES lost in the first place.

If we care about the cause, let's just give time, money, and energy to the cause without caveat and addendum, and certainly without using our declaration of milquetoast support as our "free pass" for getting to dictate to people how they ought to struggle against their own oppression.

And you do you, but it's probably worth unpacking the assumption that the "best" way to fight a multi-generational struggle for equality happens to align perfectly with what makes us the most comfortable and is the easiest to ignore.

Usually my most shared things are political.

Please remember:

Even those places that are being super careful (states, cities, etc...) are STILL not reopening because it is "safe."

They are reopening because there are enough beds in the ICU and PPE to handle the size of the spike they predict will happen.

Source :
I think about teachers a lot right now. I know a lot of teachers. And most reopening plans are trying to get them back into their classrooms in some capacity in the fall.

I'm really worried about teachers.

I think people should be absolutely clear and blunt with the language they use around schools reopening. We should pull no punches about what we're talking about when we demand teachers go back to work despite no vaccine, and a sort of half-ass commitment to try to spread kids out in classrooms and wear masks and sanitize more. (This from district after district that assured their people there was simply no money to reduce class sizes or increase janitorial budgets.)

There are 3.7 million teachers in the U.S.

I can't really "run the numbers" because we don't have reliable enough statistics. This isn't official. I'm no epidemiologist. Someone could even check these numbers and if I'm blowing them up, I'd be relieved. But even conservative estimates paint a grisly picture. A lot of teachers are going to get sick. A WHOLE lot. Teachers deal with dozens of students, and the chances that at least one of those students will be spreading Covid at SOME point is outrageously high.

And from what we know just from our own numbers in the U.S so far, roughly about 35,000-40,000 are going to die for every million who get sick. Getting THAT number down would require health care reforms. So I don't know exactly how many teachers are going to get sick, but it will be hundreds of thousands and possibly millions. And that means the cold, unforgiving math we're looking at is that tens of thousands of teachers are about to die.

Tens. Of Thousands. Of Teachers. Are. About. To Die.

This is what we're talking about. This is why mincing words and skirting bluntness is so dangerous. Euphemisms about sacrifice or jingoist catchphrases about the bravery of essential workers don't bring this into focus. That's why I worry so much about all my teacher friends.

And why? Because we couldn't wait another semester or two or keep trucking with a better investment in online learning. Because kids at home need supervision and parents are less productive when they have to do it themselves. We wanted things "back to normal" so bad that we dismissed the consequences.

Yes, it's no good for kids' long term mental health to keep sheltering in place. If there were a good solution, I'm pretty sure we'd just pick that one. But let's not dance around what we've chosen here. 

And if I could keep being a Debbie Downer, that's just the ones who die. Covid-19 isn't a dead/okay light switch. There are a lot of outcomes in between the two. At any point, you might have thousands of teachers in the hospital for weeks who will live but will be hospitalized (unable to teach and requiring substitutes). And you will have tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands out sick for a couple of weeks or even a month. (Would YOU want them coming back as soon as they felt up to it with YOUR kids at risk? Or would you want an extra week padded on there for good measure?) And they will be getting their own families sick during this process and adding even more horror to the show.

Even if you don't think that's a humanitarian horror for a choice we could have simply NOT MADE, from a purely pragmatic point of view, it's going to cause a runaway teaching crisis. And then you get people who haven't been properly trained doing the teaching. And then the quality of education suffers. And then privatized education makes inroads. And then the student achievement gap by income grows further. And then......

This, of course, does not account for how many kids will get each other sick (from their teachers or each other) and bring Covid-19 home to their parents from the added ├╝bervector of schools. And the number of teachers "lost" also doesn't count a lot of teachers who would rather retire, retire early, or just plain quit than literally risk their lives to provide the daytime child care that this is really about.

Every single proposed adaptation for social distancing in school has made me think, "Wait, have these people ever actually BEEN in a classroom?" If you put the kids six feet apart in a typical class, you're going to have about seven or eight kids. And you're telling me that suddenly there will be money in the budget to go from teachers cleaning their own rooms because the district can only afford janitors once a week to proper and full sanitization?

We're about to shove teachers into a meat grinder, and mincing words about it isn't doing anyone any favors. Least of all the teachers.

They can be easy to mix up when you've only ever experienced one.

This mask thing is SO fucking emblematic of the United States where our cultural values mean that we will never succeed at any variant of the prisoner's dilemma.

People: I'm not wearing a mask because it doesn't help me.

CDC: Actually it does, but you're right that it's not much. You're wearing it to protect everyone ELSE. It really reduces the droplets you SPREAD. So if everyone is wearing masks, you'll be safer. But the social contract means you have to wear one too.

People: It doesn't help ME.

Republicans sometimes try to act shocked that Trump is SO bad, but I can't think of a single odious thing he does that isn't really just a Power Move Caliber Version™ of exactly their own general behaviors.

• Racism. Usually mostly with some plausible denial focusing on a more mainstream acceptable racism-adjacent issue, but not really fooling anyone, and stick around long enough and the quiet parts will be said out loud.
• Sexism. Oh, patently offended if you suggest it, of course, but hard to deny. And with a strange problem about anyone who might point out any kind of misogyny. Ever. In any context.
• Religious. But mostly only when it's being used as a cudgel to achieve political gains and justify bigotry. Pragmatically movement through the world is with a healthy disrespect for every single spiritual and conceptual precept of the religion itself.
• Lies, cheats, steals, and then accuses the other side of doing those things in a breathtaking display of macro-abuse dynamics (in this case DARVO).
• Claims to love groups (like LGBT+ groups) while signing legislation or executive orders that obliterate their support, options, and even rights.
• Talks a good game about democracy, but will undermine it in a heartbeat if not winning.
• Tries to rewrite everything so that they were unimpeachable (sometimes literally unimpeachable)
• Wants to rule more than actually govern. Would rather be a minority authoritarian ruler than actually deal with a democratic pluralistic society.
• States rights when passing the buck or trying not to take a stand on civil rights but "respect federal authoritah" when it comes to environmental protections or making voting easier.
• Takes victory laps even when the democracy has been rigged for decades (gerrymandering, voter suppresion)
• Drums up the support of whites.
• Is never––NEVER––at fault, even if with a rubber-stamp majority and an opposition that can't do more than voice objection and leak stories.
• Hypocritical in that brazen, breathtaking way like all those tweets from four years ago somehow don't exist.
• Has a real problem with truth being objectively reported. And facts.
• Utterly disrespects all forms of earned expertise and instead values showmanship.
• Obsessed with Obama and undoing his legacy to "pwn the libs" even if it means there's no pandemic response team, for example.
• Claims to be a culture of life for grandma's sake when trying to keep insurance companies flush in cash, but gets pretty darn "sacrifice the weak" when it's time to actually protect her from a pandemic.
• Nothing really matters more than the economy. No, not that. Not that either. Definitely not that.
• Fuck your feelings. Cruelty is the point.

This isn't some anomaly. This isn't a weird "how did that ever happen moment." The Republicans scratching their head are either hoping you'll buy it, go away, and stop holding them accountable for the people they hand power to, or have been paying absolutely no attention to the culture of their own party for, oh, about fifteen years. This is the paragon of the modern GOP. He is their avatar. If they all stepped into a chamber, Trump would step out saying "The merging is complete."

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

June: The Meta and the Personal

In the life of this blog since I began it eight years ago, I have managed to keep a steady pace of posts going up even through loved ones with cancer, through terrible breakups, through moves, and even through some non-trivial illness. There were a lot of "personal updates" during those times. There were a lot of guest bloggers. There were a lot of missed posts and a lot of jazz hands, but I've never looked back on a month to do a postmortem and thought, "What the fuck just happened?"

**Looks back at May**

What the fuck just happened?

I mean, I know I don't "just suck," and my work ethic usually worries people (including doctors who want to see me not die in my fifties of heart disease from stress), so how the hell did I manage to fuck up May so badly.

I have NEVER had a month where I only got six posts up––most of them about the polls I run. (I think twice that number might still be less than previous "worst month.")

But here we are.

So.....as this blog stands as a real-time example of how to establish, have, and maintain a career as a working writer, I'm going to perform this autopsy for all to see.

Take note, would-be writers. Even those of us paying the bills with our writing have to sit down once in a while and give OURSELVES performance reviews with a lot of ticky boxes marked "Opportunity for Improvement." And then we have to synergize* with ourselves to come up with a thought shower for our holistic plan to onboard more posts and get out of the weeds because we're as far up the flag pole as dynamic symbiotic engagement can run.

(*Don't call it "touching base with yourself" unless you want to confuse people with dirty minds....which is like, ALL my friends.)

Problems (as I currently see them)
  1. That week off to work on my manuscript is a quarter of the month. That's a huge chunk.
  2. For various reasons (bite-sized thoughts, fractured attention span due to trauma response, a more political focus, reacting to news), I have put a lot of my writing time and energy into my Public Facebook Profile. That writing is usually a little less polished. A little quippier. A little more shoot-from-the-hip. A little more, "Do you feel lucky, Punk?" Because any ONE Facebook post is less time-consuming than writing a whole post, I tend to discount their impact on my writing schedule when I'm dealing with them piecemeal, but if they were to form a contiguous writing session, it would be hours a day.
  3. There was dental work. Which was preceded by non-trivial dental pain and a day of navigating dental insurance bureaucracy only to discover my current plan is worth about as much as the paper it's printed on. And then of course the day after with the good drugs and the whimpering. This successfully chewed through four days from start to finish. Pun absolutely intended. 
  4. I had a very intense emotional month even aside from current events. SOME emotion can be used and brought to the page, but overwhelming amounts are like trying to drink from a fire hose. There were incredible ups and devastating downs. And I got my heart crushed just a bit––which is interesting because I wasn't exactly sure that was still a thing that could happen. So maybe I'm not quite so broken after all. 
  5. Global Pandemics. Amirite?
  6. I don't want to center myself or my feelings, but civil uprisings are intense. I'm pretty much always on the side of the folks who end up taking police brutality on the chin (seeing as most of the time they're the white supremacists bringing AR-15s to capitol buildings are actually pretty CHUMMY with cops), and sometimes I'm even out at the protests myself. Like I said above, when there are OVERWHELMING amounts of emotions, they can't be "channeled" as easily into some sort of "jokes-about-writing" form or even fiction. It becomes almost impossible for me to stop reading and/or to write about anything else. 
  7. A certain number of posts are just going to get missed in the current climate. I'm dealing with situational stressors that are adding up to the most difficult time I've ever endured long-term. I'm pretty good at getting ONE thing done in day and maybe two, but I kind of fall apart after that. So if anything becomes more urgent than writing (like, say, shopping for food), it's a bad day. 
Solutions (each respective to the same numbered problem)
  1. I'm going to put the manuscript time on hiatus for now. Until such time as I can successfully fill in the OTHER three weeks with a block of posts, that's just going to contribute to the bad image of a given month. When I "turn it back on" (which might be when Covid-19 is mostly in our collective rearview or it may be July if I rock June like a hurricane--HERE I AM), I will dial it back to the THREE days and slowly increase the days off I take from there. 
  2. I have repeatedly tried to point people at my Facebook, and I fully admit that is some guilty jumping up and down and saying, "Look, I'm totally doing something!" but I think I'm going to start a new "Regular Bit" here where I round up a handful of the most well-received posts every couple of weeks and put them in a little compilation. That'll give me a couple of days worth of posts each month to help with the fact that a multi-paragraph thing that takes me an hour to write IS writing, and IS work. It is it is it is!  *stamps foot*
  3. I don't plan on losing any more teeth for a while, so other than going back to be given the spacer that I'll have until they start the implant, I'll probably not lose any more time to dental issues. And no other teeth are even loose so a one-year-old punching me in the face won't force the issue! (Take those small, but surprisingly impactful victories where you can get them.)
  4. I don't know if I can do anything about people* professing feelings and then retracting them, but at least it gave me a few new things to write about!  And now that the firehose of fee-fees is off, I can process the past couple of weeks and move on. And maybe June will even be better.
    (*Yes. More than ONE! What a fortnight!)
  5. I can't change the global pandemic, but I am starting to settle in a little better to a "new normal" pace. I hate to have any solution be little more than "pedal faster" when I'm usually working 60-hour weeks, but I think this problem is going to get better if I just keep suiting up and showing up and doing my best to write every day. It's not like I'm going to get Covid or lose a tooth every month......right?  Right?  RIGHT?????
  6. This is out of my control. It's not going to go away until white supremacy is dismantled and the institutions and culture of our society reflect that BLACK LIVES MATTER! And even if this uprising is suppressed, there will be others. I can't control the events, I won't sequester myself from the news, and systematic inequality won't be better after one more march or fifty. So I'll just have to keep reminding myself that this is the predictable consequence of a racist system, and that there WILL be a few days of being stuck to the breaking news and shitposting all day each and every time it happens, so I should cut myself some slack for not writing An Official Article™. 
  7. And lastly, I have to just take some deep breaths and accept that a few days are going to get past me right now. 2020 is just a fucking HORRIBLE time and everyone is having some real "productivity" problems. (I mean, at least the Murder Hornets were a nothing burger.) Maybe I won't be QUITE so "gentle with myself" that in the end I'm looking at a month of only six posts, but a missed post here or there is just going to have to be okay for a while.
  8. EXTRA. This solves no specific problem above, but should help in general. I will likely reproduce this post each month for the duration. I'm not doing appeals posts while the global economy is collapsing (though you can always become a patron if you want as I have bills to pay too), so instead I will do a bit of a meta/personal check in. I often do personal updates when something is going on, but I've done them less as a regular thing since I started making Newsletters part of my Patreon rewards. 
If I fiddle with ALL those knobs, the aggregate result should be a June I don't actually feel a little bit ashamed about. And while I know I need to take my own advice about being kind to oneself (as do all of us in such a fraught time), let me leave you with two thoughts:

1- I do not think my dedication to write a LOT as a matter of discipline and the fact that the thing most people want to know about me is how I "made it" are separate issues. I've never known a writer of any success who did not have a routine they were constantly trying to squeeze a little more out of.
2- If you pay close attention, none of my "solutions" are really added work. I didn't decide to put an extra hour in each day on the weekend or get up thirty minutes early. (I mean one of them is "don't have dental work for a while.") If anything, I just moved some things from one pile to another and told myself in my best Uncle Iroh that June is likely to be less bullshitty. So you don't in any way need to answer sub-optimal productivity with a brutal regimen that borders on self-harm. There's a pretty big difference between "Yikes I need to write more than six posts next month," and "I will work harder."

As always you do you, don't push yourself if that's not what brings you a certain kind of satisfaction (catharsis at least, if not happiness), and thread that self-care/harsh routine needle carefully and with an eye on what is reasonable, but the other eye on where you want to be and how realistic it is that you will get there at your current pace.