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

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Bullshit Narrative 14- Guns Make You Safer

No they don't.

I have a friend who pulled a gun on an attacker who was probably going to rape her. She understands that gun is statistically more likely to be used AGAINST her, and basically doesn't care. Which, I agree, is her purview as an adult who is allowed to manage her own risks.

But this story was the exception. Not the rule. For every one person defended by a gun, there are 34 who get shot and die.

It's your choice to play those odds, but don't fucking LIE about it.

There's a statistic out there about guns in the house being more likely to be used against you. It's actually more fucked up the closer you look at it. It's not like your home invader disarms you and turns the weapon on you. That shit mostly happens in movies. Here's the truth: If you're a man, you're more likely to use it in a suicide. If you're not a man, you're more likely to be killed BY THE MAN that lives there with you.

I want to stress that this should probably be a risk vs. reward analysis that an adult gets to make on their own. We don't force people to do the statistically less risky things or we'd all fly everywhere instead of taking road trips because flying is safer, and we'd outlaw hot dogs because they are so easy to choke on.

But stop lying about it. There is no veracity whatsoever to the claim that guns make you safer. They don't. There is literally no statistical or logical way to support this claim, and other than emotional appeals and anecdotes, there is no way to defend the idea.

Everyone thinks THEY will be the one the gun makes safer, but most of them are wrong. The vast majority of them are wrong.

Guns don't make you safer. They make you less safe. Period. Accept the risk. Don't. Up to you. But don't pretend it isn't true.

And if that's your choice, you get to make it because you're an adult in a country with that particular civil right, but let the rest of the fucking country have a conversation about the laws that will reduce the chances of your choices killing our children, and for fuck's sake stop fucking LYING about it. You look morally bankrupt on top of untrustworthy.

Bullshit rating: Telling me this is chocolate isn't going to fool me.

Bullshit Narrative 13- Guns Don't Kill People. People Kill People.

That's why we don't want to do background checks on the guns, Turbo. Because you're leaving out the last line. "But people with guns kill people a LOT more quickly and efficiently than without."

[Note: I'm going to format all of these articles when I'm done with "next" and "previous" links and a link back to the original post where I'm linking out each of the narratives. But bear with me while I get them all written and posted.]

This is one of those arguments that sounds deep and hella profound if you're twelve and then completely falls apart as soon as you start to think about it with the reasoning skills of…like…a thirteen-year-old. It just takes the place of an actual argument chiefly because it's just really easy to remember, has that slick rhetorical device of repetition, and looks good on a bumper sticker.  

No one is looking to regulate guns because they come to life like the brooms in The Sorcerer's Apprentice and kill people by themselves. Every weapon requires human action to kill people unless it's a claymore that's been stored at the top of your closet and you're not paying very much attention as you go frantically searching for the box you stored your original birth certificate in.

The reason we're thinking (some) guns might need regulation is because they enable would-be-killers to kill a lot people really, REALLY fast and from really, REALLY far away. It's the same reason we want to stop Iran and North Korea from having nuclear weapons instead of saying with a dismissive shrug, "Nukes don't kill people. People kill people."

We don't let people strap C-4 to themselves and walk around grocery stores because "Bombs don't kill people. People kill people."

People do kill people. But this is not actually a major plot twist. People have been killing people, using tools to make killing easier since the first sharpened stick and heavy rock. Guns make it a LOT easier for them to do so, and CERTAIN guns make it absurdly easy. So much easier even a toddler could do it. (Ironic voice "Hashtag: Wish I were kidding.") 

Do you know the reason assault weapons kill six times as many people in mass shootings? It's not because those people are inherently deadlier or have a greater will to kill people. It's not because "people kill people" but those people just happened to WANT to kill more. It's because those weapons are better at it. They kill a lot of people very quickly. They're easier to reload, fire bullets faster, and are more accurate at range. 

No one is actually saying that humans aren't involved; this is just straw man bumper sticker bullshit. Attempting to stop all deadly violence was never what gun bans were attempting to accomplish. Keeping the MOST dangerous kinds of weapons out of the hands of people who haven't been thoroughly vetted is.

Bullshit rating: Seems deep, but is actually super shallow. Sure is a lot of it though.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Bullshit Narrative 12- "Assault Rifle" Has a Particular Meaning/The Definition of "Mass Shooting…"You Can't Legislate From a Position of Ignorance. 

Yes. That's the important part when someone is making an impassioned plea to save their children from an increasingly ubiquitous form of horrific gun violence and the drills to prepare them for it. Mock them for their semantic misunderstanding of gun jargon. 

Maybe you SHOULDN'T legislate from a position of ignorance. That idea has probably got some merit. Of course that means like half the Republicans would never be able to make a law about abortion again because they don't even seem to have the first good goddamn clue about how uterus-havers reproductive health works, and they make laws demonstrative of that fact literally any time they have the votes.

But hey, why let ethics ruin a good double standard!

The thing is, this could be such a great touchpoint for education and dialogue. This could be where gun lovers and gun aficionados step up to the plate to have a dialogue about which laws might really, actually make a difference in a situation like a school shooting. The NRA and gun advocates could be the LEADERS of this movement with their understanding and knowledge. They could help figure out what to look for in a background check, how to close loopholes, what hardware is the most dangerous (and perhaps least likely to be used in all the ways they advocate for), how to run buyback programs on existing weapons, and how to write these laws to try to make a substantive policy compromise.

(Every time there's a high profile mass shooting, someone suggests making AMMUNITION much harder to get. Would that work? I don't know. But I bet I know who would! People who enjoy guns responsibly.)

They could pioneer effective legislation and help make some real difference.

Instead they've allowed this to become a point of mockery and derision (which, if you're keeping score, is EXACTLY the sort of smug-ass snobbery that conservatives often cite as the main reason they don't like liberals). "Oh those people don't even know the difference between a magazine and a clip. I bet they leave their pinky fingers on the cup when they have tea too. For shame!" 

And then, after they refuse to engage someone unless they're already a gun expert, they act all surprised Pikachu face when liberals organize the political will to pass unilateral bans. 

And here's the real gut punch. This isn't just arcane elitism that shuts down conversation. That could at least be dismissed as self-sabotaging in a world of shifting political will. When leftists won't leave their "bootlicker" rhetoric at the local communist party meeting, the worst thing that happens is they can't figure out why their ideas are wildly popular but THEY never are. 

But when this shit happens around guns, this behavior isn't just odious. It borders on the worst sort of willful ignorance and turpitude. Most of the laws ignorant white men pass will never affect them personally. They're just legislating morality about exactly the sort of topics where expertise is required.

When it comes to guns, the opposite is true. 

If someone can have a gun aimed at their head, be killed by a gun, have their kids killed by a gun, have their friends killed by guns, live in fear of guns, and have to maneuver in a society in which people can open carry semi-automatic rifles into Kroger, they absolutely, positively get to weigh in with their political opinions on guns, even if they don't know a bump stock from a silencer, a machine gun from a semi-auto, or the exact body count at which a shooting becomes a "mass shooting." It is beyond reprehensible to claim that they don't get a seat at a table until they're an expert. Trying to silence them for this is not only a logical fallacy called the Courtier's Reply (a variant of argument from authority), but is the lowest, most cowardly tactic of those who can find no actual tenable argument.

A moment that could have been a chance to take the mantle of leadership turned into the cheapest opportunity to score a political point.

Bullshit rating: Technically that's an Indicus, not a Taurus, so I can't even take you seriously that you're complaining you stepped in bullshit.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Bullshit Narrative 11-The Shooter [Any Shooter] Was Mentally Ill.  

This is the argument that just keeps on sucking. 

When people blame mental illness after each shooting (especially if the shooter is white), and then do absolutely nothing at all to try to improve the deplorable state of mental health in this country, what they make very clear is that they're not even kind of sort of maybe fooling THEMSELVES with this half-assed derailment. They know full well this is not the X factor in these cases. They just want to point at something (anything) it could be other than guns.

It's called scapegoating and the mentally ill have been on the shit end of it basically forever.

Look, it's easy to see someone commit an atrocity that is horrific beyond imagining and think that no one in their right mind would be capable of doing something so horrible.

It's easy to imagine that simply the fact that someone did this MUST mean they are insane. There must be something wrong with them, right? But it's a comforting lie. (There is something wrong with them, but it's not mental illness.) At best that's simply NOT ACCURATE. And at worst it is ableist as fuck and scapegoating bullshit that leads to the worst sort of stigma, prejudice, and bigotry.

Claiming all people who would do this are mentally ill simply displays a breathtaking ignorance of what "mentally ill" means in a clinical (and meaningful) way, and is used almost exclusively as a dodge to avoid talking about what else might be involved in the calculus. 

Every other factor from gender to easy access to instantly lethal, long range, high capacity weaponry is excluded from the diagnosis so that folks who don't want to have tough conversations can just further stigmatize those who actually have mental illness and go on about their day.

"Welp. Musta been crazy. Can't do anything so terrible if you're not crazy. Nothing to be done but arm teachers or something. Has the new season of Daredevil dropped yet?"

And this is particularly revolting and full of splash damage onto folks with genuine mental illness when the definition of "mental illness" becomes "anyone who would do something like this."

(That's not really a clinical definition by the way, and over half of mass shooters are found to be mentally sound. It turns out the term "mental illness" has an actual meaning.)

  1. Mental illness does not equate to violence. IT. DOES. NOT. Only 3-5% of violent acts can be attributed to those with serious mental illness. (Which is actually LESS than the amount of people in the general population—around 6%-7%.
  2. OF THOSE CRIMES, only 7.5% were directly related to the symptoms of their illness. In other words, chronic depression doesn't make you violent, so someone who is violent and depressed would contribute to the statistic above, but their only mental illness (depression) was probably not a factor.
  3. The severely mentally ill are TEN TIMES more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. They are also more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it. These are statistical facts. They don't fit the narrative of scapegoating, but they are demonstrable and irrefutable.
  4. Alcohol and drug abuse are far more strongly correlated with violence than mental illness is.

Why mental illness factors so prominently in gun violence statistics is when SUICIDE is factored in. Turns out, like most other deterrent logic, people are less statistically likely to kill themselves if they do not have easy access to a way to do so quickly and effectively.

But hey, if this ACTUALLY led to a conversation about better access to mental health that would be great. I'll spoil the ending for you, though. It won't. Because that's not why people talk about mental illness after a shooting. They do it so they don't have to talk about guns, and they don't care that they are increasing the stigma for folks around them who suffer from mental illness.

Bullshit rating: This bullshit will suck your shoe right off your foot if you step in it, it sucks SO much.

Bullshit Narrative 10- Gun laws haven't worked in Chicago/But what about Chicago?/ Chicago Chicago Chicago.

This narrative is the way totally-not-racists try to tell you that Chicago being the toughest city EVER on guns doesn't do any good because there is still horrific gang and "black-on-black" violence riddling the streets into a "war zone" every night. (Chicago's raw numbers are alarming, but actually its gun violence RATE [as compared to population] is much lower than over a dozen other cities.

The problem with hanging a whole narrative on Chicago is that it actually doesn't have the toughest laws in the country. That's just...not accurate. It's wrong, and this whole narrative is wrong and they should feel wrong.

Chicago had tougher laws a decade ago, but in 2010 their handgun ban was struck down and the NRA has been hacking away at it ever since. And it really became false about six years ago when Illinois allowed concealed carry. So to use this in today's national discourse was bullshit before the words formed in people's mouths.

And even back before these bans weren't struck down, Chicago was surrounded by places that didn't have such a ban. It's a half-hour drive to Indiana in no traffic and they have always had some of the loosest laws in the country.

Actually it's California that has the toughest gun laws these days and they are #8 in gun related violence despite having several huge cities (including two in the nation's top ten). New York has stricter gun laws and is headed for historic low homicide rates. But those don't fit the narrative, so let's keep talking about Chicago some more.

Chicago. Chicago. Chicago.

Bullshit Rating: This was some serious bullshit ten years ago when you first tried it, but sweeping this bullshit under the rug is pretty nasty.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Bullshit Narrative 9: Gun Control Can Never Work

Previous Bullshit Argument: But Cars Kill More People and We Don't Make THEM Illegal!

Except in every country and most states where it has?

We don't have great gun statistics because the NRA stifled the CDC TWENTY years ago, mostly because they were terrified of how the truth about guns didn't fit their beloved narratives.

(Nothing quite like a lobby group shutting down a bipartisan study to disprove the fact that maybe they aren't invested too heavily in the truth and might possibly know what the study would find.)

But the patchwork of state, local, and other country's statistics we do have all say the same thing: "Yes, gun control can work. It does work. It will work. On a societal level, it will make a difference.”

I'm not saying that means we need to start banning them all tomorrow. But the narrative that it wouldn't work is demonstrably false.

Bullshit Rating: Retire this bullshit. It's making you look really, really foolish.

Bullshit Narrative 8- But Cars Kill More People Than Guns, and We Don't Make THEM Illegal.

God, this argument. This fucking argument. It's SO, SO bad, it needs to be in The Bad Argument Hall of Fame™. Like it needs its own fallacy. The "What About Cars" Fallacy. Can someone make this happen?

So.....about guns...... are you saying we're going to license, register, insure, have identifying marks that can be read from a distance, rigorously ticket the more minor misuses of, and regularly inspect firearms for full functionality as well as periodic written and ability tests and a battery of exams of legal knowledge and practical ability the first time they demonstrate they are responsible enough to own one? Further we will strip them of that license if they demonstrate they are irresponsible or have a substance abuse problem?

Great. We agree. Let's call it a day and go get a drink.

Uh oh. Sad trombone. That's not what this narrative is about, is it?  It's JUST trying to compare the body count in a breathtakingly sophist false equivalency.

Well, how about this then: when a gun can take you to your job interview across town, get you to the airport in half the time as public transit, the big versions transport food around the country, and the VAST MAJORITY deaths that are caused are chiefly because of accidents (and are seldom actually the INTENDED OUTCOME), we can have a conversation about how this isn't the absolutely most disingenuous and obtuse narrative of false equivocation that God's green Earth ever did see.

And frankly, if we spent hours a day handling our guns around a bunch of other people handling theirs, there would be a lot more accidents.

Fucking grow up with this bullshit.

Bullshit Rating: I'm pretty sure a pile this big is not from a bull. It's from a dinosaur.

Next Bullshit Argument: Gun Control Can Never Work

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Bullshit Narrative 7: "Knives Are Just As Deadly. That One Time in China a Guy Killed 33 People With a Knife"

You know there's a reason folks still need to go back to 2014 on the other side of the world for "that one time with a knife" story even though we've had hundreds of school shootings since then. 

Also, I don't want to be an elitist, but just for shits and giggles, it would be really cool if folks would actually click that link they find instead of just Googling literally the first fucking thing they find when searching for "deadly knife attack," and getting all excited about the headline/title.

("Need to prove knives can be deadly too. Google don't fail me now!  


"That one guy" was actually five guys working as a small unit, and they were part of a terrorist cell of separatists that had had training on how to make their attack as lethal as possible. God forbid we ever have five dudes with auto-converted semi-automatic rifles who have been trained all working in tandem. We'll be lucky if the casualties are in the low triple digits. You know what China attributes to "ONLY" having lost 33 lives to? I'll give you a hint. It starts with a "G" and ends with an "uncontrol."

Entitled, angry men actually do go on knife sprees quite often. That's because entitled angry men will grab at the most deadly thing they can easily get their hands on before they lash out violently at a world with the temerity not to give them everything they want. (But it's women who are the overly emotional ones, right?) The difference is what they are able to do when it's a gun as opposed to a knife. There's a fucking reason most of the knife attack stories out there are about zero or one or two dead people and most of them are only injured. That's terrible, but it's a lot less terrible than when the easiest thing that the entitled, angry man had available was a gun and the body count gets into double digits. 

It's just a lot harder to kill people with a knife. Period.

In fact, here's another story from China you're probably less likely to hear about. Just before Newtown, a dude in China went on a stabbing spree and stabbed 22 children. TWENTY-TWO.

Not one died.

It's not exactly a feel good story, but it just shows that no one is going to kill "just as many people" with a knife.

Bullshit Rating: A baked pile of shit in the afternoon sun that you didn't know was bullshit but you discovered was NOT a rock when you tried to pick it up and throw it.

Bullshit Narrative 6- "The Only Thing That Can Stop a Bad Guy With a Gun is a Good Guy With a Gun"

Actually, statistically, they stop themselves, but why ruin a good rhetorical anaphora with things like facts.

It's weird to use this one after an event where the shooter just walked off the site to go get a drink at Subway and hang out at Mickey D's. A good guy with a gun did not stop this one. It just ended.

Or more recently where the shooter cruised in past the armed security that was on campus and put that whole narrative to the lie. Or the cops standing outside the school in Parkland.

But you know what, okay. I'm sure they mean like the good guy who was actually there? Or there? Or that other place? Oh and that one time the guy totally did––except....well....yeah.

But wait…there was that one actual time out of…checks notes…hundreds. 

No? Okay, let's assume this means that in most cases, once a shooting is underway, it is unlikely to end in something other than a shootout with law enforcement...even though actually that's not true either and most of them actually either just END or end in a suicide.

But HOLY SHIT does it take a lot of willful obstinacy to begin a narrative at the moment the shooting starts like nothing anyone could possibly have done would have had the slightest influence up to that point.

That's like saying only an engine overhaul can fix a seized up engine that has caught fire. I mean it's technically sort of true. Like once the car is on fire from the pistons grinding the cylinders, okay; you have to overhaul the engine. Yep. No getting around that. But acting like changing your oil is some pointless endeavor because engines "just seize up" and once they do, there's no possible way to fix them except for overhauling the engine....that would be a completely outrageous position, and so is the idea that we can't have a conversation about how to prevent gun violence that traces a single causal factor prior to the first shots being fired.

And tell me....what does a bad guy with a gun even look like?

Bullshit rating: What the hell has this bull been EATING?

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Bullshit Narrative 5- "The Problem is [Some Bullshit That it Clearly Isn't]."

"The problem" is a lot of things and anyone who wants to make it only about their little ridiculous fucking pet issue is insta-wrong. The calculus that goes into something like this is complicated, but it's not impossible to parse the biggest contributors by looking at the lowest common denominators between virtually every shooting.

  • Mass shootings are just about always done by men. (Since 1982 there have been only 3 women–and one [San Bernardino] was a couple.)
  • It's basically always domestic abusers or bullies of some stripe. 80-90% of these guys end up having a history of domestic violence or intense anger.
  • It's very often men marinating in cultures of extreme codified misogyny and bigotry like a hate group (if white, they are very likely to be white supremacists as well). 
  • And it's these men who have easy access to long range, instantly lethal, quickly reloadable weaponry.

These are the lowest common denominators. There aren't any others. 

Men+anger+guns. End of line. 

Race is a small factor (white men are slightly more often shooters than other races, as compared to the population at large) but not by conspicuously overwhelming margins. Jilted dudes (with their sexist entitlement) are terrifyingly overrepresented, and many of them first kill a woman close to them before their rampage, though this is not universal. 

This paints a pretty easy-to-decipher picture about what happens when you take bigoted, abusive men with anger issues, and then hand them a weapon that can kill dozens of people in a minute.

Here's what it ISN'T: It isn't mental illness. It isn't autism. It isn't video games. It isn't violent movies. It isn't lack of spankings. It isn't absence of school prayer. It isn't fluoride in the water. It isn't Ritalin or abortion or how many doors the schools have. It isn't Loony Tunes. It isn't whatever the fuck weird ass shit someone wants to try and Texas sharpshoot. (Ugh, what an awful name for a fallacy right now.) Those things are not common enough to be causes. Those things may have contributed to the complex calculus that makes a human mind embrace something like this, but they are not the root causes.

If it were any of this shit, we would see women, who also have mental illness, doing it (we don't).  We would see it happening in other countries like Japan with their even more per capita video games and violent media. (We don't.) We would see permissive, atheist cultures that don't spank their kids experience the same mass shootings. (Nope.) We would see other countries have this problem like the UK or Australia where–NEWSFLASH–they have violent video games too. 

We don't.

This isn't rocket science. Or brain surgery. Or rocket surgery...on the brain of the science rocket. It's toxic masculinity in abusive fucknugget MEN (often entitled men) who are able to easily get their hands on something that can kill a lot of people really, really fast. 

That's it. 

There is no part two.

And while it is unfortunate that we HAVE enough data points that we don't have to give any oxygen to the ludicrous conjecture about it being Tarantino movies or Fruit Loops, we DO have said data. We can actually be critical thinkers and look at the lowest common denominator across the hundreds of mass shootings in the last few decades because we have HAD hundreds of mass shootings in the last few decades.

Bullshit rating: Hard to see, but definitely there and super smelly; you probably already have some on your shoe and have gotten used to the smell.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Mailbox Questions (Non-Writing Questions 10-12)

Everyone knows if you put some leg into it, your glowing 
green balls will do more damage.
I'm going to post this 20 Questions in the usual format when it's all finished, but many of these questions required substantive answers, so I'm going to break up the roll-out over a few days to keep the length of each post reasonable. 

Link to Questions 1-9

10- Why do you write about social justice instead of about writing? 

Ah, yet another "non-writing" question that is actually really sort of about writing. Okay, I'll let another one slide in since getting 20 non-writing questions is actually a bit on the hard side once the repeats are accounted for. 

So here's the thing: I don't write about social justice INSTEAD of about writing; the two are absolutely inextricable. Take notes now. This'll be on the quiz.

If you learn NOTHING else from me…well, okay, if you learn nothing else from me it should probably be that a writer who wants to be successful needs to write every day (or very close). But if you learn TWO things from me, the second one should be that narratives matter. They matter a LOT. Who tells them. Where they start. Where they end. What's being left out. What's being included. Entire mythologies about who we are (whether those mythologies are religious or not). They all come from narratives—stories.

Who we respect and who we dismiss. The way we think about our place in the world. All of this comes from stories. How we erase certain people from stories, emphasize the flaws of one group, emphasize the virtues of another. 

It's all shaping the narrative. If we refuse to accept the narratives that marginalized communities try to tell us about our own complicity in forms of oppression, we are picking which stories we will listen to and which we won't.

And that has everything in the world to do with writing. Because when you take on that mantle of storyteller, particularly in a  all stories are political. Even a story with "no social justice" IS a story about political and social structures. It is a story with assumptions about gender roles, about race, about sexuality—in the case of "no social justice" it would be the assumption of the status quo. And and whether the writer are defending the status quo actively or simply passively not questioning it, that value system will come through. 

Contempt for social justice, particularly in fiction, is one of those things that springs up when people want to ignore the stories that might make them feel a little bad about their culpability and participation in societal injustice. If it were truly a non-issue, it wouldn't get people so riled up. 

11- Where would you travel/visit/vacation?

Unlimited budget?

It's probably a tie between Ireland and Orlando. There are things I want to see in Ireland, and a casual glance at my last name might let you in on at least part of the reason why. (The other has to do with some maybe woo-woo/personal spirituality stuff that I'm hinting around about, but not quite ready to get into on an open channel.) Orlando has so many cool amusement parks that I've never been to. It seems like I could easily book a month there, and only have a few days of even slowing down to catch my breath…and maybe get a foot massage.

Sadly, my budget dictates more modest travel plans. An AirB&B just out of town or if I'm going wild, a drive to Disney for a couple of days. I've been using an Amtrak rewards card and I'm almost up to the point where I can take a round trip. I might try to get to the Midwest this year to see some Internet friends.

12-Hey: what was your first....DnD experience?!? How old were you? Who was your DM? What module and who was in your party?

We're talking late 70s here, so there's a lot of these experiences lost to the shroud of time. I do remember we were playing BASIC Dungeons and Dragons, without the advanced rules you find in game stores today. Your "class" could be "elf" (which meant you were ALWAYS a fighter/magic user because that's what "elf" meant back before Advanced Dungeons and Dragons set it up so that classes and races were separate identifiers). I remember playing through the very first module (The Keep on the Borderlands). My friends and I were pretty young and were getting a lot of the rules wrong, but the older we got, the more adept our understanding became.

I'm so old school, they tore the school down.

Role playing games are one of those weird cultural touchstones for me. Much like console video games. My life has essentially been mapped to their development, so I've grown and matured as they have, and my tastes have evolved with the medium. Basically me, video games, and role-playing games all got over "rescue the princess" or "kill the orcs" plots right around the same time. The games got more sophisticated as I did and the niche genres (as well as the late nineties and early aughts within the "gaming cultural zeitgeist" that the mechanics of the game could greatly enhance or detract from the intended themes) became more and more attractive. Not that I don't sometimes want to bust out my old Palladium Books and have one last Heroes-Unlimited-With-Ninjas-And-Superspies-Martial-Arts-Running-Around-the-Rifts-Campaign-Setting for nostalgia's sake (because if you haven't had a supe character use a Chi focus to throw a Death Head transport into another Death Head transport, you're just letting the best things in life slide right by), but mostly I'm into telling stories and improv acting and digging deep into personal drama. 

But somehow we always end up back at Dungeons and Dragons. There's just something about that game…it's flexible enough to carry VERY sophisticated themes, but with a combat system that can do hack and slash without getting bogged down into mechanics if the characters want to solve their problems with violence…or when there is no choice. Also dragons.

I can't be sure exactly what my first character/campaign was, but I know two things:

1) I was a magic user. I know that because I'm almost always some kind of magic user. I've played a handful of fighters and rogues (there was a fighter-who-was-double-specialized-in-the-bow archery kick for a while after Kevin Costner's Robin Hood came out), but for the vast majority of my tenure as a seasoned dice dork, I have enjoyed magic of some flavor. Mage. Cleric. Psionicist. (All three in the case of one particularly lenient DM.) And of course in 5th ed, bards are finally cool, so I've been playing a lot of them lately. Let me bend the laws of reality…within reason.

2) I didn't have a party. For years, I couldn't find more than one other person at a time to play D&D with me, so one of us would be the dungeon master and the other would be the adventurer. So my first game would have been just me and a friend. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Mailbox: 20 Questions (Non Writing Questions 7-9)

I'm going to post this 20 Questions in the usual format when it's all finished, but many of these questions required substantive answers, so I'm going to break up the roll-out over a few days to keep the length of each post reasonable.   

7-Where did you take your favorite hike/outdoor spot/park/venue/happy place? 

Several questions had some kind of variation on this theme, so I kind of combined them into the Power Rangers Megazord of answers. ♫♪♪Go, go, power question! ♫♪♪

This has a handful of answers because "favorite" is so hard to pin down.

My favorite common local hike is around the Lafayette Reservoir. There's a paved trail that hugs the water pretty closely and a ridge trail that goes up and down the hills around it and has some great views. I like this one because it's fairly close, has great views, and I can configure it to be between 45 minutes (inner trail) and 2.5 hours (ridge trail). It's a lovely hour (or three) and it's close and convenient. I used to do it once or twice a week when I lived there. Now it's more like every month, but I still make a point to try.

My favorite local bigger hike is Mt. Diablo. It's got gorgeous views and vistas. But it takes an ENTIRE day—between ten and twelve hours usually— and it is a very strenuous ascent. I usually do this once every couple of years, but I really enjoy it when it happens.

Moving out of town, I enjoy spending time on the beach just watching the waves come in. I could do that for hours. There are a lot of hikes north or south of San Francisco that end on a beach or go along a beach. I was recently introduced to a hike along the topside of a cliff that winds inland and then back down to the beach where there's a waterfall (Alamere Falls), and I really, REALLY like that one. 

I enjoyed Burning Man for many, many years. There was a profound quietness in my soul that I felt keenly when I was far beyond the city at some strange art installation with a long distant thump of EDM bassline pounding gently through the dust-blown air. If I could somehow separate those deeply personal moments from the entitled libertarian dillholes who have turned Burning Man from the hippie drum circle of love with funky art that it was into one of the most exclusive week-long partys on Earth, I would still be going.

In terms of parks or BIG areas, no question that the answer is Yosemite. I don't love the summer crowds, but there is no nook or cranny of that entire park that isn't just….majestic AF.  There are a lot of wonderful parks and I live in a place on earth that is particularly thick with spectacular nature, but that one is the one I want to go back to constantly. It's unfortunate that even a no-frills trip requires several hundred dollars plus lost income. I'm on a shoestring budget (and that's when I'm NOT trying to pay for cancer treatment), and it's something better done with some kind of camping buddy, so it tends to be a treat every few years.

8- When are you coming back? I mean I know you're not GONE gone, but clearly you've been out of it for a while.

I'm going to slip in this between the non-writing questions because it's kind of on the edge, and it's coming up a bit recently as folks all over are wondering why the posts are coming so slowly and patrons are reassessing their budgets—especially for any content creator who isn't producing much right while inflation rages. Besides, then I get to make some kind of "slipping it in" joke, and we all know I live for those.

A lot of my patrons know this already because I keep them up to date on what's going on behind the scenes. It's taken me a few months to recover from having cancer and a major invasive surgery to have a softball-sized tumor removed. I was very close to some REALLY huge problems. I got out of having to do chemo by the skin of my cliché and walked away with a diagnosis of a genetic disorder that will predispose me to certain cancers and means a lifetime of screenings. My body mostly recovered in about six weeks. My mind has taken a lot longer—both to get over the medical trauma, feel SAFE again, and wrap my head around my Lynch syndrome. There have been bouts of depression, severe anxiety, signs of medical trauma, and intense psychological symptoms ranging from difficulty concentrating to inability to sleep for days at a time—all of which affected my writing. It's been a real hoot.

I've crawled back to semi-functional, but the emphasis is on CRAWL. 

It would probably have just been better if I'd put the blog on hiatus for three or four months—just taken that time off and tried to pick up the pieces of whatever was left when I got back. I think most people would have understood, and there would be less resentment from the audience for a pause than for the same amount of time struggling, missing posts, weird off-topic posts and what was perceived as malingering indolence.

It probably would have caused me less stress too. As it was, every post I missed and every week I tried but failed to return to a regular posting schedule, felt like one of a thousand papercuts.

Instead I worried about lost income from my crowdfunding, so I kept trying…and failing. And while I can look back on a long enough timeline and say, "May was better than April, and WAY better than March…" I think that suiting up and showing up and then absolutely falling on my face was probably a worse optic (in terms of patrons, certainly, but also just in general) than simply taking the time off.  

It wasn't that I was wrong about being able to write when I felt like I could write. I was actually doing a pretty good job of self-assessment during those times. It was that I was SO SO SO brittle from the cancer and the surgery and one of my partners' difficult breakups (and before all that, a devastating miscarriage) that I kept getting knocked back to square one and losing days to anxiety or depression. 

So let this be one of my lessons to you from the real-time advice of Chris the Writer—a lesson in what NOT to do. Don't try to dribble SOMETHING out. It's not worth it. That's just going to irritate people who think you should be over it already, confuse people who aren't keeping up enough to know what's happening, and remind everyone else over and over of what you're NOT accomplishing. Just try to evaluate how much time you think you need (and then probably double that time you picked to be safe) and go silent. Those determined not to understand never will. Those whose generosity cannot be broken won't give up on you. And those in the middle won't be reminded over and over (and over and over) that you are falling on your face. 

9- If you had the opportunity to take the time (and invest the time) to learn how do something, what would that something be?

I would learn to play the Celtic harp. As it is, I am trying to find one I can use/borrow for a while, so that I can see if it's a flash-in-the-pan interest or a hobby that will stick, but I was really excited about it last year around this time before everything started to explode, and that interest has come back now that I'm feeling better and life is slowing down enough to make room for some leisure and hobbies.

A very very very close second would be learning fluent Spanish. I can follow a slow and easy conversation, but it's been years since I've really practiced and worked on it, and I would love to just be able to converse or read Spanish literature. (Like I know I run an irreverent blog that literally goes out of its way to use the word FUCK a little too often, but I'm a literary nerd at heart, and to be able to read Cien Años de SoledadEl Túnel, or Ficciones in their original language….**deep sigh**)

Thursday, May 5, 2022

20 Questions (Non Writing Questions) [4-6]

I'm going to post this 20 Questions in the usual format when it's all finished, but many of these questions required substantive answers, so I'm going to break up the roll-out over a few days to keep the length of each post reasonable. 

4- What has been your favorite non-writing job?

I know serving was a wonderful experience with a daily variety that defied a routine grind, invigorating pacing that my ADHD thought was scooby snacks, and immediate feedback (in the form of tips) that galvanized me, but I'm going to have to go with teaching. Day to day, I think I found serving more stimulating, but at the cliché "end of the day," it's a pretty high-stress career that burns up people's physical bodies, encourages substance abuse, and creates an emotional pressure cooker just so that customers can get a meal without waiting too long for a refill on their soda. And the struggle within fine dining for good shifts and good tables had as much politicking and sycophants as ANY office job. Honestly probably more. (There is quid pro quo harassment happening behind the scenes even at your typical mid-scale restaurant.)

There was nothing quite like building a curriculum, and then taking the students on a journey. And while I enjoyed teaching certain topics (creative writing) more than others (study skills), the parts I really liked weren't necessarily about the facts or knowledge that I was imparting, but walking through an idea about HOW they could develop a skill themselves and then watching them cultivate the skill set and confidence to be able to get there on their own. I used to imagine lesson plans for classes I wanted to teach complete with scaffolding, standards, and robust active learning—which was so absent from so many of my courses. 

I liked my middle-school students who would rather have been getting root canals. I liked my 13th graders who didn't really want to do college, but didn't have any other cromulent after-high-school plan. I liked my dedicated middle-aged returning students who took college as seriously as a cliché. I liked being handed lesson plans. I liked coming up with my own lesson plans. I really liked being given the free rein to design an entire course from the ground up.

I loved the lightbulb look when I didn't give them the answer and they struggled but figured it out on their own. I loved using whatever we were studying—whether it was puns or coordinating conjunctions—to encourage higher-order thinking. I loved when they realized, at the end of a course, how far they had come.

If I could have somehow beamed to my teaching job, I would have kept doing at least one class a semester forever. But Bay Area commutes have only gotten worse every year since I started, and I was spending two hours commuting. I miss it, but I prefer giving all my work time to writing.

5- Thoughts about your running and why you are pushing yourself to do a marathon?

How deep are we going here?

I'm absolutely sure there is some stuff going on that a first-year psych student would recognize. My body betrayed me and did something I couldn't control when it got cancer. For months it was poked, prodded, examined and didn't entirely feel like my own. It was subjected to strange sensations and didn't perform the way I had come to expect it to. It felt weak and insubordinate.

Now I am delighting in the sensation of getting it under control, and bending it to my will. I feel strong when I can make it run ten miles. I feel like I'm the one in control. I faced an existential threat, and I'm overcompensating. I'm defying that feeling.

More superficially, I've been running for about the last year, having stepped up my pandemic walks to something more vigorous. For months, there always seemed to be something or another getting in the way of progress, but whenever I could, I would return to my regimen and try to do some running. I hit a goal right before surgery (to run ten miles in under 2:30:00), and someone suggested that I not jinx my surgery survival by going into under the knife having accomplished ALL my goals, so I set a new goal that day. Within one year of my physical recovery, I would run a marathon. 

It sounded ambitious but achievable. I've always been blessed by an unswerving endurance. Even in my twenties I would try to spend my gym time doing ski machines or leg climbers for hours, and it's been trying to improve my pace rather than adding distance that has proven to be the tougher goal.

Technically, I have until February (that's when I was physically recovered from surgery), but there aren't a lot of good marathons in the winter, so I'm looking at the last few in the Fall.

6- Do you enjoy camping?

I do, but I haven't had a camping buddy for a long time, and it's really not that much fun alone. I enjoy alone time in nature, but I can get most of what I like about that in a day trip or a long hike. Sleeping in a tent and making meals alone…I'm sure it's some people's thing, but it's a bit much for me.

My ex-partner and I used to go to Burning Man every year, and that was technically camping. (Actually, most campsites I've been to had MORE amenities and usually running water.) The ex-partner didn't really like camping, but it was the cost of doing business for us since we didn't have the money to go to BM in an RV or something. 

At this point, I don't even have camping gear. Maybe someday…

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

20 Questions (Non Writing Questions) [Question 1-3]

I'm going to post this 20 Questions in the usual format when it's all finished, but many of these questions required substantive answers, so I'm going to break up the roll-out over a few days to keep the length of each post reasonable.

1-How do you think cancel culture has affected "free" speech?

I want you to pay very close attention to what I'm about to state next because there's a real sense in our society that free speech only ever means "me and the people who agree with me get to say whatever we want," and that anyone using their OWN free speech to retort/respond/reply/repudiate has somehow infringed upon the principle. Heads I win. Tails doesn't count.

Cancel culture IS free speech. Full stop.

That's all it is. It's a bunch of people exercising THEIR free speech to talk about how they feel a particular work or artist is problematic. It's a bunch of people exerting social pressure to voice their disapproval of something. That's it. There's no institutional power coming down. It's not backed by the government. Each individual can choose to keep doing whatever they want (although they might face social consequences). 

It is exactly what free speech is all about.

This sense that "you can't say certain things or you will be a social outcast" has been around for a long, long time. Ask anyone on the outside of mainstream culture how this worked before the democratization of platforms via social media. (See, once upon a time, you could just say whatever and deplatform anyone who disagreed. That's a tale as old as time. It's just usually done by gatekeepers.) It's just that, when it happens to bigots or the people in power, it gets a fancy new label; it's treated like it's some new-fangled thing because THEY'VE never experienced it the way marginalized folks have for all of forever, and suddenly you have a lot of white men crying big crocodile tears about it on conservative media. 

When actually…speech has never been freer.

Now there have been institutional efforts to curtail free speech. The government has been involved. And in a very real way, the erosion of that civil liberty is of great concern. But where we see this kind of institutional power and a codified effort to silence speech is in things like The Red Scare, or book bannings, or folks getting a visit after 9-11 when they were too critical of Bush, or Trump basically declaring war on the White House press corps for asking questions that he didn't like. Where you DON'T see this kind of institutional power is people who don't want to watch an outspoken transphobe make more money off their franchise. 

That's all this is. People who have been running the table got a taste of their own medicine (without even the government and institutional backing) and realize for the first time in their cultural awareness that they have to consider what they say. And now with runners of snot from their nose and wavering voices, they're saying how terrible it all is.

There's some nuance. There IS a regressive left. There are bully tactics on social media. There are bad actors and mob mentality sometimes. But most of the time, the people you see suggesting that cancel culture is a powerful force affecting free speech, or in fact, is anything BUT the free speech reaction to someone else's free speech are actually just whining that their speech had social consequences that they don't like.

2- Does Rhapsody know that you're cheating on her?

Every once in a while, someone finds out just enough detail about my life to gap-fill the rest and make some snap judgements that are either insulting or hilarious depending on my mood.

Rhapsody and I are non-monogamous. Specifically we practice non-hierarchical polyamory, preferably of the kitchen table variety. That's a lot of jargon-type words you might not know, but very briefly what it means is that the relationships we may form with other people aren't limited. (We don't have "veto" over the other. Nor do we limit ourselves to just fucking around.) We do this ethically with open and honest communication. 

"Cheating" means breaking agreements, and those agreements can be different to different people. In fact, being monogamous isn't going to save you from having to define cheating. One of the worst things about monogamous culture is that everyone thinks they know what cheating is. The idea that there's a default and no communication is necessary really screws a lot of relationships up. (As any monogamous couple who have had one partner get WAY into an online relationship and then face the accusation that they're having an "emotional affair" can tell you.) Is the line flirting? Heavy flirting? Some sort of emotional involvement? Or are you good if you drunkenly make out with someone but catch your breath and go home before literally PIV sex? 

I have a problem with, like, ALL of these definitions (for different reasons), but what I'm saying is that most of the time two people think being monogamous will save them from having to communicate their expectations and agreements around what cheating is…and that isn't accurate. 

You CAN cheat in a non-monogamous relationship…but I'm not. If your agreement is, "Text me before you have sex," you can cheat by not texting. If your agreements are "Don't ask. Don't tell," you can cheat by asking or telling. If your agreements are "I get to meet your other partners and approve them before you play, we only fool around—no emotions, and I get to be the only penis-haver you sleep with," you….well you should run screaming because this is fucking gross, but nonetheless you can still cheat by fucking someone before approval, falling for someone, or sleeping with someone else who has a penis. I wouldn't personally agree to any of these, but "cheating" just means you broke the rules you set. 

The whole idea that every relationship creates its own rules might seem radical, but it probably shouldn't. 

My only agreement with Rhapsody is "Disclose the S.T.I. risks you take before WE play again." I conspire with her about how my love and sex life are going because I want to. And we usually know where the other is because we coordinate on dinner most nights. But neither of us is entitled to know anything other than facts we might need to consider about our sexual health. And we absolutely have no say in what the other does.

If I fucked someone new and didn't tell Rhapsody. Or had a condom slip and deliberately didn't mention it. Or if I knew something about my partner's STI status or risky behavior, and didn't disclose it, THAT would be cheating. None of that is happening. Nor would it. If I agree to something, I do it. I may have a non-traditional relationship style, but I'm an absurdly loyal partner.

So I can only assume you took one look at non-monogamy and did the ol', "Oh…so like cheating" thing (so cliché BTW) because that's the only frame of reference your limited imagination came up with to explain what's going on when I have multiple committed partners AND hot group sex on the regular. None of which you're the slightest bit jealous of, I'm sure.

So depending on how I'm feeling that day, my answer to your question is either, "Yes, she does," "She knows that I don't," or "Fuck you."

3- How many stuffed animals do you have? And do you have a favorite? Picture please.

The two above in the preview picture are my only two. That's Winnifred (silver) and Morgan (blue). 

Winnifred is gender fluid. Sometimes Winnie. Sometimes Fred. Sometimes Winnifred. They/them will always work, but you can check in from day to day to see what they're vibing.

Morgan is gender neutral. They reject the binary completely.