blogging about blogging

I am struck occasionally, usually while snuggling the cat, with our faith in domestication.

The cat is a small, ferocious predator, twelve pounds of…well, flab and fur, frankly, in Athena’s case, but what muscle there is is strong all out of proportion to her size. I have watched three 150+ primates try and fail to subdue a ten pound cat, and consider it not at all unusual. The cat is as flexible as a snake and as strong as an ox. She has quite dainty looking teeth and claws, but there’s nothing dainty about their ability to flay flesh from bone.

If the cat and I were in a duel to the death, I would almost certainly win. I am 15+ times larger than she is, after all, and while my teeth and claws are pathetic, I have prehensile hands capable of doing terrible things. But if I had to go in naked, as the cat does, (and assuming the cat was aware that she was going to have to kill me, and not taking a nap in the corner) I can pretty much guarantee it would be a Pyhrric victory. I’d look like I’d gone ten rounds with a wolverine. I would need stitches. A lot of stitches. Possibly a glass eye. And antibiotics by the truckload. It’d be a mess, and there would even be a chance of an upset if the cat managed to go face-hugger on me.

And yet, despite the knowledge of the shocking amount of damage my small predator could inflict, it never occurs to me to worry. I pick the cat up and she tucks her head under my chin and purrs, canine teeth centimeters from my jugular, and despite the fact that I am carrying a ruthless carnivore in a position where she could, with great ease, remove me from the gene pool, I am thoroughly content with the world. Even knowing full well that cats are not even a truly domesticated animal, that Athena’s kin might best be described as “consistently tamed,” my greatest concern is that my black tank top is now coated in white cat hairs.

We have such faith in the process of domestication, despite the sheer unnaturalness of what’s happening. Small predators do not curl up on the chests of large primates and purr in the wild. And yet, every now and again, generally when my small predator is purring on the chest of this particular primate, I think How strange, how strange… that we’re doing this, and even stranger, that we both take it completely for granted, and find nothing unusual in such a completely unlikely alliance.

So there we were, in full nerd-core D&D mode, when the party burst into a room where a horrible dark ritual was being conducted, including the obligatory scantily clad maiden dangling over a pit of ice, about to be sacrificed in order to bring about hell on earth, general badness, screaming and flaming death, etc.

MAIDEN: Save me!
PALADIN: We’ll save you!
DRUID: Uhm, Rooster, are we sure she’s on the up and up?
GM: As far as you can tell, she’s a normal damsel in distress.

After several moments of intense cogitation, Rooster the paladin dredged up memories of late-night studying sessions in little paladin’s school, and came to a conclusion.

PALADIN: And I mean this in the most detached, scientific way possible, but are her nipples….err…it’s cold…You know….?
REST OF PARTY: ….
GM: …I…what….?
PALADIN: ‘Cos if she’s human and dangling over a pit of ice, they’re gonna be all pointy, but demons don’t have working nipples. They don’t lactate! They’re not really mammals! They lay eggs. Sorta like echidnas…well, I mean, the succubuseses do, but that’s different. They use them for other stuff. Not like echidnas. Er.
REST OF PARTY: ….
PALADIN: It’s SCIENCE!
GNOME: What kind of school did you go to?!

Kevin (the GM) gazed out a dark window for a few minutes. He was already having a rough session, as we had refused to ring the obvious magic gong to open the door, opting instead to make an illusory gong sound (nobody makes us ring gongs against our will!) and there had been the lengthy discussion of whether Fizgig can break a magic circle by pooping on it during combat.

GM: …They’re pointy.
PALADIN: We’ll save you!

A few minutes later, the ostensible maiden mind-controlled our gnome. Her familiar, Lawrence the toad, began immediately to panic.

GNOME: Or as we call it in our party, interpretive dance!

While Lawrence danced frantically to express that Something Was Wrong, Rooster was forced to confront his own disillusion.

PALADIN: I can’t believe the nipples lied.
RANGER (with surprising venom): THE NIPPLES ALWAYS LIE!
PALADIN (meekly): Mine don’t. I have Lawful Good nipples.
DRUID’S PLAYER: Dear god, I cannot Tweet fast enough.

PALADIN’S PLAYER: Can I roll a religions check to see why the nipple check failed?
GM: Do it.
PALADIN’S PLAYER: 28.
GM: She’s a succubus. They’re the only species of demon that understand nipples.
PALADIN’S PLAYER: …fair enough.

I must remind myself—

they can’t tell that I didn’t write this bit immediately after that one

the six months where I ignored the manuscript are not visible to the naked eye

the bit where I put my head in my hands and muttered “I have no idea what I’m doing” takes place in the single space between the period and the next capital letter.

As soon as I shove that character in, she has always been there

and someone will probably say that she’s the emotional center

and the book couldn’t have been written without her

and nobody will know that I thought of her three thousand words from the end and scrolled up and shoehorned in a couple of paragraphs near the beginning because, for whatever reason, the story needed an elderly nun

she was almost the cook

and for about ten minutes she was the earnest young village priest

and now she has been there since you started reading.

I am sanding down the places where my editor found splinters

kicking up a fine dust of adjectives and dropped phrases

(Wear a breath mask. Work in a well-ventilated area. Have you seen what excess commas can do to your lungs?)

and eventually it will all be polished to a high shine

and hopefully when someone looks into it

they’ll see their own face reflected back

instead of mine.

— 

Editing

The Columbia Spectator hosted a panel about about Careers In Journalism as part of a conference they were having over the weekend. I was on it and I got this mug!  Being on this panel was a rewarding experience (not fiscally. Though, it is a good mug.)  The Q&A portion of any panel is thinly disguised versions of the question “Do people really get paid a living wage to write things, and how can I make absolutely sure that I become one of them?”  so it was nice that, at this panel, no one had to pretend they were asking about anything else.  Also, it’s a good question.  (I wish I knew the answer.)

I also had the unprecedented experience of agreeing with almost everything my fellow panelists Joe Coscarelli, Megan Greenwell, Margaret Sullivan and Joy Resmovits said. But I had one minor dissenting opinion and it has been bothering me ever since.  It was during the part of the panel where we were talking about how you should never write for free except when you should, and Megan Greenwell said something about Tumblr and how you should use it as a scratchpad – I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I think someone could have interpreted what she said to mean that she thinks you should make a clear distinction between your official writing – which you get paid for – and your half-formed tumblthoughts, which you don’t, so anything goes.

I sat there wanting to say, “No! Please don’t interpret this as a dispensation to just scribble whatever, whenever on your tumblr and hit ‘Create post.’  Everything we publish, even if we only publish it ourselves, can have consequences and re(blog)percussions we can’t forsee.  Polish all your writing that’s publicly available, even if it’s just something you’re writing 'for yourself.’ Scribble in a notebook!”

But then I realized I don’t really believe that, either.  I spoke to a nonfiction-writing workshop a few weeks ago, and they asked me whether I thought they should start blogs. And to them I said, “No fucking way! Unless it’s the only way you can get yourself to write, in which case definitely yes.”  If the idea of an audience reading your work is what enables you to extract something from yourself, anything goes.

I guess there are no hard and fast rules about this stuff.  Okay, one: respect your audience enough to read your post over a few times, possibly out loud, and spellcheck.  Oh and don’t preachily offer unsolicited advice, oops. 

I know a lot of y'all have statcounter or other trackers on your blog so you can see who’s visiting and what they’re doing and crack the identity of anons and whatnot. I ain’t got time for that (and I ain’t got time for anon questions either, which is why I have it turned off), but I am interested in where my blog’s visitors come from and why–so seeing this tonight made me really happy. If someone does a google search to learn what Hemingway’s famous writing edict means, they get my post as the first result.

This thrills me to no end because I don’t advertise my blog at all, and it’s certainly far from SEO. Apart from that, I have a creative writing blog, so probably 98% of the time, people who come to my blog from google didn’t find what they were looking for, and that makes me sad–especially in regard to a humor piece I posted years ago that has been consistently the first result when people hit google looking for job interview tips for introverts. This has been the case for so long, in fact, that I went back and added a disclaimer to the top of the post.

But this one makes me happy, because it means I’m doing my part to rid the world of the obnoxious and facile belief that Hemingway was saying writers should be alcoholics.

simpsonsparadox.com
Thoughts On The Yelp Millennial Thing

Did you see the Open Letter To My CEO, about a starving (well, kinda starving, we’ll get to that) young Yelp employee?

On one hand, YES. Rent is insanely high. Especially in cities, which is where job opportunities are. Entry-level jobs are paid so poorly they almost require either a second job or generous parents. College loans are insane. The gap between the wealthy and the struggling continues to grow.

On the other hand… the letter-writer wants a job being funny on the internet, but is complaining about having to put in a year on a lower rung first. Expecting your first job to be your dream job, and expecting to turn funny on Twitter into financial security is pretty much why people say millennials are entitled. She complains about the type of free foods stocked at her office, and also that the free snacks are only replenished on weekdays, even though she has to work weekends too. Working weekends in order to move up is pretty much textbook career advice. (Turning free work snacks into a meal is also a respectable career move, check the press room for the complimentary bagels and free coffee.)

There are SO MANY ways that the system is stacked against people beginning work. SO MANY. And I hate all the narratives that new grads are required to pay one’s dues through unpaid and underpaid starter work (which goes double in creative fields where you’re supposed to write, design, draw, etc. for the sheer love of it, never mind wanting to pay your rent). I hate that professional work in your field is unpaid because you’re promised you’ll get valuable skills and  experience, and that the retail or food service work you take to get by is poorly paid because you’re told it doesn’t require skills. I hate that my gut reaction to this piece was You have health insurance! Quit your moaning! like the ability to see a doctor is some kind of heavenly peak that only the elite could aspire to reach. I hate that we keep repeating this narrative about working hard at whatever’s available until you get promoted, like we’re not watching my generation getting crushed under rounds of layoffs, salaried jobs turning into contract jobs or thirty-five-hour “part-time” jobs, stagnant salaries, and mounting interest on mounting student loans.

This open letter though… ugh. It’s not at all a sympathetic account of struggling to make ends meet. It isn’t a story about the compromises of living with too many roommates for the space available, or the exhaustion of working nights in a second job.  It’s really hard to read. In the letter, she asks her CEO to pay her phone bill. She also recounts a story of telling her manager she didn’t have the $6 fare to get to work, a situation I can’t possibly imagine. I mean, I can imagine needing train fare (been there), I can’t imagine calling my job to ask what I should do about it. She describes the poverty that led her to write this letter, and also leads her to include Venmo, Square Cash and PayPal donation options at the bottom. She’s eating only rice, she can’t afford to turn on her heater, she’s drinking water to make her stomach feel full. Except, is she really?

There’s been an unsurprising backlash of folks going through her social media (now mostly private, but someone’s archived her work-hating tweets and cupcake-baking ‘grams at That’sALotOfRice) and coming up with evidence that she’s lying about her poverty. There are a lot of fancy meals, drinks, and cupcakes for someone who claims to be living on rice and water. 

But I don’t think that automatically means she’s lying about the finanical trouble she’s having, because it’s quite easy to exaggerate or present a different story on social media. My own timeline includes lovely shots of my bay window reading nook, artfully angled to hide the restaurant dumpster outside the window. The internet police force doesn’t need to sift through this girl’s social media in determine if she bought unnecessary meals out, we can see that the system is flawed when there’s a massive debate about under what circumstances a college grad who’s working full time deserves to buy herself something nice, ever.

Even if her account of surviving on rice and water is bullsh– hyperbole, the system of high rents, low wages and college debt presents a real problem. Do you remember Mike Daisey’s iPhone story on NPR? And the retraction? I don’t think I posted about it here, which is odd because I think I told everyone I know, several times, how angry I am because now all the real information about the very real exploitation in Apple factories in China is going to be tainted with his exaggerated, falsified story.  It’s the same thing with this Open Letter and the plight of entry-level employees.

In conclusion, yeah, it’s entitled and ridiculous to expect to graduate and land your dream job, to expect to live in an expensive city with no lifestyle compromises, to write a callout letter and be surprised when you get fired. 

But the rent really is too high, college tuition is too high, interest on college loans is too high, entry-level salaries are too low, mid-level salaries are stagnant, and the gap between haves and have-nots is growing all the time. So many of us have followed the instructions to go to college, earn a degree, get a job, start on the bottom, work hard and you can move up, but we’re finding that doesn’t really lead to a solid middle-class life anymore.  Eventually we’re going to have to see this as a system failure and not the result of individual mistakes.

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I have come to realize, after yet another D&D session that ended with Kevin holding his head in his hands and moaning as the plot jumped the rails, went down an embankment, and burst into flames, what precisely the problem with our D&D group is.

We mean well.

This is what gets us into trouble.

When there are straightforward bad guys, we kill them. Occasionally we flirt with them and then kill them. We’re complicated people. But the situation is hardly ever straightforward, and if the NPCs say anything—or god forbid, Kevin attempts to provide a little local color—it’s all over. We begin to sympathize. Unless they’re mindless zombies or malicious demons (the paladin belongs to a demonslaying order) or abominations (the druid has issues) we have a bad habit of trying to work out the best possible solution, because damnit, we are all well-meaning, basically decent people. (The rogue has a heart of gold. Really.)

So we rescue the little caged monster because it Looked Sad, and we joined the local adventurer’s co-op and we bend over backwards to make sure that Lawrence, the artificer’s spirit-toad familiar, never finds out that he’s not a real toad, to the point where we started buying ghost-cicadas on a ghost-stick to feed him.

In this most recent extravaganza, we were fighting a wood-woad, and it occurred to me to ask it why it was so angry. Kevin, who had not actually expected us to talk to it—it’s been sending wasps to poison the water supply—summoned up his growly wood-woad voice and said “Uh…humans take water supply! Humans cut trees! Always cutting trees!”

Well. What can you do? Clearly the wood-woad had been wronged!

The paladin wanted to find it a nice new home, the druid thought it was an invasive species and wanted it killed. It came out that it had slain all the local beavers, which was enough to enrage the paladin. We beat on it for awhile. Finally:

PALADIN: Can we ask it to surrender now? Offer it terms?

DRUID: It’s a wood-woad! It…y’know, sure. Fine. See if it’ll accept terms.

PALADIN: (Rolls natural 20 on Diplomacy roll.) Excuse me, Mr. Wood-Woad, sir…if you stop now, no more of your little wasp friends will be hurt, and surely we can work something out where nobody will take your water supply again…?

DRUID: (sighs heavily)

GM: (weeps into hands)

So now we are traveling to an orchard owned by the paladin’s order, with a wood-woad stuffed in a half-barrel full of potting soil, which is tied to the back of an elephant, because the rogue happens to own a wondrous elephant. Y’know. Like you do.

Sometimes I wonder if people realise that bolding or italicising words quite literally changes how their sentences sound in my head. I mean, do they really want to sound like a bad self-help lecturer who records their own audiobooks? Because that is what this and this turns you into.

I never get sick of hankrolling a large number of people. I love every reaction. From “OMG I HATE YOU YOU’RE THE WORST” to simple profanity to "I knew it was coming but I clicked anyway" to “I actually like being hankrolled, thanks for this” and even “this isn’t funny anymore, it’s just cruel.” I love the innocent ones who are like “um that link doesn’t work please fix it?” and introducing new nerdfighters to the concept. I even like when John reblogs them even though we complain about people giving him all the credit. Today someone commented “EFFYEAHNERDFIGHTERS IS AN EVIL TUMBLR BLOG.”

It’s true and we enjoy it so much. :) :)

at some point Our Heroine (I don’t know her name, I don’t know anything about her) is walking through the woods, and stumbles across a girl wearing a red hood, who has a finger in her mouth and is drooling a bit.

“Oh lord,” says the wolf behind her, “not another one!”

The wolf and Little Red Riding Hood are partners. Sometimes he kills her and sometimes she kills him and sometimes they’re lovers and sometimes they’re mortal enemies. It’s just the way things are. She always reappears on the path, and he always finds her. Pas de deux.

And then one day Little Red Riding Hood showed up without a mind. And the wolf, not knowing what else to do, takes her back to his den and feeds her and tries to figure out if this is just the latest variation on the theme, or if something else is going on.

And then another one shows up. Which is outside all experience–there’s one Little Red Riding Hood, she’s an archetype after all. And then another one and another, and they can utter maybe a word or two and aren’t housebroken and the wolf is collecting them because he simply doesn’t know what else to do and Our Heroine goes to his den and finds a dark room full of grimy girls wearing rags, staring out with bright, feral eyes, and eating the meat the wolf brings them raw.

“One of them got sick once,” said the wolf miserably, “and I left to find medicine for her, and by the time I got back, they’d eaten her, too.”

“Why don’t you just…let them go?” say our heroine, who can tell that the wolf is on the last edge of exhaustion, and isn’t sure there’s anything left in the girls to be worth saving, even assuming they’re actual people and not something else entirely.

“If I let them go,” says the wolf, “they try to go to Grandmother’s House.”

Reboot

For much of my life, I documented everything. Long, rambling journal entries begot long rambling entries in an AOL mailing list (LOL) which begot long rambling livejournal entries, and so on, and so on.

And then there was this blog. Fresh out of college and overwhelmed by the endless array of possibilities (partially because it seemed like endless possibilities for failure) and I decided to blog about it. For the first time, I was trying to tell those stories in structured ways. At first, I was not very good at it. I had a few good stories, but I was pretty bad at finding the best way to tell them.

I kept doing it anyway, and as is often the case when you persistently do a thing you enjoy, I gradually developed a skill for this. Much of that skill resided in the fact that finding meaning in my stories was deeply fulfilling for me, personally. Finding core emotional themes in a thing that happened helped me process my experiences of the world.

And I was also really excited to share all these stories. I was going on all these adventures! I traveled the world! I moved to Los Angeles!

Big things were happening!

And then, one day, they weren’t. Near the end of my time in LA, I moved into my car and grew very depressed and fell into what felt like an unstoppable but slow-motion-so-you-see-it-happening downward spiral.

I moved back to Missouri for a lot of reasons. The primary reason I gave was, “Working full time and writing my thesis isn’t working.” Slightly less often I added, “and my living situation is economically untenable.” It wasn’t until some time after I returned to Missouri that I admitted that I had been living out of my car.

And it wasn’t until much, much later that I confessed the other truth: I felt myself falling into a deep depression. It got far worse before it got better, and I went home because I needed looking after. I needed help and I didn’t know how to ask for it, and so I did the best thing I could think of and placed myself back under the watchful eye of my parents.

This logic still makes sense to me, but there were other consequences that I hadn’t anticipated. This setting gave me a strong feeling of helplessness that in some ways contributed to the slide from “depressed” to “suicidal.”

But I can’t know for sure; maybe it would have happened anyway.

I can look back and come up with a thousand minor alterations that maybe could have made all the difference, but there’s one thing that stands out to me. Therapy and I have a not-great history, so I’ve spent the last few years trying to monitor my own mental health (often with the help of those around me) and if I could point to any one thing that had the biggest impact, it would be writing things down. Or typing them out, as the case usually is.

Forcing myself to process my experiences and feelings on a semi-regular basis is the surest way I know to stay on top of this.

When I moved home to Missouri, I also stopped blogging. I was going through something that required a lot of internal processing and just at the time when I needed that outlet most, I essentially gave it up.

I didn’t have fun stories about travel or some bizarre that’s-so-Nicole incident with the world. I had a sinking pit of depression and shame and I just couldn’t find anything to share in that.

I think about this a lot, now.

I think about it in the way that anyone who has a recurring problem is forever wondering when it’s going to come back. My life is really good. Things have been really good for a while now, and even so, I find myself wondering what might be the thing to cause my hold on that to slip.

And I think, “I really should be writing again.”

And I think, “Secrets are toxic for me because any kind of holding-it-in is toxic for me; I inevitably bubble over and explode in some unpredictable fashion.”

And I think, “I’ve shared the worst of it, so it should be easy now.”

And yet.

Even with my new abundance of happy stories and all the life lessons of a newly minted Stable! Responsible! Adult! I find that I never know what to say because it’s been so long since I’ve said things in this space, in this way. I find myself worrying too much about whether I can find a suitably eloquent way to describe things. I find myself wondering if there’s even a point.

There is. Of course there is. The point is that this process keeps me whole. And being a part of blogging communities, communities of people who share their stories with others was a huge and vital part of the first half of my twenties.

And reading all of the stories of my far away friends still has the same capacity for making me feel connected to the world in a very intimate way.

Except it’s easier to just read. The stakes are lower if I don’t have to put anything out there. But also far less fulfilling.

And so: the trick is to stop telling myself what it ought to be. Stop aiming for some idealized version, because I’d much rather have something real, that exists, than this hypothetical, never-realized perfect.

Of course I’ve said this before. I’ve promised myself and others many times that I was going to DO THE THING at X, Y, or Z intervals.

Here’s to trying again anyway.

Echo Weaver

Do you still have a Blogspot blog? I moved from Blogspot to WordPress due to comment trouble on Blogspot; I now have word that Google finally fixed the bug, but switching back would be a pain now. At any rate, that’s still the primary home for my Sims stuff.

I’m on Tumblr because, well, I’m looking to build a new community :). The lack of comments REALLY bothers me. The Disqus comments may be the difference between me staying and leaving.

At any rate, the encouragement really helps! Thank you!

I never took any of my blogspot blogs down, so they still exist, but I don’t update any of them anymore. I would make a separate blog for every new project, so all my legacies, plus the first versions of Summerdream and wtss are all on blogspot blogs.

I stopped using blogspot when they made their announcement about not allowing adult material…they backed away from that due to user backlash, but by the time they made up their mind, I had already decided I wanted to reboot Summerdream from the start on WordPress. And then I decided to do wtss over here on tumblr because I felt that the tumblr format would really suit that story better.

Of course, tumblr still had comments when I made that choice.

Sadly, the lack of replies makes it harder to build a community because the best way to do it is to interact with others. At least for me, the more I have interacted with someone personally through comments or messages, the more I will notice their posts on my dash and respond to them.