A Partial List of Total Point-Missers (Promisses No. 11: Stuff is Complicated)

I’m not sure exactly what the rules are for what shows up in Google News, but I know the default search doesn’t go back too far, and a Google News search for “Scalia hypocrite” (without the quotes) currently returns thousands and thousands of results. More than 2000 of them are lumped together in one “see more” link, because they’re all about roughly the same thing: Justice Scalia voted to trample on the popular Voting Rights Act  and then the very next day wrote a dissent preaching democracy and judicial restraint in voting to uphold of the Defense of Marriage Act. The words for his hypocrisy are words like “stunning,” “jaw-dropping,” “galling.” 

Only, as we discussed yesterday, that’s not how it went down. Not even close. But a lot of people got it wrong, and I haven’t seen anybody else take the time to set them right.

That’s a bit upsetting to me, partly because (a) you really only needed to bother to read the tiniest little bit beyond Scalia’s second paragraph to see that he’s not saying what you’re about to accuse him of saying, and (b) it distracts from all the horrible things Scalia does say, things that dehumanize certain individuals and families and that show just an appalling failure to understand certain realities that, by now, simply everyone should understand, or at least accept.

Here’s a terribly incomplete list of self-righteous and angry and mocking articles or blog posts that are getting all self-righteous and angry and mocking about very much the wrong thing (note that many of these are excellent pieces that make a number of excellent points, but all of them rely, in an early or prominent place, on the Scalia’s-hypocrisy silliness):

The Atlantic Wire: Justice Scalia Hates Judicial Review, Except When He Doesn’t
The Nation: The Supreme Court’s Constitutional Hypocrisy
BET: Commentary: Gay Rights, Civil Rights and the Supreme Court’s Hypocrisy
The American Prospect: Justice Scalia’s Infuriating Hypocrisy
Wonkette: Supreme Court Update: Special ‘Over-the-Top Nice Time Let’s All Gay Marry Our Dogs’ Edition [Note: this one’s really funny, and vulgar. But still gets it wrong.]
News Corpse: DOMA vs. Voting Rights: Justice Scalia’s Jaw-Dropping Hypocrisy
Nashville Scene: The Hypocritical Stylings of Justice Scalia


Law is Hard

Legal Stuff! DOMA, VRA, and Defending Scalia (which, gross)

One reason I changed the name and tone of this site a bit ago is that, while I have a lot of deeply-held convictions and strong opinions and am way more than happy to share them, I hate the idea that those things define a person, that they compel him to toe a certain line in all instances, that they make all those who disagree, however reasonably, the enemy. “The Cranky Lefty,” in the political meaning of it, might accurately describe my leaning and general disposition, but kind of signifies the opposite of anything I want to be, a myopic and closed-minded crusader who is too busy speaking to listen.

And Oh. My. God were there a lot of cranky lefties on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Continue reading

In Which Kickstarter Rules the (Corporate) World

I feel like I need to put something up here, since I went off on Kickstarter a bit two days ago.

The response was slow, by huge corporate internet scandal standards, but the response was great:

Dear everybody,

On Wednesday morning Kickstarter was sent a blog post quoting disturbing material found on Reddit. The offensive material was part of a draft for a “seduction guide” that someone was using Kickstarter to publish. The posts offended a lot of people — us included — and many asked us to cancel the creator’s project. We didn’t.

We were wrong.

First, there is no taking back money from the project or canceling funding after the fact. When the project was funded the backers’ money went directly from them to the creator. We missed the window.

Second, the project page has been removed from Kickstarter. The project has no place on our site. For transparency’s sake, a record of the page is cached here.

Third, we are prohibiting “seduction guides,” or anything similar, effective immediately. This material encourages misogynistic behavior and is inconsistent with our mission of funding creative works. These things do not belong on Kickstarter.

Fourth, today Kickstarter will donate $25,000 to an anti-sexual violence organization called RAINN. It’s an excellent organization that combats exactly the sort of problems our inaction may have encouraged.

We take our role as Kickstarter’s stewards very seriously. Kickstarter is one of the friendliest, most supportive places on the web and we’re committed to keeping it that way. We’re sorry for getting this so wrong.

My understanding is that Kickstarter made, gross, about $800 on this project. Obviously, they were faced with PR losses that dwarfed that figure; obviously, this and everything else a corporation does was largely or entirely a business decision. There are people who will be upset about this, who will say they should’ve done even more, or acted faster, or whatever.

Please don’t be those people. We live in this world, where businesses do, you know, business, and this is the best public apology I’ve ever seen (leaving aside a couple missing commas). It seems truly genuine, it’s titled “we were wrong,” nowhere does it say “we’re sorry you were offended” or “we apologize to those who were offended” — the company takes full responsibility, then donates thirty-one times what it earned on this project to a very worthy organization (honestly? When I got to the $25,000-to-RAINN part, I teared up a bit). Yes, I think they could have pulled the project (and if they don’t have some procedure in place for pausing projects pre-funding to allow for fuller review, I think they’d better come up with one quickly), but I can also appreciate that it was a sticky situation they were in, not the kind of thing that a corporation’s leaders and lawyers can usually work their way through in two hours. It’s really a tragedy that Hoinsky gets his $16,000…but he might have gotten this funded through other, less conscientious venues anyway. Failing having stopped the process before funding, I think this is the best they could possibly have done.

Obviously, I had nothing whatsoever to do with this…my little screed was just between you, me, and the like two or three other friends and relatives who are reading this right now (okay, like 300 people or something saw it; still basically nothing). But I still feel proud, like, for people in general. For the power of the internet in the right hands. And so on. As Chuck Wendig said on Twitter a bit ago: “This is why you shouldn’t listen when people get cranky about Internet outrage and claim it to be temporary & useless.” Sometimes a little well-placed anger, repeated thousands of times over, can do great things.

So I’m happy, and I’m a big Kickstarter fan again. Now to puzzle over whether my Big Plans (which were in large part a response to this) are still worth doing…if you’re one of the six or seven people I’ve shared them with, I’d welcome your input on that. Or if you’re not and just want to guess and comment below anyway, I’d welcome your input, too. 🙂

Promisses No. 10: Really Gross Proverbs

Well, this week has been kind of a downer, huh? I mean, I’m proud to be a feminist and to speak up for stuff I believe in, but never really envisioned this blog becoming an all-gender-stuff-all-the-time sort of thing. I’m looking forward to finding something else to get on about next week, if the world allows.

Anyway. It’s Friday, and I finally missed one last week, but Friday still means frivolity here, more or less. Today’s Promiss is another one that was suggested by my two-decades-plus friend, co-baseball-blogger and heterosexual life partner Mike:

In re. Cat Skinning

And it got me thinking about this proverb. I mean, when you think about it…what? Who skins cats? And there really isn’t more than one way, not essentially, is there? I don’t want to think about that too hard, but I wouldn’t think so. The message — that most problems have more than one solution — is a good one, but there are so many more relatable, less disgusting and truer ways of saying that. There’s more than one way to tie your shoes! More than one way to clean a bathroom! To burn calories! To win at a game of hearts! To get from Seattle to Miami! To get to Carnegie Hall! To eat a Reese’s!

But this one? Ew. It apparently originated sometime in the mid-1800s (earlier, but the “skinning” part didn’t come in until then), and it’s not clear were it came from or that it ever related to actually skinning cats. (That link suggests that at least in the American South it originally referred to skinning catfish, which makes much more sense but is still pretty gross.)

Happy Friday! Never forget:

Kickin’ in the front seat
Sittin’ in the back seat
Gotta make my mind up
Which seat can I take?

Seven Hundred and Thirty-Two “Men” to Stay the F*** Away From

I had big plans for today (Wednesday). Really Big Plans, in fact. I still do have those plans, and I worked a little bit on them today, and will probably work a little bit more on them tonight. I’m excited about these plans, and hope they become a Thing That Happens, and that I can share with you soon.

But it turns out that tonight (Wednesday night) is not a night for Big Plans. Today (Wednesday) was a day of untimely deaths; of way too much hate, generally; of bizarrely crappy deniapologies; of incredibly blasé and casual celebrity racism; and of a bit of personal stress and discouragement (nothing major, but overall: oy, today). Tonight, then, is a night for family, and beer, and baseball, and possibly video games. There will be better days for Big Plans, and probably soon.

Instead, I want to talk for just a second about this. If you missed it, on Wednesday morning the internet very suddenly became aware of a Kickstarter project called “Above the Game: A Guide to Getting Awesome with Women,” through which a mouth-breathing and probably badly deluded little lump of diseased chipmunk feces named Ken Hoinsky sought $2,000 to finance his book doling out advice regarding how to successfully get women in bed. He ended up raising over $16,000.

It sounds innocent enough, if incredibly dumb; these “pick-up artists” lurk in creepy dark little places everywhere, and while stupid and probably not strictly harmless, they aren’t exactly Public Enemy No. 1. This is a lot worse than that, though. Hoinsky wisely wiped the existing segments of his book from the internet, but a wiser blogger/comedian named Casey Malone (who appears to also deserve credit for calling this to everyone’s attention in the first place) was able to archive some of his words. There are too many atrocious bits for me to pick big chunks to share here, but the gist of the worst bits were: first, always be “escalating,” making more and more intrusive physical contact with the woman you’re creeping on, and don’t stop until she shouts “NO” or pushes you away (and even then, maybe just take a break and try again later).

A bit later (all emphasis Hoinsky’s): “Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don’t ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances.”

Later still: “Pull out your cock and put her hand on it. Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don’t ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick.”

That’s sexual assault. All of it. It’s sick, and it’s quite reasonably very illegal. It’s a step-by-step manual for dehumanizing and sexually assaulting women, and it leads you right up to the doorstep of rape. It plainly violates Kickstarter’s guidelines, which bar offensive content (specifically listing hate speech, which I’d argue this is, as an example). Kickstarter must have received thousands of “reports” through its own website and thousands of tweets bringing this atrocity to its attention.

Kickstarter did nothing.

As I write this, Kickstarter’s twitter account hasn’t tweeted in more than 24 hours, and the company has allegedly directly refused comment to at least one media outlet. No action, nothing to justify its inaction. (Later update: they did eventually issue a kind of milquetoast statement. Malone has it, and a bit on why it was the wrong call, here.) It’s a disgrace all around. I was happy to participate in one Kickstarter project (both as a writer and a “backer”) a while ago, and this probably won’t keep me from using it again, but it’s terribly disappointing.

Think about this, though: there are 732 people (almost all men, of course) who backed this project. Now, I don’t actually believe Hoinsky has ever followed his own advice in any meaningful way — both (a) because the people who espouse this sort of nonsense tend overwhelmingly to be sniveling inarticulate lying dullards who aren’t actually capable of talking to or making eye contact with a woman and (b) because I have enough faith in humankind to think that these tactics would lead to arrest and incarceration at least as often as they’d “work” — but I could be wrong. Regardless, though, there are now seven hundred and thirty-two* cripplingly self-conscious, dim-witted little boys (of all ages) out there in the world who will be receiving Hoinsky’s book and reading his mental diarrhea.

Some of them are bound to try his tactics. I still don’t think they’ll “work,” by and large, but I wouldn’t want to be any of the women at whose expense they fail, either.

The thing is: the backers are listed right here, and though they’re not required to, the vast majority appear to provide their real names (first and last), their location, or both.

Kickstarter backers

I think if I were a woman who is likely to go out…anywhere, ever, I’d look through that list for guys near my area. If I found one, I’d find out as much as I could about him, through Facebook, Twitter, Google, whatever — and let’s face it, if he’s leaving his whole name on a Kickstarter for what is basically a criminal instruction manual, there’s likely to be a lot of info on him out there. And then I think I’d make sure all my friends knew everything about him that I now knew.

(Just for instance: one of them is Frank Galatis, who lives in Chisago City, Minnesota, not at all far from me. This is his Facebook page. This is his LinkedIn page, which identifies him as an owner of Fallout Shelter Arcade, a video gaming center for Battletech:Firestorm and Red Planet games (Facebook). If I were that kind of gamer, male or female, I’d probably avoid that place on account of one of the owners being like super creepy.)

These are 732 guys who may or may not themselves be the same sorts of loathsome puerile woman-hating fuckwits that Hoinsky is; they could also just be insecure, desperately lonely and shockingly gullible boys. But either way, they’re going to be unleashed on the world with this nonsense in their heads, and in that case, is the second possibility really that much better than the first?

* Roughly. A few of the backers identify themselves as women, weirdly enough, and not all of them actually pledged enough to get a copy of the book.

[Hey, there’s a follow-up now: In Which Kickstarter Rules the (Corporate) World]

Comedy, Rape and other stuff, Censorship, and Embracing the Pariah

I’m a big fan of stand-up comedy, and I’m surprised I haven’t really had an occasion to do a post about it here yet. I’ve started one — one in which I describe every comedian I know of in exactly eight words, because obviously [reasons] — but it might never be finished. In any case, I love my comedy.

And comedy’s been through the wringer a bit recently. Lindy West and Jim Norton debated “rape jokes” earlier this month, in a thoughtful and generally respectful debate that later got posted on the internet and was quickly made the opposite of thoughtful and respectful. Which is what the internet tends to do to things.

You’d guess (correctly) that I come down firmly on West’s side. There’s no way around the truth that while no topic should be off-limits in comedy (or in art generally), there are certain ways of framing certain sensitive topics, and especially this one, that can (and do) shame and encourage the mistreatment of already disadvantaged groups. Any joke about rape of which the victim is the target, in any way? Not okay. West wrote a post about a year ago called “How to Make a Rape Joke” that I think does a really good job of explaining the difference between jokes involving rape that “work” and rape jokes that do not. A lot of people have written a lot more and a lot better about this than I have or can, like West and Patton Oswalt (at Part 3).

There are other (relatively) easy lines to draw, too: generalizing about people of other races, where the other race’s imputed characteristics are the joke (fairly rare now, among white comics); men generalizing about women (still sadly pervasive).

But I’ve been thinking a lot about comedy more generally, and where the line between “funny” and “offensive” falls, or ought to fall, in less clear-cut cases. Because comedians really do need to have basically unfettered access to any topic; comedy’s purpose, as people like Norton point out, is frequently to call attention to all the horrible things about the world, and to take some of their power away by making light of those things. Many comedians need to be able to shock you and disgust you and make you groan and laugh at the same time. There are comedians for whom producing that effect is basically the essence of their art form, and they’re brilliant at it. Not everyone has to like it, of course, but it’s not something that should be shut down wholesale.* August’s post earlier this week made me think about it again too; her point had to do with “blonde jokes” (which, it was a good opportunity to remind myself, are uniformly terrible) and how sexist and demeaning they can be. Poking fun at people who are different, in whatever way, has always been the crutch of the hacks at the bottom of comedy’s barrel.

There has to be a line, however hard it is to find or identify, one that doesn’t apply exclusively to rape jokes. Funny on one side of the line, offensive and off-limits on the other. Of course, a lot of it is a matter of personal taste, too, and I suppose everyone has their own line. Some people are offended by profanity, in which case the “OK” side of their line has Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Cosby and Brian Regan on it and basically nobody else, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But I think I’ve identified The Line, the one place where, at least for me personally, acceptable is on one side and you’re-a-horrible-person-who-shouldn’t-be-allowed-to-talk-in-public is on the other.

And that line is Anthony Jeselnik.

Or rather, he’s just, I mean barely, almost imperceptibly, on the “OK” side of that line.

That’s not going to be a terribly popular choice. A lot of people who think like me hate Jeselnik. He says some of the most shocking and intentionally tone-deaf things you’ll hear from anyone. He’s also one of the most outspoken anti-censorship comics out there; there’s no chance he agrees with me that there even is a line. And he’s made some missteps; I gave up on him for a while after a tweet about the marathon bombing I thought was in incredibly poor taste, and he has a couple other jokes that I think come too close to victim-shaming. But that tweet was quickly removed, and I’ve since listened to more of his material and become convinced (again) that he’s one — maybe the one — who, those few exceptions aside, gets the incredibly fine line between edgy and demeaning.

The topics Jeselnik covers are almost uniformly sensitive topics. Mistreating women and the elderly. Violence toward women and children. Death, including of children. He made a point to open his last album with a track titled “Rape.” Exactly the opposite of everything you’d think I’d stand for.

But if you listen carefully, I don’t think — you might disagree, and I’d respect that — the real punchline is a victim, or a class of people, or anyone but him. The point of nearly every Jeselnik joke, the thing you laugh at, is what an unbelievably, shockingly horrible person he is. Or not Jeselnik, rather, but the character he plays: the joke is that anyone could be so depraved, so stupid, as to honestly believe the things Jeselnik claims to believe. He’s said, “if people think I’m serious, then they won’t laugh,” and I think that’s right; if you’re inclined to agree with anything Jeselnik’s character says, you’ve missed the joke. And at his best, he does just what comedy is supposed to do: he calls attention to the worst parts of society and makes us laugh about them, without asking us to laugh at anyone who suffers because of them.

Consider the following (all from here, which isn’t the best selection but it’ll do):

We just found out my little brother has a peanut allergy, which is very serious I know. But still I feel like my parents are totally overreacting — they caught me eating a tiny little bag of airline peanuts…and they kicked me out of his funeral.


Yesterday I accidentally hit a little kid with my car. It wasn’t serious — nobody saw me.


I’ve got a kid in Africa that I feed, that I clothe, that I school, that I inoculate for 75 cents a day. Which is practically nothing…compared to what it cost to send him there.

These are solid. They’re funny (it might help to hear his delivery). You laugh because you’re shocked; he’s talking about death or child abuse, and as you laugh there’s a should I be laughing at this? sort of moment which is an indispensable part of the experience. But, he’s not saying there’s anything funny about child abuse, or Africa, or poverty, or serious allergies; the funny part is that he really just said that, that he really is that completely horrible (though you know he’s really not).

Compare to this one from Daniel Tosh, who in many superficial ways is kind of a Jeselnik clone (good-looking clean-cut youngish white boys who get by mostly on shock value) and often gets lumped in with him:

If you had to eat another human being to survive, do you think they taste like their ethnic background? Mexicans are spicy? Do you have to have chips and salsa before you bite into one? Chinese people: are you hungry 30 minutes later for more? Let’s go everybody — black people: taste like chicken…**

This is far from the worst Tosh joke, but again, it’s the one I found. Tosh would say (and I suppose Jeselnik would agree) that there’s no real difference here; they’re both saying intentionally offensive things they don’t really believe for a laugh. But where the punchline in Jeselnik’s comedy is (usually) Jeselnik himself, the punchline with Tosh is the group he’s singling out (nearly always an ethnic group, gays, or women), and a stereotype about that group. He’ll often make a few cracks at his own expense, but then immediately moves on to just blankly reciting stereotypes, much like the above. So I guess I’d put that on the other side of the line: what Jeselnik does is shocking and offensive, but he’s the target; what Tosh does is shocking and offensive, but “the other is the target.

To me, that makes all the difference. Your mileage may vary, and I respect that; it’s not a topic that has one clear answer we should all be able to agree on, beyond (I’d hope) “jokes at the expense of rape victims are never okay.” I also might be wrong about my evaluation; maybe the difference isn’t as great as I’m making it out to be, maybe Jeselnik crosses the line as badly as anyone (or worse, come to think of it, given how often and relentlessly he does it). But it’s a distinction that makes sense to me right now. For what it’s worth, I’d still prefer comics who get by on truthful observations about actual interactions between actual people, and don’t need to rely on the shock factor at all — Oswalt, Marc Maron, Maria Bamford, John Mulaney — where you don’t often need to worry much about where “the line” is. But there has to be a line, and that’s where (I think) I’m drawing mine.

In any case, comedy is best as a visual thing, so here’s a pretty solid (and extremely NSFW) Jeselnik set to leave you with:

* Nobody should be “shut down,” in the sense of being prevented from speech — we have a whole constitutional amendment about that — but I’d sure like to see rape jokes and the like be shouted down, so that they don’t get to say them on TV or in crowded clubs.

** [Edit:] Two people have told me I’m taking the Tosh joke out of context, that he’s actually making an important point there about the audience’s expectations and discomfort about race generally. Watching the video, I agree. If you can tough it out to the real punchline, it’s actually a pretty good, thought-provoking joke. But the quote on Comedy Central’s website — click on the link just above where I quote him — omits the “real punchline,” too. Which isn’t fair to Tosh, but it gets to the issue, I think — to many of the people who really enjoy Tosh’s comedy, the laugh lines are the stereotypes themselves.

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children: Gender- and Genre-Bending

A couple weeks ago, I was in a Barnes & Noble — a physical bookstore! they still have those, sometimes, for now! — and I saw a book on the “local authors” table that seemed really interesting. It was set in a fictional town that was eerily similar to Mankato, Minnesota, which is where I was (and I happened to be starting a… potential novel set in a fictional town that’s eerily similar to a smaller town not very far from Mankato, Minnesota). The protagonist of this book I found was a young transsexual — a female becoming a guy — and a music geek who aspired to be a radio host. I hadn’t ever read, or didn’t think I had, a novel with a trans individual as a main character. It had a title that the relentlessly nerdy nonconformist kid still residing in me really liked: Beautiful Music for Ugly Children.

I didn’t buy it at the bookstore, because really, there’s a reason brick-and-mortar bookstores are barely hanging on; but I did add it to my Goodreads “To Read” list right then and there, and last weekend, I saved a couple bucks by downloading it from the Kindle store. Started reading it on Friday, and finished on Monday. It was short and easy to read, but more importantly, it was a good story, and I just never really felt like putting it down for long.

In short: high school senior Gabe Williams has been called the wrong name — Liz, or Elizabeth — his whole life, has only recently revealed his true name and identity as a male to his family, to his best friend since kindergarten, Paige (with whom he’s also in love), and to his seventy-something neighbor and musical mentor, John. John has gotten him a radio show, where he gets to explore his new identity invisibly…only it turns out Gabe is really good at this, and starts to get a loyal following (the “Ugly Children Brigade”), including among people at his own high school, who also know “Liz.” Things get complicated; he experiences basically the full range of reactions as people start to figure out “who he is,” including instances of frank and immediate acceptance, the cold-shoulder and denial from his family, and some ugly and violent and scary ones too. It’s a really well-crafted, fast-moving story; Gabe’s character is beautifully deep and broad, a person you’d really like to know, and really, every character — save perhaps the two brainless thugs who just want the freak to go away and die, and their appearances are brief — has a good deal of depth. It pulls you into Gabe’s world, and into Gabe’s desperate need to get out of that same world.

There were little things that bothered me about it, though: some difficult concepts that were glossed over a little too quickly, some dialogue that seemed just a bit too simplistic and expositional, musical references that could be kind of all over the board and didn’t seem to serve a real central purpose, and a few things (like the endearingly confused and unsure-of-himself main character almost immediately and effortlessly having really realistic romantic chances with not one but two beautiful and brilliant young women who knew all about the Gabe/Liz thing) that came together just a bit too neatly.

It wasn’t until about halfway through, and then not until I read a bit more about the book on Goodreads and Amazon, that the truth hit me: I was reading a YA novel. Meant mostly (though certainly not exclusively) for high school students and written by a college professor, it even has a little student-geared primer on sexual identity issues (and one that I’d guess is very helpful for someone who’s just learning about these issues) tacked on as a kind of epilogue.

But the thing is: I’d never intentionally read YA.

That’s not quite true. I eventually started the Harry Potter series (which…may qualify) sometime in the summer of 2001, after three years of nonstop lectures from my fiancee-turned-wife about how much I was missing, and I was immediately hooked, reading all four books in under a week and each of the three that hadn’t been released yet as quickly as I could get my hands on them.

But that was it.

Until, that is, I was on a trip and desperate, and I’d heard so many good things from so many people about the Hunger Games series that I decided to give it a try. I flew through book one, loved book one; found book two slightly forced and a bit of a letdown after the first, but still engaging; hated the third so utterly, found it so hopelessly groundless and pointless, that it actually ruined the whole rest of the series (and, I suppose, the very idea of adults reading non-Rowling YA fiction) for me.

And that was it, ferreal. No teenaged vampires or any of that, ever, thanks. To be honest, with a handful of other exceptions (A Song of Ice and Fire is the only one that comes to mind), I avoided fiction that fit well into any genre; I stuck to classics, John Updike, Philip Roth, David Foster Wallace. I’d had some bad experiences in the “mainstream” — Dan Brown, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, the wretched little bits I’ve seen on the internet of Twilight and Fifty Shades — and I’d decided that nothing that wasn’t likely to be taught in a literature class somewhere could teach me anything, none of it was worth my time at all. That’s changed a bit, recently — I’ve read some mysteries, some thrillers, and each of them (more or less) has had something in it somewhere that’s driven me batty, but I’ve enjoyed the hell out of quite a lot of them. I’ve found that while I love really, really good, inventive, one-of-a-kind writing, so-called “literary fiction” doesn’t have a monopoly on that, and that I also really love a really well-crafted story, even when it follows certain conventions and doesn’t necessarily break new ground or make you feel smarter just for reading and kind of getting it.

Still, though: no YA. Never YA. Twilight is YA. Nope.

Until this one, by accident, because I saw it on the “local authors” table and nothing about it immediately screamed YA (sure, it had a high-school protagonist, but Updike and DFW have both used youths as protagonists of very adult novels). And you know what? I loved it. In fact, once I’d uncovered its dirty little YA secret, I enjoyed the book a good deal more than I had been, because those little things that were bothering me no longer bothered me. They were just a part of this genre I’d had almost no experience with. I learned to take those things for what they were, get into the rhythm of the story for what it was, and appreciate what was a really beautiful, important sort of message and story in the context in which it was meant to be appreciated.

You should probably check out Beautiful Music, especially if you’re looking for a character you can really pull for with a perspective you probably haven’t seen a ton of before. And me…well, what’s occurred to me is that there are a lot of great stories out there, and they don’t always all take the form of 600-page masterworks that make your head hurt. I’m going to stop reading books that make me feel smart and start looking for stories that make me feel good, for one reason or another. Which, for me, still generally means crisp, witty, lasting writing and vibrant imagery — I’m probably going right back to marching laboriously through Moby-Dick now, in fact. But because I want to, not because it feels like a thing I should be doing. Reading should be fun, and Beautiful Music for Ugly Children (while it has its dark and difficult moments) is a whole lot of that.

Making Changes (Promisses No. 9)

Why can I only find time to write here on Fridays?

Anyway, if you’re here, and you’ve been here before, you might notice that it looks a bit different allasudden. The old theme had one thing going for it: I tend to write a lot of words, and occasionally tend toward long paragraphs, and that theme let the text take up a lot of horizontal space (it’s even called “Widely”), so it made my long posts and long paragraphs look not quite so long. But it was boring as hell.

This isn’t much better, but it’ll do for now. There are navigation/subscription links over there <<<, if you want ’em (they were at the bottom of the page before). The background picture is actually a kind of stunning shot (by total-amateur-pointing-and-clicking-an-iPhone standards) that I took of a Revolution-era house somewhere in northern Virginia a couple years ago (embiggening, would be the purpose of your clicking below):

IMG_0190 …but the way it comes out here — depending on your screen size and resolution, maybe — really only adds a nice little splash of color and a couple clouds. Oh well.

So anyway, there’s that, but there’s more. When I started this blog, I thought: I’m going to write a lot about things that make me angry, and most of those things have a left-leaning political tinge to them.

Those thoughts proved largely correct, as you probably know. But that’s certainly not what I want this to be about. I’ve also written about writing and social media and all kinds of things on which all (reasonable) people can agree, or at least can amicably agree to disagree, and I didn’t want this to be the kind of place where the name and general tone of the whole thing drove certain (reasonable) people away. I have conservative friends (a couple) and moderate friends. I’m a Christian, I’m a midwesterner who’s lived on both coasts, I don’t want to alienate anybody (who is reasonable). And you know, I can be awfully cranky sometimes, but I don’t think that’s a defining characteristic. I don’t want it to be a defining characteristic of this blog, at any rate.

So, no more “The Cranky Lefty.” Now, it’s just me. I made a few corresponding changes to the About page. The tag under the blog’s title on the left there will probably change quite often: the current one (“What you’ll need is a jackhammer”) is a snippet of a thing I wrote in my novel (or whatever) project, and it relates to writer’s block. The protagonist hits a wall because he’s afraid of the relative permanence of the words he’s about to put on the page; odds are the next line that comes out won’t be the perfect line, and neither will the next one, and the killer is that after hundreds or thousands of not quite perfect lines stacked on top of one another, editing (yours or someone else’s) can’t save you: editing is a chisel, when what you’ll need is a jackhammer. So he just freezes up straightaway. A bit depressing, maybe? But I choose not to hear it that way, I choose to hear it as kind of a call to be fearless and change-embracing in the first instance, and at any rate it can’t be any more depressing than this place used to be.

So the content won’t likely change much — alternating light/funny/musing and serious/political stuff, the occasional casual cursing just to keep you on your toes — but the look has, and I’m hoping the tone will too. Just a bit. And I’m hoping to write more often. Maybe Wednesdays, to go with Fridays? We’ll see.