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. 🙂

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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.

Change

Promisses No. 8: Your Own Worst Critic

I’ve been writing, and it’s scary.

I mean, I’m always writing, of course, but I’ve been writing in a way that I really hadn’t been for several years. It’s fiction, this thing I’m doing. The kind that’s pompously, idiotically dubbed “literary fiction,” I guess you’d call it (it’s all “literary,” in my opinion, any given piece of writing, if there’s any shred of creativity or artistic expression in it at all), which just means it doesn’t have a plot that moves enough to apply any other genre to it, unless and until it takes one on as it goes along.

I have my doubts as to whether it’ll ever be publishable (or whether I’ll want it to be), but it’s a thing that’s important to me to write, personally, about some stuff I’ve been through. It’s therapeutic. And, who knows? Maybe it will be A Thing, someday. It could happen. The point is that I’m doing it because I want to and feel like I need to, and (for now) I’m committed to it. I’ve set, and so far (four or five days in) kept, a relatively modest goal of 500 words a day. (And I’m sure that I’ll be flexible on that, in the future, as I inevitably need it.)

And each night, at about 300 words in (and often several other times before and after), I come to the fully supportable and almost certainly correct conclusion that this thing I am writing is The Worst Thing That Has Ever Been Written. I still occasionally get that with my other writing, too; it’s just a part of the process. That feeling nearly convinced me not to publish last Friday’s post on women and tattoos, which, whether it’s a good post or a bad one, ended up being the most-viewed post in this blog’s short history nearly twice over (if you’re curious, and you’re not, the previous leader was my inaugural “Beauty of a Woman” post). I’ll often have to find a way to trick myself into sending a baseball article, which I’ve fussed over for hours already and which is the kind of thing I’ve written hundreds of times before, finally hitting that “send” button to my editors so abruptly and almost impulsively that I sometimes won’t even realize that I’ve actually finally forced myself to stop fretting and send it. I’ll probably edit this ten times before morning, and who cares about this? It’s just part of being a writer. Or at least, it’s a part of being me, writing.

That, the nagging worry, is a pretty significant impediment to my progress on this…novel or whatever it is, but I push through it. Eventually, that is — maybe after playing five games of Bejeweled Blitz and opening up four new Gchat windows and trying with limited success to start some big dumb conversation/fight on Twitter and watching an episode of Dr. Who — I do finally push through it. And I get to the end of my planned 500 words (or 600 or 1000 of them) and glance back over what I’ve done, and you know what? Well, it might not be good, per se, I’ll never be convinced it’s ever going to be anything good, but it won’t be nearly as awful as I thought it might be while I was in the middle of it. Never once has been.

Promisses missed you terribly last week, and today reminds you (me) to turn off that nagging dread and worry in your (my) already overcrowded, tiny little brain.

Own Worst Critic

Fist-bump to my lovely wife for the initial suggestion on this one.

Loveliest of Fridays and weekends.

Tattoos, and Misogyny, and Dumb Kids (again)

I didn’t think I’d write here this week, for several reasons. But there’s a certain kind of garbage that crops up on the internet now and then that’s great at pulling me out of my little mindless stupor.

I don’t have any tattoos, and neither does my wife, and I can’t say there’s any sort of void in my life there. List off the usual reasons for not being interested, and I probably have all of them. I hate pain, of all types (I’m a real weenie about it). There’s not much that I’m so passionate about now that I’d want to display it 24/7 on my body, let alone stuff that I’m confident I’d feel just as proud of 50 years from now. It’s just not the kind of thing that I’d spend real money on, somehow. And so on.

I kinda dig them, though, on others. I had a woman who cut my hair a few years ago who I hope doesn’t read this (that’d be weird), but she was, and presumably still is, vibrant and spunky and friendly and frankly adorable and did all kinds of awesome and creative things with her time when she wasn’t cutting hair, and she had both arms and her back absolutely covered in highly colorful, completely absorbing art. Not my thing personally, never my thing, but they were her, totally, and I really admired them. It gave me a new appreciation for the whole idea, really; if you’re passionate about something, and that’s what works for you — for whatever that means — I think it can be a pretty beautiful thing.

What I guess I’m trying to say with all this is that OH HOLY HELL PEOPLE ARE AWFUL, as evidence of which I offer the following:

Tattoos and Other Easy Ways to Ruin Your Body” [EDIT: I seem to have a knack for this. He’s deleted the post and replaced it with an apology that actually seems reasonably sincere. EDIT AGAIN: Now the whole blog is private. But it seemed sincere!]

You may have gathered from the title alone that this was written by a man, and a dyed-in-the-wool misogynist, one who claims the right to speak to all women and on behalf of all men based on his own extremely ill-formed and unsupportable opinions, maybe even one who’s exceptionally young and just head-splittingly naive.

And you’d be right about those things. But you still wouldn’t really have a firm grasp on exactly how dumb and offensive this is.

So here’s a taste:

Women, let me tell you something that your friends and many guys will not. Your tattoos are ugly. We do not like them. We respect you less for them. We think you’re a pawn without a sense of solidarity in a world that pressures you to conform.

Note to all male bloggers and writers, the younger and less experienced the better: always start everything you write with “Women, let me tell you something.” They love that!

Also: all men, everywhere? Even me, even with what I just said above about kind of loving them sometimes?

Yep!

Even if we’re not conscious of this belief, we hold it. Men who gush about the sexiness of girls with tattoos do this because they are culturally trained to do so.

Culturally trained. Culturally trained! You either agree with the opinion that this author has formed across what must so far have been just a depressingly sheltered 23 years — an opinion which is in large part about aesthetics, the most subjective thing in the world — or you’re a pawn, a victim of the great cultural indoctrination.

There’s a ton of ignorance in this, but I love the idea that “culture” is something that exists separate and apart from people, or from men. Like there’s a thing that all of the 49% hates, but we put up with it, and some of us convince ourselves that we like it, because this headless monster The Culture instructs us that we must! Cruel mistress, The Culture.

So we’ve been informed that all men hate women’s tattoos and that the men who don’t hate them are just too stupid to realize they hate them. We now get the parade of horribles, the reasons why a woman getting a tattoo is the worst thing. Might as well:

1. Because it’s where another man left his mark on you.

This is exactly what it sounds like: her tattooist was probably a man, and letting him put a thing on her (that she’s asked him and will pay him to put on her) is “lending him a level of familiarity over [her].” And I can’t decide how refreshing/terrifying it is that he actually recognizes the thing he’s doing here:

Does this fall under the category of what the mainstream media calls “jealous men calling normal things cheating?” Yes. Does that make us wrong? No. A man has marked you and you will always carry his handiwork.

asdfadsfkj.

Forget for a moment that the whole idea of a man “leaving his mark” on a woman, like cattle, is repulsive, and pretend that this kind of pathetic sniveling emasculating fear and jealousy is ever even arguably okay. A guy she doesn’t know (if it’s a guy; she’s apparently in the clear on this point if she finds a female tattooist) carried out a job that she asked him to do, maybe even just transferring something she designed herself on paper, because it’s important to her, and she paid him for the service. If this is the kind of thing that makes you jealous akin to the way one might react to a cheating spouse (worse, since this apparently applies to all women who may ever be in a relationship with a man, whether they’re single when they get the tattoo or not), please just don’t bother with human contact of any kind, ever, for the rest of your days. It’s not going to go well for you.

2. Because tattoos were primarily a symbol of prostitutes.

Well, okay. He cites to an Amazon page selling a book containing a highly unscientific 1933 “study” that’s apparently available nowadays as kitsch, like those little yellow “How to Make Love” pamphlets from the 1940s. But even if it’s true, it’s a good bet — and I’m not going to look this up — that earrings and other piercings and many modern hairstyles and clothes were once a symbol of prostitutes, too. Anyone who sees a tattoo in 2013 and thinks “WHORE!!!” (and he’s very clear that he’s talking about all tattoos here: butterfly on the ankle, the whole bit) might just possibly have some issues that don’t really have much of anything to do with body art.

3. Because your desire to participate in the counter-culture betrays a rebellious heart.

That’s a sentence, I guess, barely, but it doesn’t appear to mean anything. The point is apparently that the purpose of all tattoos is rebellion against something (patently ridiculous), but that they’re so commonplace that getting one makes you a “sheep” — even that it’s not getting one that really makes you a rebel, because everybody’s doing it!

Now, assuming they were that commonplace (and he later moronically cites a study that supports none of his points and in which about 13.5% of female participants had a tattoo — and this is outside my scope, but he apparently hasn’t had time in his 23 years to learn about the whole correlation-does-not-imply-causation deal), the unspoken assumption that “getting a tattoo” itself is the expression, rather than what that tattoo displays or means to the person, might be the single most braindead mistake in this whole braindead mistake of a post.

4. Guys and tattoos

Well, this isn’t a reason anymore, he just wants to really carefully spell out what he’s saying here, in case you missed it: that he hates women, essentially. That men can have tattoos (though he doesn’t like it), because, in essence, they’re not subject to being owned and dominated by the other sex. (In his actual words: “Like sleeping around, the detrimental effects of a guy doing this are much less severe. It’s not fair, but neither is child leukemia or Cystic Fibrosis.”)

The conclusion might be my favorite part: “We will never respect you for having [a tattoo]. You will lower your social value by having one and limit your choice of potential suitors.” Hi-larious. The next study I’d like to see is a comparison of the “potential suitors” of the average tattooed young woman to the “potential suitors” of one karamozov1989. Really. I’d buy a ticket, if they could sell tickets to a study somehow.

One of my first posts here reflected on some incredibly dumb things that had been written by a college senior for his student newspaper, and wondered if it wasn’t a really bad idea to make the half-formed opinions of some poor college kid whose whole outlook will probably change nine times in the next five years freely available to anyone who wants to read or mock them on the internet. The author here is 23 — out of college, presumably, but not substantially different from the roughly-22-year-old there. It takes some of them a while to figure out (and some never do) that their set of ideals and beliefs, no matter how fervently held, just can’t be applied to and forced on everyone generally, or to figure out that they haven’t actually learned everything they need to know yet, and that some of those ideals or parts of them might ultimately prove to be among the stupidest things it’s possible for any person to think.

Ultimately, though? Shit this stupid is out there, and sometimes when you’re reminded of that, you have to take it apart. It’s like intensive therapy for the world’s general awfulness. And dammit, it feels good.

Promisses No. 7: Being True to Yourself

Short! To the point! I forgot to do this last night!

This is pathetically short so I’ll chat a bit below the weekly necessity. Adapted from a suggestion by my baseball-writing partner and heterosexual lifemate Mike Bates.

Identity Theft

What else can I tell you? Hmm. I really liked this post by Amber about Angelina Jolie, and it goes right along with my recent theme of whining about dumb shit people do on Facebook. I’d always thought of Jolie as an obnoxious, utterly frivolous loon prior to this, and I have no idea whether what she did was smart or right or not and no idea how I could know (though it seemed pretty reasonable to me, and brave to come out with it). All I know is, she’s really rich and almost certainly consulted several really good doctors in making this really, really hard decision, and if you’re not a doctor and are judging her based on things like your own personal experience (“I have breasts and don’t have cancer!” was basically the sense I got) or a mistrust of the medical profession generally, you are a Part Of The Problem. Though I suppose it’s better than mourning Brad Pitt’s loss of her boobs.

I’m a big fan of those Damn You Autocorrect things (fake or not), so this made me laugh a lot more than it probably should’ve. You’ve gotta flip all the way to the end for the punchline (more like punch-in-the-gut-line! o-ho!), but I’m a bit sad to admit I chuckled through the whole thing.

Speaking of comedy, my wife and I are going to see Mary Mack tomorrow, and I’m awfully gosh-darned excited about that. She’s very Midwestern (northern Wisconsin, though Minnesota has managed to really claim that whole accent, so I’m comfortable calling her Minnesotan) and sings little folk-y songs and is funny. I imagine it’s an acquired taste, but I love her. Here she is solving the problem of gang violence! Enjoy your Friday.

Celebrating the Homocalypse: My Post-Traditional-Marriage To-Do List

487576_10200982950486922_2109154223_nYesterday, the state senate of Minnesota — the state in which I was born and currently live — voted to approve a bill that, when Governor Dayton signs it today and it takes effect on August 1, will make Minnesota the twelfth state to legally recognize same-sex marriage.

It’s a really minor, minimalistic bill, when you look at it.  In the sentence “Marriage, so far as its validity in law is concerned, is a civil contract between a man and a woman,” those last five words are replaced with “two persons.” That’s pretty much it, with a few more deletions made for consistency, a few gender-neutralities, and a whole bunch of language added in to make sure everybody knows we’re not making any religious leaders do anything that violates their beliefs. That’s it, really; couple snips here, a few extra words there. And yet, its importance can’t really be overstated. Minnesota is doing a great thing today, extending a significant right to a group of people that’s been kept from it for way too long.

I’m happy, and I’m proud. Mostly, though, I’m excited, because from listening to the warnings from opponents of marriage equality, I know that I suddenly get to do a lot of completely awesome shit that I didn’t get to do a day ago. Here are six highlights (some of them kind of irreconcilably contradict each other, but that’s the way these things go):

  1. Well, I’m not married anymore, obviously. The group that sponsored the anti-gay-marriage constitutional amendment that I was sure would pass just six short months ago (and that probably inadvertently created this whole glorious mess) is called “Minnesota for Marriage.” Now, Minnesota for Marriage exists to limit the availability of marriage strictly to the heteronormative majority, which seems downright Orwellian of them until you realize that what they’re really doing is attempting to protect marriage as an institution by opposing this only-ostensibly-nondisruptive addition to the definition. When we “redefine” marriage such that it applies to any two willing adults and does not depend on one of the two actors owning a vagina and the other a penis, MFM helpfully informed us many times over, it will mean the destruction of the entire institution of marriage altogether (just yesterday, they said it “upends our most foundational institution”). These brave people tried — and failed — to defend my marriage and yours from this insidious attack.
    And this seemed like a bad thing, at first, the total destruction of marriage. I mean, I love my wife and kids a lot, and there no longer being any marriage at all kind of complicates things there. But then again: Doritos and cupcakes for dinner! I’m gonna call this a win, provisionally, until I get a tummy ache or something.
  2. I’m pretty sure I can own a Christian now. This has been all about religious liberty, we’ve been told. Minnesota law already firmly prohibits discrimination by businesses, including discrimination based on sexual orientation. But, it didn’t previously allow for same-sex marriage, so a business that was unwilling to perform services relating to a same-sex couple’s wedding couldn’t have engaged in a prohibited form of discrimination, you see, because those weddings (and in some legal senses those couples) didn’t exist! So by extending equal rights to same-sex couples, Minnesota has viciously attacked religious liberty by acknowledging that one certain plainly discriminatory practice is in fact discriminatory. (And we’re not even forcing religious institutions themselves to do it, by the way, only for-profit businesses, like florists and cake decorators. Wait, we’re worried about anti-gay florists and cake decorators being forced to cater to gays? If only the gays had other options in those fields!)
    Clearly, this all-out assault on the Christian faith and way of life can only end in the full-on oppression and ultimate enslavement of some practitioners of the religion with which about 70% of Americans still identify. In other words, we’ve got gay marriage now, so I get to own my very own Christian!
    Now, I have my qualms about this. I’m very much a Christian myself, for instance (UCC), so that makes me feel a little uneasy about owning a brother or sister of the faith, and slavery as a principle is very two centuries ago. But I don’t make the rules, just take advantage of them; some closed-minded fundamentalist Christians previously were at liberty to hold bigoted and hateful opinions of homosexual individuals without having to deal with any potential consequences of that hatred in their businesses, and that may in some limited cases no longer be true; this apparently means that those Christians don’t have any liberties anymore at all, and we own them. Bit of a mixed bag, that, but I’m pretty sure I can make it work for me. I’ll be a kind master.
  3. We’re changing the definition of marriage that’s been in place for thousands of years. This is another one that’s a bit hard to give up. As a participant in a marriage that follows the rules established over thousands of years, I’ve enjoyed being able to freely use and enjoy concubines and to essentially be the only human in my household, dominating my wife and family in every possible way, but I’ll tell you, if I were ever to get married again, I could do without having to pay that substantial dowry. My wife can’t own any property separate from me, though, so I expect I’ll recoup my losses on the way out.
  4. I can literally fuck a duck. I mean, obviously.
  5. I can marry more than one person, or a child. I’m pretty happy with the wife I’ve got (1. above notwithstanding), but who couldn’t use an extra hand around the house? We’ve had a lot of electrical and plumbing problems, and neither of us is terribly organized; rather than calling in an all-purpose handyperson or maid and paying through the nose every time, I think maybe I’ll just marry one of each. And apparently, since two consenting adults who love each other but happen to have the same genitalia are absolutely no different from a creepy old guy who wants to marry “a consenting nine-year-old girl” (who is legally incapable of “consent” but nevermind that), minors are fair game? There’s a thirteen-year-old down the street who’d be a pretty great babysitter for my kids, but that costs a lot of money over time, so I’ll just marry him too.
  6. Next time I see a dude I kind of like, I can just decide to marry him. Some conjecture with this one, but given the fear and discomfort and defensiveness with which homophobic/hetero-supremacist bigots have greeted the otherwise totally neutral-to-them extension of the right to marry, I have to assume (as Jon Stewart did) that now that we’re allowing gay marriage, on some level gay marriage is mandatory. Like, if I see a guy, and I like him, he has to marry me. Single or attached, gay or straight; we’ve allowed same-sex marriage now, so that dude is mine. I think that’s how it works, anyway.
    And, I mean, I’ve never really been tempted before — I like women kind of a lot, it turns out — but now that I’m single and an owner of Christian people in this brave new hellbound world, you’d better believe I’m gonna be open to it. I’ll be on the lookout for guys with skills I don’t have (organization, carpentry, washboard abs) and high earning potential. You’re probably not attracted (you may view it as kind of like kidnapping at first, in fact) and neither am I, but we can make this civil contract work for us, dammit. We’re a gay-marryin’ society now, so we hafta!

And all that just scratches the surface of this post-religion, post-morality, orgiastic Sodomite utopia in which we Minnesotans now (effective August 1!) live. We have decided that any two adult people who love each other ought to receive the equal treatment under the law that is guaranteed them by the Constitution, you see, and that that Establishment Clause in the First Amendment to the same suggests that individuals’ access to those rights ought not to be dictated by other individuals’ (or even a majority’s) religious beliefs.

And making those ostensibly commonsense decisions has doomed us. We’re all going straight to hell, and fast. But it sure sounds like fun. Now, who wants to go raise a child in mother-figure-less depravity?