Just Because You’re Not Offended Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Offensive

There’s been a huge controversy over three recent issues of the quarterly magazine of the Science Fiction Writers of America, The Bulletin. The debate began with issue #200, which used a vintage piece of Red Sonja artwork for its cover.

A number of people questioned the appropriateness of this image for the cover of our professional publication, particularly as it was presented without context or explanation.

Perhaps in response (it’s not clear), Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg took up the task of summarizing the accomplishments of women in the field in their regular Dialogues column in two subsequent issues, but went about it in a pretty clueless, tone-deaf manner, making repeated reference to “the ladies” and referring to professionals as “lady writers” and “lady editors.” There were also a couple of (positive) comments about attractiveness.

And then there’s an article by Jim C. Hines about the problematic aspects of cheesecake book covers (again, presumably for balance), and, quite randomly, an article by a male writer that used an extended Barbie metaphor to make a point, in an obvious, but tragically unsuccessful, attempt at humor. The ‘Barbie’ piece made reference to the doll’s “perfect” proportions and “sweater fillers” and praised Barbie for “maintaining her quiet dignity as a woman should.”

I think that sets the scene. The culmination of this scandal, however, happened in Bulletin #203, in which Resnick and Malzberg responded to the criticism with a tirade on censorship and free speech that reminded me of my beloved grandfather’s (may he rest in peace) vigorous arguments in favor of the divine right of kings. Malzberg invoked the specter of “liberal fascists” attempting to shut down the conversation, and Resnick hinted darkly that his network of spies had identified the “anonymous” complainants as people who had made comments to SFWA President John Scalzi “at Confusion.”

Others have answered Resnick and Malzberg, and as far as I can tell R/M continue to dismiss it all as “liberal fascist” attempts at thought control. I’m not going to rehash all of that.

However, I’m here to say something simple: the Red Sonja cover does’t actually offend me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not offensive. I’ve looked at it a couple of times, I’ve listened to the criticisms, and I’m still not offended.

BUT I BELIEVE AND RESPECT THOSE WHO ARE, AND I SUPPORT THEIR RIGHT TO EXPRESS THEIR VIEWS AND ENGAGE IN DIALOGUE.

Because you know what? Much as I am not particularly BOTHERED by Red Sonja, above, it, admittedly, is a rather silly image, and could have been better if the artist had originally envisioned her as a warrior, not a piece of meat. And that is a point that would never have been made if everyone had my laissez faire attitude about it. Other people being offended by things I am not actually generates useful conversations and improves the world for us all. Because people like Jim C. Hines have spent time and energy criticizing covers that objectify women, we are starting to get better book covers. That means everybody wins.

Rather than expecting everyone to have the exact same concerns and sensitivities as me, I live in a world that contains many viewpoints and ideas. I also have some concerns and sensitivities about things that others may not have thought about, and when I bring them up, I hope people will listen and consider, even if they don’t agree.

Convention Success Tips for Shy Writers

I think of myself as a quiet and reserved person and an introvert, so it was a little startling to be called a “social butterfly” as one acquaintance did in San Jose over the weekend. “You know absolutely everybody!” he said.

Well, it’s a fair cop. I’ve been in this business for sixteen years, and the set of pro sf writers in the field is basically a small town. There are several thousand of us, and of those a group of maybe 500 who are frequent or regular convention-attenders. After a while, you get to the point where you either know everybody, or are connected to everybody. I happen to think that this particular rotating group of connections and acquaintances are some of the best people in the world. If you parachute into the middle of an average, mid-sized midwestern city, you could spend all day wandering around looking for people as fascinating, smart, motivated, and dynamic as those who are just literally lying in your path at a well-attended SF lit convention. Why not enjoy it and make the most of it?

Why attend conventions at all? First of all, convention attendance is totally optional. You can be a successful writer without ever setting foot in one, and if you don’t like it, that’s well and good. You don’t have to attend. And it’s important to know this, because if you do go to a convention, it’s good to go with the attitude that it’s all optional and anything good that comes from it is just gravy.

That said, there are some very good reasons to go to conventions. Human interactions are crucial in any business, it doesn’t matter what kind. If you are someone who makes and sells shrubberies, you may be very successful as the only shrubber in your local market, but it’s still very nice to get together with other shrubbers to share experiences, seek support, and get new ideas. You might even find ways to work with other shrubbers to enhance your own business and make a little extra money together. Who knows? Anything can happen.

It can be paralyzing to go into a convention with the idea that you’re there to “do business.” Forget the elevator pitch. Don’t even think of it. Instead of worrying about making a good impression on people that will be useful in your career, form an expectation that you are just there to look around, and be curious about everyone who crosses your path. That person might be a famous writer or editor, but they might also be a radically cool fan. It doesn’t matter. Whatever serendipitous meetings occur, that is what is meant to be. Have fun, talk about your kids and pets and the weather and favorite movies, and let the business happen organically. And it will. Because trust is a basis of business interactions, and showing people pictures of your cat on your cell phone is how you build trust. Just do it.

Adjust your expectations. You are not going to go to a convention and walk out with a huge novel contract. Don’t even think about it. Put it out of your mind. You are just there to make friends. Do you like having friends in your day-to-day life? Friends are good. Humans need friends. You are just there to meet some people.

Also, if you are new to the scene and don’t know very many people, prepare yourself to spend some time alone. Bring books to read. Plan one or two solo sightseeing outings. If the hotel has a spa, make an appointment. Get comfortable with the idea of eating alone in a restaurant or bar. Bring a spouse or a partner if it makes you more comfortable, but don’t let that close you off to hanging out with new friends. If you and your companion form too tight a knot, no one else can get in.

Your goal should be to make one or two new friends at each convention. You can’t spend all of your time with that one new person, but over time things will snowball.

Sign up for things. If the convention offers any tours or workshops you can sign up for in advance, do it. You will meet people, and those people will be well-disposed to making new friends because of the situation. In a writing-oriented convention, whatever you’ve signed up for may have a pro running it, so you get to meet at least one professional in your field.

Volunteer for panels. If you have some professional credits, let the convention know you’re coming ahead of time and are willing to help out on programming. They are often very happy to have you, and may offer you free membership. Panels are also a good way to get used to public speaking, since the burden isn’t on one person to carry the entire show.

Connect with online friends. Look for opportunities to meet up with online friends. Check out parties, mixers, tweetups, and other organized get-togethers. Again, these are situations where people will be very open to meeting you and it will help you overcome your natural reserve.

Make plans in advance. If you do have someone you know will be at the con, make plans ahead of time. People have a way of getting busy, or getting tired, and you might miss them otherwise.

Bring a book. This is a trick I learned a number of years ago. I carry a book around at conventions. If I go to the hotel lobby looking for friends or new, interesting people to meet, and there’s no one I can immediately approach and begin chatting with, I’ll park myself at a table or the bar and read my book. The book itself is a conversation-starter, and at a science fiction convention, most people share your love of book-reading. You won’t get very many pages read before someone comes along and interrupts you.

Ask questions. Never have an awkward conversation again in your life. When pauses emerge, throw out a question. Where are you from? Have you seen the new Star Trek movie? Do you like cats? Don’t fill every silence. Let your new friend ask you some questions, too.

Fans are cool, too. As writers, we naturally gravitate to other writers. These people instantly get us. But don’t overlook the fans. Science fiction fans are very often extremely smart, successful, interesting people. And fans also have their own brand of power in the business. It’s fans who make decisions about programming and inviting guests of honor, etc., etc. If you make a good impression on the fans, you will definitely have a better time at conventions. BE NICE TO THE FANS.

Cut your losses. Everyone knows that conventions also attract…well…weirdos. People you don’t want to know or spend time with. In fact, this is one thing that tends to scare writers away from conventions, because if there are one or two of these types in a room, it can give you a bad impression of fandom in general. Practice some conversational dismounts to get you out of conversations you don’t want to be in. They can vary from, “Excuse me I need to visit the ladies’ room,” to “You are making me uncomfortable please leave me alone.” (And please carefully tune your dismount to the audience. No need to be cruel.) I’m sorry about this. I apologize on behalf of the whole genre. The important thing to remember is you don’t have to let someone monopolize your time if you don’t enjoy their company. You are at the convention to have fun!

You are not there to get laid. I mean, if you do get laid while you’re there, it’s great. But don’t treat the convention like a singles bar. This is a bit of a tough transition sometimes for writers who started as fans, because there is an element of con culture that is all about hooking up. And that’s great. But the writers by and large are NOT there to hook up. So what I’m saying is assess your social environment very carefully and only hit on people who are clearly available.

Allow extra days for travel, if you can. Arriving a day early and leaving a day late will make things much less stressful. Much. I particularly recommend the leaving a day late strategy. That last night at the con can be the very best, especially for shy folks, as you’ve had a day or two to gradually relax and start feeling comfortable with new people.

Schedule some downtime. I often treat myself to room service one night, which not only gives me some time to recharge, but takes the pressure off for one meal. No need to find dinner companions, choose a cuisine and restaurant, make an expedition, make scintillating conversation, etc.

Comfortable shoes. Need I say more?

Buy a banquet ticket. At some conventions, like Nebula weekend, you’ll have a chance for a sit-down meal with strangers. Go for it, even if it’s expensive. I met my friend Jay Lake that way. Every time I’ve done this it’s worked out great. Again, this is a situation where you’re automatically placed in a group, so no need to approach anyone or find a good opening line. You can just ask a question and you’re good to go.

Don’t get too wrapped up in status. If there’s one thing I’ve seen in sixteen years, it’s the coming and going of hot new writers. Trust me. Slow and steady wins the race. So there are hot new writers getting a lot of attention, collecting awards. They are just as anxious and insecure as you are, and often they sort of stop writing and disappear a few years later. Some of this year’s batch of superstars had me thinking of meteors from years past, wondering where they are, what they’re doing, are they still writing? Don’t sweat it. Honors, awards, accolades–all very capricious. Do you have some cat pictures on your phone? Whip them out. Cat pics are eternal.

Don’t be an asshole. You know how they say some people can do it and get away with it? They are not getting away with it. Trust me. Those people have lost friends and opportunities. It only looks like it doesn’t stick. Don’t be that person. It’s not worth it.

Don’t cart the internet around with you. If you’ve encountered someone on the internet and you’re meeting them for the first time in person, it is largely best to simply start over. If you’ve had extensive conversations online, then of course acknowledge it. But most people don’t have a perfect memory for every discussion or flame war, and, more importantly, if you set aside any charged interactions you may have had online, you may find the person is actually really cool.

Be authentic, be genuine, be sincere, be yourself. Have some faith that you are an interesting person and others want to know you. Wear what you want that makes you feel awesome. Be a good listener. Be forgiving of yourself and others. You’re not always going to say the right thing. You might make a faux pas, or someone around you might. Laugh it off. Let it go. Be gentle. Be kind. Make jokes. Buy drinks for people. Find ways to help.

 

Writing Updates

I’ve been remiss in posting writing news here, so I have a number of updates from the past  couple of months to share.

AnLab Reader’s Choice Award. I flew to San Jose to pick up my check and certificate for the Analog Reader’s Choice award for short story for “Titanium Soul.” This is the second time I’ve received one of these, the first being for a fact article. It’s particularly gratifying to take one home in the short story category, as I believe that it is the most competitive category, and the one most paid attention to by readers. And although it is not as high an honor as, say, a Nebula in our field, there is something really nice about taking it home knowing that it was voted on by the actual readership, in a process as perfectly free of politics and logrolling as it could possibly be. My sincerest gratitude goes to the readers of Analog for their appreciation and the effort they made in reading the magazine and filling out the ballot.

Year’s Best 18. David Hartwell chose another 2012 Analog story of mine, “The North Revena Ladies Literary Society,” for his 18th Year’s Best Collection. I’m very pleased and honored. This is the first time I’ve had any kind of a Year’s Best publication, and it feels like a major milestone.

Heroic Relics in Buzzymag. My story “Heroic Relics” was published in BuzzyMag. It’s nice to have something free and online to point people to.

Nebula Weekend Mini Con Report. This is about my fourth or fifth visit to a Nebula Weekend event, and I’m always surprised by how rewarding they are. I wasn’t very good at doing conventions early in my career, due to shyness, but I’ve evolved to the point that one person this weekend called me a “social butterfly” and said that I know “absolutely everyone.” I was talking with Jay Lake about this, and we both agreed that if you just show up, you start meeting people. I’ve been in the business sixteen years, and attending a convention, particularly one with a lot of writers in attendance, is an amazing opportunity to meet a lot of people who have a lot in common with me. I strongly recommend Nebula weekend as a great business/networking event. I think it’s widely overlooked as such because of its award-handing-out function, but it’s also a pretty good place to go as a writer and remind yourself that you’re not insane–that there are a lot of other people out there that give up their free time to scribble and share in the rewards and frustrations of this crazy lifestyle/vocation.

Four Year Yogaversary

I’ve been practicing bikram yoga for four years this month. It’s hard to believe. In some ways, I think I’ve come a long way. In others, I can’t believe how little progress I’ve made. Of course, the whole idea of “progress” in yoga asana is somewhat wrongheaded thinking.  Still, I’m a bit attached to that concept.

I find I attach a great deal of importance to postures that are very difficult for me, like standing head to knee and hands to feet, and relatively little importance to those that come more easily, like half moon back bend, triangle, and fixed firm. In reality, each is equally important and my best effort in each is perfectly fine.

Still and all, I am glad to note that I am seeing incremental changes (let’s not call it progress) in some poses. For example, just recently I realized I could let go of my foot in tree pose. That pesky foot will drift down unless your hip is flexible enough to keep it in place. A month or two ago, I gave letting go a try, and lo and behold, it stayed!

I am gradually gaining strength in toe stand. I still can’t balance on one foot, but I am much stronger getting into position with my hands on the floor. I have a great deal more strength in triangle, and these days my corrections are all about upper body position.

It’s hard to believe I still can’t straighten my legs in hands to feet, still can’t lock both knees in standing head to knee, still can’t lock my knees in stretching pose, and so forth. For a while recently, I was determined to diagnose whatever was holding me back and work on extra at home, etc. Then I remembered that every other pose that came into place for me has come naturally, like letting go of my foot in tree pose. And I decided to wait and just do my best in class. I’m sure there’s a life lesson there, somewhere.

The Lipid Panel

I finally had a chance to get some solid data on the results of my no-sugar, no-processed food lifestyle of the past six months when I went in for my annual physical last week. Overall, my health is great. Everything checked out, I had no complaints, everything is working, I don’t need medicine or treatment for anything. The doc offered me a nasal spray for my sinuses, but honestly the mild chronic congestion is barely a blip on my radar, not worth spending money or taking a drug every day to manage.

Here’s what came up on my lipid panel:

Total cholesterol 241

Triglycerides 64

HDL 61

LDL 167

Chol/HDL ratio: 4.0

Fasting blood glucose 92

 

So my total cholesterol and LDL are high–still. I think the lowest TC I’ve ever had in my life was about 200, and I’ve always been in the borderline zone. This is the first time I’ve come up high. However, my HDL is really excellent and my triglycerides are super low. I don’t have any previous results in front of me, but I believe in the past my triglycerides have been around 145, and my HDL closer to 45 or 50. Fasting glucose is actually higher than it’s ever been, but well within normal range so no concern there.

So I have several thoughts about this:

1. Obviously getting off sugar, white flour, and processed foods in a very strict way has done wonderful things for my HDL and triglycerides. Go me!

2. I am not that concerned about the LDL for a couple reasons. One is that my mother was on statin drugs for a time for her supposed high cholesterol, and yet her autopsy showed pristinely clear arteries. And that is the case sometimes–high LDL/TC numbers don’t automatically translate to artery disease. (Statin therapy does not reduce or eliminate plaque in arteries. It just reduces LDL, thereby, theoretically, reducing future plaque development and cardiovascular risk. So Mom’s arteries were not clear as a result of treatment.They were clear because they were always fine.) That doesn’t mean mine are pristine, but it does make me less inclined to worry about one value when it’s literally the only cardiovascular risk factor I have.

3. Furthermore, there is some science indicating that there are two types of LDL. Pattern A LDL is a larger, fluffier particle and is thought to be benign. Pattern B is a denser particle, and is thought to be linked to higher risk. You can’t know which kind you have without a special type of test. However, a low ratio of triglyceride to HDL is highly suggestive of Pattern A. My Tri/HDL ratio is close to 1. This is *very* low, and definitely a ringer for the Pattern A type. Some doctors accept this as valid, others don’t. It is not settled science, yet, but it also suggests I don’t have anything to worry about.

4. My doc referred me to a nutritionist. I’m not sure if I feel like doing that or not. I think it could actually be pretty positive, since at this point I am an extreme health food nut, and, hey, I wouldn’t mind being told I’m doing well by a pro. But I’m awfully busy and I think there’s not much that can be accomplished by tweaking my diet at this point.

5. That said, it wouldn’t kill me to go a bit easier on the red meat and butter. Living with a growing teen boy, we’ve fallen into a pattern of eating vast quantities of red meat, because that is what he is craving for his growth. Plus, butter has become my go-to vice in the absence of any sort of regular access to sugary treats. (Well, butter and GIN.) I could work on that. I only need to drop two points to get back into the borderline range, and then everyone would be happy. (Well, I think my doc still doesn’t like me being in the borderline range, but hey.)

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the checkup and the overall results of my diet. I continue to have improved energy. In fact, my doctor gave me a lengthy explanation of how she has to put “fatigue” on my chart in order to get insurance to pay for a Vit D level. But she also let slip that she assumes every working Mom is chronically fatigued. Guess what? I’m not. I get all the sleep I need, and have plenty of energy every day, even though I do probably have a lifestyle just as stressful as any other working Mom. I’m glad that thus far my state of advanced youth has not begun to affect me. I can’t stave it off forever, but so far WINNING.

I’ve lost about 22 pounds in the past year. I think there are another 10 to 20 that could shake off. Since I am not actually driving that bus–not counting calories, fat, carbs–I don’t know where my weight is going to settle. That should be interesting to find out, and I like the idea of my body finding its own weight, rather than me picking a number from a chart and then trying to get TO it.

My blood pressure was 114/84, which is really high for me, personally. I’d been having a very anxious day for reasons unrelated to the appointment, so I think in the future I may see my BP back to my personal normal of 90/60, but the number I got is normal and fine and of no concern. My heart rate was 60, which surprised me since I was anxious and I have not historically had a lower-than-average heart rate. Hopefully, that indicates good cardiovascular condition, rather than bad timekeeping by the nurse, or something.

(Another theory on the BP is that my yoga practice has improved the tone of my nervous/circulatory system so that it doesn’t bottom out like it used to. That would actually be a positive. Don’t know if it’s the case.)

My creatinine was 1.0, which is at the tippy top of the normal range. I was alarmed, at first, but when I tracked down more information, it turned out this just probably means I have good muscle mass, and no surprise as I work out a lot.

My vitamin D level was well into the normal range, which is great since I had been treated for low Vit. D in the past. My hemoglobin was 13.7, also great since I’ve been anemic in the past.

All in all, it looks like I’m going to survive.

How to Kick the Sugar Habit

There’s been a good bit of health news floating lately around suggesting that sugar is worse for us than we thought, such as a study finding a relationship between sugar consumption on a population level and type II diabetes, independent of other factors like obesity. As a result, a lot of people I know have been experimenting with lower sugar or no-sugar diets. I think it’s a great thing, but it’s so hard to do. Obstacles range from the ubiquity of sugar in processed food to deep emotional attachments to certain foods. I thought I’d share some tips from my experience that have helped me get sugar (mostly) out of my diet. I’m not perfect. I have calculated indulgences, and also just plain fall off the wagon some times. But I do feel in control, and I have a new perspective that there’s a strange sense of obligation that goes with consuming sugary foods that I am now free of. So here are some things that have helped me, and some things I wish I’d known earlier in the process.

1. For the first month or two, it helps to go completely cold turkey and be a real nazi about it. No sugar at all, not even trace sugar. It helps reset your taste buds, and, more importantly, forces you to confront all of your problematic foods and triggers all at once when you are in a strong psychological position of being in a honeymoon phase with the whole thing. Read the label on everything. You’re going to be shocked and disappointed when some of your favorite foods turn out to contain sugar for no apparent reason. It’s fine to throw them out, or maybe donate them to a food bank, to get them out of your face. Once your palate has adjusted, these foods are going to taste weird to you, anyway.

2. Tell all of your friends and family that you’re not eating any sugar. People are pretty supportive about it. That will help immediately with what you imagine are awkward social situations where someone has made you a delicious turtle fudge brownie cheesecake and will be plunged into suicidal depression if you don’t eat it. (Wishful thinking, it turns out. No one gives a crap if you don’t eat the goodies. It’s just more for them.)

3. Don’t use artificial sweeteners. In my opinion, this does nothing to change your craving for sweets, and you’re becoming part of an uncontrolled long term experiment on the long term effect of chemical sweeteners on human health.

4. Find tasty alternatives for some of your favorite sweet treats or meals. For example, instead of brown sugar, I top my steel cut oats with mashed banana. And a really quality cheese with crackers is a pretty satisfying substitute for a number of otherwise sugary snacks. Cheese, whole grain crackers, and nuts by the handful have become daily snacks at my house. Unsweetened iced tea is my go-to drink at restaurants.

5. If you feel deprived or have major cravings at first, that is normal, and it will pass.

6. Resign yourself to give up on a short list of items that can’t be replicated without sugar of some sort. I’m talking about stuff like ketchup and barbecue sauce. I order my burgers with mayo and green olives.

7. Eat before problematic occasions, or bring your own sugar-free snack. For example, I spend one or two evenings a week writing in coffee shops, and at first felt rather deprived not to have a treat from the pastry case. So I started bringing a piece of fruit. After the first couple of times, I was no longer bothered by cravings. You sort of have to tackle these situations one-by-one until the trigger for eating sweets fades and there are many triggers.

8. Don’t force this on family or friends. Of course sugary sweets are bad for us, but people are complex and maybe your family member or friend needs their daily cupcake for now to get through something else. It’s also really hard to focus on more than one self-improvement project at once, so while they may agree and approve of what you’re doing, it could be a while before they find a place in their own lives for it.

9. Don’t enable your family and friends if it is going to be a problem for you. There’s a surprising amount of guilt that can happen if you don’t bake cookies for your family or offer a dessert with Sunday dinner. Get over it. Your family members, even the kids, can handle their own sugar supply. So don’t let their “needs” for sugary foods undermine what you need to do for your health. (If you are ok with making desserts without ever tasting them, that is great. You are a stronger person than I.) If you are accustomed to showing your love with food, try to stifle that impulse. Having had a couple of people in my life with that particular fetish, it’s actually really f—ing annoying. Cut it out!

10. Once you’ve gotten through your sugar nazi phase, decide what indulgences are “worth it” for you. I know someone who has no indulgences ever. She has type II diabetes, and can’t afford to have even an occasional sweet treat. For myself, I will have a dessert or treat if it is really “worth it.” It has to be more than a store-bought cake with crisco frosting or a jello salad at a pot luck. For example, if I’m at a restaurant that is reputed to have the world’s best tiramisu, yes, I am going to order the tiramisu and enjoy it. This happens maybe once a month.

11. If you are going to indulge, go big. There are two reasons. One is that it makes it special if you have a really spectacular treat and really fill up on it after long periods of virtuous abstinence. Another reason is that a large indulgence is unlikely to lead to a slippery slope where you are back to mainstream sugar consumption. If you treat yourself with a teaspoon of honey in your coffee, all that will happen is you’ll want it again tomorrow. If you treat yourself with a huge hot fudge sundae, it will be an awesome transcendent experience and you’re going to feel like crap the next day, too. It’s not likely you’re going to fall into a hot fudge sundae habit accidentally. In fact, you may never want one again!

12. Don’t worry too much if you fall off the wagon. This isn’t alcoholism. You don’t have to confess or start your sobriety clock over again. Nothing bad is going to immediately happen. You can start again the next day with no penalty.

13. Challenge yourself to get through the next holiday or big social occasion with no sugar. It’s hard the first time you do it, but once you get through it’s very freeing and empowering. After you’ve done this a couple of times, you’ll have a clearer head to decide whether a special occasion merits an indulgence, or if it’s just a same-crap-different-year situation. Easter is coming. Can you get through Easter without any sugar? You can do it!

Good luck!

 

Sequence a Science Fiction Writer, Acts of Whimsy Fundraiser Last Day

The fundraiser to sequence Jay Lake’s cancer is in its final hours. We’re hoping to reach the $50,000 goal level, which will unlock a cookbook with recipes from authors and friends of the Lake family. The book will be released as a free ebook in conjunction with the fundraiser, but there are also plans to print physical copies to benefit a charity for grieving children, so I really hope we can unlock this final goal.

As a bonus, Tobias Buckell will also shave his head if we reach $50,000. I think we can all imagine the glory and wonder of Toby with a shaved head. Surely this is worth $50,000 all by itself. Let it not be said that we have not entertained you!

Here is our latest Act of Whimsy, a selection of Klingon Pickup Lines that you can use in real bars on real women. (Results may vary.)

 

Home Improvement Update

The home addition project is not finished yet. We’re past talking about when it will be finished. It will be finished when it’s finished. However, even though the rooms aren’t quite move-in ready, there are a number of aspects that we’re really enjoying right now.

1. Having a driveway and garage wide enough to park in. I love this so much and it never gets old. We used to have to do this dance on garbage day, where we moved one or both cars so we could wheel the bins down to the curb, and then the same thing in reverse. It was so difficult and tiresome. It’s so easy to take out the trash, now. Not only can we wheel it to the curb easily any time we want, but we can store the trash cans in our garage, which makes it simple to empty trash and run a bag of it out any time we need to. That was not possible in the previous garage configuration. We have not yet experienced the luxury of parking in the garage, because we have some tools and building materials staged, there, but that’s going to be great. Another thing I love is the garage door and remotes, and being able to enter and leave through the garage, rather than clumping all the way down the driveway, walking around to the front of the house, and hiking up the front steps, there to track snow and much through my living room.

2. No drafty porch. The old porch was a drafty nightmare. It was enclosed, but did not hold heat or insulate at all. Two interior-style french doors separated the old porch from the living room, so all winter long there were these awful cold drafts, made worse when we let the dogs out, because you would have to open a french door, then go to the exterior door on the porch to let the dogs outside. The whole process lasted approximately three hours each time, which allowed a cubic buttload of cold winter air into the living room every time. We are so blissfully free of that aggravation we barely remember it. I think that cold draft may have been slowly wearing away at our marriage.

3. Central vacuum. We installed this in conjunction with the construction, at times in a great hurry, because it had to go in before the drywall went up, and the drywallers were here before we were half ready. Brent and I spent hours plotting out the runs of vacuum pipe. It was amazingly complicated, but we did it. Now that the pipe is in and the vacuum working, oh my god, it’s amazing. This weekend I vacuumed the whole house–including most of the added space–in about half an hour. We have six inlets total. Two are the kind you sweep into, and four that you plug a hose into. The sweeping kind is particularly awesome, as you can do a quick sweep of pet hair without getting the hose out of the closet. It’s also much quieter than a conventional vacuum, and it whisks dust away instead of stirring it up into the room.

4. New water line. Our house was built in 1924, and we knew early on that the old water supply line from the street was not going to support water pressure for our two new bathrooms. The cost was, if I recall correctly, about $3500, and I was not thrilled to pay it, but we had a new water supply line installed, and, again, it’s just wonderful. The shower now gushes water at a rate that I am sure is far above the government limit–as I “modified” the flow restrictor a few years ago to compensate for the bad water pressure. That combined with the searing hot, endless capacity water heater makes every shower a peak life experience. Lovin it.

5. Sunny spaces. The new rooms, although they are not finished, have become really nice areas to go and hang out in, especially the master bedroom, which has a floor and trim. (At this point it just needs a bit more paint and some closet fittings to be finished.) I’ve already moved a plant out there, and the cats spend hours and hours each day playing in that room. Glen practices his violin in there, because the cathedral ceiling makes for some very good accoustics.

6. House just looks great. With the exterior finished and painted, the house looks cute and friendly and welcoming. I enjoy coming home to it and we get many compliments from neighbors and passersby. In fact, over Thanksgiving weekend, we were very amused to see our house had become a sort of attraction on a neighborhood walking tour, as our neighbors were bringing their visiting family members by, standing across the street, gesturing broadly at the roof and walls and such.

At this point it’s a little hard to imagine actually living out in those rooms. They’ve become sort of a museum exhibit at this point–a space not wholly belonging to us. Even though it’s been quiet for a few weeks, I sometimes hear banging up there and assume it’s someone building something. (It’s always the cats.) But eventually it’s going to be really cool to be hanging out in there, doing what I’m doing now–blogging, surfing the web, chillaxin, whatever.

Racist, Sexist, Homophobic: Exhibit A

It’s been a while since someone being a jerk on the internet has attracted my attention. This has been one of those weeks, however. A person named Theodore Beale has announced his candidacy for president of my writing organization, Science Fiction Writers of America. His motivation, as far as I can tell, is jealousy of, and a certain obsession with, the outgoing president, John Scalzi. Having done my due-diligence on the man’s character, by reading his blog, I’ve been appalled. His opinions are openly and unapologetically racist, sexist, and homophobic. His blogs, which you can find by googling his name, espouse opinions calculated to shock, including that women and men are not equal, that women should not have the right to vote, that women are uncivilized and need the influence of men to civilize them, and that women like to be sexually dominated, etc., etc., etc.

One of Beale’s blogs is dedicated to disseminating a sociological theory that seems to be pulled directly from his ass. It has to do with ranks of male humans that are based on how hot a woman one can hook up with. It’s a baffling, complicated system almost completely disconnected from reality. One has to pity a man who is both committed to that system, and also a publicly professed evangelical Christian, as Beale is, as one can see the train wreck coming for him one day when the woman he is monogamously married to finally succumbs to the effects of entropy–as we all do–and he finds his rank in the “game” dropping precipitously because he is now married to a wrinkly, saggy-boobed, post-menopausal woman of no social value, and yet does not have recourse to the traditional remedy practiced by the likes of Ghengis Khan–of acquiring more, younger women. He’s either stuck, or has to succumb to hypocrisy and trade in his life partner for a more status-boosting model.

There’s actually something rather refreshing about encountering a person who is so open about their racist, sexist, homophobic opinions. Granted, it’s the same kind of refreshing you get in your first breath of clean country air, the moment before the wind changes and you smell the nearby pig farm. But still, at least we can dispense with the pretense that old school cross-burning racists are extinct, or that the work of feminism is over because everyone’s been enlightened. That is obviously not true, and now we have an exhibit to point to whenever we need it.

Here’s me pointing now. People, have you found yourself arguing that issues like gang violence are about “class not race,” that women could decrease the incidence of rape by dressing differently, or that the shooting of Trayvon Martin was justifiable self defense? Well, guess what. You get to have Theodore Beale on your team. You’re so lucky. No, no, please don’t protest. He’s yours. You deserve him.

Now, if you find you don’t want to be on the side of hate, it’s not too late to make a different choice. Why not explore a lifestyle and belief system where we don’t hassle people over things they can’t control, where we give people a hand up because there’s enough of everything to go around, where we don’t have to be insecure about masculinity because it’s okay not to be masculine, where we don’t have to put everyone through a tiresome litmus test based on the sexual attractiveness of their female partner? It’s good over here. We have charming, generous, brilliant people like John Scalzi and Jim C. Hines on this side. And, look, no matter how many people we have on our team, there’s still room for everyone and anyone, whereas it looks like there’s limited seating on THAT side, and it’s pretty much reserved for white males. Yeah, I know where I’d rather be.

Which, by the way, means that if Beale somehow won the presidency of SFWA (a pretty unlikely event), I would immediately resign because it would no longer be an organization that in any way represents my interests.

Fundraisin’ along

The fundraiser to sequence Jay Lake’s cancer, otherwise known as the Acts of Whimsy fundraiser, is clicking along. We made $40,000 in four days, so Jay’s sequencing needs will be met. We’re pushing for more, so that we can improve his quality of life. Five years of holding down a full time job while undergoing four rounds of chemo and multiple surgeries, plus raising a child, can wear you down.

The fundraiser has generated numerous acts of whimsy–so many that linking them individually here would be quite a chore. Instead, I recommend perusing the links over at the fundraiser page. I will probably throw them into blog posts at random over the next couple of weeks. So much fun stuff over there, and more to come.

I will highlight, however, Howard Tayler’s contribution. Howard got kind of confused, and instead of contributing an Act of Whimsy, he created a work of art. Howard pledged to draw a picture of Jay Lake kicking cancer’s ass. The result is magnificent, and not only because I am in it (look closely). It turns out I really needed to see cancer personified, with Jay’s boot up its butt.