Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

Warning: Contains Language,

 

I’ve been watching people, thinking of Orlando, of the recent shootings. It reminds me of a whole host of other national tragedies. People are always looking for someone to blame in the aftermath.

I’m part of many ‘communities’. Some in the meatspace and some here on the interwebs. I don’t always feel that I belong in some of them. Sometimes these communities appear to be at odds with one another. When that feels true and you don’t want to believe that community speaks for you. You forget that it goes both ways, that you’re a part of the community, one made up for individuals, and you speak for them too.

I play video games. I play a lot less than I used to, but I grew up playing games and when I was young many of my friends and I were definitely part of the gaming community. These days, most of the time I play I’m playing online with other humans, humans I don’t know and there’s no shortage of hate speech in that of the internet.

Here are a few things people have actually said in game to me (apologies, hate speech ahead).

Homophobic language is by far the most common:
“that’s such a gay ass move! Buncha faggots”

And I distinctly remember this charming request:
“can you fucking jews stop taking all my gold”

The worst of the stuff I see is a little less common, but it’s hardly an isolated incident. This is an actual transcript of a conversation I had with a teammate:

Player 1: God I hate you fucking niggers
Me: Dude, W T Fuck?!?!?! not ok!
P1: too bad its true, nigger.
Me /all: Report P1 hate speech, calling teammates “n**gers”.
P1 /all: ur all lazy and don’t do shit to help. Makes you niggers.
M3 /all: Muted reported

When this happens, there’s only so much I can do about it. It’s so common I’ve got a rote response to this kind of talk. I say it’s not appropriate. Sometimes I explain why (I say sometimes, because it’s often obvious or the person is beyond my help).  Sometimes I mute them and sometimes, if the person is on my team, I stop playing altogether “because I refuse to help bigots win at anything” I say. There are things that trump beating strangers on the internet at a game.

Sadly enough, doing this is more likely to result in my account being penalized for going AFK than anything else. At the end of the match I can report the incident and on the very rare occasion it does result in any action (the game notifies you if someone you reported is penalized) I get the small dopamine rush from foolishly thinking I did something to help. Most of the time I just have to shake it off and tell myself it’s just some asshole on the internet, pay no heed, don’t feed the trolls, but the thing is, ‘some assholes on the internet’ are a huge part of the problem.

At some point in our online lives, most of us learn to tune out certain groups of people. The Klan, The WBC, the Family Research Council, and other “fringe” groups, but it’s the everyday cruelties that’ll wear a person down.

No – it wasn’t that ONE guy saying faggot that made all those teenager kill themselves; not that one times someone all caps screamed racial slurs that got Dylan Roof to attack that church. It was that those were one of a thousand times they heard it, each one a brick dropped into a rowboat till it finally sinks. It takes a thousand of them or more and when they’re tossed in faster than you throw them out, when they keep hitting you faster than you can shake them off, that’s when people die. It’s not that one word, it’s the thousand that came before it and the thousand that will come after it.

And OUR community is a part of the problem. WE have to fix it. This is a community that is brought together by something that is supposed to be fun, games. It’s our job to make it a safe place for all people. Because every one of those words that happen on our games, on our screens, in our chat logs, those words are on us.

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There’s something that always struck me as problematic about Monsters Inc.

So the monsters have the technology to convert both the laughter and screams of humans into energy.

By the end of the movie, the monsters realize humans aren’t a dangerous biological contaminate, which is why they kept their existence hidden from humans and only interacted with children, as they wouldn’t be believed by grown up humans (presumably even though almost all human children see these monsters, they are all gaslighted as they grow up into thinking it was all their imagination). So why don’t they share that technology with us?

They do have a vested interest in our survival as a species (I would guess if they could somehow use any less complex and possibly dangerous animal than humans they would) and we are ever more swiftly driving ourselves to extinction with our own energy consumption vis-à-vis climate change. We could easily solve this energy crisis by installing this the in amusement parks and comedy clubs, not only settling the matter of climate change, but also the potential for resource wars and other global conflicts in the future.

In exchange for the technology (and look I understand they still would probably not want to share their dimension jumping doors and I’m fine with taking a pass on that because humans), we could set up some kind of sharing system to meet their energy needs as well, as we could farm this fuel far more efficiently than their current operation of one scream (or laugh) at a time.

So what gives?

What gives is that those monsters are selfish short-sighted bastards! I bet their politicians are in the pocket of big Screams and a simple plan like this would mean those factories would close costing the bosses millions of monster dollars. It just goes to show the evils of capitalism exist in all worlds.

I’ve been putting this post off for a while now and by a while I mean since January 2014.

I meant to write about it, but I didn’t. I meant to get around to it, when I had more time to think about to talk it out a bit with myself like I usually do, but I didn’t. The year passed and then about a month ago something starts floating around the internets.

Readers, Challenge oneself to go a whole year without reading anything written by cis-straight-white men.

My first reaction was —GO A WHOLE YEAR WITHOUT VONNEGUT! That’s insane!

The post got passed around and got a bunch of people up in a huff. I won’t delve any further on that front, but it reminded me of the conversation that got me started on this a year ago and my desire to try and work those thoughts out on paper.

I’ve been putting this piece off mostly because I don’t know how to talk about it. At least not on the internet, not with strangers, not without sounding like a total asshole. So I hope you’ll excuse anything I say out of ignorance. So I’m just going to be honest and vulnerable and ramble for a bit. Unlike my other cultural/political rants I put up here I ‘m not trying to make a point

It started at a going away party for a friend. The friend introduced me to someone

—You two will love each other. She’s a writer as well

And we did get along quite swimmingly. Of course, we got into the typical what are you reading who are your favorites bullshit.

She told me hers I told her mine and then she said

—ah, of course, all of the old white men

Instinctively, took a bit of an offence. I wanted to cleverly refute the implication, but then I got home and looked at my bookshelf. The list I gave that night probably wouldn’t surprise many of you, writers like Vonnegut, Cormac McCarthy, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Hunter S Thompson (I should note, however obviously, that this blog is called Bloggings of a Dirty Old Man not only in order to set a certain tone, but is also a reference to Charles Bukowski.).

This is my reading list for 2015

Among the 35 books on that list the ones that aren’t written by white men can be counted on one hand. A total of five if you include Murakami, but I don’t because he’s basically a Japanese white man.

I’m of several minds about the matter.

First, my defense

The novel itself is a western invention (Yes, I know, but before you start on the whole Pillow Book line, let me stop you, I’m not going to go down that path this round. There’s enough to address on the table already.), it’s beginning usually accredited to Cervantes. For ages women were kept out of that sphere, and pretty much all other matters of import, so for a good long stretch of publication history, women publishing novels just didn’t happen often. In America, people of color and women were not allowed to vote or even learn to read (and other stuff which I will now grossly simplify as patriarchypatriarcypatriarchy).So when talking about the whole cannon of fiction novels, there is just an overwhelming number favor for white men.

Next, proximity. We tend to read and enjoy more of what feels familiar to us, (same goes for music, movies etc) I take an authors that I like and see what they read, and so on. Or I wait until a mathematical quotient of recommendations are met (see paragraph two here)

In short I don’t really ever seek out new works. I already have a huge stack of things to read, so I don’t need to. Anything else that ends up in my hands comes to me through one of these methods.

So I’m not the racist, sexist one, right? It’s all those other people telling me what to read. It’s my schools’ fault for not teaching a more diverse cannon.

I’ll get to more of this later, but as a writers, it’s total bullshit to try and put myself in such a passive role when it comes to what I read. The shot of it is, it’s the patriarchy’s fault as a whole, because Society popularized those books. In the words of John Green “I am a white man in a society that tends to reward maleness and whiteness”

I didn’t read Gatsby or Huck Finn or Dickens because I chose to fill my head with the words of only white men. I did it because that is what was provided to me as a child and as I grew I sought out other work that felt familiar.

But now I am grown and I’m a professional writer. Which makes me a professional reader. That excuse is no longer valid

Jay Smooth, I feel has a fairly good take on this in what he calls learning the craft of being good

Like Jay, I often feel that MRA/redpill gut reaction of stop making me feel ashamed for being a white male and liking art by other white men, especially because the truth is, when it comes to non-fiction media I follow plenty of not white men. I want to defend myself in a similar argument to but I have black friends so it’s cool.

My RSS/twitter/youtube subscriptions includes a Dan savage, Bret Easton Ellis, Hannah hart, Laci green, Jay smooth, Meg Turney, Stoya, Laurie Penny, what’s her face from black girl dangerous, Molly Crabapple, Coke Talk, Holly Pervocacy, and more (admittedly mostly more white women), just to mansplain a little.

Somehow though, when it comes to writers of fiction, that number drops substantially, racking my brain for this post, the only black authors I know I’ve even read are Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, August Wilson and only one of them was a novelist. There may be more, but not that I can think of in the hour it’s taken me to write this so far.

The woman at the party quickly listed off a number of people I don’t remember cause it was over a year ago and said I should make sure to read all of them. She told me I needed to work on seeking out more diverse authors because it was the right thing to do, it’s make me a better person. With that she put me on the defensive again as she was suggesting I was doing something wrong, by reading what I liked.

More importantly than my own ego however, what concerned me about this line of thought comes back to the title of this post, Pigeonholing.

Bret Easton Ellis, a writer of whom I am a fan, didn’t come out as gay until well into his career. Partially, perhaps because he feared it would hurt his ability to sell books, but according to him, most of the reason he didn’t come out was because he didn’t want his work filed under Gay literature. He didn’t want to be known as a leading queer author. He wanted to be known as a great American author.

I agree with Ellis. I don’t think anyone would categorize American Psycho as gay literature. I don’t think Rules of Attraction is the best candidate for a queer studies curriculum. So does Ellis’s work meet the criteria of the tumbler Social Justice Warrior challenge?

Would his books count before he came out? Does his coming out retroactively make them count, or does his work only count if it was published after he came out publicly?

I think Ellis’s is a totally fair choice and his prerogative as an artist. It makes me ask, when we seek out diversity for its own sake, are we not simultaneously restricting those artists by categorizing them by a single attribute?

(I know there are other authors, black authors, women authors, who have felt the same way, but I use Ellis as an example because He’s the most mainstream and could pass as a white man.)

All the not white men authors I’ve read I read for the same reason I read anything. So if I do go out of my way to get more diverse authors on my list for the year, what does it cost me? I can only read so much in my time here on earth, so what books that I want to read, or authors I love, do I have to give up to be ‘a good person’ or at least, a better person (This of course is the kind of logic that got Edward Norton’s Character started in American History X.) Yet at the same time one of the reasons I think literature is important is that it teaches us empathy.

When you read you see the world from the point of view of someone different from yourself. You realize that everyone else in the world is their own set of biases and emotions and opinions and other complexities. For those however many thousand words you become someone else and my hope is that when we come out the other side we see other people with a little more depth.

Back to my conversation with the woman at the party.

—How about Invisible Man? That’s one of my favorite books.

—Did you read that for school?

—Yeah.

—Exactly, doesn’t count

I read Invisible Man in high school and I loved it. It’s one of my favorite novels. I loved the writing, the storytelling, but what I remember most is the Narrator, his anger and discontent, his struggle to accept himself and his background, all while trying to play by the rules of a modern cosmopolitan racist society.

One of the reasons it was important to me was it was the first time I’d ever read a novel by a black person. I had studied speeches, poetry, learned about the civil rights movement in history. I had black friends, even the man that served as my surrogate father was black, but for me, it took a novel to begin to understand what it meant to be black in America.

This is why we first teach children about the Holocaust with Night and Number the Stars instead of just showing them black and whites of crematoriums. As an adult, the account that has meant the most to me was Maus. Fiction, or comic books, or theatre, or poetry or whatever, plays and important role in our cultural dialogue.

Invisible Man changed me in a fundamental way and helped me grow as a person (Later, when I went on to study theatre at university August Wilson became a favorite playwright of mine, again because a teacher assigned Fences to us.).

I don’t know what else my English teacher had on the curriculum beforehand. I don’t know if he picked it because he liked it or because he thought or was told he had to have a black author on the syllabus, but I certainly benefited from it.

This discussion also seems strange to me because I will often yell about how Hollywood doesn’t make movies with women or people of color as superheroes. I’m genuinely excited about the new Ms Marvel and Thor. I did bought the trade paperbacks when they came out even though I’ve never read either title before, when I could have bought the next DMZ or House of Mystery instead.

I don’t know what it is about fiction specifically that makes me go

—…eh, I got other shit to read.

And I don’t know why of all things I get defensive about my reading habits and my list. But I do.

Like Jay Smooth, I try to practice being good.

This comes back to why I put off writing about this for so long. I don’t want to think about it. Because, like everyone else, I want to see myself as the good guy. I don’t want to acknowledge any biases or shortcomings especially when those failings are steeped in institutional racism and misogyny that, for however much “I didn’t do it”, is furthered by my own tacit complicity in a system that advantages me.

We should self-evaluate. And we should acknowledge when we have weaknesses. It’s the foundation of my belief in science. It’s the only way we can change the world for the better. As a writer, this specifically should be something I should think about it.

For now I’ll leave with this.

On my list for this year I have the following non-white men books:

Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula K Le Guin

The Handmaidens Tale – Margaret Atwood

Bel Canto – Anne Pratchet

Beloved – Toni Morrison

I don’t think I’ll make the whole35 for the year now that writing and reading things is a full time job for me, but these four will get a little boost in priority.

For next year, I’m not going to go the whole hog with the challenge (I’m not going to go a whole year without something by Vonnegut, Gaiman, Thompson or Bukowski when I’ve still so much left to read), but I’d like to make sure at least half of what goes on the list are by women or people of color (it beats the roughly ten percent mark from this year). Here’s what I’m putting on so far, feel free to add your suggestions in the comments or message me.

Left Hand of Darkness – Ursula K Le Guin

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Eagan

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman (if I like Mockingbird) – Harper Lee

Things Fall Apart –Chinua Achebe

The motherfucking Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath

Native Son – Richard Wright

The Dispossessed (if I like Left Hand of Darkness) – Ursula K Le Guin

Go Tell it on the Mountain – James Baldwin

Interview with a Vampire – Anne Rice

The Binary System

Posted: 2 June, 2015 in Rants
Tags: , , , , , ,

For about six years now I’ve been sharing an idea. For most of that time I thought it was something silly, something insignificant, a somewhat humorous bit to share with new groups of friends when you can’t figure out where to go next with the conversation.

But over the past year or so, I’ve heard other people discussing and using this idea. People I did not share it with, people who live far away, in other cities, in other states. And when I ask them about where they heard about it I found it usually traced back to me. Of course, whenever I hear someone saying this, it makes me smile and gives a small boost to my ego.

However, the truth is I can’t take credit for the idea. I only added to it, modified it a bid, and did my best to share it with the world.

Like most all great ideas, it all started in a bar and to be honest I can’t remember who exactly said it first.

Addison, Texas is a not quite suburb of Dallas, resting just above the northern most edge of the city, hugging the curve of the LBJ. On Monday nights, if you ride Midway under the monstrous growing overpass, each of its pillars engraved with the Lone Star of Texas, you will arrive at an English style pub called the Londoner and, so long as it isn’t raining, you’ll find the same four people at the front of the patio enjoying two dollar pints of Shiner.

One particular summer night, we were arguing about the attractiveness of some of our fellow patrons.

The problem was none of us could agree on which of our fellow drinkers were 10s or 8s or 5s or whatever. Furthermore we couldn’t even all agree on any one individual being more attractive than any other individual.  Much of this could be chocked up to taste. Some people have a type, dark hair or fair, curves or heroin chic. Aesthetic is subjective in nature, but that wasn’t the whole of the problem. People couldn’t even seem to settle on what the scale meant.

—I only go home with eights or better, said one

—Bullshit, said another —I’ve seen you hit a six for sure.

—that doesn’t even make sense, said a third, —Five is the middle. Literally anyone above a five is someone attractive enough to sleep with. The rest is degrees of ugliness or hotness.

—then it’s a sliding scale relative to the individual? I ask —someone’s four is someone else’s six? Or is it a curve? Like, of all six billion people on the planet they must be evenly distributed between one and ten? Then someone’s attractiveness is still relative, not to the observer but the every other living person.

It was quite the conundrum. With all our combined years of social indoctrination, training us to reduce our fellow humans’ value to a digit, we couldn’t even decide what the scale was, much less, where others fell on it.

I’m not sure which, but it was one of these four who first said.

—It pretty much comes down to a binary system.

With those words my entire way of superficially judging strangers changed forever.

This is what he meant.

Binary a system of ones and zeros. The basis of all computer programming and more importantly, Morse code.

In our case, a one or zero represents an answer.

Yes or no.

A brutally honest method of getting to what is most important (at least to people in bars): Based strictly on an aesthetic basis would you or wouldn’t you fuck said individual.

Because it doesn’t matter if they’re a 9 or an 8 if you’d fuck a 6, now does it?

Aside from settling arguments in pubs, the Binary System actually solves a number of first world problems.

For one, it eliminates that false sense of comparative beauty.

Don’t know what I mean? Sure you do.

Beyoncé or Christina Hendricks?

Exactly, it’s not a fair choice.

You can’t compare them and even if you did it would really come down to personal preference.

No more of that cruel cattiness that plagues incestuous social circles. No more which is the prettier one (It’s Illana! Fuck yourself! You know I’m right! JK, trick question, they’re both 1’s). No more ranking people like they’re draft picks (it’s a sports thing look it up) because it doesn’t matter.

In fact, the Binary System eliminates most of that beautiful people bullshit. Once you achieve binary enlightenment, a beautiful truth emerges. If you have ever been laid then you are a one.

Dawww I wish I was like [insert topical Hollywood/pop star(let)]. No! You don’t! Those people can’t even go to a They Might be Giants Concert without a body guard. Do you seriously want to give up going to Concerts? You are a one! Learn contentment in your oneness. Being a one puts you in the same league as Brad Pitt (even Snatch Brad Pitt, aka best Brad Pitt) or JLaw or the that one chick from Sleater-Kinney (see what I did there?).

Yeah, there’s some room for, shall we call it “liquid interference”, but I say that really just helps you understand the truth of the signal.

The Binary System takes some of the power out of the mainstream standards of beauty. You only have to be pretty enough to fuck, after that it’s all personal choice.

Oh, so I don’t need to be a perfectly chiselled Adonis. Even with a beer belly, I’m still a one.

You, want me to do what with my pubic hair? No way! and I don’t give a shit, cause I’m still a one.

Most importantly the Binary System forces us to admit the truth of the matter; we humans have pretty low standards.

Everyone is someone’s 1.

So, Dirty Old Man, I hear you say, what about personality? cause that counts for a lot right?

Right. Good point.

And shut the fuck up that’s not the issue we’re addressing.

This isn’t a method of settling on a lifelong relationship or deciding whether you should leave your husband and the get the pain over with now or start cheating and try and keep it together for the kids.

This is for people making quick, potentially dangerous choices before the bar closes. This is for people walking into a room and getting the hard part over with fast so they can enjoy their drinking. This is for making yourself feel better when you wake up and shake your head at yourself, so you can say

—hey at least they were a 1,

and take your long, beautiful walk of not-shame home to a happier life.

Joss

Posted: 21 October, 2014 in Rants
Tags: , , , , ,

I recently rewatched Firefly and Serenity with Delphi who had never seen it.

She makes a good point.

If Whedon was going to kill off two main characters,

it should’ve been Mal and Inara.

The show could go on AND it would be way better.

No Apologies

Posted: 12 October, 2014 in Rants

No matter how much you torture yourself about it, Never write an apology post.

 

mostly because no one cares. It’s an awful pretentious silliness that necessitates such an entry not to mention the implication that your multitude of followers hang on for those precious words of yours. When (or should I say IF) anyone was to read the archives of your work, even more embarrassing than them seeing your earlier, shabbier, less consistent work, will be their seeing entries upon entries apologizing for a lack of entries.

 

though I suppose griping about apology writings after a long time away from getting anything out is just as annoying.

A People’s History of United States by Howard Zinn has always been a book I’ve picked up and read in pieces but for the first time since college I’m reading chronologically beginning with the 20th century [This is because I grabbed the audible version off one of those free credit deals that seems to be on every podcast and YouTube channel lately.]. The recording begins with an introduction by Zinn which all but gave me an erection. The rest of the 1900s are narrated by Matt Damon.

While I was reading A People’s History for the first time I was having a lot of conversations with my friend Andy about the book (as well as about Chomsky both of whom he introduced me to) and as a result whenever I read Zinn, I hear his voice.

Here’s where it gets weird for me. Listening to the opening chapter on the place of black Americans in the wake of reconstruction and Jim Crow etc at the turn of the last century as I’m cleaning my kitchen and putting away my laundry, I see Andy like the ghost of Hamlet appear in my dining room. He follows me out so the back porch while I am taking out the trash and tells me something about voter registration in the south, he recites Langston Hughes:

What happens to a dream deferred?

 

      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?

 

      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.

 

      Or does it explode?

But though I can see his lips moving what is coming out is said in Matt Damon’s voice.

I listen to the recording up until around the Vietnam War; Kennedy is sending in more troops and I have to turn it off because it’s freaking me out. The hologram in my den vanishes. I sit down on the sofa for a minute and try to hear the words in Andy’s voice. It doesn’t work. All I can hear is Matt fucking Damon.

An hour or so later the house is clean and so are my ears after I’ve smoked a little grass and listened to Bob Dylan’s 115th dream a few times. I run my fingers over the book-case on my way to open the windows, grab a copy of Chomsky essays, sit on the bed back against the corner at the foot between the two windows, and I begin to flip the pages reading the odd quote but mostly going over my own marginalia.

On one of the pages there is paragraph done up in highlighter, which is strange because I mark my books usually with a black pen. There is a line of black ink leading to words written in my hand. I realize the ink is me quoting Andy as we were sitting in his office, a strange little two room in the basement with unfinished pipes sticking out of the center of the floor (which I had drunkenly tried to piss in one night), the baby-shit green carpeting genetically closer to Astroturf than shag, the walls covered in pictures of old productions of his. Andy opened the book, thumbed the pages until he reached the highlighted paragraph and read aloud.

When he was finished with Chomsky’s words he added his own
– See, that’s cool man, that’s real cool.

And shut the book. He lent me the book later that year and when I came upon the highlighted passage I wrote in my own quoting of Andy.

Sitting in my bedroom, I can finally hear his voice again. Saying -See, that’s cool man, real cool.

I’m watching the dogs in the backyard, I yell at them to stop doing something. Kuma is trying to eat a pigeon. Princess is sleeping on the back porch.

I will never return this book.

 

 

Oh, fuck. Andy is dead. I forget to say that? Shit. Probably should’ve led with that.