1. Unless you’re talking to a conservative. Then, by all means, be a dick.
1. Unless you’re talking to a conservative. Then, by all means, be a dick.
Has this ever happened to you?
A group of folks are talking online about a subject you find interesting, so you read what they have to say. Let’s say, for example, they’re talking about the taste of ice cream. As the shape of their opinions begin to take form, you realize that you disagree with the group consensus. For some reason they don’t like the taste of ice cream, but boy, you sure do. So, naturally, you say, “Gosh, I disagree with you on that.”
Then there’s a pause. Oddly, it seems the wave of agreement isn’t used to being challenged, and a little moment of stillness floats by as everyone takes in your apparent audacity. Then it starts. One of them lets out a gasp. “You’re a troll!”
Others point fingers. “He’s derailing! Oh my god, he’s derailing!”
I ask because I’ve had this experience, not specifically with ice cream, but with varied topics, more than once, and always with the same bunch of nitwits and activists. And by activists, I don’t mean the bold noble types who used to stand in front of tanks to stop wars. I mean the poorman version, the kind who pat themselves on the back for sneering at anyone who isn’t PC enough. Yeah, those assholes.
Anyway. When disagreement = derailment, there’s a major problem with discourse.
It worries me. I worry that too many folks in the world are conversing this way. I’m beginning to fear that accusations of groupthink and thought policing are more realistic than polemic.
Derailing. It’s when someone changes the actual topic of the conversation. And if, in those conversations, I was legitimately derailing, it must mean I misunderstand the topic. We weren’t actually talking about anything remotely close to the taste of ice cream. No. Instead, we were talking about: “In What Ways Does The Group Agree?”
Which is fine for the participants, I suppose, but it’s not a topic I want any part of. It’s a conversation built for morons.
This is an opening to a story that, in its completed form, never really worked for me. Lately, I’ve been thinking about it again, so I might take another crack at figuring out what bothered me about it so long ago.
Reeves didn’t want to bury his wife under a pile of rocks, but he didn’t know what else to do. Village law demanded that all of the dead and nearly dead be immobilized, so he sighed, picked up her litter, and got about the business of doing the law.
The funeral procession led through the center of the village, along the dirt road, to the outlying gardens. Only a half-dozen villagers joined in the walk, a poor turnout, but there wasn’t much reason to expect more. There just weren’t a lot of folks who wanted to be near the risen buried in the crypts.
Rose bushes were in full bloom, and though the scent was lovely, Reeves could only associate it with sickness and death. The garden made a labyrinth around the burial caves, as if seasonal beauty could somehow silence the moaning of the dead within.
I’m the worst book reviewer ever. I recognize it, and I’m mostly okay with it.
It’s not just that I’m bad at coming up with pithy one liners, which I am, but also because, well, truth is, I give everything I review five stars. How can you possibly trust a reviewer who adores everything? Well, gosh, you probably can’t. But, in my small defense, if something is atrocious I don’t bother reviewing it. Otherwise, I have a lot of respect for the work that went into writing the book in question, and I tend to legitimately like the authors I’m reviewing, if only as people, and I don’t enjoy hurting feelings. There’s not a lot of meanness in me.
Should I be more discerning? Maybe, I don’t know. I’m comfortable that everything I review is worth buying though, and, at least to me, it doesn’t matter if I think it’s worth buying at a level three, four, or five. It’s kinda like the way someone can’t be a little bit pregnant. I don’t think any of the books I review are a little bit worth buying; rather, I think they’re all worthy of being read. And I urge everyone to read more.
So, take my reviews with a grain of salt. And maybe a shot of whiskey if that’s what you’re into.
Once upon a time, I wrote this story. But I didn’t back it up, so I pretty much lost just about all of it, which sucks, but it’s my own fault. Anyway, I was happy to come across this opening bit. It’s obviously not the full story, but it makes me want to rewrite it.
In a urine-soaked alleyway, outside of the jeweler’s shop, Matty crouched low and slid the cold blade of a knife across his own thigh. The sharp steel sliced through his threadbare pants and split open his skin. A line of blood flowed, smearing the blade, but the sting, it wasn’t so bad, he thought. Heck, he’d felt worse.
The necklace was worth it. He felt a little guilty, but food was more important to him than honor. His master had sent him to the jeweler’s shop to have the chain repaired, but Matty knew he could probably sell it to one of the older boys by the river docks. He rubbed his fingers against the silver chain, and imagined the money it would bring and the meals he’d eat. Warm baked bread and cheese and maybe even salted meat. His mouth flooded wet even as his stomach hurt, convulsing inside, like it was collapsing in on itself. He swallowed his own saliva, hoping the presence of something would lessen the pain.
It didn’t. He needed the food. He just had to hope his master would believe he’d been robbed. It wasn’t that unlikely, he figured. The city wasn’t exactly known for being safe, especially now that it was crawling with out of work mercenaries left over from Cardinal Redond’s failed campaign.
Matty stood and swayed, suddenly woozy. The damn hunger wouldn’t let go, and the blood seeping out of his leg wasn’t helping him focus. He closed his eyes, trying to think straight, to summon up a bit of clarity. It wouldn’t do to be found with the necklace in his pocket, he thought. No, not at all. He wrapped it in a dirty handkerchief and dropped it in the alley. He could get it back later, assuming a random beggar didn’t find it in the meantime. The knife he held on to, suspecting the cut on his leg probably wouldn’t be enough.
Matty gritted his teeth and slashed himself across his ribs. He spit and cursed as his eyes watered. Gods’ graves, but it burned.
There was only one thing left to do. Anyone could fake a robbery with a cut or two, but how many folks would go so far as to beat their own heads to get a couple of good bruises? That was the kind of detail that would make all the difference.
He closed his eyes, sucked in his breath, and leaned his shoulder against the wall before snapping his head violently into it.
This is an old joke kids used to tell when I was young. Like most widespread jokes, I have no idea where this one originated. This is, more or less, how I’ve always told it.
The shepherd’s dream of a new life washed away with the coming of a nasty storm. He’d been sailing across the sea with his flock and his sheep dog when the rough waters hit. The ship capsized and most of his sheep drowned that night.
But all wasn’t lost. The shepherd managed to swim to the shore of a nearby deserted island, and the next morning he was overjoyed to discover that one of his sheep and his trusty dog had made it as well.
Time passed, and though the shepherd had the necessities–fresh water, coconuts, fish–he still found himself growing lonely. A man, you know, has certain needs, and the shepherd’s needs just weren’t being met.
Well, one day it occurred to the fellow that he was alone. Truly, utterly alone. No one was likely to come save him anytime soon. What did the laws of the civilized world mean to him anymore? He’d heard jokes about shepherds and their sheep before, and he’d always discounted those jokes as silly notions, but as time passed, well, the thought of him getting together with his sheep didn’t seem so outrageous. And honestly, who would know?
One night, a particularly lonely night, he made up his mind. He shimmied his pants down to his ankles and crept up behind the sheep.
Ruff! Ruff ruff ruff! His sheep dog went crazy, barking mad, intent on keeping the sheep safe. The shepherd cursed himself for training the dog so well, and pulled up his pants before scurrying back to his lean-to.
The next night, the same thing happened. He slipped his pants down again and tiptoed up to the back of the sheep.
Ruff! Ruff ruff ruff!! The shepherd jerked his pants back on and stumbled away from the sheep. That rotten dog, he thought, fuming and pacing.
On the third night, as luck would have it, he saw a ship sailing by on the horizon. Overhead, the clouds were thick and dark. Thunder rumbled, and the waves grew frothy and violent. The distant ship tossed about and finally sank. Just like the shepherd’s had so long ago.
That night, by the moonlight, he saw a lone survivor swimming to shore. She had long, blonde hair, and she came out of the ocean with water dripping like tiny diamonds from her body. Her white shirt was soaked and clinging to her ample chest.
The shepherd thanked all that was good and ran down to the shore. “Oh my God,” he said. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
The woman, shocked and breathing hard, gasped out a reply. “What? Why?”
The shepherd pointed. “Could you please hold that dog for a second so I can get to that sheep?”
The convention was small. Small enough that I was surprised to see Pat there, him being this big name, you know. He was a breakout star, the kind of guy I figured probably rubbed elbows with muckety-mucks. Still, he’d come to the small convention, and I was happy to see him, and anxious to hear him talk, but again, mostly surprised. I figured that if every single person in attendance bought a copy of his book, well, maybe he’d make enough money to pay for his plane ticket.
I liked his book. I was impressed with a lot of his writing. But what did I think of his character, Kvothe? I didn’t know. I couldn’t decide. I mean, truth is, I found Kvothe, as a character, exciting and interesting. I wanted to read more. But still. A part of me frowned at the idea of a character as naturally gifted as he was. Someone once wrote in a review that Kvothe was his own deus ex machina, and I get where the reviewer was coming from.
A part of me longed to see a character succeed because of sweat. With Kvothe, it was like he was born for greatness. And that bothered me. It bothered me because I felt like, on some silly little level, it was an insult to folks who succeeded by trying harder than everyone else. Where was the everyman hero, the one born with an average body and an average brain, but still compelled to push himself harder and longer? Consider: when the rest of the world is eating ice-cream and watching porn, what’s the hero of the future doing? In my opinion, working.
Anyway. These were the thoughts I had when I went to that small convention. Pat talked a lot that weekend. He sang. He read a few excerpts. He gave a great Cyrano de Bergerac pitch. And best of all, he really made himself available. After panel discussions, he took the time to sit in the lobby and entertain a group of us who huddled about him.
For the most part, I didn’t talk. I listened. It’s the way I am. At least, it’s the way I am when I’m in the room with a NY Times bestselling author. I figure he probably had more to say than I did, especially given the fact that everyone there was decidedly there to hear him, not me. So, with all the lobby chairs occupied, I sat on the floor, and stayed mostly quiet.
It was getting late, and a lull hit the conversation. Folks were tired, and I realized I hadn’t taken the opportunity to ask any questions.
“Pat,” I said, finally. “I’m curious. Why Kvothe? Why write about someone who’s so gifted and great? Everything comes so easy to him. I mean, why not write about someone more common, like a turnip farmer?”
Now, I couldn’t help but notice a flash of what I’ll call anger crossing Pat’s face. At the time, I didn’t know he’d been accused of writing a Mary Sue character, and it didn’t occur to me that he might be overly sensitive to a fan suggesting as much.
I frowned and shrugged my shoulders. “I’m just curious,” I said. “It’s a fair question.”
Pat nodded. “It is, and I’ll tell you why I didn’t write about a turnip farmer. Because that’d be fucking boring.”
When my daughter was three-years-old she saw Garfield on television. You know Garfield, right? The lasagna-loving, fat cat that happens to sound a heck of a lot like Bill Murray. She was taken by the lazy cat, and started watching the episodes on a regular basis. One night, we were outside, and she made a wish on a star.
“Star light, star bright, the first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight. I wish a giant lasagna would fall out of the sky!”
So that was my daughter’s three-year-old wish. She wanted a giant baked lasagna to fall out of the sky. The next day she asked me when her wish was going to come true.
“When you least expect it,” I said, waving my hand and trying to sound mysterious. I kind of thought we were just joking around with each other.
Two years later, my daughter was five, and we were again walking around outside, underneath the stars. She turned to me and said, “Daddy, when am I going to get my lasagna? I’ve been waiting a really long time.”
Wow. That’s how serious a silly wish had been to her. She’d been waiting two years, nearly half her life, for the wish to come true.
I didn’t know what to say. Should I ruin the magic and innocence of childhood by telling her that wishes don’t come true? Who wants to hear that crap? Should I, instead, let her go around believing a giant lasagna was going to miraculously splatter on the ground in front of her?
No, I couldn’t do that. I’m not built that way.
We went to the store. We bought ingredients. We came home, and we baked a lasagna. We took it outside, and I threw it as high into the air as I could. It rained tomato sauce and mozzarella and noodles, and we laughed as, in its own way, the wish came true.
I like to think my daughter and I both learned something that evening. Hopefully, neither one of us will continue spending half of our life waiting for a wish to come true.
INT. PROGRESSIVE HOUSEHOLD, KITCHEN – EVENING
MOM(34) is sitting at the kitchen table in front of her laptop. She’s holding a half-eaten slice of pizza in one hand while tapping on her keyboard with the other.
The door opens, and DAD(35) comes in. He looks a little haggard as he takes off his long coat.
Hey honey. I’m home.
Oh, you look rough. How was work today?
Dad hangs his coat over the back of a kitchen chair before plopping down in the seat.
Miserable. Just miserable. Let me tell you about
it. I got fired, the car broke down, and that
energy company we invested in went belly up.
Mom puts her slice of pizza down and closes her laptop. Her attention is now fully on Dad.
Does this mean what I think it means?
Dad can no longer contain himself. A big grin spreads across his face.
Sure does. It’s time to spend our way out of debt!
Mom, grinning ear-to-ear, jumps up.
I’ll get my purse!
Dad hops out of his own chair.
I’ll get the credit cards!
Just before they both run off, Mom touches Dad’s elbow, stopping him.
Oh, honey. Before I forget, the Jones family down the
road is on hard times. They sure could use some money.
No sweat. We’ll just take out a new credit card in
our kid’s name and cut them a big, fat check.
Mom hugs dad. It’s a lingering hug, full of warmth and affection.
Aren’t we the bestest, smartest, most progressive family ever!
We sure are, honey. We sure are.
FADE TO BLACK.
Recently, I came across a Washington Times article discussing a debate about whether or not there should be a plus sized Barbie doll. Personally, I don’t see the benefit in this new, potential Barbie. In my opinion, it won’t solve body issues folks have. In fact, I suspect it may exacerbate the issue.
I don’t have much commentary on this. I’ll limit my thoughts here to this:
1. I don’t think most children think they have to look like their toys. Most children, in my experience, realize that dolls are dolls, not people.
2. Some small percentage of children probably do think they should look like their toys. However, I don’t think the solution to that should be changing the way the toys look. I think the solution should be explaining to the kids in question that dolls are dolls, not people.
3. If I’m wrong, and the vast majority of kids do think they should look like their toys, well, how the heck is encouraging obesity helping? Being overweight is, for the most part, extremely unhealthy.
4. I predict that kids will begin to insult other children by saying they look like this Barbie. I also predict that folks, adults, will make numerous jokes about what Barbie’s newest career must be. I see nothing but problems with this.
5. For instance, I’m making a prediction here. Barbie is known for having been through a huge number of careers since she was introduced in 1959. I’m guessing it’s only a matter of time before the somewhat infamous blogger Vox Day suggests that Barbie’s newest career is that of an SFWA writer.