1,022 Days (or “But I Need to Suffer for My Art!”)

I don’t wanna belabor the point, but this tweet got me thinking:

Part of the reason this story took so long to go from this first longhand page to hitting newsstands was because, over the course of the winter that followed that tweet, I was steadily loosing my mind

Since my adolescence I’ve always had seasonal affect issues, my mood steadily sinking until February—I’m from Michigan; Bob Hicok famously characterizes us as “a people who by February / want to kill the sky for being so gray“—then rebounding with the thaw.  Lots of people are like that, especially here; no big.  But that year the mood never rebounded; it just sank and sank and sank.  I ate more sugar and drank more coffee and skateboarded as much as I could, and soldiered on.  But by summer the hole was too deep.  Once I’d slam a coffee and another coffee, eat some cookies, skate hard, and be OK.  But by July I’d skate so hard I was seeing stars and woozy, and 20 minutes later feel like crap and be desperate to go back to the skatepark.  My speech was getting slow and ponderous, my behavior erratic.  I got in a fight with my wife over something—I can’t even recall what, something our son had done—and lost my temper.  I don’t remember what I said, just that I was in the backyard screaming, my chest collapsing, so angry I was dry-heaving and chanting “I’m sick; I’m sick; I’m sick.”

I didn’t want to be alive any more, but I couldn’t stand the idea of being separate from my children, and the thing running constantly in my head was how I could get careless enough to be killed in an accident where my life insurance would still pay off.  Then my family would be on easy street and not burdened by me; my kids would be able to afford college, my wife would own our house outright, and I wouldn’t have to be me anymore, because I wouldn’t have to be at all.  And being, it had become apparent, was my core problem.

PRO-TIP: If you need to quickly diagnose depression that has become dangerous, just ask them:  “If you could push a button and have never existed at all, would you do it?  No pain, no trauma, no one mourning you, just *poof!* and you never were.”

If the answer is “Yeah, sure,” then that person needs to talk to a doctor very, very soon.

At any rate, by the time I had that screaming fit I had already made an appointment to talk to a doctor—something that I’d kept a secret for reasons I can’t really explain any more, because they make no fucking sense; I’d made that appointment under false pretenses, telling my doctor I’d re-injured my ankle—the whole point is that nothing I was doing then made a lot of sense.

But part of that logic had to do with this poisonous, murderous goddamn myth we have that taking meds for your psychiatric illnesses is somehow “weak” or “unnatural” or damages the purity of your artistic fucking whatever.

I wrote 50,000 words of stories while my brain was collapsing that just aren’t much of anything.  I sat on revisions of my novella “Where There is Nothing, There is God” (which was in Asimov’s in 2016, and was a finalist for the Asimov’s Award) for a goddamn *year.*  I’d sent it around, got feedback from Ann VanderMeer at Tor and C.C. Finlay at F&SF—really good advice, advice that ultimately made it the strong story it was—and then did nothing for a full calendar year.  I wrote “There Was a Crooked Man…”, put it through my writing group, got great feedback, and then just sat on it.

And I have no idea why. 

Or, more to the point, I know precisely why: Because my brain had drifted from doing a fairly crappy job of managing serotonin to not really bothering to manage it at all. 

I started taking 50mg of Sertraline every morning about two years ago (with the ongoing support of a psychiatrist).  It’s cheap, I haven’t suffered major side effects, it’s been really good for my personal relationships, and has spared my wife and children having to plan and attend my funeral—and it’s done fuckall to harm my “art”:

This story, “There Was a Crooked Man…”, saw the better part of its Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/Aug 2017revision after I went on meds.  The last three pieces I’ve sold—Expiration Date, “Whatever Comes After Calcutta” (forthcoming in F&SF) and “In the Sharing Place” (sold to Asimov’s)—were entirely written on anti-depressants.  These latest pieces are among the best work I’ve done, precisely because (*SPOILER ALERT!*) it’s a lot easier to do good work when you aren’t struggling to keep being alive.

If you need help, please get help.  Needing psych meds is no more a moral failing than needing a cast when you break your leg, and seeing a therapist isn’t touchy-feely “snowflake” BS any more than seeing a physical therapist after you wreck your car is touchy-feely bullshit.  Your brain got injured, you need some medicine and therapy to get it back on track; that’s fine.  Go do that thing.  Don’t waste ~300 days that you could spend Getting Things Done or hanging out with your kids or having a beer or reading or playing video games.  Go get well; if that’s not possible (because, the fact is, it often isn’t), at least get better.

OMFG awesome things are happening in Rustbelt hiphop!!!

  • Tunde Olaniran: OMFG, Tunde Olaniran!  From the sadly infamous Flint, MI, Tunde Olaniran is superfantastically trans-everything.  Go listen to Transgressor and then buy it and then listen to it again and again and again.  I seriously absolutely equally love every single track on that album.
  • iRAWniq: Another Michigander, she has a fun mixtape, but I’m sorta preferring her more polished EP Black Girls on Skateboards, and the single “Cunt”
  • Passalacqua: I’m still exploring these guys, both from Detroit; been loving everything I’ve tried by them. This mixtape is a low-risk place to start, but I’m leaning more toward their albums CHURCH and Passalacqua, and the Banglatown EP.
  • Noname: This poet/rapper from Chicago is awesome, the natural inheritor of the crown Lauren Hill dropped after releasing The Miseducation of Lauren Hill.  Noname’s Telefono mixtape is absolutely mandatory listening.  Go grab it now!  Hell, at the very least go right now and listen to track number one (“Yesterday“) and tell me you don’t absolutely love Noname without reservation.  GO!

Here’s some poppy Tunde to play us out:

FREE READ FRIDAY: The first three chapters of EXPIRATION DATE, and more!

Looking for that perfect comic-dystopic-romantic sci-fi beach read? ExpirationDate You’re in luck: The first three chapters of my novella Expiration Date are now available online (in both slick-as-hella web versions, and some pretty damn fine looking PDFs, perfect for offline, ebook, and tablet reading—just clicking on the “Print” button to open and save the PDF for that chapter.  As an example, here’s the chapter 1 PDF.) And don’t worry, this isn’t a cheap tease: All nine chapters will be released, free to read, one each week for the rest of the summer.

If you want some inside-baseball about the novella, you can check out this interview with Gabie at Tea End blog.

Your EXPIRATION DATE has arrived! **UPDATE**

(UPDATE: Same great post, now with the correct date for the event: June 28, 7pm)

ExpieDate-banner

Good news, everyone:  My latest novella—Expiration Date—is available free online this summer!  Here’s the official blurb:

This science fiction “till death do we part” story follows young Lizzie and Bram in a relationship on fast-forward. Armed with the knowledge of her scientific discovery, Granny Gin burdens the couple with the question “What would you do, if you knew your end was near?”

First chapter went live early this morning; check it out!  New chapters every week.

But wait!  There’s more: The official book-release kick-off party is next week:

  • WHEN: June 28 @ 7pm
  • WHERE:  Ann Arbor District Library Pittsfield Branch, 2359 Oak Valley Dr, Ann Arbor, MI 48103
  • WHAT: A reading, some chit-chat, free tea and snackies from the sponsors, Arbor Teas, and free high-fives from me! 
  • DETAILS: Expiration Date Book Launch Event

See you there!

Don’t know what to call your reps about today? May I suggest “White House conflicts of interest”?

Here are a few examples moral hazards unique to the Executive Branch ALL DRAWN FROM JUST THE PAST 24 HOURS OF NEWS:

Giving your reps a call (click the link and scroll to “Power User Mode”) is quick, fun, and easy! Don’t miss this opportunity to prevent a violent uprising by Winter 2017!🇺🇸📞💻☝️

Simple DIY Guitar Stompbox Demo: Seeing is Believing; Be Hear Now (pun!)

A reader recently asked for audio samples of a few projects from my first book, so I made this quick lil video:

(Daaaaamn does that fuzz tone wail—and it’s literally ~$5 in parts!)

You might need headphones to hear the detail on the straight tremolo, but the throb becomes really pronounced at the end when I chain the two effects together.

In the process of uploading that demo video, I stumbled across this guy’s build of the Single-Chip Space Invader synth from my most recent book.  Oh, man, do I love that Star Wars lunchbox he used as a case! So rad!

Any of this look rad?  You can download a “jam pack” of complete projects drawn from both books. Click here now to get your free Junkyard Jam Pack PDF!

You need REST to #RESIST

If the last–what, two weeks(!?!)–are any indication, it’s going to be a long four years.  There are going to be plenty of set-backs and, more disheartening, plenty of near misses (the DeVos squeaker just now not the least of them).  Progress is slow, because by design these wheels grind exceedingly fine.

It is easy to lose faith, so remember these five things:

  1. Resistance works. As I write this, carefully vetted refugees are finding sanctuary here, the rights of LGBTQ federal workers have been preserved, the repeal of Obamacare has stalled, the great Federal Lands Rummage Sale is on hold—all things you accomplished with nothing but phone calls and poster-board signs.  We don’t need to shed blood or set fires or take up arms; we are doing this with cellphones and markers.  That is amazing and beautiful and the true cornerstone of this nation’s foundation.
  2. You can switch it up.  Calling your members of congress is important.  Showing up at the big protests is important.  So is hitting those town halls.  But they aren’t everything.  There’s a quieter undercurrent to social action, the part where you simply chat with folks in your community, letting them know you have each other’s backs.  I especially like the notion of “truth advocacy”—take time off from putting out energy (hitting the phones, hitting the streets, etc.) to read and research on your own, and to disseminate what you learn.
  3. You can take a break.  Take a day off.  Take a weekend off.  You’ll be shocked how much you’ll feel like diving back in after giving yourself a 24-hour break from talking politics, calling reps, reading the paper, or looking at social media.
  4. You can join at any time.  If you’ve never called your rep, you can do so for the first time right now.  If you can’t call daily, you can call weekly.  You are picking up the slack for someone who has reached that burnout point and needs a day off.  We need subs like you just as much as we need those every-single-day every-single-protest power players!
  5. We shall defeat them, one by one.☝️  Remember: The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice—provided that we keep putting our weight towards bending that mutherfucker. It ain’t gonna bend on its own.

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How to Smash Fascism without Really Trying

Here’s the thing about dictatorial violations (be they as outrageous as genocide or as comparably mild as yelling at a barista for wishing a “Happy Holidays!”):

They rarely have the support of the majority of the population—and certainly never start with even half the population on board.  Atrocities don’t require the majority’s active participation; they just need the majority’s active acquiescence.  And the majority will acquiesce even to the most terrible crimes as long as those aren’t too far outside the norm.  The wider the margin between “normal” and “atrocity,” the safer we all are; a pot that’s not allowed to even simmer can never boil over. 

So here’s a game plan for keeping the Melting Pot lukewarm:

  1. Learn these three sentences:
    1. An honestly curious “I’m not sure I follow you?”  (Other options: “Hunh; why do you think that?”)
    2. A bemused: “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
    3. A stern: “Not OK, dude.”  Not angry—never angry, because anger energizes the mob—but stern, like scolding a dog or child.
  2. Practice saying your sentences in a mirror. Make sure you’re getting the emotion right for each, and not getting angry.
  3. Use these in person—over the phone or in conversation, your voice in their ear, your eyes on theirs.  This tactic doesn’t work online or in print; it’s a matter of emotional connection, and that connection is made one-on-one, person-to-person.

Use this tactic with family and friends and coworkers and guys who are sorta being dicks in the coffee shop.  Use it freely and often and in good humor. Connect and connect and connect and connect with your fellow humans, always keep them a little nervous about that “off-color joke” or that “innocent” cat call or “telling it like it is.”

Note that 1.1 and 1.2 are questions—because you always want to knock people off balance, and oblige them to question their beliefs and justify them (even if only internally).  1.3 is simple, obvious, disengaged dissaproval.  You wouldn’t argue with a child about running out in the street or a dog about whether or not your leg is for humping; you give a sharp “Nope!” and move on with your life.  The same here.  No one ever argued their way out of a genocide, but plenty of awfulness has been prevented by scolding grannies and scoffing naysayers.

Remember: If the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing, then the only thing needed for evil to falter is for good folks to do something—shit, almost anything, just as long as you aren’t sitting on your hands, biting your tongues, and looking the other way.  Looking the other way is exactly what the lynch mob wants you to do.

(see also: We’re heading into dark times. This is how to be your own light in the Age of Trump)

Good News, Everybody! We Finally Know for a Fact that the Electoral College Has Outlived its Function

I outlined my thinking more fully about two weeks ago (here’s the post: The Final Test of the Electoral College), but I think it’s fair to say that the Electoral College has finally proven itself to be, at best, a quaint vestigial

(This "America golem" is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt this month. Expect to see him here often.)
(This “America golem” is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt this month. Expect to see him here often.)

growth on the Republic, and at worst a systemic effort at the national level to generally discount the value of votes in the most populous states (which are also, incidentally, where the densest populations of immigrants and people of color live) in favor of giving undue weight to those in the least populous (and, entirely coincidentally, predominately white) sections.

Please contact your state reps and encourage them to support the National Popular Vote. Abolishing the popular vote has seen support left, right, and center in recent years, including that of both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  I have it on good word that the National Popular Vote way of going about getting this done is basically the only way it’s gonna happen; support them. usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26

(source)
(source)
(image source—I added the red labels to ease comparison)
(image source—I added the red labels to ease comparison)

It’s Better to Light a Candle than to Sit and Curse the Dark

If you see tweets like this:

and your gut drops with the sort of ice-water dread usually reserved for hearing phrases like “metastatic cancer,” then you are not alone.

Nicholas Kristof has some suggestions which I think are a super-duper solid starting place: “Are you traumatized by the election of Donald Trump? Here’s the program for you.

Here are a few additions/refinements:

  1. You can’t take care of anyone else if it takes all of your available energy just to keep your shit together and function.  I made myself this “survival” playlist and listen to it first thing every morning while I’m writing; I’m not sure all the choices make sense to the general public, but they all buoy my spirit.  Make your own survival playlist and listen to it religiously.  Keep your heart, kid!
  2. Wigged out that the erratic President-Elect—either through his business practices or bellicosity—will trigger (or maybe somehow worse, fail to trigger) a Constitutional crisis? Give monthly to the ACLU.
  3. Wigged out about the shouts to repeal Obamacare?  Call your congressional reps and call Paul Ryan, who has set up a sort of voice-mail straw poll to take the temperature of the electorate on this issue:  202.225.3031.  Doing both of these will only take you a few minutes, tops.
  4. Wigged out about voter suppression and election rigging? I talked to my state rep, Jeff Irwin, at the local coffee shop.  He pointed me to this very good project for fixing our damned-near broken electoral college system: http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/  He also suggest you should work in your state to support expansion (or creation) of early voting and a shift to “universal absantee ballot”  If you want to support the Greens’ recounts, you can still give money to fund that (recounts are paid for by whoever requests them—not the public at large; I’ve already kicked in).  More importantly, you can volunteer to help with the recount itself in MI, WI, and PA.  It looks like they’re maybe getting deluged with trolls spamming their forms, so I’m sure honest, legit volunteers are much appreciated right now.
  5. Wigged out about access to women’s health services?  I spoke to Sarah Erdreich—author of  Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement—and she noted that the best place to give is as locally as possible:  “A lot of the effects will be felt by women that need the services but won’t be able to afford them. … as long as the government is still funding non-[abortion]-related services at PP  [Planned Parenthood] health clinics, it has a guaranteed funding source. … Near-term, a lot of the issues women have with accessing PP’s [abortion] services as financial, so if the local PP has a way to accept donations targeted towards defraying the cost for patients, that would be the most immediate. If they don’t, check out NNAF—Nat’l Network of Abortion Funds—and see what independent clinics in the area have set up.” Here’s the direct link that allows you to give to state/regional/local Planned Parenthood organizations.  Sarah especially supports the Willie Parker Fund for Abortion Access in the South; the map on this page will help you find similar funds in your area.
  6. Wigged out about hate crimes? Wear the safety pin—but more importantly, cultivate a good natured and incredulous: “Hunh.  You don’t really believe that, do you?”  Practice saying it with a squint and smile, and deploy it frequently when someone gets out of line.  Gently obliging someone to articulate their feelings and acknowledge the repercussions of what they say, and to own those words—or, hopefully, to decide they don’t really want to own those words and where they lead.  The safety pin is a nice outward symbol, because I like the idea of “safety” in the safety pin, and of being a presence to help calm the nervous. But more importantly, for my own mental health, I like to dwell on what a safety pin is for: We use them in an emergency to hold our shit together long enough to get somewhere safe and really assess what repairs we need to move forward.  And, goddamned if we ain’t in that place right now, brothers and sisters.
  7. BONUS ROUND: Wear the flag, too—not with snark or irony or upside-down, but with pride.  Let us not cede our unified identity to the haters.  E pluribus unum; the Union forever.usa-american-flag-waving-animated-gif-26