Creativity, Gratitude, and Self-Care in a Dumpster-Fire World

I’ve been finding it very difficult to write lately.

I know I’m not alone in this–it’s a refrain I hear from many creative types right now. It has less to do with my personal battles with depression and more to do with the constant bombardment of horrific news–especially the mounting tension as we move steadily toward the US mid-term elections. These elections are going to prove to be a referendum on so many things: where we stand as a nation on democracy, diversity, climate change, health care, decency, equality, and compassion. The stakes have never been higher.

As such, I find myself creatively holding my breath, unable to concentrate on the WIP despite a looming deadline. It feels too damn frivolous to be carving out a HEA right now, even though readers probably need the stress-relief, temporary escape, and emotional encouragement more than ever.

And yet I believe in the transformative power of storytelling.

For a while now, Supergirl has been accurately needling social issues of the day in its writing. On the surface, the show is nothing more than a little escapist superhero television action, but at the end of season 2, Cat Grant makes an amazing speech on resistance and courage in the face of fearful times, and I fistpump the air every time I watch it.

 

It’s a powerful scene that fits seamlessly with the the plot without overtly hammering the viewer over the head with the message. It’s brilliant.

But the writers of Supergirl haven’t stopped there. In another episode, James Olsen shares an experience of being accosted and accused of a crime as young black child–an experience Mehcad Brooks had in real life when he was only seven years old.

And this season, the show’s opening montage openly describes Supergirl as a refugee on our planet–and the first couple of episodes have dealt with the growing hostility and suspicion of “aliens” living on Earth and a rising “Earth First” movement. Yes, it’s a somewhat cheesy CW show–but it’s tackling real issues and I applaud them for it. I was particularly struck in this past week’s episode when the AI’s shield that allows him to look human fails while he’s ordering pizza–and the resulting hostility on the part of the restaurant owner takes Brainy completely by surprise. He keeps saying, “But you know me…” while the pizza guy calls out workers with baseball bats to beat the AI to a pulp.

The imminent violence was stopped because one person stood up–a person, it turned out, who also had a lot to lose if her own secrets were publicly known. Who wouldn’t have been spared from the same violence. That’s courage. As is telling your boss that he needs to do more than ‘tell both sides of the story’, that he needs to take a stand.

And that’s what makes storytelling compelling. It’s what moves a program beyond the realm of ‘cheesy superhero TV show’ into something worth watching.

This is the kind of writing I want to do myself. I want to bring that kind of layering and introspection to a story that is meant for entertaining consumption. Because when we start to have compassion for the Brainys and Nias of this world, then we can see them as people in our neighborhood, and not enemies to be hated. 

But it’s hard when your creative well is dry. When fear and anxiety dominate your thoughts. I’ve recently come to the realization that I can no longer support this sustained level of outrage and horror. It’s not healthy. It’s not useful to anyone, let alone me.

In some ways, it means I’m still speaking from a place of privilege, that I can even say I need to distance myself from current events. There are so many who can’t, who are living the very events I find so appalling. But self-care and distancing is not the same as turning a blind eye. It’s saying that a warrior needs to sleep before a battle. That an army must be well-fed and rested before an incursion. That this is a marathon, not a sprint, and there must be breaks along the way.

So I purchased the little notebook pictured above. I can’t say that I really believe its sentiments, but I’m making a concentrated effort to find something each day that makes me happy–something for which I’m grateful–and jot it down in this little book. I’m cultivating a sense of gratitude in a field sowed with fear and poisoned with anxiety.

WE ARE ALLOWED TO DO THIS.

No one would expect you to eat tainted food day after day without making any effort to clean it up and make it healthier. No one would demand you willingly consume poison in sublethal levels when it’s possible to filter it (unless you live in Flint, Michigan, apparently). Yes, we should be outraged at what’s happening in our country and our world. But outrage alone is ineffective. And a steady diet of outrage will kill us as surely as the things we’re outraged about.

So I’m reading more and watching the news less. Taking a little break from writing and playing around with other forms of artistic expression, such as painting. I’m having my nails done, despite the fact it’s an expensive luxury. Having nice nails makes me feel good at a time when precious little else does. As coping mechanisms go, it’s probably one of the less destructive ones.

I’m also making a determined effort not to spread fear and hate. I’m of two minds over this–I think we should be outraged. I think we should be making our voices heard. To say nothing is to be complicit. But I also fear by pointing fingers at it, we’re also fanning the flames over it and keeping it alive.

Vote. Donate your time or money, whichever you might have. Overcome your fears and participate in the process. But don’t let the fear consume you.

Remember it’s okay to tell stories that are simply pure escapism. What may be a light fluffy story to you is what gets someone else through a dark time. It’s not a crime to be proud of your successes, and share your happy news. We need more happy in this world. 

On the back of my little “Okay” notebook is an awesome quote from Jane Austen. I leave you with that thought now.

Marvel Bows to Troll Pressure, Fires Chuck Wendig

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Last week at the New York ComicCon, author Chuck Wendig announced he’d be working on a new Marvel comic book project. Today, Marvel fired him, citing his online presence as being “too vulgar, too political, and too negative.”

I’ve been following Wendig’s blog for years now–you want pithy insights and masterful writing tips? His is the blog for you. I highly recommend his book on writing, Damn Fine Story.

At no point has Wendig ever hidden his thoughts or viewpoints. Marvel knew who they were hiring when they made the original decision to do so.

So why the big back pedal? Why would Marvel suddenly decide Wendig is too hot to handle after the big ComicCon announcement last week?

The linked articles explain a lot, but here’s the Reader’s Digest version: when Wendig wrote his bestselling Star Wars trilogy, he included GLBTQ characters. This set off a certain small but vocal group of trolls in the sci-fi community that howled over the fact Wendig had ‘ruined’ SW for them, and they began a targeted harassment campaign to trash the ratings. Lucasfilms was behind Wendig 100%, stating the franchise has always been about diversity. (I suggest you read up on the Rabid/Sad Puppies and their attempts to manipulate the Hugo Awards, as well as Gamergate to give you an idea of the organization and object of these trolls, if you are somehow unfamiliar with them). This harassment has been incredibly vicious and ongoing, in part (according to the Screen Rant article linked above) “because Wendig wears his politics on his sleeve.”

Since the ComicCon announcement, Wendig has been the subject of increased harassment, leading to the temporary suspension of his Twitter account recently. Today’s news is frankly gobsmacking, as well as disheartening and disturbing. Marvel has also recently fired feminist Chelsea Cain and dropped the planned Vision comic two months before its release. And, I might point out, it was Marvel Comics who recently decided to go with the horrendous (and utterly insulting) story line that Captain America was actually a HYDRA agent all along. (Spoiler: Not.)

Apparently the furor (and subsequent response from Wendig) was too much for one editor, who pulled the plug on the projects. Wendig believes this decision was made independently from Lucasfilms.

So what is the takeaway from this? We as creators are frequently told we should not be openly political on social media, that we should avoid controversial positions and attitudes. I believe this is a bit of a cop-out. I don’t think it’s possible to create anything in a political vacuum. The very act of not allowing any sort of political slant on something created, be it artwork, music, movies, or stories, is a statement in and of itself–and usually comes from a place of privilege that ignores the reality we live in.

I have to tell you, if you’re reading one of my stories, you’re going to find all kinds of political commentary in them. Oh, perhaps not directly. I write paranormal romance, after all. But one of the reasons I enjoy paranormal romance is the genre allows much scope for observing and commenting on the politics of the day. MUCH LIKE COMIC BOOKS DO. 

I also think in our current environment, we have to speak our beliefs. We must stand up for what’s right and resist what is morally, ethically, and criminally wrong. To stay silent is to be complicit.

Another take home lesson is this: Wendig points out that the arbitrary and capricious manner in which Twitter chooses to silence someone while letting someone else far more abusive and threatening get a free pass is a harsh reminder that social media platforms are not your friend. Hell, they aren’t even your tools. At best, they should be the means to direct people to a platform you control. Don’t give up on your websites and blogs, people.

I was asked while writing this how what happened to Wendig differs from mounting a campaign to boycott sponsors of a FOX television program. Pressure is pressure, correct? The difference is that the trolls went after Wendig directly, dog-piling him with truly hateful attacks. The calls for boycotting sponsors asks a company directly to alter their hiring decisions based on their wallets. And I think that’s what we should be doing now with Marvel Comics.

Another bit of advice from Wendig in his post today was to vote in November as though your life depended on it. Because it does.

I have to say, I admire Wendig’s integrity in remaining true to who he is, and not caving in to the company line–but I also respect his decision to share his experience rather than sit tight on it in the hopes Marvel will change their minds or to limit further damage to future projects. That’s real courage. And we need more of that in this country right now. 

And you should go buy some of Wendig’s books. Seriously.

My Grown Up Christmas List

Christmas Day is now only a week away. I have all my shopping done–most of it was competed weeks ago. We don’t go crazy at Christmas in our house anymore. We tend to get 1-2 gifts for each family member, gifts that don’t break the bank. We’ve scaled back on the food and festivities too. In part because our families are smaller now but also because no one seems to have the time, energy, or money to go whole hog for the holidays.

Back when I was single, I had to work hard to get into the Christmas spirit. Why decorate when there was only you to enjoy it? (Especially when you were the only one there to put them up and take them down). I baked cookies just to give them away. I watched hours of Christmas movies and specials because they helped me enjoy my most favorite of seasons, as well as feel a little less sorry for myself when work inevitably decided since I was single and without kids, I needed the least time off. For at least a decade, I worked every major holiday so others could have time off.

Now that I have my own family and get a little more time off, somehow it is harder than ever to find that Christmas joy. Especially since I’ve declared a moratorium on baking because I’m trying to lose some damn weight. Especially because this year has been personally tough on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin. If I put everything that has happened to me and my family this year in a single story, readers would howl about how unrealistic it was. There is no reason to travel anymore. The kids have their own plans. It’s just us.

Last night, my husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I didn’t remind him pointedly that Christmas is now only seven days away and anything he ordered was unlikely to arrive on time. Instead, I sort of panicked and said the first thing that came to mind.

Because I’ve been trying to get in better shape, I started wearing my Fitbit again, but it’s an older model, it only counts steps. What I’d really like is one that also functions as a watch. I’ve worn a watch most of my life. Yes I know they are considered passe, but I love watches, especially pretty ones. Also, fewer places have clocks on the walls anymore. I hate pulling out my phone to see what time it is, and new office policy is we must leave our phones in our cubicles during the workday–an effort to curb relentless internet surfing by some staff members, I’m sure. But that means when I wear my Fitbit, I never know what time it is anymore.

So, placed on the spot (because OMG, what can he get with only a week to go??), I said I’d like a Fitbit with a watch function. It’s true, I would like one. But I’ve been eyeing them for a while now and it’s hard to justify the price.

I woke up this morning wondering why I said what I did. Yes, I want to lose weight and get in better shape. Yes, I need to fix or replace my current watch and I can’t wear both a watch and a Fitbit, so my request makes some sense. But honestly, I’d rather have a watch of my choosing than a digital readout on an expensive piece of tech I don’t really need.

But that isn’t why I tossed and turned all night, unable to sleep for very long.

You want to know what my favorite Christmas song is? It’s Grown Up Christmas List by Amy Grant. It’s a beautiful song originally done by Natalie Cole, but the Amy Grant version is the one I heard first, so naturally, it’s the one that feels familiar and right to me.

When she gets to this part, and the melody soars, tears come to my eyes every time.

So here’s my lifelong wish
My grown up Christmas list
Not for myself but for a world in need
No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end, no
This is my grown up Christmas list

The truth of the matter is I don’t want a Fibit with a watch function.

I have a more grown up Christmas List:

I want to stop losing loved ones for a while. Seriously. Between pets and relatives, I’m facing seven deaths in the family this year. Some were expected. All were devastating. But coming one upon the other as they have, I’m starting to go numb at the wrong times and inappropriately emotional at others.

I want to stop waking up in fear of checking the news. Threats of war, riots, out of control fires, destructive hurricanes, climate change, the threat of the next pandemic, rise of Nazism, the loss of net neutrality, a government determined to cut Medicare, social security, and strip health care from millions while filling the coffers of the rich. My mental health suggests just stop checking the news, but then I am part of the problem, the part that does nothing while our government slides into a totalitarian regime.

I want our government to stop sliding into a totalitarian regime. I want to believe that our checks and balances work, that not all our leaders are complicit in the current mess that passes for government at this time. I want to believe if our president decides to start a nuclear war because he’s cornered like a trapped rat, that someone will prevent him from doing so.

I want our regulations for clean air and water to stay in place. I don’t want companies to have more autonomy and greater rights than individual humans. I want to protect our public lands from destructive strip mining and sacred lands from pipelines. I want to not live in dread of a summer that starts sooner each year and lasts longer each time, reaching new heights on temperature charts. I want an open internet, where traffic to all sites is weighted evenly, and internet providers aren’t allowed to block sites or slow down sites owned by competitors. Where marginalized voices can have their say. Where artists and creators can all be visible, regardless if they are famous or working out of their garage.

I want all of us to be able to go to work, to school, to church, the movies, a concert, or any place where people might gather without fear of being mowed down by a single angry man armed with assault weapons that no citizen needs. That’s not crazy or unreasonable. I’m not saying eliminate all guns. I’m saying eliminate those weapons that belong in the hands of trained military personnel in a war zone. When the Bill of Rights was written, a trained military man could load and fire a musket thee, maybe four times within a minute. It had a range of 50 meters. It was not an accurate weapon–you pointed it at the general direction of the enemy and kept shooting until you got close enough to stab him with a bayonet. Also, when the 2nd amendment was written, there was no standing army and no grocery stores.

When Stephen Paddock opened fire on the concert crowd in Las Vegas from the 32nd floor of his hotel, he fired more than 1,100 rounds in ten minutes, killing 58 people and injuring 546 over a distance of 550 meters. Repeat after me: these weapons are not the same. No private citizen should own one of these weapons. No one.

I want our news to stop treating politics like a sports game. Stop giving airtime to the white supremacists because it makes people click on your links. Stop biasing the news based on ratings and financial gain. Oh sure, I realize FOX News isn’t actually a news organization–it’s an entertainment site (check the fine print, you’ll see I’m right), and with the Sinclair corporation buying up TV stations and dictating what reporters have to say on air, this is a faint hope indeed. But hey, it’s my Christmas list. I can put anything on it I want.

Along those lines, I want to lose 20, maybe 25 (Okay, let’s be honest, 30–but that’s never going to happen) pounds this year. I want to get fit again. I want to be passionate about life again. I want to write my stories and love my family and find my bliss once more. Of all the things on my Christmas list, these are the only ones under my control. The only things I can get for myself.

And maybe, given the other stresses in my life, I need to look at overall balance. Maybe I need to spend less time online fretting about things I can’t control and more time writing. Less time marketing and more time writing. Less time writing and more time with the dogs and the family.

Christmas is a week away. There are rumors we’ll be in the midst of a Constitutional crisis by then. People talk of taking to the streets and others boast of how well-armed they are. If I’m having a little trouble getting into the Christmas spirit, forgive me. It kind of feels like our world is going into free-fall. I think our leaders have forgotten the meaning of Christmas. I think a good portion of the far-right would be astonished to discover they have eschewed the basics of Christianity itself and have become the Pharisees.

Maybe a Christmas movie and an afternoon baking cookies isn’t such a bad thing. I can always go for a run afterward.

I suspect I’m getting a Fitbit for Christmas. That’s okay. I know my husband is trying to help me cope with everything we’re going through right now, and like me grabbing onto something I can change, he’s grabbing onto a gift choice to help support that change. It won’t be a surprise. It might not be the most original or romantic gift. It doesn’t have to be those things because it is given with love.

Wonder Woman: Polarizing Fan Division Mirrors US Politics?

There’s been a lot of talk about the new Wonder Woman movie. We went to see it opening weekend, and I thoroughly enjoyed it for many reasons, not the least of which was watching a superhero movie which featured a female star. You’ll probably find more elegant analyses elsewhere. I wish I’d kept track of some of them because they made me fist pump the air and shout ‘yes!’ when I read them. And there was a truly beautiful piece on Tumblr, which of course, since I didn’t reblog it, I can’t find now, but fans chimed in with the bits that moved them, each building on the other impressions and reactions to the film. I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but it won’t be easy.

My husband asked me as we left the theater if I wanted to run around punching bad guys or go to the gym. I thought about that for a moment.

“Yes.” I nodded. “I feel like I could, at any rate.”

He said he wasn’t surprised. That’s usually how he felt on leaving some testosterone-fueled summer blockbuster. Lord knows, he has a LOT more of those to choose from.

While I enjoyed Wonder Woman very much, will probably see it again at the theater, and have every intention of buying a copy when it comes out on DVD, it wasn’t perfect. It was a superhero movie, which means in places very simplistic, with over-the-top bad guys, and slightly predictable plots. It wasn’t the best movie I’ve ever seen, but thoroughly entertaining, nonetheless. I’d seen Guardians of the Galaxy 2 a few weeks before, and I have to say, I enjoyed Wonder Woman more, even though I’m a huge Marvel fan.

Much has been made of the importance of this movie to women–seeing a female lead in a genre typically given over to men. How many significant female characters are there in most action/superhero movies? If you’re lucky, maybe one, though Marvel did a great job with including more women in GOTG2. Bottom line, women in action movies are usually someone for the hero to rescue, or her death is the motivational trigger for the hero’s journey.

Some people like to point out this isn’t the first time we’ve had female leads in our entertainment. After all, Wonder Woman was a 70s television show.There was the Bionic Woman and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I watch Supergirl now–and (spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the penultimate episode to the season finale) I know some people were taken aback by the fact that Supergirl sent her boyfriend, Mon-el, to safety while staying behind to prevent his mother from successfully invading Earth. And he went. The season finale was remarkable in that all the people in charge and making decisions about the safety of the planet were… women. I didn’t even notice that at first, until my husband mentioned it.

We also had the short-lived Agent Carter, who galvanized nearly every female fan I know with Peggy’s iconic line, “I know my value. Anyone else’s opinion of me really doesn’t matter.” Fans have embraced this line as a personal mantra in the forms of bracelets, T-shirts, necklaces, and even tattoos. The kind of demeaning disregard for her abilities that Peggy Carter dealt with at the end of WW2 is recognizable to many of women in the workplace today as something ongoing, that must be battled daily. As too are the negative lessons we’ve learned throughout life: from our parents, from society, from our peers. Being able to recognize we hold inherent value is hugely freeing for many women, as is the moment when Elsa releases her powers in Frozen.

Science fiction is better in general about depicting diversity and equality among the sexes, which is probably why I have been a die-hard fan my entire life. I was fortunate to have grown up in the 70s and 80s, when women’s rights were improving. Believe me, it was a shock when I discovered that as recent as the late 70s, women still had to have the approval of male family member to open a bank account or rent a car. Think about that for a moment.

So the Wonder Woman movie, with a female lead and a female director, did some great things. Gal Gadot pulled off a nearly impossible feat, depicting a Diana both naive in some respects, but confident in her beliefs, unwilling to back down because something might not be safe, walking into a fight against hopeless odds because it was the right thing to do. She was sexy without being sexualized, for which I give the director, Patty Jenkins, full credit. Drawing on real athletes to depict the Amazons was sheer genius, giving the right amount of realism to their scenes. I think there could have been more women of color, especially in roles other than nursemaid to a young, recalcitrant Diana. (I like to think because Diana was so valued in the community, this job was considered both a high honor and a curse) I don’t think we need even casual storylines where powerful, white woman turn the rearing of their children to women of color. I also believe that with so many women turning out to see a female lead, more were hoping to see something of themselves as well.

There were other aspects of the movie they got right, though. Sameer, wanting to fight but being prevented because of his color. Chief, a Native American displaced by Steve’s ancestors, making ends meet any way he can. Charlie, with his PDST that made him nearly useless as a sharpshooter, but they kept him around anyway. I was surprised–and pleased–that there was no neat bow attached to resolving his condition, as I had expected.

And let me say here it was no mean feat for Chris Pine, a fine actor in his own right, and having carried the weight of the Star Trek franchise on his shoulders when he took on the role of Kirk in the 2009 Star Trek movie, to do what he did in Wonder Woman. He did an amazing job of being exactly what he was–a love interest and supporting actor. Bravo, Mr. Pine. Well-done.

But the thing that makes this movie different from every other venture before it is that it was financially successful. More than successful, it smashed records. THAT is ultimately what determines whether we get more of the same. It belied the notion that people won’t go to see a movie with a female lead (along with Rey in The Force Awakens, and Jyn of Rogue One–but these were more ensemble pieces than WW). It means that Hollywood might finally recognize women will gladly pay to see more than romcoms and that we make up a bigger part of the audience than they realize. And that a movie with a female lead can appeal to both men and women.

I can’t tell you how frustrating it’s been as a die-hard sci-fi fan to hear producers cancel shows because they aren’t capturing that highly prized demographic: young men ages 18-24. Let me tell you, they don’t make up the majority of the crowd at sci-fi conventions. They weren’t the ones buying calendars, mugs, graphic novels, and photo ops with their favorite stars. Many of them don’t have the discretionary income of the older fan, in particular, the middle-aged woman who loves cosplay. Who can afford to travel, or is an obsessive collector, who in other words, does NOT fit the magic demographic but has money to spend.

In many ways, fan reaction to Wonder Woman has been more interesting to me than my own. Only like with The Force Awakens, Rogue One, and the new Star Trek show, Discovery, a certain kind of fanboy is raising a ruckus, complaining of the invasion into his sacred space, railing against the introduction of women and people of color as more franchises follow these leads. If you’re not familiar with GamerGate or the targeting of the Hugo Awards by the Sad Puppies/Rabid Puppies factions, I’ll summarize here: there is a subset of fans who want to see sci-fi and fantasy return to the ‘old school’ they grew up with. White, male heroes, standard ‘spaceship battles’, no POC in key roles, women relegated to love interests or victims only. Perhaps I’m overstating my case, but I think not.

Another example of the protest against diversity was the howl of outrage that went up when The Force Awakens didn’t have a white male lead. When Rogue One followed suit, demands for a fan boycott of Star Wars went out. (That went well, by the way. TFA  was the fastest movie to gross one billion–only 12 days. RO did the same in 39 days…)

More recently, some Star Trek fans are wailing about the trailer for the new series, in which the leads appear to be women of color. They called it no less than “white genocide in space.” Their anger over the casting–in particular, the failure to have a white male captain–and subsequent complaints over the ‘terrible direction’ the franchise was going led original cast member George Takei to take them to task over it.

I was both surprised and saddened over this kind of fan reaction. C’mon guys, have you seen Star Trek? It’s like the most diverse show ever! A black woman, an Asian men, and a Russian (during the time of the Cold War)–all bridge officers on a show taking place in the late 60s. Spock was of mixed race. Heck, the Vulcan philosophy was ‘Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.’ It was the first show to depict an interracial kiss (even if it was only because the Aliens Made Them Do It), and they tackled weighty issues such as racism, ageism, and more. Yes, the original series was in some ways as sexist as hell, but it was written at a time when WOMEN COULD NOT RENT A CAR OR OPEN A BANK ACCOUNT WITHOUT MALE PERMISSION. To even have women bridge officers was amazing. To have a black woman in a role as someone other than a maid or cook even more so.

So when the same kind of trolls began complaining about the ‘women only’ screening of Wonder Woman in Austin, TX, I wasn’t surprised. I was surprised some New York lawyer would file a complaint against the theater, however. It’s not like the theater was ONLY going to have women-only showings. There were more opportunities for men to attend than that one (or two) women-only showings. But a guy in New York didn’t like the theater’s ‘uppity’ attitude about it on Facebook, nor the mayor of Austin’s support for the idea, so yeah, complaint filed.

That’s when it occurred to me that this rift in sci-fi and fantasy fandoms is so much more than the old-timers protesting against the new guard. It’s more than some disgruntled geeks saying you can’t possibly be a Marvel fan unless your playpen was lined with old Spiderman comics and you teethed on the entire catalog of the Fantastic Four. It’s more than a protest against girls in the boys-only clubhouse.

It’s our current political climate in microcosm.

It’s a bunch of fans who are angry at having to share with people that aren’t like them. It’s fanboys who’d rather trash the playground than to let ‘the other’ in. When you have privilege, it’s hard to see that letting others be equal doesn’t diminish your privilege in any way. Frankly, I don’t see any difference between those that call themselves ‘real fans’ versus those that call themselves ‘real Americans’. It’s the same sort of destructive mentality that denies the very foundation of the thing they profess to love.

Hey, I get that your fandoms are important–even lifesaving–to you. They’re important to me too. There are days when seeing something fandom related online or knowing I have a show or movie to look forward to seeing is the only thing that gets me through a crappy day. I have scores of fandom friends who share stories, artwork, and squee over our favorite characters and shows. It’s what makes life more than just going to work so you can try to pay the bills.

But women, POC, people with different sexual orientations or of different religions–we’re not the bad guys here. It seems to me that a sci-fi fan would understand that better than almost anyone else, so it hurts when I see fans get up in arms about diversity and equality. It hurts, but it makes me angry, too. We’re all in fandom because we need something from it. We need the strength of our heroes. We need the courage of their convictions, to do the right thing when it may cost us more than we can bear. We’re all pre-serum Steve, before he becomes Captain America, and Peter Parker, before the radioactive spider bite.

We’re that tech guy in the Triskelion who has to decide what to do when ordered to push the button that will launch the Insight codes. The good guy refuses to do it, even though he knows he will probably get killed for refusing to implement it. He’s literally shaking with fear, but he refuses because Captain America told him to stand up for the right thing.

Be the good guy.

I read somewhere once that every villain sees himself as the hero of his own story. These days, I’m seeing far too many people who think they are Captain America, when they are really Red Skull. Who insist they are Diana Prince, when in reality, they are Dr. Poison.

There is an ugliness to political discourse in this country I don’t think we can ignore. It would be nice to sit here writing my lightweight romance stories and never think twice about politics again. But we’re being forced to fight for our rights and, in some cases, our lives. Even the planet.

I’m not leaving fandom. I’m going to continue to read, write, and play there. I’m also going to vote my conscience, and protest against what I see as being wrong and unfair, and to stand up for anyone I see needing help to the best of my ability.

And yes, dear husband, I’m also going to the gym.

 

The Death of Net Neutrality: The Impact on You as an Author or Artist

With everything else that is going on these days in US, it may seem like the battle for Net Neutrality is not such a great priority. After all, the sitting President is facing impeachment and his entire administration, as well as the elite of the GOP, are looking at charges of knowingly working with the Russian government to influence the outcome of the last presidential election. Then there are the charges of money-laundering, as well as corruption and collusion on such a grand scale it is breathtaking.

While nearly every day the Trump administration commits yet another unthinkable act, at the same time, alarming legislation is being forced through Congress: bills that strip Americans of their health insurance, or defund women’s organizations and public schools. Bills that suppress the right of some people to vote because they might not vote for the GOP, bills that set back civil rights fifty, sixty, seventy years. Bills that protect our environment and public safety are being overturned. Regulations put in place to protect us as investors or when buying a home are being overturned. Irreplaceable national parks and natural resources are being targeted for development. Unpopular bills are being called to a vote in the middle of the night in order to avoid full participation by members of Congress and in the hopes of eluding the attention of the press.

When it comes to all the things wrong with the current administration, as well as everything we need to be fighting to protect each and every day, I’m barely scratching the surface. The problem is there’s a fresh scandal relating to the Trump administration popping up almost every day, and nearly every day there are fresh calls to contact your members of Congress and share with them how angry and upset you are about their policy-making of the moment. It’s enough to make one give up out of sheer fatigue.

Believe me, they’re counting on that. So stay salty, my friends.

We all have to pick our battles. I only have so much time, money, and energy to devote to an outraged resistance. There are some bills and regulations I care more about than others, and I’m sure your list doesn’t look the same as mine. That’s perfect. This way we cover all the bases. But there are some things that we shouldn’t let slip by us out of outrage fatigue or because we don’t think it’s that big a deal.

This is one of those times.

So why is Net Neutrality a priority for me? What is it, and why should you care about it?

Okay, I’m no expert here. There are better sites, posts, and videos that can explain this issue with greater depth, clarity, and precision than I can. The way I understand it is that companies like Verizon and Comcast are carrier services that provide us with Internet access, much like the water company provides us with water for a fee through a system of pipelines they own. As it stands now, the pipes are all the same ‘size’. Information flows freely across the board. It doesn’t matter if I want to look at a small blog or the Huffington Post, because I’ve paid my fee to the company, everything comes down the pipe at the same speed.

Verizon lobbied hard to have this changed back in 2013, to be able to establish big and little pipes, to have the right to slow down or speed up information based on how much the owner of the information was willing to pay. Think about that for a moment. Now the owner of the pipeline wants to decide who gets the water first, as well as how much and how fast. In 2013, Verizon sued the FCC, saying the organization didn’t have the legal authority to insist on Net Neutrality. The FCC blocked this move by re-designating ISPs so they were subject to tighter regulations.

But now Trump, the GOP, and the current people in charge at the FCC want to change this regulation. The newly appointed head of the FCC, Ajit Pai, used to work for Verizon. See where this is going? Do me a favor: from now on, when you read the word ‘regulation’, replace it mentally with the word ‘protection.’ Because that’s what it is. Laws put into place to keep companies from establishing practices that might be unfair or harmful to us, the consumer.

If we lose Net Neutrality, Comcast, which owns Yahoo, could say to you, “If you use our internet carrier, you have to use Yahoo as your search engine and email service. You can use Google if you want to, but you have to pay additional for it.”

Big companies such as Netflix and Hulu would certainly be able to afford to purchase more bandwidth, but what if Verizon started its own entertainment service? They could conceivably slow down the streaming of any competitors unless you paid an additional fee to get it at the same download rate as their preferred site.

Not only that, but without Net Neutrality, your internet provider could determine, much like a television company, what sites and information it would make more readily available. Suppose your child is researching climate change for a class project–but only the sites that deny climate change are loaded first. Anyone with a vested interest in getting out their information ahead of someone else’s (and the money to do it) will influence the reporting. We could see the Internet turn into FOX News.

It could also greatly impact freedom of speech if a provider decides to block unpopular points of view or someone with a lot of money pays to have their views take top tier. Right now, marginalized voices have a platform and the ability to be heard by anyone interested in what they have to say, same as any major outlet. Yes, this has allowed certain right wing organizations to foment and organize their followers, but it has also allowed for hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world to gather and march in support of women’s rights, immigration, and science, among other things.

What does this have to do with you as a writer, artist, photographer, or anyone who creates original content? How does this affect you as the small business-owner? Well, it’s simple. Remember when you had dial-up? Remember how long it took to load a site? How do you think the loss of Net Neutrality will affect you when your website takes over five minutes to load because you aren’t a major publisher with a big budget to pay for more bandwidth?

When I first began publishing my stories, Facebook was a great place to meet other people and share content. If you were an author or artist of any kind, a Facebook presence was (and still is) considered mandatory. After the stocks went public in 2012, Facebook gradually began implementing policies that altered its usefulness as a platform for small artists and publishers. It used to be Facebook was like my old LiveJournal account–I saw everything my friends posted in the order they were written. Now, half the time I don’t see the posts of friends and colleagues unless they’ve paid to promote them or enough of my other friends have commented so that Facebook deems it worthy to show me. If I post something with a link in it now, Facebook hides that post more often than not. At one point, I had an author page with over two thousand followers, yet whenever I posted something to that page, maybe fifteen or twenty people tops saw the post. I could pay to promote the post or buy ads, but the people with the most money who already have recognition get priority when it comes to the visibility of their posts.

And that’s exactly what will happen to our websites if we lose Net Neutrality.

I’m linking to John Oliver’s video on the subject here, not only because he does a great job of explaining the ramifications of losing Net Neutrality while also making the subject funny, but he tells you what you can do about it too. As of May 18, 2017, the FFC has already ruled in favor of doing away with the earlier regulations. As you will see from John Oliver’s video, you can go to the FCC website to register your complaint, but the process is deliberately cumbersome and frustrating. Fortunately, he created a more convenient process! It’s a long video, but it’s definitely worth watching.

 

Here’s an update on the response of Internet to John Oliver’s request. This was filmed prior to May 18, 2017, but the site that takes you to the FFC page in question is back in service again. Now we only have until mid-August to voice our dismay and how this will impact our businesses.