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Category Archives: Furries

(Friday Fiction) The Only Winning Move

Writing 150I keep thinking about the Br’er idea — I think it’s a potent one that could be used to explore a lot of different themes floating in my head about the black experience. I just need to drill down into it and find out where the trouble spots are; I understand not everything is going to scan, and my inexperience with both writing and social metaphor can lead me to dangerous minefields without me even realizing it.

So here’s a bit of fiction set there, just to explore one or two aspects of the world.

Rone found his mother in the dining room, sweeping vigorously and muttering to herself. He stopped in the doorway with his ears perked to see if he could make out what she was saying, but could only make out snatches. Enough to know she was muttering about him. Wisps of his fur were floating up around every stroke of the broom, performing lazy somersaults before floating back down to the wooden floor. The sunlight caught strands as they danced. It made the whole room look like some kind of weird snow globe.

He folded his burning ears and hunched his shoulders around the pit of embarrassment in his stomach. The facility he had come from was air-conditioned the entire 18 months he was there, and since he was never allowed outside he never had to deal with the weather — just sixty degree air blowing from the vents all hours of the day. In that environment the worst thing he had to deal with was dry air, at least until they discovered his fur responded well to leave-in conditioner.

But he was back home now. It was April in Baltimore, and the weather was beginning to turn warm. He started to shed his first night back and hadn’t stopped since.

The scientists told him that his fur was virtually indistinguishable from that of an actual rabbit. Maybe a bit longer, maybe a bit thicker, but just as soft and fluffy. A few of them had even joked he should keep any sheddings to sell as sweater material. He didn’t really like the joke; it was gross imagining people walking around in clothes made from his fur, and he didn’t think there was any way he could shed that much.

A week of eighty-degree-plus days quickly disabused him of that notion. He spent more than an hour each morning brushing out his pelt and discarding blown coat. There was a trash bag full of it in his bedroom, and even still the air was saturated with it. If his mother found it as gross as he did, there’s no wonder she would be muttering about him now.

And that’s why he was here. Maybe there was a way to come to some arrangement that made everyone more comfortable.

He walked up behind her and grunted. He hadn’t learned to use his throat or strange muzzle yet, but the scientists said he might eventually learn to speak in another year or two. In the meantime, he had to learn sign language to communicate — an unexpected benefit of his…condition. Even though they were prompted to, his family hadn’t beyond a few phrases and most of the alphabet. That meant communicating through spelling slowly or simply writing things down.

Mom didn’t seem to notice him until he tapped her on the shoulder. She whirled with a start, nearly hitting him with her broom; he leapt back, his powerful legs nearly launching him into the ceiling and then into the table as he landed. He clutched the edge to steady himself, his eyes wide and his heart racing. She looked just as surprised.

“Boy, don’t sneak up on me like that!” she said, turning towards him. “You know how I get when I’m cleaning.”

Rone dipped his ears and nodded. He did indeed. He pointed to the broom and made sweeping motions, then pointed to himself. It was crude pantomime, but he hoped it was good enough to get his point across.

She blinked at him, her eyes unfocusing as she worked out what he meant. Then she shook her head. “Oh, no…thank you, though. I got this. It sure would be nice if you stopped shedding so much, though.”

Mom must have saw the way his ears flattened. “Never mind. I know you can’t help it. What did you want?”

Rone pulled out his phone and stylus. He had prepared for this. He showed her the few sentences he had written out in his Note app for this.

I think it would be best if I cleaned out the basement and stayed there for now, don’t you?

His mother stared at the phone for a long time, then looked at him. “No. Where is all the stuff in the basement now going to go? Why would you want to move your room down there?”

Rone took the phone back and typed with his stylus as quickly as he could. He wished, for the millionth time, that fur-covered fingertips didn’t prevent him from using a touchscreen. It’s cooler down there, which means I’ll shed less. It’s more private. And you won’t get as much hair floating around. We could move the basement stuff up to my room.

Mom read his phone, then shook her head. “You wouldn’t be able to move all that stuff out of the basement up to your room. Those doctors said you shouldn’t be lifting heavy things right now.”

Rone rolled his eyes. The scientists weren’t sure if his back would be able to take a lot of strain. The spines of rabbits were fairly sturdy, but had a tendency to break if they struggled too hard. The fact was no one had any idea how Rone’s body worked, even him. This was all completely uncharted territory.

I’ll be fine, Rone wrote. Besides, I can get Neek to help me.

“When?” Mom snorted, she gave the phone back to him and began sweeping again. “She’s not going to help you move furniture after she gets off work. You’re lying to yourself if you think she is.”

Rone stood there, tapping at the phone with his stylus, then erasing all the things he was about to say. One advantage of being mute is you couldn’t blurt out something you would regret nearly as easily. After a few moments, Mom stopped again and sighed.

“How about we get some of those fans from the basement and put them up in your room? Maybe that would cool things down in there, OK?” She took a step towards him and put a hesitant hand on his shoulder. “I know this ain’t easy on you, being home like this after all that time. It’s rough on all of us. We just have to…get through this until things feel like normal again.”

Rone stared at her for a moment, then nodded. Mom gave him a weak smile, then went back to sweeping.

He slipped away silently, resolving to move himself down to the basement the next time Mom and Neek went out to church. It’d be tough to get everything done in those few hours, but he was pretty sure he could.

He had to feel like he had some control over his life, even if it meant pushing things with his family. Somehow, one small corner of the world had to be his.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2017 in Furries, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Fandom) 2 Words

 

Fandom 150Comedians who use shocking or transgressive humor are often no strangers to controversy and criticism. Even the best of them sometimes tip over into the gratuitous, but most don’t stay there very long. The transgressive nature of stand-up comedy is used by these artists as a tool, a scapel that scrapes away the flab of public discourse to reveal the wounds buried underneath. Then there’s 2 Gryphon. He’s the most recognizable furry stand-up comedian we’ve got and has made transgressive humor a centerpiece of his act for over a decade now. However, that humor isn’t in service of exposing and ultimately healing the sensitive topics he frequently covers; it encourages flippant dismissal of the people who disagree with his stances. The “jokes” and comments he makes online encourage his fans to dismiss concerns that he’s engaging in bigoted behavior, spread misinformation and act on it in ways that hurt furries who are most in need of our compassion. 2’s irresponsible and insensitive attitude towards public discourse helps him to shrug off criticism but hurts the fandom as a whole — and that’s something we can’t tolerate any more.

Last Wednesday, 2 Gryphon announced his performance at AnthroCon had been canceled by the board. He did this by responding to a tweet not obviously directed to him from a Twitter account that hasn’t posted in two years before then. In the absence of any official word from the convention staff, it was assumed by both his fans and critics that the decision was made due to a long history of offensive comments made from his personal blog and Twitter account. The way this news broke is important, because it shows us how 2 handles controversy when he has control of how to present it.

The exchange with his fan puts 2 in a sympathetic light right away. He gets an innocent show of support from a fan excited to see him; he then has to disappoint that fan with the news. This allows him to present his absence from AnthroCon as “the convention is denying you, the fans, something we all want and they didn’t tell me why.” This framing primes his fans towards a particular reaction. It shifts focus from him towards the convention and lays the foundation that the convention’s board is responsible for this situation.

But it’s suspicious that 2 responded to an account he doesn’t follow two minutes after it was posted, especially since there was no obvious way to know it was even directed at him. It’s also suspicious that an account that had been dormant since August 2015 just so happens to make a random tweet right around the time the decision came down. The facts of the tweet and his response to it should make us question if what we’re presented with — an exchange between a comedian and his fan — is really what’s happening. But if 2 (alone or with someone’s help) orchestrated this exchange as a way to break the news, why would he do such a thing?

It’s because 2 understands the importance of framing. Political commentator Jim A. Kuypers describes framing this way: “Framing is a process whereby communicators, consciously or unconsciously, act to construct a point of view that encourages the facts of a given situation to be interpreted by others in a particular manner. Frames operate in four key ways: they define problems, diagnose causes, make moral judgments, and suggest remedies. Frames are often found within a narrative account of an issue or event, and are generally the central organizing idea.” In argumentation, even the informal kind, how you sell your argument matters just as much as — if not more than — the content of your argument.

2 is a very smart guy who is great with sophistry — using clever but ultimately fallacious and/or deceptive arguments to win over an audience. He frequently targets and engages with the most extreme forms of criticism to dismiss any criticism outright. He mischaracterizes the content of those arguments to benefit his rebuttal against them and paint his opposition as foolish, ignorant, uninformed. He demands proof of what he’s being accused for, then dismisses, deflects or outright ignores it when it’s presented. He moves the goalposts constantly. He offers up token friends as proof against transphobic or racist remarks instead of addressing the remarks themselves. He uses a suite of different tactics to make sure criticism doesn’t stick, shifting the field of debate from his actions to general “SJW” fallacies that are functionally red meat to his fans.

The way he broke the news is consistent with his handling of criticism in the past. He knew that being disinvited from AC would create a controversy, and in the absence of definitive information or any official response from the convention itself he used the opportunity to set the frame of the debate and subsequent response. Tying the announcement directly to a fan exchange allows him to spin the narrative that the fans want this show and will be very disappointed if they don’t get it; that’s his basis for argument, and to be fair this would be true even without the work he put into framing the debate that way. However, opening with this also allowed 2 to provide a reason without any evidence, blame “the SJWs” for that reason, and encourage outraged fans to email Programming and demand an explanation — even though they’re less likely to trust anything besides the one they were given before. Instead of discussing the reasons that his critics have been giving for years about his comments and behavior, he picks a straw-man argument that we “have spread the lie that he’s a Nazi”, asserts that the Board has been duped by the lie and shouted down by the “silent majority” who just want to be entertained by his brand of comedy.

But I’m not a critic of 2 because I think he’s a Nazi. I haven’t seen any other critics of 2 say he’s a Nazi. His defense of Richard Spencer arguably makes him a Nazi sympathizer, but that’s a debate for another campfire. I’m a critic of 2 because he’s irresponsible with his language and insensitive to the social and racial issues that a large segment of the fandom have to face in their daily lives. In an environment where that kind of sophistry and insensitivity has given rise to the alt-right in our own fandom AND in the White House, we simply can’t tolerate that kind of behavior any more. It’s unacceptable to target the people with the least power to combat the narratives that are formed about them. It’s unacceptable to promote racist, misogynist, othering ideas under the guise of comedy. It’s unacceptable to take no responsibility for the environment you create and expect others to put up with speech and behavior that makes the fandom a less-welcoming, more-hostile space.

The fact that I disagree with 2 politically isn’t the reason I’m writing this, or advocating that he should lose his space at AC. He’s, of course, free to believe that this is a valid argument against Kaepernick’s peaceful protest on behalf of #BlackLivesMatter, even though he hasn’t done a single thing to be thanked for. He’s free to believe that this is a simple joke about Detroit with no reasonable link to racist undertones. He can say that this is just comedy and that anyone who takes offense should “just get over it and move on“.

I’m also free to call bullshit on all of that. 2 never defended anyone’s rights in any way that mattered; he uses free speech mainly as a smokescreen to avoid consequences for saying something shitty in the same way most Internet trolls do. Colin Kaepernick drew attention to a serious problem in a non-violent way as well as donating time and money to communities of color. Everyone knows that Detroit is a majority-Black city and there’s a long-standing history of racist comments comparing black people to apes. Comparing being transgender to claiming racial ancestry not your own is at best false equivalence, and moving from that to the absurdity of “burritokin” means that we can reasonably infer just how seriously he takes the whole idea. It doesn’t matter that he has black friends or transgender friends; he made comments that perpetuated tired yet persistent stereotypes that hurt disadvantaged populations. If he was truly a friend to these people, he would be sensitive to the social conditions they struggle with all the time and work to legitimize them as people with every right to self-determination that he has. But he doesn’t. Instead he mocks and diminishes their protests without ever touching the legitimate issues that cause the protests in the first place.

As a fandom, we’re better than that. If we hope to reverse the damage caused by people who feel entitled to say whatever hurtful thing they want, we have to start in our own backyard. That means calling out the people who promote bigoted and harmful ideas. That means pushing back against the people who insist on being as irresponsible as they can get away with using the platforms they’ve been given. That means demanding that those shouting “Free speech!” understand that there is a responsibility to accept the consequences of that speech.

2, by consistently attacking progressive activists and making jokes about marginalized groups, has proven what he thinks of us through his actions time and again. He doesn’t care who’s hurt by the things he says or does, or how his rhetoric makes the community a smaller place filled with narrow-minded ideas about what’s “valid”. And that’s his right. But it’s also my right to demand that the institutions of our fandom (including AnthroCon) refuse to legitimize that carelessness by denying him the platform he abuses, especially since he continues to deny and deflect criticism instead of actually trying to see the perspective of other people. It’s my right to say there’s no room in this fandom for a comedian who compares people like me to missing links, then tells me “Relax, it’s just a joke!”

It’s not a joke. It’s my life. And I won’t put up with someone who says — by word and deed — that my life matters less than his.

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2017 in Furries, mental-health

 

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(Friday Fiction) A Birthday of Legend

Writing 150A dear friend of mine celebrated his birthday a week or two ago, and I offered him a quick short story as an impromptu present. As usual, it took me a little longer than I would have liked to finish it up, but here it is! 

Crux is preparing for a nice, quiet birthday celebration; however, one of his friends has different plans in motion and he doesn’t really take no for an answer.

The knock on Crux’s door threatened to bounce it off its hinges. The blue-furred labrador startled on the couch he was sitting in, nearly dropping his phone. It had taken him longer than expected to respond to all of his birthday wishes. He must have lost track of the time.

He shut down his texting app and checked the time — 7:00 PM. It was about the right time for dinner, but he wasn’t expecting anyone to show up at his apartment; everyone knew the restaurant the quiet party had been reserved at. He chose it because it was nice and open and quiet, a relaxed spot where his…variable-sized friends could lounge and would be encouraged to behave reasonably well. After all the…excitement of the last few months, Crux could use a break.

The door rattled in its frame more violently this time. Crux could feel the entire apartment tremble from the force of the knocking. He frowned; anyone big enough to do that would probably have a hard time fitting in the narrow halls of his apartment building. It’d be best to answer the door and walk to the restaurant as soon as possible. He didn’t want to cause any more of a scene with the neighbors, after all.

“Hold on!” he called out, slipping off the couch and jogging over to the door. He opened it…and saw the entire frame blocked by a wall of a man.

“There you are!” A voice boomed way too loudly. “I was worried I might haveta kick the door in and drag you out.”

A great, shaggy head lowered from where it had loomed above the door frame. Hux gave him a big, toothy grin from under that mop of headfur.

Crux’s heart skipped a beat and his stomach sank. As happy as he was to see the giant, he also realized in that moment his plans for a quiet birthday were completely shot.

“You should know by now that you wouldn’t have to do anything that drastic to get me to let you in.” Crux felt himself blushing already, his mind racing with all that he would need to do to change his plans.

“I’m not comin’ in, pipsqueak. We’re goin’ out!” With surprising speed for his size, Hux slipped an arm around the back of the smaller blue dog and gathered him in against his bulk. “You know how cramped these little shoeboxes you like to live in make me feel.”

Crux squirmed as he was lifted off his feet and hugged against Hux’s broad chest, but it was no use. The forearm against his back was a steel beam wrapped in velvet; that chest might as well be a moving brick wall. He wasn’t going anywhere. “Well, the apartment’s only rated for citizens eight feet tall and smaller. It’s not meant to handle someone of your size.”

The giant snorted and rose as much as he could before his head crunched the ceiling. The cheap material dented easily, dusting a small shower of plaster and paint over Hux’s shoulders and Crux’s head. “Humph. ‘S discrimination if ya ask me. Can’t help it if I’m studly. Don’t you worry none, though. I know the perfect place ta go — you can get one of them sweet drinks you like and I’ll have room to really stretch out.”

Crux could have sworn he felt that massive chest stretch a little wider, saw the giant’s broad shoulders push towards either wall in the hallway. The whole apartment rattled as he stomped his way towards the front door. “I…actually have reservations at another restaurant, 30 minutes from now.”

“Awww, and ya didn’t invite me, little man? I’m hurt!” Hux squeezed the smaller male against him and slowly, carefully hunched down low. One shoulder pushed out of the front door, and then the other. Even still, it was a tight squeeze. Crux was almost buried against the much larger torso, unable to respond for several heart-stopping moments.

Even being as ginger as he was with the door, the frame still warped around the giant’s body. He ground his rear and package before slipping out onto the street with a grunt, rising to his full height with a satisfied groan. “There. Much better!”

Crux squirmed more as soon as he was able to. Hux had grown in the short jaunt from his apartment to the street; the canine had to be at least 15 feet tall now, maybe more. “I tried to reach you! You’re not an easy guy to get a hold of.”

Hux chuckled good naturedly as he stomped his way down the block. He took up the entire sidewalk now; other animals were brushed aside even as they scurried to flatten themselves against buildings or parked cars. “I guess that’s true. You don’t mind me tagging along, do ya? I’ll be your plus one!”

“Of course not.” Crux allowed himself to nuzzle Hux’s chest as he was carried along. “You’re going to have to scrunch down a bit though.”

Hux glanced down, an incredulous eye visible through that shaggy headfur. “Awww c’mon, pipsqueak! Yer killing me here! Don’t they have rooftop service or something? Can’t ye help a little old pup celebrate your birthday?”

“I’ll….see what I can do.” Crux wriggled in Hux’s grip to see if he could grab his phone.

“That’s the spirit!” Hux boomed, almost immediately surging up another five feet in height. “You’re the best, little dude.”

“You’re quite a handful, you know.” Crux was texting his friends, letting them know that there would be a very large change of plans.

“Nothin’ you can’t handle, lil blue. You know you love it.”

Crux’s cheeks warmed at the realization he couldn’t argue. “Yeah. I guess I do.”

“Heh. Damn right!” Hux rumbled as he leapt over a car to move into the street. Much more room there. “We’ll go to your little dinner party, and then I’ll take you someplace where we can have some REAL fun!”

The two canines walked to the restaurant together, one growing larger all the while. The rhythmic tremors took that much longer to diminish; car alarms blared in their wake.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2017 in Furries, Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

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(Fandom) My Mental Health Game Plan for FC 2017

Myth 150Further Confusion 2017 begins tomorrow! I’ll likely be in downtown San Jose Thursday evening registering at con because I completely spaced on pre-registering like some kind of silly guy — hopefully the wait won’t be too terribly long! If you see me staring at my phone and playing Marvel Puzzle Quest, feel free to pull me out of my addiction and say hi!

As you know, I’ve become increasingly focused on the intersection of mental health and fandom culture. Like so many subcultures — especially in the United States — these issues can often be overlooked and poorly understood. While we’ve taken great strides in illuminating what these issues are really like, there’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure those of us who are coping with mental illnesses have the tools and support we need to take care of ourselves. I thought it might be a good thing to talk about my own experience, and what I plan to do for self-care at the convention.

I cope with chronic depression that manifests as emotional and physical exhaustion, deep feelings of guilt and shame, and a deep-seated belief that I simply have no redeeming qualities. I can’t communicate in a way that people find interesting or relatable, I’m too aloof and fake warmness that I don’t feel, and I’ll never be able to get myself together enough to fix any of this. When I’m at my worst, a fatalism takes hold; there’s no point to trying anything because I know I won’t be able to sustain the effort or finish anything I start. When depression takes hold, I believe that I am stupid, lazy, boring and annoying.

I also cope with generalized anxiety disorder that manifests as an almost pathological avoidance of things I find difficult. For the longest time, I never finished my writing or tried to do anything I really cared about because I was certain of failure. I would make commitments as a way of forcing myself to do the things I was afraid to do, but when the time came to do them I found myself physically unable to concentrate on them. At work, deadlines crept by with work half-finished or completed with only the most basic objectives. I developed a habit of putting things off until it was simply impossible to put them off any longer. My relationship with work has been atrocious for most of my adult life, and it’s something I’m only now beginning to fix; of course, that means a lot of the goals I set for myself aren’t met.

I also cope with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; this manifests in an extremely distractable nature and an inability to focus on any one thing for too long. If I find my current project too difficult, then I’ll find something else to do by falling into Twitter or Wikipedia for a certain length of time. At conventions, this is especially bad; I’ll often leave conversations in the middle of a sentence to say hello to someone passing by. The visual and auditory stimulation in most meeting spaces can be too much for me to handle because of so many distractions. The more my attention shifts, the more effort it takes to get back to the task at hand. In a convention setting, it often feels like I’m being pulled by a string towards whatever feels the most stimulating. It’s a real problem.

These conditions interact in various ways all the time; my low self-image brought on by my depression makes me extremely anxious in situations where something’s at stake, and my instinctive reaction is to distract myself (or anyone else) with something that can grab our attention long enough to make us forget whatever it was we were doing. Convention days, as fun as they are, can be exhausting. I’m fighting against my own brain to keep focused, ignore the voices that tell me I’m fucking things up, and settle down to have the deep conversations I’d really love to have with the people I meet.

In order to make sure that my problems with focus and anxiety don’t cause huge problems at conventions, there are a few things I need to do every day to give my brain its best shot at coping with its flaws. Here’s my plan for the convention.

Remember my medication. I take Prozac for depression, Adderall for ADHD and ashwagandha (an herbal supplement) for my anxiety. All three help me immensely in keeping an even mood, and I feel tremendously fortunate to have access to them. There is a lot of misinformation about medication for mental health, and while it’s true that finding the right prescription is a bit of a process, when a medication works it helps your brain work better. Period. We don’t demonize medication that regulates our blood pressure, insulin levels, or cholesterol — we shouldn’t demonize medication that regulates our brain chemistry.

Get enough sleep. I’ve been going to enough conventions to know that I will never catch every cool and fun thing there is to do and see, so I’ve shifted my focus to having quality experiences over staying for a long time, hoping that a good time is right around the corner. Sleeping for seven hours — even during a convention weekend — helps me reduce my inclination for stress, keeps my brain sharper and more resilient, and makes it less likely that my mood is going to crash sometime in the evening. I don’t mind being the old man who starts thinking about bed before midnight; the convention will be waiting for me in the morning.

Pay attention to my appearance and grooming. My taste in clothing and personal style has changed a lot over the years, but one thing that remains constant is the connection between how I look and how I feel. If I’ve missed a shower or go out without shaving or brushing my hair, I feel a lot more self-conscious and prone to the negative self-talk that triggers my depression and anxiety. On the other hand, putting on clothes that I like and making sure I’m so fresh and so clean makes me feel better about myself and makes me less likely to spiral through the day. It’s an often overlooked aspect of self-care, especially during conventions, but it makes enough of a difference that I’m going to start planning my outfits for FC right now.

Take social breaks. There are times where my social battery gets awfully low during a convention. I’m overstimulated, and the constant noise and movement makes it impossible for me to calm down. During those times, I might take a walk to a coffee shop or find a relatively quiet corner of the convention to chill for a moment or two. While it’s awesome to hang out with as many people as possible for as long as I can, the fact remains that I’m an introvert; I’m going to need to hide somewhere and recharge at some point. And there’s no shame in that.

So that’s my game plan for the convention — keep current on my medication, make sure I sleep enough, make sure I look and smell great, and take some time for quiet contemplation. This should get me through the weekend with enough focus and energy to have the best time, and I’m genuinely looking forward to the craziness of the next five days.

Now, it’s over to you — what practices, tips and tricks do you recommend for convention survival? What sort of things do you do to keep your mood up? Are there any particular issues that you have to prepare for ahead of time? Let me know!

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2017 in Furries, Self-Reflection

 

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(Fandom) Further Confusion 2017

Fandom 150Further Confusion 2017 is right around the corner! Just two weeks after New Year’s Day, the convention feels a lot closer to the holidays than ever before — not that I’m complaining. Further Confusion actually feels like a part of the holiday season at this point, the last gasp of companionship and partying before we slog through the rest of the grey, cold winter. I’m really looking forward to reconnecting with old friends, meeting a ton of new ones, and being inspired to keep making the fandom an awesome place through the rest of 2017!

In addition to all of the usual stuff — hanging out at the Dealer’s Den, grabbing drinks with friends at TANQ and Haberdasher, rolling through downtown San Jose with my furry squad — I’ll again be on a few panels this year. I wanted to take a moment to let you know what I’ll be doing just in case you were interested in hitting one of them. I hope to see you there, or around the convention in general!

Friday, January 13th
1 PM: Titanium Tea XXVII – Los Gatos Suite 4F (Marriott)
I’m not a panelist for this one, but I wanted to talk about this really neat event that Watcher puts on every year! Titanium Tea is an informal social gathering for tea lovers; Watcher makes a special blend that’s exclusive to each event in addition to having a wide variety of hot and cold teas. He’s a really great dude and an excellent host, and I’m really looking forward to having a steaming mug of something special.

5 PM: FurPlanet Presents – Salon V (Marriott)
I’m not a panelist for this one either, but two friends will be debuting their most recent novels at the convention this weekend! Watts Martin will be releasing Kismet, an excellent furry sci-fi adventure; and Kyell Gold will be releasing Love Match, a novelized version of his Patreon serial (which you can join here if you’re so inclined). FurPlanet is one of the premiere furry publishers, and this is where you want to be to find out all of the exciting releases that are coming this year!

Saturday, January 14th
1 PM: Mindfulness and Transformation in Action – Almaden (Marriott)
I’ll be hosting a panel on mindfulness and mental transformation with Kannik again this year! This time around, we’re going to focus on how to use mindfulness and perspective adjustment to deal with interpersonal conflict. With the socio-political climate these days, it’s more important than ever to find a way to navigate conversational minefields with grace, compassion and empathy. In addition to talking about the theory of mindfulness, we hope to share and practice a few techniques that will encourage equanimity in the difficult days ahead.

4:30 PM: What’s Your Problem? – Almaden (Marriott)
I’ll be on a panel of fellow editors, publishers and writers discussing common and uncommon mistakes people make when submitting stories for publication. My time as a slush reader and editor for New Fables has given me some perspective on what works and what doesn’t for submission, and I’ll be joined by Kyell Gold, FuzzWolf and Ryan Campbell — all of whom have ample experience in the field and keen insight into the submission side of our writing careers. If you’re looking to learn a few tips and tricks that will help you get published, we’re more than happy to share what we know!

Sunday, January 15th
11 AM: Brainstorming in Real Time – Almaden (Marriott)
This panel was so much fun last year, and I’m really glad it’s back again! Brainstorming is an important but often-overlooked aspect of the writing process. A lot of the time, our first instinct for a story’s direction is fine, but we can make it so much more dynamic, unpredictable and special by mining details and connections that we wouldn’t think of at first. The Unreliable Narrators Writing Group (Kyell Gold, Watts Martin, Ryan Campbell and myself) come together for an interactive panel that demonstrates the surprising value that comes from letting your imagination run wild. This will be an excellent hangover cure, let me tell you.

3 PM: Write Now! – Salon V (Marriott)
Kyell and I have been running this panel for a few years now, and it’s always fun to see what people write when you sit them in a room for thirty minutes of uninterrupted time. We’ll spend a bit of time talking about the basics of story structure — the things you need to make sure are in place if the skeleton of your tale is going to hold up under the weight of its telling, and then turn the audience loose for a half-hour of writing! Time permitting, we’ll share what we’ve written and give real-time feedback on what we’ve developed so far.

Of course, I’ll be in a few other panels throughout the weekend. You can also find me in the Dealer’s Den, anywhere there’s coffee, or in the lobby of the Hilton or Marriott chatting people up. I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone who’ll be able to make it, and I sincerely hope everyone has a great time.

What panels are you folks particularly looking forward to? What sort of events are can’t-miss? Got any advice on great places to eat or drink in downtown San Jose? Let me know!

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2017 in Furries, Pop Culture

 

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(Movies) DisneyFest: Treasure Planet, Finding Nemo, Brother Bear

Entertainment 150In the 2000s, Disney animation seemed to be flailing. Their flagship movies weren’t connecting with audiences nearly as well as Pixar’s projects and they were farming out sequels to a lot of their most popular franchises at this point. DisneyToons would release Return to NeverLand, The Jungle Book 2 and Piglet’s Big Movie around this time and the less said about these, the better.

Still, a lot of the movies in the animated canon during this time are worth a second look if you haven’t gone back to them in a while. Treasure Planet is a diamond in the rough, while Brother Bear is just about the furriest movie you could ask for — until Zootopia came along, that is.

Treasure Planet (2002)
Treasure Planet is an almost perfect movie that is nearly ruined by the comic relief character. I don’t mind them as a rule, especially if they reveal an unexpected depth or they’re used in a way that deepens the story. That’s just not the case, here; while it’s true that BEN ultimately provides the last piece of the puzzle for our heroes, it’s also true that he contributes nothing to the story and in almost every instance makes things worse. That’s really too bad, because the rest of Treasure Planet is one of the best father-son relationship stories that Disney has ever produced.

Ron Clements and John Musker (you know, the guys who also directed Moana) co-directed this remake of an Italian reimagining of Treasure Island, moving the action from the high seas to outer space. It’s actually not as hokey as it sounds; the production design is a surprisingly seamless blend of high-tech future and Victorian aesthetic populated, of course, by vaguely animalistic aliens.

Jim Hawkins is a troubled kid raised by his single mother in an inn that sees travelers come in from all over the galaxy. He longs for adventure, but that yearning all too often translates into a talent for getting into trouble. Adventure literally comes crashing through his door in the form of a huge spaceship; Jim’s given a map, told to beware the cyborg, and is immediately chased out of his entire life. Eventually he and his bumbling mentor, Dr. Doppler, commission a ship to search for the fabled Treasure Planet.

The writing for this movie is top-notch — for the most part. The exposition is obvious but well-handled, and the character moments are all extremely well-realized. When the tenuous relationship between Jim and the cyborg Long John Silver crystallizes into a surrogate father-son bond, the film really takes off. The sequence set to “I’m Still Here” is a master-class in animated storytelling, if you ask me. Their relationship forms the backbone of the movie, and even though you generally know how it’ll play out (it is, after all, Treasure Island) the emotional beats are still incredibly effective.

treasure-planet

A really strange fishing trip

Once the crew arrives on Treasure Planet, they meet BEN the robot. From there, your tolerance of Martin Short channeling the worst impulses of Robin Williams will likely determine how much you’re able to enjoy the movie. As I said before, BEN is almost aggressive in his awfulness; he provides a series of needless complications that the far more competent heroes have to dig themselves out of, and the ultimate justification for his existence is…well, it’s not worth it. He’s just terrible and he sucks the joy out of nearly every scene he’s in. It’s such a bizarre misstep in a movie that had been deftly handling the high-wire act of its premise before then.

Still, don’t let BEN scare you off; Treasure Planet is a great movie that really should be appreciated more than it is. It failed badly at the box office, unable to make back its budget in theatres; critics were mildly impressed with it, but not enough to recommend rediscovering it on DVD. I think it’s underrated, but flawed, like so many of the Disney movies in the animated canon that people consider “lesser” works. The passion and creativity on display is impressive, even if there are one or two disastrous moves.

Finding Nemo (2003)

finding-nemo

Motherfucking heroes

After cracking fur in 2001’s Monsters Inc., Pixar decided that they were going to sink or swim with animating water by setting an entire movie in the Pacific Ocean. The gamble paid off big time; the technical merit of Finding Nemo is almost immediately obvious, but the storytelling is really what made the movie such a smash hit. Finding Nemo takes the parent’s searching for his lost child story and crafts a parable about fear, courage, accepting and overcoming our limitations. It’s a fable that bakes its message so thoroughly into its story that learning it is part of the entertainment.

Marlin is a clownfish who lost his entire family — his wife, Coral and the clutch of eggs they were protecting — in a predator attack, except for one egg he named Nemo. The attack left Nemo with an under-developed fin, and Marlin with such an intense fear of anything dangerous that he nearly smothers his son with worry. When Nemo’s act of rebellion gets him taken by divers, Marlin is broken out of anxious paralysis to travel across the ocean and save his son. He’s joined by Dory, a blue tang with memory loss, and together they meet the strange and motley inhabitants of a world much, much bigger and wilder than they imagined.

The parallel experiences of Marlin and Nemo — who helps rescue the fish trapped inside the dentist’s aquarium he ends up in — show how capable any of us are when we push ourselves with proper motivation. Marlin learns that he needs to let go of that crippling fear in order to hold on to the one thing that matters most to him; Nemo learns that even though things might be more difficult for him because of his disability, he shouldn’t let that stop him from dreaming as big as he dares. The film doesn’t treat Nemo’s fin as a non-factor; he does have to learn how to achieve risky and dangerous things while working through a very real physical disability. However, the story doesn’t treat Nemo as incapable just because of it. He’s smart, brave and resourceful; he accepts his fin as part of who he is, but he also comes to realize he’s so much more than his disability.

It’s amazing to me that we haven’t come further with disability in stories in the 14 years since this film; that Finding Nemo still feels like a story we desperately need but rarely see is troubling. But it’s a testament to Andrew Stanton’s great skill as a storyteller that this feels like a shining example of how to get it right. Both Nemo and Dory — and Marlin for the matter; his anxiety could be viewed as a disability as well — learn how to navigate the world through their issues to become the best versions of themselves they could be. By travelling with Dory, Marlin learns that it is possible for Nemo to do great things and face danger, coming through the other side with important lessons. He also learns the depths of his resolve, and it’s a beautiful thing to see this little fish have that personal awakening.

The animation, of course, is breath-taking even after all this time. The colors are bright and engaging, the character design is gorgeous (how in the world do you make fish, with their alien physiology designed for sea life, recognizably, relatably human?), and the water effects are astonishing in an understated way. There are so many set pieces where you get swept up in the story as it unfolds, but only later you appreciate the sheer technical expertise needed to pull it off. Marlin and Dory navigate a shark-chase through a sunken submarine; an underwater mine field with really impressive explosions; and being swallowed by a whale. The fact that the animation moves so fluidly without calling attention to itself through all of this is a pretty big deal.

Pixar really has set the standard for CGI animation in this generation, and Finding Nemo is another example why. The marriage of top-notch storytelling and technical ability is rare, and it’s even more so when a studio manages to bake it into their culture so thoroughly they can consistently churn out instant classics. This is only their fifth movie in their eighth year of feature-film animation; it’s an astonishing run that no one other than Disney has ever managed.

Brother Bear (2003)
Brother Bear, perhaps unsurprisingly, began development after the surprise and run-away success of The Lion King. Michael Eisner wanted to make more animal-based pictures, and asked for one to be set in North America. Originally, they wanted to do a retelling of King Lear, which meant that the “king of the forest” would be a natural fit for the species to tell the story through. In an effort to make the film more charming, elements of the story were removed or replaced and in the end we get Brother Bear — a gently sweet film where the animation is streets ahead of the story, which actually isn’t that bad.

Kenai is the youngest of three brothers in a Native American village just recovering from the Ice Age. After being disappointed by his long-awaited totem (the bear of love), Kenai and his brothers hunt down a bear that had stolen their salmon catch. The hunt goes disastrously, and his oldest brother sacrifices himself to save his siblings; Kenai is thought to be lost as well sometime later, and the middle brother Denahi swears revenge on the bear who took his brothers. In reality, the spirits have turned Kenai into a bear so he can learn a lesson about the perspective of the other.

The film becomes a road-trip buddy comedy. Kenai picks up Koda, an orphaned cub trying to make it to the annual salmon run, which is like a big family reunion for bears. Along the way, the bears meet a lot of different forest animals and save each other from various natural hazards. Just when Koda and Kenai click, Kenai realizes that he’s responsible for the death of Koda’s mother; not only does he have to make amends for what he’s done, he also has to find a way to keep his brother Denahi from killing him and his new-found friends.

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Family of weirdoes

Brother Bear is incredibly earnest, and that’s not a bad thing. I really like its message, even if it’s not particularly subtle or woven through the story with much of the skill we’ve gotten used to in Pixar films. The humor is pretty juvenile, though, so it feels made for a younger audience as opposed to being a true family film. As a huge fan of bears, I’m willing to handle that — especially considering that Kenai chooses to remain a bear at the end of the film. The animation and character design are great, and the nifty storytelling trick of changing the aspect ratio along with Kenai’s form is perhaps the most clever way they bake the premise of the story (learning to see things from a different perspective) into the form of the story itself.

Still, there’s a lot that doesn’t work. Phil Collins writes and performs music for his second Disney animated film here, but the songs aren’t nearly as catchy as they were in Tarzan and they’re mostly unwelcome intrusions into emotional scenes. Just when things are starting to come together and you feel yourself getting emotionally invested, here comes Phil to really hammer the theme home. A lighter, defter touch would have gone a long way here and allowed the movie to stand beyond the pleasure of its premise and visuals.

Brother Bear really is one of the lesser movies of the Disney animated canon, and that’s largely due to the flaws in its storytelling. The look and feel of the world it creates is great; you really want to spend time there. But the way the story is told prevents us from falling into it completely; we’re reminded way too often of the construction of it when we really don’t want to notice the seams. Unlike Finding Nemo, Brother Bear calls attention to itself, asking you to be impressed with the effort instead of allowing you to be dazzled on your own.

 
 

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(Writing) Ye Olde List of Projects

Writing 150The biggest takeaway from my week of Infomagical is the seriously wonderful idea of narrowing my focus to one or two things and working on them until they’re done. I have a bad habit of saying yes to everything, of getting excited about so many projects and/or collaborations that it becomes really difficult to keep track of everything — let alone actually make time for things.

As part of the process of setting my priority, I thought I’d make a quick note of the projects I’m currently actively working on and where they sit on my to-do list. Of course, I’d appreciate any feedback you have to offer on this list. Do one of these projects excite you more than the others? Think I should be working on x instead of y? Let me know.

This is geared towards making sure I actually finish and submit most of these things somewhere — either to professional print/online publications; here at The Writing Desk; or for free public viewing at Furry Network or SoFurry.

The Cult of Maximus
This is the big one: the first project for the Jackalope Serial Company has been a bumpy one so far, and I’ve only managed to post thirteen parts in the first 24 weeks of the year. Making sure I make good on my promise to post weekly installments of this story until it’s done is my top priority. That means putting more work into plotting out the story, making sure I have a good handle on the settings and really solidifying how the supernatural elements of the world work. More than that, I really want to double back and edit previous chapters to “smarten” them up for posting elsewhere.

By the way, this doubles as a reminder that I have a Patreon for erotic serial stories. They feature M/M content, muscle growth, giants and some violent content. If you’re interested, go here to sign up!

The Writing Desk
I definitely want to make sure that this blog is updated at least three times a week, and I’ve been managing a good pace with that so far. Really, it’s just a matter of making sure I have ideas for articles ready to go when there isn’t anything more pressing to talk about, and doing my best to keep up with Friday Fiction. That’s the feature I’m most excited about here, even if it ends up being my least-read post most weeks. Hopefully, as I get better at flash fiction, that will change.

Short Stories
I would really love to write and submit short stories to all kinds of publications — there is a booming market for POC voices in science-fiction and fantasy, and I think that I have a unique perspective and voice to contribute to that conversation. Right now, I think writing stories to their completion, workshopping and editing them, then putting up polished work online is my best play — but there are still places I would love to submit to. For the time being, working through commissions and requests is the priority here. “A Stable Love” is draft-complete, but needs an edit; and the poor fellow who won my short story prize during last year’s Write-A-Thon is *still* waiting for even a draft. It’s time to get my shit together here.

New Fables
Admittedly, I feel a little guilty about this being so low on the list. If you haven’t heard of New Fables, it’s a wonderful annual publication that features anthropomorphic characters helping us understand the human condition a little bit better. The last issue was published in 2012, and the process of putting up the next one has been filled with stops and starts. It is *well* past time I get on the stick about doing the necessaries to get this next issue published. After that, the plan for the future of the title needs to be solidified.

Pathfinder
I ran a Pathfinder game for several friends some time ago; due to the fact that I had much less idea what I was doing with the system than I thought I did and the fact that I needed to actually plot ahead a lot more than I did, it’s been on hiatus for a little while. However, we’re getting the band back together on July 30th; that means I have a ticking clock to revamp characters and plot out the next phase of the story. There’s certainly work to do, and it can’t be underestimated.

There are, of course, a lot of other projects, but these are the five that I will be working on now. I consider my plate full, and just about everything else will have to wait until I’m done with these.

Keep your fingers crossed for me, folks — here’s to hoping that the focus remains tight until I’ve got a handle on these projects…

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2016 in Furries, Self-Reflection, Writing

 

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