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(Personal) The Best Thing About Tragedy

Myth 150Pixar’s Inside Out is an amazing film, and I’ll get into exactly what I think about it later. But for now I want to talk about one perfect moment of many in the movie because I keep thinking about it recently. If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t worry — I won’t spoil too much about the plot or anything. It’s a small thing, but like the best emotional beats it opens directly to the heart of things when you look into it.

The premise is that the emotions we all experience — Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust — are people whose job it is to make sure our emotions influence us to take action when necessary. Each emotion has a situation it’s designed for, and Joy (our main character) is really dedicated to making sure her person has the happiest life. This, of course, puts her in direct conflict with Sadness.

A character that Joy and Sadness meet while traveling suffers a loss that affects him deeply, and Joy can’t seem to snap him out of the funk he’s in. Exasperated, she steps away; Sadness sits next to him and encourages him to talk about what’s upsetting him, getting him to move through his pain instead of avoiding it. Once he’s had a good cry, he stands up and announces he’s ready to move on. After that, Joy realizes Sadness’ purpose — the pain we experience allows us to have empathy for others, to help them move through pain that can feel unbearable at times.

This first week of May was one of the hardest I’ve ever experienced. My sister was the one person who would have gotten me to go back to my hometown of Baltimore, and her sudden hospitalization found me on a plane there without hesitation. I got the call on Friday morning, arrived early Saturday, and saw my mother for the first time in 19 years that day. The next day, I met the father of Teneka’s children and my two oldest nephews for the first time.

That was the day we were gathered in a conference room with a small team of doctors and social workers and told that my sister was brain dead. My heart broke, not just for my loss, but for the loss of my nephews’ mother, my mother’s daughter, my brother’s partner in life. Our grief in that room connected us, as painful as it was; I can’t speak for anyone else, but being comforted and being able to comfort my family made me feel just a tiny bit better.

The following week was a struggle to absorb the twin tragedies of my sister’s passing and the cold realization of how much my mother’s health had deteriorated over time. She was a small but ice-hard woman, and she kept a clean home. Walking into the house I grew up and being hit by the smell and sight of what it had become is a shock I won’t forget. As soon as I saw her, lying in her bed, I knew that I would do anything to get her out of there and into a better situation.

My husband paused, allowed himself to recover, then immediately went to work helping her. His aunt did the same when she drove with me to help prepare for my sister’s memorial service. I hadn’t seen my mother since the day she told me not to come back all those years ago. Ryan only knew of her through the stories I told him about my upbringing. His aunt had never met her — she was a country girl from Arkansas stepping in to an inner-city home for the first time.

None of that mattered. Time and again, I found myself helped through this terrible time by friends and family stepping up to share my grief and take on a burden that wasn’t theirs. When someone else needed my help, I stepped in without hesitation. Knowing that there were so many others who would do — who had done — the same for me made it easy.

Over the week I was in Baltimore, I was able to heal the rift with my mother — who loved my husband, by the way. I was able to meet my nephews for the first time, and get close to someone who loved Teneka as much as I did. Our family came together in a way they hadn’t in quite some time, and I forged a bond with friends and neighbors that allowed me to reclaim my past. Most importantly, the beautiful, graceful connections that we formed helped ensure that my grief for my sister was tempered with an appreciation for her life and all of the people she had touched.

Our ability to feel pain is also our ability to feel empathy. We can know what it’s like to lose someone and reach out in ways that can genuinely help ease their suffering. As hard as it was to deal with everything back in my hometown, I keep going back to the people I bonded with, the deep and lasting connections we formed, all of those times where love filled the room and allowed us to be open and honest and kind. I feel sad, and I will for a long time. But I also feel incredibly fortunate to have the friends and family I do, the support that carried me through all of this, the ability to witness the best in people.

Even in heavy grief, my heart feels lifted by gratitude. I don’t know that I can express how much I appreciate the kind words and deeds of everyone who reached out over the past few weeks. Thank you all, for everything you’ve done.

 

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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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(Wednesday Fiction) Br’ers – Orientation

I wanted to find a way to marry two of my interests, and came up with this setting. I’m still figuring things out, so the snippets will be a little rough for the next two weeks, but I thought it was time to share it. 

Greggory looked in the mirror and saw an alien staring back at him. There were big brown eyes spaced too far apart. There was a broad flat nose with nostrils he didn’t recognize. There were those strange lips, those big ears, features that couldn’t possibly reflect the way he saw himself. He opened his mouth wide and saw prominent incisors — four on the top, four on the bottom, stacked two deep. There were large gaps on either side, and past those he could dimly see his cheek teeth; premolars and molars that were strange and sharp. His canine teeth were gone.

It had been six months since the shift. One day, Greggory woke up and he realized he was different. His brown skin was replaced with a thick pelt of cinnamon fur; his fingernails thickened into digger’s claws; his features had taken on leporine traits. He was the same size, just under six feet tall, but his enormous ears extended his height by a foot or so and when he stood on the toes of long, broad, powerful feet he could tower over most anyone. A lot of good it did him. Despite the strangeness of his look, people weren’t frightened of a six-foot rabbit.

One in ten people in his neighborhood had undergone the same transformation. Some had turned into raccoons, hares, squirrels — he had even heard that there were birds that hadn’t been released from the CDC just yet. Others had become something fiercer — dogs of various breeds, black bears, cougars. He had even heard of a lion or two, though he hadn’t seen them for himself. Not for the first time he wondered how he would react if he spotted one walking down the street. Would some alien instinct take over? Would something lodged deep within his new brain leap up and take over, force him into running before he could stop himself?

A shiver raced up his spine, and he watched the fur of his reflection puff out. He sighed and brushed his chest, his arms, his shoulders. Six months with this fur coat and it still hadn’t gotten too much faster to groom himself. There were many days where he would have given anything for his pelt to simply fall away, but chances are that would make him look even funnier than he already did.

“You done in there?” A voice popped from just behind the closed door of the bathroom. It was followed immediately by a series of knocks. “Some of us have to get ready for work too, you know.”

Greggory grunted his response. He swiped his tongue over the strange shape of his mouth, feeling the contours of his jaw, his palate, his gums. He had been told that he would have to re-learn how to speak; according to the many, many doctors and scientists he had seen he should be able to do it, but it would be an uphill climb. Just one of those things he would have to do in order to re-integrate himself into society. But for now, he was voiceless.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” The voice was annoyed and confused. “Is that a ‘yes I’m coming out’ grunt or a ‘leave me alone’ grunt?”

He looked at the long ear in his reflection swing towards the door. He saw that odd face crease in consternation. It was expressive, but in so many different ways. His mood has moved from the curve of his cheeks and knit of his brow towards the bounce of his whiskers, the twitch of his nose, the movement of his ears. He had learned how it all worked, but his family was still figuring everything out.

Maybe that’s why his mother didn’t recognize the swept back tilt of his ears when he threw open the bathroom door, or the way his whiskers flared as his nose wrinkled and then fell into an agitated beating rhythm. She simply looked at those passive, dark eyes staring down at her, took a step back and glanced at the brush in his hand.

“Looks like you’re almost finished.” She was trying to keep her voice even, he could tell. “I don’t know why you have to spend so long brushing yourself. Ain’t nobody going to see you.”

Greggory simply grunted. He couldn’t easily tell her that it wasn’t about what other people could see, it was about how he would feel. It was bad enough that he had to go back out into the world before he felt ready; he didn’t want to do it feeling disheveled and slovenly, too.

Something must have passed through, because her expression softened. She reached up and brushed her hand through his whiskers, set it on his cheek. He flinched; those fingers brought an explosion of sensation through him and he was still trying to figure out how to deal with that. He only relaxed when she stood on her toes and kissed his chin. It felt weird to him; he could only imagine how it must have felt to her.

“You look fine, son. Breakfast is on the table. I…didn’t have what the paper said to feed you, but I didn’t think it would matter. You’re still my boy, right? Ain’t nothing changed.” She smiled, then pushed beside him to slip into the bathroom.

He glanced at the clock; he’d need to be out the door in ten minutes if he wanted to have a prayer of making it into work on time. His clothes went on fast; a loose polo shirt that didn’t aggravate his fur too much and a pair of shorts that fit a bit snug around his thighs. The sandals took the longest time; he still wasn’t quick working those leather straps with his clawed fingers.

Breakfast was not going to happen. He smelled the stench of bacon and eggs before he even got to the dining room, and his eyes glanced over the plate in vain for a piece of fruit or a vegetable. Greggory left a note next to the plate before grabbing his things and slipping out of the door. If he left now, he hoped, he might be able to pick up something on the way.

When his mother stepped out of the bathroom, she saw an untouched hill of scrambled eggs and bacon on the side, with a small piece of paper next to it.

“No eggs. No meat. My stomach can’t handle that any more. I’m sorry. I love you. Later.”

 

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2015 in Furries, Writing

 

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A Furry Mental Health Podcast?

Fandom 150So last week I made a series of posts about depression and recent comments and ideas being batted around within the fandom. The response has been pretty amazing, and I’m so happy to hear from so many people who are dealing with mental health issues themselves or have been touched by people who are. I sincerely believe that the more we talk about these things openly, the less stigma they’ll carry and the more understanding there will be about what these issues are exactly. Coming out of last week, I’ve resolved to be more open about my own experience with depression and other issues and encourage other people who are going through their own challenges. (Sorry, I’ve adopted corporate-speak so hard here.)

I’d like to find a more formal approach in continuing the discussion. There are so many people in the furry fandom and other geek spaces who have dealt with severe depression, conditions on the autism spectrum, traumatic events and their fallout, personality disorders and other issues of brain chemistry; I think it would be really helpful to promote information and discussion about all of these things, and gather resources that might help people manage these conditions a little better or help others get the treatment and advice they deserve.

This blog will continue to be a space where I talk about my experience with my own issues, and insights I’ve learned about coping with them on a day-to-day basis. But I’m only one data point. There’s a whole community of us out there with our own specific relationships with our minds; we’ve learned how to cope in different ways and through different situations, and have made different choices based on our own ideas of what’s tolerable and what’s not. I’d like to find a way to explore all of that, to bring in other voices and discuss not just what professional advice there is out there but how that advice has been enacted through experience.

What’s the best way to do this? My instinctive idea is to work on a podcast or YouTube series that focuses on mental health in furry/geek spaces, the specific histories each of us has with our issues, how we’ve learned to cope with them and the challenges we still face in our personal lives and in our communities at large. I would hope to discuss commonly-accepted definitions of various mental health issues, the different ways they manifest in people, how those issues are treated through medication or therapy and how symptoms of those issues can be managed through daily techniques, diet, exercise and the like.

I already know there are a couple of issues with this. First and foremost, just because I have the potential platform to speak about these issues doesn’t mean I have the authority. I’m not a medical doctor, a psychiatrist or a counselor. I’ve taken a Psych 101 course in community college and that’s it. The podcast, or YouTube series, or blog would only be one facet of dealing with mental health issues and not at all a replacement for professional treatment and care. It would really suck to put something out there that turned out to be not all that useful — or worse, inaccurate and damaging. I’d want to be very careful about the content of such a thing.

There might also be an issue with offering up lessons from other people’s experiences and extrapolating that out to more general recommendations. What works for one person may not work for others, and it would be important to note that. By saying “This is one person’s experience with depression,” it could be interpreted as “This is what depression is” — and if someone doesn’t share many similarities with that experience then the whole affair could be alienating and discouraging instead of connecting and hope-inspiring.

I would almost certainly make mistakes with this, at least at first. It would take a little while for me to find my way through the presentation and work on a format that is helpful. But it’s something I really do believe *could* be helpful.

So, I turn the discussion over to you, dear readers. Would a podcast, YouTube series or website about mental health issues in the fandom interest you? What sort of topics would you like to be discussed? What kind of information would be most useful? What form would you like the presentation to take? What pitfalls should I look out for? I’m really interested in your feedback; it will help me to know how to move forward on this, or if I should move forward at all.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2015 in Furries, Self-Reflection

 

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FurAffinity and the Realities of Capitalism

Fandom 150This week, FurAffinity decided that it would update its advertising policy to include “mature” ads on pages that included mature/adult work. It didn’t take very long for the backlash to come, which is pretty much what happens whenever FA tries something new. More users and artists distanced themselves from the site — if they didn’t leave outright — and more than a few furries tweeted their displeasure. As of Monday evening (when I’m writing this; I know that the story will have progressed quite a bit by the time it’s posted), they’ve rolled things back to retool the mechanism that serves ads, but I’m not sure they’re going to ever get the community on board with hard-core porn banners with explicit language.

One of the most fascinating things to me about websites these days is that there still isn’t a better way for them to make money with their content than ad revenue. And while I have all the sympathy in the world for an Internet company struggling to figure out how to make their site profitable, I also have less-than-zero interest in being served a bunch of advertisements for crap that I don’t need to buy. Especially when those ads include flashing, sounds, motion or whatever other mechanism they can conceive of to get to pay attention to them instead of the reason I’m on the page.

FurAffinity (and IMVU) is going to be in trouble if they’re going to be more aggressive with ads in the future. It’s just proving what most of the community thought about FA being acquired in the first place; that the site is being taken out of the hands of the community and put into the control of outside interests that see us more as commodities than anything. Of course, IMVU needs to find a way to keep the lights on for FA, so to speak — they’re in the business to make money, and at the very least FurAffinity needs to pay for its own operation. I get that. But a website that relies on advertising revenue, in my experience, compromises the value of its content by making that content increasingly painful to get to through the thicket of revenue-generating stuff. I know this is a slippery slope argument, but I could easily see FA becoming more trouble than it’s worth to navigate, stuffed with annoying (at best) or virus-laden (at worst) ads that make it impossible to have a good time looking at community-created adult material.

But here’s the thing that us folks who like browsing websites has to keep in mind: in our capitalist society, nothing is free. If we’re not paying for the sites we browse in money, we pay for it some other way — with the time it takes to navigate around pop-up or pop-under ads, or with the attention those ads draw from us. Sometimes, we pay for it with information we give those sites, who then turn around and give that information to third parties who, in turn, use it to target us better for advertising. It would be a good idea for us, as readers, to think about how we’re paying for the sites we visit. These guys have to make their money somehow — either through donations and charity, through a paywall, through advertising, through our personal information. Once we determine how a website charges for its services, we have to make a decision on whether or not we think that payment is fair.

Like most Internet-savvy denizens, I fortify my web-browsing experience with Flash blockers and anti-adware. I’ve been burned by Flash ads automatically downloading viruses to my computer and I’m not interested in taking chances with any more. If a website shows me potentially interesting and unobtrusive ads, I consider it fair payment for accessing their content. The Ad Blocker goes off. And in some cases, where I feel like I get enough value from a website and they offer me the choice, I’ll just straight-up pay for access.

That’s what I did with writing.com, where the advertising had brought me viruses a few times. It’s for that reason I can’t direct people there in good conscience, even though there are a few great writers and stories in the interactives. The interactive community is kind of the dirty sewer of the site, though, and the website operators will only get the worst kinds of businesses willing to run ads for those pages. Because of the content of those pages — which includes eighteen different kinds of fetishy stuff — only porn sites and disreputable places will pay to advertise there. So it’s either put up with those awful ads or pay for access — and since I like the interactives and have been going there for years now, I feel it’s a better value to pay with money.

I think FA is in the same position. There are all kinds of terrible stuff in the adult sections of that site; hard vore, crushing, watersports and scat-play, Sonic fan art (just kidding, don’t be mean to me Sonic fans!). I’m not sure that they’d be able to get too many sites outside of the community willing to advertise on those pages, and sites and services within the community probably wouldn’t be able to pay the rates that “professional” places would.

So they’re stuck in this place. If FA is going to be a furry site run by a non-furry interest with the aim of making enough money to justify its existence, it’s either going to have to turn to some sort of formalized payment plan, an aggressive advertising policy, or trading our personal information. Instead of reflexively shouting down any way it tries to raise revenue, maybe we should think about what we would be willing to trade for our porn-browsing experience. Money? Ads that aren’t quite so terrible? Sensitive data? Once we figure it out, let Dragoneer know. We actually have a chance to barter with the operator of the site; that’s not something many audiences get. Using the opportunity to make the site better, instead of bashing it, would be a great thing.

I have a lot of sympathy for Dragoneer and the predicament he finds himself in. I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to the demands of IMVU (which I assume is to make money, but might be something else to be fair). He suddenly finds himself in the middle of a fight between the demands of capitalism and a populace that really doesn’t give a shit about it. Good luck getting out from between that rock and a hard place.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2015 in Furries

 

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Hey Furries, Meet Sci-Fi/Fantasy!

Fandom 150Further Confusion 2014 is in the record books now, and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you it was a hell of a convention. There were nearly 3,600 attendees this year, and it felt like there was an unending parade of things to do, people to see and places to be. I had a tremendously fun time hanging out with new friends and old, getting to know quite a few people better, catching up with folks that I had fallen out of touch with, and learning more about the creative process. I really couldn’t have asked for a better con.

I was on a few panels over the course of the convention, and pimped out this blog at the end of most of them. So, if you’re new to the Writing Desk — welcome! I really appreciate you taking the time to check out my cozy little corner of the Internet. I’ll be talking about writing, storytelling, spirituality and personal development, movies and fiction here. Feel free to drop a comment if you see something you like and/or disagree with!

One of the panels I was on over the weekend was “Furry vs. the Mainstream,” which talked about what the fandom has to offer the broader sci-fi/fantasy community, how we got to be a bit estranged from it in the first place, and why the time is right to make a push for our place at the table. The fandom at its best is a wonderfully inclusive community with a broad range of voices, experiences and viewpoints. We’re just the type of fresh blood the SF/F community needs if it’s going to adapt to the times and thrive.

That being said, I do think it’s important we gain a better understanding of the people who make up the SF/F community and what they think. One way we can do that is by taking a look at the things that are popular in the genre right now. Who are winning the awards? Who regularly pops up as a guest of honor at conventions large and small? What sort of themes and settings are people talking about? What are the similarities and differences between the ideas that are being played with by the SF/F community and the furry community?

We should think about this so that we understand the situation we’re stepping into. That way, we can put our best foot forward as a group and work to repair years of bad publicity, stereotypes and assumptions. We should be prepared to answer pointed questions and talk about uncomfortable subjects. We should think of ourselves as diplomats from a misunderstood and exciting country. We should be proud to be who we are, and come from where we do. But we must also understand the objections other people might have, and be patient while we work them out. It may not be easy all the time, but it IS worth doing.

I promised some of the attendees of the panel that I would recommend a few short stories and websites so they could take a look at the broader community. Feel free to recommend your own resources in the comments!

WEBSITES
io9 — This is the sci-fi/fantasy geek arm of the Gawker sites, and while your mileage may vary with the coverage and community there I’ve found it to be surprisingly smart and engaging. People can be snarky, but overall the editors of the site do a great job of signal-boosting both corporate and fan-made creations. Best of all, they regularly pay attention to the written word, sharing and broadcasting exciting novels and short stories from the genre.

Apex Magazine — A periodical featuring short stories and essays covering science-fiction, fantasy and horror. Great, wonderfully lyrical stories and essays that broach interesting topics I’ve never thought about abound here. Two authors with roots in the fandom have even been featured here — Tim Susman’s “Erzulie Dantor” was featured in the November 2012 issue and “Jackalope Wives” from Ursula Vernon was published in the January 2014 issue.

Tor Blog — A long-standing genre imprint that has published all manner of major names, Tor has a fantastic online community and blog that features posts from thoughtful writers and publishes short stories and novel excerpts that have been curated by the editors. It’s so easy to get lost here, and the variety is astonishing. You’re bound to find something you like, even if you have to do a little digging.

SHORT STORIES
“It’s a Good Life” by Jerome Bixby — Most people remember The Twilight Zone episode that came afterward, but the original short story from Jerome Bixby is a perfect little gem of strangeness and horror. Straightforward prose is peppered with evocative, descriptive language that heightens the mood wonderfully. One of my absolute favorites.

“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu — This is the first work of any length to sweep the Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. It’s a wonderful modern-fantasy story that comes from the distinct experience of a Chinese-American person. “Mono no Aware” is also a great short story, marking Ken Liu as a powerful voice in the genre.

“Life in the Anthropocene” by Paul Di Filippo — A broader sci-fi short story that features a furry supporting character, this was the story I had talked about during the panel. It tells of a vastly different Earth than the one we’re used to, where humanity has moved to mega-cities at the poles of the planet post-ecocide. I wasn’t able to find it free online, I’m afraid, but the Kindle copy is only a dollar.

OTHER RESOURCES
WorldCon — These guys put together the biggest science-fiction convention in the world, moving it from site to site (the upcoming one in August 2014 will be based in London) and its membership votes for the Hugo Awards. Even if you can’t show up to the convention, membership will help you keep your finger on the pulse of the science-fiction community.

DragonCon — These are the big dogs on the fantasy side of the coin, they cover everything from literature to costuming and every type of game you can imagine. The convention will be held in Atlanta this year, at the end of August. Even if you can’t go, browsing the site will give you a number of ideas about who the moves and shakers of the fantasy/geek scene might be.

I’ll reiterate what I said at the convention — these are all just jumping on points, and it’s quite easy to follow trails to get yourself more invested in the sci-fi/fantasy community. Just grab on to what interests you and follow where it leads. Be patient with stories, discover things that you really get excited by and see what’s related. Talk about these with your friends, and apply those things to your own creative, furry-specific endeavors. Cross-pollination not only benefits the bigger community, but ourselves as well!

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2014 in Furries, Pop Culture, Reading, Writing

 

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How Our Writing Gets Better

Writing 150There’s a bit of an ongoing kerfluffle in the furry writing community about critics of stories and the role they should play. From my admittedly limited experience with the subject, it seems like the argument has been broken down into two camps. Some folks feel that furry literature should be subjected to the same standards as any art form; critics should be able to call out bad writing wherever it might be found. Others feel that critics are useless; they’ll never be happy with the quality of writing found in our humble little corner of the SF/F fandom and are really in the game to make themselves look or feel better by putting others down. After seeing some of the more vitriolic and controversial reviews out there, I have to admit that I could see why someone would think that way. But that’s a problem with the critic, not criticism itself. It’s important to make that distinction. Good criticism is an essential element in the growth of any art form; we need to have a way to share our opinions about where our work is at any given point, and keen eyes to point out what preoccupies us as a community, what we talk and dream about, and how well we all communicate what we’re trying to say.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m for the critics. A good critic provides a valuable service to the artistic community he talks about. All art is essentially communication, and writers are trying to say something in a way that moves past language by using language extremely well. It’s a difficult thing to do, especially since the combination of words that might hit us where we live might just make someone else roll their eyes. In order to be successful as a writer, we need to know the effect our writing has on someone else. We may have picked up a few tricks that navigate past the defenses of our audience, but it’s by no means a sure thing. The more sophisticated our audience, the more important it becomes to use the right trick at the right time in conjunction with the right combination of other tricks. Critics can help us know whether or not our gambits have worked, and they can help us gain exposure to an audience dazzled by a multitude of choices. As writers, we want the time and attention of our readers, and critics can help us out by telling our potential readers which writers are worth paying for.

In order to do that, though, critics have to be honest, fair and respectful. Honest because any reader savvy enough to read a critique in the first place is very good at smelling bullshit in the first place; fair because it does no one any good to judge a book the same way as any other book — each work has to be judged by its own measure; and respectful because art communities are small and fragile things, and it’s far too easy to tear ourselves out of them. A good critic never tears into a work unless its creator can handle it, and the work is truly disrespectful to the time we’ve spent on it. I don’t think there are many furry works that qualify for that, but I’m admittedly a novice when it comes to reading our fiction.

And that brings me to the next point, one that a lot of anti-critic people like to point out. We’re a genre of hobbyists for the most part; we simply don’t have the resources to match the quality of output of professionals. That’s true. We’re all hobbyists with (hopefully) day jobs, and that means we can’t put the same time and effort into writing, editing and promoting furry fiction as we could if we were getting paid for it. Critics should be aware of this, and be fair about it. At the same time, it does the fiction itself a disservice if we’re not trying to make it the best we can. For writers, that means refining it until we’re happy with sending it out into the world. For editors and publishers, that means catching mistakes and issues that the writer may have missed, further refining the the story until it has the shine of professional work. For critics, that means telling the audience which works have been taken care of properly and which have been rushed out perhaps before they were ready. The audience gets to know what’s really worth their precious attention, and the writers and editors get to know what needs to be improved on their next project.

The strive to get better at what we do extends to critics as well. I’ve seen far too many critics of furry fiction try to make a name for themselves by tearing down the works of others. What’s worse is they do it without a sharp and critical eye. They don’t actually know the craft of the writer, though they might think they do, so they end up missing a trick deployed well and focus on a difference in style. They mistake this for poor writing, and put together a slickly-produced essay with all of their best put-downs and call it a day. This isn’t about the work; it’s about themselves. Critics should never attempt to establish a personality cult; their attention should be on the work, and they should help their audience to make informed choices about the work. Anything else is a waste of time.

I know that most of us are in our infancy with this sort of thing. Writers coming up are still learning the tools of the trade, and what it means to be professional. Editors and publishers are learning about the tremendous workload necessary for producing a good story, making it the best that it can be. And critics are still learning how to contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way, directing audiences to the best that the fandom has to offer and telling writers and editors about gaps in their process wherever they may be found. But we’re all in this together, and we all want the same thing — for furry fiction to stand on its own as a worthy, accepted part of the greater SF/F umbrella. And we can’t do that if we’re trying to step on the faces of the people we should be helping to rise above the pack. A lot of critics have made this mistake, and it’s left a bad reputation on this entire part of the community.

However, saying that criticism is worthless because so much of it is bad is a mistake. It’s just like a reader saying that all furry fiction is worthless because they have yet to read a book that’s grabbed their attention. When a critic has missed the point of a certain story, or given it an unfair review, the writer, editor or publisher is well within their rights to have a respectful, personal debate about it. The critic needs a check and balance as well, after all. His audience won’t respect his opinion if it’s all flash and no knowledge. Worse yet, he’ll burn down the relationships with the rest of the community that he’ll need in order to do his job (or his hobby) effectively.

Everyone in this process should be striving to get better at what they do, whether they’re a hobbyist or have designs to make this a living. And every link of the chain should be trying to encourage every other link to strengthen themselves. I know that this hasn’t been the relationship that critics have had with their counterparts in the rest of the community, but I really hope that it can be established moving forward. It’ll be much harder to develop the quality of our work if we don’t.

 

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