Sign up here to get info on new releases and giveaways!

Archive for the ‘Darkest Timeline’ Category

“We Are Made of Meat” McMaster University Embodiment in SFF Conference Keynote

The organizers for the McMaster University Embodiment in SFF Conference graciously invited me to give a keynote at their event. I mean… Embodiment in Science Fiction! How perfect is that?

The address I gave is rather timely, so I’m sharing the full text here. Thank you to everyone for coming, and for hosting these important conversations as we forge ahead into the future.

We Are Made of Meat: Imagining An Embodied Future

I stand before you today…. having cheated death.

I cheat death every day. See, I’m one of those folks who has to work a little harder not do die every day.

Here’s my “one weird trick for not dying today.

My body no longer produces a hormone I need to stay alive.

This was a fairly shocking realization at the age of 26, when I thought I was invincible.

A hundred years ago, I would have died as soon as my body started attacking itself, vomiting and convulsing while my body tried to eat itself.

But today: every morning, noon, and night, I make the conscious choice to continue living. I shoot myself up with a synthetic hormone.

I keep on kicking.

This experience transformed how I think about my body, and mortality. It transformed how I think about society and civilization. I became much more intimately aware of the fact that I’m only alive every day because of the people who make this drug. The regulations that make it safe. The truck drivers and mail carriers who move it around the world. The doctors who prescribe it. The pharmacists who fill it.

I began to see how interconnected we all are in a way I had willfully ignored for much of my life. I believed in the American myth of the rugged individual. The single human being who goes forth into the wilderness and overcomes all odds to achieve greatness.

Individually. Alone.

I could argue that until that terrifying moment at age 26, waking in the ICU, watching blood run down my arm as the doctor tried to get an IV in… that I didn’t truly appreciate what it is to be human. To be vulnerable. To be fragile, even. To be mortal.

And I’m sure it’s the same for many of us in this room, though perhaps not so noticeable. If you’ve ever taken antibiotics, had an appendix removed, or had to use an epi-pen, your life has been artificially extended.

Not so long ago, you wouldn’t be here.

In fact, our food system itself: our roads, our hospitals, our access to care, the introduction of sufficient hygiene and clean water, have all contributed to the extended lifespan of humanity.

And yet, access to the means to experience an extended life is a matter of luck. It’s about where you were born. How rich your parents are. How rich your grandparents were.

In a capitalist system, cheating death is big business. In the United States in particular –cheating death beyond antibiotics and vaccines is only for the very rich. Optimum health and longevity is a privilege for us, not a right.

My medication alone – even with health insurance – costs me $1500 every month. That’s more than my mortgage payment.

I tell you this so you know that I, certainly, would like nothing better than to see a future where I did not have to live with the gooey, terrifying reality of my complex body and the complex costs that come with maintaining it.

But I also know that it’s our fleshy, imperfect bodies that makes us human. It’s our fragility that has brought us together. And it’s our collaborative societies that have enabled us to proliferate and even thrive despite all the odds against it. It takes many people working together to build a bridge. To get to the moon. To map the depth of the stars.

I know we don’t all want to hear that.

We don’t like the idea that humanity is our bodies.

Instead, we want to believe we can continue to transcend the flesh. We aspire to a future that is cool. Smooth. Logical. Clean. A future of metal and gleaming white surfaces. Synthetic fibers. The smell of plastic and ozone.

Transhumanism is a social movement that seeks to use technology to radically transform the human experience. To create human beings who can live forever. No disease. No death.

To cheat the limitations of the human body, transhumanists posit that we could augment or even remove our bodies from the human experience all together.

Some go so far as to call transhumanism a “liberation” movement. A movement advocating for our total “emancipation” from biology, from evolution itself…  at which point we would of course become beholden to the limitations of our own technology.

And technology comes with costs.

And software updates.

I find it a little absurd that some believe transforming us into smooth, cool machines will enable us to live forever when I don’t have a single working electronic device that has lasted longer than my sister’s pet Guinea pig.

If you spend too much time reading about transhumanism, it can start to sound like a religion. How else do you describe a movement seeking to turn a select few into beings of pure light?

Transhumanism has never sounded, to me, like a movement that was going to include everyone. Not as long as it’s fueled by fear of death and capitalism, certainly.

But this is only its first tragic flaw.

I would also argue that our rush to divest ourselves of our biological bodies is even more problematic than dooming us all to a never-ending blue screen of death.

Why? Because no one seems to be considering what the human brain is.

Our brains? Our minds? Consciousness itself…. These are not cold, hard, logical slabs of metal. Brains are mushy organic receptors that take stimuli from the world and decode them for our bodies, enabling us to make decisions.

And those brains are made of meat.

All that makes us human… is made of meat.

What are we, if we take away the meat?

Our brains are not objective logic machines. Objectivity was never their intended purpose. The brain’s purpose was to enable us to interpret the world with greater ease so that maybe we would die less quickly. We are all just collections of atoms bumping into other collections of atoms and trying to assess whether or not those atoms are good for us or bad for us.

These curds of brain can’t even be relied upon to interpret the world, our perceptions, or events in them with any kind of objective consistency. They misfire and screw up all the time. The way they perceive the world aren’t even consistent from human to human. We see this truth every day.

My spouse and I argue endlessly about whether the color of our dining room is beige or green.

Is the dress white and yellow or blue and black? Is this sound we each hear Yanny or Laurel?

The idea that we can somehow upload our memories into a flash drive and slot it into some new body like they do in Altered Carbon is a fun thought experiment, but one completely untethered from any current theories about how the mind and consciousness are created.

At the quantum level, things get even stickier.

Quantum particles  – the absolute smallest observable objects we’ve detected – don’t move like particles. They move like waves.  And where they end up when they move varies depending on what happens along the surface they’re traveling.

An example: light is composed of these particles, right? Photons. Let’s say that we shine a light onto a transparent sheet of glass. We can see that 90% of the light goes through it and 10% is reflected back. But how do we know which photons are reflected back? We don’t. We only know the probability. Every photon that hits the glass has a 90% chance of being projected through it and a 5% chance of being reflected back.

The way each and every photon behaves, however, is completely unpredictable. We cannot say with absolute certainty which will be reflected and which will go through.

We can only predict the odds.

Physics, this most logical of all logical human constructions for how we see the universe, cannot deliver a single definite result at the quantum level. All it can do is tell us the probability of an outcome.

What quantum mechanics teaches us is that at our most basic level, the matter that surrounds us is ruled not by precise facts and logic but by probability.

Thus, it should not surprise us that in a universe ruled by probability, we ourselves are not  beings of logic and pure reason either. Not even at the quantum level.

We are reacting, always reacting, and our reactions are not hardcoded like a computer program. They are constantly in flux. A tangled mess of unreason. A complex stew of factors that we aren’t even beginning to fully comprehend.

It’s been found that people who have damage to the part of their brains that process emotions can no longer make decisions. Oh, certainly, they can tell you logically what they SHOULD be doing, but they have difficulty deciding what to eat, what to wear. Apple or banana? If you have no emotional reason to choose one over the other, you will find yourself unable to decide.

Smart negotiators understand this. If you’ve ever tried to argue with someone on the internet, bringing with you all the facts and figures and thinking that will win over the other side, well… you’ve seen this phenomenon in action, too.

So that brings us back to the “problem” of our messy brains.

We like to think that our consciousness exists outside of our brains and bodies. That consciousness is something…. A soul, a mind, a spirit… consciousness, we like to think, can be removed and uploaded to the cloud and synched up with a new body, no problem! Shouldn’t it be that easy?

But what is consciousness? Is it the ability to follow a set of logical paths to find the other side of a maze? Is it a program that can win a chess game? Is consciousness simply the ability of a computer program to fool humans into thinking it’s a human too?

There’s a powerful argument that human consciousness itself exists because of the peculiar ability of the human brain to connect meaningless events into narrative, into story.

The theory goes that what we call awareness is simply our ability to form stories out of stimuli. This is why most of us don’t have any clear memories until we’re two or three years old. We are not truly conscious until we learn how to construct a narrative.

We find ourselves connecting seemingly random events every day. I was out of milk, so I drove to the store. It turns out my best friend was at the store too! She invited me to dinner. At dinner I learned about a new job opportunity from one of the dinner guests. I got the job and that’s where I met my partner. Amazing! The world really does connect us all in mysterious ways!

But the only thing that actually connects any of these events in any spooky way… is you. You experienced them. You gave them meaning. To anyone else, viewing from outside, seeing you bump into your friend, or another guest at that dinner, those interactions had little to no meaning. We created the meaning. We crave meaning.

We must create these stories because at its most basic level, our stories ARE who we are. They ARE consciousness.

This is why, when you argue with someone’s story of the world and “the way things are” or “the way things have always been” they defend that story so violently. They have lived with these stories for so long that attacking them feels like an attack of the self.

There’s a fascinating series of studies that presents two groups of students with static images. These are simply random black and white images of what we might call television static, speckled nonsense patterns on a piece of paper.

One group of students is primed to think about a time when they lacked control over a situation. Another group is asked to write about whatever they want.

When both groups are shown these same random images, the group that was primed to evoke the feeling of being out of control is more likely to believe they see patterns in the random noise than the other group.

Why?

It turns out that when we are fearful, anxious, and stressed out – when we feel we have control over our lives – our brains are more likely to find images in random noise, form correlations in stock market information that isn’t there, see conspiracies in unrelated events, and even develop superstitions.

The more out of control we feel, the more we want to assert structure to the universe around us. But as we’ve seen, the universe doesn’t work on logic or programming.

Only probability.

Our brains are not separate from our bodies. They are pieces of our bodies, uniquely created by our genetics, hormones, experiences, stories, and other stimuli they have been exposed to throughout our lives.

The brain isn’t separate.

Author Steven Erikson once described a theory of reality at a panel I was on. He said his approach to worldbuilding was to create several characters and show the world through their eyes, because in our own lives – reality is this thing at the center of a circle of human observers, and we are all standing there describing what we see. Together we come to a loose consensus about what it is we’re looking at.

Reality is what we can agree on. It’s why we become so anxious when confronted with the truth that even objectively obvious truths – what color a dress is, what sound can be heard – are not objective at all.

And yet, even if these tricky physical and biological constraints could be overcome… if you really could turn your subjective brain into a logical series of 1s and 0s that could be uploaded into a machine that lasts longer than the latest iPhone… we are still left with the question about morality. About culture. About who gets to live forever.

In discussions related to the transhumanist movement, I can’t help but notice that many of its most fervent cheerleaders are wealthy men,  usually Caucasian; they tend to be those already accorded a great deal of privilege in much of the Western world.

These are people who can already afford to prolong their lives. Even now, they can spend a few million dollars in the dubious practice of freezing their brains for later. They are the people who have spent their time on earth hoarding wealth and now, as they realize that their wealth cannot buy them more life, they seek to transcend death itself.

Transcending the limitations of the body is, for many of them, the same as transcending the limitations of not enough capital.

Every time I’m confronted with this idea of revolutionizing the human body, I can’t help but wonder: What would it cost for me to live indefinitely, as I am, at $1500 a month just for drugs? To have a limitless existence?

Already, there are some months when prolonging my life feels woefully out of reach.

Who decides who lives forever?

What happens to the rest of us?

Do parents have a moral responsibility to use CRISPR technology to edit their children’s gene code? Or is it morally reprehensible to make that decision until a child is old enough to decide for themselves?

Consider our shifting ideas around gender identity and sexuality.

Even now, many doctors encourage parents to “choose” a binary sexual identity for their children from birth. If it’s not “obvious” from external physical markers, parents can decide to “assign” a sex to their intersex children through surgery. This is all done long before the child has any sense of themselves and their bodies.

We see our intervention as taking control over biology and evolution. Yet our understanding of these incredibly complex systems is so rudimentary that we often find ourselves doing real harm.

But we’re trying to be good, we say, as parents. We want to ensure our children have a good life, a good birth.

Those seeking to engineer a “good birth” may be shocked to learn that the term “eugenics” comes from the Greek words for “good” and “origin” or “Good birth.”

The early 1900’s were a time of great technological and social change, a period often called the Second Industrial Revolution. Rapid advancements in manufacturing and production, as well as transportation, were transforming society’s belief of what was possible.

This belief in human ingenuity carried over to the rudimentary realm of genetics. The eugenics movement in the United States began with reasoned newspaper columns from men arguing that the willy-nilly breeding of humans without thought for offspring was illogical. It led to fairs and competitions for families where they could compete to earn the title of “fittest family” and “best pedigree.” The criteria were wildly subjective.

They were certainly only ever awarded to white families of a certain class.

As society’s views shifted, nudged along by inflaming existing racism and fear of the poor, government sanctioned programs were not far behind. That led to the forced sterilization of hundreds of thousands of people – largely men and women of color, the mentally ill, the poor, and those who served prison sentences.

The only thing that halted this mass eugenics movement was the revelation of its ultimate end goal. The horrors of what had been done in Nazi concentration camps and the six million people they condemned to death were too much for the burgeoning movement to survive. When faced with the real end game, society balked.

But it was a close call.

I always wonder if society would reign itself in, today, before it was too late. I wonder that as my own government rips immigrant children from their parents and plans to put them into warehouses.

It is the year 2018, but time, I fear, is a circle.

We live in an age of great technological change. As in the 1900s, we find ourselves with access to an exciting number of new tools, with the promise of greater tools on the horizon.

But what lies at the end of that road?

Yes, we can. But should we?

If we don’t want to reach that ultimate end game, the inevitable conclusion of a society fueled by fear, racism, capitalism, how do we need to change? What regulations can we put into place? What moral and social taboos should we consider? How should we re-organize our governments?

As we rush headlong into technological fields, playing with forces we ill understand, we must take a moment to look back.

Without a knowledge of the social sciences – of history, psychology, sociology, those who create and unleash these technologies do so without a sense of how those technologies could transform us.

But wait, you might say. Who wouldn’t want to have their illnesses cured? To live life just like everyone else?

First: it’s clear to me more and more as I get older that the world itself is not designed to fit us. We design the world to fit those we believe should be most visible. It’s not designed for anyone else.

I once found an old flyer in my great grandparents’ home that advertised that it was a community free of “undesirables.” Only white people were permitted to live there, and the poor could not get there – the overpasses were designed so that buses could not get to the neighborhood, limiting its accessibility to those who did not own cars.

We limit accessibility in everything we design, from streets to gaming controllers. With each of those decisions, we subtly signal who we consider human and who we do not.

“So what?” I hear the tech bros ask, in the same tone I imagine those old white men used in their eugenics columns. “Isn’t society better with only the fit, the strong?”

To which I would argue – who are we to decide who is fit, who is strong? Who are we to decide who and what society needs, when it is evolution that has proven to us that only organisms capable of change are destined to survive in the long term?

A monolithic, homogenous society is morally reprehensible. It is also reprehensible as a long-term strategy for humanity.

Hemingway had a condition called hemochromatosis; his body wasn’t able to process iron, leading to very high levels of iron in the blood that would have eventually killed him. We see this illness and say, “Wouldn’t we want to eliminate that?”

But it turns out this illness was key in helping people in Europe survive the bubonic plague. It’s why you generally only see it in those with European ancestry. It turns out the plague had a more difficult time propagating in bodies that had too much iron.

Sickle cell anemia is another disease that turns out to deliver benefits. Those whose blood cells are transformed by the disease don’t contract malaria. Even those with just one faulty copy of the gene that changes the shape of their blood cells are less likely to contract malaria.

Even prevalent diseases we are seeing on the rise in Western countries, like diabetes, exist for a historical reason. Those with higher sugar levels in their blood are more resistant to extreme cold. And of course, an intense desire for carbs and sugar in our ancestors was a tremendously good thing, long-term.

What other possible calamities await us as a species? We simply have no way of knowing.

All we have to defend ourselves are the possibilities within our own bodies.

Those possibilities are imperfect. They can doom us or save us as both individuals and as a species.

Before the advent of antibiotics, scientists were working on more targeted drug therapies, ones that would specifically attack individual bacteria. Instead, we delivered a short-term solution that saved millions…

But we didn’t think it through. We didn’t consider the long game. And now we are faced with an increasing number of antibiotic-resistant infections. These infections will kill you no matter how advanced your access to care. No matter how much money you have.

Money and technology can’t save us if we aren’t thinking long term. If we don’t take a step back and look before we leap. If we aren’t intimately in touch with and accepting of the fact that our messy brains are not separate from our messy bodies. They are one and the same.

What does our future look like if consciousness cannot exist outside of a meaty organism?

What if the human experience is, by definition,  one universally bound to the bodies we inhabit?

And what if that’s not some kind of enslavement or a limitation to be unshackled… but a gift?

The key to our future as a species is already inside of us.

But unlocking that possibility relies on us acknowledging that our greatest strength is in our difference. In the multiplicity of possibilities lying within us.

I may not live as long as others because of my illness. But its presence in my family was beneficial, once upon a time. It could be beneficial to those who come after me someday, too. We don’t know what the future will bring.

And you cannot transcend a future you do not understand, in a vehicle you have shorn of its possibilities.

It’s funny – but I’ve learned that it’s our weaknesses that make us strong. It was understanding my own weaknesses that allowed me to become the person I am today. In my weakness, I understood our time is finite. I understood I needed to make the most of the days I had.

In facing my weakness, I faced my own mortality. In facing my mortality, I became, perhaps… more fully human. More compassionate. More kind. I realized we needed each other in order to do great things.

That’s all weakness is. An acknowledgment of our humanity. There is no shame in that.

In fact, our humanity is our greatest strength.

Let’s build a future that never, ever forgets that.

Thank you.

 

 

 

The Year I Drowned My Emotions

For over a year now, I haven’t wanted to feel anything.

Not joy. Not sorrow. Just… nothing. I wanted to feel nothing.

Certainly, there’s an element of depression, there. My doctor kept upping my meds. They would work for awhile, and then I’d just sink into the Nothing again. I didn’t feel depressed, because I still think of depression as feeling “bad.” Instead I just wasn’t feeling anything at all. I was going through the motions.

Depression is a complex state of being. I know we want to try and pretend it’s easy. Just pop a pill, increase your meds, try new meds, find something that works! But there’s also depression caused by external forces, and that’s the sort of depression that you can paint over with pills, sure, but the root of it is still there, like painting over a crack in your wall.

I was already feeling overwhelmed and deflated in the months leading up to the election. I was struggling with the reality that I’d produced three books in a year but still had to function at a day job, and the relentless treadmill of publishing was still going, without the sort of reward I needed in order to maintain my sanity. I’ve talked before about how writing all those books and then promoting books and having a weird dude-bro day job (at the time) conspired to murder me. What we don’t acknowledge is that when you experience that kind of breakdown followed by grief and disappointment, you can’t just… get back up like nothing happened.

The truth is I was operating at the absolute limit of my capacity before the shit hit the fan. Because I was already tapped out, when the shit hit, I had nothing left, no reserves to help me cope. The grief of the election was the grief for a lost future. I grieved for the country, for the future, for our lost stability. Most of all, I grieved because it made me hate my neighbors. They voted for this. They murdered the future. This is the future they wanted. Knowing that – that your own friends, family, neighbors, voted for this bleak future where health insurance is being killed by degrees and all our money is being funneled to the rich – was debilitating. Sorry, it just fucking was. It was realizing I lived in an entirely different reality than those people. Worse was knowing where this sort of vote led a country, historically. Living with that knowledge for months while people fought about how we should “give it a chance” turned me quickly to drink. I was drinking, three, four, five nights a week. I wasn’t even sorry.

I don’t like feeling things. One of the benefits of fiction is that it allows you to emote without suffering through the physical and emotional consequences of the characters. It’s literally a safe space for allowing me to feel things. I can feel them, then go on and out into the world.

But what I found for the last couple of years is that I didn’t want to feel things even in fiction. Even reading certain books or watching certain TV shows was too much. For months, I couldn’t watch anything dark on TV. I stopped watching Jessica Jones. I started reading all 25 of Sue Grafton’s Alphabet novels, because I knew that in that world, the murders were always solved, the bad guys got found out, and decent people did OK. I needed desperately to live in a world like that.

“Be like Leia Organa! Have hope!” everybody keeps yelling.

And I’m like, sure, yeah, OK, but there’s hope and then there’s deluding yourself. Leia and Holdo didn’t didn’t just fly off into the Nothing and “hope for the best” – they had a plan.

I had no plan but “survive.”

And let me tell you – “survive” as a “plan” gets pretty depressing after awhile.

My attempts to numb myself against reality could only work for so long. Eventually, I knew, something had to give.

When we were presented with our “new” “health insurance” at the day job back in December, I was just… done. I’ve been scrambling to keep a day job forever in order to keep health insurance. But the constant erosion of health insurance regulations by the new regime was destroying all of the plans, even those offered by employers. My deductible was going up another $3,500. It was already $7,000. My meds are $1500 a month, which means that for the first 6 months of the year or so, I was shelling out $1500 out of pocket for the drugs that keep me alive. Now I’d be shelling that out for even longer before health insurance covered anything at all. And that’s on TOP of the $400 per month premium.

This wasn’t insurance.

This was a fucking nightmare.

“Survival” on this timeline, the bare-bones plan, was becoming untenable.

Depression is indeed an imbalance. A broken brain. But that depression is, sometimes, a perfectly sane response to a horrifying situation. The trouble is that being depressed isn’t going to get you out of that situation. Being depressed is just going to cause you to keep sinking deeper and deeper into the mire.

So up went the medication.

And up went the alcohol.

The trouble is, combining those two things at once results in… well, a VERY drunk podcast appearance where I’m barely coherent toward the end. That was a bit of a wakeup call. I can’t drink away the world on these meds. I can’t numb all Feelings.  It was time to stop relying on outside fixes and make some real changes.

I started looking into 100% remote working opportunities. A colleague emailed with a tip about an immigration lawyer. The lawyer confirmed that my spouse and I would not be barred from immigrating to Canada because of our illnesses. In fact, he said, because I was a writer, we’d have an easier time of getting in. We’d thrown out this thought immediately after the election due to the medical issue. But it turns out that unless you require constant or prohibitively expensive care, you don’t trigger their “medical burden” clause. And in Canada, prescriptions were a fraction of the cost, and health care was paid for through taxes. I would never lie awake worrying about health costs again.

That was all I needed to know.

We scraped together the money for the lawyer, and started the paperwork. This process has also forced us to take a full accounting of our finances, which we hadn’t done since our dog Drake died. We poured an exceptional amount of money into his care, and it’s like it’s just been compounding since then. Last year I kept saying, “We can’t afford X,” and my spouse was like, “We need to do X,” and I just… found ways to do it. And now we have the brutal reality of all those bills and debts. For a year, I just… didn’t care about those debts. I rang them up like it was the end of the world, because it felt like it. There was nothing to look forward to but 30 years of shit getting worse.

I have spent a decade trying to tell myself I could live a mile from downtown, here in Ohio, struggling with health insurance. I convinced myself that I had no other options.

Suddenly I had options. Even if the journey to get there seemed impossible.

I figured it was no more impossible than trying to survive here as things are currently.

Totaling up your debts and taking a hard look at all the shit you’ll need to repair and repaint in order to sell or even just rent out your house, and all the shit you’ll need to sell or pack, and the costs of doing that, and of finding a rental, and going through all the paperwork, and… it looks overwhelming. Moving gets harder as you age because you tend to have more shit. The shit you own does, indeed, end up owning you.

But the stress of holding onto health insurance while the cost of care was becoming more and more unaffordable was unbearable. The dystopic regime contributed to that fact, and added heaps more stress on top.

I want a different life.

It was this, I think, this thought, this emotion, that I was trying so hard to drown. I wanted to be content. I wanted to settle. I was just so tired. Tired of writing. Tired of working. Tired of fighting everything. I also found that I was tired of putting myself out into the world. I was tired of being some constructed persona, a pixel-headed emoticon online. I was so emotionally exhausted all the time that I began to jealously guard all the parts and pieces of myself that fueled the emotional core of my writing. I failed to write a book last year because what I came up with was just somebody going through the motions. I wasn’t feeling any of it. I couldn’t bear to. Things just happened to people, and I said how they felt, but I couldn’t feel them. I’d die, I thought, if I felt them. I was angry that I had given so much of myself to my novel writing and was getting so little back. I was frustrated to be in this place where you have to dig into your heart and lay it bare only to have some rando shit on your doorstep for no fucking reason while you’re paying $1500 a month for drugs to keep you alive.

It was a shitty future. I wanted a different one.

There was freedom in acknowledging it wasn’t going to work. There was freedom in realizing that trying to make it work was literally killing me, that year after year, I was just getting more and more resigned to a life that was taking everything I had and not giving anything back.

I drowned all of this in alcohol, and overwork, and bird food, and dogs, and painting, but it was clear from my inability to write anything of substance that cutting myself off from emotions might feel good in the short term, but isn’t great for helping you overcome your problems. It’s like Luke cutting himself off from the Force. Who are you then? You’re just someone going through the motions. Eventually, you either die that way, or you open up.

I spent two miserable weeks over the holidays sick as a dog, then another week trying to recover. For several of those days, I had a terrible fever and hallucinations, and I thought I was going to die. Near-death has a funny way of waking me up. Here it was, I thought, I’m going to die here in Ohio without finishing my goddamn fantasy trilogy. What have I even done with my life?

And as strength returned, and I took these tentative steps toward changing my life, as I saw these flickers of another future, it became a little easier to turn in work again. And not just work that was going through motions – but work that tapped into the emotions I’ve been struggling with, and the experiences from my past that drive me, and pieces of myself I wanted to hide away at the bottom of a deep, dark well.

I wrote about being broken, about perseverance, about failure, about envy and rage and despair and passion. All those things I didn’t want to feel anymore, I could feel them again, safely, on the page.

And the world didn’t explode. I could stand the tide of it.

I wasn’t drowning anymore. I was swimming, swimming. I still couldn’t see the shore. But I could imagine it. I could hope for it, again. I could hope for it without hurting.

And that was enough.

Saving the World One Dog at a Time

We picked up our new rescue dog, Pepper, last Wednesday. He is a good boy. Pepper is a loveable, happy mutt, about four months old. He loves to climb up on the highest point inside the house and survey his domain. He enjoys stealing Indy’s toys and eating Indy’s food. Most of all, he enjoys sleeping up in the big bed with my spouse and I, snoozing and farting all night long.

A good boy.

Pepper was at a rescue in Indiana run out of a young woman’s house, called Underdog Salvation. I drove out there after we viewed some photos of him on Petfinder and my spouse said, “That’s the one.”

The day after we picked him up, the rescue owner received her official non-profit organization status from the IRS; she posted about how creating an animal rescue had been her lifelong dream, and how that letter was a huge step toward expanding the rescue. All she’d ever wanted to do was rescue animals, and now here she was, doing what she loved, making that shit happen. And you know, reader, I had a good cry over it. There are still people out there trying to do good in the world, trying to save what we have, one piece at a time.

I have tremendous amounts of respect for people who are not only passionate about something, but who put in the hard work and take the long, slogging steps toward making that dream happen. Animal rescue folks know better than most that yeah, they can’t save everyone, but to this pet, this single animal, it getting saved sure does matter.

This is how you save the world, one life, one act, at a time.

I’ve been thinking a lot about saving the world, or not saving it, lately. Folks overseas look on America now with a new emotion, something we’re not used to: pity. People are, rightly, leaving this country in order to ensure their children have a better life. The dystopia is here for everyone, the 80’s megarich Robocop 1984 cyberpunk future that’s totalitarian and heartless, a mad government pitted against its own people. This is our reality, and it’s tough to acknowledge that reality every day while still living within it. Like many, I get tired by the endless onslaught of terror, the newest debacle, the latest demonstration of our government’s lack of empathy.

But there is always hope, of course. It’s what we’ve been writing about, all this time, the people who fight back. The ones who challenge what’s broken, those who understand you have to save the world one life at a time. 

I am imperfect. I am tired. But there are folks who have survived their government trying to kill them here in America from the very beginning. I’m just newer to the party. Many of us lived with this story, this idea, of the America we lived in. We believed it would get better. I believed the backlash would come later, maybe another five years. I was wrong. I forgot that progress is not a straight line. I forgot the power of story and media. I forgot the power of human fear and ignorance. I assumed the best in all people.

But while I may have undertaken a transformation in my life, one I call “learning how to be an adult,” other people haven’t shared that journey. I get it. They didn’t learn empathy and compassion. I want to give in to my darker, selfish side all the time. But I don’t. Because I believe that creating the future we want, that utopian Star Trek future where no one wants for anything and we are united in our goals and aims, requires that we become someone different. That scares people. Fear is powerful. I know.

Yet… hope is powerful, too. Hope that there will be a future. Hope that one life can be saved. The realization that saving that one life means everything to the one living it. We are not all collections of numbers and statistics.

I am not hopeful for the immediate future, but I am hopeful for the future that comes after it. I keep trying to imagine that future, to set it down in my mind, to imagine how my grandmother endured under the Nazis, to imagine that maybe she was looking out at her own future, at the possibilities, not immediate, but someday… someday… and living for that day. And in the mean time, you know, to get to that future, you must hold tightly to your goodness, your better self. You must continue to be kind. To save these small bits of the world around you. 

I live for small kindnesses now, and simpler pleasures. The company of a happy dog. A good glass of gin. A walk out in my yard. The satisfaction of a completed story.

Someone on Twitter noted that when we write about time-traveler stories, we are always writing about a single person coming back to the present day and changing just one small thing that will completely alter the course of history. Yet, as we live here in the present – we don’t believe that small actions can change anything.

Folks, the little things still matter. I’d argue that they matter more now, as the country we know embraces the sort of regime that we once pretended was the enemy of everything we hold dear. Mourn that world, that belief, yes, but keep saving those dogs. Keep treating others with kindness. Keep taking those long walks. Keep creating. Keep calling your reps. Keep surviving. We are here. We may not survive to the future that comes after. But these little things? They all help us get there.

—-

If you would like to donate to Underdog Salvation, donations can be made directly to their vet account, under their name, at Southway Animal Hospital,  or purchase an item from their Amazon Wishlist.

 

Ongoing National Horrors Can’t Be Unplugged, But We Go On

Scalzi wrote recently about the struggle to write during the current burning of America. It may seem like a droll thing, compared to all the horror happening elsewhere, but the fact is that many of us rely on our writing income in order to eat and pay the bills. A state of constant horror and anxiety of the sort created by this administration is negatively impacting the entire country. I’m white, and I was born here, and in that I’m privileged. But I also have a chronic illness that will murder me if I lose health insurance, and I’m a woman. And we all know what this admin thinks of women and sick people, especially those that don’t vote for it.

I drank my way through the first few months of the new reality while I came to grips with it. I explored a lot of different options. And then I had to get back to work. I tried unplugging social media. I limited my use of Twitter. I relied more on Instagram. I only read the news, the real news, once a week. But as the months dragged on and I was calling my state reps almost daily during the ongoing healthcare nightmares, the cold hard truth was inescapable: I couldn’t unplug this reality. I could not get away from it.

I’d hear people talking about the latest horror while at lunch. While at work. Two women at Disneyworld got into a rant about how football players should be grateful for what they had and not create controversy (it took every bit of willpower I had not to lean over and ask what they’d think about the men’s protest if they were protesting against stricter gun laws). What happens online isn’t staying online any more than the trolls did. Trolls grow up to be president.

You can’t unplug when you’re in danger of being deported from the only country you’ve ever known, when you’re worried about gathering for a concert because you’ll be shot, when you’re in fear of your life over a traffic stop, when your access to health insurance is just one or two votes away from being rescinded, when your president is constantly threatening nuclear war because he feels his dick isn’t being sufficiently sucked.

There was some comfort in knowing that even if the worst happened, you felt the leader of your country, at least, had your back. That we were working toward transparency and accountability, even if it was all a lie. There is no filter now, though, no pretense about what America is and who it serves and what it’s for. And it’s funny to realize just how much that thin modicum of “pretending” meant to my feeling of – if not safety – then security. Obama was a smart, good, carefully calculating dude. I trusted him to make the right decision, even if I didn’t always agree with him, even knowing we, as a country, committed atrocities at home and abroad in the name of “security.”

I live in Ohio, and after the election, it was as if racists everywhere felt even more emboldened. It’s gotten worse here; I listen to them drawling on loudly now at lunch tables, without shame, just like their glorious leader. Maybe it’s easier now, that all the racism is out in the open. There’s no pretense. No pretending that America is anything else but the boiling cancer that was scabbed over with pretty words and noble ideas and great speeches. I believed things were getting better because, like many, I believed in the America that Obama talked about. I believed in an America that could be better, even knowing our history, our present.

I’m now living in a country “led” by the very worst of us. He represents everything that is awful about America; all the entitled nonsense, the white supremacy, the robber baron mentality, the staggering ignorance. I’ve looked for a lot of ways out of this timeline, but I don’t think we’re going anywhere positive. People talk about 2018 like it will be some magic parade, but I’ve seen how white minorities keep their power, and they are gerrymandering and vote-suppressing like mad to keep this future. They like it here. It’s comfortable. It’s what they know. It makes them feel powerful in a world that is changing faster than they can keep up.

Much of my malaise, then, is simply knowing that there’s so fucking much of this left. 2018 is not an out. Civil war remains a possibility. There will be more shootings, increasing surveillance, and possibly a nuclear war. These are all very real possibilities, far more probable than some magic 2018. And here’s why: If you put somebody “less bad” in power in 2018, these other people are still here. They haven’t gone away. And they will have tasted power. The only way to overcome that will be to confront it. And it’s very likely to be a violent confrontation. I don’t like that any more than ya’ll do. But I’ve seen this play out elsewhere, and the deeper we go, the more the doors close behind us when it comes to other options.

So that’s the cloud that hangs over my head as I’m writing. It’s not just the daily horrors, even, or seeing the worst in my neighbors and my family come bubbling to the surface; it’s knowing that we’re on a path for a confrontation that we haven’t seen in this country for awhile. And it has yet to be seen whether it will rival what happened in the 1960’s or… the 1860’s.

But something is going to burst.

And while the world as we knew it is breaking apart and sliding into the sea, the reality is that we still have to work. We still have to eat. We still have to get up, after a mass shooting at a concert, and go dance in the street. We still have to live. Because to cease living and working is to give in to the ultimate in despair and terror, and check out of this timeline completely. Which is precisely what all of this horror is meant to achieve. It’s to ensure that good people do nothing. It’s to ensure that good people go away.

My win today, and every day that I get out 500 words or finish a story or review a contract, is that I’m still here. I’m still working.

I’m not going away.

And if we’re not going away… we must go forward. Ever forward.

The only way out is through.

A Open Letter to All My Bullshit Relatives Cheering on My Impending Death

Dear bullshit regime-supporting relatives;

Hi, it’s me! It occurs to me that we have very different ideas about how health care should be managed in our country. This is no doubt due to the fact that I have a chronic immune disorder (inherited, even! Shit, as my relatives, you too could some day get the same condition!) and you don’t. You haven’t had to actually engage with what passes for health care in this country, especially prior to the passage of the ACA in 2010 when it was a fearful nightmare.

Currently, my medication without insurance – the medication keeping me alive and typing these words – is $1500 a month. When the regime you support removes protections for pre-existing conditions and allows health insurance providers to hike up rates for people like me, and reduce Medicare spending, I wonder who will pay these costs if I lose my job and the health insurance program I have. Will you? Gosh, it sure would seem appropriate for you to do it, since you are so upset about the idea of the government regulating this industry the same way it regulates the safety of our food and water. Remember how bad things were before the government regulated those things? I hate to break this to you, but there is only one law of the absolute free market, and that’s short-term profit. If you like your vacation days, your work hours, your work safety, your roads, safety features in your cars, and countless other protections via regulation that have likely saved both your lives and the lives of your children a million times over, then you might find that you actually prefer regulation to complete anarchy. People are shitty. You know this because your base instincts are some of the shittiest out there. It’s why you believe in the worst in people and why you believe that “those people” should just die if they can’t pay for their drugs. Why help people like your own niece, sister, daughter? You know: people like me?

Thank you for supporting my impending death.

Thank you for supporting the dissolution of the safety net I have known was there since 2010. The net that said, “Hey, if you lose your job, or you decide to write full time, no health insurance company can deny you coverage. You’ll be able to live.” See, I’ve been there before. I’ve lost my job and lived on expired drugs and ran up credit card debt to try and save myself. I did that, and it was a reality I never, ever want to go back to. I feared it so much that when the election happened, despite having a great job, a great spouse, a great life, I wanted to fucking kill myself. I wanted to end it all right there, because I didn’t want to go back to those days, to that huge fear that was always tapping at my shoulder.

That’s how bad those days were for me. 

Do you understand?

Do you have any fucking clue what it is, to live that way?

The truth is, you can’t afford my $1500 a month in meds. Neither can my parents (nor should they. I’m 37 years old, for fuck’s sake!). There are two ways to make healthcare even better in this country: further regulate health providers and insurance companies so that they can’t charge obscene rates for things we must have and which don’t cost them very much, and raise taxes on the 1% to ensure our country has more equal distribution of wealth.

That’s it. Easy!

But I known you don’t want that. You won’t support that. And neither will this regime.

So unemployment is death, for me. That’s exactly what they are planning to build. That’s exactly what you have supported, and I never want you to forget it.

Ever.

This is why I want you to fuck off. Fuck so far off your high fucking horse. Fuck off. I wish you the absolute worst of everything. A cancer upon your house.  A long and lingering illness for which you need constant care, for ten, twenty, thirty years. I want you kicked out of a hospital because you can’t pay. I want you to feel the full brunt of exactly what you have voted for. I want you to experience your Ayn Randian future to the absolute fullest. I want you to reap what you have sown here. And, more importantly: I want you to understand that you chose this for yourself. 

Because it’s not “those other people” you consigned to death and fear and anxiety, which would have been bad enough.

No, it wasn’t “the Other,” to you.

It was me.

Your daughter.

Your sister.

Your niece.

You are a motherfucking monster.

And I will never, ever forgive you for that. 

 

 

Let’s Talk About the Future

Once again into the breach, the current bumfuck governing body that 62 million people voted in has failed to come to a consensus about just how much they should fuck over the people who voted for them (and everyone else, but also those 62 million).

Yet they carry on, because of course they do, despite the fact that nobody who voted for or against them agrees with what they’re doing. My best guess is that they believe they are ordained by God to make these poor decisions, as if Jesus murdered lepers instead of healing them.

But I digress.

The reason we keep calling, and we keep trying to save even the current mess that is the ACA, is that many of us would die or struggle without it. Many knew that this is exactly what current admin would try and do, regardless of who it hurt. It’s why some with chronic conditions and issues turned to a dark place after the election, and I could not blame them. I was in that dark place for a long time. I have a great life, a great spouse, a roof over my head, a job, but I despaired too. I drank too much, and I lost a lot of time. Because I knew the truth. I knew how hard this was going to be. I knew we’d fight a long time, and that even if we fought, we would probably lose again and again and again, because all those things we think are laws in this country are tempered absolutely by the conscience and decency of one’s leaders. Elect incompetent people who have no shame, and pair them with incompetent people who want power and/or feel they are Ordained By God to Rule, and you are fucked. It’s the same in every country.

I have written about what life was like for me before the ACA, and the feeling of relief I had when it passed. It’s a relief I’ve been living with for four years, and that relief has helped give me the courage to pursue my writing without undue worry. I knew I’d never, ever have to go through the fear and terror of being uninsured, living on expired insulin, ever again, no matter what layoffs headed my way.

But the repeal of ACA will bring us back to that dark time. I understand why people feel despair, because I feel it too. I hustle like hell, even with health insurance, to pay for my meds and my premiums. I can guarantee Congress that I “pay my share” at about $12k a year in premiums, deductibles, and co-pays. How many iPhones is that, Chaffetz?

Saving the ACA is pretty personal, for me. And whether or not many in my family realize it, it’s vital to them as well. I have a niece and nephew with chronic conditions. My dad has chronic issues, and both my parents are nearing retirement age, and with Medicaid under the gun and Medicare next, I have no idea how they will pay for their healthcare after they are no longer able to work.

If we save the ACA I keep my “in case I’m laid off/fired” healthcare safety net. If we save ACA I could be a full-time writer someday. If we don’t save ACA and I lose my job for any reason, I’ll probably die. Meds are $1500 a month to keep me alive (not counting premiums).

When I went to pick up my latest round of meds and the pharmacy tech asked if I knew the bill ($500) I said “Oh yes. But I’ll die without them. So they kind of have me over a barrel.”

And she said, “I guess I would die, then. That’s more than I make in a week.”

This is America. People work hard. There’s a narrative among many in this country – even my own family! – that the problem is that people don’t have jobs, or don’t work hard enough. This is an insidious lie. The truth is that care is unregulated; hospitals have no formal pricing list; capitalism is a shitty way to run a healthcare system; it’s inefficient, and the government says hospitals must pay for everyone who comes to ER, but doesn’t reimburse them for it (best they can do is claim it as a loss on taxes). Our healthcare system is overly complicated, and the truth is that what’s going to help fix it is a regulated system and a giant Medicare-for-Everyone option that forces places to agree on pricing structures and streamline them. Our current patchwork capitalist system is murdering people; it’s not providing the best care in the world. Far, far, from it.

I hustle like hell at a day job, with the Patreon, and with my novel writing to both make ends meet and live a good life. And I’m desperate to keep making money because I don’t know when it will stop and everything will turn back to what it was. Don’t tell me I don’t deserve expensive care. The whole fucking POINT of civilization is that we work together to make a better world.

We are all affected by this one way or another. Some more than others. Some later more than now. Some now more than later. It’s what health insurance and health care systems are for. If something terrible happens to you, as it happened to me, then you can rely on insurance to help you manage it. But with out of control costs and unregulated insurance carriers, you end up with a Wild West hodgepodge of scammers and incompetents. No one is there to hold them accountable. They know that.

Many fear the government, and the over-regulation of the government. I get that. But the truth is, we ELECT our governement. If they are shit, kick them the fuck out. The government works for US. They should be afraid of US. We should not be afraid of them.

Everyone deserves care. I don’t care if you work or don’t work or you’re citizen or not. We are all humans. We should care about other humans. If you think people deserve to die because they don’t have money to pay for life-saving treatment I can’t help you.

What has made humans successful isn’t our brains or standing upright. It’s that we care for each other. We cooperate. Together, we are better than one. Libertarianism sounds like a real fun idea until you break your legs in the woods. Who the fuck is going to save you then, huh?

People. People will fucking save you. Because we work together. We take care of each other. We ensure that even those who are born with the least are given enough resources and opportunities to compete with those born with the most. THAT is equality. That’s the American story we tell ourselves, but still haven’t been able to make true.

It’s working together that has led to every single success humanity has achieved over these 200k years. To survive, we must work together. And yes, that means caring for those among us who are most vulnerable. You, me, your kids, your neighbors, your friends, your future.

We can have our Star Trek future. But we have to believe in it. And we have to shine a light on it. And we have to build it. Together.

I have talked a lot about fighting. Fight the future, fight the darkness. But it’s fighting that got us here. It’s fighting that makes the 62 million so desperate and fearful. I understand, now, that this isn’t just about fighting. It’s not a war that requires guns. This is a war of stories, and to de-escalate requires more than having a bigger gun. It requires being the very best people we can be. It requires compassion. It requires cooperation.

Most of all, getting to the future we want isn’t about flailing around in the darkness, punching walls. Getting the future we want is about bringing the light.

We must be the light in the darkness.

And each of us, every one of us together, all those little pinpoints of light – that’s what will secure this future. Hope, coming together, bringing the light.

Be the light.

Believe in that future.

Carrying the Weight of the World

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about being “visibly invisible.” A lot of folks complain about being overweight, and talk about how much they hate themselves for it, but frankly I enjoy the invisibility of it. I don’t like getting hit on by strangers, harassed in the street, or even complimented on my looks by folks who aren’t my close friends or spouse. While being fat doesn’t end these things by any means, being fat and older has reduced these instances by a large margin, for me, and I love it. It’s reduced it enough that I’m often surprised when I realize I’m being hit on or followed by some creep. Like, really, don’t you have something better to do?

Being so very visible now at conventions and online means that I value being invisible elsewhere all the more. I’m an introvert, and I don’t want to be stared at or sized up. I just want to be left alone in the world to write my books and live my life. I’m already under a lot of pressure when I’m online, which is, frankly, exhausting. As someone in a monogamous relationship that we both dig, I also dread those awkward conversations at cons when you get tested out about whether or not you’d be interested in a threesome or something. And I just want to yell, “LEAVE ME ALONE WITH MY DRINK!” like 800% of the time (I still remember a weird conversation at a convention years ago in which I told an inquiring mind that “S&M really isn’t my scene” and the look of SHEER DISAPPOINTMENT on his face was priceless. My work is fiction, people!). While I also now get less of those, they haven’t totally gone away, either. Being fat doesn’t “protect” you from people any more than being skinny or awkward or whatever. But it makes me FEEL better, I have to admit, to be outside of norm.

And when I AM noticed in the wider world it reminds me that weight as a cushion against the world is no better than shelling off weight to fit “correctly” in the world. My drinking in particular had gotten rather out of hand after the election last year, and it’s taken some time to curtail that. Eliminating the drinking also helped me lose a few pounds, which to be dead honest, has become necessary for me to continue flying coach on airplanes. I’ve dropped about 20 pounds simply to make it easier to fly. The world does not like fat people in it; everything is designed around you fitting into a narrowly defined box.

Releasing that weight did get me back into healthier habits, and led me to consider why I found the weight itself so comforting in this uncertain world. I’ve put on about 100 lbs since 2011, which is also, COINCIDENTLY the same year my first novel, God’s War, came out, and I started a super high stress but well paying day job. This is a rough business, and you’re continually wondering what it is you’re either doing wrong or will do wrong. Sales are fickle. Your audience takes decades to build but can be lost overnight with one dumb tweet. Add in the fear and anxiety around losing health insurance if I was laid off, and honestly, being fat feels like a suit of armor most days. And fuck knows I feel I need it. It’s like I’m carrying the very weight of all of my responsibilities around with me. The weight of my health, my need for health insurance, the mortgage, the need to save for retirement, the tax bills, the novel deadlines, the credit card bills, the medical debt, the word deadlines, the commitments I’ve made to conventions and anthologies and other writers for various things. Literalizing that weight feels right, to me. It’s heavy.

I have been plowing forward full steam ahead with my novels and day job and patreon, and that doesn’t leave time for much else. But I’ve taken tentative steps now, at least, to stop numbing the world so much. This also means understanding when to say no to opportunities and travel. I had to cancel a few more things this year and early next because it just wasn’t healthy or realistic for me. My doctor had started making concerned noises the last year or so, as my blood pressure was going up for the first time (it has since come down) and my blood sugar was suffering (it has since gotten better). Bad habits pile up, and if I want to be around to write more books, I need to alter those habits… and stop carrying around so much of the weight of the world on my shoulders. However safe it feels, it’s an illusion, just like the drinking.

Traveling to Sweden at the end of May was a lovely trip, and I found myself relaxing, eating and drinking reasonably, and walking endlessly, just enjoying the incredible weather and the wonderful people. I imagined what it would be like to live in a country without feeling like so much was weighing me down. Imagine knowing that your healthcare is paid for, and you’ll have enough care in your old age. Imagine having six weeks off a year, and sick leave. Imagine all this weight you’re carrying, all this fear and anxiety, being mitigated.

Certainly every place has its downsides, but getting outside our bubble here for the first time since 2013 was really valuable, to me. It reminded me that there are other ways to live that aren’t the hard grind of the American system, the one that encourages one to overwork until you fall over. I’ll never forget an old boss of mine telling the story of a coworker who was literally still working on things as he was hauled out on a stretcher by paramedics because he’d had a heart attack. This wasn’t told as a horror story, but a story of grit and persistence. A very American story. But that’s the story that results in us dying a lot sooner than people in other Western countries. And I’m not keen on dying for a long time yet. I have a lot of fucking books to write.

I want to learn to work smarter, not harder, the way that I know is possible. I don’t want to carry as much of my fear and anxiety and disappointment around with me. I want to believe in a better life. I know I have to build it, sure. What’s tough is in realizing that sometimes building that life means that you do nothing. You rest. You sleep. You paint. You walk. You laugh. You take your time. And that, the doing nothing, is the toughest part, for me. When you do nothing, you must feel everything.

 

Apocalypse Nation: Nowhere to Run

I once watched an episode of Doomsday Preppers in which the Preppers included two women who had type 1 diabetes. They talked about how they would keep their insulin cool in bags in streams. They never once addressed the fact that if society collapsed, even a stockpile of insulin wouldn’t be good for more than a year, maybe 18 months if you stretched it by using the less reliable expired stuff as long as possible.

Heading for the hills during violent political upheavals only works if you’re in good health and have someone with mad medical skills with you, and it means leaving everyone else down in the valley to die. Something as simple as an infected scratch can kill you. How long are your iodine pills and antibiotics going to last? The truth is that millions will die during the long collapse.

One of the things that always bothered me about the apocalypse scenarios is how they focused so hard on surviving. I mean, is all of society really gone, or just yours? And with 6 billion other people in the world, do you have a species imperative to survive, because really – life goes on. Ya’ll wonder why I like Russ’s We Who Are About To so much, and it’s this honest acknowledgement that becoming a broodmare to “save humanity” is a con. Survival isn’t everything.

I’ve been trying to figure out my options since Wednesday morning. Heading out into hill country is a great idea if you don’t actually need access to modern medecine. Canada may seem like a good option for now, but when fascism comes, it tends to swallow and swallow and swallow. Remember that we’re handing over the nuclear codes to a vindictive narcissist with sympathetic ties to Russia. I’ve been watching the media headspinning, telling us we should hope this guy is “successful” and I’m like – successful for who? Did you all forget the stuff he promised to do? Have you read his plan for his first 100 days? The willful way Americans are looking away from what somebody actually said he’d do, the things he campaigned and ran on, is bizarre. Ok, not bizarre, I admit, because I’ve seen it before in a lot of countries that find themselves with a crazy guy in power. “Maybe it won’t be so bad,” they all say, because they want life to go on as usual. But the changes are going to start happening very quickly now. The Obama years postponed our 80’s apocalypse future, but it’s here. Willfully trying to unsee it is just living in a fantasy novel. Now I’m watching a lot of fellow lefty folks eat each other over safety pins and whether or not Bernie would have won while a conman gives his children and business allies cabinet positions and is celebrated by the KKK – a guy who told people throughout his campaign that he was keeping an enemies list and who threatened to jail his opponent. Folks are talking about organizing for elections in two years and four years and I’m like, “You are very confident there will be elections.” You can try rewriting the story, folks, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’ve seen this road before. If we avoid it, great! I will happily be wrong. But I have made my peace with what’s coming. Spare us your “wait and see” and “maybe it’s not that bad.” Those empty platitudes help no one prepare. They lull them back to sleep.

Anyway, as I’ve said elsewhere, I’m done trying to convince people that yes, what you see is what you’re going to get. Smarter people than me, those who have studied fascist regimes in far greater depth, are giving the same warnings. In fact, have been giving the same warnings for a year. Like many, I didn’t listen, because I believed in America. And while it’s true that most Americans are still good – Hillary is set to win the popular vote by a million votes, millions of voters were suppressed by the dissolution of the Voting Rights Act, decades of Republican gerrymandering came home to roost, and there’s been interference from Russia related to this election the whole cycle – I’ve also studied South African history, and I know how brutally a white minority can rule over a majority.

And after examining all the options, I’ve come to realize that there is no running away from this. There is no “better place” in this global economy. Countries are shifting far-right faster than we can keep up, and with the US and Russia both moving together now, we’re looking at powers with huge numbers of nuclear weapons who will be spreading this agenda outward. There is no where to run that they cannot reach.

I stayed up watching the last two Hunger Games movies and realized the point at which things turn is when people realize the capital is going to kill them anyway. This is why I have reiterated and accepted early that this is the new normal, and that it’s following a typical fascist rise to power narrative. Because once you accept that you are among those on the chopping block, you realize you have nothing to lose. And it becomes easier to throw yourself into the fray as willing cannon fodder so the folks with the battering rams can come in behind you if you know you are going to die anyway.

And if you can’t run, and if, like me, you’re likely to die under this regime anyway…. you might as well stay and fight.

I have nothing to lose that isn’t already in jeopardy.

I Rebel

My grandmother was born and raised in Nancy, France. Germany invaded parts of northern and western France in May of 1940. This included my grandmother’s hometown of Nancy. Over the next four years, she would live under a nationalistic and antisemitic puppet government, the Vichy regime, which openly collaborated with the Germans. My great-grandfather, her father, was a member of the French Resistance, the Maquis, and spent a good chunk of time tortured by Gestapo. She remembers the Gestapo coming to her house, and I have used stories of those events to flesh out a lot of the war stories I write, including “The Women of Our Occupation.” I also relate a story here about her and her friends finding a severed foot in a Nazi boot, and note what the consequences could have been for that. My grandparents met during the war. He was an American GI of German descent. He spent a good chunk of his post-war time trucking out bodies from concentration camps.

I grew up knowing all about the very worst that people could do to other people, and also how it came about: in incremental shifts, in normalization of the outrageous, and then suddenly, all at once. I became fascinated by history, especially the history of resistance and revolution. I know too much about tyrants and dictators and the fear that fuels the minority who bolster their ascent to power.

Rebellion is in my blood.

I saw the distinct possibility of this regime change coming, but honestly believed we could preserve the path we’ve been on, the path toward that more hopeful future. Instead, we got close enough to see the glimmer of the light and then watch the darkness fall again. If you ever thought, “What does it look like when fascism comes home to roost?” Like, this is it.

The fascinating part has been watching all of the rationalizations and “Maybe it’s not that bad” and normalization of what is happening now in the wake of a self-identified rapist, racist, and narcissistic demagogue with confirmed ties to a Russian dictator being elected president of a country with more nuclear weapons than any other. I expect it was that way for France, too. “It’s not like we’re REALLY invaded by Germany! I mean, we have a government! It’s not THAT bad. I mean, we just need to give them the Jews and they’ll leave us alone. Ok, and the Roma. And the disabled. And the rebels. And our grandmothers who immigrated here and…. oh shit.”

Oh shit indeed.

We are going to hear a lot of rationalization over the coming days, months, years. The normalization of the things done and said by this regime is going to be fast and furious, because things are going to move so quickly that we won’t be able to keep up with everything. And you are going to hear, as things escalate, a lot of rationalizations. “Yes Muslims need to register but it’s not like they’re going to camps!” and “Yes all immigrants need to go to camps but at least they aren’t being murdered outright!” and “Yes they got rid of ACA but they will totally fix healthcare some other way” and “Yes abortion rights are gone but you can just go to Canada.”

You will hear this a lot.

It’s the same in every country. We rationalize because if we didn’t then we’d have to admit that we need to do something, and that we’ve made a mistake. A lot of voters for this regime, just like those who voted for Brexit, are working furiously to tell us things aren’t that bad and we aren’t giving it a chance when in fact from the very beginning this candidate has told us exactly what he is going to do and exactly what his vision for this country is. There will be no surprises or reversals. This is it. They have stated very clearly what they plan to do, and it will dismantle decades of progressive policy and human rights initiatives. It could also very well lead to the economic breakdown of this country.

I have a chronic illness, and I can tell you right now that as you are all bunkering down preparing for apocalypse, I simply don’t have that “Run away and live in the woods” option anymore. If inflation hits, healthcare regulations are lifted, and trade tariffs destroy access to my meds, I will die. There’s no “Maybe I can wait it out” or “This will be just like Fallout!”

A lot of us are going to die if this goes down the way they have stated they want it to go down.

I am one of them.

So this is very real for me.

Folks have been asking what to do besides despair. I have a solid narrative of rebellion to look back at. It helped me rally and get up Wednesday morning. I imagined my grandmother standing in the streets of France while the tanks rolled in. I imagined my great-grandfather risking torture and death because he knew what was right despite all the people around him saying it was going to be fine, that it would work out and there would totally be checks and balances and hey just give them the Jews or the Muslims or the immigrants…

You get up. You move. You rebel.

So start calling other people out on this. Yes, this means your families, too. Like many, I have demurred during family political squabbles, but we’re no longer talking about tax rates, we’re talking about people’s lives. The repeal of ACA will kill tens of thousands of people a year, and it’s already been stated as high on the list for repeal in January. It’s coming. Conversion therapy for LGBT folks is going to cause suicide rates to skyrocket. And the hate groups have legitimacy now. They will feel emboldened, and they will be attacking and killing people on the streets. This is not alarmist. It’s already happening. When you see members of the KKK out in their full hooded regalia celebrating the election of the new regime, well, you know what? It’s alarming. It’s fucking time to be alarmist. All you need to do to see what they want to do is to go to the regime’s website and look at their stated platform. Watch the recordings of what this guy has said. He told you exactly what he’s going to do. There are no surprises, and this is not hyperbole. This is me stating that they now have the power to act out all the things they intend to do, and as they know, it will be devastating for millions of Americans.

So here’s some stuff you can do:

  • First, protect yourself online and off. If you’re targeted by the actual government, this is moot, but my biggest concern on a day to day basis is the regime’s supporters. And all those hate groups and trolls are going to hit and hit hard in the coming months and years. Lock your shit down.
  • Second, if you see someone being harassed – especially if you’re white and male – step in and shut it down. Make it clear this is not OK. I have a healthy sense of “fuck you” and have been doing this myself for a decade now, but I know not everyone feels comfortable doing it. But the alternative is your silence, and silence says, “What I see happening is OK with me.” And it will embolden more attacks.
  • Third, if he wants to register Muslims? Then let’s ALL register as Muslims. They will have to take all of us.
  • Fourth, don’t become despondent. I promise, other countries have gone through things like this and survived. I have been thinking about my grandmother a lot. That said, yes, the danger here is real. Not just from the regime but from all the hate carried by the people who his win have legitimized. This is not a joke, it’s not funny, and it’s very real. Take it seriously. That’s not being alarmist: this shit IS alarming, and it’s going to get worse. So prepare yourself and your loved ones and look out for each other.
  • If you are someone who needs help, reach out now and connect with your allies immediately. Have an escape plan and know who to turn to if you are in trouble. If you are someone who can offer a bed to sleep in or a place to go for someone who’s likely to be targeted, raise your hand. We need to take care of each other.
  • Finally, if you choose to be loud, accept that bad things may happen to you. I’m well aware that depending on how bad this goes, I am toast. I also know that I can’t sleep at night just running away to Canada or hiding in my house and not speaking up in defense of others and myself. It’s safer to stay head down while other people suffer, and some of you may need to do that, and no one judges you for that. But understand the risks.

There’s going to be lots of people saying everything is fine, including, enragingly, the very Democrats who saw this for what it was too. They keep trying to treat this like a normal election. This is not normal.

Folks. It’s not fine. And you are not crazy for thinking it’s not fine.

This. Is. Not. Fine. 

Hold onto that, and get ready.

It’s Morning in America

“The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.” – Hermann Goring

It’s morning in America.

I laid in bed with my spouse a little longer this morning after checking 538. My spouse and I lay pressed back to back; a bit of mammalian comfort to get us both through the day ahead. I got up and I petted my dog and told him he was a good boy and everything was OK and I turned on the coffee maker. I took the dogs out on a walk in the darkness of the pre-dawn. It was so, so quiet. We walked, and walked.

It was so quiet.

Nate Silver said the chance of the darkest timeline was one in three. No one wanted to listen to those odds.

I would like to say something soothing and hand you the rest of my bottle and pretend it will be OK. But it won’t. History teaches us this, as it taught us the dangers of going this route.

But white people never listen.

All the progress of the last eight years will be rolled back. Financial markets are already crashing, as they did with Brexit. America has been careening into the end times for awhile now, but just like with climate change, we’ve finally reached the tipping point.

On a personal level, gutting healthcare is going to ruin my family. Instability in the markets will hurt my job prospects, my freelancing ability. We’ll need to cut back and hunker down. All those crazy fringe people, all those racist uncles on the internet, have free reign now. A lot of vulnerable people are going to suffer horribly, and a lot of people who thought they weren’t vulnerable are going to find out otherwise. Already, we’re all casting about trying to figure out how fucked we all are, turning inward. All that energy we projected outward to make things better is sweeping inward. I want to tell you that talk of the apocalypse is hyperbole, but that was the problem: we told people this would be the apocalypse and no one listened. Now it’s here, and it’s not a joke, it’s not a reality TV show, it’s not just liberals calling everybody Hitler.

Living in the end times of an empire is pretty shitty.

It’s that bad. I’m not going to sugarcoat it.

I have a sign up in my room that says, “In times like these it’s important to remember that there have always been times like these.”

Other people have gotten through fascist regimes, including my grandmother, who lived in Nazi-occupied France. We always wondered how that shit happened, but this is how: fear and lies. It works every time. Other people currently live in fascist regimes, and in war zones. America liked to pretend it was a shining beacon of hope and light against the darkness, but it’s not. We never really were. It was a beautiful story, though, pushing down the story of fear and racism and writing a new one. But all it takes is a megalomaniac to bring out the worst in people, the truth in people.

History is not the story of progress. Far from it. History is eight steps forward, ten steps back.

This is our story.