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Archive for the ‘Darkest Timeline’ Category

Jojo Rabbit and the Absurdity of Fascism


It’s a surreal time to be aware of – let alone following – the news cycle these days. Government officials proudly admit to crimes on Twitter, in press conferences, and then insist they are not crimes and why are you so triggered by a little treason, anyway?

We are in an age of disinformation at an unprecedented scale, and on a multiplicity of platforms designed to overwhelm and exhaust. Young white men in particular have come of age in this world looking for purpose, for belonging, looking for someone to blame because the world their parents promised them isn’t the world they were given. They’re looking for some heroic old white man to ride in on a horse and tell them what to do. And they are ready to do it, to cling to that feeling of belonging, of being God’s chosen people, of being better than anyone else by virtue of birth, not merit.

These cycles come and go. And as the line between truth and fiction, good and bad – as demonstrated by those in power –  seems to blur more with each passing day, it’s no wonder we are creating movies about super heroes and villains; and returning to the subject of the last great war where the bad guys and less-bad guys were clearest. Where it seemed good and evil met head first, and against all odds, good triumphed.

Nazis are bad. This used to be a pretty clear-cut line where I was from, growing up. Oh, yes, there was racism and sexism and homophobia and classism and capitalism and all the rest. But as a kid I knew this, and still know this to be true: Nazis are fucking bad.

With the current rise of nationalism, which has always been bubbling and scheming in American culture, I saw that core beliefs of my childhood – one of the few that made it to adulthood – continually questioned and “debated” online, then on TV, then by politicians with the power to take away the rights of real human beings at will. I saw a barely coherent megalomaniac ascend to the highest level of our government, and I woke up that morning with a grim understanding of what it must have been like that morning in Germany, when everyone hastened to reassure themselves that no, it would be all right. Hitler says a lot of things. He won’t do them.

We have now separated over 69,000 refugee children from their parents as they sought asylum in our country. Some have died in custody. Dozens, probably hundreds, more have been sexually abused and assaulted. Thousands more have been stolen and trafficked – “adopted” out into white Christian families despite having living family members desperately searching for them. We have banned people from specific countries, predominately of one religion, from ever traveling to ours. Our government institutions are rapidly being demolished and portioned out to rich tyrants. One of my own young relatives drew a goddamn swastika at school, thinking it was hilarious.

Dear reader, I could never in a million, trillion years have ever conceived of drawing a swastika for any fucking reason, ever. My veteran grandfather would have thrown me down the goddamn stairs, and I would have deserved it.

For all the horror, there is also an absurdity to this type of fascism. The extreme delusion that having the mutant genes that make your skin pale or your eyes blue makes you an objectively better person than your neighbor. The idea that an old, unhinged man can stand up in front of a crowd and declare he has absolutely done things that he clearly has not done, and that people will believe him. The kids who admire him, who look up to him as the only one “willing to tell the truth” while non-partisan fact-checkers struggle to keep up with pointing out all the lies.

Jojo Rabbit does what the best stories do, taking us out of our own era of absurd nationalism and bringing to life a small boy immersed in his own era of rabid fascism.

What made the humor of the film so cutting is that the wild “summer camp for Hitler youth” really was a thing in the Nazi era. Women really were encouraged to go off and “breed” at get-aways with select “Aryan” dudes. Toward the end, the German army really was sending out kids from twelve to fourteen to fight, and many of them were still doing it gladly.

Nationalism is a hell of a drug.

Watching Jojo embrace the fun, social, campy aspects of the Hitler youth and then slowly, over the course of the film, begin to understand it wasn’t make-believe, it wasn’t a joke, it’s real people, there are real consequences, was deeply cathartic. As the world around him gets darker, the jovial Hitler of his imagination gets meaner and meaner.

I couldn’t help thinking about all of the white men (and women, sure, but mostly it’s men yelling) radicalized on our current timeline, the ones who threaten to rape and murder women, and talk about hanging journalists, the ones who yell “Fuck your feelings!” and “Immigrants are dogs!” who help radicalize others around them, not just themselves. For every kid that shoots up a school or murders a black congregation, there are hundreds of others online egging him on, normalizing his views, making him think it’s all right.

Many of them never see or have to live with the consequences of their actions. Many continue to live in a white, untouchable bubble. But normalizing hate matters. And this is why.

Nazis are why. Mass shootings are why. Kids in cages are why.

Jojo Rabbit was a delight in how deftly it dealt with the horror and absurdity of fascism through the eyes of a kid who thought he would benefit from it; a kid who thought it was a fun club pitting him and his friends against demons. But as Jojo’s world slowly comes apart, so too does his view of the regime trying to use him for their own ends. His limp and scarred face mean he no longer meets the Aryan ideal. He befriends the Jewish girl his mother is hiding, and discovers she is not at all like what the party says she should be. They murder his mother, the one good person in his life. Finally, even Hitler abandons him, blows his own brains out, a coward who abandons him and his friends to the invading armies.

Jojo breaks, and he runs, and he hides. Because he is still, deep down, a rabbit. Just a rabbit.

There’s been some ink spilled about whether or not it’s “OK” to punch Nazis, about how we should just “debate” them or some shit, while they are out here pumping up the New Hitler Youth. This is why you punch Nazis. This is why you draw a line in the sand. You deliver consequences. Nazi in your life? Cut them off. Tell them why: because you are a goddamn Nazi. Remove them from private platforms. Break up their meetings. Throw shit. Burn their flags. Do not tolerate this shit. Do not.

Today I am watching some folks who tried holding up this regime scrambling to shit on each other, laying blame on everyone else to save their own skins. Their dear leader has thrown them to the wolves as all these meglomaniacs do. The snake eating its own tail. Eventually these nationalists run out of “enemies of the state” and begin to eat their own.

Jojo found that out.

I sure hope more fanatics do, too.

Until then, I take great comfort in films like these; World War II films where I already know the outcome, where I don’t have to guess or worry.

The stories where the Nazis always lose.

Writing Career Goals and What’s Next From Team Hurley

After a relatively quiet 2018 (comparatively), this year is warming up to be a busy one, with THREE book releases and at least one, probably two Big Book deadlines, and ongoing Patreon story deadlines each month as I continue to build a legion of heroes on Patreon.

Here are the big new releases you can look forward to!

  • March 19: THE LIGHT BRIGADE. THREE starred reviews already! My time-traveling Starship Troopers with time travel novel.
  • July 21: MEET ME IN THE FUTURE: STORIES. My “best of” short story collection, featuring all your favorites from the last decade. Cover reveal soon.
  • November 19: THE BROKEN HEAVENS. The FINAL, CONCLUDING volume in the wickedly wonderful Worldbreaker Saga.

My focus, of course, isn’t just on promotion related to book releases but also finishing up NEW work. I have the rest of The Broken Heavens to finish this year, with a hard cut-off of March 1st if we want to get it out in time for the November date.

My next project is a LITTLE up in the air, still, as we are waiting on some contract paperwork for my Genderbent Die Hard in Space novel (I already have a title! But I’ll save that for the official announcement). If that falls through, I will likely be writing my next novel on spec (which means writing a whole novel but not having a contract for it), for either that or my Weird 80’s Murder Mystery novel. I’d like to line up a few more years of contracts, going forward, now that I’m nearly done with my second trilogy obligations.

I also plan to start work on repurposing a lot of my Patreon stories, getting them reprinted for a wider release and putting the older ones up as singles on Amazon. I don’t make much on self-pub titles, but that shit does add up. I’d also like to get back into more long-form blogging. Certainly, my time is better spent creating things than consuming them. The allure of so many social media sites has been that it’s a wonderfully passive way to feel as if one is “doing” something. Alas.

I’ve also put more time into the care and feeding of the Kameron Hurley Workshop, where I have signed books and paintings for sale. I’m always telling writers to diversify income streams, and while the store doesn’t bring in a ton of money (neither does my self-pub) I’m playing the long game here, and again  – it adds up over the long haul.

This focus on work means I’ve ratcheted back my travel plans for the second year in a row. As of right now, I’ll be at ConFusion in Detroit, MI later this month and POSSIBLY London Comic-Con in May (this was planned before the shake-up at the publisher sponsoring it, and I’m waiting to verify that this is still on). Aside from that, I’ll be doing my yearly family trip to ABQ, but that is IT.

Hunkering down and DOING THE WORK is my motto for 2019.

One of the things I was reminded while working on THE LIGHT BRIGADE earlier this year is that I honestly enjoy writing. I know, wild, huh? But in the wider world of publishing, it can be easy to lose sight of the work while getting tangled up in business and promo and sales concerns (oh my!). I cherish the times I’m able to shut out the publishing noise and just focus on the work itself. In the case of THE LIGHT BRIGADE, I think that really paid off.

Mid-career writers spend an awful lot of time complaining about publishing woes and less than we should, probably, about reinventing our careers, leveling up our craft, and writing a breakout novel (if that’s our goal). I found that setting a career goal early on helped me focus on projects and – most importantly – helped me say “no” to projects that didn’t fit with my overall career goal. I want to the absolute master at what I do; I want to change the world, I want to create a career legacy that outlasts me. If your longterm goal is relevance as opposed to quick money, that… can be demoralizing sometimes (you are always second-guessing your choices), but it does mean spending more time investing in a career and less in treating the novel writing like each one is a work for hire or freelancing opportunity. Instead, I view each book as building on the overall body of work; they are all in conversation with one another. I’m creating a body of work, not just singular titles.

That also means folks who come to my novels at any point and are fans of one book tend to really enjoy the others, too. That helps keep my backlist shuttling along (and keeps stuff like my God’s War novels still on the shelves after eight years!). Come for one, stay for the rest, because while they may be different genres and sub-genres, they are likely to all feature badass women (and no women are sexually assaulted!), morally gray choices, war and rebellion, and complicated frenemy situations compounded by incredibly dense and weird worldbuilding of the sentient plants, magic bugs, and parallel timelines variety. Basically, if you dig the shit I’m personally into, you will find that same shit in all my books – one way or another.

In talking with some other writers, I’ve pointed out the importance of career goals and project management, for me. It can be very easy to get overwhelmed out here, trying to just write something sells, or just some other random idea that pops into your head. Being strategic about my projects and career (and having an agent who is actively engaged in and involved in those discussions) has been a really vital part of coming back from overwork a few years back. I realized that my problem was I was churning out book after book expecting the “next” book to be the breakout book… and when it wasn’t – again, and again, and again – I realized I didn’t have anything left to get me to the next book.

It’s like that scene from Gattaca (which I LOVE, coincidentally) where the brothers are always competing to see who can swim the furthest, and the older brother asks the younger brother how he always won, and the younger brother says, “Because I never saved anything for the swim back.” This was my fucking MOTTO for YEARS and… alas, if you never start swimming back it turns out you do eventually drown. Ooops!

What I was starting to realize was that if I burned out all my energy swimming in early books, I wasn’t going to have the energy to keep going once I had, you know, become a technically more proficient swimmer. You need to know when you’re making progress and when you’re just allowing yourself to get strung out and exhausted. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.

So 2019 is the year we get back to basics. We write good books. Focus on launching these excellent titles. This year we don’t get distracted by bullshit. This year we become a more technically proficient swimmer, instead of JUST a persistent, bull-headed one.

Go team.


GET TO WORK HURLEY. Episode 12. Holiday pep talk edition on history, storytelling, and how to narrate our way to a better future.

The GET TO WORK HURLEY podcast is a monthly rant about the hustle of making a living as a writer of All of the Things. You can support this podcast each month as a Patron or make a one-time donation.
  • EPISODE TWELVE In this special holiday pep talk edition, we’re spreading some cheer with a special GtWH audio rendition of my Sirens Keynote on history, storytelling, and how to narrate our way to a better future. Listen below or on iTunes.

SIRENS 2018 Keynote: History, Storytelling, and Narrating the Future #Sirens18 #Sirens2018

This is the base script of the keynote I gave at the Sirens 2018 conference in Beaver Creek, Colorado. It’s missing my FUNNY AND GENIUS asides, but this gives you the core message. It seemed to make people happy!

Go forth, friends!

NOTE: I opened with an extemporaneous anecdote about my Spanish book tour, and how so many women journalists were asking me questions about whether or not I still believed in a hopeful future. It was then that I realized how much young people, in particular, were craving hope right now.  So I wanted to talk about hope, and how we can change the world for the better no matter how dark it gets.


So, it’s been another special week out there in the wider world, but…

I’m still here.

We’re still here.

I say this to myself every morning now. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older. Maybe it’s the breathless pace of the news cycle; the burden of knowing more of what’s happening in the wider world than any previous generation.

Whatever the reason. I’m here. You’re here.

And as long as we’re here, we can help create what comes after us.

As both a science fiction writer and someone with some historical training, I think a lot about the future. Mostly by looking at the past. I’m still not sure if that gives me an edge, or if looking backwards for too long will sour my grim optimism for the future of humanity.

I grew up in the 1980s, the era of Central American wars, liberation movements across Africa, the Cold War, the ascendance of Reganomics, the AIDS crisis. The rich got richer. The poor got kicked out of public health and welfare institutions. It was a dark time; I knew it even as a child. It forged my interest in war, resistance, and dark science fiction dystopias.

But even then, I fervently believed we had improved upon the past. I believed we could keep improving. Logic, I figured, would overcome our baser, socially warped programming that led us to fear of the other, the hoarding of wealth, and Ayn Rand. What I realized, decades later, is that humans aren’t swayed to change themselves, their beliefs, their attitudes, their societies, based on logic. We are creatures of pure emotion.

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.

There’s an anecdote about a hospital in the 1800’s before the adoption of germ theory where in one wing of the maternity ward, midwives did all the assisting with birth. In the other wing, these young hotshot male doctors assisted with birth. It turns out the wing with the male doctors had a 40% higher maternal death rate than the one with the midwives.

When the head doctor dug further into this, he had this wild idea that maybe women were getting sick because these young doctors generally came to visit the maternity ward right after their anatomy classes, where they were cutting up corpses. And of course, you know – nobody washed their hands between corpse class and the maternity ward.

One would think the numbers would speak for themselves, but the young doctors were absolutely irate about this. How could this doctor even IMPLY that these rich pricks were UNLCEAN IN ANY WAY?? It took years to change this practice, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, because young rich white men were horrified at the idea that they were in some way harboring germs on their bare hands and murdering their own patients.

Logic doesn’t rule. Emotion does.

And the best way to evoke emotion is to tell stories.

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.

This is why I started blogging. I wanted to take all of these events I was experiencing as I traveled, and came into this awareness of who I was after high school, and create meaningful narratives out of them. What was I learning? How could I tie these events I experienced to my understanding of the greater world? I actually started my essay writing my writing long emails to friends from Clarion, this weekly or monthly updates that I spun into narratives. I switched to blogging after awhile because I worried that maybe I was spamming their inboxes too much. So I switched to a blogging platform and honed my storytelling there. These stories I made about my experiences were telling ME who I was. It was creating MEANING from all of these random experiences.

We must create these stories – whether written, spoken, or simply as narratives in our heads –  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.


It turns out that when we are fearful, anxious, and stressed out – when we feel we have no control over our lives – our brains are more likely to find images in random noise, from 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. The story is the structure. The story is the emotion.

Control the narrative, you control the emotion, you control the future.

Every time we change the world, for better or worse – we do it by tapping into primal human emotions. My day job is in marketing and advertising, so I’m especially conscious of this.

Anti-smoking campaigns were a failure when they focused on the harm smokers were doing to themselves. Smoking, drinking, drugs – many of us view these vices as a vacation from our otherwise exhausting and frustrating lives.

What shifted the smoking conversation in this country was focusing on what it did to the people around you, especially your own children. I remember this shift happening in my own household, when my father stopped smoking inside after intense messages about how secondhand smoke would harm his children.

To change the world, we have to tap into emotions.

Fear works great. Fear of harming your children, sure, but also….

Fear of an Other; fear of immigrants, of your neighbors, of your government. Insurance companies, the media, the government, fear is the stick they wield. Fear of death. Fear of leaving your loved ones with nothing. Fear of losing everything you worked for. Fear of a loss in status.

What I didn’t understand for a long time was what emotion we could use besides fear to motivate people. I went into marketing and advertising because I knew how to write, I understood storytelling, but I also wanted to learn how to change the world. How do you change peoples’ ingrained behaviors?

Advertising teaches the tools of persuasion. It teaches us how to rewire our habits. Toothpaste existed for a very long time before it became a habit. What advertisers understood was that they needed to provide a trigger that compelled people to brush their teeth, and a pleasant payoff when they did it.

Ads invited us to roll our tongues across our teeth, notice the slimy film that builds up there, and brush our teeth. Peppermint was added to the formula so that we had a nice, fresh, tingling sensation afterword that made us feel clean, fresh, healthy, and confident.

A new habit was born. A lot of toothpaste got sold.

This trick – a trigger, a habit, a reward (generally an emotional one), is why people like me constantly check Twitter. It’s why Facebook continues to thrive. The hit of serotonin we get when we see we have a like, an email, a comment, taps directly into our primal pleasure center.

We’ve seen this formula used well for evil, or, at best, nothing super good. But we’ve also seen it used to reduce rates of drunk driving – the mothers against drunk driving campaign, where mothers shared the stories of children who’d been killed by drunk drivers humanized what many saw as an individual vice. Seatbelt campaigns – very similar approach. It wasn’t just save yourself, but – protect your kids; and it was backed up by some gory images of crash test dummies in accidents with and without seat belts. Pro tip: use logic to BACK UP your emotional appeal. Emotion first, bullet points second.

Now, how do we harness these same techniques to promote a better world, a more progressive world, one where, to paraphrase NK Jemisin, there’s “no voting on who gets to be human”?

We do it one story at a time. We do it by embracing change. We do it through holding onto and promoting hope.

Change is the only constant in our lives. Octavia Butler built an entire religion out of this fact in her Parable Duology. She set her novel in what could easily be our present: the last gasping days of the disintegrating United States as it sank into authoritarianism.

It’s a dark duology about the dangers of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism. And yet from this darkness, emerging from the ruins of a gutted civilization, a young woman founds a pacifist philosophical and religious order that transforms those who follow her.  From the ashes, a savior. In even the darkest times: a ray of hope. A glimmer of light.

The knowledge that there is a better world that comes after.

Because it is our stories of hope that have sustained us through each period of darkness, after which we emerged into brilliant flashes of light, and someday, perhaps someday, that brilliant dawn.

It’s stories of hope that made us believe we could fight for marriage equality. I remember an interview with someone who was at the Stonewall Riots being asked if they ever believed they would see marriage equality in their lifetime and they said HA HA absolutely NOT.

And whatever happens next, it doesn’t take away from that great victory.

My mother doesn’t believe so much in hope anymore, and that’s informed her activism, or lack thereof. “Why are these women marching?” she asked me during the women’s march, “like that’s going to change anything.”

Eating up stories of despair, believing the world can never change, that fighting for change is hopeless, is how regressive regimes grind us down. It’s how they win.

It is hope that helped us make sweeping policy changes that protected the most vulnerable among us, and extended the rights of citizenship to all people, no matter who they love.  That hope and that future are not dead, but they are set back once again, in that long and ancient war we have fought and written about as futurists and fantasists and dug into and examined as academics and historians. The long war between the light and the dark, between our better selves and our darker natures.

Our hopeful stories, our ability to tell different futures, and look back at the truth of what came before us, will sustain us through this darkness as they have in the past and as they will in the years to come. That is not to minimize what we will face; we won’t all survive it. But it is a reminder that there is a future, however dark, to push through to the world on the other side.

Each generation has its moment to discover who it really is. We have found out who are friends and colleagues are at their very core, and it has shaken many of us (yes, especially white people). But as with every story of war and suffering and hope and despair we will also discover who the heroes are.

“The real hero is only a hero by mistake,” said Umberto Eco, “he dreams of being an honest coward like everyone else.” (I sure do!)

Each of us can be a hero – on this timeline – in our own way.

We can do it by telling another story. By surfacing another narrative. Not one of fear and anger,  and cruelty, but one of radical kindness and hope that inspires action.

So, the habit:

Our trigger – thoughts about the future. Our habit – my habit, certainly – telling myself that it’s the Robocop future all the way down. The pay off? Nihilism. Staying in bed. Drinking too much.

Ok, that’s me again.

What I found is that I needed a different habit to replace how I thought about the future, one whose payoff got me out of bed, got me back to work, got me to the gym like a damn adult – and spurred me back into action.

The trigger – thinking about the future. The habit: imagining the Star Trek future that could come after this. Socialist America! Eating the rich! Healthcare for everyone! Abolishing ICE! No more security theater. The payoff: getting out of bed and getting to work toward that future.

Because, remember, the stories we tell about ourselves create who we are at this fundamental level. They are at the very core of who we become and who we perceive ourselves to be.

It’s why those days where we sit around berating ourselves about how dumb and worthless we are can be so dangerous.

But it also means the days we talk ourselves up hold extraordinary promise.

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 the stories we tell as we stand in that circle.

We can tell a story of human greed, that our neighbors are out to take all our stuff. Or we can tell the story of human compassion and collaboration, that our neighbors want to help us; that kindness is a benefit and not weakness.

What we choose to write about, to speak about, to purchase, to recommend – stories about violent matriarchies, benevolent patriarchies, anarchist utopias, capitalist dystopias, cannot help but take a position on which narrative wins out. Hierarchy is good. Capitalism is bad. Binary gender is natural. Bisexuality is natural. Or not.

Freedom of information is bad. Freedom of information leads to terrorism. The state is benevolent and should be trusted to protect its citizens. The state is corrupt and must be abolished.

Intentional or not, our work – what we write about, whether as academics or novelists – expresses a certain set a values. It’s informed by the questions and expectations we have. When I was working on my Master’s degree, I was shocked to find a document that asserted that 20% of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the militant wing of the African National Congress in South Africa, was composed of women. I thought that was astonishing, in part because… well… how many movies or books about resistance have you consumed where one in every five fighters was a woman? How could this be true, I thought, if I’ve never seen it? But there it was, stacked up in the archives like it was no big deal.

I knew then that I needed to write about it.

Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, which argues that some of the world’s most happy and successful people choose careers which are driven by a personal mission. These missions don’t spring full-formed from their brains at age twenty or thirty. Instead, they are missions that they explore, define, and refine in the first decade or two of their careers. They come back to their missions when they feel they have achieved a significant goal or milestone, and adjust it as necessary. It is this mission, then, that drives them forward when the grind gets them down.

As human beings, we need to believe that our lives have meaning. What drives us when we despair? More often than not, it is our personal mission. And if we don’t have one, it can be easy to get stuck in a rut and lose focus and purpose… and get dragged down by someone else’s fearful nihilistic narrative.

Trolling reality – because that’s what trolling has evolved into – is both a political force, a moneymaker and a game. Getting people to cry on camera, to talk about how afraid they are, to leave the internet, to stay home in fearful silence, or, to flee from their homes altogether, to sow confusion and promote terror, is actually the end goal of this game.

It inspires a community of professional trolls to keep at it. Fear is the desired result. Public pain and misery triggers the jolt of serotonin that is their reward. Habits, right?

So I can hear the concern, now. Ok, Kameron. I have this hopeful narrative. I’m speaking up about better future. But the trolls aren’t just people yelling on the internet any more. They bring guns and send bombs.

Well, sure. Also I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. I could die of carbon monoxide poisoning in my house.

All of us have different situations. But this is what I think whenever I’m invited to speak at an event like this, or whenever I pick up an unknown package on the porch:

I could die on a plane. I could die from taking too much insulin. One of my aunts learned that she had a brain tumor a few years back, and was dead three months later. I could have a blood clot, or an aneurysm.

Death is coming for all of us, eventually. Yes, we are all going to die! Yes, I think about getting shot or bombed or SWATed or whatever. But that’s been my reality as a woman speaking publicly since, like 2004 when I started my blog.

The truth is it wasn’t so much what I was saying that people didn’t like – it was that I was allowed to speak publicly at all, as if there was a test one had to pass, a lofty measurement or set of traits or a bestseller list, or some gender requirement.

But  the alternative, for me, is to be quiet, and to die quietly, hit quietly by a bus.

And that just sounds very… quiet, to me. I like being loud.

But I get that everyone’s mileage is going to vary.

Just remember that as long as you’re still here, I’m still here, you’re still here, we win.

One of the reasons no one can silence me is not just my profound stubbornness and indifference in the face of rage mobs, nor my ability to be able to find the signal in the noise. I stay in this game because I get 1,000% more fan mail than hate mail. I get fan mail of the “You changed my life,” variety.

People who came out to their parents because of something I wrote, folks who found the courage to leave an abusive partner. Folks who moved across the country. Changed jobs. Went back to school. People read things I write and it gives them hope and inspiration and comfort, too; comfort that they are not so different. They are not alone. That the world can be really different.

And it’s that love, that profound love, that will keep me here, that will keep me speaking, that will keep me carrying on, long after the hate speech has been buried in an explosion of fragmented pixels.

Love. Radical kindness. A rejection of nihilism. These are the alternative narratives we must surface and share.

I take storytelling seriously because I understand that storytelling is how we make sense of the world. It is, quite literally, how we build the world. What we dream, we create. What we imagine, we make truth. It is how we can share the same world with billions of people and thousands of other cultures and yet all see this world and our place in it so differently. Story is also how we can begin to change our own view of the world. As Ursula Le Guin said in her National Book Award speech:

We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art – the art of words.

Resistance begins not only in art, but in the passionate pursuit of the truth. The truth that there is no monolithic way to be human, now or in the future. That how we organize ourselves has changed significantly over the hundreds of thousands of years we have been on this planet. That we don’t have to be ruled exclusively by fear.

My mom often apologizes to me for the women of her generation. “We thought we changed it all,” she says, but you kids still have to deal with the same shit.” But I’m more optimistic than that. What I see is every generation making incremental progress. Three steps forward. Two steps back. Five steps forward after that, then six back, ooops, damn, okay, get back up, keep going!

Fall down seven times. Get up eight.

Nihilism is the greatest enemy of change. Nihilism tells us that we are all going grubbing back into the darkness from whence we came, and that nothing we do here matters. Nihilism keeps the old abusive systems puttering along. Nihilism convinces us that nothing changes, when in truth – the world is changing all the time.

People like us are just as equipped to change it as anyone else.

As long as we are still here, we are still part of building that narrative.

Someone once asked me why I write and I said, “I write to change the world.” That’s not bullshit. I believe that. You, me, all of us in this room, we are each of us an integral part in a greater whole.

What stories are we telling? With our research, our writing; with the thoughts we share, both ours and those we spread across our social and personal channels.

Every reality is shaped by story. Greed is good. Rich is good. Capitalism is good.

But I come at this world every day now armed with a different story. Compassion is good. Kindness is good. Socialism is good. Looking out for each other is good. Hoarding wealth is obscene. Greed is despicable. Capitalism is a crime against 90% of human beings on this earth.

Say a thing often enough, loudly enough, and you start to change the narrative all around you. Take a look at the news. At the talking points. Who is setting the conversation?

I no longer seek to react to the horror around me. Instead, I state boldly that no one gets to vote on who is human, that each of us is entitled to good health, that unions are a public good, housing is a human right, higher education should be free, corporations must be heavily taxed and regulated, and the government should be afraid of the people – people should not be afraid of the government.

I state these things as truth, without apology.

I speak my narrative. And I force the wider world to defend itself from a narrative of pure human decency, where each and every one of us has no more or less value on this earth than another.

Because the truth is human beings can create incredible things when they work together. When they see each other as human.

We can create incredible things.

We spend so much time fighting the darkness that we forget there’s another way to go about it. Building the future isn’t just about fighting the darkness. It’s about bringing the light.


Radical kindness. Empathy. Humanity. A positive, progressive vision of the future THAT INSPIRES ACTION.

That is the revolutionary future we can assert, promote, and protect.

That is how we’ll win. Not by simply fighting what we hate, but by protecting what we love.

(C’mon, you didn’t think I’d get out of here without a Star Wars reference??)

So, while I’m here, and you’re here… for as long as we’re blessed to be here…

Let’s go build the future.

One story at a time.

“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.


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.


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.