Writing, publishing, geekdom, and errata.

Thank you for your service.

"Thank you for your service."

The phrase has grated on my nerves since I left the Army. Maybe that's because I was in medical units the whole time. But I think it's something bigger than that.

I remember protesting the second Gulf War, not even a year out from being discharged. I remember the young men jeering at me for protesting the war, but having "better" things to do than enlist themselves.

If I'd not been holding a protest sign, I suspect they would have thanked me for my service... but still wouldn't have enlisted.

When it comes to actually taking care of veterans, we've been doing a pretty bad job for two long presidential administrations. 1

For all the hand-wringing over what impact a Twibbon campaign or making your profile picture green might have, for all the whining about clicktavism, it's stunningly shameful to see this in real life example of the same.

Put the flag on your lapel. Thank them for their service. Then you can feel like a good citizen, like you've done something.

And that's bullshit.

Listen to this episode of The Memory Palace:  There's a player on the web page, so you don't need anything special.  It's maybe ten minutes long.  Listen.

If you're old enough, you might remember that night. If you're young enough, really listen.  Let the idea of it sink in.

That was when everyone2 had something at stake.

I don't think going back to a draft would be good, not really.3

But I wish there was some way to make military service mean more than a cheap lapel pin and empty thanks.

I wish it was real enough that VA programs were funded, that returning troops got treatment for PTSD, that instead of overpriced pork barrel projects, our military members got the equipment they want and need.

Instead, all we get are a quick gesture of thanks and mentally crossed off the "be a good citizen" list.

1 The current VA issues were known to the White House in 2005, for example.
2 Well, most everyone.
3 The general thought for WWI and WWII was that we gave just enough training to civilians, and those who survived would be good soldiers. American casualty rates at the beginnings of hostilities before 1980 were usually quite atrocious.

Leading with positivity in your text messages

As much as I like the Voice Rule, a lot of communication these days is via text.  And because everyone's got their own brain weasels, small details matter.

You've probably already heard that periods can totally change the tone of your text message (for the worse), but when you strip out all the non-text elements of communication, even something encouraging can sound iffy or worse.

You might think that a small difference in phrasing wouldn't be a big deal, especially when you're trying to be encouraging. That's what I thought too, until I stopped and thought back to some of the times I've really misinterpreted things.


I've been doing something different with my texting. It's really helped me, and it doesn't require a whole lot of energy or overhead.

I've been leading with positivity.

I'm using "leading" in the sense that one "leads" their shot with a gun - you aim where the target is going to be, not where it is now.  Let me use an example.

Bob is one of my favorite co-workers. I enjoy interacting with him, and he's done a lot to make my day job better. But Bob recently saw an opportunity at another company, and texted me.  "Would you be upset if I took this job?

I could text "Well, no harm in trying. That job's not a bad thing at all."

On the face of it, that's encouraging. But brain weasels could easily turn that into damning with faint praise. So instead, I replied:

"Dude! That sounds like a perfect job for you! Go for it! Now! Don't text me back, apply now!"

Yeah, I overstated my position a bit. And if I said that out loud, it'd sound kind of silly.

But there was no way Bob's brain weasels could misinterpret that message, and it took far less effort for me to text that way than to clarify things later on.

Give it a shot!

Westworld as an (unintentional?) feminist metaphor

I am really enjoying Westworld.  Not because I'm theorizing and trying to figure out who, what, and so on, but because I'm seeing reflections of some really feminist topics reflected in this show, both subtly and overtly (and I'm not seeing others remark upon them, which puzzles me greatly).  Last week's takedown of the manic pixie dream girl trope was pretty overt, but in S01E08 "Trace Decay", there's several topics that get tied together, and some of them aren't quite that obvious.

And perhaps most important of all, they don't even have to be there intentionally.

Spoilers for S01E08 and before follow after the picture of Maeve and Dorothy!

You kick ass, ladies.

With Dolores' "freakout", Bernard's beginning flashbacks, and Maeve's blunders this week from resurging memories, it's not too much of a stretch to see the erasure, implantation, and manipulation of memory as a big metaphor for gaslighting.

This doesn't take away from Ferrett's analysis of Westworld as a metaphor for mental illness; in fact, he mentions the gaslighting analogy in that post.  Considering that the point of gaslighting is to get one to question one's own mental stability, these metaphors can quite easily co-exist.

Which brings us to William. He's oddly calm about Dolores' freakout - because he's a stand-in for the "well-meaning guy". He started off being very compassionate and caring - to the point of being ridiculed by Logan (who is acting as one of many Archie Bunker stand-ins). Over time, though, we're getting to see that caring doesn't quite go all the way down. Last week, we saw him try to make Dolores into nothing more than a catalyst for his own story, and this week we see that despite his assertions of caring, deep down William still sees Dolores as less-than-human.

William:  We gotta get you closer to Sweetwater. This far out, it's like you You start to break down or something.
The key here is realizing that William does not mean "break down" as in "get emotionally upset".  He means "break down" as in malfunction.  This also explains his lack of emotional response to Dolores' fugue state; she's suddenly snapped back to being less than a real person to him.

I don't think this is malice, though. William's heard about Westworld for a long time, and has had it driven home time and time and time again (both explicitly and implicitly) that the hosts are lesser.  That kind of societal training has an effect.

Another example of that effect is in the revelation from the Man In Black.  While talking to Teddy, the MiB lists off several ways that he is a "good" man - titan of industry, philanthropist, and so on. Immediately following that, the MiB tells Teddy and us) about his wife and daughter.  It's worth quoting his monologue:

I'm the good guy, Teddy.  Then, last year, my wife took the wrong pills.
Fell asleep in the bath. Tragic accident. 30 years of marriage vanished.
How do you say it? "Like a deep and distant dream."
Then, at the funeral, I tried to console my daughter.
She pushed me away, told me that my wife's death was no accident, that she killed herself because of me. Emily said that every day with me had been sheer terror. At any point, I could blow up or collapse like some dark star...
They never saw anything like the man I am in here.
But she knew anyway.
She said if I stacked up all my good deeds, it was just an elegant wall I built to hide what's inside from everyone, and from myself.
This reminds me of nothing so much as when I suddenly realized that every woman in a night class with me checked under their car when heading home when I never did. It reminds me of when I insulted a woman and didn't realize it.  It reminds me of the other side of the "well meaning guy", who suddenly realizes that no matter what their intent, they were still participating in the Monopoly game of structural inequality.  The MiB was suddenly faced with the existential crisis of his self-perception being completely out of phase with those whose opinions he cared most about.

Sadly, it seems that rather than use that critique as a starting point of actual self-discovery (and self-improvement!), the MiB instead went straight to Westworld to see if he (could be) was as bad as his daughter claimed.

Have you met humans?  We can all be pretty damn awful, and there's quite a bit of research indicating that if we want to (or are encouraged to, as the park does, Ford's protestations about white-hat storylines notwithstanding), that any of us can do horrible things.

Especially if everything around us teaches us that some of the people around us - hosts, women, people of color - are somehow lesser.

Which brings us to Ford and his watered-down nihilism and watered-down Nietzscheanism. To Ford's machismo.

Yes, machismo.

Ford: And as exquisite as this array of emotions is, even more sublime is the ability to turn it off.
Ultimately, Ford views this kind of control, this kind of power to be far more valuable than any other achievement. It may be dressed up in fancy clothes, but it's raw control - or power, or force - that matters most to Ford.

It's here that it's important to back out of the story for a moment. The writers may not have intended these topics and themes at all. But they do exist in the narrative. This isn't a contradiction at all; we are all steeped in the society and morés of the culture we're raised in... and the global West has been a patriarchy for a very, very long time.

Therefore, it's not a stretch to think that these themes and topics have seeped into the show from the cultural zeitgeist, without any kind of deliberate intent. And likewise, it's not a stretch to think that the machismo of the fictional Westworld park likewise stems from the now clear values of its (fictional) head storyteller and caretaker of the last 30 years, Dr. Ford.

Whether intentional or not, Westworld is highly rooted in the cultural patriarchal narrative of the current day.

This manifests in obvious ways, like the independent but related struggles of Dolores and Maeve.

It also manifests is more subtle ways, such as the high female mortality rate of characters in the series.

Because in the park, in the show, and in our current society at large, it is literally the system killing women.

You want to know who to root for?

Root for those who want to break the loops and tell their own stories.

Root for those who want to break the system.


Expend The Extra Effort In Communicating, Especially When It's All Going Great

Communicating takes effort.  As my amour said the other day, "Things were so much easier when I didn't really have any people in my life!"  Which is true.

She also quickly added: "But it's so much better with friends and relationships!"  Which is also true.

Despite this, humans still have a limited amount of energy.  We have a tendency to take shortcuts and make assumptions.  Sometimes, that can work out beautifully, and you seem to understand each other without flaw. But even then, I think it's important to be able to expend the extra energy and overhead to do reflective listening and ask for clarification in order to make sure there aren't any translation errors. 

In fact, I'd say it's even more important when it seems like you're communicating flawlessly, for two reasons.  First, when (yes, when) there's a misunderstanding, it'll seem somehow worse. Second, you won't be looking for it, and it might go on for quite some time before it's realized.

So while it's necessary to expend the extra effort with someone with whom you don't always communicate flawlessly, you still have to take the time to do reflective listening, even with people you think are on the same page.

And definitely don't forget the Voice Rule!

Wherein Westworld Smashes The Manic Pixie Dream Girl in two sentences (mild spoiler for S1E7)

HBO's series Westworld is a pretty trope-heavy show. Not in a lazy way, though. The park - the aforementioned "WestWorld" - is literally a mass of tropes upon tropes upon tropes.  Intentional tropes in the fiction of the show, there for the guest's amusements.

The show itself has done a fairly good job of using tropes and then subverting them or twisting them just enough to make them fresh and new. There's a lot of writing about them, but I've not yet seen any explicitly calling out this one quiet, effective scene in episode seven.

Minor spoiler for "Trompe L'Oeil" follows after the picture.

Dolores has been doing a good job going beyond the MPDG trope since episode one, but this simple quiet scene between her and William below utterly demolishes it:

If you can't see the video (or if HBO gets over-feisty with takedowns), here's a GIF of the most relevant part of the scene:

Sure, this is important in the plot. "I am not a key." Gotcha. No foreshadowing there.

But more importantly for us, in a place where the people you fall for literally are there just to serve you and to be tools in your journey of self-discovery... Dolores quickly, efficiently, and unequivocally tears down the whole concept that she is  simply the MPDG tool for William's journey of self-discovery. 

It is a quiet, simple declaration that echoes the roar across the wasteland:
We Are Not Things
And for us as writers, it is a beautiful example of how writing above and past the tropes, how writing our characters - even the flawed, looping hosts of Westworld - as three dimensional allows us to crush a trope within the plot that we're writing.

It could be done more heavy-handedly (the antagonist from this week's Supergirl comes to mind), but then it's ineffective as either political thought OR as plot. When it serves the plot, as it does in Fury Road or "Trompe L'Oeil" it does not pander to your baser instincts, and when it does show you who you really are, it's because we empathize with the characters, not because of a diatribe.