Why I Feel Great Right Now: A Tiny Bit of Writing Advice

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I feel great right now. Big deal, right? That's my business, so why should it concern you? If you're a writer or involved in any other creative pursuit, maybe you'll find this helpful.

Today I went to a day-long meeting with a team of excellent educators who are working to make our high school a trauma informed school. It would take a while to explain what that means, and it's largely beside the point, but one of the activities involved identifying our own stress level and coming up with strategies to cope when we are getting near breaking. It will come as no surprise to anyone that one of my strategies is to write. It calms me, it helps me focus, and, as I was reminded tonight, it gives me a charge of positive energy.

I left the meeting and slipped back into stress mode. I have far too much on my plate, something I'm sure many of you can identify with. I wear too many hats. Besides being a teacher, a job that is always more than full time when done properly, I also am the co-publisher of a small publishing company. We may have bit off more than we can chew, committing to publish nine novels in a single year. We accepted author Kamila Shamsie's challenge to make 2018 "The Year of Publishing Women," and we got so many great submissions by incredibly talented authors that I may have said yes to too many. We'll see if we can pull it off. In the same way I feel a constant pressure to be a better teacher for my students, I also feel an obligation to do right by these authors. Beyond the creation of the books themselves, there's the marketing, and that is a task so daunting it can become paralyzing. I wear other hats, too. I'm very involved in my union, serving on the state board and working as an activist to promote public education in every way I can. The work is really important to me, and I can't say no when I think there's something I can do to help. Oh, yeah, I'm also a dad and a husband who isn't around for my son and wife nearly as much as I'd like.

So I'm carrying around all this stress, and I'm thinking about the coping strategies I articulated earlier in the day but which I do not employ enough, and then, out of the blue, I thought of a line for the next novel I'm writing. Just a phrase, not even a whole sentence. I used to carry around writing implements everywhere for just such an occasion, but now I can just reach into my pocket and connect to the whole world, so I grabbed my notebook-in-the-cloud and started jotting down some notes. Bam! Next thing you know, I've got 1000 words cranked out and edited twice. More importantly, they are mischievous words that make me even more excited to finish the book and put it in people's hands. You know that feeling you get in between playing some practical joke on a friend and the moment when they discover it? That eager and impish anticipation? That's how I feel about this book now. The premise itself may be too big for my powers as a writer. I may fail. I'm learning to not only accept that but aim for it. I want to write something so difficult that I might not be able to pull it off. But this, at least, will be fun as hell to write.

And that brings me to my advice to other writers and creators out there: Fight for the time. Yes, all those other items on the to-do list are still there, looming, and if I think of them I can feel the stress pressing in on my body. But you know what? I'm a writer, dammit. This is one of my hats, just as much a product of my values as my work for my students and my fellow authors and the public school system. And I don't need to feel guilty about the fact that it's also a lot of fun. I can imagine the looks on people's faces as they read my next book. I can justify the time by reminding myself I'm working for my readers, and they deserve something from me, too. But I can ease my stress by reminding myself that I don't need to do this out of obligation to anyone.

I'm a writer. It feels great to acknowledge that. And it feels good to admit it feels great. 

 

More Evidence that the World is Shrinking While Growing More Absurd

I'm signed up to receive Google Alerts for the titles of all my books so that I can immediately share good reviews and weep at bad ones. Today Google informed me that one of my books, Corporate High School, was listed on an educational website. I thought, "That's cool. Maybe it's another classroom where they're teaching the text." I clicked on the link.

It turned out, it's a website where people go to buy plagiarized term papers. In an effort to see if they actually carried papers already written about Corporate High School, I entered my name and email address. I didn't hide my identity at all; anyone looking at my listing would see the same name as the the one on the cover of the book. Within minutes, I had emails from dozens of people offering to write papers on the book for me. I realized I didn't want to be associated with a company that provides this type of "educational services" and unsubscribed.

One intrepid woman grabbed my email off the list before I disappeared and sent me a direct email outside the company's system (something the company would probably frown on, so I won't reveal her full name). I responded very carefully.

"I'm curious," I wrote. "Have you read the novel Corporate High School?"

"Hi Benjamin," she replied. "Yes i[sic] once did in a public library. I got a preview of it here." And she sent me a link to the listing for the novel on Goodreads.

It’s possible she has read the book, but I was skeptical. I wrote, "That's wonderful! What public library carries it?"

"Its[sic] located in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. However, the library is currently closed for renovations upto[sic] early next month."

Ann could have been talking about the McMillan Library in Nairobi. Turns out it is currently closed for renovations. Perhaps there's a copy of Corporate High School inside?

Ann could have been talking about the McMillan Library in Nairobi. Turns out it is currently closed for renovations. Perhaps there's a copy of Corporate High School inside?

Again, this is possible, but I think it's highly unlikely. It seems especially convenient that the library is currently closed. I didn't see a reason to try to call her out on it, though, since I don't actually want to spend a bunch of money to get an essay about the book. I didn't reply.

She reached out again. "Do you have a softcopy of the book?"

I decided to break the news to her as gently as I could. "I have hardcover and paperback copies ...because I'm the author of the book. I received a note from Google Alerts saying there was a reference to the book. I am not interested in a term paper about the book, but I'm glad to hear it is being read. Thank you for brightening my day!"

She was very pleasant about it, and we're now conversing about what a wonderful city Nairobi is, and how I should look her up when I come to visit someday.

But I can't get over how ridiculous the Internet has made this tiny world we live in. There are 9,183 miles between Independence, Oregon, where I live, and Nairobi, Kenya, where my new friend lives. (For point of reference, the circumference of the Earth at the equator is only 24,901 miles, so Ann is almost the full 12450.5 miles to the exact opposite side.)  Thanks to a Google Alert and some curiosity, she was able to offer to help a student cheat by providing that student with a paper about a young adult novel he hadn’t read (and which, I suspect, she has not read either), a paper he would turn in to his teacher. Only she was offering that paper to the author of that novel who is also a teacher! I should feel doubly cheated (triply? quadruply?), but I can’t. It’s just too perfectly bizarre.

I rarely write critical book reviews. I'm making an exception for Lauren Kate's Fallen

I recently assigned my 9th grade students to start Goodreads accounts and study reviews so they could write their own reviews of the novels they read in my class. When students friended me, they noticed that almost all my reviews are somewhere between positive and glowing. That’s not because I only read great books or love everything that I read, I explained. As an author, I sometimes run into my fellow authors, even some big name celebs, at various conferences and tradeshows, and I would feel awkward if I thought the person had read, or someday would read, a review where I trashed his/her work. Not all authors make this choice. I respect my fellow authors who have decided that their brutal honesty is a part of the way they build trust with their readers. I think that’s a reasonable calculation to make and an honorable position to take. I’m just too much of a people-pleaser for that, so I mostly limit my criticisms to writers who are dead. I kick them when they’re down. Way down. 

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I’m making an exception for Lauren Kate’s Fallen. If I ran into her at some writers’ event, I wouldn’t feel badly about this critique. In fact, I’d love to get to talk with her about it and hear her thoughts. My criticism isn’t going to hurt her sales at all. She’s done just fine, thank you very much. But as a co-publisher of an indie press, if someone presented this book to me with an absolute guarantee that it would have Ms. Kate’s sales, I would still turn it down. I found this book profoundly, disturbingly anti-feminist. Anyone considering reading this book should view it through that lens and pay close attention to the messages this novel is sending to the young women and young men who read it. I don’t want to dissuade anyone from checking it out, but please keep that framing in mind if you choose to do so.

The book is not badly written. There are some truly beautiful turns of phrase, and Lauren Kate has a great ability to give each character a unique voice. I liked most of the characters and was able to endure the obligatory extended descriptions of the love interests’ bodies. That’s not my thing, but I try not to yuck on anybody’s yum. That’s not the problem with this book. 

It’s not a spoiler to reveal that this is about a young woman who has been living multiple lifetimes, always coming back to the angel who loves her. That’s in the book’s description. Romance isn’t my bailiwick, but I picked this up because my students are reading it. And that’s precisely why I feel compelled to write about it. As a teacher and a father and a feminist, and I don't think this book is good for my students or my own son. I'm not a prude. I'm not offended by the hints of sexuality. I'm bothered by the way the romance plays out. Although it's justified by the plot, the whole conceit seems designed from the first chapter to be forcing together the female protagonist, Lucinda, and one of the male love interests, Daniel, who keeps negging her. Though we later learn why, the fact that she is drawn to this young man who treats her so horribly is a terrible lesson for both young women and young men. None of my female students should be told that they should tolerate this kind of disdainful treatment, and none of my male students should be told that women should find it appealing. At one point Lucinda even admiringly quotes a line from Roman Holiday: "There was a man. He was so mean to me. It was wonderful." No, it’s not. This is not attractive or mysterious or alluring behavior, and it shouldn’t be framed as acceptable. Even when we learn why he’s been trying to push her away, there’s no recognition that women shouldn’t put up with crappy treatment from men. We’re told that he feels agony because he has to try to push her away. We're supposed to feel sorry for him because of his negging.  What we are not told is that he feels any guilt about his treatment of her. Because his motivation is to save her by driving her away, we’re supposed to believe this absolves him of guilt for his generally cold, sometimes rude, and sometimes downright cruel treatment of her. The plot may tell us that she overcomes this because of the supernatural nature of the relationship, but we're also explicitly told that it’s because she just loves him so much. Stop and think about that. This is a romanticization of a domestic abuse victim’s mentality, that she just loves him so much that she’s drawn to him regardless of his horrible treatment of her. 

I know this phenomenon is far from unique to Kate’s Fallen. It’s a variation on Pride and Prejudice and exists in a lot of other romance literature. But at least in Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth has the dignity to be offended by Mr. Darcy’s cold indifference and doesn’t come around until she learns about his truly admirable qualities. In Fallen, Lucinda loves Daniel in spite of his treatment of her long before she realizes there’s anything more to him than a pretty boy who is mean to her. 

I know this is believable because it happens in the real world. I also know that part of the reason it happens in the real world is that our culture is in constant conversation with our art. Let’s stop romanticizing this behavior in our art to justify it in our world. Guys who treat girls the way Daniel treats Lucinda are not angels trying to save their eternal loves from damnation. They’re just jerks who will get more abusive with time and cultural permission. If we’ve learned anything in 2017, it’s that we need to stop making jerks into heroes and start acknowledging that too many of our heroes are just jerks. 
 

Speaking up for our DACA neighbors

Today I marched in support of my students who are DREAMers. The entire march was organized by a group of high school students from Central High School, allies who saw the threat to their fellow students and wanted to do something about it. They ended up putting together this great event where over a hundred people marched through the streets of Monmouth and Independence, Oregon. There were speeches by the mayors of both towns, our state representative Paul Evans, a representative from the office of our congressman Kurt Schrader, and some very brave DACA recipients themselves. Oh, and they asked me to speak, too. I'm posting my speech and the text, followed by some pictures of marchers. Glad to have an opportunity to defend my neighbors, but angry that I have to. 

My name is Benjamin Gorman.

Me llamo Benjamin Gorman. Soy un maestro en Central High School, un autor, el dueño de una negocio local, un esposo, y un padre.

I’m a teacher at Central High School, an author, a local small business owner, a husband, and a father. I’m here because I want to stand up for my neighbors.

Estoy aquí porque quiero defender a mis vecinos. Nuestros DREAMers son nuestros vecinos, nuestros hijos, nuestros estudiantes, nuestros amigos, nuestros hermanos y hermanas.

Our DREAMers are our neighbors, our children, our students, our friends, our brothers and sisters.

Estoy orgulloso vivir en una comunidad en la que nos cuidamos uno al otro.

I’m proud to be from a community where we care for one another. Our community is under threat.

Nuestra comunidad está amenazada.

When President Obama created the DACA program under the executive’s power of prosecutorial discretion, he didn’t do enough to fix our broken immigration system, but he did all he could with the Congress he had. As the name DACA states, he deferred action.

Cuando el presidente Obama creó el programa DACA bajo la discreción del poder ejecutivo de discreción procesal, no hizo lo suficiente para arreglar nuestro roto sistema de inmigración, pero hizo todo lo que pudo con el Congreso que tuvo. Como dice el nombre DACA, aplazó la acción.

President Trump didn’t have to do anything. But President Trump chose to attack the members of this community.

El presidente Trump no tuvo que hacer nada. Pero el presidente Trump decidió atacar a los miembros de esta comunidad.

And when President Trump realized that was wildly unpopular, he punted, trying to shift the responsibility to Congress.

Y cuando Presidente Trump se dio cuenta de que esto era tremendamente impopular, intentó patear la responsabilidad al Congreso.

If anyone still had any doubt, that one example proves that our current President is cruel, cowardly, and weak.

Si alguien tenía alguna deuda, este ejemplo prueba que nuestro presidente es cruel, cobarde y débil.

Now, the burden falls on us. He didn’t have to do anything, but now we do have to take action.

Ahora, la responsabilidad recae a nosotros. El no tenía que hacer nada, pero ahora nosotros si tenemos que tomar acción. Tenemos que movilizarnos para defender a nuestros vecinos.

We need to mobilize to defend our neighbors.

Necesitamos ayudar a nuestros representantes estatales como Paul Evans, nuestro congresista Kurt Schrader, nuestros senadores Ron Wyden y Jeff Merkley, y convencer al resto del Congreso que pasen un DREAM Act limpia. Cualquier representante que no vota por un DREAM Act limpio debe ser deportado del congreso en 2018.

We need to help our state representatives like Paul Evans, our Congressman Kurt Schrader, our Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, and convince the rest of Congress to pass a clean DREAM Act. And any representative who won’t support a clean DREAM Act should be deported from Congress in 2018.

Entonces, por favor, firmen la carta que enviaremos a otras comunidades en todo nuestro país pidiendo que ellos paren en solidaridad con nosotros.

So please, add your signature to the letter that we will send out to other communities throughout our country asking them to stand in solidarity with us. Our DREAMers, and the student allies who planned this march today, represent the absolute best of America. When we say “Yes we can!” we’re talking about them.

Nuestros DREAMers y los estudiantes aliados que planearon esta marcha hoy representan lo mejor de América. Cuando decimos "¡Sí se puede!" estamos hablando de ellos.

With our DREAMers, and with people like all of you here today standing in solidarity, we can.

Con nuestros DREAMers, y con personas como ustedes, todos hoy aquí parados en solidaridad, podemos hacerlo.

And now our message must be Yes we can resist!

Y ahora nuestro mensaje debe ser !Sí se puede resistir!

We are the resistance now.

Somos la resistencia ahora. No dejaremos que Donald Trump deporte el futuro de Los Estados Unidos.

We will not let Donald Trump deport America’s future.

Gracias.

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Best Translator's Note Ever

How cool is this? I got this note from the woman translating my book The Sum of Our Gods into Croatian (horror novelist Viktoria Faust, known in Croatia as "The Croatian Queen of Horror") :

Viktoria Faust

Viktoria Faust

"Just sending you few words so you know what's going on. I translated your novel and I love it soooo much! It's perfect. I knew I would love it because the topic was just what I like, but it's just so perfect, clever and funny, your characters, your writing style, your voice makes you one of my favorite writers ever. And I know lot of people here who will love you. Also I think you should write a script and send it to Netflix 😀"

I hope her translation is a big enough hit that I get to go to Croatia to thank her in person!

​Is everyone defending Confederate monuments racist?

Yes.

But wait, you say. It can’t be that simple.

It is.

As Jamelle Bouie wrote, "Implicit in every defense of Confederate monuments is a belief that black people aren't full and equal members of the polity."

Here’s why: Imagine what that Confederate monument says to a Black person. Imagine the message it sends to a Black child playing in a park under that shadow of a man sitting astride a rearing horse, a man who is there because he fought to preserve his ability to own her ancestors as human livestock. That Confederate general is being honored for that treason in defense of slavery by every person who allows that statue to stand. How do you think that child feels, seeing that general honored and all the other people in the park permitting that? What emotion flows through her mind and into her small body as she plays in that shadow amidst that crowd of people?

Feel that.

See what you did there? Assuming you are not a Black child reading this right now, you used your creative imagination, the faculty that makes empathy possible, to experience the emotion of someone with a vastly different life experience and perspective. Did you get it exactly right? No. And that’s okay. That doesn’t make you hateful. It means you’re human. You stretched your empathy muscles and lifted as much of that weight as you could.

Now that you have as much of a sense of that stranger's feeling as you can muster, what do you do with that information?

You could say, “Holy crap! That’s really painful. There is no possible justification for doing that to a child. We should remove those from public spaces and either destroy them or put them in history museums with a plaque next to them explaining that they were put up in the 20s and 30s to terrorise Black people.”

Or, you could say, “Okay, but I don’t care as much about a Black person’s feelings as I do about preserving my own feelings about my ‘heritage.’” The implied premise is that your feelings, as someone who is not that Black child, are more important. If you come to this conclusion, you are, in fact, deeply racist. It’s not terminal. Get some help with that. Read some books. Change.

Or you could say, “Well, I can see why that would hurt that Black child, and I don’t like that because I want racial equality, but it would also hurt the feelings of some of my white friends who want the statues to stay up, and they’re on my political team / attend my church / hate liberals like I do / whatever. In fact, some of those white people may even be the descendents of those Confederate generals, and it might hurt their feelings to have their ancestor’s statue removed, so let’s keep the statues up.” If you say that, you’re still saying that white people’s feelings matter more than Black people’s, especially if those white people are on your team. The fact that you have concern for Black people’s feelings but allow that concern to be trumped (pun intended), is the difference between a Nazi and a Nazi collaborator: not much of a difference.

You could also say, “Well, sure, the Black child’s pain is real, but it’s a slippery slope. Are we going to take down every statue that hurts anyone’s feelings? Where would it end?” This argument attempts to hide from its intended effect (preserving racist statues) by dodging to an altogether different argument about preserving the abstraction of history from the predations of sentimentality. But notice when this argument against sentimentality is being employed. It’s not to protect the outcome of broadened insurance coverage from the sentimentality of people’s attachment to their personal physician. It’s not to protect the abstraction of free speech from the sentimental revulsion many feel when their flag isn’t saluted in the way they want others to salute it. The argument that feelings should be ignored is only being employed when those feelings belong to Black people. It’s dismissive and, again, rooted in notions of racial superiority and inferiority.

Or you could say, “Well, I tried to imagine what that Black child felt, and I decided that she wouldn’t really mind.” In this case, you’re saying that a circumstance you would never tolerate if it were about you is tolerable to Black people because that conclusion doesn’t challenge your preconceived outcome. Did you investigate this by reading up on what so many Black people have been writing about these monuments for decades? Nope. You decided for them so the conclusion wouldn’t challenge you. That’s both a failure of empathy and racist.

Now, maybe the failure of empathy is mine. Maybe there’s some other argument for maintaining these monuments that acknowledges their history as physical manifestations of a desire to terrorize Black people, that recognizes the way they make Black people feel, and which still justifies their continued existence. I have yet to hear it, and I doubt such an argument exists, but I’ve been wrong before, I’m sure I’m wrong about some things now, and maybe this is one of them. I challenge anyone who wants to keep these statues up to make such an argument.

But the argument must take into account the targets of these statues, the Black people who were supposed to see them and be afraid or feel insulted or diminished. And the argument must treat those feelings as just as valid as any other white person’s pride in their (racist, treasonous) heritage. Otherwise, any argument for these statues (and every argument I’ve come across) is fundamentally based in the belief that Black people’s feelings don’t count as much as white people’s.

So, yes, everyone I’ve come across so far who argues to keep those statues is, in fact, a racist. If they don’t want to be racist anymore, this is a good opportunity for a wake-up call: Why did they think preserving their “heritage” and “history” mattered more than that Black child’s current pain?

And if you, like me, think that keeping these statues up, knowing what we know now and feeling what we’ve now felt, is a moral abomination, then we need to be honest and vocal about why they have to go. Because refusing to call out white supremacist rhetoric or racist underlying motivations for fear of offending white people’s sensibilities elevates white pain above Black pain, and that’s just as racist. It’s not fun to tell a white person that they are making a racist argument or holding a racist position. But the pain people of color deal with from sustained systematic and institutional racism combined with instances like these of direct, interpersonal racism is far, far worse than some “not fun” conversations. So we have to be bold and honest.

The statues are racist. Trying to preserve them looming over public spaces is racist. People who are participating in those efforts?

Yep. Racists.

Conservatives: Timing Matters

Timing Matters.

I want my conservative friends to consider a thought experiment. Imagine if, on 9/11, as you watched that horror on your television, you'd been sitting with two liberal friends. And as the second plane struck the second tower, imagine if one of those liberal friends had said, "Well, the U.S. has done a lot of terrible things, too."

Imagine how you would have felt about that friend in that moment. I'm guessing you would have been angry. You might have even hated that person a little. Regardless of your previous relationship, you would have considered ending that friendship forever.

Now, is what that hypothetical liberal said untrue? No. Regardless of your politics, we can all agree that some Americans have done horrible things in the past. Jeffrey Dalmer was an American. But you would not have given that liberal a pass because of the veracity of the statement. You would have judged them based on their timing.

I'm the other liberal in that room, and I, my conservative friend, would have agreed with you 100%. Making that statement at that time would have been a defense of the Al-Qaeda terrorists and their actions. It would have been taking a stand against America and everything we hold dear. 

And you and I, together, would have called out that liberal right then and there and said, "Not acceptable." Under pressure, that liberal would have backtracked. But imagine how you (and I) would have felt about that person if, two days later, he/she came back around and was still making a "both sides" argument.

That's what you are doing when you make a both sides argument now. Is it true that there are people who have done terrible things in the name of the left, or of #BlackLivesMatter? Yes. There was that guy who killed five police officers in Dallas. He was not actually associated with #BLM, and #BLM condemend his actions immediately, just like Al Qaida was not representative of the vast majority of Muslims and Muslims all over the world condemened the attacks of 9/11, but he did tey and associate himself with #BLM, a group that explicitly stands for protecting human life, ending racist violence, and doing so peacefully. As a supporter of #BlackLivesMatter, I am still appalled and incensed by what that man did, but I can't deny that he tried to associate himself with #BLM. If his actions make you hate #BLM, just as the actions of the 9/11 hijackers made some people hate all Muslims, I think that's both ignorant and insulting, but I can see why someone who doesn't know much about #BLM or Islam might make that mistake.

But timing matters.

Even if you hold that view, in this particular moment, if you choose to employ it, you are just like the person making an excuse for 9/11. And the way you would feel about a person making excuses for 9/11 is exactly the way all anti-Nazi right-thinking Americans think about you. And how we think about our current President.

Now, I understand that a lot of folks feel that because they voted for Donald Trump, they are in a moment of cognitave disonance that's deeply uncomfortable. They don't want to repudiate him because that would mean admitting to error, and that's really uncomfortable. On the other hand, they don't want to side with Nazis and David Duke in their admiration of Trump. It's going to take some time, but I expect that the more folks learn about the number of avowed racists and white supremacists Trump has packed into our government, the more his non-racist followers will abandon him. I hope so, anyway. You'll wrestle with whether you can continue supporting a man who chose racist Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, Steven Bannon (a guy who bragged about creating the platform for the "alt-right") as one of his chief advisers, and Sebastian Gorka (literally a member of the Hungarian Nazi party) and his wife who cut the funding for anti-fascist hate groups investigations by the FBI. For a while, you'll cry, "Fake News!" because these facts are very uncomfortable. But eventually I think you'll reject a White House filled with racists, and hopefully even reflect on why Trump's bigoted campaign rhetoric appealed to you. 

But in the meantime, please understand where were coming from. Just as you and I would agree that someone shouldn't be trying to make excuses for guys who ran planes into buildings by deflecting from what is going on right before our eyes, you and I should agree that no one should be making excuses for a domestic terrorists who kill people with their car. Trying to justify it by denouncing unarmed, peaceful protesters who came out to stand up against hatred is so abhorrent that we will be very angry and may even hate you a little in that moment. We don't want to hate our fellow Americans, but just as you would while watching the planes run into the towers, we're watching Nazis march through American streets and commit murder. Save your criticisms for the left for a more appropriate time. Right now, you don't need to defend Donald Trump. You need to defend America from Nazis, and from anyone making excuses for Nazis, and that includes defending America from Donald Trump rather than repeating his double-down.

Timing matters. Heather Heyer was killed by a Nazi. Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche and Rick Best were killed by an ultra-nationalist. Samuel Dubose was killed by a police officer wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt under his uniform. This is not the time to be making a "both sides" argument. People who do, including the President, are opposed to American values, to civil society, to human dignity. They are on the side of white supremacy and genocide.

I know some of you can't bear the thought of agreeing with a liberal. But we're in a foxhole together, and the Nazis are advancing. So quit arguing "both sides" and devote yourself to to opposing the Nazis you say you reject before you get to the "but." This is the moment to set your antipathy for liberals aside and stand strongly against Nazis in our midst. Right now.

Timing matters.

 

I Can’t Forgive Trump Supporters for Promoting the Racism on Display in Charlottesville Until they Own It and Apologize

8/12/17. 2:30am

Tonight I’m supposed to be editing one of the novels Not a Pipe Publishing will be releasing next year, but I can’t. I can’t. I can’t get my hands to stop shaking. I am too furious. Sure, there is mounting evidence that our President is beholden to a foreign dictator. And yes, his infantile antics have increased the likelihood of two avoidable wars in the last three days. I’ve been outraged since he announced his candidacy and wasn’t immediately excluded from consideration for calling all Mexican immigrants rapists. I thought I couldn’t get more angry, that my anger would wear off because I didn’t have the energy to maintain that level of constant frustration. Then I read about what happened in Charlottesville.

In Charlottesville, Virginia (tonight, in 2017!), a group of white supremacists wielding torches marched on the University of Virginia chanting Nazi slogans, calling passersby the N word, and surrounding and beating non-violent counter protesters. These violent white supremacists were met with far, far less resistance from the police than peaceful BLM protests. These white supremacists have been quite open about the fact that they are doing this because they know they have the support of Donald Trump. But sure enough, some (white) guy hopped on my FB page to say he still believes he was right to vote for Donald Trump, and it’s unfair to blame this Trump voter for the actions of “a few idiots,” specifically the people Trump actively courted, employed, and supported throughout his candidacy. This guy even trotted out the old myth of “reverse racism.” I explained that,

A) Racism is prejudice plus power. White people can face prejudice based on race, but it's not racism without the institutional power structure to support it, and calling it racism is an insult to people of color who face racial discrimination that is also supported by institutional racism. Accusing BLM of racism shows a lack of understanding of what racism really is.

And B) People are not responsible for what a small group of idiots do unless they knowingly support that small group of idiots. Everyone who voted for Trump knew or should have known. This isn't like blaming all gun owners for a madman's actions. It's blaming the person who handed the madman the gun and said, "I heard you announcing what you would do (loudly, into a microphone, over and over) and I don't care."

But I couldn’t be nice anymore, and I made it clear that I do hold all Trump voters responsible for this, and that unless they will own up to their part in it, I won’t interact with them anymore online. As I told another friend yesterday, “I've come to believe that there is a point where, when someone knowingly supports someone who will kick out my undocumented kids [by “kids” I mean my students], force my trans kids into the wrong bathrooms and keep them from joining the military, keep my Muslim kids from visiting their grandparents, accuse my Black kids of living in hell, call my Mexican-American kids rapists, populate his staff with neo-Nazis, and threaten to grab my wife by the pussy, that person is not really my friend, or at least doesn't care enough about me or the people I care about to let our friendship affect their voting. I can certainly forgive people who didn't know or who were deceived by all the false information about Clinton ...as long as they now realize they were wrong. But when they double down in the face of the evidence, they are telling me they not only didn't care enough about me or my loved ones to let it affect their voting, but that they care more about protecting their egos than they care about my loved ones now. That's just as disqualifying. I used to be far more generous when it came to having friends with different political views. I basically drew my line at Nazis/racists/sexists/homophobes, and I was even willing to overlook some small measure of homophobia when I knew people were really struggling with their religious baggage. But this is all of those rolled into one, and though I can still be polite and respectful to people who would vote for someone who would hurt me and my loved ones, I can't consider them a friend because they do not really care about me or anyone I love, and that's kind of a minimum expectation of a friend. And if someone is more afraid of admitting error than they are of needlessly ripping families apart or ruining someone's military career, they are not the kind of person I want to call a friend. My friends and I make mistakes all the time, but we own it.”

I don’t want to post some pithy, “If you voted for Trump, unfriend me,” message. I don’t want to lose friends. I like people and have an unhealthy need to be liked by others. So I’m writing this down to make this clear to people who are still Trump supporters: Wait. Don’t engage with me. If you value our friendship at all, when you are ready, come back and tell me that you don’t want my students deported, you don’t support Trump’s racist rhetoric, you don’t support sexual assault or people who brag about committing it, you don’t support discriminating against people based on their religions when it comes to their right to immigrate or travel to see loved ones, you don’t support Trump’s bigotry against trans people. Tell me you were wrong to vote for Donald Trump, that you regret your role in hurting so many people through that decision of yours, and you’re sorry. If you’re still feeling defensive and want to try to justify any of these to me, either by arguing Trump is right to support some or all of this bigotry, or by deflecting with some “yeah but what about ____” excuse, you’re not ready yet. Wait.

And when you’re ready to say you oppose all these things that Trump stood for (openly, publically, that you either knew about or should have known about), then acknowledge that you supported every single one of these things by voting for him. I understand holding your nose to vote for a candidate who disagrees with you on an issue. We’ve all done that. But when we do it, we’re responsible even for the thing we held our noses about. We make a calculation that one thing is tolerable if it gets us something else. Well, a vote for Trump means, even if you oppose his racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious bigotry, you own those and thought the wellbeing of the vast majority of your fellow Americans was secondary to whatever you wanted Trump to do for you. Own it. And when you’re ready to say you were wrong, that you’re sorry, and that you’re not going to threaten Black people or Women or LGBTQI people or Mexican Americans or Muslims OR SUPPORT THOSE WHO DO just to get what you want ever again, ...when you are ready to apologize for that publicly, then I will believe you care about me and my loved ones again. It will be hard for me, but I pledge to you that I will remember the mistakes I’ve made, and I will forgive you.

I’ll be open about one of those mistakes right now: I was painfully naive about the quantity and quality of racism in my country right up until election night. I was wrong. I knew we still had a lot of racism, that it not only hid in the hearts of many of my fellow countrymen, but that it still infects our institutions and the ways those institutions interact. But I did not realize how bad it was, nor how much it had come to the surface during the Obama years as Republicans launched every kind of invective at Obama and more and more racists saw that as permission to allow their cultural insecurity to metastasize. I admit that my naivete was a function of privilege; by virtue of my skin color (and the fact that I’m not easily identified as being of Jewish descent by anti-semites), I was afforded the luxury of not worrying enough about racism. Ditto for the degree of sexism I was blind to, and could afford to be blind to thanks to my gender. As an agnostic of Jewish descent, I was already pretty sensitive to the oppression people of non-Christian faiths (or no faith) experience in our Christian dominated culture, ranging from the relatively innocent presumptions that everyone is Christian to the overt bigotry aimed most disgustingly as Muslims in America and abroad. But my status as a cis straight guy allowed me to underestimate the amount of hatefulness directed at the LGBTQI people around me. I was wrong. I admit it. I’m working hard to learn more and taking active steps to promote equity. That’s how I will forgive myself for participating in and benefiting from my privilege. If I can forgive myself, I should extend that to others who acknowledge their part in it and work to make it right.

Now if you’re thinking, “Screw this guy. I don’t need his forgiveness. I didn’t do anything wrong,” that’s fine; you have every right to believe that. But beliefs have consequences. If you support Donald Trump, you don’t care about me or my loved ones. And why should I keep engaging with people on FB who are actively disdainful of me and the people I love? Just to get out of my bubble? Trust me, I read a lot of news from different sources, so I can read the opinions of people who are disdainful of me and who are far more articulate than you are. If it’s just about learning others’ points of view, I don’t need to learn them from people who pretend to be my friends on FB. I’ll get a far more illuminating understanding from people who are honest about their disdain for me and the people I love. And I am under no obligation to remain friends with people who only are hateful to SOME of my loved ones. I do not have to tolerate your intolerance to be a tolerant person. That infantile argument shows a shocking lack of understanding of what tolerance is. I welcome friends who disagree with me on a host of issues. You want to debate what our environmental policy should be, what our tax policy should be, how our education system should be set up, whether this god or that one exists, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Fine. I tolerate a lot of different views. But If you don’t believe I or my loved ones have basic human rights and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, why would you want to engage with me anyway? Tolerance is not the highest moral virtue, just a principle that allows a pluralistic society to function, and if you support Trump’s racism, sexism, homophobia, and religious bigotry, you have already taken a stand against a pluralistic society, so you can’t demand tolerance from others. Higher moral goods, like respecting human dignity, demand intolerance of intolerance.

Okay, I really have to get back to work now. These novels are not going to edit themselves. I’m just going to hold onto this and copy-and-paste it each time an avowed Trump supporter comes back to say they aren’t a sexist, they just support one, or they aren’t a racist, they just support one. I don’t have time to re-write this for each of them, and if they are never ready to apologize but are willing to wait silently until that never rolls around, at least they won’t get between me and my work.  

 

Already I’m feeling compelled to apologise for this. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or expel them from my life. And then I remember that white supremacists were marching down the streets of an American city chanting Nazi slogans because Donald Trump and his supporters made them think that was okay! And I remind myself that my reluctance to hurt people’s feelings pales in comparison to what the targets of these white supremacists’ intimidation are feeling tonight. I can’t let my pathetic need for social approval keep me from speaking out against the horrific racism on display in Charlottesville, and I shouldn’t tolerate others’ pathetic need to avoid admitting error preventing them from condemning it. This is wrong. So, so wrong. And I won’t put up with people who support it, directly or indirectly, anymore.

Taxation is not theft. Sorry to be blunt, but that’s stupid.

Three times in the last two weeks, people have attempted to engage me in debates starting with their belief that all taxation is theft. These weren’t reasonable debates about whether tax rates should be higher or lower, or whether tax dollars should be spent on this or that. Those debates are legitimate, and every taxpayer should be concerned about the appropriate level of taxation and where our tax dollars are going. But these people were saying that ALL taxation is theft. Twice is I was duped into participating in these debates. It’s a mistake I don’t plan on making a third time. I’m writing this here so I can link to it whenever the need arises, and I encourage you to employ it when you come across one of these people. I was under the mistaken impression that this line of thinking was limited to teenage boys wearing bowties who believe Ayn Rand’s work is quality literature, and that most of them grow out of it before falling off of balconies at college frat parties or being elected to Congress. It turns out there are more of them than I thought, just as there are more people who believe the world is flat or 7000 years old than can be rationally justified. Lots of people have beliefs that I can’t agree with, but if they bring these people comfort and don’t cause them to hurt anyone else, I try to ignore them. Because I have been wrong about many things in my life but was unaware of it at the time, it logically follows that I am currently wrong about things and don’t know it, so I try not to pass judgement too harshly. But this particular belief that all taxation is theft is harmful to our polity; it’s manipulated by politicians who trick these dunderheads into supporting their tax cutting measures. Not all tax-cutting is bad, but when politicians can’t justify one based on its merits and turn to this ridiculous justification, you can be fairly certain they are  trying to pull something shady. Consequently, this false premise has to be addressed so that policy makers will be forced to explain tax cuts in terms of their benefits to taxpayers versus their costs to services. They’ll have to treat us like grown ups. But first we have to address this childish idea so that’s not on the table anymore.

The root of this notion, according to the people I argued with, is that taxation is compelled by the power of the government, and since it’s compulsory, it’s theft or extortion. First of all, things that are compulsory are not necessarily theft. We are compelled to breathe, to drink, to eat, to evacuate our bowels by biological necessity. Is that Mother Nature extorting us? I imagine one of these bowtie wearing teens as a toddler when his mother tells him to use the potty. He stamps his foot and cries,“I don’t wanna!” then hands her Frédéric Bastiat’s The Law and declares that, as a libertarian, he refuses to be compelled to urinate anywhere ever again.

In exasperation, his mother shouts, “Todd Blake Masterson III, you will use that potty like a big boy!”

But Todd screams, “Extortion!” and takes off across manicured lawn, past the servants quarters, down to the boathouse, where he grumbles about his mother’s socialism.

Taxation, at least in a democracy, is even less like extortion than the biological need to urinate. While Mother Nature can demand certain functions without any input from the animal at which she directs her will, in a democracy, We The People are the government. Sure, the government is not as responsive as anyone would like, but at the end of the day its only ability to compel behavior comes from our collective consent. People who think that taxation is extortion prefer to blame some faceless abstraction, “the government,” but what they really resent is their fellow citizens.

And the degree of their resentment is pretty shocking. One of the people who tried to argue this point with me was eventually reduced to posting memes to try to make his point. One depicted a man who was being forced by a group of coworkers to share in the cost of a pizza they’d ordered in his absence even though he didn’t want pizza. Another was about how, since lack of consent in sexual behavior is what changes it from sex to rape, taxation without consent is the equivalent of rape. Stop and think about that dichotomy longer than he did. He is saying taxation is both unwanted pizza and rape. I told him he’s either had an unusually positive rape experience or a very traumatizing pizza.

The pizza example is not too far off, though. We are compelled by our own desire to reap the benefits of community to share in costs, some of which will be for things we wouldn’t individually choose. But when taken to the taxation-is-theft extreme, this isn’t quite like a single unwanted pizza and feeling a bit resentful that it has mushrooms, or that you aren’t particularly hungry at that moment. It’s more being offered pizza and declaring that your inalienable rights are being trampled and anyone sharing the cost of a pizza is breaking one of the Ten Commandments. The people offering the pizza would be right to tell you to get over yourself. They certainly shouldn’t elect you to Congress for such an over-the-top reaction.

I feel a little uncomfortable criticizing a school of thought for being unrealistic. By American standards, I’m an idealist, which means I’m pretty moderate by European standards: I believe the free market has its virtues. I believe that competition improves our standard of living. I also recognize that there are areas where competition is, at best, impractical and inefficient, and often quite harmful. Some things are better left to the commons, like firefighting, national defense, education, health care, roadbuilding, and electrical power. Some things are more appropriate for public/private partnerships, like scientific research and supporting the arts. We should engage in robust debates about each of these and find a healthy balance in a mixed economy. If someone could show me that having three different fire departments to choose from would cost less and reduce the chance that my house would burn down without endangering the house of someone who had less means, I would swallow my pride and admit I’d been wrong about that sphere. So far, I haven’t seen any evidence that individual choice and competition make for better firefighting. Or schools. Or hospitals. And localized monopolies like my power company aren’t made more efficient by virtue of competition since I don’t have any choice in power companies. In these areas, it just makes more sense to pool resources and share costs, even though it necessarily means I will not get to choose how every dime is spent. My neighbors should have a say even if they would like more spent on the military than I do, or less spent on education than I would like. It’s not up to me alone. I live in a community, and I’m grateful for that. I have not been extorted.

Now, that doesn’t mean I enjoy paying taxes. But guess what: I don’t like paying my cell phone bill either. Or my car payment. Or my mortgage. But I like my phone, my car, and my house. I like most of the services purchased with my tax dollars, and even the ones that don’t benefit me personally allow me to live in a country that is healthier and wealthier than the alternative.

That’s where this taxation-is-theft idea is at its most infantile. It does not realistically grapple with the alternative. It’s grousing about paying taxes masquerading as intellectual political philosophy. I asked the people I argued with to describe the alternative to me. Would it be a failed state that could not compel them to pay taxes? One acknowledged that, without taxes to support a military, a single country that didn’t levy taxes would be overrun by its neighbors. Apparently this philosophy hinges on all countries adopting this anti-tax ideal simultaneously, or on creating an island of boat people without a country. So were either of the people I argued with trying to build a floating city or working to lobby all the countries of the world to adopt this anti-tax philosophy? Nope. Just whining online about socialism being too utopian, without any sense of irony. Luckily, I’m not one for eye rolling, or I would have pulled all the muscles in my ocular cavities.

Of course, these latest taxation-is-theft advocates are not the only ones I’ve come across. Without fail, they are entitled in one way or another and believe that they would personally benefit in a world without government, either because they are physically strong or are rich or have watched a lot of Walking Dead and are pretty sure they would come out on top after the zombie apocalypse. They assure me that it wouldn’t be an absolute hellscape because of “customary law.” Customary law is not only unscalable, but the kind of society it describes, where everyone must carry a firearm or, if they can afford it, buy a bulletproof car, to be downright dystopic. If the legal system is voluntary, we cannot collectively address the breaking of the customs upon which it depends. The social pressure that would need to be put in place to replace an explicit legal framework would be far more oppressive and far less flexible than one where people can vote to change laws. Think taxation takes away freedom? Try a culture of shaming to enforce social mores and see if that feels more free. The mechanism of majority rule is far from from perfect, but it's vastly superior to the mechanisms of shame or of might-makes-right. Worse, we would not enter into this atmosphere of absolute freedom on a level playing field. The people who most desperately want there not to be a government are the people who feel they would benefit most from the absence. But what about the very old, the disabled, children, the poor? Freedom to take care of yourself sounds great if you believe you're capable, but for most people that would be a vastly diminished existence. We come together and form a society where people are born into the social contract precisely because, at the point of birth, we're at our weakest and thus benefit most from that social contract. No infant, if it were capable, would say, "Leave me in the woods to fend for myself, Mommy! I want to be free of your tyranny!" The social contract ensures that the strong make sacrifices for the weak because they once were the weak and will be again.

So, if you tried to engage me in a discussion about taxation as theft and I posted a link to this, please don’t mistake that for an invitation to continue the debate. Instead, prove that you’ve read this far by doing us both a favor and choosing one of the following options:

Option A: Acknowledge that you have some power in our democracy and engage politically to have your tax dollars spent on things that you think are priorities for you and would also benefit your fellow citizens. Vote. Lobby your representatives. Try to persuade your fellow citizens. It will not always work out the way you want it to, but you’ll find that civic life is a lot better if you are an active participant.

Option B: Have the courage of your convictions, renounce your citizenship so this country will stop stealing from/extorting/raping/forcing unwanted pizza on you, and move to a country where you won’t have to pay taxes. Then, once you have actually been stolen from because there were not taxpayer funded police to protect you (or, more likely, they supported themselves by extorting you), or you were ripped off by a company that couldn’t be compelled to honor a contract by a functioning court system, or worse (probably not unwanted pizza), you may realize that there are a lot of things that are worse than paying taxes. But if you have a fine experience in that failed state and still believe that taxation is theft, wait a little bit. Like, decades. When you are in your nineties and living in your floating city without a government where people take care of you because of customary law, fire up that satellite internet connection and tell me about your great life without taxes, and how it works for everyone in your community and not just the selfish, entitled people who would have been okay regardless but didn’t want to share with those they found unworthy. I’ll probably have Alzheimer’s by then, but I’ll try to remember that you were way out ahead on the whole we-can-get-by-without-taxes idea and give you credit for being right. If you don’t mind, I’m not going to hold my breath, though.

Option C: Grow up.

Thanks for the Great Launch for The Digital Storm

Thanks to all the folks who came out for the launch party for the The Digital Storm. Writing is a solitary activity, so it means a lot when I get to talk with people who are excited about my writing (or who are willing to humor me). That's not throwing shade at anyone who couldn't make it; life happens. Special thanks to Yeasty Beasty for hosting, and for Isaac Mitchell and Kale Loveless, two of the three artists who produced the interior artwork and cover art that make the book so beautiful. (I wish Alfred Dudley III, the other artist, had also been able to come, but he lives in New York now, and that would have been a heckuva' commute.) Paige, as usual, "forgot" to be in front of the camera at all (if any of you got pictures of her, send them my way!), but she deserves the biggest thank you of all, not just for being my go-to photographer, but also for being my muse and support system rolled in one. 

(Click the pics to see the slideshow)