This is not okay! Black lives matter!

“Six California officers fire shots at rapper who had been asleep in car, killing him”

He was asleep in his car. 
Know how many times I've worried that if I take a nap in my car (which I do from time to time), I might be shot to death by police if I roll over in my sleep too fast? 
Zero. None. And any officer can run my plates and see I have a concealed-and-carry. I could have a gun in the car (though I rarely do). But I never worry I will be killed for taking a nap.
Because I'm white.
That's privilege.
I never even had to think about the fact that I don't have to worry about that.
That's privilege, too.
And every second white folks spend denying that is a second they aren't spending actively trying to make a more just world for people who do not have the luxury to not have to worry about extrajudicial police murders. 
So step up, white folks, and scream, "This is not okay! Black lives matter!"

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Review of Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone

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I just finished Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone. I won’t spoil it, but I want to do my part to convince everyone that they should read this marvelous novel!

Adeyemi’s book is set in the kingdom of Orïsha in a world that has been stripped of magic for eleven years. An evil (but believably evil) king took magic out of the world and used the opportunity to kill all the magic users, the Magi, easily identified by the white streaks in their hair. One of those murdered Magi was the mother of the novel’s hero, Zélie. Now, thanks to some fortuitous circumstances that are just believable enough we share some characters’ skepticism about divine intervention, Zélie has the opportunity to bring magic back into the world. The hefty 525 pages whizzes by as we follow Zélie and her allies on their quest.

Yeah, I got a signed copy by winning a contest on Twitter. Not gonna lie, I’m pretty proud to own this!

Yeah, I got a signed copy by winning a contest on Twitter. Not gonna lie, I’m pretty proud to own this!

It’s tricky to compare this book to others because I don’t want to make it sound derivative. It’s very imaginative and unique, and the ways it draws on other sources don’t feel cheap or exploitative. They aren’t really homages or allusions, either. Instead, Children of Blood and Bone feels like a fantasy that is tapping into deep human archetypes while doing something very new. That, for me, was the connection that made me think of other works. It’s not that Children of Blood and Bone copied any of them, but it was unique in a similar way. For example, I couldn’t help but think of Sang Kromah’s Djinn, even though the two books have little in common. Djinn is set in our world in the modern day but tells a Buffy-esque story involving Djinn rather than vampires. So what’s the connection? While Children of Blood and Bone and Djinn are radically different, both authors are drawing on elements of their own heritage and carefully selected bits of African folklore to breathe new life into fantasy, though in radically different ways.

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Children of Blood and Bone also made me think of Mikko Azul’s The Staff of Fire and Bone, and not just because of the similar titles. Azul’s world is an expansive fantasy world much like Adeyemi’s, with a deep lore that goes back to a mythological cosmology at the beginning of these worlds’ creations. Azul also taps into elements of folklore from cultures other than the traditional European ones that tend to populate high fantasy. I love that about both books.

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As I read Children of Blood and Bone, I also couldn’t help but think of Karen Eisenbrey’s Daughter of Magic. Both novels contemplate the way a society where only some people have magical ability might navigate that inescapable power imbalance. The two novels imagine that happening completely differently. In Ayedemi’s, the Magi are feared, slaughtered, and their children repressed to prevent magic from returning. In Eisenbrey’s, the wizards become something like civil servants, healing, investigating crimes, and preventing natural disasters. Yet there’s still a distrust, and Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone makes me wonder if the wizards of Eisenbrey’s world could easily find themselves in the same situation in the universe she’s created in Daughter of Magic.

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Adeyemi’s world also made me think of Avatar, the Last Airbender (the wonderful cartoon, not the horrible movie). I’m hesitant to even mention that because the worlds are so different. But both center on a conflict between people with magic and an authority that wants to wipe them out to consolidate its power. Adeyemi’s novel is more pointed in this regard. To its credit, it made me see Avatar, a cultural product I love, in a deeper way. Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone is more explicitly a parable about the way colonial powers and white authorities in them have treated People of Color and especially Black people in our world. Adeyemi graciously avoids making the novel explicitly about race which makes more sense in the narrative of her world, but I wouldn’t have minded if she had because I read it there right under the surface and appreciated it. Not only was this novel wrestling with questions about the moral dynamics of fighting back against oppression (Outright violent rebellion? Revenge? Working within the system without aiding the oppressor? Staying loyal to a country that is clearly doing evil?), but it focuses on the human cost of that oppression, making us feel each death, each torture, each loss of a loved one. Adeyemi reveals her intentionality in her afterward where she lists some of those names we can never hear too many times, Jordan Edwards, Tamir Rice, and Aiyana Stanley Jones. The novel made me think even more about the survivors, and I was glad to read the name Diamond Reynolds in the afterward, too. She, along with her four-year-old daughter, was in the car taking the video when Philando Castile was senselessly, unconscionably, unforgivably murdered. Children of Blood and Bone, though set in a fantasy kingdom of swords and magic, give us many characters who are like Diamond Reynolds, survivors who have to figure out how to live with the horror they’ve seen. It also gives us characters who maintain that oppression and try to justify it to themselves in various ways, and that’s part of what makes Adeyemi’s novel work so well. The villains never twirl their mustaches and relish their evil acts, no matter how gruesome their behavior. They believe they are doing what they have to do to maintain stability, to demonstrate their loyalty to their country, and to subjugate the people they’ve been taught to fear. If we’re ever going to open our eyes and address the fundamental rot of racism in our country (and in the rest of the world, all of which is infected by colonialism), we have to try to understand why people maintain systems of oppression, recognizing the human frailty of the oppressors without making excuses for their (our, my) behavior. None of Adeyemi’s characters, no matter how heroic, have clean hands by the end of the novel, and that’s a powerful choice and a strong statement Adeyemi has made about oppression and the process of combating it.

So, don’t read Children of Blood and Bone because the author is Black and lots of white people are suddenly waking up to the inequities in the publishing industry that have kept too many books by too many great Black authors out of readers’ hands. That’s a well-intentioned motivation, and if it brings more equality to publishing, that’s great, but that’s insufficient for the quality of this novel. And don’t just read it because you enjoy fantasy and want to embark on a thrilling quest story in a richly conceived universe. Children of Blood and Bone will provide that, but if you just want to get to the end of a quest and see someone throw a ring in a volcano, you could read a different series. Read this novel because, like all great literature, it’s empathy practice. We learn to love people who never existed so we can strengthen our empathy muscles and use them to embrace real people we meet. This novel will make you feel about oppression and resistance, and, in the end, it will inspire you to rise.






Interview on The Writing Life

I was interviewed on The Writing Life with Stephen Long. It was a really fun talk for me, and I think it will be an enjoyable watch for folks, too. We talked about the writing process, the publishing company, and more … and I didn’t even mess with my tie too many times!

Upon Revisiting Romeo and Juliet

I suggest you try this. It’s very rewarding.

Step 1. Read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. You might not like it the first time.  That's okay. You may say, “What? They tells us how it’s going to end at the very beginning?” Or, “What? They decide to get married on the first night they meet?” Or, “What? Entertainment that doesn’t have a happy ending? How is that supposed to be fun?”

Step 2. Read the play again. And again. And again. Five or six times a year for fifteen or so years. At some point, you’ll change. And not in a good way. You’ll get old and cynical. You may find yourself saying, “This is not a play about love. It’s about lust. And teenage impulsiveness. It presents suicide in an overly romantic light.”

Step 3. Go see the play done well. This is ideally accomplished at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, but you might pull it off elsewhere.

Step 4. Reflect on something you’ve told [gets out cocktail napkin. Does some quick math] approximately 2,250 students about this play, about how it’s marvelous precisely because, even though we know how it will end, we still care about the characters and hope it will turn out differently each time. Remember all those times you’ve told a classroom full of students that every time you see the show done live, you carry some tiny suspicion that this time they’ll surprise you with a twist ending. He doesn’t drink the poison! She wakes up just a little sooner! The friar arrives and finds them both alive! When the parents and the prince show up, they figure out what’s happened, everybody forgives everyone, and they all live happily ever after. Maybe this time it will go down that way. Maybe, just maybe.

Step 5. And then, on your eightieth time hanging out with Juliet and her Romeo, you realize your cynicism is wrong. Yes, it’s a play about lust. Yes, it’s a play about teenage impulsiveness. Yes, it paints suicide in an overly romantic light. But it is a play about love. Sure, there’s the naive, innocent, stupid and pure and beautiful love between these two kids. But the experience of watching the play is about adult love, too. We know how it might end. We know, in a way these young characters can’t, that there will be tragedy and pain. We know there will be miscommunication and bad timing and family politics. We know sometimes love will be pierced under a best friend’s arm, betrayed, sabotaged by family conflict, even canceled prematurely when someone gives up or dies. But we hope it will end differently this next time. We hope no one will poison love or stab it or banish it or run away when they hear the cops coming. We keep coming back for love, not the kids’ naive, dopey, doomed love, but our own hoping-against-everything-we-know kind of love.

Choosing to re-read or re-watch Romeo and Juliet is a recommitment to falling in love. Every heartbreak you’ve ever experienced is just the prologue. Maybe this time your love will turn out differently. And if it doesn’t, you can still choose to read it again.

What was that?

What was that?


I just had one of the the strangest pipe-related encounters of my life.


I smoke a pipe. When I’m out and about, people frequently come up to share their impressions. Some used to say it was odd to see someone so young smoking a pipe. That’s increasingly infrequent as I get older. I’m growing into the part, apparently. Others tell me they like the smell. Others tell me what the smell reminds them of: Generally their grandfathers. But the conversation I just had was … new.


I was smoking in a parking lot outside a coffee shop in a small town where my family had made a pitstop on the way back from a hike. A couple parked, and the woman walked into the coffeeshop, but the man came right for me. He had a big grin on his face, and he shouted at the top of his lungs, “September 22nd, 2014!”


I bit. “What happened?”


“I died. My daughter did CPR to bring me back. I had smoked a pipe. Well, I used to smoke a lot of marijuana. Then my wife made me stop. So I switched to a pipe a few years ago. And then I died.” He dropped his voice. “But I’m a rebellious smoker.” He reached into a pocket hidden behind the breast pocket of his shirt, which opened at the side. I don’t know if he bought a shirt with that secret pocket already installed, or if he added it himself. He pulled out a little cigar. “Now I smoke these. They’re made with pipe tobacco.” And he pointed to an image of a pipe printed in white on the side of the black little cigar.


I didn’t know how to respond. I think I said, “Cool!”


He went back to shouting loudly enough that his wife could have heard him if she hadn’t left already. “So, my wife saw you smoking that pipe and told me I should tell you that story. So now I did!” And then he turned, saw she was gone, and followed her into the coffee shop while I tried to figure out what to say.


I may have said, “That’s funny!” or “Wild!” or “Thanks!” none of which would have been quite right.


I don’t understand the moral of the story. Is it: Don’t smoke a lot of marijuana or you may switch to a pipe and die and be revived to go back to smoking pipe tobacco? Or: Continue smoking marijuana because switching to a pipe is potentially fatal? Or: Tell strangers a story when your wife tells you to, but make sure you undermine the central thesis so the stranger isn’t offended? Or: Smoking too much marijuana and being revived from death via CPR can cause you to tell stories in non-traditional ways at a socially inappropriate level of volume?


What am I supposed to be learning from this story?

WattPad Vs. Smashwords: An Experiment

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I'm going to try something, and I thought it might be helpful to my fellow indie authors if I share the results here so you can test this out for yourselves. One of my students suggested I give WattPad a try in order to get more feedback. I've used Smashwords in the past, and I don't know which is better. My next novel (working title: Do Not Read This Book) will come out sometime next year. It's off to my editors now, but my publishers have generously given me permission to release the book, chapter by chapter, as a serial, in order to get more feedback and build some buzz. I'll post a chapter a week, with links added here, and I'll track the readership and provide updates on the kind of feedback each site produces. That way my fellow authors can decide which is better for them. Will either be helpful? Both? I honestly don't know, but it will be fun to see!

Smashwords

Posted here on 8/17:

Chapter 1

Results as of 11/19

37 downloads

_____________________

Posted on 8/22

Chapter 2

Results as of 11/19

31 downloads

_____________________

Posted here on 8/25

Chapter 3

Results as of 11/19

27 downloads

_____________________

Posted here on 8/29

Chapter 4

Results as of 11/19

26 downloads

_____________________

Posted here on 9/2

Chapter 5

Results as of 11/19

27 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/7

Chapter 6

Results as of 11/19

24 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/12

Chapter 7

Results as of 11/19

25 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/14

Chapter 8

Results as of 11/19

26 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/14

Chapter 9

Results as of 11/19

30 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/23

Chapter 10

Results as of 11/19

34 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 9/27

Chapter 11

Results as of 11/19

31 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 10/2

Chapter 12

Results as of 11/19

27 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 10/8

Chapter 13

Results as of 11/19

20 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 10/18

Chapter 14

Results as of 11/19

19 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 10/21

Chapter 15

Results as of 11/19

26 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 10/28

Chapter 16

Results as of 11/19

21 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 11/3

Chapter 17

Results as of 11/19

18 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 11/3

Chapter 18

Results as of 11/19

12 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 11/16

Chapter 19

Results as of 11/19

6 downloads

____________________

Posted here on 11/19

Chapter 20

WattPad

Posted here on 8/17:

Chapter 1

Results as of 11/19

12 views

________________________

Posted here on 8/22

Chapter 2

Results as of 11/19

3 views

________________________

Posted here on 8/25

Chapter 3

Results as of 11/19

1 view

_____________________

Posted here on 8/29

Chapter 4

Results as of 11/19

1 view

_____________________

Posted here on 9/2

Chapter 5

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 9/7

Chapter 6

Results as of 11/19

2 views

____________________

Posted here on 9/12

Chapter 7

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 9/14

Chapter 8

Results as of 11/19

3 views

____________________

Posted here on 9/14

Chapter 9

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 9/23

Chapter 10

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 9/27

Chapter 11

Results as of 11/19

2 views

____________________

Posted here on 10/2

Chapter 12

Results as of 11/19

2 views

____________________

Posted here on 10/8

Chapter 13

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 10/18

Chapter 14

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 10/21

Chapter 15

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 10/28

Chapter 16

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 11/3

Chapter 17

Results as of 11/19

3 views

____________________

Posted here on 11/8

Chapter 18

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 11/16

Chapter 19

Results as of 11/19

1 view

____________________

Posted here on 11/19

Chapter 20

Open Letter to The People In On The Secret Knowledge

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Open Letter to The People In On The Secret Knowledge,

I just got "owned" in an argument, "own-the-libs" style, by this brilliant riposte from one of the members of your very exclusive club:

"Sheeple.... I don't blame you. Its[sic] the media and our government.... Hypatheically[sic] of course. Only about 30 people know the truth."

You win, dude! I can't recover from that. I'm going to go drown in my liberal tears until they melt my snowflake-ness.

...except...

I think we might want to address this figure of 30 people. I understand that you like being one of the few who has access to the secret knowledge that none of the rest of us understand. We are so deluded  by all of the media and government employees who get together in what must be a very large, dark room to collaborate on a single conspiracy upon which they so obviously always agree. I mean, I can't remember a time when members of the media or the government disagreed with one another, but I suppose if such a thing occurred it would still have been part of a clever false flag operation to trick us into thinking there is some variance of thought while actually promoting a single false narrative, right? 

As sheeple go, I'm pretty tolerant. If whips and chains and safewords do it for somebody, as long as they are getting down with consenting adults, I say, "Have a party." If somebody likes to dress up in an animal costume, either for sexual reasons of because it's how they find their community, that's fine. And if you have to think you are the only people who know the "real truth" in order to finish while you read your 4chan message boards and listen to Alex Jones shout at you in your mom's basement, I try not to yuck your yum. But we have to come to an understanding if we're going to protect your right to believe the crazy, batshit nonsense that gets you hard. 

Secret knowledge is not relevant in an argument about public policy.

Period.

Public policy needs to be made by people willing to share all the information they have with the public, and that policy should only be influenced by people who can successfully persuade the public that their perception benefits the public. 

Now, you may be saying to yourself, "Hey, I've been very open about my secret knowledge. I've been shouting to the rooftops about the world being 6000 years old, and flat as a pancake,  and run by lizard people as part of a New World Order globalist government scheme to take guns away from the last remaining human Christian white American males. It's not my fault all the various media outlets and government agencies aren't calling me to figure out what I've discovered."

Um, yeah, it kinda' is. See, the folks who convinced all us sheeple that the world is 4.543 billion years old, and it's round (actually an oblate spheroid that's 99.9967% round, but why be pedantic, right?) went to a lot of trouble to do so. As far as disproving the lizard people theories and New World Order stuff, no one had to work quite as hard, but you haven't put in nearly the legwork to get the degrees or taken on the risks those folks did in order to prove your theories to be correct. You've settled for your knowledge staying essentially private property. That's not to say that fringe ideas are always wrong. At one point notions like the world being licked out of the ice by a giant cow were quite popular in some quarters. Popularity is not a measure of accuracy. But, like it or not, popularity is a measure of how we make public policy in a democracy. So, until you convince the majority of people that we're living under the thumb of a media conspiracy run by lizards in human form, you can't dictate that we make public policy based on the imminent lizard threat, any more that you can say we need to take away old people's social security checks and put all that money into trying to catch the nefarious fairies who keep sticking your hand in a bowl of warm water to make you wet the bed each night, then whisking away the evidence before you wake up each morning. This may be the case, but it is not a public concern. 

So, henceforth, we're not going to agree to disagree, exactly. You are going to keep on calling sheeple like me names and shaking your head and feeling superior because you've cracked the big code. And I'm going to keep reminding you that your big revelation is no more or less shameful than your bed-wetting problem or somebody else's furry fetish; it's something you need to learn to keep to yourself. The roughly 325.7 million Americans get to solve the problems that actually concern us based on what we have seen and read and learned, and you thirty get to enjoy knowing the rest of us are concerned about the wrong things because we've all been tricked. Fine. But we're going to try to solve the problems we see as real, and you're going to have to convince us your theories are real or stay out of our way. We're just simple sheeple who read books and take classes and watch the news from all the people who you know are tricking us, and we want to solve the problems we experience, not the ones that you're sure are being hidden from us. 

Oh, and I suspect there are a lot more than 30 of you, but I also don't think math facts are the kinds of facts you fetishize, so I can see where that could cause problems. 

So, please, go back to your basement. And, for the love of our lizard queen, please wash those sheets.

Your fellow citizen of a democracy (or am I secretly a lizard? Bwa-ha-ha-ha!),

Sheeple #325,699,970

After


After the tyrant was deposed

by time

(he never felt the sting of justice

just dawdled off to his dottage

self-righteous to the last)

his monument was defaced

his face

a punchline on t-shirts.


The children he stole were given back to their mothers

mostly.


The wall never was built

but the families ripped apart came back together

mostly.


The soil of the country

wore more scars

scars upon scars

but too many to pin blame.


His laws were overturned

one by one

slowly

and his signature

made each less likely to stand.

And the men who made his idle thought into vicious plans

and his insults into bureaucratic systems

were forgiven

(the women were not).


The respect lost

was respect lost

maybe never deserved

none left could demand it

after the tyrant.


His party, his followers

said they were never his party, his followers

and though their immunity to evidence

was evidence

reminding them proved too exhausting.


And the people who were

not the tyrant’s targets

forgot

and the targets were dismissed as bitter

and told to stop

like their justice

was last fall’s fashion.


Because forgetting how bad it was

was still better

than a lot of people

would have allowed it to get.


And who wants to think about

how bad they would have let it get

after?

A Weekend of Sexism on Parade

This last weekend provided some very powerful examples of sexism. I, as a man, had the luxury to not fully appreciate the ubiquity of these before. The first was glaring and galling. The second was subtle and pernicious. Both are worthy of some serious soul-searching reflection.

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But before we get to this weekend, some context.

A few years ago, when I heard about Kamila Shamsie’s challenge to make 2018 The Year of Publishing Women, I shared the idea with my wife and co-publisher, Paige, and we jumped at it. Shamsie has since admitted that she proposed the idea as a provocation rather than a realistic suggestion, but it was perfect for us. Our publishing company, Not a Pipe Publishing, was just starting out. Announcing our acceptance of the challenge was a way to attract the attention of some amazing authors. We’d already signed a few, and the men were just as excited about the idea as the women. It wasn’t a completely self-serving business decision; Paige and are both ardent feminists, and we wanted to participate in taking some action to move the publishing industry closer to equality. I believed, at the time, that sexism in publishing was the consequence of unconscious bias and a systemic inclination toward a kind of conservatism that is not ideological but rooted in inertia. Companies publish books based on what is similar to what has sold in the past. Reviewers review books based on which books have been the most discussed in the past. Awards committees give out prizes to books that are getting lots of reviews and which are like those that have won in the past. Bookstores shelves books that are similar to those which have received lots of reviews and won lots of awards in the past. And because women were locked out of publishing for centuries, even though women write more books, buy more books, and read more books than men, all these institutional forces push the industry towards the books that have been more successful going back to Homer and Plato and Aeschylus. Lots of the people involved in this chain of decision-making were probably unaware of the bias or felt incapable of changing it, I thought. If we could just bring attention to it, it would be diminished, at least somewhat.

That’s what I thought.

I was wrong.

In the years since we accepted the challenge, I’ve had my eyes opened to systemic sexism that is far more conscious. I heard a very successful literary agent explain to a group of people that women are more likely to write bad books because they are staying at home and living off their husbands, while the men who write are more serious about their craft because they are risking their role as breadwinners to be writers. I spoke with other agents about the responses they get to rejection letters; women tend to accept rejection, while men sometimes write horrifying replies about how the female agents are stupid bitches who don’t recognize their genius. I don’t get those replies, but I have seen that when I say we’re not accepting submissions, women politely take my card and note when we will be open, then submit when we ask for their manuscripts. Men ignore me and pitch anyway.

Not all men. I know. But always men. Only men.

Over the last few years, I’ve also kept up on the stories of blatant, conscious, vile sexual harassment stunting women’s careers. Harvey Weinstein gets outsized attention for being the most famous and the most disgusting pig, but I’ve watched as some of my literary heroes have been revealed to be piglets to his county fair prize winner. I don’t know if all the stories are true, of course, but I know that it’s vanishingly rare for women to make up stories of abuse. It’s appropriate that our courts maintain the principle of innocent until proven guilty when deciding criminal culpability, but we all get to use our own judgement when deciding who to look up to, and choosing to believe or disbelieve an accuser violates the principle of innocent until proven guilty either way. If we decide he’s innocent until proven guilty, then she’s guilty of being a liar until the case is adjudicated. So if we’re going to convict the accuser of being a liar or convict the accused of being a creep in the court of our own hearts, we can and should use a lower standard of evidence, and we should check ourselves when our admiration of the accused’s work is clouding our judgement. Talented people do horrible things, too, and most victims of sexual assault and harassment never tell anyone. When they do, our skepticism silences more victims. Until we live in a society where victims are so confident they will be believed that fake-victims regularly abuse our trust, we should believe victims. I know that’s scary for men. We worry about being falsely accused. But our fear should not outweigh our concern for victims any more than our admiration of an abusers’ novels or comedy or movies should outweigh the damage they have done to their victims. I believe the accusers, and as more of them have come forward, it’s eroded my ability to believe the bias in publishing is simply unconscious.

I’ve also had to acknowledge my part. I teach high school English. A teaching coach came into my classroom a few years ago and took notes about who I called on while I taught my students. Sure enough, I was calling on the boys the most, and I was never calling on the girls who didn’t raise their hands. Confronted with this information, I got defensive. It wasn’t my fault some of the girls weren’t raising their hands, right? Only, it is. Before that little girl ever started school, she was already getting the message that her opinion wasn’t as valuable. And before that little boy was in school, he was being taught that his opinion was authoritative. And all of us reinforce those beliefs when we keep calling on the boys and not calling on the girls. One by one, the boys look around and learn that they should be raising their hands because that’s what boys do. And even my girls who are raising their hands are looking around and seeing that their female peers are doing so less and less, and they are getting the message they should stop. That’s on me. Part of my job is to break that trend, to call on all the students at times even when they don’t raise their hands, to affirmatively say, “What do you think? I want to know your opinion,” and to implicitly say, ...because your opinion matters to me. Because there’s at least one man in your life who cares about your opinion just as much as he cares about the opinion of the boy next to you. I had to learn to do that, and I’m still working to get more consistent at it. It is just as important or more important a lesson to teach my students, female and male, as any of my language arts curriculum.

And it would be disingenuous for me pretend that my own sexism is limited to neglecting affirmative steps. When I look back at things I’ve done and said in my life, I have to acknowledge harm I’ve caused. I remember, when I was sixteen, I once yelled a gross catcall at a woman just to impress the guys in the car with me. In that moment, I’m sure I scared her, degraded her, and ruined her day, and I didn’t care about her opinion at all. All I cared about was the opinion of the boys in the car with me. And the woman was pushing a stroller! Even if the child in that stroller was too young to understand what I said to her/his mother, I was already laying the foundation that this was something men did to women and something which her/his mother had to endure simply because she was female. And I can never take that back.

Nor can I take back the times when, as a single man, I treated women as objects to be acquired. Nor the way I treated my former girlfriends as though intimacy was something I had to persuade them to relinquish. I have a lot of guilt in this area, and none of it will be expunged by publishing women’s novels or retweeting women’s tweets or encouraging any of my current students, because those actions don’t redress any injury I caused to the individuals I harmed.

But I can listen to my wife and take her advice. She says the best thing we can do is to raise a son who will be better, and she’s right.

So I offer the stories of this weekend to any of you raising boys. Keep these in mind when choosing how to teach them about how they should behave.

I was signing novels at a bookstore on Friday along with some other authors. Most of us were inside the store, but one of my colleagues, a friend and a fellow author published by Not a Pipe Publishing, chose to set her table up just outside the store to encourage passersby to come in and visit the rest of us. I was too far away to hear all of her interaction with a particular guy who came up to her table, but he caught my attention because he was loudly offering to buy one of her books.

Hey, she made a sale, I thought. Good!

No. Not good at all.

He wasn’t offering to buy her books because he was interested in reading them. As I eavesdropped, I realized he was trying to bribe her to leave the signing early and come with him to a concert at a bar down the street. She politely explained that she couldn’t leave early, that she’d already told some young readers to come by and get books, and she was waiting for them. He offered to buy two of her books. Then three. Then he asked how many it would take to get her to leave with him immediately.

And here’s where my privilege really kicked in: Instead of acknowledging what he was doing, I immediately assumed that he must have been a friend of hers who was making some tacky joke. Because nobody could be that crass, right? I was doing mental gymnastics to try to justify his behavior. Why? Because she didn’t sound upset. She kept politely refusing, laughing off his increasing offers and increasingly strident requests that she come with him. Later she told me that she went out of her way to mention her husband, not in a confrontational way, but just as a hint. He said her husband didn’t need to know! He was trying to buy a date (and who knows what else) for the cost of three paperbacks.

And she just took it in stride. She is not only a talented novelist, but an accomplished teacher, a recognized educational leader, and the co-owner of a small business. She had clearly said, “No,” about a dozen times. But he refused to hear her. By the time I was realizing he was not a friend of hers and I should stand up and at least go out there, she’d convinced him to leave by enduring his insulting proposition. She didn’t confront the underlying premise that her romantic attention and probably her body could be purchased for the cost of three paperbacks, not because she accepts that as true, but because it would have extended the interaction, escalated the confrontation, and perhaps become physically unsafe. How many times can anyone calmly endure that without starting to let it seep into their self concept? Even without accepting that she was worth about 45 bucks, she had at least accepted that a man could treat her as though she was worth 45 bucks without jumping out of her chair and kicking him in the balls. How many more of those interactions would it take to lead her, or someone who was younger, had less of a strong support structure, less of a defined self-concept than this woman has, to start to believe that this kind of interaction is acceptable?

The same day I was contemplating that question, I had the following interaction with an editor our company is hiring to clean up some of our novels. Like our author, this editor is a successful, experienced, and accomplished professional.  She worked for a small press before going to work for a university press, and now she has gone freelance. She was telling me about the transition from the small press to the university press where she edited the work of PhDs. “It took a while for a couple of them to actually trust their work to me. This past December, I edited a piece for publication in a magazine; it needed significant cutting. I took out a lot of wordiness, really tightened it up. The prof thanked me, seemed impressed. ‘I'm good at this,’ I told him.

“I realized after I said it that I had not ever said anything like that before. And I wondered if it was a gendered statement. Women are not expected to go around telling men that they are good at particular tasks.”

I think about this in the context of what the author faced at the signing. She couldn’t say, “Look, I know you want to take me out on a date because I’m good looking, and I might take that as a compliment if you also recognized that I’m an author at a signing, that I have other obligations than your interests, and that my interests outweigh yours right now because I’m good at what I do! Now piss off.” There is an indirect but significant relationship between all the messages women receive that inhibit their ability to articulate their own worth and the way that they are conditioned to endure diminishing treatment from men.

On the same weekend I was confronted with both these examples (at the same freakin’ time!) one of my former students posted a question to her page on Facebook. “Do you think women or men are more oppressed? It’d be nice if you’d elaborate too!”

I hopped in: “Well, women get paid less for doing the same work, have to work harder to be taken seriously, and when they do achieve the same levels of authority as men, they are disparaged for it. Men are oppressed by sexist ideas of what men are supposed to be, but not nearly the same way women are oppressed by ideas about what women are supposed to be. And when it comes to romance, Margaret Atwood summed it up well: Men fear that women will reject them. Women fear that men will kill them.”

A woman replied: “I believe white men are blamed for everything that's bad, so they may be more oppressed. Women have more choices available to them and generally have more control in relationships and family life.”

This is so demonstrably wrong that it’s absurd, and I wanted to scream. It proves what Nobel Peace Prize Winner Shirin Ebadi wrote: “Women are the victims of this patriarchal culture, but they are also its carriers. Let us keep in mind that every oppressive man was raised in the confines of his mother's home.” And yet, while it may or may not be helpful for a man to ask men to notice the patriarchy, I don’t think it would be that useful for me to try to mansplain the concept of the patriarchy to a woman, so I refrained.

One of those white men she thought was blamed for everything, another former student of mine, did reply, and he seemed comfortable with that notion, though he may have just been trying to be polite. He wrote about how both men and women are oppressed in different ways. That was more politeness than I could bear.

“You're right,” I told my peace-making white male former student, “it's not the same. But we should also watch out for false equivalence. The two kinds of oppression are different. Toxic masculinity twists men into all kinds of pretzels we don't want to be in in attempts to be ‘manly,’ sometimes with very serious consequences. There's no way to measure, but my guess is that men are pressured, culturally, into riskier behaviors than they would choose otherwise on an order that leads to lots of unnecessary deaths. Heck, I once watched a guy trying to impress some girls dive head first into some shallow water. He ended up scratching a lot of his face and chest off, but it could have been a lot worse. And why? Because he thought they would be impressed. And when you look at the mass shooting in Norway a few years ago and the one at Virginia Tech, both shooters were responding to rejection by women and the feeling that they, as men, weren't being as respected as they felt they deserved from women. That's toxic masculinity at its most poisonous. But even then, we need to acknowledge that it's a lot worse for women. Imagine if you were sitting in a college classroom and every single person in there was saying, ‘White men are all evil, and we hate you for being one of them!’ And it hurt your feelings and you got up and left. That would be a bad experience, it would be wrong, it would be unfair, and it certainly qualifies as oppression of a kind. And at the same time that you could be going through that, 100 times as many (a thousand, 10 thousand?) women are being beaten and raped by their partners, while the number of men being beaten and raped by female partners is vanishingly small. Both oppressed? Sure. But every time a white man complains about how hard it is to be blamed for things other white men have done, I cringe. They don't sound like they are pointing out a real injustice. By creating a false equivalence, they reinforce the idea that they don't get it. It's like meeting someone who just became a paraplegic and saying you feel like you've both suffered because you stubbed your toe once. Yeah, stubbing your toe hurts. But to all my fellow white guys out there, c'mon, dudes! Read the room!”

But that’s wrong, too, not in substance but in approach. It doesn’t help to tell butthurt cis straight white men of means to stop whining about the fact that people are finally waking up to centuries of white male oppression and it makes them uncomfortable to hear about it. No one likes to be told that the thing that hurts them isn’t a big deal. That’s why I want to offer these examples, not because I’ve figured out their full implications, but because I think the only way people, men especially, are going to look beyond their own fear of the loss of cultural dominance is to provide very concrete examples of mistreatment of others that we can avoid. Maybe we can start with refraining from treating an author like she can be bought and eventually move all the way to recognizing that an editor is a lot more talented and qualified than she feels capable of admitting.

And if you, like me, have a son, have this conversation very directly. Tell him that women put up with a lot of stuff that we don’t have to. Tell him it’s not fair. Tell him that putting up with mistreatment for long enough leads anyone to start to think it’s normal and they deserve it. Tell your son to recognize that and challenge it. Tell your son that he can’t just stop at fair but needs to push on through to equal, and a lot of times that means working for a degree of equality a woman doesn’t feel comfortable demanding. And that goes for a Person of Color, and LGBTQIA person, a person from a minority religion, an immigrant, a differently-abled person, a person who grew up in poverty or an abusive household, or anyone else who has been taught they they don’t deserve equality.

And you might want to mention to your son that you’re still learning. My son is well aware that I don’t have it all figured out (he knows I don’t have much of anything figured out). I hope that makes him feel more comfortable growing up to be a man who doesn’t think he has all the answers, either.