On Doing Something

I know all about the hating and the sneering.  I’m a member of the why-bother generation myself.  But why did I bother to come out here tonight?  And why did you?  I mean, it’s time.  It begins with us.  Not with politicians, the experts, or the teachers, but with us.  With you, and with me.  The ones who need it most. – Happy Harry Hardon, Pump Up the Volume

I was born in 1980.  That makes me either a young Generation Xer, or an old Millenial.  I used to identify as “Gen Y,” back when that was a thing, and I still kind of do.  The above excerpt is why.  Pump Up the Volume was a seminal movie for me, and it shaped my life in probably more ways than is directly comfortable.

There is, among people of my age range, a deep-set cynicism.  Everybody knows that the world is broken, and nobody can see a solution.  We complain about it on Facebook.  But, at the same time, we talk about how goofy the older generations are.  We mock the churches, we mock the social clubs who try to do at least some bit of good in our communities.  We want to see big changes, but we don’t put in the work for little ones.

Sorry, fellow millenials.  But you know it’s true.

There is a sense – and social media has become a large part of this sense – but there is a sense that complaining about something and doing something are the same thing.  If you repost a meme about (insert issue of choice here), then you’re doing your part.  You can be as strident as you want to, because reposting a meme has all of the illusion of being pro-active, with none of the actual investment.

And still we sneer at those who put in the work.  We complain about homelessness, but we don’t volunteer at the shelter.  We point out the problems with poverty, but we don’t work at the food bank.  We complain about discrimination, but the only people we talk to about it are people who agree with us.  We want to “raise awareness,” as though raising awareness and fixing the problem are the same thing.

Here’s a thing:  it’s not.

So, I’ve been the chairman of the board of a local non-profit for a little over a year now.  We provide housing and support services for homeless teenagers.  It’s not “raising awareness,” it’s “actually putting a roof over someone’s head and food in their bowl.”  There’s a difference, folks; that second one is a lot harder.

But today, I took a new step.  One that, had you asked me about it five years ago, I would have shrugged off in a cynical haze.

Today, I was inducted as a member of the Skookum Rotary Club.

Wait.  Hold that thought in your head for a second.  That reaction you just had?  The one where you asked yourself, “Frog?  Rotary?  Why?  WTF? How in the world do those two things go together?”  Hold on that thought for a second, because I am here to tell you this:  that reaction is the entire problem with our generation.

Let’s talk about the reaction I would have had to that news if you’d asked me five years ago.

Five years ago, I viewed all such gatherings (Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, etc.) as futile endeavors.  As places where people gathered to pat themselves on the back for helping without actually having to help people.  I had that assumption because I had a different, more fundamental, more disturbing assumption:  any attempt to render such assistance will ultimately fail in the face of the overwhelming entropy that is humanity.

Boom.  There it is.  Everything sucks, and doing small things on a local level isn’t going to change the fact that everything sucks.  So forming these organizations that do small things on a local level is a waste of time.  Because I could be using that time to post Facebook memes about the bigger issues on a national level.

Now that I type it, it seems silly.  It was silly.  But there you have it; the flawed logic that I contained, and that I believe is contained within a not-insubstantial number of you.

I’ve been going to the Skookum Rotary meetings for about a month and a half now, and I’ve discovered something:  the people there are (1) by and large of an older generation than me, and (2) devoted to doing good in the world.  They understand that they can’t do it by themselves, but they also understand that their contributions can help, with others, slightly edge the world in a positive direction.

In the time I’ve been going to the meetings, I’ve watched local students get scholarships.  I’ve watched local schools get funding for programs their own budgets couldn’t cover.  I’ve watched local non-profits get funds to help people.  And I’ve watched the Rotarians working to make all of these things happen, without expecting praise for it in return.  They don’t do it to be lauded by their peers.  They don’t do it so that everyone on Facebook can hit a “like” button and assuage a fragile ego.  They do it because they see this as the way they can make the world a better place.

And…they’re right.

No, the efforts of the Skookum Rotary Club are not, in and of themselves, going to completely change the world for the better.  But the efforts these good, honest people are putting in are one grueling step towards that goal, and one that they’re willing to take.  Instead of going onto a social media site and demanding massive change right now with no work, they do and expect the exact opposite.  They go to their local club meeting and put in a massive amount of work for a small amount of change, because all change is good.  All improvements are worthwhile.  And actually moving the world in the correct direction is a long, slow process.

I am throwing my lot in with these old people who ignore the easy life of cynicism for the arduous path of optimism.  I am signing up to throw my back behind the work that they do, because I’ve seen them do more actual good than anyone simply reposting Facebook memes.  This isn’t an announcement that I’m going to stop posting on Facebook; I’m still a loudmouth know-it-all.

But irony was my shield.  So long as I believed nothing good could be done, I didn’t have to trouble myself to do it.  Now that I know that positive change is possible in small increments, I can’t ignore my own ability to contribute in some way, however small.

This isn’t a call for everyone to join Rotary.  That’s the way I’m going, but everyone has their own path.  This is a call for you to take a second, just this one second staring at your screen, and think to yourself about what you could be doing instead.  What time could you contribute, and how, to make the world just a tiny bit better?

Because if all of us did that, I assure you that the tiny bits would add up a hell of a lot bigger than any of us could initially dare to dream.

This is how come we lose so GD always.

You know why people don’t like liberals?  Cause they lose.  If liberals are so fucking smart how come they lose so God-Damned Always?  – Will McAvoy, The Newsroom

By now, anyone who is internet savvy enough to read this blog has already seen the opening scene of The Newsroom.  You’ve watched with glee as Aaron Sorkin’s always-sharp pen destroys the concept that America is the greatest country in the world.  McAvoy runs rampant at both sides of the political system, and effectively dismantles and patriotic jingoism anyone that may be watching has.

But this line is buried, kind of at the top of the rant, and it’s the line we need to be paying more attention to.  If liberals are so fucking smart, how come they lose so God-Damned Always?

Well, we’ve seen some examples.  The Bernie-or-Busters have given us a fantastic repeat of the Nader supporters showing us what it was like to eat our own.  But not even that is the real issue.

No, the real issue comes with things like our response to mass shootings.

Let me throw out some data points for you, people:

1.  The Constitution must be amended, or the Supreme Court must change its interpretation of the Second Amendment, for the guns to get taken away.

Please don’t respond to this post telling me all the good reasons (or the bad ones) for gun control.  Gun control is a losing issue for us.  The Constitution is basically the stopgap, the thing that makes it an issue we can scream and rant about all day, but not do anything about.  That can be a good thing for us, too, by the way – that’s the thing making gay marriage and abortions legal, after all.  But it can put a stop to our reforms.

Put mildly, gun control is a loser.  Every time we gear up for a fight about guns and gun control, we lose.  And we look more and more silly each time.

2.  The political response to mass shootings is beginning to get predictable.  Which means entrenched.  Which means bad.

We have hit a point in our country that I never, ever wanted us to hit, but it’s time to admit that we’re there.

Stalin once said “One death is a tragedy.  A million deaths is a statistic.”  That’s gruesome, and horrible, and not entirely wrong.  We’ve now had so many mass shootings in this country that everyone who pays attention to the news cycles at all already knows what comes next.

Step One, mass shooting.  Step Two, hopes and prayers.  Step Three, Liberals talk about guns and conservatives talk about mental health.  Step Four, nothing gets done and we all get distracted because Kanye did something outrageous and there’s a video of it up on YouTube.

Rinse, repeat.

3.  These two factors mean that no mass shooting will result in gun control laws.

With each successive mass shooting, the shock value gets less and less, which means the political motivation to do things gets less and less.  Orlando was horrible.  In a week, we won’t be talking about it.  All the politicians have to do is talk for a week, then change the subject.  That’s it.

It is to the advantage of politicians to keep issues alive.  Doing something is not as important as having an opinion on something.  If there’s an issue you don’t have resolution on, then you are more likely to vote for the person who espouses your opinion.  Democractic politicians know point #1 damned well; they’re never going to make the kind of gun laws we need because they can’t.

But they can talk about how much we need them and rack up massive points with the base without ever actually doing anything.  Because doing something means fixing a problem, and that problem is giving you far more votes than fixing it would, even were fixing it possible.

4.  The mental health system in this country is a shambles.

It really is.  We’re terribly underfunded, and there’s a constant use of the criminal justice system to provide mental health services.  Mental health is a real issue, it’s a healthcare issue, it’s a progressive issue.

Will doing something about mental health stop mass shootings?  Almost certainly not.

But it will help a massive segment of the population that’s struggling right now.

5.  Republicans tend to be the ones holding back our mental health systems.

All the issues with our mental health system?  Almost all of them exist because a Republican doesn’t want to spend money on crazy people.  So our mentally ill are suffering in order to get more military spending and more tax breaks for the wealthy.

6.  Republicans could be forced to eat mental health reforms in the wake of a mass shooting.

Mental Health is the Republican go-to explanation why shootings happen.  Guns don’t kill people, people kill people; we have heard that mantra.  And (according to them) the mentally ill are to blame for these shootings, not the fact that you can walk into any Wal-Mart and pick yourself up an assault rifle.

Now, the Democrat’s response to this is to call it out for being bollocks.  And that’s a fair response, because it is mostly bollocks.  But it isn’t a smart response.  Because as soon as the Republicans start sounding off about mental health, we have an opportunity.  A golden opportunity.  Get the Republicans on board to fix a mental health system in order to save the guns that nobody was taking anyways!

7.  There will be another mass shooting

We’re getting them pretty quick, nowadays.  There will be another one.  We’re not implementing gun control (see above).  Institute your mental health reforms.  Put as much towards mental health reforms as you can, because (1) you actually have an opportunity to get things done, and (2) you are letting the Republicans walk far, far out on a limb.  Mental health money should have stopped mass shootings, right?  Well, it didn’t.  There’s some more corpses.

By agreeing to work with Republicans on mental health funding, you play their hand against them.  Either they give us a lot of money to deal with mental health, or they publicly destroy their own argument vis-a-vis these shootings.  As there is going to be another shooting later anyways, we can go after them on guns after we’ve used their money to deal with an issue we want dealt with, and simultaneously shown that their way doesn’t work.  We win, twice.

But, sadly, we’re not doing it.   We’re not going to take this maneuver; we’re just going to rant and rave about gun control.  And nothing will be done, because nobody wants to do anything about it other than talk.

We can’t prevent the next mass shooting.  We may be able to prevent the one after that if we played the politics perfectly.  But we won’t, because we’re liberals, and we lose so goddamned always.

The Pain of Reentry

I’m not going to do a con report for Miscon.  Miscon was easily the greatest con experience Esther and I have had yet.

This wasn’t because of the con staff (who were still great), or the hotel staff (who weren’t).  Miscon is the con where, for lack of a better term, the fact of our writing as a career really seemed possible.

That’s painful knowledge to have.

I have a good 9-to-5 day job that I don’t plan on quitting anytime soon.  I need the income on that to pay the mortgage and eat, both things I enjoy doing.  Esther is the same way.  And the proceeds we received from Miscon were not so extravagant as to replace those funds.  We didn’t sell enough to actually jump off a cliff and start our writing career.

We sold enough to make it seem possible.

Maybe it was headily spending so much time with A-listers like Kevin J. Anderson, Chris Paolini, or Jim Butcher (the last of which is basically responsible for us thinking we could become writers at all).  Maybe it was the fact that people were actively searching the con for our book, and pestering table dealers to find it.  Maybe it was the crowd of people who slowly filtered under the tent as I did my reading.  More likely, it was the combination of those things, but it made me really look at myself and say “Holy crap.  This, too, could be yours.

Miscon was work.  And Westercon is going to be even more work.  But we walked out of Miscon having, for a short window of time, played with the big boys.

And now I’m not.

Now I’m back at my desk.  I just had the asshole du jour who’s crashing off heroin tell me I’m an idiot because I can’t immediately get him out of jail.  And I keep thinking back to those three perfect days where I wasn’t Peter Jones, Public Defender.  I was Frog Jones, fantasy author.

There is nothing like hope to make a situation that much more painful.

So, here’s the thing.  Before Miscon, a career as an author seemed like a dream.  One of those things you talk about like you talk about winning the lottery.  Fun to fantasize about, fun to think about, not a thing that could actually happen to us.  Oh, we’ve got books out.  They’re even really good books.  But the idea of that being your life?  Of someone on the street asking me what I do and my knee-jerk response being “I’m an author” instead of “I’m a public defender?”  We did not, realistically, believe that day could exist at some point.

Now we do.  It has been demonstrated to us in the numbers of our sales, in the response of the audience.  It has been demonstrated to us in the respect of authors who write alongside us, and in the faces of fans who get excited when we sign a book.  Miscon is not the con that broke us loose financially.  It is the moment we broke loose emotionally.

Guess what?  We want it, now.  We want it.  And the fact that we now know it is possible means we want it that much now.

 

We will have the draft of Black Powder Goddess, our new book in an entirely new world, into the revision stage by the end of June.  Graceless, the fourth book in the Gift of Grace series, is next.  Esther and I are making a solemn, public pledge.  We will be writing a thousand words a day.  Come hell or high water, we will produce a thousand words a day, each.  And we will spend weekend time editing one project while drafting another.

Because you, the fans, have asked for it.  Have chased us for it.  Have pestered Kevin Anderson to tell us where our books are.  And that tells us that you, our fan base, want this for us as much as we want it for ourselves.

No, I’m not quitting my job.  Nor is Esther.  Our jobs are what make our lives possible.  But we aren’t going to be “too tired” to get our writing done.  We aren’t going to need to do something else first.  We have gotten a taste of what could be, if we work for it.  And coming back to our normal lives has only emphasized how much we want it to be.

So, thank you.  Thank you, fans, for showing us what we could have.  Thank you, authors who have been here before us, for accepting that we have the potential to walk among you.  For the first time it feels like we actually do.

And in that one chance, that one possibility, there is more exquisite joy and excruciating pain than we have had at any point in time.  But there is also this:  if we can, we will.  If that chance is there, we will seize it.  We’ve had a taste.

And we want more.

As a result, brace yourselves.  Black Powder Goddess is easily the best thing we’ve written yet, and it’s not edited.  Graceless is plotted, and the twists we have for Robert and Andrea should leave you breathless.  And we’re not stopping until enough people join your ranks to make sure that our time as authors is no longer temporary.