Ain’t Nobody Got Time For Your Whataboutism

I have a terrible habit of commenting on news stories that I see on Facebook. And especially when the story is about social justice, or race relations, or politics in general.

I know I shouldn’t. I know that a distressing majority of the comments I’m going to get in response will be from some stupid dipshit with no understanding of the issue who just wants to make edgy jokes at the expense of a minority, if not outright Nazi-ideology hate speech.

But sometimes the response will be my new favorite thing to encounter in the wild: whataboutism.

If you’ve spent any time on the internet in the last couple of years, you’ll likely recognize the term. If not, you’re still probably familiar with the concept:

Whataboutism is when I say that I’m glad the Proud Boys are getting sued by a Black church, and some white supremacist shows up to say, “Well, what about Antifa burning down cities?”

Whataboutism is when I say that trans rights are human rights, and some transphobe shows up to say, “Well, what about liberals killing babies?”

Whataboutism is when I say Black Lives Matter and some racist shows up to say, “Well, what about white lives?”

These are all real examples that happened to me in Facebook comment sections in the past week, by the way.

Whataboutism is a lazy, silly way of trying to distract everyone from a real issue, particularly one in which you’re on the wrong side of history (not to mention basic morality) by distracting everyone with bullshit- and apparently, judging by the frequency that I see it used, bonus Whataboutism Points are awarded if the bullshit was a strawman argument in the first place.

You’d think it would be irritating, right?

Nah. For some reason, I love it.

Maybe it’s the abjectly hilarious stupidity of the tactic- grasping desperately at whatever straws you can find, no matter how pathetic the attempt. It’s almost comforting how reliably the same nonsense is trotted out by the same types of people, and it’s never something you need to take seriously- it’s like a bedtime story, in a twisted sort of way.

It fills my heart with joy to realize that these are the best arguments that bigots are able to come up with, I guess. It’s hard to fear an enemy that can’t even string a complete thought from one end of a conversation to another.

But then again, maybe I just enjoy the rantings of crazy people.
I guess I must, considering I keep commenting on Facebook news articles.

THREE DAYS LATER: An Easter Story

Happy Easter! Please enjoy an excerpt from this pulp retelling of the resurrection of Jesus, wherein he’s a Mexican gunslinger in the Old West.

***

PROLOGUE

It was a beautiful day for a hanging. 

The desert was still and serene, as though heaven and nature both had stopped in their course to observe the moment of truth. Kings and beggars alike had gathered before the gallows- wondering if they were about to witness a miracle, or if the notorious outlaw’s luck had at last run out.

The condemned man seemed not to have any of his famous tricks still left up his sleeve. He stood defeated and silent as the executioner read out the charges, and didn’t so much as flinch when the noose was tightened around his neck.

“Any last words?” asked the executioner.

The outlaw looked for Mary in the crowd. She was ashen-faced and trembling, staring blankly ahead. Her hands were clasped as if in prayer, but there was no light in her eyes.

“This is a mistake,” he replied. He spoke quietly, but his voice carried as though the words had been shouted. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

It was not one of the rousing speeches the man was known for, and the executioner looked almost disappointed. “That’s it?”

“That’s it,” said the outlaw. “My soul goes to God.”

“May he keep it,” said the executioner. 

And the outlaw said, “You’d better hope so.”

The executioner hesitated, if only for a moment. It was as though some part of him wanted to find a reason not to pull the lever; as though he had some sense of the great wrong that he was about to commit and the chain of events that it would set into motion.

But the moment passed, spurred on by a hard look from the Sheriff. The executioner pulled the lever, and the trap door swung open.  

The drop was over before Jesús had the chance to realize it. Mary screamed as the rope snapped taut. The agony in her voice was the last earthly sound to ring in her husband’s ears, before everything went black.

CHAPTER ONE: He Is Risen

Jesús awoke in darkness, gasping for breath. The hangman’s noose had crushed his windpipe, and every inhalation felt like trying to swallow a red-hot poker. But it didn’t matter whether his lungs were working or not- there’s not much air in a shallow grave.

He didn’t know how far down he was buried. The lack of a coffin was a good sign. It meant that whoever had been tasked with disposing of the outlaw’s body hadn’t bothered to do the job properly. And that meant Jesús had a chance at digging himself out of here- and he knew it was his only chance. 

But the burial shroud pinned Jesús’s arms to his sides, and he couldn’t tear himself free no matter how hard he struggled. He could do nothing but thrash and flail in the dirt and the darkness, trying desperately to wriggle his way to the surface. It was impossible to know if he was making any progress, or merely wasting what little strength he had left in his body. With every passing moment Jesús grew more panicked- panicked that he wasn’t going to make it. Panicked that he was doomed to suffocate.

Panicked that he would never see Mary again. Her last memory of him would be that of a twisted body swinging on the gallows.

No, Jesús thought. No, it can’t be. She deserves better than that.

He willed his body into stillness, fighting against the urge to give in to panic and fear and despair. He stopped his futile attempts to breathe where no air existed, and focused instead on conserving the small amount of oxygen he’d been able to force into his lungs. Jesús thought no more of his current position, trapped two feet beneath the scorched surface of the desert. 

Instead, he thought of Mary. The moment he’d known that she was the one.

They’d met in a whorehouse. Jesús had spotted his future wife from clear across the room, the moment that he’d walked through the swinging doors. Her flaming red hair had caught his attention, but it was her tragic beauty that had held it. Her eyes had seen far too much of the evils of this world, but still they shone like topaz in the firelight.

She was sitting alone, until Jesús took the seat beside her. He’d stammered out the first line that came into his head. “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”

He knew it was a stupid question, but he didn’t care. He just wanted to talk to her.

She’d laughed. “What makes you think I’m such a nice girl?”

“I’m a good judge of character,” Jesús said. “Ask anybody. If I say you’re a nice girl, it means you’re a nice girl.”

That time, she didn’t laugh. “You’d be surprised.”

Jesús knew it was true, even if she didn’t know it herself. “What’s your name?”

“Everyone just calls me Red.”

“Everyone?”

She hesitated. Jesús would learn later that she didn’t like to answer personal questions, and especially not when she was on the clock. But she must’ve had the same premonition that he’d had, or at least the same strange feeling in the pit of her stomach. “My friends used to call me Mary.”

That was when Jesús had known.

“My mother’s name was Mary,” he said.

“That’s not the kind of compliment you usually hear in a brothel,” Mary said.

“Good,” Jesús said. “I don’t ever want to make you feel like you’re in a brothel.”

They’d left together that same night. Mary had asked him, again and again, if he was sure he wanted to run away with a whore. But he was sure- as sure as Mary was that she wanted to run away with a gunslinger, one with a bounty on his head by order of the Sheriff of Rome County himself.

What would it matter to Jesús that the girl had a past, when he could so clearly see that she was his future?

Jesús came to the end of his recollection of the night that he’d met Mary, and realized with immeasurable relief that he could see daylight once more. The plan had worked. He had focused his mind on the only thing that really mattered, the only thought strong enough to distract. And then he had set his body to the manual task of digging, by wriggling upwards inch by inch like an earthworm, paying no mind to what grueling work it was. 

And he had broken through to the surface, and at last he could feel the fresh air on his face again.

It was only his face that had emerged from the dirt. A face that was bruised and bloodied, with dirt caking in his beard and in his pores and in the creases of his sun-darkened skin. It was the face of a man who had been betrayed, sold out, abandoned, and left for dead…and had survived it all.

Most gunslingers thought themselves invincible. But this one was right.

In shuffling vertically through the dirt, Jesús had loosened the wrapping of the burial shroud. He was no longer bound up like a Mexican cigar, and finally regained the use of his arms. Jesús forced first one arm and then the other up through the dirt, thrusting his shoulders out afterwards, until he was free to the mid-torso. Each hand spread flat on the dirt, Jesús pushed against the ground with all of his strength. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to slowly and painstakingly hoist himself out of the ground.

Freed from the earth, Jesús knelt panting in the middle of the Calvary Hill Cemetery. An unforgiving sun beat down upon the spattering of forgotten gravestones. This was the final resting place of thieves and bandits, criminals and outlaws, men so unimportant or so reviled that no one bothered to pay for a funeral. 

Calvary Hill Cemetery didn’t get visitors. And what Jesús needed in this moment, more than anything else, was anyone else. He was weakened and disoriented. How long had he been underground? He didn’t know what time it was, or even what day it was. He had precious little to use for survival- everything had been taken from him when he was arrested. His clothes were gone, and so were his shoes. His six-shooters had probably been pawned off by now, or claimed by a Rome County Deputy as decorations for his mantle. The only item left in Jesús’s possession was the dirtied linen sheet wrapped loosely around his person. It wasn’t a scrape the gunslinger could get out of on his own, not in his current state. 

But if he could make it into the town of Calvary Hill, he could find someone to help. Surely someone would take pity on the victim of a mostly-successful execution.

Jesús got unsteadily to his feet. From the cemetery, he could look down the hill and see the road that led into town. The walk was about a mile, maybe two. 

Better get started, Jesús resolved. As he turned to leave the grim scene, he was surprised to notice that the Sheriff had seen fit to give him a headstone. The bastard probably had it carved weeks before he finally caught up with Jesús to make his arrest. The headstone read: 

Here Lies the Outlaw
Jesús of the Desert
Requiescat In Pace

“He wishes,” Jesús said. His throat ached and his mouth was dry, but he used the last spattering of saliva that he could muster up to spit on his own grave. 

And then for good measure, Jesús kicked over the headstone. The cheap shale slab snapped in half as it hit the ground. The outlaw Jesús of the Desert lay there no more.

This Post Is Mostly About Donald Trump, And I Apologize; I’m Not Happy About It Either

I’ve thought about Donald Trump approximately 3000% less in the past two months than I have over the past five years. It’s been a nice mental reprieve.

Not having to wake up every morning and care what Donald Trump was going to do that day has been like a vacation of the soul. Perhaps even the greatest thing since sliced bread (which as we all know is the greatest thing since Betty White).

But even though he hasn’t been staying in the apartment as much recently, Donald Trump does still maintain a residence in my head, rent-free, and I think that’s just going to be my cross to bear for the rest of my life.

Because no matter how far away we get from the Trump Presidency, no matter how little I see him in the news or how culturally irrelevant he becomes, still not a day goes by that I don’t find myself thinking about this quote from a 2018 news story:

“It was unclear whether the president was still joking by the time he finished his unscripted remarks regarding a space force.”

It’s been nearly three years. And I still, just…I can’t. I still have no idea how to unpack this concept. It confounds me on an existential level. I can barely even look directly at it.

Have you ever thought about this? I mean, really thought about it?

Today. Right now. Presently. We have a brand new branch of the US Military. Geared up to fight threats from outer space, as though we’re expecting the goddamn Decepticons to show up. That somehow lost a trademark battle with a Netflix original series over its name. And it was created only because the previous president brought it up once, idly, as a joke. A fucking joke.

And we have never as a nation sat down to have a conversation about this??

Look, I’m sorry for shouting, but…

HOW IS EVERYONE ELSE NOT THINKING ABOUT THE SPACE FORCE AND ITS IMPLICATIONS ALL. OF. THE. FREAKING. TIME? HOW ARE YOU ALL MOVING ON WITHOUT LETTING THIS CONSUME YOU? HOW DO YOU TURN OFF THE LITTLE RECORDING IN THE BACK OF YOUR MIND THAT FILLS ALL SILENCES WITH “IT WAS UNCLEAR WHETHER THE PRESIDENT WAS STILL JOKING BY THE TIME HE FINISHED HIS UNSCRIPTED REMARKS REGARDING A SPACE FORCE” AND WHY CAN’T I LEARN TO DO IT?

Is it just me? I’m the only person who just cannot and will not get over this?

Donald Trump’s tenure in office is becoming one of those weird little cultural blips/national shames (take your pick) that we all stop talking about, but I’m just not ready to let it go.

Not when I still have that quote knocking around in my head- all day, every day. Hell, I probably say it aloud at least once a week- you can ask my husband.

It represents so much, and yet it tells us so little.

It was, dare I say it…unclear.

And I will think about it forever.

America’s Racial Reckoning, Cont.

I really thought that the United States had learned a lesson about racism during 2020. I mean, we spent all summer on it. I thought we were at least past the point of arguing about whether or not racism exists, you know?

But as usual, it was incredibly naive of me to have any optimism regarding race relations in America. I simply forget, time and time again, how many people in this country have a vested interest in pretending that racism has been dead since the Civil Rights Act.

Or in this instance, a vested interest in pretending that they didn’t just sit and watch as xenophobic hostility toward Asian Americans spiraled into an uptick in racially motivated violent crimes.

I could pull out some statistics from my Criminal Justice coursework to support the argument that when a member of one race commits an act of violence against members of another race, it’s statistically improbable that the attack wasn’t racially motivated.

And I could spend a paragraph explaining why I’m so certain that all the hate crimes against Asian Americans (and Asians in America) are a direct result of the previous administration’s racist rhetoric surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Or I could just tell you to talk to an Asian American person and ask them if they’ve noticed racism getting worse recently.

But I’m not going to do any of that, because I’m done entertaining any argument that racism isn’t racism.

I spent most of 2020 willing to have the “tough conversations” about race: i.e. trying to reason with bigots who insist that racism is either non-existent or else completely justified, or feeling obligated to educate the well-meaning but ignorant masses who aren’t aware that racism is much more complicated than just burning a cross on someone’s front yard.

If everyone in a minority group is saying that an act was racist, then anyone outside that group arguing that it wasn’t racist is an idiot who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Full stop. And I’ve learned my lesson about wasting my own time arguing with idiots.

Here’s what I’ve been doing instead, and I suggest you join me:

Reading/listening to what the Asian American community has to say about racism in America (courtesy of The New York Times).

Donating to charities that work to #StopAsianHate (that link will take you to AAPI Community Fund, but there are many others).

And perhaps most importantly, refusing to get bogged down in the debate about “what even is a hate crime” or “but how do you KNOW it was racism” or whatever other bullshit whataboutism they’re throwing around.

Be an ally. Get on the right side of history. Show me that you were paying attention during 2020.

And get ready to dance this same dance next year, and the year after that. Because it looks like America is going to have a racial reckoning every year until we finally get our shit together, and I’m not going to fall into the trap of thinking optimistically and expecting that to happen anytime soon.

Honestly, I Would’ve Been Happier With An Asteroid Scenario, But Whatever

A year ago, my city made some of the scariest and most surreal announcements that I had ever heard. You know exactly what I’m talking about:

Pandemic.
Quarantine.
Lockdown.
Shelter in place.
State of Emergency.
Isolate.
Don’t breathe the air.
Don’t touch the surfaces.
Don’t panic.
No, really, don’t panic.
*KILL BILL SIREN NOISES*
DON’T FUCKING PANIC
STOP BUYING ALL THE TOILET PAPER
WEAR A MASK
DON’T WEAR A MASK
YES WEAR A MASK
STAY INSIDE
GO OUT FOR A WALK
DON’T PANIC
*CELEBRITY COVER OF IMAGINE PLAYS FAINTLY IN THE DISTANCE*

Needless to say, I panicked. How would I not? It was Friday the 13th, and New York City was shuttering itself against an invisible apocalypse, and I was in the middle of planning a wedding that was supposed to be eight weeks away and I didn’t know yet whether I should forge ahead or postpone, the last movie that I had seen in a cinema, perhaps ever, was CATS, and did I mention that there was a GLOBAL PANDEMIC SUDDENLY DISRUPTING CIVILIZATION AS I HAVE ALWAYS KNOWN IT??

And a global pandemic, by the way, would’ve come in dead last if I was voting on my preferred apocalypse scenario. For one thing, definitely not enough Harrison Ford for my liking. (Just, you know, if I have to live through a disaster movie I’d at least like Harrison Ford to be there. Is that too much to ask?) And then as a second nitpick, HOW was it NOT zombies? Come on, man! I was training for zombies for years! Hollywood told me it was going to be zombies, dammit!

But anyway. The lockdown began, and it lasted a hell of a lot longer than the original “fifteen days to flatten the curve.” And every day was a little bit weirder and shittier than the day before it, and that was 2020: a seven-layer dip of fuckery, and somehow we never ran out of chips.

I don’t know why I’m telling you this like you don’t know what happened. But then again, I guess that quarantine was a special and unique personal hell for each and every one of us, right?

I did have some good quarantine moments, though- and as we slowly claw our way out of this quagmire, I’m trying to keep those memories at the forefront of my mind and let go of all the terror and panic and chaos.

So, here’s a list of the highlights of my quarantine, in no particular order:
– My husband and I got married this year;
– I got really in shape (and then back out of it, and then back into shape AGAIN);
– I successfully completed NaNoWriMo for the first time;
– I walked through Times Square and not one person tried to sell me anything;
– My mom’s cancer went into remission;
– I got involved with social justice and charity work;
– I produced an independent film;
– I started playing (socially-distanced virtual) Dungeons & Dragons with a super cool group of new friends;
– The husband and I got to go on a series of little (isolated) weekend vacations;
– I became a member of The Satanic Temple;
– Donald Trump stopped being president; and
probably a bunch of other things, but can you blame me for being a little scatterbrained after all that frigging rigmarole?

I hope you’ve also been able to have at least a few good moments over the past year- but more than that, I hope that this upcoming year is a lot less quarantined.

It would also be cool if the upcoming year had a lot more Harrison Ford. You know, since I’m hoping.

In Retrospect, Benjamin Franklin Was Right About A Lot Of Things

I think I’ve finally uncovered the secret to being a responsible, productive, and successful member of society. From this moment forward, I’m done with the millennial notion of trying to adult- I have now officially transitioned into just being an adult. It’s been nearly thirty years of trial and error, but I’m pretty sure that this time I’ve cracked the code. I am in my element. I am thriving, you hear me?

So now, I’m going to share my success with the rest of you. Are you ready? Are you prepared to hear the One Weird Trick that’s going to change your life? (Spoiler Alert: you are going to hate it.)

Stop sleeping in.

That’s it. Really, truly, honest-to-God, that’s the whole secret to getting one’s shit together. Wake up early, and you’ll find that your entire life seems to have transformed overnight.

Yes, exactly like your mother used to say when rushing you out of bed to get ready for school. I hated it as a kid, and as a teen, and as a young adult- believe me, I get it. But what can I say? It turned out to be entirely correct.

But if you don’t want to give your parents credit for being right about this one, you can tell everyone that you got it from the most famous Benjamin Franklin quotation: Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

Now, I’m not going to advocate too hard for going to bed early, because I’m well-aware of just how many true crime documentaries NEED to get watched. And I’m not going to say that merely getting up early has categorically resulted in my being any wealthier, either.

But healthy and wise? Oh, hell yeah. I’ve got that in spades these days.

For the past three weeks, I’ve been waking up at seven o’clock every morning to get in a long cardio session before starting the day. Not just regular workdays, but weekends, too. And I’m serious- it is the secret.

The amount of energy that you have for the rest of the day when you start the morning with some physical activity is crazy. It doesn’t have to be a full hour of spinning, but just about anything is better than lazing around in bed.

The amount of mental clarity that you gain when you actually have time to eat a proper breakfast before work is astounding. Instead of taking the first hour in the office just trying to boot up your brain, you get there and you’re already operating at full capacity.

And the number of extra hours that you somehow suddenly gain by adding even one additional hour to the top of your day is staggering, logic-defying, and also the key to having enough time to get everything done.

Plus, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably discover that waking up early is a fail-safe strategy to decrease your general anxiety. Instead of spending most of the day worrying about all the things on your list for later, you knock a bunch of them out of the way first thing and then never have to think of them again. Hell, if you get up early enough, you can even start getting things accomplished before your anxiety has a chance to wake up fully. Truly, this is the fabled win-win-win situation. (That one was just for you, fans of The Office.)

But for real: get up early tomorrow. Trust me.

Putting The Fun In Fundamental

Did anyone else used to read?

I sure did. In fact, I used to inhale books at a dazzling speed. I read Stephen King’s entire body of work in a single semester during middle school. I finished every Harry Potter book in under three days- yes, even Order of the Phoenix.

I don’t think there was any point between second grade and sophomore year of high school that I didn’t read at least two books in a week- and both of them full-length novels. And that’s not even counting books I was assigned to read for school- no, I used to finish whatever bullshit reading assignment I’d gotten for homework, and then go right into my leisure book without skipping a beat.

I’d spend hours and hours holed up in my room, reading page after page, chapter after chapter, completely failing to notice the passage of time. And if I had a free minute in school, I was either in the library finishing a book or else I was in the library looking for a new book.

Reading wasn’t just my main hobby; it was essentially my only personality trait. I was that kid who loved to read.

But fast-forward to the present day, and I pretty much don’t remember the last time that I actually read a book. I mean, I’m always flipping through books that I own, and thinking that I might read them- but it’s certainly not like in the old days, when I used to pick up a book without a second thought and read it cover to cover in one afternoon without taking a break.

For all intents and purposes, I have become someone that merely used to read.

And I know exactly how it happened, too. I let a writing tip that I read some seven years ago completely poison my mind. “Never read books in the same genre you’re writing,” said the tip. It was the only way to make sure that you didn’t accidentally plagiarize another author, you see. And since at the time I was working on a novel that took place in the Jazz Age, that year I skipped my annual re-read of The Great Gatsby.

And it was all downhill from there, kiddos. First I didn’t re-read The Great Gatsby like I used to every summer, and then I didn’t re-read Lolita like I used to every autumn, and then I pretty much never read another book again.

Not another piece of literature, anyway- I’ve read a bunch of self-help books, and books to help research a project I was writing, and books about writing, sure. But no actual books. No novels. No fiction. Nothing just for pleasure or personal enjoyment.

So I’ve decided that 2021 is the year I start reading again.

But I’ll tell you something- a lot has changed in the world between the days that I used to be a reader and the present. And it turns out that reading is one of those habits that quickly gets replaced by other hobbies if you stop making time for it- most of the time that I would’ve spent reading has been reallocated toward Netflix and social media, and it’s not an easy habit to break.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed myself dicking around on the internet or re-watching The Office when I could’ve been reading a book. And I’ve thought more about how I should stop doing that than the amount of effort I’ve actually made, I admit.

But all is not lost. As I write this article, I’m most of the way through Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens– and yes, I watched the adaptation first, and yes, I’ve been leaving the book in the bathroom and only picking it up sporadically when I’m having tummy troubles- but dammit, I am reading a book again.

And there are going to be more where that one came from. This is the year that I reclaim my identity as a reader. Up first is finishing Good Omens, and then up next is any one of the HUNDREDS of books I’ve bought over the years and not gotten around to cracking open.

I’m back, books. I’ve missed you guys.

Variations On The Theme Of Writer’s Block

This past week, I decided that it was finally time to revisit my NaNoWriMo project. I was feeling excited about the idea, and ready to do some editing with fresh eyes- and then I opened the word document, and immediately got smacked in the face by my old nemesis Writer’s Block.

So I did a little research on the topic of writer’s block, and I found some interesting perspectives. Here are a few of the quotes that most resonated with me, and why:

“When you face writer’s block, just lower your standards and keep going.”
— Sandra Tsing Loh

This pretty much addresses my main problem as a writer. I don’t like writing crap, even when I know I’ll be going back to edit later- I’d still prefer to just take my time and write the story well on the first pass. But I’ve slowly been accepting the idea that writing a crappy first draft is what I’m “supposed” to do, and it doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer just because what’s currently on the page is badly written.

“I tell my students there is such a thing as ‘writer’s block,’ and they should respect it. It’s blocked because it ought to be blocked, because you haven’t got it right now.”
— Toni Morrison

I also like the idea that a block just means it’s time to take a break. There’s no point forcing creativity if you;’re not feeling it, and especially when it’s just a personal project with no deadline. Inspiration comes when it comes, and all you can really do is wait for that to happen.

“You can’t think yourself out of a writing block; you have to write yourself out of a thinking block.”
— John Rogers

Most of the time, when I get stuck in my writing, it’s because I’m trying too hard to work through a problem I’ve spotted with the writing (even if the problem is just a lack of quality). I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to solve the problem, intending to start writing again once I’ve figured it out. But now I’m thinking that maybe just writing through the problem is the only way to figure it out.

“Writer’s block is a phony, made up BS excuse for not doing your work.”
— Jerry Seinfeld

Deep down, I really think this is true. No matter what I say about inspiration coming and going, I do think that if I wasn’t just a lazy POS, I’d have books upon books written by now.

“I’ve always said “Writer’s Block” is a myth. There is no such thing as writer’s block, only writers trying to force something that isn’t ready yet. Sometimes I don’t write for weeks. And then all of the sudden I’ll get a rush of inspiration and you can’t drag me away from my notebook. But I don’t stress out if I don’t hit some arbitrary word count each day or if I go a few days without writing something.” 
— Julie Ann Dawson

I’m still making up my mind about this outlook. On the one hand, I think it’s valuable to recognize that you’re not going to get much writing done on a particular day and stop stressing yourself out about it. But on the other hand, I’ve also heard that the only way to cultivate the habits that actually lead to projects getting finished is to force yourself to write every day, even if you don’t feel that you have anything to say in that moment.

“I haven’t had writer’s block. I think it’s because my process involves writing very badly.”
— Jennifer Egan

This is basically just a rephrasing of the first quote, but I like that this frames it as part of the writing process rather than an aspect of writing style. It’s more reassurance that writing badly doesn’t mean I’m a bad writer- which is always something I need to hear.

“I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it — when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands.”
— Jodi Picoult

This rings true AF. Somehow I was able to finish my 50k words for NaNoWriMo, when I had a deadline and parameters. But left to my own devices, I never finish anything. Maybe the only thing I actually need to do to get over my particular flavor of writer’s block is to figure out how to impose a self-deadline? It’s certainly worth noting that I’ve never once missed a deadline for an assignment, only for my own personal projects. Could that be the obvious solution, staring me right in the face?

“Writer’s block is just another name for anxiety. People always have something else to say. It’s not like you ever run out of ideas. There’s just a filter in our brains where we decide what is “worthy” of being put down on paper, and when that filter gets too strong (due to high expectations or fear of being judged or whatever), few ideas will get through it. This happens to me at times and I just have to remind myself to chill out (or “not give a fuck” as it were), get over myself (or my ego) and trust the process to take care of everything.”
— Mark Manson

Sometimes I feel like I have writer’s block for no particular reason- it’s not that I’m worried about the quality of my writing, it’s just that as I look at the page I simply cannot think of any words to write. Historically, none of my fellow writer’s have identified with this feeling- and now I wonder if that was because I’ve been wrong the whole time about the origin of the feeling. Maybe it really is just another form of being afraid of writing badly, and the only solution is to just write badly anyway.

“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.”
— Charles Bukowski

And with this quote, we’ve reached my justification for this week’s article. Yes, I’m just writing about writer’s block- but hey, that’s better than nothing!

What A Friend We Have In Satan, As It Turns Out

I’ve never been the kind of person to commit to a religion.

In middle school, I thought I might become a Catholic nun because it looked a lot less scary than trying to figure out how sex worked. I don’t actually remember why I changed my mind, but I bet it had something to do with hitting the later stages of puberty.

In high school, I learned about Hinduism in a World Religions class and found myself wholly convinced by the concept- but I couldn’t stick it as a vegetarian, which at the time I thought was a requirement. It didn’t feel right to claim to practice a religion and only pick and choose the parts I wanted to follow, so I bailed on the whole idea. (Despite this, deep down I still believe that Hinduism is the most legit of the Big Religions. But I digress.)

In college, I wanted to marry a guy who wanted to be a rabbi, and so I was fully ready to convert to Judaism. What ultimately happened was that I learned how to make hamantaschen, got my heart broken so badly that I dropped out of college, and then the guy in question never even became a rabbi. I reconsidered converting to Judaism again when I met my now-husband, but I would’ve been a JINO (Jew In Name Only) and neither of us thought that was a good idea on a spiritual level.

And then last year, I did a more in-depth spiritual self-evaluation and realized that I was an atheist.

As you might expect, I figured that was the culmination of my spiritual journey and the end of my involvement in any sort of organized religion.

But this past week, my husband and I became card-carrying members of The Satanic Temple. Funny how life works out, isn’t it?

(The Satanic Temple, by the way, is not to be confused with the Church of Satan. Those guys are assholes, full stop.)

If you don’t know anything about The Satanic Temple, give this documentary a watch- it’s how they convinced me to get on board!

I actually first learned about The Satanic Temple quite a while ago, and had been flirting with the idea of signing up since that point. The only reason I didn’t was for the same reason that it took me so long to say anything when I realized I was an atheist- because people are so judgmental. They hear you’re an atheist and they assume you like to eat babies. They hear you’re a Satanist, and they assume that you like to eat babies alive. (Or is it raw? I’ll ask at the next meeting.)

But 2020 really robbed me of the last few fucks I gave about what anyone thought of me, so rolling into 2021 I figured I might as well start wearing my convictions on my sleeve.

Setting aside any trepidation over incoming accusations of being a baby-eater or an edgelord or whatever else, I truly think the Seven Fundamental Tenets of The Satanic Temple are just about the most admirable set of convictions a human being can have.

And more importantly, all seven tenets are things that I already believed in before I ever heard of The Satanic Temple.

Hearing the gospel and being convinced by a new religion is all well and good- but in my case, I wasn’t convinced into Satanism so much as I found out that it espoused the principles by which I was already trying to live my life. Truly, a match made in HeavenHell.

I’ll close out with an explanation of the Satanic tenets, and why I think each of them reflects the best practice for a life well-lived.

(I’d say “Hail Satan” as a sign-off, but I’m not sure I could do it with a straight face. Luckily, I’m pretty sure it’s not a requirement.)

Seven Fundamental Tenets of The Satanic Temple

I. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.

That’s a no-brainer, right? Be kind and don’t hurt anyone- but within reason. It’s still okay to punch a Nazi if you meet one. And it’s still okay to eat animal products, in my view- I consider the food chain to be part of the natural order and (sustainably) accepting our place within it to be a way of honoring nature.

II. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.

Fuck da police, you feel me? But more seriously, if there’s anything I’ve come to believe in recent years, it’s that I have a moral responsibility- a moral imperative, really- to stand up for justice and equality, and to stand against injustice, bigotry, discrimination, etc. Even if it means getting tossed in jail for civil disobedience- if doing the right thing is against the law, then fuck that law.

III. One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.

Yep. This applies to bodily autonomy in terms of abortion rights, or sexual consent, or whatever else- the point is that it’s my body and it’s my choice, end of discussion.

IV. The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.

Just as I would refuse to let someone else control me or infringe upon my beliefs, so too is it wrong for me to do the same to others. As long as you’re not hurting or oppressing anyone (see the previous Tenets), do whatever you want. It’s none of my business, even if I don’t like it.

V. Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.

YES. THANK YOU. SERIOUSLY. If I started listing the unscientific bullshit that people use as an excuse to hurt and to oppress and to control, we’d be here all freaking day. Anti-intellectualism is, in my opinion, the greatest threat to our current society- so any religion that specifically exalts science is alright in my book.

VI. People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.

Nobody’s perfect, but try your best and fix things if you mess up. That’s pretty much Being A Good Person 101, isn’t it?

VII. Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

Perhaps the most important ideal, and the one missing from almost any other organized religion that I’m familiar with- the freedom to use my own judgment. I don’t need to take any rule too seriously- I know what doing the right thing looks like. Ultimately, the best thing to do in any given scenario is whatever I think is the most compassionate, wise, and just- regardless of anything else I might take into consideration.

It’s Black History Month And I’m Back On My Bullshit, Y’all

Do you remember that “Three Fictional Characters Challenge” that was popular on Facebook a few years ago? The point was to post a photoset of the three fictional characters you think are the best representation of yourself.

At the time, the three characters that I picked were Hermione Granger, Leslie Knope, and Wednesday Addams. Very accurate, if I do say so myself.

…but do you spot the problem? Because I didn’t.

And then a few days ago, I happened to be watching John Leguizamo’s one-man Broadway show Latin History for Morons, and something clicked for me. (By the way, I highly recommend that you give it a watch.)

The main conflict of the show revolves around John Leguizamo trying to help his teenage son think of a Latin hero for a school project. It’s surprisingly difficult to find any mention of Latin heroes in their school textbook, or to even think of any that are both well-known in American culture and interesting to an 8th grader.

At one point, after complaining to his therapist about the difficulty he’s having helping his son with this project, Leguizamo is asked to play a word association game. The therapist will say a word, and John will say the first name that pops into his head.
“Success?”
“Mark Zuckerberg.”
“Genius?”
“Steve Jobs.”
“Legend?”
“Billy Joel.”
“What about Marc Anthony?” asks the therapist.
“Meh,” says John.
“Solo performer?”
“It’s gotta be Spalding Gray.”
“Do you see the pattern here?” asks the therapist.
John doesn’t.
Not until the therapist follows up by asking, “Who’s your Latin hero, huh? How do you expect to have a hero for your son if you don’t have one for yourself?”

That was an incredibly eye-opening moment for me.

I realized that I probably would’ve failed this exercise in exactly the same way that John Leguizamo did, and furthermore for the same reason- because we grew up in a culture that basically sets us up to fail that challenge.

Even if someone told me to specifically list Black heroes I can identify with or look up to, I’d first immediately think of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ruby Bridges…you know, the obvious ones. The ones that we read about in school during Black History Month and literally no other time of the year.

Digging deeper, I’d then probably add Nichelle Nichols, Michelle Obama, Janelle Monáe, Naomi Campbell, Stacey Abrams, and even more recently Amanda Gorman.

But if you told me to list the Black heroes who were relevant while I was growing up, I can pretty much only think of Venus and Serena Williams. I guess maybe Oprah, if you’re going to make me scrape the absolute bottom of the barrel.

This is something I’ve always kind of been aware of- but now, for the first time, my mind flashed back to the Three Fictional Characters Challenge and I realized….oh, wow.

Not only could I not think of a single Black character that I identify with, I didn’t even notice that I hadn’t thought of one. Someone had to point it out to me. (And at the time I was annoyed at him for pointing it out! Can you believe that shit?)

But unfortunately, that only makes sense. I’m struggling to think of Black fictional characters that I identify with even now, let alone ones that existed when I was an impressionable child. Penny from the Proud Family, I guess? Raven from That’s So Raven? Barbie’s friend Nikki? Cinderella, but from only the 1997 ABC Family version with Brandy?

Almost every character that I identified with in any way as a kid, or cared about at all, was white. Why wouldn’t they be? Growing up in America in the 1990s, almost all the media I consumed assumed a white audience, or otherwise didn’t bother with representation- I’ll give shoutouts to Gullah Gullah Island and Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child, but that’s slim pickings, don’t you think? A couple of shows out of hundreds? Thousands?

I never really thought too much about how this affected me, until I watched Latin History for Morons and realized that it’s the kind of societal othering that’s damaging across generations.

Representation is important. I realize that now.

How am I supposed to feel good about myself as a Black person if I’m walking around with the impression that there aren’t any Black people, fictional or otherwise, worth identifying with? How is John Leguizamo supposed to teach his son to take pride in their Latin heritage if neither of them can even name a Latin hero worth celebrating?

I’ve discussed before how it took me a long time to start thinking properly about my Black heritage, by dint of being raised by, and entirely surrounded by, white people for my entire life. I’m realizing now that there’s still so much more to unpack.

I bought a couple of books about Black History in both America and the world. But I feel like just educating myself now, as an adult, might not be enough to undo all of the bad radio I’ve picked up over the years.

Like, I’m writing a book right now- and although a few of the characters are non-white, none of them are Black. I’m starting to feel weird about it. Should I? I dunno.

Representation matters, but it’s still really complicated.

Sometimes I just want to write the story I want to write. But sometimes, I feel like I need to write something for little Black girls to read.

Mostly, I feel bad that the kind of story I want to write isn’t the kind of thing that little Black girls would read to feel included in society.

I just find it really sad that I’ve been so ethnically brainwashed by a predominantly white culture, if you will, that I was almost thirty years old before I realized that it’s weird that I never had any Black role models- and that even with that realization, I still have basically no idea how to fix that problem.