Civic Temple: Alpha Release

After several drafts wherein I try to explain my reasons for doing this and then decide that typing variations of “Fuck everything,” over and over again isn’t an introduction, I’m going to keep this short and sweet.

Has your inclination to call or write your various government representatives taken an uptick of late?  As in, a major uptick?  Do you want it to, but find yourself intimidated by not knowing what to say or how to say it?  Here’s a thing that might help.

Currently, it’s a spreadsheet with a bit of setup you need to do initially, and a tiny bit you need to do for each specific issue.  However, once you’ve got that going, you’ll have phone, letter, and email scripts for your various officials – no need to look up scripts a hundred different places online.  Better, they’ll be scripts that are personalized to you out of the box, so you don’t have to put too much thought into rewriting the generic scripts circulating.

This is just the slimmest fraction of what I want to do with this project (thus the Alpha designation) but it’s a start.  Long term, I’m hoping have the beautiful, unholy hybrid of something like the Submissions Grinder or Duotrope and Habitica.  Want to help?  Let me know.  I can do this all by myself, but it’ll be a looooooong time before it’s actually done.

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Strange Horizons Resistance Special Issue

All week this week, Strange Horizons has been releasing a ton of content for the Resistance special issue.  This includes six fiction stories which, I think, is the highest density of published fiction the magazine has ever undertaken.  The issue is gorgeous and important and we podcast every word of that fiction.  Today is a double-header picked out with today very much in mind.  Need to feel better?  Just knowing we were going to put these stories up has been a warm cuddly blanket of angry glee for me.  I hope it does the same for you, too.

Here’s the whole issue.  I hope it helps.

Dear Wisconsin

It’s probably pretty obvious what I’m going to say, writing to you today, but I need to say it, and you need to hear it.

I’m leaving you.

It would be fair to say that I was always going to leave you, but that’s not true, is it?  There was a while there where you were acting like somewhere I’d be willing to make my home permanently, and I accepted that from you.  Ours was an arranged marriage from the start – I left Chicago to come here not because I wanted you, but because I was broke and in debt and needed the job only you were willing to offer me – but it could have grown into a love match.  We could have been partners and allies and lovers into my gray years.  I’m hugely allergic to you, and you’re just about the only place I seem to have allergies, but I was willing to overlook that to have what you were offering.

You know what I’m talking about.  You did it on purpose, a lure designed to soften me to your charms and offerings.  You got me invested.  You got me interested and involved.  You made promises.  And then you were too ham-fisted, fumblingly incompetent to deliver on them.  You were weak.  Your were pathetic.  You were embarrassing.  That is a seven point spread I will hold against you forever.

Make no mistake – I am angry with you.  I have been angry with you for two years.  I am going to be angry with you for a long, long time.  I worked hard for you and you betrayed me.    You have some serious, deep, self-loathing issues and I am beyond caring about what that does to you because first, I’ve got to deal with the fallout of what it did to me.  I am finished with you.  I’m out of here.

Two years is a long time to wait.  You could call me petty, or unforgiving for holding onto it this long without doing something before.  That’d be fair.  I shouldn’t have trusted you, shouldn’t have stopped clearing my exits just because it looked like we might have a permanent thing going.  I shouldn’t have gotten so invested that even now, two years later, I can barely have a civil conversation about what went on between us.  That’s on me.  I’ll accept that.  But the right solution is the same.

I don’t care what you do in your next election.  Go hang yourself.  I’ll be making my way out to Seattle.  Washington has its own set of problems and issues, but we’ll be starting on better terms, and at the very least I won’t be compromising on my basic infrastructure preferences and my ability to breathe for three quarters of the year.

I’d wish you the best going forward, but I really don’t care as long as you’re not my problem any more.

Madison Cuddle House

I’ve been casually following the saga of the Madison Cuddle House with interest over the last several months.  For those of you not in the know, cuddle houses are things that have been cropping up here and there around the country where people can go and essentially rent time with a stranger for hugging, cuddling, and other non-sexual physical contact.  This is something I strongly feel there should be more of in the world, but I’m also prone to rant about how under-served the female androsexual demographic is by the sex industry in general, and cuddle houses seem like a gateway to exploiting that demographic, so I’m probably heavily biased.

As far as I can tell, and I’d caution you to note my use of “casually” in the first sentence when evaluating how much credit to give what I say, the Madison project is/was being run by a hippy with more heart than sense, who’s entire approach came down to, “Hugs good, therefore it’ll all work out, man.”  The city took one look at this, went, “Well, the only way that’s possibly going to work out is if this guy is the dullard front for an organized prostitution something something, so we must thwart it!” Which is exactly what your response should be if you credit humanity with sense and intelligence.  I’ve spent enough time interacting with the Madison activist hippy scene that my gut suspicion is that the guy really is just that bright-eyed and naive.  Apparently the city of Madison has more faith in the quality of humanity than I do.  That’s okay – so does a broken pencil.

After weeks of delays for permitting, getting insurance, developing minorly important things like staff training and a business plan (!), etc, the Cuddle House opened.  And as far as I can tell, shortly after, it closed, surprising precisely…well, I guess the people who were sure it was a front might be surprised.

At several points in the course of watching this story I thought about blogging it, just because it’s kinda funny, and captures Madison being Madison really well.  But I never got around to blogging while things were timely, and so didn’t.  And then this article came out, containing this quote:

“There’s no way that (sexual assault) will not happen,” assistant city attorney Jennifer Zilavy said. “No offense to men, but I don’t know any man who wants to just snuggle.”

As horrifically problematic and not okay as the first part of the quote is, I’m going to let it slide due to lack of context.  It’s entirely possible that she was saying that in direct response to the poor or absent training of the Cuddle House staff, and therefore not operating on the assumption that it’s not possible to have a safe environment for this kind of behavior.  (It is.  There’s a long history of sex and swingers clubs managing to do it just fine)  Let’s instead turn to the unambiguously unacceptable sexism contained in the second half the quote.

Uhm, excuse me Ms Zilavy, but how man men do you know?  Because I’ve heard the, “Dating is hard because I want cuddles but girls hear that and assume/require sex,” from more than one of my guy friends.  In one particular case I’d assumed the guy was using “cuddle” as a euphemism for sex for months, and didn’t figure it out until my punchline failed when I teased him for wanton catting around.  (Want to have a hilarious conversation with a friend?  That’s not how to do it)

Can we just all get something straight here?  It’s easy: Women are just as capable of wanting sex for its own sake as men, and do.  Men are just as capable of wanting the non-sexual elements of a relationship as women, and do.  This is not shocking.  It is not obscure, esoteric, or even subtle.

Want to know the most second most disappointing sexual encounter of my life to date?  Tough, I’m going to tell you anyway: I wanted a warm body in bed and some cuddles.  Send willing, eager, available man to bed for to get these things.  He also wanted a warm body in bed and some cuddles.  We both thought the other one expected sex.  Neither of us was interested at that particular moment, but hey, whatever.  This led to a great deal of awkward meh, and then the cuddles we were both after the whole time.  I tell you this because it’s stupid statements like Ms Zilavy’s and the cultural memes they reinforce that caused this misunderstanding.  We do not need more things in the world that lead to meh sex.

Also, we don’t need more reinforcement of the idea that men are supposed to be so stoic, macho, and emotionally disconnected that they can’t possible get behind touch-feely things like intimate relationships and cuddling.  Though, really, it’s the meh sex that has me het up.  I can’t help it, I have a pathological aversion to boredom.

I’m kinda hoping somebody with some business sense tries the cuddle house idea in Madison again, but I suspect this failed iteration has poisoned the well.  More likely, I’m hoping Ms Zilavy meets some more guys, or bothers to have an actual conversation with the ones she knows because the lady is seriously missing a few clues.

Update: Spamtastic Promotion Fail

You may recall when I posted this.  Well, they’re still going, still bugging people, and now I have the first report of them not following through on their promises.  To quote, in entirety, a comment just left on the older post:

People are still being offered different amounts. I was offered one amount, and a blogger friend a different one.

I told them that I would only participate if I followed FTC guidelines. I wrote that it was a sponsored post, even signed up for a free trial (and cancelled before my CC was charged).

Now, after putting them as no-follow links, which is what you MUST do when you are compensated, Nick @ Grammarly is refusing to compensate me. He did NOT ever specify in any previous email that the link must be do-follow or I would not have agreed.

Do NOT participate! Grammarly will not compensate you if you post ethically!!!! They are looking for bloggers who are willing to bend the rules. Don’t stoop to that level, be ethical.

I hadn’t realized that the free trial they offer you demanded credit card information up front (I never went that far with them).  That adds an extra special layer of sketch, since the reason marketers offer free trials that collect you credit card info up front is so that they get some payments in when you forget to cancel.

In summary, what they’re doing is offering you money to try their product, in the hopes of luring you into buying it by accident, and you can’t even rely on them to pay out the money they used as bait.  Good job, guys.  Way to model that scum look and do it proud!

Spamtastic Promotion Fail

Update: Six months later, there’s more!

Last week, while I was in the depths of digging myself out of a massive to do list, I received the following email.

Hey [My Real First Name],
Grammarly recently gave its 3 million users the opportunity to nominate their favorite blogging author, and I’m very pleased to announce that you were one of the nominees selected to receive a blog-post sponsorship in the form of a $25 Amazon gift voucher. Grammarly is an automated online proofreader that points out and explains those pesky grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes that are bound to find their way into your first draft. Think of us as that second pair of eyes that can spare you the frustrating cost of hiring a proofreader.
To receive your gift voucher, all we need from you is a quick sentence about Grammarly in your next blog post. Please send me the expected publishing date and topic of your next blog post so I can send you all the details you need in time. If you’d like to try the premium version of our proofreader for free, let me know and I’ll make it happen. 🙂
Cheers and happy writing,

Nick

P.S. Let me know if you ever find yourself in foggy San Francisco. I’d love to buy you coffee!

I read through this and, I must confess, my immediate response was, “I’m not above prostitution, but if this guy thinks I sell for $25, he’s nuts.” But I wasn’t the only one to get this email – several writers did, and several of them were quite annoyed. I have just enough traffic here that it’s plausible that what he says is true, if unlikely. Some of the other people who got the exact same email do not get traffic to their blogs. This email is a lie, and even if there actually is an Amazon voucher forthcoming, the whole thing is basically an SEO ploy to improve their google rankings. I’m not stupid, nor am I particularly gullible. I don’t appreciate being approached as if I am.

Last Thursday, I also happened to be particularly cranky, for a number of things not this guy’s fault, but some of which did involve the other people he was bothering. Dude, the SF writer community has not been having collective fun the last few weeks, and you’re bugging us with this bullshit? I can’t fix the bigger stuff. I can’t even talk about the bigger stuff without cussing and having to point out how the sentence I just said, while a true representation of how I feel, is unfair and ignores important details. When you do that for every sentence, it gets hard to talk about. You know what’s easy? Baiting the spammer.

Hi Nick,
I have a few questions.
1) You absolutely won’t be in my next blog post – my content for Fridays and Mondays are fixed and I’m not changing my schedule for this.
2) Do you have a link to the contest? I’ve never heard of Grammerly before and would like to see more of what this is about.
3) How many people won this?
4) Any sentence about Grammerly?
Best,
[My Real First Name]

I did go to their website before writing back. It’s a real product. They’ve got a real thing going on there. The problem is, I never pay a proof reader. And, frankly, this is obvious if you read my blog. My stuff gets read by professional proof reader when somebody else has paid me. Otherwise, it’s spell check and my meager copy editing skills or bust. Marketing this product to me is based on an utterly false premise. And, frankly, it sticks in my craw that by sending out these sorts of emails, he’s potentially creating the impression in newb writers that they ought to be paying for proof reading. You know what? I am a sloppy, sloppy copy editor. My rule of thumb is generally that if I catch your errors, you’ve performed badly and if I don’t, well, that’s pretty meaningless, actually. And I’ve made eleven fiction sales at professional rates. It’s my job to be passably competent on this front. It’s the magazine’s job to hire a proof reader.

Hey Anaea,

We care an aweful lot about our language and want to support people that are helping us keep it alive. To find them, we asked our users in an email campaign to anonymously nominate authors who were inspiring others to read and write. Of those nominations, we picked those we thought were especially deserving of our support and contacted them via email. Sorry if our initial message was a little unclear.

The company footing the bill would be Grammarly in San Francisco. We make a really good automated online proofreader used by over 3 million people, you should check it out!

Here’s what you need to do to get your gift voucher:
Paste the following text into the top of your next blog post: “I used Grammarly to grammar check this post, because [insert clever/funny reason here].” (e.g. “because time spent proofreading could be time spent writing”)
Publish the post on your blog and email me the link.
We’ll send you your $25 gift voucher via email within 72h.
The best clever/funny reason for using Grammarly each month wins a $100 Amazon gift voucher!

Does that make sense? When do you think you’ll be publishing your next post?

Cheers,
Nick

Oh, they care and aweful lot about language, do they? Hey, even I caught that one. Mostly because spell check yells at me for it all the time. Does he not have red squiggly lines in his email composition window? Does Grammarly kill the red squiggle lines?

Also, dear god, I hope I’m not inspiring people to write. There are enough writers in the world. Half of them should find a new hobby. If you need me to inspire you to write, may I suggest knitting, instead? I’ve seen slush piles. They destroy what little faith in humanity I ever manage to muster.

Back to our dear friend Nick and his awefully generous desire to give me $25 if only I’ll lend my classy little blog here to his dreams of page 1 rankings. Notice his attention to detail, and how he’s suddenly switched to using the name attached to the email address rather than the one he pulled from the records about the site owner (I’m guessing that’s how he got my real name), even though I signed my email to him with my real name. This is a marketing guy with big ambition and small attention to detail.

The best part? This email I got fifteen minutes later.

Hi <Real Name>,
Self-publishing takes a tremendous amount of courage and inspires people to care about writing. We at Grammarly appreciate that and would be honored to sponsor your next blog post with a $15 Amazon gift voucher. We’re confident that a mention of our brand on your blog will help spread the word about us within the community.
In case you haven’t heard of us, Grammarly is an automated online proofreader that points out and explains those pesky grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes that are bound to find their way into your first draft. Think of us as that second pair of eyes that can spare you the frustrating cost of hiring a proofreader. If you’d like to join our 3 million users and try the premium version of our proofreader for free, let me know and I’ll make it happen. 🙂
Please send me the expected publishing date and topic of your next appropriate homeschooling post (ideally something about writing) so I can give you all the details you need in time.
Cheers,
Nick
P.S. Let me know if you ever find yourself in foggy San Francisco; I’d love to grab some coffee. 🙂

Oh goody. Now I’m a courageous self-publisher! Just what I’ve always wanted!! I mean, I thought I was putting my book up because I’m too damn lazy to submit to editors or make a proper ebook, but apparently it’s so I can bravely become Spam bait for people who think I write about homeschooling?

This guy didn’t even cross reference his lists of different blogs to make sure he didn’t use two approaches for the same people. As somebody who does a fair bit of marketing in her day job, I’m a smidge offended at the laziness demonstrated here. Dude, you allegedly have access to a bit of software that can replace a human proofreader, but you can’t throw your database into a spreadsheet and run a duplicate entry check?

I’m disappointed in the quality of human spam scum these days.

I asked around and tried to find anybody willing to confess to having nominated me for this honor. There were no takers, just more people who’ve gotten this spam.

Here’s the real problem. If I were going to properly go into self publishing, this might be an appealing product. But now that I’ve heard about it in this fashion, there is no chance in hell I am going to use it. Or recommend it. I’m not even putting their name in the post title just to limit the bit of google boosting griping about them does. If this company wanted to reach out to writers and get the word around the SF community about their product, there are about a dozen better ways I could think of for them to accomplish that, and without spending much more than whatever their planned outlay of vouchers is. If they want those ideas, they’re welcome to ask for them.

But they should remember that my consulting rates start at $120/hour.

A Year Later: Different Room, Same Story

If you think you know what set this off, you’re probably right.

There are rooms I don’t go into.

People live in rooms.  Sometimes they step from one to another to go see other parts of the world, but they’ll always be back to their own rooms, the four walls that hide most of them from most of everything else.  We wander around the world with these rooms.  Sometimes the walls are permeable, and we bump into each other and for a while, we’re in the same room.  Or we bump into each other and fall into the wrong room for a bit.  We might back out and go home.  We might stay.  For a while, it might even be okay that we stay.  The owner of the room might want that. They might not. Sometimes, the people can say, “Hey, get out of my room,” and that’s enough.  Sometimes they can’t, maybe because they’d stepped out of the room for a moment and now they have dozens of unexpected guests.  Or maybe a guest won’t take the hint and go.  Or won’t leave even when asked.

Sometimes, you see somebody in their room, trying to ask all the overstaying guests to go, and you step in to help.  Sometimes, you’re overwhelmed, too, so you try to combine efforts.  Sometimes you get an entire complex of rooms belonging to people held up past their bedtime.  They’re cranky and tired and would really like to be polite, generous hosts, but that’s just past their capacity anymore because they’re already past their limits.  You’re still only asking for five minutes, but it’s not about just you anymore.  Five minutes and five minutes and five minutes.  Lost sleep and stressed patience and your five minutes now carries the weight of hours upon hours of imposition.  They get cranky.  They throw you out.  They ask you not to come back.

Even though it was just five minutes.

Sometimes you look at the tired, cranky people, and you decide to help.  Maybe you’re one of them, but have enough energy to chip in anyway.  Maybe you just feel bad for them.  So you take it on.  You join the fight.  They whine, and complain, backbite and get distracted by little side issues or things that don’t help or don’t really matter, but you let it go.  You’re in their rooms, you’re there to help, they need your help, and, ultimately, this helps you, too.  You have a later bedtime, but it’s not like you never have inconsiderate house guests from time to time.  Your room is nice.  It’s bound to happen.  Helping them, really, it helps you, too.

Except, it doesn’t work.  You work hard, you do everything right.  You work harder than some of the people in the rooms, you take on the nastier jobs, and you let them slide because hey, they’re tired, you aren’t.  Not yet.

You lose.

You lose because the people you were trying to help didn’t do what they should have in order to win.  You lose because they were so busy whining and complaining that they didn’t really ever get into the fight.  You lose because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much five minutes after five minutes adds up, it’s Just Five Minutes.  You lose because you weren’t ever going to win.

Now you’re tired.  And you’re cranky.  And you’re surrounded by tired, cranky people who still can’t get the house guests to leave, and aren’t really even trying anymore.  They’re just talking about how much they’d like them to.  Repeating slogans from the fight.

You pass old graffiti that says, “Support early bedtime,” and where it used to make you smile and feel like you had support, like you were getting somewhere, now you just want to tear it apart and set it on fire.  What the hell were they doing, wasting time on graffiti, when they could have been helping?  And why is some of it fresh, new, when it’s been a year since you lost?  Don’t they understand that now you’re worn out and tired and you’ve locked your room because you don’t want to deal with anybody and it’s their fault for needing help and failing to use it?

And why is it that, here we are, a year later, and there’s no retrospective, no analysis of what went wrong where and what’s going to be done about it.  No apologies.  No blame.  It’s like the fight didn’t happen, and the people still playing soldier are happy to move on to something else while everybody else just shrugs and says, “Oh well.  Let’s bitch about five minute some more.”  Or worse, they’re acting like the fight is still happening and blithely ignoring the part where THEY LOST.

Fuck your five minutes.  Fuck your righteous indignation and your platitudes about this and that.  Fuck your stupid early bed time and your utterly pathetic weakness about enforcing it.  You could have had it better and you dropped the ball so just shut the ever loving fuck up and get the hell out of my room.

There’s another fight brewing.  Different people.  Different rooms.  Same structure.  Same pattern.  Same options open to everybody.  Same potential for things to get better, for people to finally get some rest, for the well-intentioned guests to learn and the malicious ones to accept their exile.

There are rooms I don’t go into.

Right now, that’s all of them.