I’m attending Denver Comicon this weekend, at the Wordfire booth, which has a deal with Baen to host Baen’s authors where Baen doesn’t have a booth.

Yesterday was relatively slow, because Friday always is.  Relatively slow is still orders of magnitude larger than the old sf/f cons.

Because all program directors are partly prankster gnomes, and because I was QUITE LITERALLY in between two house moves while the programming was being set, and skimmed the emails without reading, I ended up on the least desirable — first — panel of the con and that was it.  That’s fine.  It’s not a complaint.  I just need to work more with them next year.

However I was so out of it, I only realized early morning that my panel was on mental health in sf and f.  (I have a vague memory of having seen that before, then promptly spaced it.)

I have no idea why, still — except maybe the program director thought I was being nuts? — since I’m neither a clinical psychologist, nor a social worker, nor particularly interested in “when your mind goes wrong.”

I thought it was because of Darkship Renegades, where I wrote possibly my worst nightmare: having your mind “invaded” by “someone else” which has sort of happened to me twice.  Not “someone else” as in the book, but simply being temporarily impaired due to concussion (once) and hormonal imbalance (once).  It is fairly close to being taken over by another mind, in the sense that you remember being able to operate normally for you, you’re aware you’re not, but there’s nothing you can do about it.  It’s one of the most frustrating situations in the world.  Anyway, so I thought that’s why I landed on the panel, and maybe it was.

But as the panel progressed I figured out none of my characters is EXACTLY normal.   I mean, Thena is probably a psychopath (maybe) or at least presents as one.  Tom and Kyrie suffer from spectacularly weird childhoods, Zen is recovering from a very traumatic incident and at any rate was raised by wolves, the least said about Luce’s mental health the better, and that’s without getting into witchfinders, musketeer vampires, and other weirder creatures.

I disagree with the thrust of the panel in one thing: my colleagues were very much people of the “writing to change society” persuasion, while I’m writing for money persuasion.  Oh, sure for passion, too.  But mostly for money.  And while I don’t sit around looking at characters and going “which one will make me more money?” I also don’t sit around going “which character will communicate my message.”  Some things are not entirely under my control, and most of all I have to have a character who is alive in my head.  (Related: someone in the audience “Some cultures value mental illness, like hearing voices.”  My colleagues on the panel agreeing “That’s true, and I think it’s something that needs to change.”  Me “I could say a lot about this, but I’ll only say, half in jest, ‘Yeah, my royalty checks are not nearly large enough'”  — which got me puzzled glances.  Sigh.  I was born before or after my time.  One day I’ll figure out which.)

The thing my colleagues were right about is how affirming it is, if you have a disability or “just” are weird to see someone like you portrayed as a hero/main character.

Now, we’re all grown ups, and don’t NEED that particular affirmation, but I did get more emails of thanks for my Jane Austen fanfic in which Mr. Darcy is handicapped, from handicapped people whom the story made feel “sexy” for the first time in their lives, and I still get occasional notes saying “Thank you for making Nat and Luce fighting men, as I rarely have anyone I feel fairly represents me.”

But in a greater sense, the fact that characters are flawed — partly because it makes them more interesting — is a good thing.  Because when the main characters are flawed and still achieve great things, it gives everyone something to shoot for.

Look, none of us, achieving maturity, can say our psyche or our body is unflawed (unless we’re the most unself-reflecting person alive, which is in itself a flaw.)

I was recently surprised by someone who saw me at the height of this eczema flare up saying “I don’t know how you can live with/interact/go about your daily business with that.”  Well… I’ve had it since I was one, and humans are an infinitely adaptable organism.  I’m not about to let a little (itchy, annoying, responsible for my being awake just now) skin condition hold me back.  I have things to do.  Being less than normal, even in the pejorative sense, was never a reason to sit down and mourn your fate.  Humans, as a species, are the kind to be up and doing.  Do you think great great great grandfather Ogg in his cave didn’t have any physical or mental health problems?  Ah!

Which bring us to “I’m uncomfortable” — physically or psychologically — “so someone needs to make things right” movement.  These people are more or less infants, who think the entire environment including other people exists for their comfort and convenience.

Which is why they’ll never do anything or accomplish anything.

The rest of us, flawed or not, have a date with the future.  So set about building, creating, supporting, helping.  The only way to forget your own problems is to immerse yourself in tasks bigger than yourself.

Sure, of course, you’re cracked.  We all are.  But to quote Leonard Cohen “There is a crack in everything.  It’s how the light gets in.”

192 responses to “Cracked

  1. Conversely, there is a certain crowd of comparatively well adjusted people who *think* that they are ‘cracked’ and they really aren’t….

    • because cracked is interesting. BUT note you said “relatively well adjusted.” For a writer, I’m sane as a brick. BUT note I said “for a writer.”

      • Huh; I’ve never heard anyone say “sane as brick” before. Dumb as a red brick, check. A few brick shy of a load, check.

      • Sane as a brick of what? A brick of manure, of baked clay, of hashish?

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Or the Masonry Brick heading your way? 👿

        • This pun sponsored by The Brick Industry Association. Remember, you wouldn’t wear a coat that was wool in the front and polyester in the back–wrap your house completely around with brick, the better building material.

          (Well, that’s how I sort of remember that ad.)

          • That’s funny. In Mexico they made houses out of brick. In the States, they pretend they do – it’s all a facade. It goes on top of the wood.

            • Pre-1906 there were a lot of brick buildings in Northern California, and not just all those big brick office buildings and hotels up in San Francisco – the city of San Jose traces back to the Spanish founding of Mission San Jose de Guadalupe as a non-military colonial settlement in 1776, and was the first state capitol after independence, so 130 years later downtown San Jose was relatively well built up for a mostly agricultural community.

              But those brick buildings, big and small, pretty much all fell down or were at least badly damaged in the truly massive 1906 earthquake. Builders around here took that as A Clue, so for most of the 20th century almost all use of brick in SF Bay Area buildings has been purely decorative. You pretty much cannot find a building structurally dependent on brick that was built after 1906, and given the absence of things like hurricanes and tornadoes out here, there’s not really a lot of brick faced buildings either.

              This one difference added to my sense of dislocation when I first experienced buildings back east. When I visited DC in the early 80s the brick row houses visually jumped out at me, and later on it seemed to me that every non-wood frame (“temporary” WWI or WWII buildings still in use in the mid 1980s) or concrete (i.e. post WWII-built intended as permanent construction) building on NAS Pensacola was brick.

              Even now when I travel to the midwest or east coast, the brick buildings are something that tell me I’m away from home.

              • If you’re ever in Charleston, SC, keep an eye out for the Earthquake Bolts. These are metal plates on the exterior with a huge bolt and tap in the center. After the earthquake, some opted to run iron bars through their homes and tighten the bolts in order to repair structural damage.

            • We called it a curtain wall when I worked part time in construction. The advantages are a low-maintenance exterior, cheaper construction, and an interior wall that you can insulate.

              Disadvantage is that it’s a facade and has an air space between it and the interior wall. My old boss insisted that we extend the termite shield far enough from the foundation for the brick layer to incorporate into the curtain wall to help make some kind of barrier to prevent insects and critters from crawling between the two. There was a type of foil covered foam insulation board that was real popular on the exterior side of the interior wall, then we started hearing rumors of rats and insects saying “Thank you!” Having never helped remodel a home that had this sort of insulation board, can’t say if it was true or not.

              They are also not fire-resistant like a true brick wall. I know of one home, told to me by my old boss, that had solid brick walls throughout. The guy wanted to make it practically fireproof. It was a bear to remodel.

              A few years ago I downloaded a public domain book on construction techniques, and it covered masonry. I had it in my head to make a barbecue pit with a vaulted arch firebox. Anyway, it covered how to lay a true brick wall, with two layers of brick and a bond layer that’s a brick turned cross-ways between the two. The idea is not only to increase strength, but to prevent cracks from running the length of the wall. That was interesting, and something I look for when looking at a brick wall now. If there’s bond bricks, it’s probably a real brick wall. If not, it’s a curtain wall.

              Around here, concrete block homes were once popular. Problem is they tend to be damp and you can’t insulate them. There’s a loose fill than you can pour into the interior that’s supposed to add some insulation, but I’m dubious. If laid properly they tend to hold up well, and I know of some where the walls have survived even thought the roof has fallen in.

              • The lower floors of Sib’s house are solid brick with steel beams for additional support, and steel beams instead of your standard joists and structural members inside. It was built in the early 1950s. Apparently the guy was an early version of a prepper and wanted to be sure his house could withstand a blast in case Rooskies ever dropped one within a few hundred miles.

              • If laid properly they tend to hold up well

                Truer words, rarely spoken.

              • Anyway, it covered how to lay a true brick wall, with two layers of brick and a bond layer that’s a brick turned cross-ways between the two.

                So THAT is where they got it!

                The ranch my dad worked at since he was a teen stacked hay that way– not many other places did it, and they got their stacks way higher and had fewer accidents than other places.

                • Errr… You mean that there are people out there who don’t do bond layers in their haybale stacking? WTF? I thought everyone did that…

                  • They just drive the….brain not working, the automatic stacker thing…. and stack the resulting pile one after another.

                    Yes, it is kinda scary.

                    • Just goes to show you how much “institutional knowledge” there is out there that isn’t expressed across entire institutions. Everybody I worked for baling hay as a kid required that crap–It was just good common sense. Hell, even the trucks I see carrying palletized hay on the highways around here alternate layers between bales. Boggles my mind that folks where you are don’t know to do that as a part of stacking. Of course, there could be “reasons”, like not needing to manually do things like change the directions on the conveyor belts, but… Jeebley-jeez, that’s just stupid.

                      Although, it would explain an accident I couldn’t understand, having someone describe it to me, where a stack of hay bales collapsed inside a barn on top of their dad and killed him. Never thought to ask about how they stacked their bales, where they came from…

                    • Truck loads are dictacted by the trucker– and there’s no mechanical advantage like just backing up and dumping the thing.

                      Haybales falling can also be from some “soft” bales being on the bottom– switching fields, different person in charge of the bailer, those kind of changes. I think it’s grass bales that are really horrible for being on the bottom? (grass-grass, not grain types bailed for fodder grass; I think it’s usually done dryland)

            • After the Denver fire of , the city building codes required structural brick. There are lots of them around. Mine was built in 1924 and is structural brick. Getting the curtain rods attached was joyously fun (didn’t want to drill into the still very nice unpainted wooden frames).

              It also makes for a nice pizza oven effect when we get a week over 90 degrees (i.e. now).

              Don’t even get me started on WiFi and lathe-and-plaster walls/ceilings.

          • Ooo—tagged out by the base.

        • Brick of firecrackers?

          Brick-a-Bracka Firecracker! Sis-Boom-Bah!
          Bugs Bunny! Bugs Bunny!
          Rah! Rah! Rah!

      • Is that damning with faint praise I hear

    • Also, comparatively. Everyone has some loose screws. It’s just a matter of how many and how loose they are.

    • But they don’t think they’re broken, they just think #problem is interesting and/or a good justification.

      If one is broken, then you figure out ways to deal with it.

  2. I have Dissociative Identity Disorder, and I have worked very hard to overcome it and become functional. As it happens, DID (which used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder) is a mental illness that writers just love to use in their stories.

    The overwhelming majority of them–“The Bone Collector”, “Fight Club” and “Identity” come to mind as examples–portray the disorder very differently as it presents in real life. I’m used to that by now–writers want to make an exciting story, not a medical text, and they change the facts to suit themselves, cherry picking some symptoms that sound cool and ignoring the rest.

    They want to be able to spring a surprise twist ending where the killer and the detective are the same person and don’t know it, or whatever. That wouldn’t work in the real world, of course, but a lot of thriller fiction wouldn’t work in the real world.

    When I started writing about James and Catskinner I wanted to convey the feeling of dissociation, although I gave it a science fiction rationale. I didn’t do it to raise awareness or anything, I did it because I wanted to write what I know. I had a personal experience that I know is rare and I wanted to use it to give my fiction a different perspective. I think I succeeded in that, a number of my readers have said that the relationship between James and Catskinner was what hooked them into the stories.

    It is gratifying to see DID presented accurately in fiction (Tim Powers gets in right in “Earthquake Weather”, for example) but it’s not something that I need in order to identify with a character in fiction. Despite the “otherkin” craze a while back, what I have is rare, and I don’t expect to run across people with my disorder often in media.

    • I think I may be more aware than many of my internal shards and factions, without identifying with them. My walk past the refrigerator chant of “Shut up fat boy!” notwithstanding. This may or may not be the borderlands of DID, how would we know? Are there any nonfiction resources you recommend?

      • Not really any non-fiction texts that I can recommend, no. Most of what I have seen is pop psychology that is sensationalized. (“Sybil”, for example.)

        I happened to find an excellent therapist who specializes in early childhood trauma and was able to properly diagnose my condition (I originally self-identified as transgendered when I went in for treatment.)

    • On the upside when things get busy you can be your own collaborator and give yourself a break.

    • To be sure, sometimes mental illnesses are presented in their most dramatically useful form — but they don’t always have that justification.

    • Misha, I don’t think you’re nuts. All you are is perhaps more aware of what’s going on inside your head, and you maybe have a bit more differentiation between the components that make up your consciousness than the average. You’re not crazy; you’ve just noticed something most people ignore about themselves.

      I spent a decent amount of time talking to an acquaintance of mine who had a legit, fully-documented diagnosis of dissociative personality disorder. After getting to know that person better, I had to conclude that they weren’t insane, or even slightly mentally ill. They’d simply started paying attention to what was going on in their heads, as the various “components” of their consciousness interacted and functioned. I have come to speculate that part of it in his case was likely due to a coping mechanism he’d had to develop and use to separate himself from things he’d been forced to do, and which were against the grain of “who he was”.

      That, and the fact that he had a truly ferocious intellect, although not well-harnessed. That is another thing that’s struck me, over the years of reading about this sort of thing, is that the people who have these various “disorders” are never dullards; it seems to only manifest in people who have a mental engine over a certain displacement. As another friend of mine once commented, discussing a mutual subordinate of ours who was on their way to a mental-illness induced discharge from service, “I’m not smart enough to be crazy…”. He had a point, too–Most of the real cases of mental illness I ran into on active duty were all very high-horsepower intellects.

      The way my acquaintance described what was going on in his head struck me as either indicating that he wasn’t that different from normal people, or that maybe, I’ve got the same syndrome going, with a lesser degree of differentiation between the “personalities”. I couldn’t get inside his head to see for myself, and experience it, but the stuff he was describing going on resonated with me in terms of “Hey, I do that, too… Only, maybe not so much…?”.

      • I appreciate what you are saying here, but this illness does cause me a great deal of difficulty. I can overcome that, hold down a full time job, and even write a fair amount. But it is something that I have had to overcome, and even now I cannot count on being able to function in crowds or around strangers.

        I’m not asking for sympathy, just understanding of my limitations. My roommate is in a wheelchair from arthritis, but for some reason she doesn’t have people tell her, “I don’t think you’re really crippled, you just have a different way of getting around.” Trust me, unworkable legs do prevent people from doing everything that they would like to do, and so do unworkable minds.

        • Oh, I’m not meaning what I said the way it came across; I’m just offering support–Kinda a “There, but for the Grace of God, go I…” thing. And, as usual, ineptly expressed.

          You stop and think about it, and you realize that your consciousness is a frighteningly fragile thing. I think I’m only a head injury away from evincing severe OCD or what you have, myself. And, I know how hard it can be to cope with either of those conditions once they get past a certain point.

          • Yes. What it comes down to is that life’s not fair, and it’s not safe, and it can’t be made either of those things. You play the hand you’re dealt, and you do your best to help other people cope with theirs.

            When I was a kid the emphasis of social justice was in bringing everybody up to the same level. Over the past half century it’s become obvious that can’t happen, so now social justice is all about erasing privilege–bringing everyone down to the same level.

            Fairness is a corrosive concept. It sounds noble in theory, but in practice it means handicapping the people that the world needs most. Forcing everyone to stay home instead of going out won’t help me with my social anxiety. Forbidding people from jogging won’t help my roommate walk.

            Instead, just accept people as they are, admit that some folks have talents that other people don’t have and some people have problems that other people don’t have and no human power is ever going to change that. Love the people in your life for what they are instead of what you think that they should have been.

            Shared joy is multiplied, shared sorrow divided.

  3. So you are finally Cracked?

  4. I suspect that a large body of people want some degree of reality portrayed in their entertainment. The Disney version of reality or deeply dark and disturbed are both difficult to relate to.
    I strongly feel this is why both Seinfeld and The Big Bang Theory have been successful on TV. The characters have faults that reflect our own or the so called ‘normal’ relatives and co-workers with whom we all have to deal. They are occasional selfish occasionally generous and sometimes want to appear generous but do it on the cheap. (re-gifters). They lie, they inflate themselves they even occasionally steal. We all too often have a Sheldon, Uncle Leo, Raj or George in our life double dipping…
    I try to show crack or at least chips and scratches in my own characters.

    • I guess I personally just find bbt too stereotypical. I work with these type of folks daily and other than one school most not like that.

  5. There is the question of the ‘mental health of convention attendees’ that has to be answered before discussing the panel’s insights on the mental health of SF/F. Selection bias if you will. Is there an overabundance of “writing to change society” readers in the audience?
    In any event, the first question is what is “normal”? I think a lot of the current mess in SF/F is an overabundance of ‘writing to change society’ in the authors/editors and a far greater percentage of the readers who want ‘entertain me’.

    • As for “writing to change society” types, I do not know. As for me, I dislike dystopias in general. I do not expect utopia, either. But if one is going to build a world, how about a world one might care to at least visit, if not outright live in? Of course, some stories call for decidedly unpleasant worlds – but then there should be something of hope that that world can change/can be changed or escaped from.

    • Disclaimer: I know very little about mental health except from simply meeting people. Take this as speculation and with a ton of sodium chloride.

      Normal has fuzzy boundaries. When someone’s way over the line into not normal, it can sometimes be obvious, like a customer with a full blown case of untreated paranoid schizophrenia we once encountered. That may not be the case with a full blown psychopath, as psychopaths can supposedly be very charming when it suits their ends.

      That said, things get tough on boundary conditions. Is someone near the boundary normal or do they have mental illness? What of someone who’s clearly over the boundary but can still take care of themselves and isn’t a danger of others (thinking of someone in a nearby town who’s happy and friendly, but is clearly off)?

      The interesting thing is how culture seems to determine how mental illness plays out, and that has implication for writing future societies. How will the confines and developing culture in a spacecraft or colony change how mental illness manifests? For instance, as Sarah touched on, in some societies, people who hear voices hear them as giving friendly advice, but in North America it tends to be urging harm, Why? How would a changing society affect this?

      On a more scary note, there are violent disorders that seem indigenous to cultures in how they are expressed. What sort of disorder might arise in a colony ship with a new culture?

      The biggest question in my mind is why write a character with some sort of physical or mental disorder? If it’s because that’s who the character is, and it impacts the story, fine. Once read a fairly good mystery about a former detective with Alzheimer’s and it dealt with the effects of his illness with dealing with a series of crimes in his assisted living/nursing home. His illness was a plot complication, and made for an interesting story.

      A character, though, that happens to have a serious illness and it doesn’t present wrinkles – well I have to ask what’s the point? Affirmation of some sort? That’s nice, but what does it have to do with the story? If it’s a minor thing, it falls into the category of a quirk, but it still should impact the story.

      • Birthday girl

        ” … in some societies, people who hear voices hear them as giving friendly advice, but in North America it tends to be urging harm …”

        I was not aware of this difference. Can you point me to more info on this?

      • > people who hear voices hear them as giving friendly advice, but in North America it tends to be urging harm,

        My Voices mostly make inappropriate observations and argue a lot. Particularly the “Alvin” one…

        “If you guys have all that time to chatter, how about finding the typo in this sed script for me?”

      • A study of Mennonites found that they, owing to their tight social structure had very few instances of psychosis but depression was very common. Suicide, however, was not; depression was termed “wrestling with an angel,” regarded as a particular mark of divine favor, and responded to with support.

  6. “The thing my colleagues were right about is how affirming it is, if you have a disability or “just” are weird to see someone like you portrayed as a hero/main character.

    Now, we’re all grown ups, and don’t NEED that particular affirmation…”

    Oh, dear God, no. We can’t be having stories for adults. That’s just ludicrous.


  7. I’m one of those weird birds who tends to find relatively more ‘normal’ people (or characters) more interesting than the severely flawed. It’s harder to find out what makes them tick.

    I guess that’s because I fall into the ‘relatively normal’ category and have never found myself trying to relate to characters much beyond ‘believable/not believable”. Sure, I’ve got flaws and internal struggles like anybody else, but I’m not “On The Spectrum” or physically, mentally, or emotionally impaired in the slightest. I’ve always found people who are to be reliably predictable if they fall into some significant category. Even the unpredictable ones.

    I’ve always thought people/characters more interesting when their categorical dysfunction is more of a surprise, or at least not their defining characteristic. That’s one of the things that turns me off to these ‘activist’ writers – their characters, despite being flawed, are shallow. Their flaws completely inform their actions and their interactions, and even the plot. Not to say this can’t be done well, but most of these clowns can’t.

    Like the current fad of competitive dysfunction among the young (and some arrested adults), it is the character, instead of…character. Instead of a test to pass or fail, it’s a state to be amplified and celebrated. It’s the whole damn show.

    And like life, many of these flaws are as inorganic in feel as today’s trendy dysfunctional affectations. And just as boring.

    • Thank you. The defining characteristic of a heroic characters is that they do not let their weaknesses define them. We cheer for them because they overcome their disadvantages, not because they celebrate their disadvantages.

      Nero Wolfe, for example, had severe mental problems–a crippling level of agoraphobia and some rather bizarre compulsive behaviors. He found a workaround in the person of Archie Goodwin. Wolfe used his extraordinary intellect to not only function but thrive as a part of a society that was not set up to cater to him.

      Does his need for isolation and routine shape Wolfe’s character? Absolutely. But what defines him is not that he is mentally ill, but that he is a brilliant detective in spite of his mental illness. Without his drive to overcome his limitations he would have no power to interest the average reader.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      Yeah, some of that. I quite liked Moon’s Once A Hero.

      Cookie cutter ‘we have a diagnosis, we are going to represent it, and we are going to change society’ is risible. I’m not offended because of a sense of ill people having dignity, and being beyond mockery. I get angry when I think people are blatantly lying to my face. Sometimes someone is just mistaken or blindly following a fad, and I incorrectly assume they see through what they are saying.

      Dysfunction is dysfunction. Someone with a mood disorder likely makes decisions based on emotion that tend to be poor. Someone who can’t stand people, can’t stand people. This can be very boring.

      Life is tough, and everyone faces challenges. I realized long ago that my challenges require some tough decisions on my part.

      Some of the ‘this person has this problem, and can be helped by pandering to this problem’ approach is therapy absolutely terrible. Making a fad of pandering where such is therapeutically terrible is flat out harmful. Especially when the conclusion of which problem is incorrect in the first place.

      ‘Harden up and get it done’ may not entirely solve my problems, but my problems would be much worse if I had tried certain other approaches.

  8. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    “All the world is crazy except for me and you but sometimes I worry about you”. 😉

  9. I was born before or after my time. One day I’ll figure out which.

    I think you are in the exactly right time, because a better future will not happen without those like you who are willing to challenge the particular foibles and idiocies of the present.

    You have moved beyond the past, and if there you would be annoyed by what you saw coming — just as you are now. If you were in the future there would still be issues that would annoy, because people are people. More importantly to many of us, if you were of the future your work would not be available for us to read today.

    • I was thinking more of something from Doctor Who (#3, Pertwee) about having “slipped sideways in time.” More of an alternate timeline. And evidently one that has some crosstalk with ours such that it occasionally presents stories fully formed.

      • This. I’m supposed to pilot the Red Lion, or be someone’s very well paid lore-mistress and archivist. Or yes.

      • In which case I’m very, very glad I managed to fall into *this* timeline. Those others? Where {person} died at precisely the wrong time, where {thing} did not occur for {reasons}? It does not bear thinking, my friends.

        Here and now there’s a chance for better things. A good one, no less. Here and now is a good place to be. Better alternatives there may be, but I know there are worse. Best we get on with the long plan, getting that better future, eh?

  10. Now, we’re all grown ups, and don’t NEED that particular affirmation,…

    I am dyslexic — as a result of the various difficulties experienced with dyslexia I have long felt frustrated, clumsy and incapable.

    The Spouse caught an interview of the author Fannie Flagg by accident, and on watching it realized that he needed to record the re-broadcast for me. Flagg is dyslexic. She is not bitter or angry about her experiences, but discusses the her challenges with intelligence, grace and compassion. At the end of the show she tells of visiting a school that specializes in addressing such disabilities with another very famous and successful celebrity. In the hall looking as they are between touring classrooms he remarked that he still, to this day, finds himself thinking of himself as stupid.

    No, we don’t need that particular affirmation. But sometimes it is a profound relief to have someone put eloquent expression to your experience.

    • The Spouse, who was out, came home and informed me that the gentleman touring the school with Fannie Flagg was the photographer Sir Richard Avedon.

    • SheSellsSeashells

      My mother bordered on dyslexic, and spent all her life thinking of herself as stupid. Especially in comparison to bookish me, which about broke my heart. Meanwhile, she could keep a penny-accurate mental account of expenditures at the grocery, complete with percentages saved by buying Here rather than buying There…I finally told her I knew she wasn’t stupid, because stupid people bored me and she didn’t.

  11. Money quote:
    Which bring us to “I’m uncomfortable” — physically or psychologically — “so someone needs to make things right” movement. These people are more or less infants, who think the entire environment including other people exists for their comfort and convenience.

    Which is why they’ll never do anything or accomplish anything.

    • oops–that last sentence is quoted also.

    • We are potty training our 20 month old. She had an accident today. This is exactly her reaction.
      If you’re potty trained, you are old enough to fix your own discomforts.

  12. BobtheRegisterredFool

    I’ve got a diagnosis, and it as it is presented in fiction, I tend to find it more tiresome than affirming.

    Give me an engaging story with a protagonist with problems, who attempts to solve the problems, and succeeds in solving some of them. Give me pacing, give me tension.

    • Exploding spaceships are a bonus.

      • No boom today. Boom tomorrow, there’s always boom tomorrow.

        • Professor Badness

          (Eyes shift back and forth) There could be boom today.
          I’m not pointing figures, but I bet someone here has some boom in there pocket right now.
          Wait, that didn’t come out right.

        • “Look, somebody’s got to have some damn perspective around here. Boom. Sooner or later. BOOM!”

        • Wasn’t that a Herman’s Hermits hit?

          No boom today, my love has gone away
          The mortar stands forlorn, a symbol of the dawn
          No boom today, it seems a common sight
          But people passing by don’t know the reason why

          How could they know just what this message means?
          The end of my hopes, the end of all my dreams
          How could they know the palace there had been
          Behind the door where my love reigned as queen

          No boom today, it wasn’t always so
          The company was gay, we’d turn night into day

          But all that’s left is a place dark and lonely
          A terraced house in a mean street back of town
          Becomes a shrine when I think of you only
          Just two up two down

          No boom today, it wasn’t always so
          The company was gay, we’d turn night into day
          As music played the faster did we dance
          We felt it both at once, the start of our romance

          How could they know just what this message means?
          The end of my hopes, the end of all my dreams
          How could they know a palace there had been
          Behind the door where my love reigned as queen

          No boom today, my love has gone away
          The mortar stands forlorn, a symbol of the dawn

    • I’ve never been told how to make C4.

      • That’s what search engines are for. Go to Google Books, check “full text”, and search for “explosive manufacture” to find whole books on chemistry of explosives. Then go to for even more, courtesy of the Fed.

        Be *very* careful with methods from “anarchist” or “SHTF” sites; some of them, if not exactly Trojan horses, miss some important steps.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          The guy who put together the ‘Anarchist Cookbook’ was a highschool kid. He cribbed off books at the library. This is exactly the wrong way to get instructions for a chemical process that are at all reliable. There are good reasons to make sure that you know what you are doing when it comes to chemistry.

          • Reality Observer

            Even with proper instructions (and equipment!), things that go boom are extremely unforgiving of the slightest mistake.

            There is a very good reason why chemical engineers with PhDs, and literally decades of experience, are still isolated where the only things they can blow up are their own labs and persons.

            • Once went to a job interview at a place that made munitions. Two things impressed me:

              1. The buildings were surrounded by a thick berm.
              2. Each building had multiple exits.

              And these were the quys that knew what they were doing.

              • Reality Observer

                I’ve always felt that the people (professionals) that manufacture explosives are just a tad bit insane. Much like the people (professionals) that work with high-voltage electrical lines.

                Thank Ghu that not everybody is absolutely sane – we’d be in a world of hurt without ’em…

                • I have a book whose author talked about working as a chemist at Olin, developing priming compounds. They’re not only unforgiving, every few decades some new twist turns up where the compounds do something entirely unexpected.

                  The example he gave was lead styphnate, which had been in use for decades at the time. They started having some problems where some batches were far too sensitive. They finally traced it to a slight change in time between a couple of steps; part of the mixture formed crystals, which they had known. But with just a little extra time, the crystals changed shape, which made them much more sensitive.

                • Never said I was 100% right as rain. There’s an incredible amount of safety procedures in what we do, all the more sobering because most of them were learned the hard way. But the safety procedures work, which is why I’m not nicked-named “Stumpy” or “Deceased.”

  13. [S]omeone in the audience ‘Some cultures value mental illness, like hearing voices.’ My colleagues on the panel agreeing ‘That’s true, and I think it’s something that needs to change.’

    What the Hart, Schafner & Marx does that mean? Do these doofusses think we need to change cultures so that they don’t value mental illness or that we need to be more accepting of mental illness or was it simply polite noises of the sort one makes at cocktail party just before sidling off to get a refill?

    The key word in that is “illness” — as in, unhealthy. I’ve got a list of mental illnesses which some societies value but which I doubt anybody in America would endorse, starting with Autism and running through to Zoophilia with a pause for Sociopathy en route.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      What was normal for the Romans or some of the Plains Indians will get you locked up in America today.

      People mistake giving a rare few special titles so they don’t muck up war parties with celebration.

      The wallowers take that, assume that they can get rid of disapproval by changing culture, and that any functioning culture could tolerate the numbers they propose.

      We have the means to greatly increase the dysfunctional fraction of our population, and the carrying capacity to keep them from being trimmed down by natural wastage so much.

      We are fractionating into dysfunctional and functional subcultures, and this may come at the cost of those whose dysfunction is natural and cannot be entirely mitigated no matter their choices.

    • “The key word in that is “illness” — as in, unhealthy. I’ve got a list of mental illnesses which some societies value but which I doubt anybody in America would endorse, starting with Autism and running through to Zoophilia with a pause for Sociopathy en route.”

      I dunno. The rate at which various mental illnesses are being fetishized among the younger generation, coupled with the amount of territory that concept creep has seized in modern psychology, I wouldn’t put anything on your list outside the zone of acceptance of a contemporary American university campus these days.

      I’m with you on not understanding what Sarah’s panel colleagues meant. The Democrat-endorsing NAMBLA doesn’t seem to get much notice around the media or in fiction. Certain body dysphorias receive aggressive treatment while others are celebrated, long term consequences be damned.

      I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that these panelists haven’t the first clue about what “needs” to happen in any society.

      • The zone of acceptance on a college campus is set by “what am I willing to take a beatdown and possible destruction of the rest of my life to protest?”

        It’s not like we’ve promoted so much real empathy that people are willing to do that to defend the morals of Random Stranger.

    • A mental illness negatively impacts the person who has it. It is not fun to be crazy–crazy hurts. There is a prevalent myth of the “Elwood P Dowd” kind of insanity, this idea that the mentally ill are really just misunderstood. “The beat of a different drummer” and all that. The reality is that when your thought processes are impaired, you can’t do things that ordinary people take for granted. It takes a very wealthy society to carry low functioning members. If you had an inability to conceptualize quickly and accurately in a primitive culture, you starved.

  14. Joshua Abraham Norton. AKA “Norton I, Emperor of the United States” and subsequently “Protector of Mexico”. Self proclaimed titles. Was he crazy or cracked?

    Serious question. Until 2 nights ago I’d have unequivocally stated batshit insane. Told my son about Emperor Norton. And how he lived. And my son said perfectly sane. Why? Well, he declared himself Emperor. Sounds crazy. But…… people around him TREATED him as Emperor. He demanded and got free meals, the best lodging in the finest establishments. Free cigars. And theatres with new shows opening reserved balcony seats for him.

    Okay, let’s admit the truth- he wasn’t an Emperor. But, also the truth- the people of San Francisco treated him like an emperor. My son’s argument, which makes perfect sense- since he was treated like an Emperor by declaring himself one, he wasn’t crazy. He got what he wanted. Did he know he wasn’t really an Emperor? Did it matter whether or not he knew it? 30,000 people showed up for his funeral. That’s Emperor strength mourning.

    • MadRocketSci

      From a Martian’s perspective, is it any less crazy that people seem to defer to the people that they *do* defer to? What makes the emperor declaring that he is emperor, and suddenly gaining the awed deference of a bunch of other guys with guns any less crazy?

      • madrocketsci

        I suppose you could use different definitions of the sanity/crazy scale:

        Def 1: Something is sane if it works within some social context.

        Def 2: Something is sane if it leads to an accurate model of the world.

        Def 1 =/= Def 2
        Def 1 is what is “selected for” by people immersed in an environment constructed by other people. Def 2 is what you need to survive when dealing with nature.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Norton was crazy … as a fox. 😉

      • After writing the above, it occurred to me. There is no feature movie Norton I, Emperor of the United States. Think about it. A true story, as a docu-comedy. And, similar to Being There with Peter Sellers as Chauncey Gardner. But opposite. Chauncey was mistaken for a wise sage by the glitterati, but was just a simple gardener. Emperor Norton wasn’t an Emperor, and everyone knew it, but played along with him. Peter Sellers, if he weren’t dead, would be perfect for the role. I was thinking Robert Downey Jr, or Johnny Depp perhaps would make a great Norton I.

      • He was probably one of the most benign rulers in history, though.

        If we ever elect an Emperor, Norton I gets my vote!

        (for monarchs and politicians, “deceased” isn’t necessarily a point of disfavor…)

    • How long would it have lasted if he’d been obnoxious, rather than entertaining? Or become so?

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        That’s why I vote for him being “crazy as a fox”.

        • I know some insane people– OK, cards on the table, you know those relatives that it seems like everyone has, that have a notion of reality that is NOT COMPATIBLE with real life, cannot be budged, but they function OK?

          I think that some insanity people’s other skills aren’t hurt– so Norton still had his “human interaction” skills functioning fine.
          Kind of like how some crazy people would be non-violent enough for people to think they were possessed by good spirits, or had been switched for an elf as a child.

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            True about “harmless lunatics” who are more amusing than anything else.

    • And in fact the Emperor of Portugal, as a visitor to San Francisco, received Emperor Norton as an equal, although he did demur to having serious negotiations regarding trade on the grounds that this was the duty of his Foreign Office or some such. Whether Norton was crazy like a fox or just hoot-owl mad is still debated.

  15. I disagree with the thrust of the panel in one thing: my colleagues were very much people of the “writing to change society” persuasion

    Orson Scott Card, in one of his books on writing–don’t remember which one–did a section on “polemic” writing, writing to pursuade. This is something essential to any attempt to “change society”–persuade people to believe or behave differently from how they did before.

    The problem with many writers attempting that, according to Card, is that they portray the people in opposition to their target behavior/belief as monsters. Look, for example at that execrable series “Captain Planet” The villains aren’t people who are making a bad risk/benefit on the environment. They aren’t even callous. They are “people” who delight in destruction for its own sake.

    When you write like that, the people who agree with you might nod their heads in agreement, but the people who don’t are more likely to throw the book across the room. You’ve won nobody to your cause.

    Card gives the example of well-done polemic (whether one agrees with its message or not) in The China Syndrome. There we have as a major character someone on the “pro nuke” side who’s portrayed (per Card–I’ve never read the book or watched the movie) as a decent guy who’s just operating on some mistaken assumptions. As he learns better, his position changed–exactly what the writer of the piece would like to have happen among the readers.

    So to do it effectively, one has to understand the people whose mind you’re trying to change, to recognize that they are not bad people, and to give them motivation that’s acceptable to them and fits their world view for changing their position.

    This is where the writers of most message fic drop the ball. Demonizing people does not win them to your cause.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      “Demonizing people does not win them to your cause.”

      But it does get you endless adulation from people already loyal to your cause.

      Basically, it’s intellectual onanism.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      I liked Captain Planet when I was younger. Or at least watched it. There may be a reason I am now virulently opposed to environmentalism, refuse to concede any point based on Gaia existing, and am entirely comfortable being on team destroy.

      • Captain Planet was after my time as a kid, but I remember reading all these stories about the wonders of Gaia and the idea that a planetary-scale consciousness would be so great to be a part of, and wondering to myself “How stupid are these people? They think they’d somehow have something to say to one of these entities? That they’d even register with one? That they could communicate with it, asking it to intercede for them in some small matter…? It would be like you getting a deputation from the bacteria lining your small intestine, asking you to cut back on the Mexican food, please…”.

        My take is that any such planetary-scale Gaian consciousness would almost certainly be inimical to competing intelligences, at our scale. Simply because of that whole “gut bacteria” sort of thing–Would you allow your gut bacteria to tell you how to live your life, and perhaps threaten your health due to their own interests taking priority over yours…? Hell, the threat alone would scare the crap out of most people, and I strongly suspect the average person would take immediate prophylactic measures to rid themselves of these things. A planetary-scale consciousness would likely react similarly, I think.

        • Reality Observer

          Well, I don’t get a properly worded petition, with fancy seals and all, from my gut bacteria about how things should be. But they seem to be very good at communicating what they want anyway…

          The problem with any real believing Gaiast is that in their imagined perfect world, they are just a part of it. If they are most useful as fertilizer, they will be fertilizer.

          But I’ve never met a real believing Gaiast. All that I have encountered are people that see “this would be good for me – so everyone must agree.” The same motivations apply for a strip miner as do for a tree hugger. (Really, FF? “hugger” is not a word? I’ll fix your little red wagon…)

        • Captain Planet was after my time, as well. When I was a kid we had to survive on a diet of raw Warner Brothers cartoons, with Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Tasmanian Devil, Wile E Coyote, the Road Runner and beginning to end non-stop violence. We also had Tom & Jerry, Hekyll & Jekyll, Woody Woodpecker, Droopy Dawg, Beany & Cecil (including, some weeks, Harecules Hare with his Guided Muscle), Ruff ‘n’ Reddy and Rocket J Squirrel.

          As a result we were the first generation to actively oppose a war (thus throwing away the victory, but let’s not dwell on that) and proclaim ourselves for Love and Nonviolence.

          Just think how much better we’d have been for the wqorld if we’d had such sterling examples as Captain Planet, Care Bears and My Little Pony!

          • BobtheRegisterredFool

            I liked Carebears, and reports are that the modern My Little Pony is a lot more defensible than it sounds.

            • It’s enjoyable. And it treats the kids respectfully, rather than like freaking morons.
              As a mother of several girls, this is very important.

            • Feather Blade

              I don’t know about Carebears (mind-control rays, really?)

              But if you take CS Lewis’ definition of a bad children’s story as truth, then MLP is a good children’s story.

          • > Warner Brothers

            The censors and SJWs had been at those pretty hard by the late 1960s, at least in the areas we lived in at the time. I wondered why the cartoons varied do much in length. Later I heard that “racism” and “violence” had been snipped, but it wasn’t until much later that I learned that most of those cartoons were actually supposed to make some kind of coherent sense, as opposed to being a random jumble of “stuff happening for no reason.”

            • Most made sense to me, in the 1970’s. I wondered why later on kids didn’t care for them, until I saw a(n over)censored version of one of the “Hunter’s Trilogy” Bugs & Daffy cartoons where *EVERY* gunshot had been edited out. No wonder they didn’t care for it. It had been reduced to unfunny nonsense.

              I have since seen a few of the “We’ll NEVER air this on TV” racist cartoons. They just simply weren’t funny. Or at least not to (generally) post-WWII sensiblities, I presume. There was a good reason Jack Benny didn’t use Rochester’s race as a gag after the war.

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        Gaia on Captain Planet was a moron, at best. She possessed superior, non-polluting technology. By sharing it, she would have ended the series.

        • Feather Blade

          The Prime Directive strikes again?

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            Hard to see that.

            Gaia of Captain Planet was the “spirit of Earth” and answered to no outside forces/beings.

            So, she could given all of Earth the technology that she gave the Planeteers.

      • MadRocketSci

        This need to sublimate oneself in “something greater than yourself” seems to be a theme with fanatics of all stripes. (Or the need to destroy other individuals, violate their boundaries, and sublimate them into “something greater”.)

        Everytime someone starts talking about “something greater than yourself”, I reach for my philosophical wallet. Or “sacrificing the individual for the greater good”, etc.

        I was reading the comment section on an article the other day (really shouldn’t do that) on an enterprise that I am actually very enthusiastic about. But some people sour it by taking their enthusiasm to a cult-like extreme. This guy was declaring “Doesn’t matter! X’s life literally doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. In the centuries to come, no one is going to remember X, or his petty personal concerns, but everyone will remember Y. X should just shut up and take $conditions, and be grateful for the privilege of serving Y.)”

        Errr …. no. I don’t know what drives this, but it’s there.

        • Everytime someone starts talking about “something greater than yourself”, I reach for my philosophical wallet. Or “sacrificing the individual for the greater good”, etc.

          It’s amazing how they almost never mean to put themselves in the place of Christ, innit?

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            I’d change “place of Christ” to “the service of Christ”.

            Plenty of those assh*les think of themselves as gods on Earth replacing the True God who walked on Earth as the Christ.

            • I think we’re in agreement on all but phrasing– I mean the place of Christ as in the greatest offering the greatest service, and the power being turned to absolute sacrifice.

  16. Somehow this came to mind:


  17. The thought that some have that the world should accommodate them because they have problems or patterns that they like has always infuriated me. Mainly because it is incredibly arrogant and always presented as a ‘need’. As in ‘I NEED you to do this for me.’ presented as a demand and somehow a reasonable one.

    Let me get this straight; you want me to change my behaviour (or thoughts, or clothes, or what I eat, or what I say, whatever) and you don’t present this as a favor you are asking of me? But as a demand you require of me? Excuse me? Are you insane? If asked politely, and if it is phrased as a favor, and if I don’t mind, then sure, I can accommodate you, but if I can’t (or just don’t want to) I expect you to be totally okay with that. And in return I will extend the same courtesy to you, overlook things I dislike, and if I ask you, as a favor, to change something I promise to be relatively okay if you say no (obviously I’d rather the world accommodate me in all things but that seems unlikely).

    Being Irish, and reputably even more stubborn than that high standard, I can dig my heels in deep when someone makes a demand of me. As in not only will that demand never be met, but whatever they were annoyed about will become my defining characteristic when around them, and if they try to bring others into it (friends, family, authority), they will suffer for it. Because they are generally bullies trying to use their weaknesses as strength in order to enforce a standard upon the world they interact with. And I absolutely, 100 percent, refuse to bow down before bullies. I’d rather get the crap kicked out of me. Literally or figuratively.

    • As in ‘I NEED you to do this for me.’ presented as a demand and somehow a reasonable one.

      I learned long ago that their are two kids of problems (needs) in this world: My problems (needs) and other people’s problems (needs) and that happiness requires distinguishing between the two categories.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      I’d take a further issue along those lines. I also have baggage. I can also argue that my abnormal preferences are innate, and not something I can change. I have as strong a case that society distorting itself to my whims would make me happy.

      I just don’t have a bunch of fellows advocating for the same remedies.

      That may be because I can tell that the remedies won’t make me happy, and that there are extremely obvious reasons not to pursue them.

      Since the famous intersectionalists aren’t interested in my problems, I feel no guilt in refusing to reciprocate.

    • Yes. The idea is that if I do not do what they want I am hurting them. That’s the line that the transgendered movement is taking–that my refusal to accept their view of reality is an act of aggression against them.

      It’s not enough to simply live and let live–unless I actively affirm their delusions I am attacking them. The problem, of course, is that no amount of affirmation will ever be enough to overcome reality. Even if every person in the world is forced to call a man a woman, he’s still a man, and he knows that.

      Instead of coming to terms with it, he lashes out at everyone else, accusing them of transphobia and blaming the fact that he isn’t comfortable in his skin of some nebulous culture of non-acceptance.

      Telling an anorexic that she’s right, she really is fat and that everything will be fine if she can just loose another fifty pounds is an act of cruelty. A compassionate person would help her to accept herself as she is. In fact, that’s exactly how anorexia is treated.

      Unfortunately, while gender disorders used to be treated that way, and quite successfully, the current fad is to affirm the delusion and build unrealistic expectations in the patient.

      • Not so much a fad as an attempt to open up whole new franchises in identity politics. Kind of like expansion teams for the NFL. Only their goal post gets to move whenever they like and they’re trying to blitz the mainstream and score some political power for themselves. 😉

        • Yeah, and once all those kids that have been lied to, chemically poisoned, and mutilated stop being useful to them, they’ll become unpersons. Ever notice how the media almost never shows postoperative transexuals?

          It’s always the kids who are crossdressing and getting their first hormones and full of glowing dreams about the future. Once the damage has been done and the patients start to realize that changing their bodies hasn’t made the basic conflict go away, the journalists and the “trans allies”are nowhere to be found.

          Nearly 20% of postoperative transexuals regret the change to the extent of trying to transition back. But we never hear about them.

      • Point Deer, Make Horse?

      • That’s the line that the transgendered movement is taking–that my refusal to accept their view of reality is an act of aggression against them.

        Not just them; it’s been a common SJW tactic for several years now. That’s the origin of the whole “trigger warning” craze. Because it allows them to move all disagreement into the “fighting words” category, makes them not accountable for any violence they choose to perpetrate, and allows them to try and establish claims under tort law by claiming actual mental and physical harm.

  18. I think one reason people like the Alexi stories is that he’s absolutely normal (or as normal as someone who decides to be a career NCO in the Army is). He doesn’t try to use magic. He doesn’t spend lots of time wondering “why me.” He does his job, makes friends,enjoys a cold beer after work, learns, raises a family, and does his best to ignore cats that text. He’s not trying to change the world.

    The other thing I’ve notices over the course of the Cat stories is who Rada gravitates to – normal people. Zabet’s normal, Rahoul Khan is very well grounded, Joschka is, well, OK, mostly normal, Moshe Bed David, Tony Lee, the Azdhagi at Singing Pines . . . They have families, raise kids, live life, believe or don’t believe in a High Power, and have their heads screwed on straight, unlike Rada.

    IRL, it is amazing how having one or two people who really need assistance for $REASONS drains a teacher more than 40 normal teenagers (for teenage values of normal).

    • Professor Badness

      Anyone who works in customer service will tell you the same thing.
      Two or three “needy” people can drain you for the whole day. And it’s usually doing something that the person could easily do for themselves.
      They just don’t want to/think you should do it for them.
      Don’t get me wrong. I’ve helped lots of folks who needed help; sometimes in-depth help. But the psychic vampires of need will leave you drained.

      • That holds true in virtually any field that involves dealing with people. Everyone can point to examples of “customers you really don’t want.”

  19. SheSellsSeashells

    I also don’t sit around going “which character will communicate my message.”

    In my experience, the people who write message fic invent the message and shape the character around it, thus creating hollow clunky golems that inspire me to nothing but “can I dent the sheetrock if I throw this across the room hard enough?”

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      I think this is the reason they’re hung up on “representation”. After all, a character might do things or have things happen to them that the SJWs would not approve of. Representations are lacking in any troublesome depths.

  20. julieapascal

    You know how people say things like “how does it feel to be in the new house?” I want to say… how does it FEEL to be in the new house? All the moving and disruption and moving and uncertainty. I bet it feels awesome.

  21. “New House! Your portico’s pal that’s fun to be with…!”