Notes from a writing workshop

February 4, 2015

Not so much a writing workshop so far, but rather, a listening to other people talk about other people’s work… shop. Horrifying. Maybe I should try an online writing group… thing. I just don’t care about anyone’s opinions though. Maybe it’s time to go home, bury myself in Tumblr and blankets and write Holmescest.

There’s a man with a nasal-ey voice who has taken half the speaking time. Another man who shuffles his papers. A woman obsessed with getting published, insistent on reading one of her original poems to us. A black woman named “Edisa” who hasn’t learned about her indoor voice yet. And who is a little too fond of bright pink (she’s wearing 3 slightly different shades of it in her outfit). She commanded me to shut the door, but ignored me when I asked why.

The second man, loud shuffler. He’s chewing gum in an almost obscene way. He doesn’t seem to have top teeth so his jaw goes further into his head than it should. Up up up, whoa. His jaw crushed halfway into his face.

The obsessed-with-getting-published lady has left. Because she isn’t going to get to read her poetry out loud. She gathered her handful of short library pencils, her two grocery bags full of other bags and her grimy Timbuk2 messenger bag and left. She had fuzzy pilling on the back of her camel colored probably Old Navy peacoat. It made me determined to keep my coats well-shaven.

Black lady talking again. Sharing about herself: “I love to laugh, but it has to be funny.” I know more about her than I care to. She doesn’t know what “mod” means. She thinks “Pavlov” is a reference to uncontrollable desire, she doesn’t see how a narrator could possibly refer to characters as “the lady” or “the gentleman” unless the setting is Victorian England.

The nasal man writes like a poet but hates poetry.

Highlight of the evening: an Asian man told us that the last time he left the class, a shady stranger told him Market street was blocked because “there’s a suitcase full of body parts.” His was the only story I wanted to hear, and the only one we spent too little time on.

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In defense of harsher sentencing for crack

(versus powder cocaine)

It isn’t the least bit about race. Crack cocaine dealers have the same access to information about mandatory minimum sentences as anyone else, and if they choose to pursue a life of drug dealing, they can just as well switch to dealing powder cocaine. If a disproportionate number of blacks happen to continue choosing to deal one over the other, we’ll have to conclude either ignorance or stupidity.

Here’s why longer sentences for crack dealers is good: they deal in public. On street corners. Probably on the corner of a street where I used to live. One day I actually exited my building to see a body — someone who had been shot in the head on the (suspected) drug corner. That could’ve been anyone. In fact, it’s much more likely to be someone completely uninvolved because it’s in public.

I don’t really care if a drug dealer is going to someone’s upper east side apartment to deliver powder cocaine. Or their high rise office building. That’s a private transaction that has no bearing on me, and even if that drug user loses his job, his children probably won’t be the state’s problem. He’s probably not going to rob anyone. All that will happen is that he’ll get to go to an expensive rehab a few times. Not the same as when a highly addictive drug is popular among the poor: that increases everyone’s problems — the taxpayer (in the form of welfare, emergency room fees for the uninsured, food stamps, extra policing), the neighbor (armed robbery, burglaries), and even the random person walking in the street (muggings, gun violence/turf wars).

Mostly, I’m just tired of hearing this differential in sentencing trotted out as an example of racism in the legal system. Even if we ignore every point I just made, it still remains true that there was significant support from black leadership to enact these stricter sentencing laws.

Manifesto of Elliot Rodger

If you want to read it for yourself, it’s here (let me know if that link stops working).

If you’d rather read a synopsis, you’re in the right place. I read the whole thing in just a few hours. He begins at the beginning: his idyllic childhood in England. His move to the US at the age of 5. School, friends, etc. His hobbies throughout the years may sound familiar: Pokemon, Halo, skateboarding, World of Warcraft. Sounds like the average Redditor.

Strange thing is how oddly specific he is. He names parks he went to as a child. Friends from grade school by first and last name. Each nice restaurant. He calls his father’s car “the Mercedes SUV” even if he’s already mentioned it in the last sentence and could switch to using “car” with no confusion. He remembers the names of his elementary school teachers and what desserts his grandmother fed him a decade ago on holiday. His family’s lawyer claims he had high functioning form of Asperger’s.

What was really interesting about him is that he didn’t hate women. Not really. He desperately wanted a girlfriend (a tall, skinny blonde, of course), but no girls ever talked to him. He was also obsessed with material things: clothes, mansion, car, hair, having lots of money. His logic was that he could only attract (deserve?) the sort of girl he wanted if he had millions of dollars and fancy cars. And his conclusion was that he needed to win the lottery, since that was the only quick way to get the kind of money he needed to attract his pretty blondes. He spent thousands on the lottery, but only after using the ideas found in The Secret (ie, picturing himself winning the lottery over and over again).

It’s funny that he couldn’t see his own contradictions at all. He spoke of the men who managed to sleep with the girls he so desperately wanted. He called them slobs. He said they were barbaric. Low class. Ugly. Poor. Then why would he, Elliot, need fancy cars and many millions to attract the same girls?

The killing spree was, in his mind, revenge on sexually active men for getting what he never had, and on women, for denying him sex and love, which he believed he deserved more than other men. He started out just being angry when he saw couples. Then he had a phase where he would spill his drink on happy couples. There is, perhaps, some amusing Freudian analysis to be made here — dousing coveted blonde beauties in liquids… I giggled a little when I read this because it sounds so childish. “He’s got what I want so I know! I’ll pour my drink on them!”

He does make one point which I think has some merit:

Women should not have the right to choose who to mate with. That choice should be made for them by civilized men of
intelligence. If women had the freedom to choose which men to mate with, like they do today, they would breed with stupid, degenerate men, which would only produce stupid, degenerate offspring. This in turn would hinder the advancement of humanity. Not only hinder it, but devolve humanity completely.

Though, personally, I wouldn’t restrict it to women. Rather, most people aren’t doing a great job  of choosing mates. If they were, at least half of the population wouldn’t be breeding at all (everyone with IQ below median should find themselves un-mate-able if people were making good choices).

All in all, the case of Elliot Rodger makes me sad. He grew up extremely privileged and wealthy. He visited 6 different countries before the age of 5 and would go on to have many lengthy international holidays. He attended film premieres, mingled with the Hollywood elite and their offspring, got basically everything he ever asked his mother for. Yet, he was unhappy. He wanted his mother to re-marry: someone even wealthier, because he thought it would solve all his problems. Where on earth did he get the idea that more money would fix things? Oh, right, this is America. Of course. It’s the only thing that matters here. More generally, I think we can all find a shadow of this in our own lives: we focus most of our attention on the one thing we don’t have, becoming unable to enjoy the rest.

I’m sad because he was smart. The people he killed, they were probably smart too. Why don’t we ever hear about the San Francisco homeless population massacring one another? Entire prison populations having a shank orgy resulting in the deaths of hundreds of violent offenders? Now that might actually be useful! But this, these. These deaths are a pity.

From his writing, I can tell that he was a sweet, thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent boy. His only downfall was caring so much about what others thought of him: having rigid ideas of success and worthwhileness, all of it validated only externally. As fiction, his Manifesto would’ve been one of the most brilliant books I’ve ever read. It’s better than Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye.

I’ve spoken to two people about him, and both have said “He’s really cute!” or something along those lines. I think the true tragedy here is that maybe he was so shy that girls who would’ve been interested interpreted his behavior as disinterest.

Here’s a much more thorough synopsis of Elliot Rodger from Mashable.

Lowered expectations

This post is in response to a couple of articles I read recently. One on how smutty fiction makes us unhappy by giving us unrealistic expectations, and the other on why I’m not married (both linked below). I have also linked my favorite response to the marriage article: it brings up the good point that expecting nothing means that we allow ourselves to be treated badly, and this is obviously not ideal.

Though the author of the marriage article, Tracy McMillan, has been called sexist, misogynist, etc, and I won’t agree or disagree. I do think she has a point. If marriage is so important that you are willing to mould yourself into an ideal of pleasant femininity, to accept any guy who will marry you, to be selfless and expect nothing in return except sexual fidelity, then yes — do that. It may really help you with your goal of being married.

However, I think it may be worthwhile to first examine why marriage is that important to you — and whether it’s really about you. Or is that that your parents expect it? That your friends are all doing it? That you’re sick of answering questions about why you aren’t married? You’re afraid to be alone? Your biological clock is ticking? There may be better solutions to all of these concerns.

The other article on fantasy boyfriends from fiction mentions the author’s parents who, at the time of publication, had been happily married for 39 years. I’m always interested to know how people manage to tolerate each other for that long. Her mother said her secret was “forgiveness and lowered expectations”.

Her response makes me sad. While articles like these are telling women they should be less selfish and more forgiving and live life “working around a man’s fear and insecurity”, they’re implicitly giving men a free pass. The other side of telling women “please lower your expectations” is telling men “you’re fine just the way you are”. In other words, men: you don’t need to work on improving yourself. You don’t have to be romantic. You don’t have to act like an adult rather than your wife’s other 5 year old son. You don’t have to deal with your emotions and your wife’s concerns in a thoughtful way. You don’t have to look good. You’re a man! That is just how you are! The only thing expected of you in a marriage is that you don’t cheat!

I think we should teach people (both genders) to raise their expectations. Unless it’s the kind of love that streaks across the heavens and lights up the night sky, it isn’t worth your time. Trust me on this one — I’ve taken the long road to verify it.

Your Fictional Fantasy Boyfriend May Be Making You Fifty Shades of Miserable

Why You’re Not Married

An Open Letter to the Women Who Are Telling Me It’s My Fault I’m Not Married

Is Benedict Cumberbatch an atheist?

As with my previous post on Tom Hiddleston’s religion (or lack thereof), the standard disclaimer applies: I don’t know for sure, and this is my speculation. I would lean towards “yes” but unlike the my many ambiguous tidbits of evidence for Tom Hiddleston, I have one convincing quote from Benedict Cumberbatch. In particular, during his Harper’s Bazaar interview he says (in response to the question “Do you have any irrational fears?”):

No, I’m quite a rationalist. I’m not superstitious. I think life is too full of natural wonders and logical complexities to worry about illogical things.

What convinces me that he’s an atheist is his word choices. References to “natural wonders” and to logical versus illogical make him sound very much like Richard Dawkins, one of the world’s most prominent atheists. That argument — that the world is too full of natural wonder to go worrying about illogical things — is actually the theme of one of Dawkins’ books (The Greatest Show on Earth).

It’s also interesting that when he says “illogical things” he bites his lip and smiles like a boy who has just said something naughty — as if he knows that he’s making fun of religion and he knows he might get in trouble for it.

Now, I know that many will argue that he worked at a Tibetan monastery during his gap year. There is also evidence that he meditates, or that he once did. However, here is his description of it:

There’s an ability to focus and have a real sort of purity of purpose and attention and not be too distracted. And to feel very alive to your environment, to know what you are part of, to understand what is going on in your peripheral vision and behind you, as well of what is in front of you. That definitely came from that.

This sounds more like the analysis of a clinical psychiatrist than a religious adherent. According to The Hollywood Reporter, he calls himself a buddhist “at least philosophically” — but none of this conflicts with atheism.

It appears that he has a feeling that there’s something bigger than him in this world, but the first quote seems to put him in the camp of Richard Dawkins. The “something bigger” is the natural world and its scientific intricacies.

Lessons from Teen Mom

(The observations in this post are about Teen Mom 2)

“Television rots the brain”

“Reality television is trash and a waste of time”

These are common statements, especially among educated, serious grown-up types. But I contend that if you look, there are common threads to human behavior and motivation that can be observed in these types of shows. Here are a few things I have learned.

What girls want

There is just one thing: they want to feel like the #1 priority.

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Ruining San Francisco

Who gets to talk about what is ruining San Francisco? People who were born and raised here. Who gets to be quiet on the matter? Everyone else.

As someone from the former group, I will say that I disagree with Chris Tacy who denounces tech workers in his blog [link below]. He’s a tech worker that’s better than all the douchebag tech workers he describes because (and you will love this) he moved into the Mission in 1992 before it was cool! What he liked about San Francisco?

 I found a city made up of wildly different people – of all types – spread across a huge range of little tribal neighborhoods. It was a massive melting pot of values, ethnicities, world views, ages and economic classes.

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