Jan 26

Other end

So the horrifically unpleasant thing is over, which is nice.

General updates:

My laptop arrived, and it is amazing. It’s a Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro, it’s bright orange, and it’s better than literally every other computer I routinely interact with, including the computers at school and both of my jobs.

I’m getting a new car soon, although ‘soon’ is probably overstating it now that the whole of northern Mass. and southern N.H. are getting ready to shut down for two days in response to a storm I didn’t know was happening until 11 a.m. today. (It wasn’t until about 2 p.m., when I was told not to come in to work tomorrow — after school was cancelled — for my own safety, that I started to figure out that this storm was a big deal.) Anyway, the car is great — it’ll pass inspections and everything.

School has started. I’m thrilled to have gotten the Bio professor I was hoping for (I put off taking Bio 2 because I wanted to take it with him, but this semester the only one’s on the schedule were someone else and ‘Instructor TBD,’ and I also want to graduate this year). I’m also excited for my Video Field Production class, which will involve video editing, which I love and have missed a great deal. And Honors Philosophy of Happiness is gonna be great, obv.

I’m doing way better now than I was last Friday, generally. So — yay!

Jan 23

I’m not really okay right now

I usually try pretty hard not to say when I’m not doing well on here. I’m not sure how successful I am. After the post about Serial the other day, a friend texted me to ask if I was okay.

I don’t like to talk about it because it always seems like the obvious thing to do when I’m overwhelmed is to give myself a break somewhere — and this is the most obvious place. Blogging less is an easy thing I can do to relieve some pressure on me.

But that doesn’t work. It always, always makes things so, so much worse.

I’m going to be okay. I’m back in school, I have supportive friends, and everything that’s bothering me right now is finite in its capacity to keep making me miserable.

This is temporary. It’s horrifically unpleasant, but it’s temporary.

Expect no interruption of service on txwatson.com.

Jan 22

I hate everything about cars

I got pulled over again this morning. My car’s uninspected. I got a $62 fine I can’t really afford because I didn’t have the free money for a $60 inspection I can’t really afford.

So, obviously, as any classist libertarian internet asshole would gleefully point out, I can’t really afford to own a car. Unfortunately, both of my jobs, and my community college, are about a half an hour’s drive apart from both my home and each other. (Give or take 10 minutes for any given line in that triangle.)

There isn’t any public transportation in my home town, and even if there was, I live a 15 minute drive off the center of town, which is about a 4 hour walk, and while public transportation is sort of well-equipped to get people to and from my school, it’s not even a little bit set up to get people to either of my jobs.

The solution, I’ll point out again for people who don’t follow this blog and so don’t see this rant every time something bad happens with me and my car, is comprehensive public transportation reform.

The ability to get around is a basic requirement for participation in society — despite what recent Intro to Economics graduates and autodidactic internet Libertarians would argue, human beings are physical entities who interact in ways that are governed and constrained by time and space, and cannot be reasonably analogized to spreadsheets.

We need busses and trains and subways and government-funded cheap-or-free taxis. The government manages the roads, because transportation is a fundamental necessity for a thriving civilization. They should manage the stuff that goes on them, too — or, at least, provide accessible options.

Having a personal vehicle should be a professional choice, or an uncommon hobby — for a huge number of reasons: it’d be way safer if there were way fewer vehicles on the road, piloted by generally more professional people; human beings are in general objectively bad at driving and definitely shouldn’t be doing it; it’d be a huge plus for the environment if the average vehicle housed a dozen people per trip instead of like 1.5; it would be less expensive to maintain the roads if they took less general wear; and other reasons also as well.

Which is to say: no, I’m not personally equipped to keep my car maintained and inspected. No, it’s not reasonable to expect people in poverty to be able to do that. No, it’s not reasonable to expect people in poverty to go without cars. No, that’s not safe. No, it’s not okay. And no, it’s not a good idea to keep trying to bolster the American manufacturing economy by artificially inflating the demand for personal motor vehicles by perpetuating bad policy.

Jan 21

Lots of sad, dark thoughts on Serial (definitely spoilers)

Mike Rugnetta did not address the aspects of Serial that I had guessed he was going to. Instead, he talked about the nature of subjectivity and objectivity and the law, and saved a discussion of the same re: journalism for next week.

So, unfortunately, I don’t have the jumping-off point I was hoping for — it would have really helped to have someone smarter than me get the ball rolling on this one.

Serial doesn’t resolve. That’s a really stressful quality it has. It’s a story about a person possibly-wrongfully in prison, it’s an exploration of the circumstances surrounding his case. It started airing while the investigation was ongoing. Resource-laden people who believe he’s innocent became involved in the case during the series. Sarah Koenig can’t possibly have known that it wouldn’t have resolved. She says so a number of times: she expected to catch a break. She expected the case to be solvable.

Mike takes the time to remind the audience that Serial is real, but in case you didn’t watch the video: Serial is real. It’s actually a story about a real person who is currently in prison, about a real teenage girl who was actually murdered in 1999. The ambiguities and conflicts were not artfully constructed and balanced to be just-barely-uncrackable. It’s real. Adnan Syed is really in prison. Hae Min Lee is actually dead.

I’m going to keep trying, but I can’t think of a better way to say what I’m trying to say. It’s real. It really happened in 1999. For Adnan and his family, it really is still happening now. It’s real. It’s real.

In the closest he comes to talking about what I thought he was going to talk about, Mike calls the end of Serial Kafkaesque. It reminded me of something I once saw Christopher Hitchens say in an interview, about a story he was writing about Soviet Russia.

He had been smuggled into the country and was in the basement with his hosts, and he was going to be the first person to write a news story there without calling it Kafkaesque. But on his first night there, the secret police burst in and arrested everybody. He said, “They make you do it.”

The idea stuck with me. That that’s what a Kafkaesque real world would have to be like: if it were anything short of cartoonishly, surreally, randomly, capriciously oppressive, it wouldn’t really be the kind of world Kafka described. And that’s what still makes me sick to think about: that Kafka’s world was the real world. That he wasn’t exaggerating or making it up. It was real. It was real.

Would it be unfair or over-dramatic to say that Adnan Syed woke up one day in 1999 to discover that he’d turned into an insect? If he’s innocent. Or that he’s performing an extraordinary feat of starvation? If he’s guilty.

The United States is second on Wikipedia’s list of countries by incarceration rate. And next to our number, 707 per 100,000, is a note that leads to a section explaining all the different kinds of prisoners the United States leaves out of that count. Those are real numbers.

In a 2012 study people who watched certain major TV news sources performed worse on questions about international affairs than people who watched no news at all. After NPR (the people who make Serial) the next best performance came from people who get all their news from a parody news show on a comedy channel. That was a real study.

As jobs that require only a high school education become harder to find, and the minimum wage lags behind inflation by about a third and behind the cost of living by about half, the cost of attending college has increased at a rate that exceeds inflation for at least three decades. Those are real statistics.

My first thought about Serial was “Oh, isn’t it cool that we’re getting culturally used to hearing stories with a lot of ambiguity?” But that line of thinking ignores one huge, important detail: It’s real. It’s real. It’s real.

Jan 20

Updates that are even more boring than yesterday’s

For the second day in a row, as I have been getting ready for bed, I have remembered that the thing I did earlier today, when I wrote like 200 words on a complicated topic then saved the draft and closed it because I couldn’t keep track of it just then, does not actually count as blogging, and so I still have a post to write.

(Yesterday it was etiquette and thoughtfulness. Today it was the complexity of the idea of ‘being yourself.’)

So, stuff I did today. Involves zero finishing-interesting-media, so that’s off the table. (Although yesterday’s post was a list-of-things-that-are-cool-for-reasons-I-can’t-say-because-spoilers so that wasn’t very exciting.)

My laptop shipped! I am very excited about that. I have been checking the UPS Tracking page every hour to see if it has made it to my state yet. It should arrive by Thursday.

Classes start tomorrow. I’ve only got one class on Wednesdays, but I have it for three hours, because it’s a science class and Wednesday is the lab day.

It probably won’t be three hours. First days are basically just handing out the syllabus and asking whether we really need the book.

After school, I have two interviews for stories for work lined up in the afternoon. So, that’s going to be lots of fun. (One of them’s about the history of a library, so I’m p. excited about that.)

It’s going to be a very busy week, but also a very boring week. I don’t know what I can really do with that, blogging-wise. Any ideas?

Jan 19

Pieces of media I finished consuming today

I finished three longish narrative pieces of media today, all of which were very good.

The first was the podcast Serial. I had only heard of it because Mike Rugnetta of Idea Channel said at the end of the last two episodes that an episode on Serial was upcoming, so viewers should get started on listening to the 12 hours of material in the podcast.

Serial is a 12-episode series about the circumstances surrounding the conviction of Adnan Syed for murdering his ex-girlfriend in 1999. I’m probably going to blog about this again after the Idea Channel episode, so I’ll hold spoilers until that point. (If anyone so obsessively reads my blog that you can’t bear to miss a day, new Idea Channel episodes appear to come out on Wednesdays.)

The second thing was Episode 29 of Hello, Internet, the podcast hosted by CGP Grey and Brady Haran, two professional YouTube content creators. (When I say ‘hosted’ — the format of the show is Grey and Brady talking about pretty much whatever they feel like for two hours every couple weeks.)

I had wanted to finish Serial in time for the Idea Channel episode, so I put off listening to the new Hello Internet until I had finished that — and I’m glad I did, because they spend a fairly large chunk of the end of the episode talking about it. (Apparently they had mentioned it at the end of the previous episode, but I had forgotten, or not recognized it as being of any significance.)

They also talked about texting etiquette, including discussing what someone (it was me) brought up in the Reddit thread for the episode — the idea of semi-synchronous communication. (I’m not bragging you’re bragging shut up)

The third thing actually had nothing to do with Serial, which was unusual for stuff-that-happened-today. It was the short story Lawful Interception by Cory Doctorow, which I started reading yesterday and finished about a half an hour ago.

It takes place in the same setting, and stars the same protagonist, as Little Brother and Homeland, Doctorow’s Young Adult novels about technological resistance to the totalitarian elements of the United States government.

There are no other things I finished today! (yaaaayyyyy…..) I’m going to go work on a short story then sleep.

Jan 16

OKCupid finally let me stop misgendering myself

Picture of T.X. Watson. Text: txwatson, 25, genderqueer, non-binary

So, I use OKCupid pretty frequently. I’ve met a lot of really great people through it, both romantically and not. And it has a lot of good qualities! I really like the match percentage system, and I was pretty excited when I found the “I don’t want to see or be seen by straight people” option.

But for a very long time, the only gender options were “Man” and “Woman.” Which was frustrating, and obnoxious, and upsetting.

A few months ago, I heard they were starting trials where some people would get more gender options. So I started checking pretty regularly to see if I’d gotten them. Then, I started seeing people who had the expanded options, and I started checking pretty much every day. I also emailed the help line letting them know that I would be interested in taking advantage of that expanded option set, if they made it available to me. (They wrote back saying they’d forwarded my email to the developers.)

For a while now, I’ve been checking every day. So I know for sure that I only had “Man” and “Woman” to choose from yesterday.

But today, there was a third box in the drop-down list: “More options…”

I now have the option to identify as up to five of the following: Woman, Man, Agender, Androgynous, Bigender, Cis Man, Cis Woman, Genderfluid, Genderqueer, Gender Nonconforming, Hijra, Intersex, Non-binary, Other, Pangender, Transfeminine, Transgender, Transmasculine, Transsexual, Trans Man, Trans Woman, and Two Spirit.

I selected Genderqueer and Non-binary.

OKCupid also asks me which searches to include me in — there, I still only have the binary choice to be included in searches for men OR women. (No ‘both.’)

More options showed up for sexuality, too: Straight, Gay, Bisexual, Asexual, Demisexual, Heteroflexible, Homoflexible, Lesbian, Pansexual, Queer, Questioning, and Sapiosexual.

I selected Bisexual and Queer. (I considered also selecting Pansexual, but decided against it.)

I don’t know whether I’ve finally been let into the trials, or if they’re fully rolling it out now, or if they just plan on randomly adding the options to different people’s profiles in an unknown and unknowable order and pattern until gender has been expanded for all of OKCupid.

Jan 15

inverse rights corresponding to freedom of speech

The issue of free speech (which has been in the news a lot lately) necessarily generates a parallel discussion of rights: To what extent do people have the right to not be exposed to speech? And to what extent should and can people have those rights?

In the United States, it’s obvious we don’t take a binary position on this topic. There is content that people are considered entitled to fully avoid — like pornography — and there is content that people are considered obligated to consume — like education.

And the issue is engrossingly complicated (if you’re inclined to geek out about this sort of thing) — what kind of enforcement does the right not to listen deserve? What should the rules be about content posted in public? What are the different kinds of public? (Outside on Main Street is different than the inside of the candy shop, the bar, the porn store…) Is there any right to control over the content display in private space?

And there’s the issue of speech as a form of violence — both in the broadcast sense of hate speech and the individual sense of harassment. In the case of the former, there’s the legal concept of hate speech (although as far as I can tell, in the US hate speech only exists in case law). As for the latter, restraining orders have been upheld in defense of a right not to be contacted, even going as far as calling pokes on Facebook a violation.

I don’t have any answers here for the mechanics of free speech. I just wanted to spend some time talking about the fact that there is literally no possible manifestation of the institution of free speech that doesn’t require an elaborate set of narrowly defined specific exceptions.

Jan 14

not the thing I said I was gonna do

I didn’t start the villain thing.

It’s not that I don’t want to. It really does sound like a fun story to write, it would be an interesting challenge, and it would produce a lot of valuable insight for the plot of that story.

But right now I don’t wanna do a complicated challenge. I’m tired. I’m struggling at work and my school semester is about to start. I’m not in a good place to take on a project that’s going to be a real demand on my emotional and intellectual energy, every day, for months.

I haven’t been writing. I’ve dismissed the “work on a story” alert on my phone every day for over a week. It’s starting to get really upsetting, but I couldn’t convince myself to sit down and work on a project I’ve got started. I don’t want to work on the second draft of Depression Buddy right now. I don’t want to start on the villain’s POV of my novel. And I don’t want to start trying again to write a Solarpunk story while I still don’t actually have a specific Solarpunk story I want to write.

So, instead of doing any of that stuff, I decided to grab a handful of the fun-looking ideas from my Google Keep folder and run with them.

Today I started a Sherlock Holmes pastiche about a detective who investigates magical crimes, formatted as a feature news story written by a journalist who tagged along on a case. The case is going to be about a magician who uses riddles to cast spells.

Jan 13

villain’s point of view

In fall of last year, I wrote a new draft of my first novel. It ended up being even shorter than the already too-short first and second drafts — I hand-wrote it, so I can’t be sure, but I think I dropped from 40,000 words to about 20,000.

So, this story may ultimately just be the sort of thing I’ll have to publish as a $2 e-book, which means it won’t be my first novel, because I’d like to have some traditionally published stuff before I try to publish novellas. (I will strategize more carefully when I’ve actually got a publishable draft.)

Anyway, this draft has some pretty significant weaknesses, apart from being really short and handwritten. The biggest of these things is that the villain totally doesn’t have any motivation.

I mean, there’s a rational plot arc. I know all of the reasons that the villain does the things he does. But I haven’t actually fleshed out the character. (That’s a joke. It’s funny because he’s a skeleton. This post will be hilarious in 5 years when this story is published and famous.)

I am considering writing a draft of the story from the villain’s perspective. I know it’s the responsible thing to do for this story.

But it’s so much work that’s never going to see the light of day. And I know that’s a thing people do, all the time. But it’s so hard to go into writing knowing in advance that you’re not going to be showing anyone the piece you’re working on. (And I wouldn’t be. Because the bad guy is terrible and the main character is trans and he is not going to be respectful and I don’t want to actually publish a book that’s packed with deliberate misgendering.)

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