One of the true classics of the Whatever, because it includes not only pictures, but a recipe!
SEPTEMBER 26, 2006: How to Make a Schadenfreude Pie
My word, what is this dark and vaguely sinister-looking pie you see before you? Well, I’ll tell you. It’s the world’s first Schadenfreude Pie, the pie to enjoy while you are reveling in the horrible misfortunes of others. Why is there a Schadenfreude Pie? Because after I wrote the headline for this entry, I wondered to myself, “what would Schadenfreude Pie taste like?”
My guess: Dark. Rich. And oh so bittersweet.
And you know what? That’s exactly what it tastes like. Also — and this is really just a perfect but unintentional extension of the whole schadenfreude metaphor — you really only want a small slice; too much of this pie and it’ll sit in the pit of your stomach like a rock of judgment, pulling you down. Small slice? Excellent. Big slice? You’ll regret it. Just like schadenfreude itself.
Want a slice? Sure you do. Here’s how you make it.
Let’s face it, schadenfreude is a dark emotion. It deserves a dark pie. Here are your ingredients.
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup dark corn syrup
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks
3 large eggs (I used brown eggs in keeping with the spirit of things, but white eggs are fine)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 splash Kahlua or other coffee liqueur
1 graham cracker pie crust (9 or 10 inches). Choose regular or chocolate graham cracker crust according to taste.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees (Fahrenheit). Melt butter in largish mixing bowl; add in corn syrup, molasses, brown sugar and cinnamon. Mix well. Melt chocolate; fold into existing mixture. Add eggs and Kahlua; mix vigorously until mix has an even consistency. Pour into pie crust (depending on size of crust you may have a little filling mix left over).
Shove into oven, center of middle rack, and bake for about 45 minutes. At 45 minutes, poke pie with butter knife. If butter knife comes out clean, your pie is done; otherwise give it about another five minutes.
Once you take the pie out of the oven, let it set at least 20 minutes before you dig in. It’s really good when still warm, however.
Serving recommendations: small slices (this is an awesomely rich pie) and an ice cold glass of milk to go with it.
Got it? Groovy. And now, pictures of the production of the very first Schadenfreude Pie ever:
Athena mixes the pie filling ingredients while plotting the downfall of all those who oppose her.
Appearing as if the baleful eye of retribution, the pie awaits its cookination!
The darkest of all dark pies, fully cooked.
“From Hell’s heart I stab at thee, Schadenfredue Pie!”
The unspeakable malevolence of the pie, in single-serving size.
Sure, it’s a pie freighted down by the petty weaknesses of men, but how does it taste?
Excellent! And now, let us have a maniacal laugh of victory, if you please:
Joy at the misfortune of others — and pie! Truly, the best of all possible worlds.
There’s a very nice review of Zoe’s Talegoing on over at Blogcritics (which recently became part of the Technorati media empire, so well done on them), and the reviewer (author Mel Odom) seems taken with the character of Zoë herself:
Zoe is a marvelous character and leaps from the pages. As a kid, I knew girls like her. As an adult, I raised a daughter like her in so many ways. The fierce independence and need to shield her parents from her world (and to protect her privacy) was endearing.
Scalzi’s voice in the first-person narrative is pitch-perfect. If I hadn’t known the writer was male, I wouldn’t have believed it. The views and opinions Zoe and her best friend Gretchen shared were incredibly well done.
I’m always happy when other people like Zoë, so I’m fond of her myself, although this is the first time I’ve heard someone note feeling a connection with the character from the parental point of view. That’s kind of neat.
(Note: Readers with very long memories might remember that I was the person who actually gave the Blogcritics site its name, and I let them use a few of my music reviews when they were starting out. I haven’t had anything to do with them operationally for a few years, however. Also, in an interesting coincidence, Mel Odom and I have the same agent. Science fiction, it’s a small world.)
Here at Viable Paradise, one of the traditions is a Tuesday night reading of a Shakespeare play. This year it was The Tempest, and I had the part of Stephano, the drunken butler, while Marko Kloos played Trinculo and Patrick Nielsen Hayden was typecast as Caliban. Whatever regular Chang, who is a student here at VP this year, caught a snippet of our act. Bear in mind that I am, in fact, entirely sober here.
I love it when I get to see covers of my books in other countries, and today I have the pleasure of showing you covers in two different countries. First, here are the covers of the books in Romania, the books having recently been announced here:
If you want to see the covers in more detail, here is a much larger picture. The books aren’t out yet (in Romania or elsewhere), but the first apparently will be soon.
And now, the Chinese covers of OMW and TGB:
If these look a little fuzzy, it’s because they’ve been scanned in from an ad on the back cover of Science Fiction World, the Chinese SF magazine that’s in fact the largest circulation SF magazine in the world. Can’t complain. This was sent along to me by reader Joel Martinsen, to whom I am in debt, and who also posts more clear scans of the covers here (OMW) and here (TGB). The books don’t have a release date on the ad (or so I’m told) but since it’s an ad, I imagine the release it will be soon.
I think all these covers are pretty cool, actually.
You ask, “What did Scalzi think about fashion in 1999?” I’m glad you asked!
AUGUST 17, 1999: Gap Vests
I’m trying to figure out the brain process that led the fashion mavens at the Gap to declare that cheap vests in airplane-directing orange were going to be the major fashion statement of the fall season. After racking my brain, I have come up with two possible explanations, either of which (or a combination thereof) will do:
1. Peyote mushrooms humorously slipped onto the delivery pizzas at a brainstorming session (this would also, incidentally, fully explain those freaky “Magic” commercials run by Gap’s Old Navy division).
2. Gap’s overseas suppliers (you know, the ones that seems to have a lot of children around the factory, yet no day care facilities to speak of) called up the people at the Gap and informed them that they would be making cheap, ugly vests this year. But we can’t sell cheap, ugly vests, the shocked and horrified Gap people said. To which the overseas suppliers said, hey, that’s what you get when you pay us 35 cents per article of clothing. Take the vests, or we’ll go back to making Arizona jeans for JC Penney.
A third, somewhat less plausible explanation, has the folks at the Gap honestly believing that these vests are actually cool looking. I choose not to believe this one, because, really, look at the vest. It’s just plain ugly as Hell. Even I can see that, and my fashion sense blinks out after fulfilling the injunction to wear socks of matching colors. The only people who should be wearing vests of that color are hunters and highway construction workers, who wear the vests to avoid being drilled in the head with bullets, or turned into smeary maroon streaks on the high-capacity lane of the 210. There is a fashion statement going on, but the statement is “Don’t kill me.”
Ugly as the vests are, it does them no good to be put on the models that the Gap has chosen to display them, all of which uniformly display a dazed, fresh-off-a-crystal-meth-high blank stare. As a general rule of thumb, I don’t accept advice from anyone who’s just deep-fried 50,000 or so of his or her own brain cells: All of the brain’s frantic rerouting of neural pathways past damaged areas to keep the autonomic nervous system functioning takes away from higher brain functions. These kids are wearing vests not to be fashionable, but because they haven’t the coordination to handle buttons.
I’ve never been one for the Gap’s upper-middle-class charms, anyway. To be so would initially assume that I give a damn about clothes, which I do not (which is not to say I’m a nudist, just not overly concerned about being a fashion plate). I can’t actually remember a time when my clothes weren’t actually bought by someone else, usually a woman. My mother handled the duties up to high school, at which point it was handled by a succession of female friends and girlfriends (when I went clothes shopping before going off to college, I took my friend Diane with me to tell me what I looked good in; the irony is that I went to the University of Chicago, where fears of social castigation because of poor clothing choices are, shall we say, wildly unfounded).
Then I met Krissy, who has handled the duties from that point forward. You may laugh at my inability or unwillingness to dress myself, but I look at it as this: Krissy has a vested interest in making me look good (or, at least, better), so why not let her? Now, I am not entirely incompetent in choosing my own clothes (I can handle this and other basic life functions), but I just don’t care about it. For the past week, my clothing choices have consisted of sweat shorts and t-shirts. Tomorrow, barring an intervention by Tommy Hilfiger, I imagine I’ll be wearing the same general ensemble.
Secondly, I’m fairly immune to the Gap’s ad campaigns. Crankhead teens wearing vests are obviously not going to work with me, but their other, more adult campaigns also don’t make it. A couple of years ago, while the Gap was pushing khakis, they trotted out pictures of various cool people wearing khakis, and proclaimed, redundantly, that such-and-such wore khakis. The implication being, of course, that if they could do it, so could you. Well, I thought, so what if James Dean wore Khakis. After his car accident James Dean also wore an engine block. I don’t want to wear that, either.
Be that as it may, I don’t like seeing ugly clothing being paraded around as something of value (I myself wear ugly clothing, but I am rightfully ashamed of the fact). The Gap is hardly the only offender on this point, of course — we seem to be going through another ugly period in popular clothing, coinciding with the ugly period in popular music and movies — but they have the largest media reach, so of course you notice it more. But I suppose that Gap and its customers deserve each other. If they want the sort of customer who is gullible enough to fall for the vest campaign, who am I to get in their way. And anyone dumb enough to fall for the idea that a thin orange vest is worth wearing deserves to have their money taken from them by the Gap. Fortunately, the rest of us will be able to tell at a distance who they are.
My pal and fellow author Maureen Johnson has started YA for Obama, which features YA authors talking about why politics matters to them, and encouraging their target audience to get involved and active, even if they are not quite old enough to vote. With a title like “YA for Obama” it’s pretty clear what side of the fence the contributors are coming down on. The first post (aside from Maureen’s intro) is from Judy Blume. Which is a nice way to start things off. If you or the YAish folks you know are inclined toward the Democratic side of things, do check it out.
Because I think it’s fun to inflict my musical stylings upon you! Again!
JULY 26, 2005: Saturn Speaks
John Scalzi again. No, I’m not back yet. I still have a week left on my hiatus. However, I wanted to drop a musical composition I did on y’all. The Cassini mission has recorded radio frequencies from Saturn and NASA has fiddled with them to put them into human hearing range, and I thought they sounded interesting enough to work with in a musical sense. So, for your musical delectation: “Saturn Speaks.” It comes in three flavors: Real Media (3.4 MB), small variable bit rate mp3 (4.3 MB) and large variable bit rate mp3 (9.9 MB). The track itself is 7 minutes long. Let me know what you think.
It’s my big sister’s birthday today, so: Happy birthday Heather! As your gift, I’m officially forgiving you for trying to stave in my head with a 7-iron when I was eight years old, sending me to the hospital to get seven stitches to my head, right next to my eye (for those of you following along at home, it really was an accident. Heather hardly ever tried to murder me in an obvious fashion).
But wait, there’s more! Since after coming home from the hospital I deprived you of the ability to watch Paul McCartney: Rockshow because I wanted to watch Space Cruiser Yamato, and mom let me because, after all, I had suffered major blunt force trauma to the head that day, allow me now to rectify that situation right now for you:
That Paul McCartney. He was a cute one, he was. Anyway, happy birthday, Heather, and many more.
Update: Also happy birthday to Elizabeth Bear, my Viable Paradise roommate, who is in fact sitting on the couch next to me as I type this (but not looking at my screen, so she doesn’t know I’m writing this). Give yourself an eBear birthday gift and go out and purchase one of her many fine novels.
I’ve made it to Martha’s Vineyard to start teaching at Viable Paradise. It seems lovely; the cell phone reception sucks. Don’t expect to see too much of me this week. Rumor is, however, that the Internet is vast and that you’ll have many things to amuse yourself with.
In 2005, I settled one of the great genre questions of all time. It was easy, really.
DECEMBER 2, 2005: How to Tell SF From F
Uh-oh. Just when we least expected it, a seminar on genre theory broke out online! It’s about what the difference between science fiction and fantasy really is.
Call me unbearably shallow, but here’s how you know the difference. You walk up to the main character of the story in question and say: “Hey! Main character! That deus ex machina doodad you have on your belt, does it have, like, a battery?”
If he says “Why, yes, there’s a tiny nuclear fuel cell in there that will power this baby for 10,000 planetary revolutions,” well, then, you’ve got some science fiction there. If he says, “Of course not, it was forged in the eternal flames of Mount [insert typewriter spasm here] by the dwarves who serve the elder and/or fallen god [insert second typewriter spasm here], and holds captive his immortal soul” or some such, well, that’s fantasy. Everything else is pretty much elaboration and variation on the point.
If the story features a nuclear fuel cell made by the dwarf servants of the dread god Typewriter Spasm, what you’ve got is an editor asleep at the switch. Never fear, he or she will be beaten presently.
He was, first and foremost, an individual, and to understand why this is notable praise you have to know that his life’s masterwork was the creation of a class called Individual Humanities. This class, a one-year course spread out over the last half of the junior year and the first half the senior year, was nominally a literature course, but rather than merely teaching texts or an academic subject it aimed for something rather more rare (particularly at the high school level): It taught an idea.
The idea: That the most important thing a society could do was to create independently acting and thinking individuals who saw as their life’s work (or, as Larry described it, “their highest life crisis”) service to the community. “Service to the community” is a deceptively mundane description — in this context it means striving with all of one’s abilities, to the best of one’s abilities, to better the world, and the condition of mankind in it.
How do you teach this idea? You teach the individual. Larry did this by teaching archetypes of the individual: Oedipus Rex, for example, as the man who pursues truth even at cost to himself, or Huckleberry Finn, who develops into an individual when he decides to save Jim from a life of slavery, even at the potential cost of his own soul. He also taught the psychology of the individual, using Maslow and Ericson’s work; the philosophy of the individual, using thinkers from Mill to Bellow to Einstein; and provided examples of the power of the individual man (and woman) with real-life examples from the immense personal courage of Admiral James Stockdale to the unbounded creativity of artist James Hubbell.
As importantly, he required his students to consider the individual him- or herself, by assigning a “bio-study”: a 50-page paper that had the student pick one individual from history and show how that individual’s life had critical significance for his or her community. On top of that paper was another long paper discussing the bibliographical sources for the bio-study (there had to be at least eight), and then a third paper discussing how researching and writing the bio-study affected the student’s own life. This on top of numerous other 5- and 10-page papers over the course of the class. It’s no joke when I tell you I got through a year and a half of the University of Chicago — not exactly a lax school, academically — before I had written as much, or as strenuously, for all my classes as I’d written for that one class in high school.
(In case you’re wondering who my bio-study was, it was H.L. Mencken. Did the study of Mencken’s life affect me? As a hint, type “Mencken.com” into your browser and see where you go.)
Individual Humanities was an intensely rigorous course, and taught an idea that was both deeply classically conservative (the importance of the individual in society and history) and deeply classically liberal (the importance of society and the obligation the individual has to the community). You might think that a class that required the full reading of texts like Don Quixote, Hamlet and Man & Superman, compounded with daily supplemental readings and 200 pages of written work would hardly be the most popular class in school, and yet there were always far more people who wanted to be in the class than Larry would accept. Every year, Larry could handpick the students he wanted for the class (he did not always pick the “obvious” choices, either), and once he had the best minds he could find, he rode them hard, and wouldn’t tolerate less than full engagement in the work. If he thought you hadn’t done the work coming into class, he’d throw you out — he was known to throw out the entire class on more than one occasion. The result: Everyone was prepared the next day. You didn’t want to disappoint Larry.
All of which makes it sound as if Larry was a humorless taskmaster, which could not be further from the truth. He was strong-willed, no doubt. But he was also funny and free-thinking (in the best sense of the term) and he was perceptive of the personalities of the students who learned from him, as all the best teachers are, and was willing and able to let classes go on tangents before reeling them back in to make a point. He was also, in keeping with the Southern tradition from which he sprung, a courtly man, which meant that even at his most freewheeling, and even among intimates, he was attentive and reserved, and respectful of the others with whom he shared company. He was a good man, in all the ways one might wish to apply that phrase.
But best of all, he lived what he taught: He was an individual who saw as his life crisis the need to serve his community. He did it by teaching, and by teaching the ideals he saw as critical in fostering in others, for their sake and for the sake of the larger community. And he loved it; he loved teaching. You don’t spend 37 years of your life teaching, and much of that time developing and refining an incredibly work-intensive course, if you don’t love the process of cracking open the brains of your students to make them aware of the world and their place in it, and then actively engaging in the back-and-forth with your students that such a process requires. Larry loved it. And Larry knew, without false modesty, that he was doing good work. One time I said to Larry, who had no children of his own, that I wished that he had had children. And he looked at me with that smile of his (see the picture above). “But I do,” he said.
And he was right. I am right proud to say that I am one of Larry’s children. I carry with me not only my memories of him and of being in his classroom, but also that singular idea he strove in life to teach: That I, as my own person and in my own ways, owe society my best efforts. It’s a powerful idea and a hard one to live. Nevertheless I try to live this idea in my own life, and I will strive to teach my own child this idea as well.
I was fortunate to have Larry as a teacher; both during my tutelage and afterward, I was equally fortunate to call him my friend. It was my honor to dedicate my first book to him; although I regret to say the book itself was no masterpiece of literature, I wanted to note as early as possible the importance of those who taught me, and from whom I learned so much (Larry shared the dedication with Keith Johnson, another teacher and dear friend, who is also, alas, no longer with us). I suspect that in the future, when I write a book that’s good enough, he’ll receive another dedication, and I hope that he or some essence of him will be able to know it’s been done.
Those of you who knew Larry McMillin, and have learned from him, will know why I say to the rest of you that I wish you could have known him, and could have been taught by him. I do not doubt that your life would have been made richer, as mine has been. I do not doubt you would have a refined sense of yourself as an individual, as I believe I do. And I do not doubt you would feel the desire to engage and better the world, as I try to do, through my actions and my writing. Larry gave these to me, not as unearned gifts but in testament to work done with him. I am glad to have them.
Farewell Laurence McMillin, and as you once wished me, vaya con dios — go with God. I take my leave of you with thanks, with remembrance, with love and with the highest compliment I can think to give you: That you were and are a rare individual.
I’ve put in a request for my host provider to put Scalzi.com on a new server, so maybe that will help with all the server errors and whatnot. In the short term, however, I’ve taken down the “Random Whatever” and “The Critics Rave!” sidebar widgets to help reduce the calls to the database. Maybe that will help a little bit.
Thanks everyone also for your feedback re: ads — it’s very good to get an outside perspective on that stuff.
Meanwhile: Hey, I’m in New York. And there’s a cat sitting on my chest. Maybe it’s the New York equivalent of a lei.
First, in recognition of that portion of the Whatever audience who will go through smack-like withdrawals because it will be at least ten days before any new pictures of the cat, here’s Ghlaghghee. Try to ration yourselves when you enjoy this photo.
Second, being that today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day (Yaaaaaar!), this is a lovely time for me to bring to your attention Jane Yolen’s Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World, which Jane was kind enough to send along to me, and which tells the story of thirteen women across time who hoisted the Jolly Roger (metaphorically speaking, not all pirates used it, you know). It’s written to be accessible for kids, which is great, because I gave to Athena, who promptly devoured it and I suspect may be planning a career of piracy for herself now. The Dread Pirate Athena! Look out, people. But I’ll note that I’ve given it a thorough reading myself, because, dude. Women pirates are cool. Anyway, buy — don’t pillage, buy — this book for the pirates in training you know.
Third, because I’ll be out and about today in planes, trains and taxis, and I want you all to find some way to amuse yourselves, I hereby declare this an open pimp thread. Promote your latest books and projects! Promote the latest books and projects of other people! Promote me! Well, no, don’t worry about that one. But basically share with the class all the things you think are cool right now, from you or from others.
Strong caveat! As I am traveling today, I will not be able to readily go through the moderation queue and free messages that get stuck there. So I would suggest to you that you put no more than one link per message today. The more links you put in, the more likely you’ll get stuck in the moderation queue. I’m just saying. Feel free to post more than one message if you have multiple things you wish to promote.
To make up for the fact that I’m traveling today and therefore won’t be posting much, here’s a really long reprint from 2004. Quantity! It rules!
APRIL 19, 2004: Reader Request Week 2004 #1: Boys and Girls
Welcome to Reader Request Week 2004, in which I write about subjects suggested by you, the fabulous Whatever reader (did I mention you’re fabulous? Well, you are). To kick off the week, let’s start with the first question I was asked for Reader Request Week 2004, which comes from Jennifer:
Why aren’t there more close male-female friendships in American society?
Well, Jennifer. How many do you want? I agree that same-sex close friendships are the norm, but I don’t think opposite-sex close friendships are entirely rare. In my own circle of friends (who are, I must admit, exceptional people, and not just because they know me), intrasexual friendships are downright common; I can’t think of one of them, male or female, who doesn’t have excellent friends of both sexes. And anecdotally it seems that younger people (or at least, people younger than me) don’t have much in the way of cross-sex friendship hangups. I think it’s all that instant messaging.
(Which is actually a not entirely facetious point: I have a lot of reasonably good “internet friends” of both sexes, the gender of whom is not nor is likely to become a critical issue because our interaction is letters on a screen. It’s not that I don’t know they’re male or female, just that the physical ramifications of that fact is severely muted by the medium.)
But let’s go with the idea that there is a dearth of intrasexual friendships in the population at large. Why might this be? Being that I have a penis and all, I can’t speak to this question from the female side of the equation. To understand the male side of the equation (and specifically, the heterosexual male side — assume for the purposes of this article that when I talk about men, I talk about men what like women), we need to start from certain premises. Let’s begin by noting that, to the extent that men have problems becoming friends with women, I think the problem boils down to two related reasons:
1. Men have difficulty just being friends with someone they want to have sex with (this is the famous bone of contention in the film When Harry Met Sally). The obvious corollary to this is that most (straight) men would be happy to have sex with most of the women they meet, if they could, which they usually can’t for various reasons. So strictly as an issue of math, the numbers are against it.
2. Men have difficulty being interested in women they don’t want to have sex with, because, hell, if all they want is a friend, they’ve got guys for that. Being friends with guys is less complicated, and most guys are all for things being as uncomplicated as possible. We’re not, on average, terribly complicated people.
Yes, this is sexist. Guess what? We’re talking about the sexes. Sex is usually a factor. I’m not one of those people who believes that we’re entirely ruled by our base, animalistic urges. That’s why we have civilization, after all. Indeed, what is civilization but an open war in which the gray, crenelated mammalian forebrain beats back the savage reptilian underbrain over and over and over again, preferably with a rock? At the same time, let’s not pretend that the reptile underbrain always loses. It’s been around for hundreds of millions of years for a reason. Sometimes the forebrain can’t beat it and has to be content with trying to shove it into a tuxedo, a la Young Frankenstein, and pretending to company it’s somehow been tamed.
So, simply as a matter of expediency, let’s take as a given that in male-female relationships, sex is a significant issue. The question here was laid out as an issue with US society, but I think it’s fairly clear that this isn’t limited merely to US. Wherever there are men and women, sex is a significant issue. The US is better off than many places because women and men are of sufficiently equivalent status that there’s not a problem with them becoming friends; i.e., US males in general accept and celebrate that women are not property, have brains as well as vaginae and prefer lives in which they are not walled off from the rest of humanity and do more than accept sperm and raise children. That’s that whole “civilization” thing again.
Anyway, the big issue isn’t whether men want to have sex with women. The real issue is: Why do men let the fact they want to have sex with women keep them from being friends with women? And also, why do men let the fact that they don’t want to have sex with certain women keep them from being friends with those particular women? These are big, fascinating questions for which I don’t have any particularly good answers, but I won’t let that stop me from attempting a couple.
First, men let the fact they want to have sex with women keep them from becoming friends because men often think it’s more important to have sex than have friends. Scratch that: It’s not that they think that so much as they intuit that — which is to say the ol’ reptile portion of the brain has distracted the forebrain in some way and is now whispering in the man’s ear: She’s fertile! Pass on your seed! And rip out the throat of all those who oppose your mating! And in a purely Darwinian sense this is correct: Being friends is nice, and perhaps as a matter of cooperation helping ensure the survival of the largest number of your tribe, it has an evolutionary benefit. But it doesn’t pass on your genes. Mating is more important. Friends are easy. Sex is hard.
Now, the thing is we don’t live in a strictly Darwinian world, in which you have to abandon the idea of friendship for sex. But tell that your reptile brain. Your reptile brain lays down the rules: She can be a friend, or you can have sex with her. Such are men that they a) they don’t ask why the dumb reptile brain gets to make the rules and b) they’ll happily default to the “sex” option regardless of the likelihood of that option actually happening.
I’m perfectly happy to entertain the notion that this “friend vs. sex” formulation is simplistic. On the other hand, think of all the people you know who get with other people who are bad for them — over the strenuous objections of their relatively clear-eyed friends — for the dubious pleasure of “being in a relationship.” Think about the overarching importance we place on sexual/romantic relationships at the expense of other relationships. Writer Justine Larbalestier recently railed effectively about the fetish of romantic relationships:
How come the majority of the longest relationships in my circles are between good friends? That’s right “just” good friends. People who have known each other for years and years and years, have loaned each other money, helped rear each other’s children, read each other’s books, shared houses, shared jobs, but who aren’t in a sexual relationship with each other. How come the myths of our potential lives are centered around romantic love instead of friendship?…
I see friends in relationships with people they don’t much like, because somehow that’s more grown up than being single. I see friendships destroyed when friends become lovers and it doesn’t work out and somehow the friendship dies in the process. I see single friends, otherwise perfectly happy, beating themselves up because they haven’t found the mythical One yet.
As for why men don’t bother becoming friends with women they have no sexual desire for — well, to go back to what I said earlier: It’s a lot easier to make friends with guys. Also, I suspect that for the guys who let their reptile brains do a lot of their thinking when it comes to women, there’s a deep-seated cognitive dissonance: You’re around this woman all the time, yet you don’t want to mate with her? What’s your problem? Men — again, generally uncomplicated creatures — don’t like cognitive dissonance. It’s like an itch you can’t scratch. Better to avoid it all together.
What queers this formulation is that men do have friendships with women all the time — good ones, with nary a hint of sex in them. So how to explain this? Well, I see two options:
1. The men are being friendly while biding their time for the sexual relationship component. This is rather common; I remember in college a good female friend of mine was dating a guy named Leo for a long time and in the process had acquired a number of good male friends. After she broke up with Leo, all of her “good male friends” except for me (who was involved in an entirely different friend/sex quagmire at the time) professed their undying love — i.e., desire for sex, this being college — usually prefaced with the statement, “Well, now that Leo’s out of the way…”
2. The man has found some way to reconcile his desire to have sex with his women friends with the fact he won’t, yet still wishes to have them around, and/or is able to accept that women he doesn’t want to have sex with still have other redeeming qualities.
(There is a third option of having sex with your female friends and yet still just remaining friends, but let’s acknowledge that most men in general do not get to experience this option, or indeed are mentally prepared to deal with it as an option.)
As a practical matter, the first of these solutions isn’t very useful, either to a guy’s mental health or to the overall health of the friendship, which is, after all, predicated on a lie (that the guy likes the woman as a genuine friend) and often on a platform of ill will to boot (the guy wants the woman’s current relationship to go sour). So I don’t recommend that. The second, of course, I recommend wholeheartedly.
At this point, I hear some of you ask: Well, John. You seem to have a lot of female friends. Are you just waiting for their men to die to collect them into a harem, or have you somehow dealt with your sexual desire for them?
Well, it is true: I do have quite a few female friends, dating back to high school, and have been fortunate to continue to make female friends, including several over the last couple of years. I’ve never done a head count on this, but I suspect I have more good female friends than male friends. Most of the women friends I have I’m sexually attracted to. Generally speaking, they are smart, capable, witty, accomplished and sexually desirable: In other words, they totally rock. If I weren’t attracted to these women, it wouldn’t be out of line to question whether I was attracted to women at all.
I am not waiting for their men to die; aside from being unrealistic (both in the “all those men suddenly dying” sense and the “and then they’d want to be with me even though I’m married” sense, not to mention the “and my wife would happily accept my new polygamous lifestyle with nary a peep of complaint” sense, which seems doubtful), it seems pretty mean to wish all those guys dead, not in the least because I’m friends with most of them, too. All things being equal, I want these guys to live — if not for themselves (which, to be clear, is a good enough reason) then because they make my friends happy, and I want my friends to be happy.
So you can conclude that by and large I’ve reconciled my sexual attraction for my women friends with the fact that I won’t actually be having sex with them (you could alternately conclude that I’m having sex with them all, but with me as with most men, that would in fact be the incorrect conclusion). I should note that “reconciled” is also certainly the wrong word to use here, since it implies that I have accepted a situation that somehow deviates from the optimal, as in “I’ve reconciled myself to a life without one of my kidneys.” It’s not like that at all. I’d imagine that a life where I was having sex with my all female friends would be interesting, but as that famous ancient Chinese proverb implies, “interesting” is not the same as “optimal.”
It’s more to the point that I’m not concerned about my sexual attraction to my female friends. Yes, generally I find my women friends sexually attractive. But tell me why that implies I need to do something about it. See, that’s the problem right there — The general belief (particularly strong among males) that one needs to do something to resolve one’s sexual urges, no matter how impractical, inconvenient, or just plain stupid. By this, if you’re sexually attracted to someone, you ought to be having sex with them, and therefore you should work to make it happen regardless of consequence — or at least tie up your psyche in ulcerating knots of guilt about it (the already-in-a-relationship guy’s option). Thanks, I’ll pass on that. I don’t believe that I need to follow through on every sexual desire — nor, I suspect, do most men who do have strong non-sexual friendships with women. They accept the sexual desire — it makes sense — they just don’t see it as the focus of the relationship.
Accept your desire to overcome it? Well, yeah: Why wouldn’t you be attracted to your women friends? If you acknowledge that as a heterosexual man you generally find women attractive — and that women who embody traits you enjoy in friends are more likely to be even more attractive to you than the general female population — then wouldn’t it be strange if you weren’t sexually attracted to your women friends? Once you get that into your thick skull, it makes the attraction substantially easier to deal with; you realize it’s part of the natural process of the friendship and something that adds to its quality, not a complicating factor that needs to be dealt with before you can move on. It also puts the sexual attraction aspect into perspective. Yes, I find my women friends sexually attractive, but as a general rule their sexual attractiveness is a minor component of why I think they’re so damn fabulous.
(Accepting the sexual aspect of friendships with women also makes it far easier to have strong friendships with women with whom one is not sexually attracted — if you can get past the idea that you are sexually attracted to a friend, you should likewise be able to get past the idea that you’re not.)
I don’t imagine that most of my women friends will be surprised to learn I find them sexually attractive; likewise, I don’t imagine that most of my women friends are particularly worried that I’ll invite them up to look at my etchings. I couldn’t tell you what percentage of my female friends find me sexually attractive; aside from my suspicion that women don’t necessarily process intrasexual friendships the same way, it’s also just not a topic that comes up much. There are usually other things to talk about. And I would imagine that if they do find me sexually attractive, that they factor it into the friendship pretty much like I do.
Of course, if they’re suddenly overwhelmed by desire for me and have to have me now, then I guess they’ll need to talk to Krissy about that. Let’s just say I’m not exactly worried about Krissy getting a ton of phone calls. And that’s fine. In this context, I’m delighted to hear the “I like you as a friend” speech. That’s the way I like them, too.
After much kvetching, my host provider is rebooting my server to see if it clears up the errors. Depending how long it takes to put the site down and bring it back up, we might be out of commission for an hour or two. Don’t panic.
And let me dive right into it — here are the reasons why, after ten years, I am seriously considering putting some ads on Whatever:
1. As the last week of inexplicable loading slowness reminds me, Whatever (and by association, all of Scalzi.com) has gotten big enough that the “put the site on a host server and hope things don’t go randomly nutty” theory of being online gets continually less tenable as I go along. I need a hosting solution that’s somewhat more robust, particularly if the site continues its general rate of growth. That costs money.
2. I would also like to finally put the whole site into a single easy-to-access format. Right now, the ten year history of Whatever is broken up into three major chunks: 1998 – 2002, which is accessible only by going to Archive.Org and using the Wayback Machine (and then only sporadically; the archive is patchy); 2002 – August 2007, which is accessible only if you know the direct URLs to whatever you’re looking for (no pun intended), and October 2007 – forward, which is available via the current WordPress installation. And you don’t even want to know what the actual Whatever backend folder looks like.
Putting all that into some sort of order is not necessarily complicated (cut and paste all the content into one blog software package, fix the urls of art/links so they point to the right places, drop in forwarding info so people who follow old URLs can find what they’re looking for in the new places, etc), but it is laborious and time-consuming, and I don’t have time to do it. I would need to hire someone to do it. Again with the money.
2a. While I’m doing all that organizing, I’d really like to give Whatever (and Scalzi.com) a new look and better functionality. The site you’re looking at now expresses the extent of my competence with online design, site architecture and user friendliness. To make it better, I need to hire someone to deal with it. Again: Money.
3. Because I have a strong belief in the concept of “Pay it Forward,” one of the things I do here on Whatever, having been fortunate to have developed a large audience, is give over space to other writers to promote their work. I do that right now with the “Big Idea” entries, and by doing brief write-ups of what comes into the Scalzi Compound; I would like to be able to do more of it. Again, the limiting factor here is time — I’ve basically worked these elements to take up as little time as possible, but they still take a big chunk of time I could be using to do other things (like, er, write posts or even those crazy things called novels).
Additionally, I love having fun with contests and silly stuff here; I’m tremendously awful at doing fulfillment on them, and beyond that there’s a lot of back-end stuff you don’t see, both relating to Whatever and to the rest of my writing career, that I have to deal with which I’m generally bad at dealing with. Krissy, of course, handles some of it (notably financial stuff), but she has her own job and things that she does, and after a long day of dealing with the rest of the world, I don’t think what she really wants to do is deal with my crap.
I don’t know how much more time I can dig out of my own schedule to handle the back-end for all the cool stuff here I like doing with writers and readers — but I do know that if I could hire someone, they would have all sorts of time to handle the back-end of all the cool stuff I like doing with writers and readers, because that would be their job. This would make writers and readers happy, since it would lead to more exposure for the former and less time waiting for me to pull my head out of my ass to send them stuff with the latter. It would make me happy, since I would have more time to focus on writing, and presumably it would make whomever I hired happy, because, you know, this wouldn’t exactly be lifting heavy objects as a job. And you know what it takes to hire someone? If you said “well, money,” you would be correct.
4. I make a very comfortable living writing novels and other books at this point — and here is the point where I bow in deep respect and humility to you, my wonderful readers — but as comfortable as I am, I am not so comfortable that I can easily spend the several thousands of dollars I would need at this point to overhaul and revamp the site and put it on technologically robust footing, or to hire someone even in a part-time capacity to to assist me with stuff I would like to be assisted with.
Where to get additional money? Well, donating blood and plasma only takes one so far, and while I suppose I could try to sell another novel specifically to raise funds for all this, I would then be obliged to write that novel, and as it happens I have quite enough writing on my plate as it is. And in general given all my obligations with work and family, I don’t have any large amount of time to do anything else to raise money. I suppose I could do a fund raiser and hit you folks up for money, but, you know, I really don’t want to do that. It’s one thing to fundraise for a charity here once a year or whatever. It’s another to ask you all for cash for myself.
Whatever does represent a possible resource, however. For September, Whatever is averaging 63,000 page views a day. If it keeps up, that’ll be 1.8 million page views for the month. I’ve looked at what some of the ad networks are asking for sites with traffic similar to mine, and it seems not unreasonable that I could bring in a useful amount of money — enough to pay for reorganizing the site, expand some of the fun stuff that gets done here, and hire someone to help me run the site (and also tell me what the hell I’ve done with my keys, etc). And who knows, I might even having something left over to pay for Athena’s college.
So those are the reasons I am seriously considering putting advertising on Whatever.
Here’s the reason I am resistant: I think it’s ugly and annoying. And I like that I’ve gone ten years without it.
Now, I’ve said before that if it ever got to the point where I was having trouble finding money in other ways and my family needed it that money, I would have no problem putting ads up on the site. I’m definitely not there now, nor does it look likely that I’ll be going that direction anytime soon. On the other hand, as noted above, Whatever is kind of on a pivot point; in one direction there are some opportunities to expand what’s done here and in the other there’s a necessity to pull back, based on time and technological constraints. And, basically, one path has advertising on it, and the other does not.
As you might expect, I’ve been twisting and pulling at this for a while, a condition exacerbated by the access problems in the last week. What I’m interested in knowing is what your opinion might be. To be clear, whatever decision I make will be my own, based on my own calculus of time, ambition, interest and so on. But at the same time, the Whatever is what it is now not just because of what I do here but because there’s a community here. I think it’s only fair to give you your say on the subject.
As most of you know, I recently wrote a novella for Metatropolis, the audiobook anthology I edited, which also features kickass stories from Jay Lake, Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell and Karl Schroeder, and which is coming out next month through Audible.com. Since Krissy prefers to read longer stuff like this in printed form, I headed over to Lulu.com and ran off five bound galleys of my story, entitled “Utere Nihil Non Extra Quiritationem Suis.” The galleys arrived today, as you can see here. One copy naturally goes to Krissy, and one copy I’ll keep for my own personal stash. Two of them will go to fulfill this contest I ran earlier in the year; I ended up not writing the novella that I originally attached to that contest, but this one will work just as well. And the last one I’ll keep for a future contest of some sort or another. Since I’m not planning to run off any more bound galleys of this particular story, it’ll be another one of those “highly collectable” things.
Speaking of contests, a quick note: I now have all the stuff I need to fulfill all the contests I ran over the last few months (the folks who were doing the contest for the Zoe’s Tale ARC, remember you’ve been upgraded to the signed first edition), so everyone who is wondering where your winnings are, I’ll make sure those are all in the mail by the end of the month (I’d say sooner, but I’m traveling over the next week). Sorry for the delays. What can I say, I’m a flake. Now you know why I want an assistant.
Today, we’re going back again to 1999, and an in-depth examination of the overall state of my soul
JULY 3, 1999: The Seven Deadly Sins (and Me)
This morning I reached what is likely to be a nadir of personal behavior: I ate a banana. It’s not the banana itself which is the problem; actually, the banana was fine — a few brown spots here and there, and maybe a little more starchy than sweet, but, eh, what are you going to do. No, the problem lies in why I had the banana. You see, I didn’t really want the banana, I wanted a bowl of Cap’n Crunch Peanut Butter Crunch cereal. But in order to enjoy the cereal, I would have had to get out a bowl, get out the milk, get out the cereal, put the cereal in the bowl, pour the milk into the bowl, put the milk and the cereal back, yadda yadda yadda. Whereas the banana was simply peal and eat, and then maybe throw away the skin if I was feeling ambitious. In short: I had a banana because having a bowl of cereal was too much damned work.
Now, I did have a bowl of cereal for dinner last night. Why? Because it was easier than cooking something.
There’s really something wrong with me.
I know what it is: Sloth, that most lugubrious of the Seven Deadly Sins. I am Slothful, perhaps not in the profoundly theological sense (although perhaps so, since, as an avowed agnostic, I am likely actively avoiding God’s will), but certainly in the day to day, hey-are-you-planning-to-wallow-in-your-own-feculence sort of way. Examples of this abound all around me. I’ve got a pile of soda cans to my right which should be in the recycling bin to my left, but I haven’t managed to get them from point “a” to point “b,” even though the points are six feet from each other. Perhaps this is because I’m sure in the knowledge that sooner or later my wife, in a fit of righteous annoyance, will come in and do it for me. Sure, she’ll get on my case about it. But it’s easier to be lectured at than to do it myself. I can handle a lecture. I don’t have to do anything but listen.
Root out the slothfulness in your life, you sluggard, I hear you say. Well, I would, but there’s this thing: I can’t really knock sloth, because it has worked so spectacularly for me in my life. Krissy, who has historically shown a rather amazing tendency to unerringly put her finger on the issue, whatever the issue may be, summed it up once by telling me: “You are the perfect example of the man too lazy to fail.” This is exactly the case; the history of my life is the history of my avoidance of real work. It began early, at age 14 or so, when I realized that I wrote better than most people could, with little effort on my part. Since doing anything else with my life would have entailed having to work at it, I resolved to become a writer.
My writing jobs: Movie critic. Music critic. Humor columnist. Not a sweat-breaker in the bunch. And, I just recently nabbed another writing gig in which I’ll review video games. Video games, people. (Less glamorously, I write newsletters, too, but putting those together also ain’t exactly brain surgery.) Now, I should note that I’m also good at what I do. I write well, and I make sure that what I write makes readers and clients happy. But (beyond being good business) that’s the path of least resistance, anyway. All other paths lead to me sacking groceries at the local Safeway for $6.25 an hour. Honestly, that’s the only other thing I’m qualified to do. So you see the options: Listen to music and play video games for a living, or work.
I have tried working working. Twice. I was fired both times. First time, I was sixteen, and I worked for a month at Del Taco, mashing pinto beans and melting lard into a fryer. This was also the era of fast food workers wearing orange and brown polyester uniforms. For future reference: The smell of lard never comes out of polyester. Never. I lasted a month; I was fired, if memory serves correctly, for telling the assistant manager that he was an ass. And he was, although to be fair, it’s not like he had a choice in the matter. He was 18, an age of much ass-ness in men.
The second time was when I was at America Online, when the job I had been hired to do (i.e., write and edit) had somehow transmorgified into a project manager position. Well, as you might imagine, this bothered me; project managing is work, and irritating work at that, and I went through a couple of months of general pissiness about it. Then I thought to myself: It’s not so bad. You like the people you work with, AOL’s a good place to work, you’re paid well, and your stock options are beginning to pay off. You can deal with this. And so, I resolved to change my attitude, get with the program, and be a good worker for the company. They canned my ass a week later.
Now, mind you, there is a substantial difference between my so-far successful avoidance of real work, and my decision to eat a banana rather than go through the effort of making a bowl of cereal. But the difference is in degree, not kind. Maybe if I had to work for a living, I’d also make more of an effort recycling my soda cans. Of course, if I had to work for a living, I’d also probably be miserable all the time. At least with sloth, I’m only subject to the occasional moment of self-loathing. So: Generally miserable and industrious, or generally happy and slothful? Which would you choose?
While you think about it, I’m going to go take a nap.
I’m back (and yes, I really did take a nap). Talking about my propensity for sloth has made we wonder about my predilections for the whole raft of deadly sins, which, in addition to Sloth, are Pride, Avarice, Lust, Envy, Anger and Gluttony. As you may or may not know, each of these sins are cardinal sins not just because they are bad in themselves, but because they are so often the root of other sins as well; the domino theory of God’s wrath, as it were. As such, each of the sins has its own demon associated with it, as well as its own eternal punishment. What do you have to look forward to if you partake of any of these sins? Well, let’s just find out, shall we.
Sin: Pride Your Demon Will Be: Lucifer Your Eternal Punishment is: To be broken on the wheel John Scalzi’s Personal Risk of This Sin Is: High
This is a big one for me — I have to say that I generally think I’m pretty hot shit most of the time. This fact may explain why everyone who’s ever known me for more than three weeks makes it their mission to take me down a peg or two. I don’t mind; being strapped to a wheel for all eternity doesn’t sound like much fun. Theologically speaking, Pride is considered to be the worst of the cardinal sins (you’ll recall that the devil was cast out of heaven for pride), but on a day-to-day basis the most pride generally does is make you an asshole. Pride is why movie stars, CEOs and sports personalities think people should bend the rules for them — because they’re better, you see. It may or may not be the greatest sin, but it’s almost indisputably the one that’s the most annoying to everybody else.
Sin: Envy Your Demon Will Be: Leviathan Your Eternal Punishment is: To be placed in freezing water John Scalzi’s Personal Risk of This Sin Is: Low
Envy has never been a problem of mine, which is a good thing, because my peer group out here are a bunch of folks who became millionaires when their AOL stock went through the roof. I figure if you’re not envious of people who can buy entire sides of mountains in the Shenandoah valley, you’re not likely to be envious of most people. This is not to say that I wouldn’t want to have the sort of money they have. Oh my, no. Please, let me have some of that. But life isn’t a zero-sum game: Their success does not come at the toll of my misfortune.
Also, there’s the fact of my own low-impact, high-enjoyment life. I get to stay home and do what I love to do: Write and play with my baby daughter all day. If I ever envy anyone when I have that, someone please pour cold water on me and snap me out of it (which is, as it happens, the eternal punishment for this sin. Convenient).
Sin: Anger Your Demon Will Be: Satan Your Eternal Punishment is: To be dismembered (I guess the limbs grow back) John Scalzi’s Personal Risk of This Sin is: Moderate
I don’t generally get angry — getting angry is an admission that the person you’re getting angry at is worth getting angry at, and frankly, most people aren’t worth the effort (no offense). However, when I do get angry, I stay angry for a very long, ulcer-producing amount of time. Years, in some cases (how did you think I kept my trim figure?). However, I don’t like being angry, and additionally, I’m not very good at it. Despite all attempts to a contrary nature in my teen years, the fact is I’m almost pathologically cheerful. We all have our crosses to bear.
I do get irritated easily; I’m the guy you on the road who is yelling obscenities at the person in front of him driving 5 miles slower than he wants to go. I’m also reasonably excitable and have to keep myself from calling everyone around me a stupid freakin’ moron when I get wound up. However, that’s not really anger, that’s just being a jerk. You don’t get dismembered alive in hell for being a jerk; they just stick you in an eternal traffic snarl with the one station on the radio playing Paul Anka. I can live (so to speak) with that.
Sin: Avarice (or Covetousness) Your Demon Will Be: Mammon Your Eternal Punishment is: To be placed in a cauldron of boiling oil John Scalzi’s Personal Risk of This Sin is: Low
Covetousness is related to Envy, I think: You envy someone their fame, or possessions, or relationships, and by natural extension, you then covet those things. Well, I pretty much have everything I want in this world, and most of the things I want that I don’t have I can get without undue stress. So there you are; covetousness-free. I should note that I am fortunate, first to have a good relationship with my wife and my child, second, to have a career that’s mostly happy and productive, and third, that the material possessions I do want usually list for under $500.
Covetousness is one side of this coin; the other side is avarice, in which wanting something is for the fact of having the object (or person) rather than for what the object can do. I see “avarice” and I think of all those morons on eBay, bidding hundreds of dollars on junk, just, you know, to have stuff. I like stuff (you should see my CD collection), but I also tend to use the stuff I have. Having just to have seems awfully pointless. I know, I’m a bad consumer. I’ll try harder.
Sin: Lust Your Demon Will Be: Asmodeus Your Eternal Punishment is: To be smothered in fire and brimstone John Scalzi’s Personal Risk of This Sin is: Moderate
Hey, I got urges. That’s all I’m going to say about that; I rest assured in the knowledge that most of you don’t really want details on that topic. But lust is probably the most tricky of the sins, because it’s the one with the most real world consequences (i.e., it’s almost never just sex). Once you slake your lustful thirst, you have to deal with the clean-up phase, and there’s always a cleanup phase. This is what they mean by one sin leading to other sins: Lust leads to lying, guilt, anger, blah, blah blah. What a freakin’ hassle. Like Jimmy Carter, I have lust in my heart. Generally speaking, that’s probably where it will stay.
This makes it sound like the only reason I don’t engage my lustful urges is because it’s too much bother. Rest assured, that’s not the only reason. But it sure doesn’t hurt.
Sin: Gluttony Your Demon Will Be: Beelzebub Your Eternal Punishment is: To be force-fed rats, toads and snakes John Scalzi’s Personal Risk of This Sin is: Low
Look, I can’t even rouse myself to make a bowl of cereal. Gluttony just ain’t gonna happen.
Sin: Sloth Your Demon Will Be: Belphegor Your Eternal Punishment is: Writhing in a snake pit John Scalzi’s Personal Risk of This Sin is: Moderate
Moderate? I know, I’ve been expounding on my own laziness. But true sloth isn’t necessarily laziness (which is merely a subsection), it’s also inaction; basically, you allow bad things to happen because you cannot be roused to halt them. It is abundantly true I am lazy and a slob, but I’m also not one to idly stand by and just let things happen that will affect my life — You see, in addition to being lazy, I’m also a control freak. Bad combination, I’m aware. But you are what you are. And it is my life; might as well be an active participant.
There is the theological matter, slothwise, of rousing one’s self to do God’s will, and as I previously mentioned, I may be in trouble there, since I posit that it’s impossible to know God’s will; you can’t play the game if you don’t have the instruction manual (or you can, you just won’t be able to know when you score). I just lead what I think is a good life. It may not be enough; I may be in for an eternity in the snake pit. But snakes aren’t so bad once you get to know them (although I’m sure the snakes in Hell’s pits are nastier than your average pit viper). We’ll see.
It’s Thursday, and we all know what that means: first, free pedicure day at The Toe Hut (formerly Starbucks — 8,000 locations near you!) and second, it’s the day my science fiction film column runs at AMCtv.com. This week I have a proposition for what it is that science fiction film fans are really looking for when they watch their favorite genre’s movies… and if you think it’s “a good story, rigorously grounded in science,” well, see, then you’ll probably be upset with what I think it is. Naturally, you should head on over and find out. And once you think I’m completely wrong, you should unleash your rebuttal over there. Go on, you know you want to.