Reader Request Week 2011 #8: Short Bits ’11

And now, some shorter answers to questions asked this week. These are ones not related to writing. The writing ones are coming later. So:


I’m really interested in hearing how other freelancers – writers, fellow illustrators/designers, musicians – survive the whole Taxes thing. It might seen like a boring topic, but you’re obviously doing something right, and it’d probably be awesome to hear what cleverness, misery and shenanigans Tax Season and it’s, ahem, “fun” has brought you.

I’ve never really had a problem with taxes, to be honest about it. Partly that’s because since I’ve been generally financially successful as a freelancer, so I was never caught up short, and partly that’s because of my own tendency to immediately sock away half of whatever I make for taxes and other unavoidable expenses in my life, thereby sequestering it away from harm. The way I handle taxes at this point is to immediately sign over every single penny I receive to my wife, who tracks it during the year and then hands all the information over to accountant, who does all the heavy lifting on preparing the taxes, because that’s her job and she’s good at it. She also provides us estimates for the next year’s quarterlies, so we’re not caught short when we have to file them. In a general sense, for those freelancers without the numbers gene, I recommend a fiscally responsible spouse (or equivalent) and/or an accountant; they make my tax life a lot easier to deal with.


Is there a word or phrase that, for some reason or another, you always type wrong; either in word choice (there vs. their) or typo?

“Souls,” which my fingers automatically and almost without exception type as “sould.” I do it enough that I’ve trained Microsoft Word to autocorrect it for me. Also, it’s surprising in retrospect how often I use the word “souls.”

Dave H:

Is there anything that you believe Man Was Not Meant To Know? Or, if you think that knowledge in itself isn’t harmful, is there anything you believe humanity should not experiment with, or try to create?

I don’t think there’s anything humans were not meant to know; I suspect there may be things that humans don’t have the capacity to know, in the same manner that it’s beyond the capacity of my cats to know calculus. The human mind is a lovely thing, but it’s not limitless; at some (I think still distant) point we’ll reach the horizon of our ability to understand. At which point, of course, the machines will say “we’ve got this,” and off they’ll go. As for the second part of your question, there are already things humans have the capacity to create but shouldn’t (messy, imprecise biological weapons top my list), so, yes.

Susan Nehama:

Which Apocalypse scenario would you prefer to be extinguished by: invading aliens, nuclear war, zombies, pandemic, any particular mytholical one, meteors….you get my drift.

Why, the sex apocalypse, of course, in which we are all orgasmed into oblivion by the sexy sex partners of our deepest desires! Barring that, probably I’d go with an earth squashing asteroid, since it would be relatively quick, and I would have company. And you want company at the end of the world.

A.M. Donovan:

Tattoos. How has the cultural perception of tattoos changed over the generations, and how the symbolism is more personal than cultural. Also, how the placement is indicative of the psychological and spiritual meaning.

I think the perception has clearly changed, in that very few people really care if you have a tattoo, which was certainly not the case twenty years ago. I’m not personally a huge fan of tattoos — I don’t have any and don’t plan to get any — but I can appreciate good ink when I see it. My major complaint with tattoos at this point has little to do with the tattoos themselves and more to do with the suspicion that a very large number of people get tats without realizing that barring thousands of dollars of painful laser surgery, they’ve got the thing for life. If you’re going to embed an image permanently onto your skin, make sure it’s actually meaningful to you. Also, in the US at least, I still think neck and face tattoos are generally a sign you don’t expect to hold regular white-collar employment at any point in your life.


Inspired by your Lenten* Coke Zero experiment, are there other practices typically connected with religions (meditation, for example) which you yourself either find useful or are curious about/interested in outside of a religious context?

Not particularly, no. I believe in charity, which is a cornerstone of at least one major religion and a pillar of another, but my reasons for that are not associated with their religious significance. I’ve known people who have taken mescaline and rationalized it as a religious practice, but it was complete bullshit in their cases; they just wanted to trip.

Nik Gregory:

I would like to know how you think your existence would change if Zombie-ism was real… only in pigs. How many Zombie Pigs do you think would be hunting you down with their bellies and backs flayed open? Would you be damned because of your move to rurality?

I have no fear of the zombie pigpocalypse, because the pig is so tasty, by the time we’re done picking parts off them to eat, there’s nothing left over to reanimate. Except the squeal. The ghostly, haunting squeals. But, eh. That’s what headphones are for.


Any thoughts or ideas on why so many authors and other creative types seem to have issues with mental illness and/or substance abuse?

Well, creative types have issues with mental illness and/or substance abuse because humans in general do; you notice it in creative types more because their lives are public facing. I suspect there is some correlation between mental illness and creativity, and also correlation between such illness and substance abuse, if only because some undiagnosed mentally ill people self-medicate. But not every or even most creative people are chronically mentally ill (or vice versa); not every creative person with a substance abuse problem is self-medicating undiagnosed mentally ill person. I think the biggest problem for creative people with mental illness is the fact that there’s still a social stigma attached to mental illness, and that keeps some of them from acknowledging they have an illness and/or seeking help for it. That’s something I hope changes over time.


If a man jumped from 1910 to 2010 (how doesn’t really matter, could have stepped into a rip in the time space continuum, frozen in a glacier, rip van winkled it, whatever), besides technology, what would he consider the best and worst things about the world?

I would imagine one the best things about it, assuming he landed in the US, would be how rich it was relative to the world of a century earlier, “rich” here being understood as “relative to amounts of stuff we have and the size of the houses we put that stuff in”. I would imagine the worst thing about it would be that it’s loud and fast.


Obviously there are a lot of pluses to raising Athena in your corner of Ohio. What are some of the minuses? I would imagine a lack of diversity is one minus. What do you do to address that?

We take her to see her cousins, whose ancestry ranges from Northern Europe, down through Africa and then over to the Americas. It’s nice to have that sort of diversity built into the family. Beyond that I can’t think of too many obvious minuses. We’re in rural America, but as I’ve noted before, Ohio is fairly densely populated, so “rural” here means “30 minutes from a large city.” I’m trying to think of a downside here and I’m really drawing a blank. Sorry. Or actually, not sorry at all, because it’s nice to be able to say that.

Steven desJardins:

They say you killed a man in Reno just to watch him die, but I don’t believe that for a second. What was the real reason?

He told me I posted too many cat pictures on my blog.

By John Scalzi

I enjoy pie.

33 replies on “Reader Request Week 2011 #8: Short Bits ’11”

“I still think neck and face tattoos are generally a sign you don’t expect to hold regular white-collar employment at any point in your life.”

I wish I could get this across to the young women in my social circles who all seem determined to get blue crescent moon tattoos on their foreheads.

Aaaaugh! Not the Sexy Zombie Apocalypse!

Yeah, having a fairly large family, is cool at the diversity in it, as well as how all the kids (my daughter’s second cousins) still have a family resemblance.

In regard to the first question, for those contemplating a freelance or similar lifestyle: The Money Book, by Joseph D’Agnese and Denise Kiernan, is a pretty fast, easy read that provides simple, systematic advice for managing your finances on an irregular income. (I am not affiliated with the authors in any way, or receiving anything for plugging the book; I’m just a freelancer who thinks they do a good job of covering the crucial issues.)

I think cats innately know calculus, they just don’t tell us for risk we would want them to help with our math homework.

I’m with you on the face/neck tattoos thing. Living in San Francisco, I have almost gotten used to some of the neck tattoos. Even some of the nurses at my medical center have them, along with odd colored hair and interesting piercings. But the facial tattoos say that the person either sees themselves as an artist of some sort, or they are mentally ill and plan on supporting themselves on their SSI checks and panhandling.

Interesting answers. The last one (about that man in Reno) was the most scalziesque, in my humble opinion.

I grew up in a rural area until I was 11, then in a small town. To me, the big disadvantage of the rural area was that I couldn’t go anywhere to do anything unless my parents were available to take me. Tragedy of tragedies, that meant I never set foot in a library until I was 11.

the sex apocalypse, of course, in which we are all orgasmed into oblivion by the sexy sex partners of our deepest desires

Harlan Ellison wrote a story about this. Except those sexy sex partners were, IIRC, psychic cockroaches. You might want to rethink that.

As for the drawbacks of your rural location in re Athena, the problems will most likely first manifest in a couple of years. Teens tend to really hate it, because “there’s nothing to do.” That half-hour drive might as well be a trip to the moon when the existence of your parents is a soul-crushing embarrassment. These days, of course, it’s even worse, since kids see all these exciting things in their media that aren’t where they live, and they can’t grasp that even if they were there, they probably wouldn’t be partaking in them. But as long as you can deal with the mopes and sulks, and Athena stays away from the two traditional forms of recreation for rural teens, you’ll manage.

Um. Cats know calculus. All cats do. They will, however, try and fool us. But that’s true about many things cats know and do and know how to do. Their ears often give them away. Talk about them and while they pretend to ignore you notice how their ears move in your direction. They’re not ignoring you!

Besides that if you notice how upset they get when you leave, keep in mind that it’s really hard to “ignore” you if you’re not there. Cats ignore nothing.

Example: set down a box (or pretty much any other kind of object) on the floor (any place will work if they can get to it but floors are best since in catmind everything should be on the floor). Notice how they examine the new object in their local dimension. Wait ten minutes and move the box (or other object of your choice) and notice examination will begin anew. Initial observation of the change-phenomenon, observation reported to headquarters (something mankind has not found yet because catkind really can keep a secret in spite of what many people believe), research grants applied for and results published.

Cats know but cats don’t tell.

And they guy in Reno? He had it coming. Totally. That’s what the Feline-Americans in my house say. I must agree. Really. I must.

With regard to your notes on possible connections between mental illness and creativity …

I’m a brain-injury survivor (NOT, thank heaven, equated with mental illness any more, in most jurisdictions) as of going on 16 years ago. I don’t consider myself creative; most of my life I’ve preferred “grunge detail” kinds of work and hobbies, most recently 20 years as an industrial accountant (prior to my injury, that is, I was deemed totally disabled for employment purposes after that).

But surely this must be at least distantly related to creativity: my thought-association processes are frequently right off the scale, so that this reminds me of that which in turns reminds me of the other, to the point where I often can’t remember where I’d been when I started that chain.

I’ve often wondered, but have never seen anything on this either in my support groups or elsewhere online or “out here”, whether standard free-association psych tests would be unusually useful when applied to persons in my situation, or if they’d be totally useless.

billindc@#12: That’s actually pretty interesting. It suggests two things – first, that cats have a pretty good understanding of spatial relationships, second, that cats really do have good memories. Squirrels have lousy memories. They bury and recover their nuts according to behavioral patterns. If circumstance forces them to bury a nut somewhere off-pattern, they forget where it is.

“I would imagine one the best things about it, assuming he landed in the US, would be how rich it was relative to the world of a century earlier, “rich” here being understood as “relative to amounts of stuff we have and the size of the houses we put that stuff in”. I would imagine the worst thing about it would be that it’s loud and fast.”

I think one of the things he’d notice most immediately would be the relative lack of smelliness. This might or might not be best. Or worst. But possibly the lack of stench would help offset the lack of silence.

You know, if you ever decided to do a reader poll, some of these questions would be great poll questions. For example: i’d probably prefer to have the world end in an alien invasion, just because it would answer such a big question of human existence — despite the consequences.

RE: mental illness and creativity, I found this blog post to be totally useful, and I wish I had found it when I was a much younger person … there’s an awful lot to be said for being healthy and “together” enough to be *able* to hold a white collar (or long-term blue collar) job, even if you then choose *not* to hold those kinds of jobs. Daniel, good luck on face-tattoo-prevention-patrol.

btw, while that link is totally sfw, not everything on the Wet Spots site necessarily is … it’s all very, very funny, though

Greg – In the book Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a blue crescent moon tattooed on the forehead was the mark of a Priestess of the Goddess ™. I’ve got no beef with Wiccans and the Goddess and all that, just that for a slim percentage the line between fantasy and reality blur a little closer than I feel comfortable.

Daniel: In the book Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, a blue crescent moon tattooed on the forehead was the mark of a Priestess of the Goddess

Wow. That’s kind of cool. I haven’t read the book, but if it’s good enought that it inspires people to get a tattoo, then that says something about the fans really liking it.

I don’t know if I could ever bring myself to get a tattoo of any kind. I’ve thought about it once in a awhile, adn looked at some designs, but there’s always a part of me that says “sure, you like it now, but what about five or ten years from now?” I’m changing the background/wallpaper on my desktop all the time.

Sihaya@#14 If only local squirrels would inquire I would be more than willing to help them out. In other words: “no, nuts are not buried in any of my flower pots and you don’t have to break them to find out.” Though it seems (for me at least) adding bloodmeal signals “no nut buried here.”

Re: the connection (or lack thereof) between mental illness and creativity:

At one point, the Discovery Channel had a magazine show called, appropriately enough, Discover Magazine. They did an episode called “Brain Stormers” (the above link is to purchase the DVD in their online store) in which they explored that concept in great detail. One of the anecdotes they mentioned, which interested me greatly since I’m hydrocephalic/epileptic, talked about how Dostoevsky (sp) was epileptic and wrote most of “Crime and Punishment” in the aura periods before, or the coming-out periods after, a seizure. There’s a researcher named Thomas Szasz who points out that “mental illness” may simply be a societal construct, and not a “disease”. In other words, society should try a little harder to embrace those who are “different”, instead of simply criminalizing their behavior. It wasn’t that long ago that autistics/epileptics were deemed “unfit”, and were institutionalized from early childhood on.

While it’s true that “not guilty because of mental disease or defect” is used as an easy out by truly evil people who knew exactly what they were doing, I do believe there really are people who, for example, shot their nextdoor neighbor because they truly believed John the Baptist/Madonna/whoever told them to, and they truly have no concept that what they did was “wrong”. I’m glad we don’t institutionalize epileptics anymore, but I wish that, A, mental institutions/psych hospitals didn’t have such a stigma attached to them, and B, truly mentally ill people, even if found guilty by a jury of their peers, could get the help they needed 24/7 regardless of where they’re incarcerated–too few prisons have adequate facilities to handle the truly mentally ill, and that’s a shame.

Regarding your response to the mental illness/creativity question, you might like to read Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison. It’s an old book, but pretty good as I recall. The author is bipolar herself, which sparked her interest in the connection.

I’m trying to think of a downside here and I’m really drawing a blank.

You haven’t seen the downside yet because your daughter is so young. Rural livings downside for parents shows when your child is somewhere between 14 and 16. When there is nothing for teenagers to do in their immediate surroundings they will invent stuff to do. This often takes the form of keggers in the middle of a field somewhere. Or something worse.

The remedy is to make sure the kids get involved in sports, band, or theatre at school. Anything to soak up their time and challenge them.

Since you have a daughter, I would also recommend getting her started in a mashal art ASAP….

My 6 yo granddaughter just took 1st place at a wrestling match and most of her opponents were boys!

Go Teaghan!

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