Reader Request Week 2012 #8: Short Bits

And now, the questions I’m answering quickly. These are unrelated to writing; I’ll do the writery short bits tomorrow.

Puss in Boots: Why do you think so many Americans avoid spaying and neutering their pets, even when they must know that shelters are full and have to destroy animals that don’t find homes quickly enough? More importantly, how can we best change their minds?

They don’t do it because it costs money, I suspect. Therein lies the solution, but then the question is who is going to make up the cost of the procedure. The money has to come from somewhere, because I imagine vets, like everyone else, prefer to be paid for their work.

K.W. Ramsey: What do you think in the history of all time and space is the greatest communication tool ever created?

The voicebox.

Syderia: What are your thoughts on romantic love ? What kind of love do you think lasts the longest?

I’m for romantic love in a general sense; it adds some flavor to life. I have no idea which love lasts the longest; I imagine it varies from person to person.

DavidW: What type of social injustice do you dwell on and rail against the most in your thoughts? Poverty? Human trafficking? Inaccessibility of the court system to poor people? Non-owner digital locks? Lack of jetpacks on our day and age? People who never mow their lawn? Artificial flavouring in everything? Misuse of the phrase “that begs the question”?

Poverty is the one I think about most, which makes sense because I’ve been poor in my life, so I know about it on a personal level, and I believe a lot of other issues of social justice spring from poverty; it’s a parent of a lot of woes. It doesn’t mean other social injustices are not worth addressing, just that this is the one I feel best qualified to address and think about.

A-drain: I recently read an article about all these successful people who had experimented with drugs and in many cases contributed a portion of that success to taking drugs (hallucinogens). Do you think drugs help creativity? Have you tried?

I’ve not used any drug recreationally, unless you want to count caffeine. I think drugs possibly could help with creativity, since they put you into a different mindspace, and that can be inspiring in its way. Given my rather bad family history with drug tolerances (i.e., we don’t have any and become gibbering addicts really easily), I find other ways to expand my creativity.

GC: How do you deal with the, “So only one kid? Hoping to have more?” from friends or family?

Both my wife and I are over 40 now so I don’t think most people are expecting us to make any more on our own, and “are you thinking of adopting?” is a question that doesn’t usually appear spontaneously (we have no current plans for adopting, incidentally). When we were younger we answered the question with “maybe, we’ll see,” which is both non-committal and not especially interesting, so most people left it at that. I should note I don’t find it a rude question, although others might.

ThatRobert: Does the fact that we in American have only 2 parties make for a bigger mess than countries with many parties?

Oh, I don’t know. Belgium has a parliamentary system, and it was dysfunctional enough that the country didn’t have a sitting government for a year and a half. Every participatory system has its benefits and disadvantages, and sometimes the people in those systems push them into dysfunction. I think the US political parties at the moment, particularly but not only the Republicans, are pushing the nature of our system toward dysfunction for their own political ends. This too shall pass, hopefully.

Shane: You studied philosophy in college. Did you pick that field *because* you wanted to be a writer, or did you change your life/career plans at some point (e.g., when you discovered philosophers don’t make any money)?

I picked it because I took so many philosophy courses just out of my own personal interest that at the end of my 3rd year in college I realized that if I declared as a philosophy major I could graduate right then, whereas if I declared as an English major, I would need five years to get a degree. So I declared for philosophy and had a reasonably relaxing fourth year of college. Bear in mind that away from the classroom, I was writing my ass off for newspapers and magazines; that was how I “studied” to be a writer. The formal education does turn out to be extraordinarily helpful for me as a writer, however.

Joe P.: If you were going to live in another country besides the US, where would it be? If you’d like, pick one where language is a concern, and another where you could magically know whichever language(s) you’d need. Explain what you you think to be the advantages/drawbacks of living in Country X instead of the US.

In the fantasy where I have to leave the US for some reason, the options are, in order: New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ireland. Each different from the US yet not so different I feel totally estranged. The major problem for three is that they’re so far away from everything I know; the major problem for the other is damn, it gets cold sometimes.

Pheltzer: What are your thoughts on the US Monetary system? Is there really any purpose served by keeping the penny in circulation, or quite frankly any denomination less than a dollar? And for that matter should we abandon the dollar bill and replace it with a dollar coin which would last longer in circulation, and I believe be cheaper to produce?

Dollar coins are cheaper to produce, but there’s more of a problem with counterfeiting, as I understand it, so the question of whether we end up saving money in the long run is a real question — and in any event in the grand scope of the US national budget, the sums involved are literally trivial. As to pennies, I wouldn’t miss them if they went away but I think people would lose their shit about it (I know pennies have been done away with elsewhere with success, but the US is messier than most places). I think we could keep the pennies if we recalibrated our monetary system so that a penny is worth what, say, a dime is now. But I think people would really lose their shit about something like that. So I have no viable solution here, I’m afraid.

Holland: What advice do you have for someone about to live on their own for the first time? I lived with my parents for undergrad, but now I’m moving out (and now cut off from parental funds for continuing education, which means I need to get a job + loans, though I do have some savings). The advice could be financial, about education, social stuff – anything you feel like.

Live within your means; if you can tolerate living with someone else do so, because it helps cover costs and also keeps you from being isolated; find ways to amuse yourself cheaply; pay attention to your bills; get out of the house and see other humans. Also, try not to eat just cheap starches like ramen and mac and cheese.

Janettes: I’d be interested to read your take on the current conservative push back on women’s reproductive rights and freedoms. Why now? Why the extraordinary vitriol? Why has the focus moved from abortion rights, to access to birth control and to women’s imagined sexual incontinence?

It’s partly because the conservative politicians in currently in power are far enough down their own worldview tunnel that they doesn’t see what the problem is, and it’s partly because those that have some relation to reality are aware this is their last, best chance to pull crap like this before the die-off robs them of a useful plurality for this sort of nonsense. Liberals like to say that the demographics are pulling against conservatism, but I don’t think that’s true; there will also always be room in American politics for economic and social conservatism. I do think demographics are pulling against sexual reactionaries, however; we’re seeing this rather vividly with the frankly transformatively quick switch in the acceptance of same-sex marriage. That social reactionaries are overplaying their hand at the moment makes their long-term problems worse, not better.

ST: Music question: Which “Wrecking Ball” is better – Bruce’s or Emmylou’s?

Emmylou’s is one of my favorite albums ever and I’m not a huge Springsteen fan, so I think it’s not difficult to guess how I would vote in this case.

Sarah: What are you afraid of?

Outliving my kid.

Christy: Public figures often have the opportunity to be unfaithful to those they love. Do you have any thoughts about that other than the obvious (admiration is an aphrodisiac, etc)? How do you inoculate yourself against this, or if that isn’t necessary for you personally how do some of the people you know try to protect themselves against it?

One, I’d like to thank you — on a purely egotistical front — for making the assumption that this is in any way an issue for me. Two, my standard-issue response to this is that anyone who wants to fool about with me has to clear it with Krissy first. Three, more seriously, “unfaithful” to my mind isn’t about what you do physically but what you do against the expectations of your partner. My general admonition to anyone, public figure or not, is not to be unfaithful to your spouse or partner, and that you should probably also have a clear discussion of what constitutes being unfaithful so that there are no surprises on that score.

Nikkita: Can you listen to Ozzy Osbourne and Lita Ford singing “Close my eyes forever” without getting shivers of pleasure down your spine? If you can, would you prefer to be deemed alien, a human whose musical taste is invalid or something else entirely?

I’d like to be an alien! Honestly, that particular song does nothing for me, although I was pleased it did well, since I liked Lita Ford and was glad to see her get at least one Top Ten hit to her name.

Paul Strain: Suicide mission to Mars: Good idea? Physically feasible? Morally feasible?

It’s certainly physically feasible, although I would imagine at this point hugely expensive. Morally feasible? If the people involved were absolutely clear what they were getting into, sure. Good idea? I don’t know about that. If we’re thinking along those lines of things, I would prefer not to have a suicide mission but to have a one-way mission, where it’s understood that those going aren’t coming back, but that the point of going is to explore the feasibility of long-term occupation of the planet.

Sean Eric Fagan: Looking at the comments you get, how do you keep from growing to hate the insane ignorant lunatic unwashed masses?

Why should I hate them? They have enough problems. And I have other things I want to do with my time.


Reader Request Week 2012 #7: My Complete Lack of Shame

Jeremy G. asks:

You seem to be a person that is comfortable with himself and doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about what someone else thinks of him. I picture you being that guy that goes on the dance floor/karaoke stage etc. without a second thought as to what someone will think. I find that awesome and something I’m not able to do without copious amounts of alcohol. I’m curious as to how you got to be that comfortable. Was it your upbringing? Was it something you had to work on? Or have you just always been that way?

Anyone who knows me knows that not only are you correct about the dancing and karaoke, but it’s the fact that I’m willing to go out on the dance floor without worrying about how I look to anyone else that initially attracted my wife to me. It’s no joke: She saw me on the dance floor, said to her self “he looks like he’s having fun, I’m going to have to dance with him later,” and now it’s nineteen years later and we’re still together. So there you have it.

How did I get that way? Not just with dancing and karaoke (although I will use them as stand-ins for everything else in this entry), but in a general sense?

1. I don’t generally get nervous in front of strangers and/or large groups of people in a general sense, and I suspect that may be an inborn thing rather than a learned thing.

2. Coupled with that is a correlative “hey, look at me” impulse, which means I enjoy being a focus of attention, at least for a while (I’m also an introvert, meaning being in front of people is ultimately draining, but it’s a sloooow leak, if you know what I mean).

3. I don’t drink, so I never had access to liquid courage and thus had to find ways to give myself permission to, as I like to put it, “get stupid on my own.” It’s worked, and has the side effect, positive or negative depending on one’s point of view, of getting me used to taking responsibility for my own idiocy. I can’t say “sorry, I was so drunk at the time,” which always stuck me as a crappy excuse anyway. On the other things, I also get to do cool things and be totally there for them, which is its own reward.

4. Somewhere along the line, I learned there were in fact only a few people whose opinions I need to worry about or take into consideration regarding how I live my life (Right now: Wife, daughter, a very small number of friends and, in a work sense, the editors I work with). That being the case, honestly, who care what some random other people think of me? As long as I’m not doing anything harmful to anyone else, screw ’em. If someone wants to point and laugh because I’m flopping about on the dance floor, let them point and laugh. Their scorn doesn’t do anything except point out they’re overly concerned about judging someone else doing something fundamentally harmless. Which makes them the asshole, not me.

This also has the flip side benefit of making me a lot more tolerant of other people doing their own silly thing. Again: You want to do it? You’re not harming anyone else by doing it? Doing it makes your life a little easier to get through? Then go, my friend. Do that thing you do. I applaud you, even if it’s a thing I don’t do myself, or would never do myself, or really wouldn’t recommend to others. My thing doesn’t have to be your thing; your thing doesn’t have to be mine.

5. There’s also the matter, to put it somewhat bluntly, that in our status-conscious primate society, at this point I’m a sufficiently high-status member that I don’t have to fear potential social disapprobation from other members of my monkey tribe for what I do. The fraternity pledge at a party who is intensely aware that the evaluation of other males will have a significant impact on his social standing for the next four years? He’s not in a rush to make an ass of himself (in ways the other monkeys in his tribe will disapprove of). I don’t exactly have the same problems.

This is not to say I’m immune from social comment and criticism. When I show my ass, people tell me (boy, do they tell me). I am, however, fairly well-innoculated against worrying that something on the level of getting up to sing karaoke will have an adverse affect on my social standing.

6. Also, hey, you know what? I both dance and sing passibly well, and indeed have taken classes in both. I did them before I took classes, mind you, and probably would still do them if I hadn’t. But in those specific cases, it doesn’t hurt.

So in short, it’s part who I am and part what I’ve learned that makes me able to get out there and not have a large load of social anxiety over things.

If I were going to give people one piece of advice on how not to have social anxiety over this sort of stuff, it is this: Almost all of the time, it doesn’t really matter. Just as it’s highly unlikely an music business A&R person is going to walk in and say “You! Singing Ke$ha on the karaoke! You’re our next big star!” so too is it highly unlikely that things are going to go the other way and you will be forever shunned for bleating out “Tik Tok” slightly off-key. Hell, Ke$ha sings it off-key too, she’s just got auto-tune. Lots of auto-tune. So relax. Enjoy yourself.

If I were going to give people two pieces of advice on how not to have social anxiety over this sort of stuff, the second piece would be: You get credit for trying. I’ll say this specifically to all you straight men out there: The fact you’re willing to go onto the dance floor at all is a good thing; if you’re willing to do more than the One Square Foot Shuffle (With Optional Overbite), even better (also, for God’s sake, put down your friggin beer). Yes, other men may look at you like you’re an alien, but you’re not trying to make time with them. Focus on the woman in front of you, you idiot. If everything goes well, she’ll have plenty of opportunities to teach you how to dance better. Let her. Trust me, it’s worth it.


Yes, You May Reprint “A Doctor on Transvaginal Ultrasounds”

I’m getting a number of requests to reprint “A Doctor on Transvaginal Ultrasounds,” so I checked in with the doctor on this. The doctor replied that the intent of writing the piece was to have it go as far and wide as possible, so yes, if you want, you may reprint it. There are only two conditions on this reprint right:

1. Don’t alter the text of the piece;

2. Correctly attribute both the author (“An Anonymous Doctor”) and the original publisher (“Originally published on Whatever (”).

And there you go!

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