New and Exciting Debate Topics

I have several friends who used to be in speech and debate, and it seemed that they always did the same drab topics over and over again. Creationism vs Evolution. Republican vs Democrat. North vs. South. Etc. These topics are overdone, even among debaters, boring as a result of over-familiarity and far more likely to win you enemies rather than friends in debate class since they’re topics we feel so strongly about. Not to mention the problem of having to defend a side you don’t agree with….how can you do a good job with that?

So I’d like to present to you some fun new exciting topics with arbitrary viewpoints that are easy to stick to like superglue without actually compromising your values or ticking off your opponents. Guaranteed non-threatening, unimportant, and yet highly controversial!

Number 1

Is this color red or orange? If you don’t think this is controversial enough for a debate topic then you’re either color blind, or you’re not argumentive enough to be a debator.

Number 2

Will the world end in ice or fire? Provide geological research to support your claim.

Number 3

Is Tom Hiddleston or Benedict Cumberbatch the better actor? Provide expert testimony. (Any well known male British actor may be substituted.)

Erika_9_typewriterNumber 4

Panster or Plotter? Which is the better method? (Spoilers–both are legit!)

Number 5

Is the pen really mightier than the sword? (Note: “might” must be defined in advance.)

stream_imgNumber 6

Hershey’s or Cadbury? All-American or better chocolate? Good luck defending Hershey’s ridiculous ban on importing genuine Cadbury chocolate!

Coke-and-Pepsi-dilutiveNumber 7

Coke or Pepsi? This may refer to either the specific drinks, or the companies themselves. (If someone wants to be really adventurous, toss in RC!)

What exciting debate topics do you recommend?

All My Friends Are Introverts

IMG_0077Before I get into heated, sensitive, and perhaps offensive subject matters, a little background. For me the month of August started in July. July 31st, to be precise. It was my sister’s highschool graduation and we threw a lavish party. I mean, this is the dream birthday party of every ten year old. We had races, human chess, food art, lemonade, and prizes. At around eight o’clock when all the cousins and children under 13 and people who lives in other states were packing up to go, and the sun was just dipping behind the horizon and everyone wanted to go crash on the couch until bedtime, we broke out the glowsticks and the bathing suits and the stereo and rocked out in my brother’s large swimming pool until almost midnight.

The next morning was August 1st. We got up, went down to said brother’s house, cleaned up as best we could, put food away, ate ice cream for breakfast, sorted out useful party stuff from garbage, packed up the car, and drove into town to set up at the park for my 25th birthday party, an event I wanted to throw because I was moving away in a couple of weeks. We decked out trees with streamers, set up tables, made punch, signed a guest book, and ate cupcakes from my awesome cake-decorating boss. When the sun started to sink behind the horizon we cleaned up, again, and drove home, again, and ate leftovers, again, and crashed on the couch watching Good Mythical Morning until midnight and the last relatives decided to go home.

It was awesome. It was exhausting. It was enough party to last me until Christmas.

IMG_0115Two days later, Monday, August 3rd, my sister’s maid of honour, my childhood best friend, and the sister of my brother’s wife, came to town for a week. Tuesday we all went with my sister to Bowling Green to get her wedding dress fitted. We went out to eat at the mall. I convinced everyone to go to the bookstore I had coupons for. Wednesday, August 5th we hosted a memorial service for a close friend’s mother who died seven years ago. It would have been her 50th birthday. We had food, displayed a quilt, and sat in a circle and shared memories. It was good. It went very well. It was 10 PM before everyone left. Thursday I went out with one of my best friends–my last chance to see him again before I moved. We had lunch. We went shopping. We met up with my sister, sister-in-law, and their out of town guests for free root beer floats at A&W. I didn’t get home until well after supper time. Friday the friend’s husband and his best friend came down for the weekend. Friday night was party night. I went over to my brother’s house and played poker with spare change we dug out of our car seat cushions. Saturday night we all drove into town to get ice cream at sonic. Sunday (yesterday as I’m writing this) my sister’s fiancé came over, they bought real poker chips to play with, and I stayed out until midnight. But this time I didn’t play poker. I took my book, I read for an hour, and then I sat in their upstairs movie theatre and watched Harry Potter for five hours. I was the stereotype of anti-social. I didn’t care.

Today is my little brother’s 13th birthday. We have an invitation to a birthday party for his friend who’s birthday is tomorrow. I’m not going. Neither is my sister in law. She’s clearly an introvert. I go back and forth between classifying myself as extrovert and ambivert. But at this point it really doesn’t matter what kind of -vert we are. That much partying would kill anyone’s desire to socialize.

IMG_0147This is what so many of my introvert evangelist friends miss when the post blogs with topics like “The care and feeding of introverts.” So many of us have experienced the exact same things that are considered to be “introvert” characteristics, and treating those activities like they belong to an exclusive club is ignorant at best and, at worst, they can be very hurtful. It’s not that you’re not special. It’s just that everyone else is special too. We may never be as sensitive, as insecure, or as desiring of solitude as you, but it doesn’t mean we don’t feel those emotions, share those experiences. We’re all human, after all. We may express ourselves differently, but we feel the same emotions.

So this morning, prompted by a healthy round of people over-dose, I began composing ironic, slightly deprecating remarks about introverts and anti-social activities. Most of these would probably get me alienated from all of you forever. Therefore you shall not see them. But one that I actually revised twice sort of stood out to me. It was supposed to be the beginning of this post, but given how many words my introduction turned into, I guess it’s going to be the ending. It goes like this.

Remember all your confident, extroverted friends at school? The ones who never got rejected, had insecurities, or had to overcome any obstacles whatsoever? Yeah….neither do I.

So here’s the thing, friends. We’re all different, every one of us. We all have something we’re afraid of, something we hide, and you can’t judge by appearances. Just because someone turns down party invitations doesn’t mean they’re an introvert. And just because somebody is an introvert doesn’t mean they hate parties. And just because someone is strong and confident doesn’t mean that they’re never afraid. Just because someone is anti-social doesn’t mean they don’t like people.

IMG_0064Just because someone is anti-social doesn’t mean they’re an introvert. They could be partied out. They could have an abusive family. They could be overwhelmed by school. They could have a suicidal friend. They could be going through a break-up. They could have the flu.

And just because someone parties like the world is ending doesn’t mean that they’re an extrovert, that they’re confident in public, or that they never experience any of the insecurities you feel. To be honest, some of my hardest partying friends are introverts. But you could never tell by looking at them. So any time you say “Introverts don’t like to party” you’re spreading a lie, locking people into boxes, and doing a disservice to introverts, extroverts, and parties alike. Because we’re all different, and there are always exceptions.

And we’re all special. Not just the shy ones, and especially not just the cool ones. The only way to really know how to treat your friend is by talking to them, being there for them, and taking the time to get to know them for who they are, not who the labels or guide-lines or how-to’s tell you they are. So maybe the next time you get frustrated that nobody knows you, instead of saying “I’m an introvert and you should know better than to pressure me into coming to your party” you could try “I don’t do well with large gatherings of people, so would it be okay if I just came by for a few minutes and left early?” And instead of alienating all your extroverted friends by accusing them of misunderstanding and excluding you, you could recognize how much it hurts them to be shoved out of your friend circle because they’re different, because they talk too much, because they reached out to you in the only way they know how–and you rejected them.

Dear friends, I am not an introvert. But I swear to god, if I get one more party invitation this month, you will wish I was.

You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Eaten By a Dragon

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. And dragons.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. And dragons.

About a week ago I quit my job. I had a good reason–I’m moving three and a half hours away and since my job doesn’t supply jet packs, the commute would have killed me. I’ve been working for the same company, in the same building for 21 months or 1 and 2/3rds years. Whatever. I switched from Subway to the gas station the Subway is housed in in January, successfully eliminating 90% of the stress of the job, and basically getting to do whatever I wanted for eight months. So I read a lot of books, did a little writing, doodled, learned to count cigarettes, cleaned out air filters, found piles of dirt that hadn’t seen sunlight in ten years, and took over bullying the drink vendors into doing their job better. By about May I had become the sole guardian and arbitrator of the drink cooler. You know that big long wall of deliciously cold sugary drinks that exists in every cooler? Yeah, I was the man behind the chill.

Keeping drink cooler’s stocked is more elaborate than it looks. We had three vendors–RC, Pepsi, and Coke. They sent in a salesamen who looked at what we had, and placed an order for more stuff. Then the delivery guys came with the stuff, and unloaded it all into the cooler. Self-sustaining system, right?

Have you hugged a dragon lately? Watch out for the pointy bits though.

Have you hugged a dragon lately? Watch out for the pointy bits though.

Wrong. Sometimes stuff goes out of date. Sometimes an entire case of monster gets dropped and full of dents and holes. Drinks that we can no longer sell are supposed to be picked up by the vendors, and credited back to our account. Until I took over, they just sat in crates under the shelves, ignored by everyone and developing sentience. When I took over the cooler I started cleaning, and sorting. I put credits into boxes for their respective vendors. I wrote their names on them in large letters. I waited for them to mysteriously disappear.

Some did. Some didn’t. Some stayed around for three months. I resorted to threats.

I laid in wait for the salesmen who came into to order more drinks. “These are your credits,” I said. “Can you get rid of them for me?” I pestered the delivery guys who were supposed to pick them up. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes I put up great big signs with arrows on them.

And then I started bringing in the dragons.

By dragons, of course, I mean fictional dragons. I would threaten to release the dragons, and nothing happened. Ever. I put up this sign at the beginning of June and, to my knowledge, nobody even read it. They certainly never commented on my cleverness or wit.

IMAG0035

It bears mentioning at this point that I am a dutiful student of Brian Rathbone’s dragon jokes. I have written about them several times, and I always enjoy seeing them in my twitter feed. I’ve even made a few half-hearted attempts and dragon jokes myself (even though I can never hope to live up to the master.) If I have learned anything from my study, it’s that dragons can always be used to good effect in a bad humour attempt. So when I think of trying to jokingly threaten the incredibly friendly and good looking coke vendors, dragons is what comes to mind.

If you wish to have a more interesting day at work, complain to HR that your insurance doesn't cover dragon attacks.

If you wish to have a more interesting day at work, complain to HR that your insurance doesn’t cover dragon attacks.

It also bears mentioning that, unlike the rest of you, my work place is not a place of geeks and comic books and Game of Thrones fans. My workplace is more the public school, smoking breaks, and will we ever get beer in here? kind of environment. Certainly dragons didn’t make for daily conversation material. My getting excited over the first image from the Pluto fly-by was nerdy enough.

Fast-forward to mid-July. My threatening dragon sign has been up for about six weeks, and the credits it referred to are long gone. I kept forgetting to take it down because I was too busy doing things like decrypting the elaborate cypher used to date cigarettes and figuring out which ones were over two years old. I went to harp came for a week and came back and suddenly all the vendors were asking about dragons.

It's not the size of the treasure that counts. It's the size of the dragon guarding it.

It’s not the size of the treasure that counts. It’s the size of the dragon guarding it.

Coke Delivery Guys:

“Do you play world of warcraft?”
“Me?”
“Yeah.”
“No.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.”
“Do you like dragons?”
“To an extent…yeah….”

A dragon ate my homework. And my house. And most of the village.

A dragon ate my homework. And my house. And most of the village.

Pepsi Delivery Guys:

“Do you like dragons?”
“Why does everyone keep asking that?”
“Did you make that sign back there?”
“Yes…”

If at first you don't succeed, dragon riding is not for you.

If at first you don’t succeed, dragon riding is not for you.

Coke Salesman:

“Do you like dragons?”
“Seriously, why does everyone keep asking me this?”
“Well, you made that sign back there, right?”
“Yes, but that was a month ago!”
“I just noticed it last week and pointed it out to everyone else. We think it’s great.””Oh, that explain it…”

So my last day of work comes around. Typically, when one is leaving a job one has had for a long time, one does something…unusual, to mark the occasion. After lying in bed unable to sleep, I came up with the semi-brilliant idea of taking this dragon idea and running with it. So I stayed up late, making dragon posters. I combed through Google images, and Brian Rathbone’s twitter, and I printed out about fourteen or so dragons. Then I grabbed my colored pencils and some sheet protectors and went to work.

Chase your dreams like there's a dragon chasing you and your dreams are headed in the same direction.

Chase your dreams like there’s a dragon chasing you and your dreams are headed in the same direction.

I spent all morning coloring, but while people kept joking about it, nobody asked me why. It wasn’t until I started taping them up everywhere that they took note. I put dragon posters in the cooler, in the backs of cabinets, and on obscure walls. When I saw my manager a week later she said she was still finding them in places. I just smiled mysteriously. That was the idea.

If you can't say anything nice, there might be a dragon sitting on you.

If you can’t say anything nice, there might be a dragon sitting on you.

IMAG0504

If you love something, set it free. If it comes back it’s yours. If it doesn’t, a dragon probably ate it.

IMAG0503

It is better to have loved and lost than to have been eaten by a dragon.

It is better to have loved and lost than to have been eaten by a dragon.

IMAG0501

Six Ways to Make Someone’s Day

We’ve all had that day where things just keep going wrong and we wish we could go to sleep and start over. And then the clerk in checkout will admire our earrings, or you’ll get into a fun conversation with the guy at the bookstore, or a friend you haven’t heard from in a long time will send you an email and everything suddenly looks much brighter and better.

We don’t know when other people are having a hard time and need something to pick them up. There’s no specific warning messages that tell you “Oh, I should do something nice for that person.”But the saying “What goes around comes around” seems to hold true in a very odd, balanced sort of way, and giving something to other people can be as cheering to you as it is to them. So here are a few simple ways to brighten someone’s day.

1. Compliment Them.

We all love compliments, though some admit it more than others. In the world of social networking this has become even easier as people post pictures and selfies on Facebook, Twitter, an Instagram on a regular basis. It can be a compliment on their physical appearance, or it can just be a simple not of appreciation for them as a person. Maybe you’re too smart to get into internet debates but really appreciated the way they stood up to a cyberspace bully. Send them a message saying as much and if they rant for ten minutes smile and let them. They’ll walk away feeling so much better about themselves.

2. Give a Gift

Gifts don’t have to be big, elaborate things. Especially in real life it’s easy to pick up a second-hand book, a cute mug, a knick-knack or a favorite food and give it someone in your life. They’ll be astonished that you thought about them, excited over the present, and probably give you a huge. Candy is the way to the heart of any child, or awkward social gathering. If you’re a creator then believe me, everyone secretly wants to own something you make but isn’t sure they want it bad enough to pay. It’s both a very personal gift and gratifying to feel important enough that you were willing to give it.

3. Money

Let’s face it, we all want more money. We work jobs we hate, we accept more hours, we scrimp and save just so we can have enough money to do…whatever it is we want to do. There never seems to be enough money to go around for everything. Even rich people feel like they’re perpetually caught in that state of “Not quite enough.” There are things everybody wants to spend money on that are considered luxuries, so they rarely get out to do them.

I’m not talking about “here, let me support you for the rest of your life.” Money can be a gift like anything else. Little things like a $5 Starbucks card, or an Amazon gift card (because seriously, who doesn’t need more Amazon credit?) or tipping someone who doesn’t usually expect it. (When someone gives me a tip at Subway it totally makes my day.) A gift card to your favourite restaurant often has the added benefit of that friend asking you to go to lunch there with them.

4. Anonymous Giving

I think this is actually more beneficial to the giver than the receiver. There is literally nothing more fun than sending a gift to someone anonymously and then watch them get all excited and run around demanding to know who it was. Or maybe you don’t see it, and imagine them doing it in private because you don’t know them that well. Either way you sleep really well that night knowing you’ve totally made someone’s day and they don’t even know it was you. This also removes any danger of reciprocal giving.

5. Help Out

When you call a friend for a recipe and she tells you that her dryer isn’t working and the kids haven’t had supper yet and she doesn’t know how everyone is going to get baths in time for church the next morning your initial response might to be to sympathize, laugh and little, and hope she gets it sorted out. If you do this–you’re doing it wrong. The most powerful gift you can give to anyone is to be there when they need it. Loaning them that piece of baking equipment they’re missing, letting them use your washer and drier when theirs quit working, helping them with homework when that finals deadline looms ever closer, offering to babysit so the parents can have an evening out–giving without expecting anything in return, that’s the best kind of giving there ever was. If you want real friends that will be there for you in a time of crisis then start building those relationships now. It will come in handy when the apocalypse strikes.

6. Just Be There

We’re all isolated in a world crowded with people. Especially young people, we talk all the time and never say anything at all. We’re open and honest with our thoughts on Twitter and Facebook because we know no one is listening anyway. We’re so used to being ignored that we take it for granted nobody cares.

Being a voice in that emptiness of isolation is a great way to make someone feel there’s hope in the world after all. If you notice someone is having a bad day, instead of being embarrassed and looking away say “Hey, I’m here. I feel your pain.” You don’t have to know the details. You don’t have to solve all their problems. Most people don’t expect that anyway. All they want is a sympathetic ear–some sign that it’s not all futile, that someone is listening. An ecard that says “You are special.” A funny pic and the message “This made me think of you.” The less well you know a person the more effective this is. And it can make all the difference between a really terrible day, and one that might turn out to be okay.

And then one day, when you really need it, maybe someone will do something for you.

The Cost of Freedom

A few months ago some people I follow on Twitter started acting like idiots.

I generally don’t follow idiots, which means that I probably knew or respected these people on some level at some time. But it’s really hard for me to respect them any more. What did they do that had me so up in arms? They were campaigning to get a book banned.

I’m not going to tell you what book, because I don’t want to have that conversation. So imagine an idea you hold in utter contempt, or a type of written literature you consider harmful to the world, without a speck of value. Imagine something degrading, that goes against your beliefs. Imagine a book promoting it. Really, just think of the most evil thing you can and then multiply it by six!

The idiots on twitter were going around giving it one star reviews, reviling it in public, and sending angry letters to Amazon demanding that it be taken down. They pointed out that the book was recommending illegal activity (for their country) and decrying this otherwise noble and likeable book seller for permitting such material to be viewed on their website! Given their way I am quite sure they would happily lynch the authors and burn every copy of the book, sending an inquisition into the home of anyone found possessing it. And they would do all this without any idea of the price they would have to pay for their actions.

These are the same people who like to celebrate banned book day and talk about how terrible it is that anyone would want to suppress information.

“But the banned books we celebrate are in accord with modern, forward thinking!” They say. “This book, this is an abomination! It will hurt people!”

Allow me to change gears for a few minutes.

Last November I attended a Q&A session with Timothy Zahn. (I got to meet him later, and he signed a book for me. Delightful man.) He won my admiration forever when he admitted that he didn’t like what JJ Abrams did with Star Trek. (And he got a round of applause. There is hope for humanity.) Somehow the conversation got around to technology, and he told us that many of the advances made on the internet happened because of pornography. All the breakthroughs to increase video download speed, and create more efficient web sites and better search engines were just so that people could “get it faster.”

Raise your hand if you think pornography should be banned.

Put your hands down. Reread the paragraph about technological advances being a result of the pornography business.

If you think it’s not true (I have no sources) then think about it hypothetically.

Are you still in favour of banning porn?

So let’s get back to the evilx6 book that people were ripping Amazon for not taking down. Let’s talk about what would happen if Amazon conceded to their demands and complied with their request. Or let’s just think about what would happen if Amazon complied with any party who threatened, cajoled, or bribed them into removing books.

Suddenly we have censorship. Suddenly no one can publish a book without it being reviewed by a board of censors and determining that it doesn’t contain any harmful content. Suddenly books are being banned left and right and we don’t even notice. If you open that door an inch, if you start censoring even the most harmful of books then you create a foothold for the kind of censorship everyone loathes and despises.

Amazon ignored the idiots on Twitter. I believe they will continue to do so, because they know the score. In order to have a free economy, in order to allow everyone to have freedom of speech, you have to let people talk trash. In order to not limit the freedom of all you cannot limit the freedom of any. If you want to be free to praise the virtues of the LGBT community then you need to be free to trash it as well. In order to preserve our freedom we must allow the freedom of evil.

Take a moment to indulge in that fantasy of burning that book you hate so much. Imagine the author brought to justice, and given what he deserves. Now switch places with that person and witness the world you’ve created.

Obsession

http://www.novelguide.com/ckfinder/userfiles/images/Lost%20Horizon.jpgI’m going to go out on a limb here and talk about something I don’t talk about in public very much–Jesus Christ.

I’m also going to talk about James Hilton’s book Lost Horizon. And the wide world of geekdom.You see, Lost Horizons encourages a very strange virtue: Moderation.

“If I could put it into a very few words, dear sir, I should say that our prevalent belief is in moderation. We inculcate the virtue of avoiding excesses of all kinds—even including, if you will pardon the paradox, excess of virtue itself.”

The first time I read this I disagreed with it quite strongly. I was young at the time and idealistic and read “Lives of the Saints” and “Voice of the Martyrs” and thought there was no such thing as an excess of virtue. That was before I grew up and saw what an excess of virtue could do to people. Before I met Christians who believed it was possible not to sin, and thus hurt people and moved on, not believing they’d don anything wrong. Before I’d seen beautiful friendships torn apart over doctrine, because both party believed it was the epitome of virtue.

Believe me, an excess of virtue is a very dangerous thing. Christians have to sin, stumble, and fall so that they are forced to crawl back to Grace and beg for pardon, and be reminded that they can not be saved on their own merit. It’s a cycle of ups and downs that’s painful to go through but a necessary by product of living in a fallen world. We succumb to pride so that we can be broken, so that we can learn to be humble again. But soon the pain fades away, and we become proud of our humility, and begin the cycle all over again.

So yes, I now firmly agree with the Llama of Shangri-la. All things in moderation, unless you’re God himself.

To be fair, this topic has been covered already in a four part series on Speculative Faith. If you want to read it, I encourage you to do so. You can find it here:

Part I: Can Geeks be Good Christians?
Part II: Forgiving and Forgetting.
Part III: Straining the Gnats.
Part IV: Geeky Idols

So there you go. Can a geek be a good Christian? My take on it, absolutely. Before I go further let me first clarify: I love geeks. Most of my friends are geeks. I’m a geek. I’m proud of my geekiness. My dad is a bit of a geek. I love geek culture. I go to conventions. I’m a science fiction writer, for heaven’s sake.

And sometimes it bothers me. It bothers me deep down, in that place in my heart that I know better then to try to ignore. It says things like: You’re proud to be a geek? What does that mean, that you’re some how superior to non-geeks? That non-geeks aren’t cool enough to be friends with you?

Of course not, you want to say, and brush it off. But no, really. Look at your life and ask yourself the question again.

There’s nothing wrong with watching TV and loving fictional characters and having fandoms. But do you ever talk about anything else? Do you show that kind of enthusiasm in helping others, and doing housework? Is it the most important thing in your life? Is your geekdom an idol?

So I want to talks about fans, fandom, cosplay, etc. The word fan comes from the word fanatic. Fanatic means: “marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion <they’re fanatic about politics>” You can’t reason with a fanatic. You can’t change their opinion. Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. You’re best off giving up and walking away. Does that remind you of any “fans” you know? I do not describe myself as a fan, at all. Lately I’ve been actively taking a step back from activities that might get me labeled as such. I don’t participate in “fandom” or “fangirl behaviour.”That’s because, to me, that means three things: Pride, selfishness, and idolotry. And once you set foot on that path it can lead quickly downhill to other things.

Look at all the giggling maniacs on tumblr and facebook and youtube who want to marry famous actors, or at least sleep with them. That’s idolatry and, in some cases, adultery. Dressing up as someone and trying to be them? That’s called worship, and if you’re not worshipping God then it’s idolotry. There’s nothing wrong with dressing up and pretending from time to time. But if your’e doing it to feed an obsession then you need to take a step back and ask yourself why.

Wishing you lived in a fantastical universe isn’t healthy. I’m sure they’ve done studies on this. But more than that, it’s selfish. When you moan to your friend about wanting the Doctor to come take you away in your TARDIS you’re rejecting the life you have, the friends you have, and the family you have. I don’t care if you’re alone in the world and the most miserable person on the planet. Wishing yourself away or lusting after a fictional universe is selfish, self-centered, and a slap in the face of the God who created it and you. It’s called having a pity party, but we disguise is as having a fandom. Becoming obsessed with something that doesn’t exist means rejecting the world that does exist, and everyone in it.

And finally let’s talk about pride. Let’s talk about the flame wars, the hatred, the sides people take on frivolous, unimportant issues! We get so caught up over arguing about the newest plot twists that we stop treating each other with the respect we deserve as human beings. We allow our fandoms, and geekery to carry us away to such an extent that we become the villains of the story. We justify our poor behaviour with our idols. It’s not the real world, so it doesn’t count as much. You’re not insulting a person, you’re insulting their character or fandom, so insults aren’t as reprehensible as they’d be otehrwise considered. We make ourselves out as “experts” and tell everyone else that we’re right, they’re wrong, and fight to the death for our stance. We leave behind traits like love, acceptance, and forgiveness.

http://michaelmcfarlandmusic.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/coexist-hi-res-620x206.jpg

Of course, we spread obsession to other parts of our lives as well, and every time we do so it harms us.The villains of stories are most often driven by obsession. Obsession, or addiction, drives us to kill, steal, and harm the very thing we want. Obsession turns us into dragons, no matter what our original intention. Obsession has put the life of many a celebrity in danger, as mobs threaten to destroy the very thing they worship. Does that tell you something is wrong, that you’ve crossed a line somewhere?

Of course it’s not just geeks. You can be obsessed with other things, such as football, shopping, or video games. But I’m talking to the geeks of the world because that’s where the temptation lies for me–that’s where I understand it best.

Tom Hiddleston is one of my favourite actors, but I don’t want his name tattooed on my arm. I don’t “fangirl” over his performance, or write fanfic involving me and Loki. Loki is an incredible character, and Hiddleston’s portrayal of him presents real passion and talent. If I met him I would want to talk to him intellectually, and as such it’s my responsibility to treat him as an intellectual in casual conversation as well. Which means not screaming ‘HE’S GORGEOUS!” in all caps on Youtube videos, or otherwise behaving in a demeaning manner to both of us.

Neil Gaiman is an incredible writer, and an inspiration speaker, and one of my favorite famous people ever. He’s not going on any signing tours. Any good “fan” would be crushed by this, because what about future books they can’t get autographed for their collection? But I’ve read his reasons, and I agree with them. I applaud him for what he’s doing, because he’s right. Standing until three in the morning for a scrawled signature is rediculous, and he’s making a huge stand by not encouraging it. The thing I value most about him is his inspiration work, and he plans to continue that. I plan to continue reading it and seeing him when he comes to speak in my area again.

And of course I love Star Trek. I’m a bit furious with the new Star Trek movies. But my reaction to those movies (and the reactions of those who can’t believe I don’t want to see Into Darkness) is part of what woke me up to my own behaviour. I’m protecting a fictional universe as if it matters, and giving no regard to real world people who oppose it. The movies don’t matter. They’re mindless bits of fluffy entertainment! Will I continue to discuss and critique them from a literary standpoint? Of course, I’m a writer. That’s what I do. But at the end of the day the characters of Kirk and Spock are just that, characters, and I need to let them go.

There is only one thing in my life that should be more important to me than eating, sleeping, breathing, life, liberty, freedom, and happiness. There is only one thing that should be so important to me that I can give in the status of an obsession, a fandom, or offer worship.There is only one person who deserves to be held up as a God, who’s name should be on my lips from the time I get up until the time I lay down, to whom nothing else can ever take precedence, and who I will serve until the death. If I ever become obsessed with anything else, no matter to what degree, it is idolatry and betrayal of the worst kind.

So go out into the world. Be a geek. Change the world, and make it a better place. And when you plan your next costume think to yourself–why am I doing this? When you get excited about a new movie ask youself–who am I serving? And when you can’t stop talking about something exciting on facebook, on twitter, in chat, take a step back and wonder–am I being disrespectful to the people around me and the one who created me?

“And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”

Keep it in perspective, and keep your soul.

Seek Out New Life

“This is the voyages of the Starship “Enterprise.” Her five year mission to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

In 1969 we put a man on the moon. For a decade living up to that we thrived on anticipation. Our thoughts and hopes were all built up towards achieving that seemingly unreachable goal. Children of that era grew up on shows that played on the theme, shows such as Lost in Space and, of course, Star Trek. Our artists and authors wrote of space colonization, and exploring the galaxies. They warned against wars and nuclear weapons. Growth was encouraged, and creativity rewarded.

Now our movies all play upon the same themes; the glories of bygone days and the impending destruction of Earth. The films that everyone goes to see depict heroes fighting back against an alien invasion, or a handful of survivors living through the end of the world as we know it. If space exploration and colonization is an expression of hope and a desire to grow then the current trends in our science fiction entertainment shows portray only our fear.

Fear that our world is going to end. Fear of what our next enemy will be. Fear of change.

This fear is rampant throughout our society. Becoming more and more paranoid we give up our freedom for an empty promise of safety. No one talks about exploring or colonization; those dreams are long since lost. We implement birth control, and population control. Instead of reaching for new things, taking risks, and growing outwards we limit our technology. We hold back–out of fear.

We stick to what we know is safe even, or especially, in the entertainment industry. Every film we create is modelled off of the last blockbuster. We analyse things that were successful and figure out how to tap into that stream. Creativity is allowed only within certain molds and boundaries. Formulas must be strictly followed. The uniform must be worn at all times and those who dare to disobey are rejected, ridiculed, and dismissed. Art is allowed, but only as current society understands art. Scientific theories contradicting the current framework are dismissed without due process as heresy.

And in our paranoia and fear we become more and more controlling; not of our own lives, but of the lives of others. We fear the thief who lurks in the night so we suspect our neighbour of being a thief. Nations turn upon each other, government turn up on their own people and eventually we turn on ourselves. We’re suppressing the things that make us human–the urge to create, to grow, to reach out and take risks, to dare to do something different–to go where no man has gone before.

We see this reflected not just in the content of our films, but in the lack of originality, and our defensiveness of that lack. The world needs a renaissance–and it can only begin with you. Study the art of the golden age and implement those lessons in your life today. You’ll be ridiculed, you’ll be rejected, but you’ll make the world a better place. Break the rules that society has imposed, and violate the formulas that they dictate for success. You might fail–but you’ll succeed in a higher goal. Dare to entertain ideas that are forbidden and seen as heretical or crazy. Sometimes only the mad are truly sane.

Firefox vs. Chrome

There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who use computers, and those who understand them. This is not intended as an insult to those of the first group, as if you don’t know anything because you’re not a programmer. It’s like the difference between those who drink milk and those who own cows. Once not smarter then the others, and plenty of milk drinkers are fully educated on what farmers do, but really only the farmers are going to be able to tell a sick cow from a healthy one, and provide proper treatment. The same goes for users of web browsers, which results in endless bickering matches over what the best choice is.  The truth is; neither one is better then the other. They are simply suited to different needs.

Now, before anyone argues about this, let me explain my own grounds. I love Firefox, and I adore using Linux. I abhor Chrome. I tried Chrome, and I hate it, and I’ve had to defend myself against Google lovers ever since. But that’s not what this is about.

My strongest strength as a geek is explaining the tech-heads to the laymen. Which usually translates into explaining my dad to my mom. My mom is one of those people who uses computers, but really understands nothing about them. And she’s smarter then your average computer user. Even those with advanced computer skills who don’t go blank when you mention HTML tags have their limits on what they do and do not want their browser capabilities to be. So this is where we get Chrome.

Microsoft and Google both have the same objective. They market to the masses. They make software that can be used by everyone, regardless of their tech level. Windows is becoming more and more pre-setup, so that you can send your little old aunt down to the computer store and she can pretty much run it by herself. As long as you don’t mind her using Internet Exploder, of course. Google is doing the same thing–marketing to the Everyman. Chrome is designed so that you can go over to your little aunt’s house, get rid of IE, and put that on instead. It’s designed to take care of itself, much as a robot would. All the features are hidden out of the way where she won’t accidently click on them and turn things on and off that you’d rather work alone. It’s clean, fast, efficient, and uncomplicated. And it drives people like me nuts.

You see, then there’s the other side of the spectrum. The tinkerers, hackers, and coders. We like everything out in the open. We like to have all our options available to us, because we know what they actually mean. Chrome drives people like us crazy when we want to be able to clear cookies in a snap, and disable and re-enable plugins on a daily basis.

It’s like what I tell my dad when he doesn’t understand why people think Linux is so complicated. It’s a wonderful, powerful operating system. It is extremely customizable–but some people don’t want to be able to customize that much. Some people don’t know how. Linux is a pet; to use it to its fullest capacity you have to groom it, and train it, and tweak it, and personalize it, and make it your own, and no one can do that for you but you. If you don’t enjoy that, or if you don’t know how, then you will hate it and it will give you no end of difficulty.

I have a friend who’s about my age. She’s a writer. She’s smart and competent, and was born in the right era to understand as much as I do about computers. But she doesn’t. She’s considering switching to Apple so that it’s less complicated for her to sync between her iPhone and PC. My reaction to this is…well…very strong. I’m going to get an iPhone and not even run Apple software on it! Because I’m a hacker. I make the hardware do what I want it to do, rather then going along with the intended purpose. Or, as my brother’s favourite saying goes: “I void warranties.”

So that’s why I abhor Chrome. That’s why major geeks like my father think the design interface is idiotic. It was designed to be used by people who just want to use a web browser to browse the web. So if you’re a web browser who wants to browse the web–go download Chrome! You will love it. I highly recommend it for just about everyone.

Just never, ever recommend it to me. I’m open source all the way.

You’re Doing it Wrong!

I just got back from PandoraCon where they had an amazing program designed specifically for authors. Instead of authors paying for a table they were then stuck behind forever, begging people to pay attention to them like a starving cat, authors were able to leave their books in the official bookstore, wander the con at their leisure, returning only for scheduled and posted signing slots, readings, and panels. It was an amazing opportunity that I took full advantage of.

It didn’t work. I don’t know how others did, but I sold a grand total of 2 books over the course of three days. No one was that interested in the signing table, the panels were poorly attended, and the only people at the panels were the other authors.

This was not the fault of the convention. I think the convention is amazing. What we authors agreed amongst ourselves is that the panels were targeted at aspiring writers, and there just weren’t many of those around. That, combined with conflicting scheduling, resulted in poor participation. I said we needed to target readers, instead of writers; people who would buy our books.

And then I came home and started thinking. I spent three days hanging out with writers, but also with musicians, organizers, attendees and participants. I did things that were fun, and even skipped one of my own signing slots to go to a goblin tea party. I’m glad I did; that tea party was the best thing ever.

What surprised me most, when thinking back on the convention, was that I didn’t like hanging out with the other authors. I’m independently published: I don’t want to hear tips about publishing or editing or agents. I’ve written six books: I don’t need advice on how to write or get noticed. I’m intelligent, I can figure this stuff out for myself. If I need help I can ask for it. If I want to network I’ll use the internet. But mostly authors are renowned for wanting to talk about their books, dissect their characters, and reminisce about every aspect of the publishing process. And what I realized after doing a panel about these guys is that nobody cares.

Just like no one cares about someone else’s dream, no one cares about someone else’s writing experience. The only authors who can get away with detailing their characters and processes are famous authors with a strong fan following. Authors at small conventions sitting at a table don’t have strong fan followings. So why do they act like they do? Basically, all our ideas about book marketing in person are wrong.

I don’t know what the right ideas are. I’m still working on that. I don’t know what tempts me to read a book, or enjoy it, or go chase down the authors signature. But I do know what keeps me interested and entertained at a convention, and tea parties are at the top of that list.

I’m still working on what my plan is the next time around, but here’s a few tips to keep in mind for your convention experience. You’re not a famous author, so stop doing what works for them. Focus on what works for you instead. Don’t target people who like your books; go for those who’ve never heard of it. What’s going to make them stop and pay attention? Make it fun. The only way to get someone to come pay attention to you instead of a party is to offer them something better. Don’t talk about yourself. No one cares. Find something people do care about and find a way to make that a part of your marketing strategy.

And most of all, never pass up an opportunity to have tea with a goblin. It will be the most fun you’ve ever had.

Supervillain of the Day: The Audio Drama

Hey there! Hmm, look at all this brown! Oh yeah, that’s because we’re on my personal website, the Idea Factory. We’re over here because I managed to break the official website (backend only) and don’t have backups of the database or something… anyway! Here is your audio drama episode, on time as promised! (Apologies to the iTunes people.)

Episode 4: Fire and Ashes: Part 1.

And with that we also have a few announcements. Like the release of Supervillains of London! Click the pretty picture to go to the Amazon page:

And of course there are all kinds of other goodies soon to be available, so stay tuned for details, hopefully back on the proper website! Meanwhile, if you’re going to be anywhere in the vicinity of Cincinnati this weekend drop by the Hotel Atrium to see PandoraCon! I have signings and readings and panels and critique sessions and there will be lots of Supervillain related paraphernalia for sale and free.