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In the autumn of last year I spent a month in Portugal visiting my wife’s sister and her husband. We traveled from Lisbon to Porto to the Algarve to a bunch of little towns with fabulous old tourist trap castles. We loved it.

And travel broadens the mind.

Here’s what we learned about the Portuguese culture: motherfuckers will just lie to your face. Also, they couldn’t stand to be told what they couldn’t do, or to be criticized.

I talked about this with my brother-in-law and a few other expats at some length. The upshot:

  • The Portuguese people are extremely friendly, helpful, and polite.
  • They’re also very passive aggressive.
  • The desire to avoid conflict is so strong that people will straight up lie to your face: “We aren’t allowed/That doesn’t work that way/We ran out/” and so on. Anything to smooth things over.
  • They don’t even lie convincingly. Why bother, since no one will call them on it?
  • The person who “creates” conflict by pointing out another person’s misdeed is in the wrong.

For example, your friend asks you to meet for coffee at 11 am. You’re there on time, but they show up an hour late. The expectation is that you say nothing about having your time wasted, or being made to wait. If you complain, they get offended.

For example, a piece of tech you bought does not do what you were told it could do, so you return to the store. The person at the counter tells you no no, that’s impossible. You’re sure they’re wrong, but the other counter staff backs them up. As you’re leaving the tech-savvy employee who sold it to you in the first place spots you and you strike up a conversation. You repeat your problem to him and he takes you in the back room and tells you that you were right, here’s how that works. The staff at the counter, they just don’t know how to deal with it. You suggest going over to the staff to explain so they’ll get it right for the next customer. The tech-savvy employee shakes his head. Oh, no. No, we can’t do that.

For example, a co-worker breaks the rules of the office. You tell them to stop because they’re making work difficult. They become offended and insist they can do what they like. You lose your temper. Who does management pull aside and demand a written apology from? Not the co-worker.

On our first full day in Lisbon, my sister-in-law arranged for a tour of the city in a tuk-tuk. Our guide was a friendly, outgoing guy who never stopped smiling–until he parked his vehicle in a no-parking space, and a cop told him to move it. Hey, it’s not like the spot wasn’t clearly marked, but after he complied he was livid for five very long minutes, just furious at being told he couldn’t do something he wanted to do.

That’s the secondary effect of a culture where criticism or conflict is frowned upon: people do what they like because they don’t expect to be taken to task. Corruption in Portugal is worse than in any Western European state except Spain. The sidewalks of downtown Lisbon have metal posts to prevent drivers from hopping the curb.

And of course problems can’t be fixed because you can’t tell people they’re doing it wrong.

When I returned to the US, I was glad to be back. Not that Portugal wasn’t great; it was. It’s a beautiful country with a ton of history and great wine. I got to see family, visit new places, eat new (mostly mediocre) foods, and spend a ton of time with my son.

Still, it was good to be home where, when wait staff lied to me, they actually put some effort into it.

A year later, it suddenly occurred to me that the US is very like the Portuguese in one area: the way white Americans handle race. For years, I’ve been watching the way white people freak the fuck out when someone points out their racism but I hadn’t noticed the parallels until recently: The way people act as though criticism is the start of the offensive behavior and the reluctance of many to offer criticism. The anger that anyone would dare. The way people lie about it to themselves and everyone around them. And, when you add in the typically American way many white folks have tried to make discussions of race a matter of partisan political positioning, you get people doing all kinds of outright racist bullshit because they consider all criticism illegitimate.

It sucks and I don’t have a good solution except to not be Portuguese about the issue. Speak clearly and honestly. Use techniques that reduce racism. Be kind to yourself and the people who need you. Accept that changing culture is the work of generations and it won’t be easy.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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The 2016 Presidential Election

It’s the understatement of the year to say that the results of the November election were a surprise, and what passed for analysis in the immediate aftermath was not what you’d call insightful. Even now, a week later, people are still looking at the numbers and trying to figure out what happened. But as emotions have settled, some things have become clear. With this post, I’m going to talk about what seemed to have worked in this election and what didn’t.

What worked: Voter Suppression

There was no single cause of Trump’s victory, but any analysis that ignores the hard work the GOP did to reduce voter turnout–especially among black voters–is incomplete. With the repeal of the Voting Rights Act, states felt free to purge the rolls, demand expensive or difficult-to-acquire ID, reduce early voting opportunities, and create long lines that forced people to wait hours to vote.

That was the plan: conservatives have long said, quite openly, that they do better in elections when fewer people show up on election day. The North Carolina state GOP even put out a press release bragging about how many fewer black Americans voted. They didn’t call it suppression, but that’s what it was.

What worked: Gerrymandering

The GOP has 55% of the seats in the House of Representatives but received 49% of the votes. If they still hold state legislatures when districts are redrawn at the end of the decade, it’s likely to get worse. The US needs to give non-partisan experts the authority to draw those districts so the election results reflect the people’s will.

What didn’t work: The Hatch Act

After Trump won, there was some eye-rolling from media figures when Hillary Clinton came out to say that James Comey’s letters to Congress about the email scandal tipped the election, but both Republican and Democratic polling shows that it was true. People keep talking about how wrong the polling was, but many Trump voters didn’t make up their minds until the final week when Comey’s first letter came out. The second letter, which acknowledged that the first wasn’t necessary, had a stronger impact that the Clinton camp didn’t have time to counter. Voters didn’t pay attention to the details, they just heard the scandal discussed once again, and assumed all that smoke indicated some kind of fire.

The Hatch Act makes it illegal for government employees to use their positions to influence elections, but somehow I doubt Comey is going to face repercussions from a grateful, empowered GOP.

What worked: The Electoral College

But wait! you say, how could the Electoral College have worked when the candidate that received the most votes was (once again) shut out of the White House?

Well, the Electoral College is designed to give outsized power to rural, underpopulated states, which are mostly white. Votes in Wyoming have a greater impact than votes in California and New York, and that’s no accident.

People have been saying that Clinton lost because the Democrats misread the mood of the electorate  and that voters wanted change. The problem with that is the majority of voters chose Clinton and her promise to keep/improve upon Obamacare, fix student debt, appoint a center-left justice to the Supreme Court, and generally continue Obama’s policies. A majority of voters did not choose change. Unfortunately, because of the way they were distributed and the way some votes count for more than others, change is what they’re getting.

The Electoral College should have been abolished years ago.

What worked: Republican Downballot Efforts

One of the reasons I didn’t throw my support behind Sanders despite the fact that he was closer to me, politically speaking, than Clinton, was that he ignored downballot races until very late in the primaries.

But it turned out that even Clinton’s efforts weren’t enough. It wasn’t the Electoral College that gave Republicans all those victories in state legislatures and governorships.

A month ago, the media was full of reports that Trump signaled the destruction of the GOP. Instead, it was the Democrats who took the hit. Without a real feeling of unity and a grassroots movement to retake ground at all levels of government, the Democrats will be swimming against the current for decades, and I’m not sure how we get that from people who think that voting Sanders into the highest office would move a leftist agenda forward when the rest of the government is against him.

What didn’t work: Authenticity

I heard an interview with a Republican voter who just couldn’t throw her support to Clinton because she hadn’t apologized for using a private email server. Then Clinton apologized and the supporter (big surprise) decided it wasn’t good enough. It didn’t sound “authentic”.

One of the knocks against Clinton was that people said they didn’t know who she really is. She’s supposed to be inauthentic. Once that charge gets hung on you, there’s no shaking it. Any time Clinton opened up or spoke about what she believed in, people responded as though it was just another calculated gesture.

Authenticity is a bit like shame culture: other people decide if you have it or not. Fuck authenticity.

What worked: White Supremacy

Trump supporters will really hate this one, but it can’t be avoided.

One thing about the primaries: Trump was nowhere until he called Mexican immigrants rapists, and he cemented his popularity by saying the US should ban Muslims from entering the country. Once he started spouting that bigotry and, more importantly, refused to back down from them, he had the enthusiastic support of the most openly racist elements of the right, and some from the left, too.

See also this video:

It’s pretty clear that the main reason his initial supporters aligned behind a scammy Manhattan real estate huckster with multiple bankruptcies and affairs was because Trump was willing to say into a microphone what they themselves only had to courage to type into anonymous comment fields.

This is why his supporters considered him an honest candidate despite the avalanche of lies he told from the podium. He gave voice to their discontent and he reassured them that their discontent was not bigotry, even though it was.

Add to that the willingness of many other white folks to doubt, minimize, and deny bigotry even when it’s right in front of them, and you have a solid block willing to vote in their racial self-interest even while they (mostly) deny that’s what they’re doing. When others pointed out the bigotry, his supporters laughed it off as weak sauce attacks from political opponents trying to make them “feel bad.”

As I said above, there’s no one reason for Trump’s victory. We also have to consider our common hatred of our own government, our irrational admiration for the rich, sexism, and many more things besides. But I will not be one of those who doubts, minimizes, or denies.

What didn’t work: The Media

Holy shit, the fucking media.

What didn’t work: Me

This has been a weird and stressful week.

On the campaign trail, Trump swore he was going to gut Obamacare, which is the only reason I’m able to work full time on my books. Without the ACA, I have to go back to a corporate job somewhere, because the plan at my wife’s work won’t cut it.

Do I temp-to-hire, which has always been better for me than interviewing? Do I start contacting people asking if anyone knows of job openings?

Well, no, not yet. My wife wants me to wait until the end of the year.

I also have family out of the country. My wife would probably love to be with her sister, and I’ll bet it would be good for my kid, but can I sell enough books to make up for the loss of my wife’s wages in another nation? Yikes. Probably not.

More importantly, if he keeps his campaign promises a Trump administration will be a disaster for this country. That’s a big if, considering how often and easily he denies saying things he’s said. Who knows what he believes, if anything?

Still, it feels like my duty as a citizen to dive deep into politics, to read and write letters and make my voice heard. It feels essential. Other things, like revising my book or reading or doing whatever, feel like a distraction. My son turns 15 next month. What sort of country is he going to grow up in? What will the state of our society be when he steps into a polling booth in 2020?

The moral arc of the universe does not bend toward justice. It bends toward chaos and entropy, like all things. Only by putting in energy can we shift–even if only temporarily–our society toward justice. What I need to do is find a way to contribute my share of that energy while holding my life together.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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Baby Bird Asks to be Pushed out of Nest

Well, I just got back from the airport after putting my son on a plane. Actually, I hugged him goodbye at security, but you know, 2016. If I’d seen him actually walk down the ramp I would be okay right now, but with my uncertainty that he actually made it on the plane, plus the election, plus everything, I’m feeling sort of stressed.

This is one of the few times I’ve wished we all had cell phones.

But his plane took off more than an hour ago. We would have come home to an email or voice mail letting us know if things had gone wrong. We didn’t. That means it’s all fine, right?

Right.

I’m meeting friends for lunch, then I’m coming home with a six-pack of beer and I’m sacking out on the couch with Netflix until the results are in. I can’t hang on the news all day, it’s just too much. I’m feeling really stressed out today.

My kid is on the plane and he’s fine.

I voted for Clinton, and hopefully most of America did the same.

There is beer in my future and possibly also a large pizza.

The world is doing okay.

In case you’re wondering, my son is flying to Denver to spend two weeks with long-time friends of mine to learn AfterEffects and Photoshop. And while he would dump a bowl of ramen noodles over my head if he saw me refer to him as a “baby bird,” he did ask for this trip. I’m happy to give it to him, and incredibly grateful to my friends who have taken him in.

I miss him already.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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I saw DOCTOR STRANGE this weekend, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The character combines two things I like–superheroes and modern-day wizards–but I’ve never really felt he was well served in the comics. Great name. Bad look. Unsatisfying stories. Part of that comes from his most popular villains: Baron Mordo and Dormammu, neither of which thrills me. I’d much rather read MGK’s imagined run of the comicsthan any of the actual comics I’ve seen so far.

So my expectation was that this would be a disappointment, and those expectations were reinforced by early reviews that went “Meh.” Or even worse “Competent Marvel Content of the Type We Have Come to Expect.”

Frankly, the film is much better than that. Not perfect, but I’d rank it in my top 5 MCU pictures, maybe top 3.

Yeah, it’s a problem that they whitewashed The Ancient One to make sure they could rake in all that sweet Chinese box office. It looks like they ran as far as they could from the possibility that some bureaucrat would decide the character was coded as Tibetan. But that casting decision is separate from Swinton’s performance, which perfect. She elevates every scene she’s in, effortlessly.

Likewise, the idea that the movie is not “about” anything or that Strange himself doesn’t change (“who shows minimal emotional growth even as he wins, convincingly, for two straight hours”) is silly on its face.

Yeah, it’s another origin story. People say they’re sick of those, but that’s not showing in the box office. It’s also a problematic origin, since it’s of the “Visiting White Guy Does Non-White Culture Best Of All” genre. The movie takes some of the sting out of that by making the wizards as diverse as possible, but it’s still in the mix.

Besides, this is an origin story that actually matters. It’s not “I grew up and took revenge” or “I am a good guy who got the power to be even better.” It’s the story of a terrible person who becomes a good one, and it’s also the story of coming to terms with a disability. Strange spends most of the movie trying to get back to where he was before the accident so he can return to (what he thinks is) his best self, but his best self was a massive shit head. He’s a doctor who won’t see patients who are very old or very sick, because he’s protecting his reputation.

The Ancient One tries to get him to understand he must surrender sometimes. He has to accept failure. He has to stop applying his brilliant mind to his own rep and start helping other people.

Strange just wants to be a fancy neurosurgeon again.

But then he needs his ex to save his life, and by that point he’s gotten kicked around enough to realize what a shit he’s been. He needs Mordo’s help. He needs Dr. West’s help. And to win the final battle he puts himself in a situation where he will lose over and over.

And the last shot, where he’s looking down at his trembling hands and straps on that broken watch, shows that he’s accepting that he has changed, and that he must now contribute to the world in a different way.

Yes, there are problems with the movie. Rachel McAdams’s role was thankless. The gorgeous visuals at the end of the movie weren’t as delightful as Strange’s first wild ride through the multiverse: cgi spectacle peaked early. The humor was welcome but sometimes fell flat. I’m not so enraptured that I thing it’s perfect. Far from it.

But that didn’t really matter, because I loved the character, loved the ending, loved the scars, loved the milieu, loved the performances, and loved the movie. After the stress of this election season and the revisions on my huge, unwieldy book, this movie made me joyful.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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And, in the genre of NaNoWriMo advice…

It’s the beginning of November, and as a writer it’s my duty to have advice for folks doing NaNoWriMo, even though it’s been running for years and people have been giving advice about it all this time.

I suggest failing at NaNoWriMo. There are lots of other authors there, too. Check it out.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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Kidding! There are lots of great books to grab here.

Background: Evil Hat is clearing up some warehouse space, so all of their fiction is only $2 (plus shipping) for who-knows-how-long. Plus, every paper copy you buy gets you the ebook for free.

If you haven’t read KING KHAN, my “Spirit of the Century” game tie-in novel, now is your chance. It’s pulp fiction set in the thirties about an unusual hero summoned to Hollywood by a message, written in his own handwriting, tied to a time-traveling arrow. (Also, he’s unusual because he’s a super smart gorilla.)

Also available is an anthology I appeared in, called DON’T READ THIS BOOK, featuring short fiction set in the game “Don’t Lose Your Mind” about people trapped in a nightmare reality, whose lucid dreaming can control the world around them.

But hey, why did I mention those works without including a link? Because if you only looked at my works, you’d miss the books by Chuck Wendig, C.E. Murphy, and many many other great authors.

Here’s the full list. Treat yourself to something fun.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

One of my friends said something really smart on Sunday, and I thought I’d share it.

She and her partner live in Denver, and my son (who is 14) is planning to spend two weeks with them to pick their brains about Photoshop, After Effects, and a number of other programs they use. They make their living using all sorts of fancy software that I don’t know anything about, so he has a lot to learn in those two weeks.

ANYWAY. What she said, which I have to paraphrase because it was during an extended conversation, was: “What matters is how you spend your free time.”

To which I say: Yep.

Her story is that she was in college some years ago, learning software as part of her design class. I think it was Photoshop, but there was some cross-talk. Anyway, it was relatively new, and she and her friend were so fascinated by it that they spent their free time on a deep dive into the program, learning all the things it could do. In not time, the professor realized that she and her friend were more capable of teaching the software and asked them to do so. When she graduated, they offered her a teaching position.

It wasn’t because she was so good in class; it was because she was so engaged outside of it. The same is true of any kind of challenging field. If you want to be great in the arts, you have to cut out time from your daily life to practice and improve. That’s time you could be spending watching TV, going to the gym, sleeping in, playing video games, or making money.

If you click on the Tweet below, you’ll get a thread by comics writer Gail Simone on this very subject.

[Update: she deleted the whole thread. The gist was that people determined to be writers have to make the time to practice.]

I’ve tried to explain this to my son, because he acts like his great ambition is to be the best Overwatch player ever. It’s gotten to the point that I’m tempted to take away his computer games for good, even though he and I built a gaming computer for him just this past January. (Personally, I try to avoid most games because they’re addictive, and I’m vulnerable to that.) Choosing to spend all his free time playing video games is essentially choosing to be a regular joe with a joe job, and the US culture and economy squashes people like that now. If he’s going to be squashed, he ought to have the satisfaction of making art (or something!)

And what of myself? Thinking about spending down time always makes me audit myself, and I have to confess that I’ve been obsessing over Twitter and the election these past few months. It seems like my duty as a citizen to be as informed as possible, but how much of my time and energy do I REALLY need to devote to this? How much can I push off onto other citizens?

Clearly, I need to cut back and focus more on my work. The book I’m revising is complex and I need to get it to my agent so she can sell it. But Twitter is soooo tempting, almost like a video game.

And that’s the power of tiny decisions. Not the big stuff, like Where should I go to college or Should I quit my current job for that new one? No, the really important decisions are the huge clusters of tiny ones that we all make every day. Should I work on my book, or should I watch this tv show/go to the gym/hit the pub/etc?

Obviously no one can spend every spare moment of their lives writing (nor should they) but if you never choose writing over those other things that’s a clear statement of priorities.

[Added later: See also: Twelve Years from Hobbyist to Pro]

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

Baby’s First Audio Book

Today I finished listening to my first audio book.

It was the unabridged Fellowship of the Ring, read by Rob Inglis, and I enjoyed it. A lot.

I didn’t expect to. When the audio book for Child of Fire came out, I found it impossible to listen to it. The narrator’s voice was fine–excellent, even–but it was completely different from the voice I heard in my head when I was writing it, and the dissonance was unbearable.

And the format itself seemed utterly wrong for me. I love to drive but I don’t have a car so I never do. I don’t have a phone to carry with me when I walk. My apartment is tiny, so when would I be able to listen at home? Besides, no skimming? No reading quickly through the exciting stuff?

Hmf, I said.

Then I heard a piece on NPR where a woman said she listened to Rob Inglis’s reading of LOTR every year, and I found it at the library. The first book was 19.25 hours long on 16 CDs! [1] And I just happened to get my copy of Obduction from Kickstarter.

A quiet, Myst-style game and an audio book through the headphones seemed like a perfect combination.

And I loved it.

The game was done before the audio book and I’ve been having trouble squeezing time to listen, but all the things I thought would be bugs turned out to be features. As annoyed as I was when I read Tolkien’s description of hiking through rough terrain (was this really the sort of challenge you want to devote page space to?) being forced to listen to it had the opposite effect. I could visualize the scene. I didn’t feel impatient because I couldn’t skim ahead to the next plot point. Taking away that small measure of control was surprisingly relaxing.

Anyway, I have never enjoyed Fellowship of the Ring quite so much before (although I still say Fuck Tom Bombadil) and I’m wondering how I can find 17-odd hours for the next book. I can’t. It just won’t fit into my life, but I wish it did.

Until I get a car, maybe.

[Update] I forgot to mention that the third book in my Great Way series comes out today in audio book. If you subscribe to Audible, you can listen free. If you bought the Kindle version from Amazon, the audio version is startlingly affordable. The series begins here.

[1] Don’t laugh. I’ve just had to order a new CD player online, because our old one is going wonky and my wife doesn’t want to have to fuck with a computer to play her music while she paints.

Mirrored from Harry Connolly. You can comment here but not there.

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