10.23.19

I didn’t hear her. I wasn’t even around her. I was upstairs, had the door closed. The walls are thick in this house. Nothing gets through.

And she wasn’t screaming. I would have heard screaming. But I was upstairs, and it was quiet. If I had heard something – anything – I’d have helped her.

I didn’t like her. But I didn’t want her dead.

They’re supposed to be done taking up the carpet this afternoon. Putting down new carpet. Shel, my daughter, says it’s gonna look like brand new, they found a match for what was down there already. She says I’m gonna come home and it’s gonna be like nothing was ever there. But.

I saw how much blood there was. I ain’t stupid.

Blood is persistent. It finds where to go. I’m sure it burrowed down in there, down into the wood, down further into the foundation. You can take up the carpet, you can haul it out to the landfill, you can lay down whatever you want, no matter that it looks the same, there’s still gonna be what’s underneath.

She’s gonna still be underneath.

I told Shel I might try to sell the place. But who’s gonna buy a place with her still in it?

When I came down and found her, yes, the door off the kitchen out into the yard was still open. I never leave it open. So it must have been her. Or whoever done the thing to her. I came down, and she’s in the middle of my living room, dug into, deep, looking like ground meat where her middle should be.

Looked like…

Looked like something trying to tear its way out.

Going Gray

I’ve been thinking about the closet lately.

I haven’t been “in the closet” for over two decades. I came out as gay when I was 18, and I’ve lived my adult life on the freer side of the closet door. And for most of that time, I’ve preached the gospel of being “out and proud” — what it does for you personally, its importance to other queer people, its value in slowly chipping away at the structural homophobia that’s baked into our culture, our politics, and our policies.

For the last six months, I’ve been sorting out something in myself that’s been a puzzle, a question mark. Something that I’ve always felt and experienced, but something I always ascribed to being a deficiency in me, a fault in my design, a failure. It’s a thing that’s caused me a lot of shame and insecurity. It’s complicated my romantic relationships and, because of the self-destructive ways I sort of “handled” this stuff, it stopped me from building solid friendships, too.

I’ve been in the closet. And the closet is a brutal place. And, thanks to an awesome therapist and a husband who provides me the safest of places to be who I am, I don’t want to be in the closet anymore.

I’m gray-ace. Gray-asexual. It’s an identity on the asexual spectrum. It means different things to different people, but in a nutshell, I identify somewhere between being a sexual person and asexual.

What does that mean for me? It means I only sometimes — not often — experience sexual attraction. It means I only sometimes — not often — want to have sex. I means when I do want to have sex with someone, there’s a limited range of things I’m wanting to do with them. It means sometimes, I enjoy sex. And sometimes, I don’t really feel much of anything when I have sex. I’m perfectly content to not have sex most of the time.

I spent most of my adult life thinking the way I felt about sex meant something was broken in me. Or that I was just lousy at it. I blamed by body for not being attractive enough. I blamed my brain for not being “normal” enough. I overcompensated by having sex with a lot of people I didn’t really want to have sex with, because I thought if I could just appear like a regular red-blooded gay dude, then I’d eventually be one. Fake it til you make it, you know? I tried to be what I thought people expected me to be, what I thought the community expected me to be, and it was sometimes fun, but mostly shameful, mostly anxious, mostly… not me.

I’m gray-ace. That’s me. No more closet.

I’m not sharing this because I want your congratulations. I’m not sharing this for your attention. I’m sharing this because I think there’s great value in letting people know who you are, a net good in allowing the people in your life to see you in totality.

And honestly, I don’t see a lot of asexual representation out there — in the world, on my timelines, in the way y’all talk to me and to each other. That lack of visibility is what built my closet, what made me think I was somehow deficient. So… we’re gonna do something different.

Maybe knock down a closet for someone else.

Creators don’t owe you s*#t.

It doesn’t matter how much you love a story/franchise/film/novel/whatever.

It doesn’t matter how much it’s changed your life. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve read/watched/absorbed/obsessed over it.

The creator doesn’t owe you s*#t.

They made it. They know more about it than you do.

They made it. They aren’t required to shape it to your satisfaction.

They made it. They spent the hours working on it. They spent the hours working to put it out in the world. They lived and ate and breathed it for however long it took to make.

You didn’t. They don’t owe you s*#t.

You aren’t entitled to a creative work made by someone else that does only what you want it to do.

You aren’t entitled to anything, really. If you want control over a story… make one yourself.

Stories should challenge you. They should push you in new directions. They should show you people and worlds and ideas you haven’t thought about.

That’s the whole f*%king point of stories.

You can’t say you love stories, then s*#t on creators. You just can’t.

If you love stories, support creators. Even when their stories aren’t what you expect them to be.

Surviving the Suck of Feedback

Feedback sucks.

Yeah, it’s great and all. It helps you refine and improve your work.

But it’s also kind of a nightmare. Everyone has opinions. Sometimes they’re contradictory. Sometimes they don’t make sense. Sometimes they make you wanna quit writing and become an accountant.

Feedback can be a storm of noise and ideas that seriously knocks your confidence or derails your work.

Spending a lot of time in a rehearsal room, working on my plays, taught me a lot about processing feedback. It’s something you have to learn as a playwright, otherwise you’ll find yourself crying in the green room halfway through rehearsal.

Here are three survival tips for holding the feedback monster at bay:

1. Remember that no feedback is objective. No one critiques in a vacuum. People bring their experience and their taste to the table when they’re giving you feedback. Learn to hear those things in their feedback. Are they trying to make your story sound like the stuff they write? Are they trying to make it sound more like the stuff they like? Are they trying to show off? Are they sucking up? Weigh that subjectiveness against the advice.

2. Pay attention to what makes you feel something. I always pay close attention to the feedback that makes me feel something. Stuff that makes me angry. Stuff that makes me feel seen. Stuff that makes me feel vulnerable. If I respond emotionally to a piece of feedback — even a negative emotion — there’s got to be something there I need to hear and process. The stuff that doesn’t move you… discard it.

3. Process feedback with you at the center. I always ask myself, “Does this feedback help me accomplish what I want to do with this story?” Because in the end, that’s what matters. Trying to craft a story or a play that satisfies everyone else’s ideas is bullshit. It will ruin your work. Center yourself. Center what you want to do with your work. The feedback that helps you do that better or more clearly is the feedback you keep. Everything else goes away.

Respecting Creative Labor

A few weeks ago, I was presenting some programming ideas in a meeting, and I was sharing an idea that a colleague came up with.

“And for this part of the day – and this idea wasn’t mine. It was P.’s idea. And it’s really good — we’ll…”

Simple, right?

After that meeting, P. pulled me aside.

“Hey. Thank you for crediting me with that idea in the group. That doesn’t happen often. I really appreciated that.”

It should happen often. It should happen all the time.

Other people’s ideas are their creative labor. And if you’re going to be a good collaborator — if you’re going to be a good leader — you have to respect the creative labor of other people.

What does that look like? Crediting people with their ideas in group settings. Including them in the execution of their ideas during implementation. Thanking them after an idea’s successful. Including them in the post-mortem about the idea for development.

This doesn’t cost you anything. But it forges deep and trusting collaborative relationships.

Demonstrating that you are mindful about who’s doing generative work — even if they’re not the ones executing those ideas — demonstrates that you respect the people you work with, that you respect the risk and effort of collaboration.

Fiction: Whiteout

This weekend, I attended the Borderlands Press Horror Writers Boot Camp. It was a hell of a weekend, and it really kicked my ass. I loved it. Our final assignment was to complete a short piece of fiction overnight, proving we learned something. Here’s what I wrote. Thought it would be fun to share. 

It was the day the snow came. They were running out of time.

Rachel grabbed the last bag from the trunk and checked the sky. Still clear. Their motel room was small, but it would do. On her own, she could lift the mattresses to block the window, but Andy would have to help her move the dresser against the door. She hoped the motel didn’t go cheap on furniture. It needed to be sturdy. It needed to hold the night.

“Mom, let me check the car again.”

Andy stood in the doorway of their room, holding Peter.

“I told you to stay inside. Take care of your baby brother.”

“Let me check the car again. Please. We’re not even halfway to Grandma’s. Let me help.”

Inside. You’ve helped enough. Forget the car. This is where we’re gonna ride it out this year.”

Rachel hated how sharp she’d become with Andy. She wanted Michael. He knew how to handle these days. He stayed calm, confident. He took care of them. Even when no one understood what had gone wrong with the snow, Michael kept them safe.

Only one year without him, and she’d messed up everything. He wouldn’t have been dumb and tried driving south. Now the car was shot. They were in the middle of nowhere. Their motel room had a big fucking window and —

Mom.”

Andy looked up at the sky. In his arms, Peter grabbed at the air, laughing.

Snowflakes.

Rachel urged the boys inside and shut the door.  

“Andy, put everything we need in the bathroom, okay? If things get bad  –”

“You think things are gonna get bad? How bad?”

“I don’t know, Andy. But if they do…”

How bad?”

She couldn’t answer. The snow brought what it wanted. Each year, it got worse.

“Put Peter in his carseat. Get him in the bathroom. I’ll need your help moving the dresser.”

They worked in silence to ready the room. She knew she should say something about Michael, about last year’s snow. But she’d end up crying, lashing out, and she’d upset Andy more. Just make the room look safe. Just make it feel safe.

“I don’t like the way the wind sounds, Mom.”

“It sounds like that every year, Andy.”

“No. It sounds different. Sounds worse.

Rachel thought so, too. Louder. Powerful. The snow never moved this fast.

“This is not last year, Andy.”

“I know. Dad’s not here.”

“And who’s fault is that?”

Rachel regretted this as soon as she said it.

Last year was an accident. She reminded herself every day. The snow fell early, and Andy’s bike couldn’t handle the roads. They wouldn’t leave him out there, in the snow, with what it brought. Michael said it was just a few blocks. He promised they’d be safe.

Only Andy made it out of the snow.

Outside, something hit the ground so hard, they could feel it. They’ve never sounded that big before.

“We’re okay, Andy. As long as we’re inside. You know how this goes. If we’re inside, we’re safe.”

“Yeah. I know.”

“Honey. Look at me. It’s not your fault, either.”

The noises outside grew. Rachel pulled Andy into the bathroom. Whatever hit the ground hit it again and again. They felt each hit. The rhythm of footsteps.

“I’m sorry, Mom.”

Andy pulled his knees up, making himself as small as possible.

In the snow, the footsteps multiplied and echoed all around them. It sounded like hundreds. A herd. A stampede.  

“We just have to get to tomorrow, Andy.”

Rachel prepared a bottle for Peter to quiet his crying.  

Outside, whatever the snow brought wailed and hollered.

Why “Bandersnatch” Works

* Spoilers below, if you haven’t watched it yet.

After playing through all of the various endings of “Bandersnatch,” some thoughts about why this interactive film works:

1. Choice is what the whole story’s about. Yes, it’s about video games in the 80s. Yes, it’s about a broken family dynamic. Yes, it’s maybe about the whole world being an exercise in mind control (if you went down that path).

But down at the core, this story is about choice and how choice shapes us. It’s about the deep ramifications of single moments. It’s about what happens to us when we choose incorrectly. It’s about what happens to us when we have no choice (the film’s brilliant moment of only offering us “NO” when Mum is asking us to come with).

A film about choices makes perfect sense for a film in which you can make choices. Content dictates form. And allowing us as viewers to do and not just watch makes this work like gangbusters.

2. Breaking the fourth wall. The most entertaining track to follow here is the Netflix story track, which fully implicates is as actors in the narrative and leads us to the perfectly hilarious battle in the psychiatrist’s office or the perfectly creepy ending that pulls back on the production of “Bandersnatch.”

“Bandersnatch” is also a film about hidden structures, and this fourth wall-busting side quest brings that to the forefront. Well-told stories feel organic, but there’s really deliberate structure and craft underneath. The same is true for life: we think we are running the show, but there are cultural and political structures shaping our experiences all the time.

Pulling back the curtain on the structures behind “Bandersnatch” is a mirror for that, and a successful one.

3. The true ending says “fuck it” to everything. While the creators don’t make it explicit what the “true” ending is, the train ending feels the most complete and emotionally satisfying. It circles back to every part of the story and really gives you a gut punch of an ending.

What’s fun here is how it basically disregards what it’s been trying to say — sometimes you can’t undo choices, you’re not in control — for an “Imma do what I want” ending that feels the best.

It’s my favorite move in the narrative. It understands that Story trumps cleverness, Story trumps ideas. Let the characters walk through time-traveling mirrors to rewrite the past, not because that makes sense (it really doesn’t), but because it feels right.

I love that, in the end, “Bandersnatch” honors the part of us that wants a story to feel complete, a story that feels resolved. In real life, there’d be no happy ending.

But in a story, you can do whatever the fuck you want.

Looking forward to Season Five this year.