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Posts tagged as “The Righteous Fetishist”

Jesus is Everywhere – and for Everyone

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dafoe headshot Something I neither hide nor advertise is being part of the BDSM / fetish / leather community. Perhaps that's obvious to anyone who's read my novels, but I still miss Atlanta's great fetish club, the Chamber, where goth-industrial music used to play until 4 in the morning - and where I met my future wife. That scene wasn't for everyone. Costumes sparkled, music pounded, lights flashed, dancers crowded, and onstage were spectacular shows, like a workman "cutting" a dancer out of a chastity belt in a shower of sparks. (Not really - the sparks were made with a grinder against an added block of metal). This was a great place to go and unwind after a long week at graduate school, for even at 1AM I could head down to the Chamber, watch the dance floor until until my nerves started to unwind (I rarely drink, so this took at least half an hour) and then join in for a couple hours of dancing before close. The Chamber was a place I could, briefly, forget all the worries of my graduate studies and have fun in a very mildly transgressive way. But to me, the only norms worth transgressing are purely social ones, not moral laws, so I never let down my boundaries. And, thankfully enough, I always had a guide. One of the great things about the BDSM community is its focus on respect and safety. Many of the things that people enjoy doing are dangerous, and so the community is built on the principles of "safe, sane, consensual" - don't do dangerous things, stay in your right mind, and act with your partner's consent. Not everyone from outside the community respects these standards, and if you aren't a person who goes out to "normal" bars and dance clubs a lot - why would I have? I rarely drink - the behavior of people from outside the community - the games that they play - can be a little surprising and upsetting. Once, a few years before I met my wife, I was dancing at the Chamber and a girl started dancing with me. After a few minutes, the girl's apparent boyfriend came up and shoved me. Put mildly, this ain't typical behavior for the Chamber, and it very quickly became clear he was trying to start a fight. But I'd thrown off his first shove with a sweeping Taido block, and turned away, dancing. I was there to dance, not play childish games, and I'd never been so over a pair of people in such a short time. The guy shoved me again, but I blocked again, continuing to dance. After half a minute, they lost interest, and left. Now, my martial arts training helped here - while Taido is based on turning defense into offense, three of its broader rules are: "If you think there's going to be trouble, don't be there. If there's trouble, don't be there. And the mind, body, and spirit are one: be dignified by this unity and you need fear no insult." The point of that last, arcanely worded bit is easy to lose, so let's unpack it a bit: Your mind is a part of your body, and your body is one with your eternal spirit, which cannot be damaged by mere words. So if someone insults you, don't let it get to you; rest in the calm of your spirit instead. In other words, turn the other cheek. It's been years since then, but in the moment in which that shove slid off my block and I turned away - and a fight did not immediately follow - that I recall recognizing the wisdom of turning the other cheek. I'd heard about this phenomenon in Taido class a number of times, and now I was seeing it in real life. While I'm not telling you not to defend yourself, violence begets violence - as the character of Jesus said in the Last Temptation of Christ, "If you don't change the spirit first, change what's inside ... [then even] if you're victorious, you'll still be filled with the poison. You've got to break the chain of evil ... with love." Even in places that we might not expect to find him, Jesus is there. In a movie based on a book banned by the Roman Catholic Church for sacrilege, in a martial art designed to turn defense into offense, in a mildly-transgressive nightclub, even in the attack of a drunk jerk - Jesus is there, ready to guide us. At another event, I decided to leave because my new boots were killing me. Grabbing a soda at the bar on my way out, I struck up a conversation with a nice dominatrix, who - and it's really hard to convey how completely platonic this act was - massaged the tip of my boot to make the pain go away. We talked for half an hour, until a friend dropped by and enthusiastically started telling us about a new development in their relationship which sounded, um, doomed. I and my soda-and-boots buddy listened, increasingly concerned, when finally, the dominatrix diplomatically asked, "Is that really what you want?" Our friend didn't listen, and ended up having serious problems in their relationship. But what really struck me in these encounters is that all of the traditional social taboos of our culture had fallen away - we were at a fetish club in outlandish costumes - but the teachings of Jesus were still there and as alive as ever. The costumes were outlandish, but the people in the club were not characters in our internal dramas: they were people, who deserved to be treated like people - and who were trying to live to that standard.  Fixing the kink in my boot was not a transaction - it was a Samaritan kindness to a fellow human being. And the principle that motivated our concern for our friend was seeing that friend not treat their partners with the same respect they'd expect in return - a failure to love your neighbor as yourself. Our society's traditional relationship norms were absent. The principles of Christianity were present and alive. These events - the not-fight in the bar, the quiet voice of concern for a friend taking a wrong path, the rubbing of a boot, so like the washing of feet - started to convinced me that Jesus was everywhere, even in the places that our traditional society thinks would exclude Him. But Jesus will not be excluded. The Christian faith is a catholic faith - for everyone. And if the key to following Jesus is not where you are on the path of goodness - for God is infinitely good, and is not impressed with our good works, even if we are - but what direction you're facing, then Jesus is there for you on the path, to point the right way. Even if the music is loud, and some of the people around you are shouting. -the Centaur Pictured: Willem Dafoe, portraying Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ. And the phrase "neither hide nor advertise" refers to things that I talk freely about if they come up, but which I don't make a special effort to bring up on their own, as opposed to, say, robots. By the way ... robots, robots, robots. Robot.

Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice

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There's a current brouhaha in science fiction circles in which one group of (largely conservative) authors and bloggers (whom I read) got upset about how they were being treated by another group of (largely liberal) authors and bloggers (whom I also read) - and decided to stuff the nomination ballots for the Hugos to show how irritated they were.

The situation isn't black and white - there are legitimate complaints on both sides - but it isn't symmetric either: regardless of any legitimate differences, the side of the ballot-stuffers has engaged in some truly egregious behavior towards their fellow writers, towards the integrity of the awards process - and towards their fellow human beings.

Their complaint is that science fiction is being invaded by "social justice warriors" who put message over story, but, as one of my friends put it, you know you're in trouble when your name for your enemies includes the word "justice".

I am a social justice warrior.

I may have been raised in a conservative environment, I may have been a College Republican, I may be a devotee of Ayn Rand and my philosophy may be steeped in libertarian ideas … but I know what social justice is, I know why we need it, and I am proud to be one of the ones fighting for it.

Social justice is the simple concept that our society is structured in a way that systematically disadvantages certain groups, and that it is our moral responsibility to take positive action to make sure that our society does not continue to abuse them. That's it, and both the factual premise and the moral conclusion drawn from it are simply true.

It's your responsibility to understand the kind of society in which you live, to recognize how it is stacked against some groups of people within it, and to try to level the deck, and, because this advocates change, it often gets associated more with liberals trying to improve our world rather than conservatives trying to preserve what's already good about it.

But your responsibility to work towards social justice does not mean that it's your obligation to support the policies of some particular liberal who happens to think that he or she owns social justice. Ronald Reagan had a point when he said "Yet any time you and I question the schemes of the do-gooders, we're denounced as being opposed to their humanitarian goals."

Our society stacks the deck against all kinds of people: all races, creeds and colors; liberals and conservatives, the marginalized and the rich, laborers and businessmen, criminals and the honest. There's almost no place in our society where some collection of wealth or poverty, some amassed prejudice or complacency, or some unjust law or lawlessness doesn't trap someone in a place where they get the short end of the stick - and the policies that cause this are both liberal and conservative.

But one of the biggest traps we've had is sexual prejudice: the discrimination against and marginalization of people based on their sexual orientation, identity, or preferences. When I was growing up, being "gay" was an insult; when I was a teenager, it was OK to marginalize and mock gay people; when I was in college, memorably, a young gay man was beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die. We've come a long, long way since Stonewall … but we still have a lot farther to go.

That's why I'm so proud to see LIQUID FIRE appear high on the list of Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual eBooks on Amazon. Dakota Frost, the protagonist of my series, is bisexual (and so am I) and my series is filled with as many races, genders and politics as I can fit: white and black, gay and bisexual and straight, liberal and conservative and noncommittal.

But my first goal is always to tell a good story.

When I start writing a Dakota Frost book, I have a little formula: I pick an alternative culture practice and make it magical, I pick a monster and a guest monster, and I pick a disability. For FROST MOON, that was magical tattooing, werewolves and vampires, and blindness; in BLOOD ROCK that was magical graffiti, vampires and werewolves (just switching the prominence), and Tourette's Syndrome; in LIQUID FIRE, that was magical firespinning, dragons and vampires, and deafness.

But those are only seeds: I let each of those things give me ideas … then I give them the prominence that they deserve as I tell the story. For example, in FROST MOON and BLOOD ROCK, the disability was an important plot hinge, making things happen; in LIQUID FIRE, the disability was a feature in the background - still important to the plot, but not center stage.

The same is true of race, or politics, or sexual identity. I include them in my stories because they exist. Showing people both black and white in Atlanta represents the real racial makeup of Atlanta. Making my protagonist date first a conservative agent and then a liberal activist represents the real political makeup of America. And having my bisexual protagonist date a man in one book and a woman in one book represents the real nature of sexual relations in our world. But it always serves the story.

My books depict magic because it's fun and entertaining, but deep down, they represent a reality: they use that reality to ground the tales of the fantastic so that you can stay engaged and interested. But even reality must serve the story: good books employ not realism, but verisimilitude: the carefully crafted appearance of reality which orchestrates a reader's perceptions to compensate for the fact that they're reading the "reality" depicted in the book, not actually living it. Authors are always slicing and dicing reality to make sure that their readers are captivated by their tales, and I'm no different.

My goal is for everyone to be captivated by my books. But by showing that last slice of reality, the one often sliced out - the slice that shows the full spectrum of sexual expression in our world - I hope my books do more than captivate everyone; I hope they provide a small ray of hope for anyone different who wonders whether there's anyone like them - and gives them a hero they can relate to.

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Her name's Dakota Frost. I think she's pretty cool. Go check her out.

-the Centaur

P.S. David Colby was the friend who came up with the phrases "you're in trouble when your name for your enemies includes the word justice" and "because they exist," and while I already had similar ideas, I have shamelessly stolen his wording. :-)

Getting Some Traction on SPECTRAL IRON

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It's been hard getting back into SPECTRAL IRON - the beginning of the story is a smoothly progressing freight train, but about a third of the way through, the story went off the tracks --- not because there was anything wrong with the ideas, but because they lacked the right organization. I had to move many, many chapters around before I got the overall structure right.

Then, I found that I'd done "tricks" to speed up the narrative---scene changes, description, shifts of scale---which work great when a story is complete, but in early drafts just distract from creating what John Gardner called "the vivid continuous dream" of fiction. National Novel Writing Month material, for me, must be like that dream, continuously moving forward from point to point.

Often, if I was willing to just "dethrone my darlings" I could make progress. The old writer's advice to "kill your darlings" is something I have a love-hate relationship with, but in this case, I interpret "darlings" as a great turn of phrase that started a scene or chapter in the early draft---but which I found were getting in the way.

Usually, when I couldn't go forward from the next unwritten part of the scene, it was because the darling, while it sounded cool, glossed over too much. To fix the problem, I generally didn't have to delete the darling; I just instead demoted it from its privileged status of starting a scene, rolled my mind back to the point just before the scene break, and asked: no, seriously: what would really happen next?

Thinking very closely about how characters would react to a life-changing event, in the next hours or minutes or even seconds after it happened, is something that produced (for me) more real, honest, and compelling reactions---and, usually, created a far more solid framework for all the scenes that followed, enabling me to think about them clearly and write more quickly.

This strategy has been working well for me, and today it really has started to pay off. I'm getting back on track at last.

Oh, yes, an excerpt:

“No,” Nyissa said, delicately picking up one of the gumdrops with her chopsticks. She gingerly put it in her mouth, sliding it past her fangs with the white ivory prongs, closing her mouth—then her eyes closed in bliss. “Ahhh. You’ve cultivated a different set of skills.”

“Beauty is a skill?” I asked.

“Dakota,” Nyissa said, smiling at me mirthfully. “You are beautiful, but you’re not trying to be beautiful: you’re trying to be a butch badass biker. You wear leather, and a Mohawk, and actually ride a bike, even a fuel efficient one. Your whole outfit says: don’t mess.”

“It’s supposed to say, check out my tattoos,” I said.

“It does say that,” she said, though today my arms were covered with the sleeves of a turtleneck. “But hairstyles and transport are more serious choices than a coat. You’ve cultivated a whole set of lifestyle skills to project a butch image, down to your manly handshake.”

Now I covered my face with my hand. “Ah, I’ll never live that down.”

“I, on the other hand, am a vampire dominatrix,” Nyissa said. “I lure men and women to my bed with my beauty and the promise of a mixture of pleasure and pain. That, too, is a set of lifestyle choices—down to my quite extensive wardrobe, and the shopping that goes with it.”

"Your success at that,” I said, “has a lot to do with your physical beauty.”

“Yes, but, you don’t need a great body to look hot,” Nyissa insisted. “It’s all about your sense of style. You need to project the aura that you’re fuckable. Not dressing in a way that asks or offers sex—but how you show off your body shows you know what sex is, and how to do it.”

I was staring at her. My jaw was dropped. Nyissa slowly raised her chopsticks, taking them in her mouth with a sly smile. She cleaned them between her fangs with a lick of her tongue. Then she leaned forward and touched them beneath my chin, closing my mouth.

It occurs to me that the art of finding an excerpt which is interesting, yet reveals no plot points, is itself a skill. Hopefully I'm doing it well.

-the Centaur

My Labors Are Not Ended

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lenora at rest in the library

But I am going to take a rest for a bit.

Above you see a shot of my cat Lenora resting in front of the "To Read Science Fiction" section of my Library, the enormous book collection I've been accumulating over the last quarter century. I have books older than that, of course, but they're stored in my mother's house in my hometown. It's only over the last 25 years or so have I been accumulating my own personal library.

But why am I, if not resting, at least thinking about it? I finished organizing the books in my Library.

lenora at rest in the library 2

I have an enormous amount of papers, bills, bric a brac and other memorabilia still to organize, file, trash or donate, but the Library itself is organized, at last. It's even possible to use it.

How organized? Well...

Religion, politics, economics, the environment, women's studies, Ayn Rand, read books, Lovecraft, centaur books, read urban fantasy, read science fiction, Atlanta, read comics, to-read comics, to-read science fiction magazines, comic reference books, drawing reference books, steampunk, urban fantasy, miscellaneous writing projects, Dakota Frost, books to donate, science fiction to-reads: Asimov, Clarke, Banks, Cherryh, miscellaneous, other fiction to-reads, non-fiction to-reads, general art books, genre art books, BDSM and fetish magazines and art books, fetish and sexuality theory and culture, military, war, law, space travel, astronomy, popular science, physics of time travel, Einstein, quantum mechanics, Feynman, more physics, mathematics, philosophy, martial arts, health, nutrition, home care, ancient computer manuals, more recent computer manuals, popular computer books, the practice of computer programming, programming language theory, ancient computer languages, Web languages, Perl, Java, C and C++, Lisp, APL, the Art of Computer Programming, popular cognitive science, Schankian cognitive science, animal cognition, animal biology, consciousness, dreaming, sleep, emotion, personality, cognitive science theory, brain theory, brain philosophy, evolution, human evolution, cognitive evolution, brain cognition, memory, "Readings in …" various AI and cogsci disciplines, oversized AI and science books, conference proceedings, technical reports, game AI, game development, robotics, imagery, vision, information retrieval, natural language processing, linguistics, popular AI, theory of AI, programming AI, AI textbooks, AI notes from recent projects, notes from college from undergraduate through my thesis, more Dakota Frost, GURPS, other roleplaying games, Magic the Gathering, Dungeons and Dragons, more Dakota Frost, recent projects, literary theory of Asimov and Clarke, literary theory of science fiction, science fiction shows and TV, writing science fiction, mythology, travel, writing science, writing reference, writers on writing, writing markets, poetry, improv, voice acting, film, writing film, history of literature, representative examples, oversized reference, history, anthropology, dictionaries, thesauri, topical dictionaries, language dictionaries, language learning, Japanese, culture of Japan, recent project papers, comic archives, older project papers, tubs containing things to file … and the single volume version of the Oxford English Dictionary, complete with magnifying glass.

lenora at rest in the library 2

I deliberately left out the details of many categories and outright omitted a few others not stored in the library proper, like my cookbooks, my display shelves of Arkham House editions, Harry Potter and other hardbacks, my "favorite" nonfiction books, some spot reading materials, a stash of transhumanist science fiction, all the technical books I keep in the shelf next to me at work … and, of course, my wife and I's enormous collection of audiobooks.

What's really interesting about all that to me is there are far more categories out there in the world not in my Library than there are in my Library. Try it sometime - go into a bookstore or library, or peruse the list of categories in the Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal System Classifications. There's far more things to think about than even I, a borderline hoarder with a generous income and enormous knowledge of bookstores, have been able to accumulate in a quarter century.

Makes you think, doesn't it?

-the Centaur

This isn’t going to go away

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I bumped into a couple African Americans in a Safeway line the other day.  All three of us were looking at a magazine cover with Barack Obama's family on the cover.   As the line moved and I turned forward, one of the men behind me said, "Wow, it still hasn't hit me," and the other said, "Yeah, I know, I can't believe it either".  I couldn't help but smile.

Then the first man said "Yeah, and the big thing is, it isn't the big story---" And his friend jumped in and said, "No, Proposition 8 is. And when that fails in the courts, they're going to look at it, and say, California, which is so liberal, didn't pass it twice ... so maybe that will make 'them' think twice."

I was dumbfounded, and had bought my pound cake and mouthwash and walked out of the store before I could think of an adequate comeback: "Did getting turned away from one or two schoolhouses make the civil rights movement stop?  No.  And this isn't going to go away either."


-the Centaur