Skip to content

Love, Simeon Posts

Reading Update 07/08/20 – Broken People

My one and only experience visiting Los Angeles was very contradictory. There is a profound sense of nihilistic romanticism about this city. A glorified shallowness that translates into some kind of higher purpose loneliness. Yet, even during the winter holiday season, it was mostly just hot and spread out. More a network of suburbs than a coherent city. On a day-to-day level, the experience was a bit boring, mostly dedicated to endless Uber rides.

And the lack of bookstores was a surprising drain on my psyche.

At the same time however, there was a curious static charge in the air. Hollywood. The movies. The history of the movies. We took several studio tours, and I loved every second of them. LA lives and breathes its conceit, and it makes you believe in it, whether you want to, or not. A couple of years later, I struggle to recall the things that bothered me about the city. The memory has acquired a patina of romance and timeless melancholia. Up until now, I had even forgotten how literally nobody in that place can whip up a decent Bloody Mary!

I promise I am going somewhere with this wildly long prelude. I was listening to a recent episode of Crooked Media‘s podcast Keep It, featuring an interview with author Sam Lansky. Something about the way he talked about his new semi-memoir-semi-fictional novel Broken People resonated with me. It brought my own feelings about LA, despite the obvious differences between me and him. Lansky’s youth, spent back in New York City before he moved across coasts, is way more dramatic than mine. In fact, our experiences have little in common on pretty much every level.

But the “anxious late 20s/early 30s gay” voice ensnared me immediately.

I am only two chapters into the book so far, but this voice is so wonderfully clear, and it evokes so many of the feelings I both had, and have absorbed through media about LA, that I am already in love with it. It’s not really the type of work I review on this blog, but if it inspires something more, I still might, once I finish the book.

Working on the Craft: Invisible Woman

We are now entering a section of Kiteley’s The 3 A.M. Epiphany that has the potential to cause some cringe. Titled “Men and Women”, it explores gender dynamics through a very… um… potentially traditional way. To be fair to Kiteley, he wrote this book 15 years ago, and it is based on exercises developed even earlier. Furthermore, he does actually make the point that these gender notions are societally enforced, rather than biological. Still, I will navigate the exercises in the section with caution.

With that in mind, I found this one interesting. “Invisible Woman” asks us to write a short scene of a woman becoming invisible for unexplained reasons. The focus is on what she does, how she interacts with a world that no longer sees her, and how different that is from her normal life (if at all). We all know the creepy violating fantasy of an invisible man. Would a woman from our present day society act differently? This is what I came up with.


I look down and see nothing. It is discombobulating for a moment, as my eyes seem to be floating some five feet above ground. I almost topple over, before the sensation of my feet firmly planted on the concrete of the alley – teehee – grounds me.

Hysteria. Possibly a problem. Oh well.

On that note, I don’t have to worry about losing weight now, so that’s a plus. Though to be fair, I wasn’t that worried about it before either.

I look around. Normal streets on both ends of the alley. Downtownish area, a bit north maybe. I have biked around here plenty of times, and coming out onto an actual street will likely tell me all I need to know to orient myself.

So I am the only confusing thing left. Somehow invisible. Good job. Repercussions to follow, though for now I am in survival mode. Which in my case translates into calm, reasoned, analytical, proactive.

If this is a temporary condition, might as well have some fun with it. If it is permanent, might as well have some fun with it before the existential dread settles in.

But what can I do with invisibility? I can be a creep. Sneak into my gym and troll the showers, see all those ridiculously sculpted dudebros vulnerable and unaware. But this feels somehow… bleak. As I am presented with the possibility, I realize no part of me gets off on voyeurism or control. I am almost disappointed by the discovery. What good is the creepiest of superpowers (let’s go with that description for the moment) if I don’t want to be a creep?

Oh well.

There is all the other personal stuff. If I am close to downtown, then my douchey trust-fund baby ex’ place is nearby. It wouldn’t be too hard to get past the doorman, then wait until his cleaning lady or whatever other bourgeois services he employs lets me inside the condo.

And then what? We’ve been definitely-no-longer-a-thing for over a year. What am I gonna catch him do? Have sex with some other girl? Say something racist to his other trust-fund baby friends? Buy stocks, or whatever it is trust-fund babies do?

As I come out onto the street, and figure out exactly where I am, I head north, still no target in mind. Unconsciously, my eyes go up and to the right, and I actually see the top of his fancy building in-between rooftops. This gives me pause. Okay, so it’s been a while, I no longer have emotional attachments to him. The scars are tastefully faded, the self-recriminations of my own stupidity have abated. But what if I’d dumped him last week instead? Would I have wanted to go through with haunting his ass then? More than haunt? I’ve seen the movies – I know how dark this can get.

I tear my eyes away from the building, just in time to avoid slamming into someone walking directly into my face. I lose my balance and nearly plop head-first into a trash can.

Right. Invisible. Pedestrian quantum mechanics don’t apply to me right now. People will literally try to walk through me.

So, no general creepiness, and no personal creepiness. What’s left?

Crime.

Can I steal something? Break some law? I rack my brains for a moment, but nothing comes up. Sure, I could use some extra money. Or clothes. Or, frankly, a new laptop. But I don’t think I have it in me to take stuff I didn’t earn. The one thing I’d love to take care of, is my stupid student loans, and invisibility won’t help with that. And as for laws… I think about another assault on female reproduction that the old MEN on the Supreme Court just vomited on the country last week. If I lived anywhere close to DC, I might be tempted to revisit the idea of haunting and worse. But I can’t do much about it from Chicago.

Now that I think of it, I can’t really travel anywhere if I’m invisible. Unless I feel like walking.

Yikes.

So, to recap. I have somehow gained a power so many dream of, and have found absolutely nothing to do with it. Invisibility ultimately amounts to violation, and I am just not the violating kind. For a moment, I consider offering my services to the government.

Right. Hysteria again.

It is almost anti-climactic when I realize that I have gained an outline – semi-transparent shimmer delineating the boundaries of my body. With every step I take, I gain more and more color and texture. People around me don’t seem to notice the no-longer-invisible woman materializing in their midst.

Was this a test? Did I pass? I am waiting for the existential dread to kick in. But even as I feel the anxiety building up in the back of my mind, I realize, it doesn’t matter whether I passed, or not. I had absolute freedom, and I choose to do nothing with it. There’s something to unpack with my therapist.

I walk up the street, and I start whistling.

Taking a Day Off

Not much to add to the title. Life has been a series of curve balls covered in barbed wire, and I am exhausted. Will make sure to be back to regularly scheduled blogging next week.

(Retro) Review: A Civil Campaign

I knew I had to write this review the moment I finished the book. Obviously, it is nowhere near current. In fact, as of this year, A Civil Campaign can drink legally in the United States. But it is just so incredibly unique in its place in Lois McMaster Bujold’s ouvre, and I enjoyed it so much, that I had to share.

Some housekeeping. While I won’t spoil the specific plots of previous novels, chronologically this is the 12th book in the Vorkosigan Saga. I cannot talk about it without referring to character developments that are likely to spoil some significant moments in the series. But with that said, if you are even remotely interested in reading this review, you are obviously up to speed.

Okay. Here goes.

A Civil Campaign is an impossible book. It shouldn’t exist, and if it were written by a lesser writer, it wouldn’t work. However, it is also possibly the best installment in the entire series. Bujold describes it as “A Comedy of Biology and Manners”. It centers around an upcoming wedding, intertwining several characters’ wacky romances and a number of political sub-plots, also of the wink-wink variety.

The reason why this does not crash and burn, when placed within a military space opera context, is simple. We care. Lois McMaster Bujold has built these complex characters and their relationships within story after story that focused on adventure and mortal danger. Now, she gets to have them relax (well, not really) and just have fun.

(But not Ivan. Never Ivan. Fuck Ivan in particular.)

(…Poor Ivan)

And if we’ve made it this far, we want to see this. Sure, we know how Miles interacts with his psychotic clone brother Mark when the stakes are life and death. But who doesn’t want to know what their relationship is like when living under the same roof, and dealing with an infestation of genetically engineered bugs that produce butter? Or their perspective on each other’s absurdist love life?

Add to that a Vor lord who finds out that he is part Cetagandan Ghem. Then a Vor lady who goes to Beta Colony for a sex change operation, so she could inherit her dead brother’s countship. Now we have political stakes as the Council of Counts must vote on these, and the picture is complete.

Yet, at the same time, A Civil Campaign is a mature work that does not skip character building. The budding romance between Miles and Ekaterin is a glorious portrait of a hyperactive neurotic and a world-weary intellectual, both of whom have trouble realizing that they are really on the same page. Mistakes are made. Some of them hilarious. Some — meaningful. All of them gorgeously written.

A Civil Campaign also features a lot of parenting. We’ve known Aral, Cordelia, and the Koudelkas since before Miles was born. Now we get to see them dealing with the next generation becoming adults in their own right. The result is a mixture of fascination and exasperation. Hilariously, and thanks to Ekaterin’s son Nikki, even Emperor Gregor gets to do a bit of parenting. Which really completes some kind of circle of life that I am not even sure how to describe.

All in all, A Civil Campaign is a flawless work of fiction. It relies on the reader’s love of its world, and the characters whose relationships are interwoven throughout it. And the reader, if they know what’s good for them, does not let Bujold down. At least this reader didn’t. This book is literal therapy, and I cannot recommend it enough, if you’ve read the previous novels and some-crazy-how stopped yourself before delving into this one.

Reading Update 06/29/20 – Vorkosigan Saga

I am almost there! With the completion of A Civil Campaign, I am only one novel away from being finally done with the part of the series I had read as a teenager. Even though I also went through Ethan of Athos — another novel in the universe that I’d never read — this will mark the end of the “Re” portion of my reading adventure.

First, however, as suggested by this here page, I began Falling Free — the 200-years-earlier prequel story on the creation of the Quadies. The edition of the audiobook I stumbled on is pretty terrible. Both the man and woman reading it, do so in an extremely low, mumbling register, which means that literally any sound drowns their voices even with noise-canceling earphones. But as far as the book itself goes, I have no complaints so far.

Next is Diplomatic Immunity. What comes after that, is the portion of the late novels I have never read. Those have gotten mixed reviews, but I am hopeful. A Civil Campaign was far bigger delight than even my vague memories suggested. I am riding this high to the bitter end!

Reckoning

I have been thinking about how to approach the torrent of revelations coming out of Twitter in recent days. Not because I am in any way close to any of the people involved, but rather because I felt I needed to. And I fully recognize that this situation is not about me, and my thoughts are unlikely to enrich it. But this blog is part therapy, and I hope I also don’t cause harm by speaking on the subject.

Several notable authors of Science Fiction and Fantasy have been dragged out for various forms of harassment of women, non-binary folks, and queer people they perceived as vulnerable. Those include Myke Cole, Sam Sykes, Mark Lawrence, Max Temkin, and Warren Ellis. Some of them I’ve met in person, others I know only through their writing or reputation. None has made any overtly bad impression on me.

And I don’t for a second struggle believing the accusations leveled against them.

It’s not even about believing the accusers in this case. Most of these men have freely admitted to their actions, with varying degrees of accepting responsibility. Some have ran away from Twitter, preferring to act like victims. Others are so far standing firm and accepting their punishment, whatever that’s worth to anyone.

It made me consider my own behavior. As a pretty firmly established gay man who hasn’t been on any kind of “prowl” in quite a few years now, I have never considered myself any kind of threat to women. More than that, in my few and limited interactions with female and queer authors, I’ve made it a point to be respectful and considerate.

But I have no way of knowing how successful I have been. I have witnessed autograph tables of accomplished, wonderfully talented women stay empty. Meanwhile, one lane over, a male author would have several lines struggling to fit into the allotted space. I have been in some of those big lines, rather than the empty ones. Of course, sometimes the reason was the particular names involved, rather than gender.

But this raises another question — if a not-inconsiderable number of the most successful writers in the field are men, do they not have an even bigger responsibility to make our shared spaces feel safer and more nurturing for women and queer folks? And what message does it send to these people, when they come to conventions and conferences, only to be met by crude jokes, belittling behavior, and other forms of often overt harassment? Because let me tell you, a super buff dude grabbing me in his lap while telling me he wants to pee on me, would NOT make me want to return to that space.

We are all capable of calling this out. And I believe we are responsible to do so. As fans, as hopeful writers — scary though that might be to our proto-careers — and as people who believe in human dignity and every person’s right to feel safe in any public space they enter. We can uplift underrepresented voices, so that these public spaces are not ran by drunken cops or writer dynasty legacies.

And in the mean time, it takes more than a Twitter repentance. Many of these dudes are fairly successful in their careers. So, put your money where your apologies are. Make meaningful steps to help women, POC, and queer authors. If you need an apology tour, go donate to a charity, or check yourself into rehab. It is high time that “taking responsibility” means more than 240 symbols on a social network.

Reading Update 06/24/20 – Trans Authors, And Where to Find Them

As I have already written here, I was less than happy with J.K. Rowling’s continuing quest to invalidate trans people. Of course, Rowling is in a tax bracket where nothing mortal can really impact her, but the same is not true of the people she is putting in danger through her willful ignorance.

There is very little I can do to help, other than be an ally myself, but I found a nice way to express my feelings.

Recently, I started work at my local indie bookstore (“Unabridged Books” in Chicago). It is smack in the middle of our gay neighborhood Boystown, so I convinced them to set up a display of trans and non-binary authors of fantasy and science fiction. So far the support has been overwhelming, and we are ordering other titles that we didn’t have in stock at the time.

If you too feel grossed out by Rowling’s transphobia, and wonder what you can do, supporting a SFF trans or non-binary author is a great first step.

Working on the Craft: Letters From Inside the Story

This exercise asks the writer to take a story they are working on, then write a letter from one of its characters to another. The letter is never to be sent, so it needs to be deeply personal. It is never to become part of the actual story, so it’s more an exploration of the characters than anything else. I went full sap, while also trying to keep things ambiguous. Wouldn’t want to spoil my future NYT bestseller, yunno!


I marvel at my own capacity to write these words without breaking down. I have to face the truth of what is about to happen to you, and I find that I cannot.

I lost you once, all those years ago, and…

No, this is untrue. I have to start being honest with myself, even if it’s far too late for that.

I lost you for the first time all those years ago. And then I kept losing you over and over again, every second that you stood beside me. Beautiful. Kind. Unwitting. Broken. I could not tell you what had happened to you, for that would have been a loss far more final than all the rest combined. I could not give you the truth. So I had to watch you stumble in confusion, through a life you were no longer fit for.

He broke you, back then. I try reminding myself of that, and it rings hollow.

I told myself this lie over and over, even as I knew that it was a lie. Perhaps I accepted it for so long, because I took my cues from you. Your entire existence is a lie, after all, yet in the moments of lucidity you scrounge from the shattered mess of your mind, you seem happy. Content. You are incomplete, and it ruins my heart every time I see the knowledge of it on your face. But you are also content. Content to be with me.

I was not content. I never could be, with what was left of you. So I blamed him. Over and over, until my hatred of what he did to you seemed all that sustained me. But it is the end now, and I am about to lose you for the last time. There is no more point in lying to myself. He did not break you. He saved what could be saved of you. He did it in a rash, stupid, harmful way, but he had no choice. We all had left him no choice.

But now what happened to you back then is about to happen again. And I find that I no longer know if I have it in me to survive this. There is still a chance, maybe. He says there is. I have spent so long hating him, that I don’t know how to trust him. And I have seen this before. I have seen you before. What you become. How you have to be stopped.

It sounds stupid, and empty, and cheap now, because it is so very late. I should have said the words before. I should have told you the truth and given you the strength you needed to accept it. I should have…

These are the words then. I love you. I did then, and I have every moment since, even if you no longer knew it. A part of me hopes you still did. Another part knows that it doesn’t matter. Loving you was the one thing that made me feel capable of kindness. Loving you was the one thing that made me human. And even though I railed and raged when you were taken from me, I never lost loving you.

And until all hope is dead, I will continue to believe that you might know me again.

Wear a Mask

There is really nothing literary, or punny about this post.

AMC Theaters and assorted other chains have publicly announced that they won’t be enforcing masks when they reopen, because they don’t want to be “mired in politics”. Well, I won’t be going to their theaters, because I don’t want to be mired in COVID-19. With their businesses already flailing, this is the worst possible decision they could have made.

As more and more businesses take our mobster toddler of a president’s cue, wearing a mask has apparently become a POLITICAL issue. It’s not. Protecting yourself and — far more importantly — others, is NOT politics. It’s healthcare. It’s a public health issue.

Again, for all three of you reading this: wear a mask.

That’s it. That’s the post.

Reading Update 06/17/20 – Racism

Unlike many of my attempts at puns, this time the title is plain and simple. I realized it was way past time I put my reading where my online mouth was. Protests about police brutality and racism are shaking the foundations (I hope) of this country. As a liberal progressive gay dude, I always considered myself sufficiently “woke”. I assumed that if I could not always avoid racist behavior, at least I was fully aware of it.

Spoiler alert: I wasn’t.

The first book I read on the subject was Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. And it was certainly an eye-opener. I think that, coming from a predominantly white Eastern European country, I had an easier time with the premise. It has been literal decades since I thought of racism as “actively hating others for the color of their skin”. I know it’s far more pernicious, and that it has metastasized into society’s structures in ways that many people would struggle to recognize.

What I did not expect to learn, was that most white people refuse to recognize them. And how much the recognition feels like a powerful assault to their sense of self. I am excluding myself from this statement, but I likely shouldn’t. Even if I am partially an outsider to this culture, I am also a part of it. And I have no doubt that I share many of its failings. Suffice to say, I learned a lot.

Currently powering through Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Antiracist, and following that, I will get to Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race. Will report on progress next week.