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Monster: The Ryan Murphy Story

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As a true crime fan, I’ve heard all the arguments as to why consuming true crime content is problematic. It exploits the victims, it glorifies and celebrates violence, it cashes in on the real life suffering of the victims and families. There are some criticisms I agree with and some I don’t. And while I’m leery about fictionalized portrayals of serial killers and family anihilators, I wouldn’t automatically discount them as universally exploitative and awful. That, and the fact that Ryan Murphy, who’d created both the excellent American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson and American Crime Story: Impeachment, convinced me to give the unweildly-titled Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story a try.

What I saw was okay television and a macabre lack of morals on the part of the series writers and its creators, Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan*

The Jeffrey Dahmer case is the first true crime story I followed, mostly because it was impossible not to. I was eleven when the story broke and the news was everywhere. The case held a particular fascination for me at the time; my paternal grandparents lived in Milwuakee when I was very young, and we often visited my uncle there. My ears would perk up to hear “Milwaukee” and “cannibal” in the same sentence, and I devoured every issue of People that made it into our house. I poured over the details and paid particular attention when his name came up on the news (which we usually watched at dinner time). Jeffrey Dahmer became the boogieman in my mind and the minds of my young peers. I don’t think anyone understood at the time that children have open ears and were hearing these terrible things. In a coincidence that burned into my brain, it was revealed that Dahmer murdered victim Oliver Lacy on my eleventh birthday. I obsessed over every visit I’d ever made to Milwaukee, terrified that we’d walked past him on the street, shopped beside him at the store. After overhearing dinner table talk about Konerak Sinthasomphone and his grisly, totally avoidable death, I had recurring nightmares that my ears were coming off and the police wouldn’t help me. Dahmer was the talk of the playground and the lunchroom; I blame the media attention to case for the millennial/gen x obsession with monetizing true crime.

I only learned later in life about the truly insidious nature of Dahmer’s murders. Strip away the drill, the acid, the cannibalism, and what you have left is a white man who very specifically hunted marginalized men, mostly gay Black men, and the systemic racism that allowed that white man to get away with it for thirteen years. Jeffrey Dahmer weilded the weapons, but the Milwaukee police department is the reason those Black men are dead. That same racism is the reason that we don’t often hear about Dahmer’s victims, beyond the fate of their earthly remains. They become a collection of grisly trophies, torsos in barrels, heads in refrigerators, with no real identity in mainstream memory. They’re largely forgotten by a world more comfortable with Black body parts than Black people.

Obviously, the perfect choice to helm a project about such a subject is… Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan.

In an interview with Netflix Queue, series star Evan Peters explained, “We had one rule going into this from Ryan [Murphy] that it would never be told from Dahmer’s point of view.” The article notes that Murphy “consulted with Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization, to ensure that the victim’s stories were front and center in the writing and production of the project.” But after all this careful consideration, Murphy and Brennan…

Well, they went ahead and did the opposite.

Our first experience with Peters’s Dhamer is the night his killing spree came to an end. After picking up victim Tracy Edwards (Shaun J. Brown) from a gay bar with flirting and promises of payment for nude photos, Dahmer holds Edwards hostage until Edwards attempts to seduce Dahmer as a distraction. While the scene mines Edwards’s real-life court testimony for touches of authenticity like which VHS movie Dahmer watched during the ordeal and Edwards’s impression of the infamous blue drum, so much of the scene is just wrong. Under oath, Edwards identified as a straight man, who’d had no intention of having sex with Dahmer. They didn’t meet at a gay bar, though Dahmer did meet other victims at bars and bathhouses. Murphy and Brennan (who co-wrote the episode) seemingly took Edwards’s experience and dressed it in the experiences of other victims. With so many fine details taken from Edwards’s testimony (which is available on YouTube, of all places), there is no denying that turning Edwards into an amalgamation of all Dahmers’s victims was a conscious choice that contradicts the writers’ statements about the importance of the victims’ stories.

Despite Murphy’s insistence that the story is never told from Dahmer’s point of view, the series is mostly told from Dahmer’s point of view. Murphy is one of those creators who seems to believe that if he states something about his work, it is objectively true. For example, he would probably not come straight out and say, “This series was always intended as a vehicle for Evan Peters to play a murderer again,” but let’s not kid ourselves. I’m not sure I ever believed that Dahmer would be told from the victims’ point of view. If that had ever been the case, we would have seen bigger names in those roles. I’m sure they would have put Sarah Paulson in some kind of prosthetic suit. And we would have seen the victims in the trailers, not barely-on-screen Molly Ringwald. For all that the production allegedly strove to center the victims, we see an awful lot of Peters alone on screen. Here’s Dahmer’s fantasy about a jogger. Here’s Dahmer, upset and rejected at seeing his photo has been removed from the yearbook. Here’s Dahmer afraid of his parents fighting, struggling with his homosexuality, his alcoholism, his murderous compulsions. The script begs you to understand what led to making him a monster and to consider the wounded little boy inside of him.

That’s not to say that Peters does a bad job. He fights an uphill battle against the sympathetic treatment Dahmer gets from the script and he did succeed in making me think, “So?” every time he remarked on his loneliness and unhappiness. And his Wisconsin accent is perfect; too many people overdo Midwest accents until they sound like an Arizona-based community theater production of Escanaba in da Moonlight. But his performance isn’t enough to overshadow the way this show insults the victims and survivors in an effort to make the audience empathize with the man who victimized them. I cannot fathom the callous disregard required to make the absurd and frankly cruel narrative choice to portray Dahmer victim Tony Hughes in a touching romantic relationship with his killer. Hughes, a non-speaking Deaf man, is shown falling for Dahmer, who bashfully attempts to learn sign language to woo his new crush. In fact, Dahmer himself said he’d never met Hughes before he killed him, though witnesses contradicted that statement. Still, there’s no evidence that any romance occurred between them; why on Earth would someone try to spin one? For God’s sake, we’re talking about Jeffrey Dahmer here.

If there was one good thing to come out of this series, it would be the story of Glenda Cleveland, played by Niecy Nash-Betts.** Note, I said “if.” Because just like with Tracy Edwards, Murphy and Brennan decided to take the harrowing, true story of people involved in the Dahmer tragedy and squish them into one for added drama. Glenda Cleveland’s story gets told-ish, merged with that of Pamela Bass, who was actually Dahmer’s next door neighbor and who had been offered and possibly consumed human remains in sandwiches. Cleveland’s story is already horrifying; she knew Dahmer was killing and was repeatedly ignored by law enforcement. She tried to rescue one of his victims, only to be brushed off by the homophobic police officers who returned Konerak Sinthasomphone to Dahmer’s apartment. Bass’s story is also terrifying on its own: she confronted Dahmer about his suspicious behavior and the odors coming from his apartment and lived just footsteps from some of the most notorious murders of the twentieth century while they were occurring. Yes, it’s common practice to cut and combine historical characters for the sake of the narrative, but it’s yet another choice antithetical to Murphy’s stated goal of focusing on the victims instead of Dahmer. If it were a matter of time limitations, surely one of the multiple scenes of Dahmer lifting weights or bonding with his dad could have been cut.

What’s particularly galling about Murphy’s claim regarding concern for the victims is that neither of the show’s creators reached out to surviving loved ones. Instead, Murphy consulted a civil rights organization for advice on presenting fictionalized versions of history while living witnesses were still available. If he’d consulted the families, maybe he would have realized how many of them would be traumatized all over again. Maybe it would have caused the production to truly shift focus, to stay true to the lives of the men and boys who were slaughtered, rather than once again reducing them to their body parts. Maybe they would have decided to leave certain moments on the cutting room floor or out of the script entirely, based on the wishes of the people who are entitled to share them or keep them, because they lived them. Maybe someone would have realized that while the story of racial injustice that led to violence and rape in the gay community and the murder of men and boys of color is deeply important, the creators of fucking Glee, for Christ’s sake, are not qualified to tell them. Certainly, not while the only people qualified to tell them are still alive and actively protesting the series.

Dahmer isn’t bad television. Sometimes the writing gets clunky and expository in a deeply Sorkinesque way, every now and then some of the shots feel indulgent, but at least it doesn’t smack you in the face with quirky exploitation like The Thing About Pam. It’s on the good end of the Murphy scale, largely due to the phenomenal acting. And it will appeal to viewers who love podcasts about murder that begin with jokes and giggling and “Have we got an awesome one today, guys.” But fans of the show must stop kidding themselves that what they’re watching is an important tribute to forgotten victims. If any one scene refutes that concept entirely, it’s the one in which a teen Dahmer is pulled over for drunk driving. The camera focuses on the approaching officer, the nervous tension as Dahmer wonders whether he’ll be caught for his crimes and his relief when he’s let go with a warning. This is a part of eighteen-year-old Stephen Hicks’s story, allegedly told from his point of view.

He spends the scene in several garbage bags in Dahmer’s backseat.


*”[…] fantastic television with a macabre lack of morals” can also be applied to Murphy and Brennan’s earlier collaboration, Glee.

**She deserves a Golden Globe and an Emmy for her performance, as well as medical treatment for injuries sustained in her carrying of this series.

What going promo-only after a decade on Twitter has taught me

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CW: Basically everything people talk about with CW on Twitter

It’s been about two months since I stopped using Twitter for anything other than promotional purposes (and one snarky weigh-in that I couldn’t resist). I’ll continue to use it for promotion, but my absence has not made the heart grow fonder. It’s made me look back and go, “Jesus Christ, what was I thinking, staying so long?”

Full disclosure: I had been toying with the idea of leaving Twitter for a while before the events of A Twitter Story. I felt like I couldn’t. After all, my entire brand was “chronically online,” and I had so many people on the platform who were important to me, either as friends or as people I looked to for interpretations of what the heck is going on in the world. I thought if I walked away, I would lose touch with everyone. I also thought that my career opportunities would tank; all anyone talks about with regards to “becoming” a writer anymore is how you have to build your platform on Twitter, first, and you need some magical number of followers for a publisher to even glance at your manuscript. Since I’d been on Twitter for most of my career (my first book came out in 2006, my twitter account goes all the way back to 2009, I believe), I figured that must be true. So, every day, I would log into Twitter, my heart in my throat, knowing that I was guaranteed to read plenty of doom and gloom, be scolded for not tailoring my words to specifically target every single person on the entire god damn planet individually, and be called a cunt before nine in the morning.

Now that I’ve stopped my daily doom-scrolls, I’ve come to the unscientific and in no way medically-sound opinion that Twitter is toxic and damaging to our brains.

Oh my gosh, can you believe it? I must be the first person to posit that people get addicted to social media. I demand a parade.

Obviously, we’ve all heard the fearmongering headlines about how social media changes your brain and the claims that you can become addicted. But I always rolled my eyes at it, the way I roll my eyes at every shiny new thing being labeled “addictive,” because I’m a firm believer that if something is interesting enough to scare people, there’s a way to make money off that fear. You can convince people to buy your app that blocks social media from your kids’ phones if those people are seeing news stories every day about how social media is going to make their kids do drugs or have sex. And yes, the people buying that app to block social media saw those news stories on their own Facebook account that they check twenty-seven times a day but that’s different. I have a difficult time jumping on every scare bandwagon because they’re all so, frankly, ridiculous. Nyquil chicken? Tide Pod Challenge? Lipstick parties? No one had heard of these things until local news outlets identified them as ubiquitous dangers. I’m almost convinced that local newsrooms have a big hat full of slips of paper with random nouns on them. They just Mad-Lib these “dangerous trends” in their time off from being official police department publicity representatives/stenographers: “There’s a dangerous new trend called… nailpolish… lamping that’s sweeping the country and your child is going to die. Find out how at six.”

I don’t believe social media is psychologically addictive in the way that cigarettes can be, where long after the physiological upheaval of quitting has happened, one still needs something to do with one’s hands. I believe that it’s more like a toxic relationship, throwing out nasty threats to stop you from leaving, or to make you return. If you rely on publicity to make your career go vroom? You can’t leave! Look at all those followers! That’s money on the table! If you use the platform to check in on world events? What if something is happening right now? You wouldn’t know about it because you’re reading this post. You’re not on Twitter. Better get back there and make sure there’s not a new war in a country you couldn’t point to on a map. You’ll need to obsess about it for the next thirteen months. What if a friend gets a new cat? What if a friend has a hard day and needs to see pictures of your cat? What if things are happening on Twitter, right now, and you aren’t seeing them happen? What if things are happening and you’re not a part of them?

If Canada invaded Greenland right now, I wouldn’t know about it until Mr. Jen gets home from work. And that’s only if he listens to NPR on the way home. I could go days without learning about Canada’s bloody attack on the shores of Greenland. Two months ago, a thought like that would have been horrifying. Now, it’s comforting. I can’t do anything to help Greenland fight off the hypothetical relentless onslaught of Canadian artillery. Nothing Canada does to Greenland is going to have an immediate, material effect on me, either. If Canada nukes Greenland, the resultant fallout will later explain why my thyroid needs to be removed, but if I went my entire life never knowing that Canada nuked Greenland, it wouldn’t matter. It’s just a situation that I have no control over. My lack of knowledge about it wouldn’t have changed the outcome in any way. Jenny Trout knowing about the Canada-Greenland Conflict will never factor into historical record. If Jenny Trout were the king of Greenland, it would be a different issue, but in this scenario, even the king of Greenland isn’t using Twitter for daily briefings.

While I didn’t leave Twitter to avoid caring about the world, it very much helps me to care within reasonable limitations. None of us, not even the most politically conscious Tweeter among us, was built to withstand an onslaught of every single bad thing currently, formerly, potentially, and eventually happening all at once and still function as a human being. There is a reason our eyes can only see so far, why our brains only process a fraction of the information our senses take in. We cannot perpetually scroll through terror after terror, feeling utterly helpless, while thousands of other people on the same app point fingers at us for not caring enough, and expect it to not have a mental and emotional consequence. It’s interesting how often we’re reminded that people on the internet are real people, with real feelings, when the topic is online bullying, but all of that goes out the window when we see that a stranger has tweeted four times today about their shopping trip and not once, not once, about the breaking news out of the Ukraine. And hey, there doesn’t even need to be a particular target for that shame. You can just tweet out a broad condemnation of anyone who isn’t obsessing over an event that happened entire minutes ago. If they cared, they would have already been tweeting about it.

Each of us knows that we can’t bear all the causes and traumas of the world on our own. Why, then, do we get on Twitter and demand everyone else suffer this impossible labor? Why do we imply that our personal safety and security are imperiled if Janice from Provo doesn’t speak out against the actions of the Chinese government? That Janice is imperiling our personal safety and security on purpose, out of hatred for us and implicit support of the Chinese government? Janice’s voice would add nothing but noise, especially if Janice doesn’t have an informed opinion.

About five years ago, I tweeted a truth to explain why I was “silent” (read: callously indifferent) on the subject of the Israel/Palestine conflict. I can’t remember exactly how I phrased it, but the general theme was, “I’m not saying anything because I don’t know enough about it to offer anything that much smarter, better-informed people can say, and I know people on both sides of the conflict and don’t want to hurt those people with ignorant remarks.” I felt like this was a reasonable position to take; I really have no clue what is going in Israel or Palestine. In my country, the issue has been synthesized into domestic politics through the insidious, fascistic creep of evangelical Christianity, so I don’t believe I’m ever receiving truly unbiased coverage from any media outlets. I graduated high school with a 2.0 GPA and never finished community college. I recognize that I do not have the background or knowledge to come out strongly in favor of either side. But acknowledgment of my lack of expertise and my unwillingness to engage in geopolitical strife as a far-away spectator spewing my uninformed opinion was interpreted as a whimsical “IDC LOL” in the face of atrocities rather than an answer to “We see your silence.”

“So, you agree with this!” people responded, with gory photos or news stories about heinous acts committed by both countries. It wasn’t enough for me to look at a photo of Palestinians in front of their seized homes, now occupied by their enemies, or injured Israeli children cradled in their parents’ arms following an attack and say, “Those acts of violence are unspeakbly horrific, I wish they hadn’t happened to these people and it wasn’t right that it did.” I had to somehow renounce both countries, support both countries, and claim to know enough to do either, despite admitting to my lack of knowledge and the fact that, frankly, it’s not my American business to denounce any other country for criminal acts. In saying that I wasn’t uncaring about the suffering of others, just uninformed and trying to avoid further harm, in the eyes of Twitter I was admitting to a host of contradictory opinions that I never actually stated.

Even if you do know something, it doesn’t matter. The words you type will be rewritten for you by people with their own agendas. I tweeted that modern diet culture has its roots in the eugenics movement. That’s an irrefutable fact, coming from someone who lives very close to the epicenter of the birth of diet culture. I’ve lived my life going to places like the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary. I trespassed and skinny-dipped at the Kellogg mansion. I drive my child to voice lessons: we pass Johnn Kellogg’s sanitarium and park just footsteps from W.K. Kellogg’s house. More than one school, including some I attended, bears the Kellogg name. There are two school districts named after them. The Kelloggs were “wellness” pioneers on a scale that Gwyneth Paltrow can only dream of, and being a fat person living where I live, I’ve done a lot of research into them and into how John Kellogg’s interest in eugenics shaped his belief in an ideal body. Modern diet culture’s ancestor is eugenics and religious fanaticism. The information is freely available. Anyone with an ounce of deductive reasoning could look at it and say, “modern diet culture has its roots in the eugenics movement,” and go, “Yeah, looks like.”

Twitter reduced the statement to, “Diets are eugenics.” And my mentions were loaded with replies ranging from “so you’re saying if you’re on a diet, you’re a eugenicist” to “everything a liberal doesn’t like is eugenics,” to “look up what eugenics means, fatty.” There was no reason to ask them to re-read the text on their screens, to see that I never said, “Diets are eugenics.” That was what they wanted me to have said, so that was what I said. Case closed.

“Silence” on Twitter is the threat that keeps you there. If you’re unavailable to weigh in on every new issue or scuffle, you are deliberately and actively perpetuating harm. “I notice you don’t have anything to say about [thing]. Interesting.” Well, yeah. It would be interesting if, say, a white RWA member suddenly isn’t following industry news when another white RWA member pulls some racist bullshit, but they’re online for seven hours straight talking about favorite book boyfriends while all of their mutuals are engaged in discussions about the incident all around them. Or actively tweeting at them, “uh, did you know this was going on?” That is interesting. It’s suspicious behavior. But if refugees from the Canada-Greenland conflict are facing opposition from U.S. border officials and someone on Twitter had a stroke and hasn’t been online for weeks tweeting about it… it’s not suspicious. It’s an implication that life continues outside of the confines of Twitter, a concept that has been tragically lost to the mindless hours of doom-scrolling and awareness-spreading. The phrase “silence is violence” means it’s not enough to acknowledge systemic oppression, you have to actively speak out against it and work to change it. I’m pretty sure it was never meant to apply to, “I noticed there was a twenty-four hour period during Occupy Wallstreet where you only tweeted about your broken leg and not about the evils perpetrated by capitalism.”

It was around 2014 that I started noticing my “brand” leaning toward social justice and away from being a random internet weirdo with an axe to grind. I blame the Fifty Shades recap for that. There was no way to critically review that book without mentioning intimate partner violence. When I followed that up with a silly story about my bathing suit and it went viral, I became classified as a fat activist. But social justice as a brand is exhausting, especially on Twitter. If I wanted to just be weird and high and say a random thing, I had to be careful. If I expressed my Michigander affection for Jeff Daniels, unfollow; he worked with Woody Allen and didn’t come out hard enough against him. Clearly, I don’t believe survivors. I support predators. If I mentioned I really wanted a candy bar, I’d receive links about the slave trade on the Ivory Coast. Nothing I said was innocuous, and because I threw my support behind various movements and individuals, I was no longer allowed the luxury of experiencing the world without a veil of suffering.

This seems to be a universal experience held by users who get pigeon-holed as full-time activists, regardless of their occupation or activism outside of Twitter. One evening, a Black woman I was mutuals with tweeted a photo of some ducks she’d seen in a park. Usually, this individual tweeted about social issues and things going on in the news in the United States. But between days and days of those tweets, she chose to tweet about ducks.

Another user, also one of my mutuals (and who, ironically, posted many, many pictures of ducks herself), responded by implying that not only was it harmful to the world as a whole that this other user interrupted her high volume of tweets about racism, homelessness, prison reform, gay rights, etc. with a whimsical photo, but had also directly harmed the mental health of the offended party by doing so. The incident blew up, with followers of both parties weighing in and arguing in the replies. One argument was that the original poster was responsible for the dogpile against the offended party, who was a white transgender woman. The “dogpile” was mostly people pointing out that white women, no matter their marginalizations, are not owed the intellectual labor of Black women. They were simply pointing out the objective truth: the offended party had no right to demand that the original poster curate their own timeline to the specific tastes of the offended party.

Because I did like the offended party and had fun engaging with her on the platform, I wondered if she would listen to me, a fellow white queer she’d had positive interactions with, when she seemed intent on not listening to Black people saying the same thing.

I was very, very wrong.

In responses that came with Swimfan speed, she informed me that I was contributing to and responsible for the mental health crisis the original poster had caused for the offended party, and that I had crossed a boundary by asking her to view her actions from someone else’s perspective. I was contributing to the allegedly transphobic attack on her, the person more marginalized than the original poster.

The entire debate, at this point, had become about who was more marginalized, the Black cis woman or the white trans woman. Not whether or not the white trans woman had made an unreasonable demand of the Black cis woman, which was the true heart of the issue. I knew my opinion on the matter, and after six messages about what a terrible person I was and how I was responsible for whether or not the offended party committed acts of self-harm, I set my own boundary. I blocked her.

She came back with a sock puppet account that she’d been following me with, as well, to go on a tirade about why setting that boundary was a violent act. Having been a victim of internet stalking incidents, the revelation of this secondary account was frightening. I began to wonder how many people I was chatting with daily were really just the same person pretending to be someone else or simply not disclosing that they were the same person.

Do you remember how this whole experience started? Someone who was not me posted a photo of a duck. It ended with someone demanding access to me to lay the responsibility for her life and death on my conscience.

This a domino effect caused by Main Character Syndrome. This is a toxic trait that every Twitter user develops. Every single one, myself included. Yes, you as well. It’s a sickness in which we log on, see the words on the screen, and feel immediately attacked and forgotten when other people with experiences different from our own neglect to describe us, specifically. There are times these might be valid observations; for example, trans men and enbies asking cis women not to use explicitly gendered language in discussions of reproductive rights, or Black USians reminding white USians that not everyone came to this country as an immigrant or colonizer. That’s not Main Character Syndrome. That’s combating actual erasure. Main Character Syndrome is the impulse that rears its head when we see someone say, “I had a great time at Disney World,” and we respond by QTing it and saying, “tell me you’re abled and have money without telling me you’re abled and have money.” Objecting when someone posts a photo of their new baby on their own TL because, “You didn’t CW this for people who have fertility struggles.” Replying to someone’s cancer recovery with, “Must be nice. Please don’t forget about the millions who aren’t as lucky as you are.”

That last one isn’t hypothetical. It’s been burned into my brain ever since I tragically read it with my own eyes.

Just as our human brains aren’t equipped with the resources to handle, to quote Bo Burnham, “a little bit of everything all of the time,” they’re definitely not equipped to translate the words of a tweet into the concept of an actual human being who wrote those words. Humans aren’t as empathetic as we try to convince ourselves. I don’t believe any of us are capable of true empathy, and I think that’s a defense mechanism. Imagine if we could truly and honestly put ourselves in the shoes of every person we meet. Every waking moment would be pure agony. So, when we get on social media and engage with people with whom we haven’t forged a deeper connection (like a penpal or someone you befriended on LiveJournal at the turn of the century), our brains are probably not seeing people, but words on a screen, giving us input we can either accept or reject. I care about Canada’s annexation of Greenland. Why don’t you? I reject your duck picture and accuse of you of silence on the topic and harboring problematic sympathies.

Would Duck Picture Objector have approached Duck Picture Poster on the street and demanded she stop noticing small joys in the world around her, for Duck Picture Objector’s own comfort? I doubt it. Because at that point, Duck Picture Objector would have seen Duck Picture Poster as a human being, not a strip of text entries down the center of her screen. Duck Picture Objector’s demands only seemed reasonable and rational to her because Duck Picture Poster’s brain, like every other human brain, could not conceptualize text on the screen as a person.

Some readers will already have classified this post as Old Man Yells At Cloud or a rant against social justice warriors. I’m sure there will be concern expressed somewhere that this is a sign that I’m leaning into far right white conservatism of the Tucker Carlson variety. But it’s not. I won’t be able to convince someone that it isn’t if they decide that’s what it is, but I’ve stopped actively participating in an online space I’ve inhabited for over a decade. I have feelings about my experiences there and do feel that I’ve had a wide enough range of engagement there (from making some of my best friends to receiving picturtes of my face photoshopped onto Holocaust victims) that I can speak accurately and specifically about the culture there. I just couldn’t see that culture while I was still an active, daily user.

As I stated before, I’ll keep using Twitter for promotion. Some of you got here from Twitter. But now that I’m gone from the platform, I don’t miss it. I don’t miss getting called a cunt or being asked if I could sum up six hours of on-going, rapid-fire industry drama I have no interest in. I don’t miss my joys being QTed with glum, woe-is-me entreaties to think about how a stranger feels at that expression of joy. I don’t miss my real-life experiences being dissected and misrepresented. I don’t miss the scolding, the akshully (as target and dispenser), the oneupmanship of misery a la “Must be nice…”. I don’t miss seeing elected members of my country’s government tweeting furiously about how something “must be done” about one of the many issues they were elected to deal with. I don’t miss “BREAKING: My opinion on why this near-inconsequential White House press conference means we’re going to nuclear war with Canada.” I don’t miss quirky posts about how depressed everyone is or reminders about when everyone should go to bed or drink water (in fact, since I stopped using Twitter, I’ve actually gotten better about doing those things without a reminder, because my brain doesn’t feel permanently severed from my body). I just don’t miss Twitter. I don’t like the person it makes me. And it feels exactly how I don’t miss exes who cheated on me. Because everyone on Twitter is engaged in some type of toxic, self-esteem damaging friendship with the medium that makes us behave in ways we don’t always like to behave, and makes us targets of behavior no one would want directed at them.

As for the threat that cutting off active engagement from Twitter will hurt an author’s career? I don’t find that to be the case. I’ve got great things coming up (maddeningly under NDAs), and none of the conversations surrounding those opportunities have mentioned Twitter. I would say that perhaps the only way Twitter is useful for a writer, aside from promotion, would be the pitch contests. Sure, networking is important, but not something I’m personally in a position to endorse; my networking experiences were soured greatly when colleagues openly discussed committing acts of violence against me. You’re probably better off sitting alone in your little home office like a goblin, smoking weed and watching CourtTV on YouTube.

If someone you’re friends with on Twitter really wants to be your friend, they’ll contact you through other means (of course, you have to provide those means). If someone is interested in what you have to say, they’ll go somewhere they can see you say it. And if the end result is that nobody contacts you and nobody follows you, do you know what happens in the real world? Absolutley nothing. In fact, you might take up roller skating and not feel like you now suddenly have to represent all disabled roller skaters on a public stage.

Now excuse me, I’m about to hit publish and automatically post this to Twitter.

What a difference a schedule makes

Posted in Uncategorized

CW: self-harm

Through most of my childhood, my mom worked third shift. I think she got her first nursing job just before I started Kindergarten. We still lived with my grandparents, so not a lot changed for me at the time. But then she decided to buy the house down the hill. It was so exciting to have our own house but… I was never really there. I got off the bus there, sometimes had dinner there, played with my toys a little bit, but when it was bed time, I went back up the hill to my grandma’s house.

It was a really weird thing for me to process. I got a dog, but it wasn’t allowed to sleep at my grandma’s. After the dog got hit by a car and died, I had other pets, and I would sit at my grandma’s wondering if they were okay down at my house. Sometimes, I could look out the window of the bedroom I slept in at and see the lights on, because obviously, I had to go to bed before mom left for work at ten-thirty. I would imagine my mom getting ready to go to work and I would think, you know, it’s so unfair that other moms and kids got to stay home and sleep at their houses in the night, every night.

The house never ended up feeling like my house. Once, when my grandmother tried to drop me off with mom after an outing with my cousins, I screamed and grabbed at anything I could to try and stay in the car. My cousins were all going to grandma’s, and that was where I slept, so why couldn’t I spend the night, too? Why couldn’t I go home? I’ll never forget that desperate, sick feeling as I chased the car down the driveway, pleading to just be allowed to go home.

But it was my mom’s night off, so I had to stay at the house that was small and boring and dark and dirty and which didn’t even have a flushable toilet most of the time because the plumbing was shoddy. And I had to sleep in my bed that used to be at my grandmas but which now felt totally different.

I could never understand when the house was my house and when the house was my mom’s house. Sometimes, I was at my grandma’s and I knew my mom was home, but I wasn’t allowed to go there because mom was sleeping during the day. There was only one bedroom in the house, so mom slept on the couch. That meant no TV in the living room, and I could play outside, but if I was inside I had to be very quiet.

There were times that my grandma up the hill might be out of town or getting back from something late, and on those nights, I would have to stay at my Baba and Papa’s house. Those were the worst nights because Baba and Papa were kind of the fun, stay-the-night-on-the-weekened house, so having to get up and get on a school bus in the morning just felt weird. Plus, it’s always strange to ride a different bus than you’re used to. For years, the bus driver from the route past Baba and Papa’s house would say that I was such a good kid and “quiet as a church mouse.” It wasn’t that I was good, I was just extremely terrified of her and out of my element.

Eventually, we moved into the main part of town, to a house I could walk home from school to, but I still had to take the bus from my grandmother’s house in the mornings. That was fine by me. I was twelve at that point and used to not sleeping in my own bed. I liked being in our new house because the toilet reliably flushed and we weren’t so far out in the country that we couldn’t get cable. In fact, I started to hate having to go to my grandma’s house for the night because I couldn’t watch MTV there.

In rural communities, two miles can be decades apart, technologically.

When I started high school, it was at a private Catholic school in the city. The neighbors across the street had kids who went there, so during my freshman year, I rode with them. On nights my mom didn’t work, I just walked across the street and got in their car, but they were nice enough to pick me up from my grandma’s house on all the other mornings. My sophomore year, the family moved to Japan. My mom drove me on her days off, my uncle (newly home from the Army and in a kind of unemployed holding pattern) drove me. There was always someone to get me places I needed to go to, play rehearsals, tutoring, skating lessons, mom always had someone lined up for all of that, if she couldn’t do it.

When I got my driver’s license, that’s when things started to really change. Mom was offered a job that would give her three days off per week if she worked four twelve-hour shifts. That meant she had to be to work at seven in the evening and she’d get out at seven in the morning. I was worried this would mean I would have to go to my grandma’s house even earlier, but Mom decided that since I could drive myself to school, I could stay home at nights alone. So, from age sixteen, I was staying home alone at night and getting myself to school in the morning.

The problem with the new schedule was, I got up and went to school before my mom got home. And because her new schedule would cut into time spent with her boyfriend, she often left for work early to see him. When I was younger and staying with my grandma, it wasn’t a big deal, because I had to be in bed by eight (nine on Tuesdays, so I could watch Roseanne, the The Cosby Show for white trash families). So, if my mom left early, it didn’t really cut into the time we had together. On her new schedule, it did. If I had skating or rehearsal after school, I would race home, frantic at every red light, praying I could get there in time to see my mom, even in passing.

There were a lot of days when I didn’t make it home in time. Sometimes, those days would stack up and I would come home to an empty house several days in a row. There would be a pit of dread in my stomach when I’d see her car missing because I knew it meant I wouldn’t see another human in person until the next day at school. It was lonely in the worst ways, so the relief and joy I would feel when I’d get home before she left were basically regulating my brain chemistry. Once, I came home to find my mom’s car in the driveway, but she wasn’t in the house. I felt tricked and disappointed, and it resulted in a huge meltdown. I clawed up my face and arms, smashed up our glass kitchen table, punched holes in a door, slammed my bedroom door so hard the hinges ripped out of the wall… and my mom was just at the neighbors’. She ran home when she heard me screaming my head off and found the house destroyed.

It didn’t change anything. She never replaced the kitchen table because, “we don’t eat dinners anyway.”

I’ve spent a lot of time since then wondering why, upon entering the house and finding her kid in a mess of broken doors and shattered glass, with a bleeding face and knuckles, that she didn’t just say, wow. I need to put my kid first and maybe my boyfriend/career second? Maybe that was some kind of signal that a sixteen-year-old couldn’t handle being alone for days? Or even just a vague sign that something was very wrong for me?

Many years later, after I had kids of my own, Mr. Jen’s schedule changed to night shifts. It would be fine, I figured, because my mom had been on third shift and I understood how everything worked. Except, I didn’t. I didn’t understand that it would be very much a single-parenting situation most of the time. I got the kids up and off to school before Mr. Jen got home. He usually got up after they went to bed. And the parent they got stuck with was snappy, shouty, and downright mean due to being overwhelmed. The house was not clean. The house was not nice. Homework turned into screaming and punishment, then didn’t get done at all. I was a terrible mother. My brain was constantly racing, I was always on the verge of tears, always ready to scream at even the smallest change to our schedules. I regret so deeply how I treated my children during that time, and I’m furious at Past Jenny for not getting help and antidepressants and anxiety meds that she desperately needed.

Then, Mr. Jen got on a different schedule, and things became easier. I was more productive and focused, I was able to write a book that got us out of our poverty. Things in generally just got better. It didn’t erase the horrible years, but to me, it felt like they were over.

And then they asked him to switch back to thirds. This was in 2018, so this time, things would be different. Our kids were older, they were being homeschooled, and I was more chilled out. My career was in a better place, and taking third shift again would put Mr. Jen’s career in a better place, too, so I agreed that it was a good move. Still, I didn’t like it. Something about it felt wrong to me. When his boss promised Mr. Jen that the switch would only be for a year, I laughed in his face. “You’re never coming off thirds,” I told him. But he insisted it was only for a year, and took the new position.

September 2019 rolled around, the time that he should have been moved back to a day shift. But the holidays were coming up, his boss pointed out. Training someone to do retail management in a new department, on a new shift, in September? Just wait until after the holidays, they said.

We all know what happened in 2020. Obviously, they couldn’t change his job during a pandemic. Or in 2021. Pandemic was still going.

Meanwhile, I was miserable. But so was everyone else. It was a pandemic, baby! Everybody’s mental health was in the toilet. I would get up in the morning when Mr.Jen got home, stay awake until he went to bed, then go back to bed myself and sleep until the evening. I struggled to get any work done at all. If I wrote five hundred words in a single day, that was an epic feat and it took all my mental energy. I was deeply unhappy all of the time, self-harming more than ever before, and Mr. Jen’s bosses kept dangling vague promises of getting off third shift in front of him. Theses never panned out, but my hopes went through the roof every time. When I would hear that it wouldn’t work out, he would still be on third shift, I didn’t give a shit about his disappointment. I would throw “I told you,” in his face every time. I told you that they were lying. I told you it wouldn’t be just a year. I told you, I told you, I told you. I was a megabitch, angry at everyone and everything.

And I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see that the feelings of rage and hurt I had every time we found out he wouldn’t be getting a position on a day shift were the exact same feelings I would have as a high schooler pulling into an empty driveway. That they were the same feelings I felt when I was trying to hang on to my grandmother’s car, wanting to go home and not understanding why it wasn’t my home anymore, even if I slept there nightly. I’d never connected those things in my mind.

A few months ago, Mr. Jen started in a new position, on day shift. On his first day of work, I wrote two thousand words in one sitting for the first time in years. The career I’d envisioned sliding away was suddenly back on track. It didn’t make any sense; all that had changed was Mr. Jen’s work schedule.

All that had changed… was Mr. Jen’s work schedule.

In all my years of being miserable and mean, it never once occurred to me that no matter how much time I spent with Mr. Jen, no matter how many vacations and outings we carved out of his weird schedule, I’d never realized that my brain immediately heard “third shift” as “abandoned and lonely, like the worst time of your childhood.” If I’d ever made that connection, would I have been a better mother? A better partner to my husband? Would I have been happier, if I could have reframed it not as that original feeling of instability and abandonment, but as a totally different life event involving totally different people and an added sense of my own adult agency?

I was in middle school when my mother casually mentioned that she had been offered a position on a day shift. My hopes soared. Her next sentence was, “I didn’t take it. I prefer nights.” When I graduated high school and moved out, my mother did change her schedule.

Her new boyfriend didn’t like that she worked third shift.

State of the Trout: New Jealous Patrons selection, Discord, Twitter, and secrets…

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I have so much good news lately. So much. And… I can’t share the two biggest things.

Of course.

Secrets:

What I can share, right off the bat, is that I’ve signed a contract for a new Abigail Barnette book. I cannot tell you with who yet. I cannot tell you much about it at all except to say that it’s another contemporary erotica with an age-gap M/F pairing, pansexual leads, and a ton of kink. Like… a ton. Like, there is a sex resort. When I showed my editor the first 30,000 words, I thought they would come back with, “Um… you need to tone this down. Like… way, way down.” That was not the response I got, so the brakes are off, blueberries! It’s going to be the hottest thing I’ve ever written, with a couple I love to pieces.

The other thing, which I cannot share yet, is that I have gotten another great theater job. I can’t tell you what I’m doing or where it’s at until the contract is signed, but trust me, you’ll be hearing about it. And maybe keeping a show diary on here for this one won’t be bad luck. Either way, the thought that people will pay me money to do theater is shocking to me. That’s like, something out of high school Jenny’s wildest dreams.

Jealous Patrons Book Club selection:

We reached the end of the Jealous Patrons recap of A Court of Thorns and Roses, a book that I hated possibly more than Fifty Shades of Grey or Beautiful Disaster. It was that awful. The results of the Jealous Patrons poll is in, and we’ll be reading BookTok sensation Zodiac Academy: The Awakening for our next selection. Patrons can access the full recaps at the $5 and up tier, the Jealous Patrons Book Club Book Club at the $1 and up tier. If you’re not a patron of Trout Nation and you’d like to be, you can pledge support here. If you sign up and you have a Discord account linked to your Patreon, you’ll automatically be added to the Trout Nation server, where you’ll have a snazzy orange name and access to the Jealous Patrons channel.

Speaking of Discord…

By popular suggestion, there is now a Trout Nation Discord server that’s open to everyone, not just Patreon supporters. If you long for the days of AOL chat rooms, Discord is the place for you. And we’re pretty active over there. You can join the conversation here. It’s lots of fun and so much easier for me to interact with yous all!

A reminder about Twitter:

Just a quick reminder: I’m no longer actively using Twitter on a daily basis. So, I won’t see DMs or replies. It’s a strictly updates-only, promo-only account these days. Frankly, it was disheartening to witness the constant build ’em up, tear ’em down nature of the beast. There’s a weird culture cropping up where anyone with 50k followers gets treated like a celebrity (in the bad way), and accounts with a large number of followers are automatically presumed to be privileged somehow. I don’t have anything productive to add to an environment that’s sliding in that direction. A nice side effect has been that I’m not seeing every single news story as it develops, constantly barraging me with doom, and therefore I can wake up in the morning and not feel like someone has beaten my optimism in with a crowbar.

A final note:

I recently sneezed with my head turned and I’m forty-two years old, so I’m currently in physical therapy for the next three months. I know content has been slow here for a while and I had so many plans to correct that now that I’m in a much better headspace than I’ve been in for a while. I appreciate your patience as I continue to juggle this blog, my Patreon, and the deadlines I’ve been facing for my awesome, awesome books.

A Twitter Story

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About a month ago, a friend of mine made a noncontroversial statement on Twitter about the potential dangers of a common over-the-counter pain medication. People, including one uniquely obsessed doctor, harassed this person for days. Round the clock, non-stop QTing and long threads about why this commonly known fact—that Tylenol can damage your liver—is wrong, dangerous misinformation of the worst kind, and how the person who made the claim is an anti-vaxer.

The resulting pile-on had nothing to do with the individual being transgender (which xie is) or an anti-vaxer (which xie is not). It was just because of the extreme anti-vaccine position xie hadn’t taken, which was harming everyone. The pile-on was for the greater good.

A little while later, the same individual tweeted that some writers have sensory processing difficulties or developmental disorders that make reading for pleasure difficult and that commonly-dispensed wisdom about how much a writer should read could be construed as coming from an ableist viewpoint. Like with the Tylenol tweets, people were eager to jump on this individual.

But not because xie is trans.

In both cases, simple tweets became “the discourse,” and with the discourse came the distortion. “Did you see the YA author who said Tylenol is poison and your doctors are lying to you?” “Did you see the YA author who said reading is ableist?” That the person in question was not a YA author and had never said anything of the sort didn’t matter. This individual became the “main character” of Twitter over wholly uncontroversial statements that were made controversial by Twitter users with a bone-deep need to be furious about the things this person never said.

It had nothing to do with this individual being transgender.

Except for when it did, of course. Like months ago, when this individual painstakingly reviewed an advanced copy of an outrageously transphobic book. That’s when author and real-life Veruca Salt, Lauren Hough, stepped in and did what Lauren Hough does best: made everything about herself. This all concluded with Hough insisting that a prestigious literary award had been snatched away from her, despite never having been nominated for it in the first place.

The pile-on my friend faced only got worse, aided by mainstream media, who picked up the story of Hough’s “revoked nomination” without mentioning that Hough had simply assumed she would be handed this prize by default (Hough is the author who, some time ago, threw a days-long tantrum because people dared to give her books four stars instead of five). My friend, who isn’t a YA author, was branded a YA author at this time—a Twitter code word for someone who is the worst kind of hysterical drama seeker, a person who should be avoided and derided at all costs. The brigade rode in, eager to scream about freedom of speech, Nazi book bans, and to question whether this “YA author” had even read the offending book (which xie had, in a detailed Twitter thread and blog post, which became tragically invisible to anyone who disagreed with xer).

The fact that the individual in question is transgender was superfluous to the conversation, of course, and if the resulting widespread internet attention from the media caused an increase in harassment of this individual, that was a punishment well-deserved. It was the principle of the thing. A person who reviews a book is a person who wants to ban a book, and anyone who reviews a book is only doing so in an attempt to ruin the careers and lives of worthy, non-YA writing authors.

Nobody was simply using a silly reason to justify their own transphobia. Xie is a danger to the written word and freedom of speech.

Last night, I opened Twitter and found that Lockheed Martin was trending. With my friend’s name under it. It was the top trending topic in my country.

As it turned out, this individual works for Lockheed Martin. Making drones that kill children. Specifically, xie writes code to increase the lethality of drones targeting children in the Middle East. And xie makes upwards of $400,000 annually doing this work for the military-industrial complex while lying about xer financial situation to scam people with crowdfunding. Even worse, xer job slaughtering innocent babes in their mothers’ arms was the result of nepotism, as xer entire family works for Lockheed Martin in highly paid executive positions. And this awful person, this YA author, has been lying about it for years.

At least, that’s what Twitter would have you believe. Because in reality, this non-YA author works ten hours a week from home keeping software licenses up-to-date. A job this non-YA author can do from home as a disabled person, a job xie got through family connections, probably offered by a relative concerned about this person’s well-being and ability to live independently (and, at the time, xer’s ability to care for a disabled family member). A job that only pays the astronomical $400,000 annually because people on Twitter decided their lie about it was fact; a simple Google search reveals that the highest paid non-executives at Lockheed Martin make a quarter of that figure working full-time.

But does that matter when a person some find annoying on Twitter is outed as being, in the words of one gleeful user, “literally a cop”?

No. Because there are reasons this person needs to be punished. None of these reasons have to do with a particular website that routinely targets and doxes transgender people. Sure, the information currently circulating came from their site. Sure, they’ve targeted this person specifically because xie is transgender and uses neopronouns and tweets “cringe.” And yes, the people on that disgusting forum are currently celebrating that a trans man might commit suicide due to their doxing efforts. But this is about integrity. This is about making the truth known.

On Twitter, making the truth known always involves bending and shaping that truth to fit around whatever narrative has been embraced, but always for the greater good. “This person works in an extremely limited position dealing with software licenses for a company with defense contracts” isn’t bad enough. You have to streamline it. You have to remove all context—the availability of work for disabled people, the hurdles to employment faced by transgender people, the notoriously hostile state the individual lives in, and what the individual’s job entails—for the greater good. This person is bad. Unredeamable. And they must be punished. Whatever lies and exaggerations made to pursue that goal are immaterial as long as that goal is reached. For the greater good.

Critics of this individual were more than enthusiastic about their campaign for justice. They’d always known that their personal opinion of this individual was right. They just could never put into words what made this person so thoroughly evil. Maybe it was because xie was the ringleader of the crusade against Isabel Fall, a claim that lacks evidence but sounds incredibly good when justifying one’s behavior over the past sixteen hours. Or because xie’s outrageous censorship campaign caused Lauren Hough to have that prize she hadn’t won yanked from her hands by a blood-thirsty social justice mob. Xie was always crowdfunding; something about that is just annoying, right? Plus, xie was a “woke scold,” a person who obnoxiously and audaciously suggests that marginalized people deserve human rights. And get this: xie calls xer spouse “kissmate.” That’s just cringe. Far too precious and cute. That’s certainly harming the human race in some vile way.

There were so many reasons—none of them transphobic!—that doxing this person, accusing xer of lying, and driving xer off Twitter wasn’t just justified. It was righteous. And definitely not transphobic! Plus, finding out how horrible xer’s job is retroactively makes all the past harassment okay!

The way Twitter reckons it, securing software licenses for a defense contractor’s offices is no different than pushing the big red button to detonate a city block full of innocent civilians. Sure, some of these people work for companies that are arguably just as evil as Lockheed Martin, albeit in other ways. Some spend their time online defending members of the United States government from attacks by the right-wing mobs. Some of them have or had jobs or internships working for the United States government themselves. But without xer keeping all those software licenses in line, the United States would be wholly incapable of committing war crimes. And if xie is forced off Twitter and hopefully driven to suicide, world peace will be restored. There is no need for, nor room for, nuance in this discussion. Xie is, after all, making millions of dollars being, in the words of that astonishingly rational thinker I quoted above, “literally a cop.”

Which leaves me to wonder… if xer working for Lockheed Martin part-time means xie is directly responsible for every death caused by the U.S. government’s imperial crimes, what are the people aligning themselves with Kiwi Farms guilty of by association?

Hmm? What was that? Oh, Kiwi Farms? Probably time to note that the persistent backlash against this individual has been driven since 2016 by a website that defended its connection to the mass shooting in Christchurch, NZ (a “shithole country” with “faggot laws”) and whose members have been linked to at least three online harassment campaigns that ended in the death by suicide of their targets. The entire site exists to mock, harass, and dox people, especially transgender, autistic, and fat people, but simply being ugly or annoying can serve as reason enough to target someone and harass them, ideally to death.

While I would never doubt the righteousness of people who have turned away from the war criminal in question, I do wonder what some of them would say if they saw how their actions were being viewed by the forum that composed the jaunty tune they’re all dancing to.

screenshot of a Kiwi Farms post by lindsayfan on July 31, 2021 that shows a screenshot of Ana Mardoll's deleted Twitter account. Text to follow.

“RIP Bozo, puffin on that enby war criminal pack […] maybe anna will commit unalive in roblox and kiwi farms can take credit.”

screenshot of a Kiwi Farms post by taintmisbehavin on July 31, 2021. Text to follow.

“I didn’t know anything about Ana until earlier today when all of the other trannies started shrieking for his head as a war criminal and ganged up on him until he left Twitter. The fact this happened due to information gleaned from a Kiwifarms doxing, the site they claim makes you a fascist if you even dare to peek, is perhaps the most hilarious thing I have seen all month.”

screenshot of a Kiwi Farms post by Zay-Two-Kay on August 1, 2021. Text to follow.

“All the YA twitter lefties are ignoring the fact that we’re the ones who got the dox lol. They always do when it conveniences them. Is KF le evil nazi forum or not, guys? Pick a side. Lockheed Martin tho”

screenshot of a Kiwi Farms post by In the Dollhouse on August 1, 2021  Text to follow.

“I saw the screeching on twitter and knew exactly where they had gotten their deets. I love how KF lays these little mines on the internet, they stay silent for years just ready to explode whenever the woke mob decide is time to eat their own.”

Phew. It’s a good thing that none of this outsized fury, public mockery, gleeful celebration of doxing, and vicious harassment had anything to do with a years-long hate campaign run by a website known for its body count. Because that might mean the outrage was driven by something other than righteousness and the shining moral purity of everyone involved. It might mean that this time, the Twitter rage machine was driven by, if not transphobia, the desperate need to have one’s own biases confirmed.

If you participated, don’t worry. Those doubts you’re having about whether or not you’re a fool who’s been led into a targeted harassment campaign by your own easily fed ego? Let them go. I mean, you’re just firmly aligned with a web forum full of people who pat themselves on the back for the suicides they’ve directly caused. It’s not like you have an extremely limited part-time job working from home for Lockheed Martin. You’re not a monster.


The @Jenny_Trout Twitter account is now updates only. You can follow it to keep up with release dates and new blog posts. You can also join me on Discord.

Show Diary: ASDLGLKAHDSGLKHAASKHL

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I may have picked the wrong show to do a show diary for, my friendoroonies. Or the right one? I’m not sure.

After I returned from my annual UP writing retreat, the vibe at rehearsals seemed… off. The production moved from our rehearsal space and into the theater and on the first night there was no air conditioning. So, I chalked it up to that. But the next night, it wasn’t any better. There was just weird and awful tension. On Thursday, my private messages were lighting up: the theater board had called an emergency meeting for voting members only; as I’m not a voting member, I didn’t go to the meeting. On Saturday, the board announced that our director had resigned.

What the fuuuuuuu…

And the thing is, through all of this? I had felt something was off but I was really more concerned about the perpetually broken bathroom door in the auditorium’s dressing rooms. I’m part of the disability inclusion committee on the theater board and I am absolutely unhinged (pun intended) over this broken door. It’s on the accessible toilets and you can get accidentally locked in, right? Well, I hear tell that the auditorium facilities people fixed the door. NOPE. No siree, it’s just as broken as ever. So, my personal vendetta against the door means I guess I wasn’t paying close attention to whatever was happening around me. What little I do know, I’m not sharing because I’m a board member and I would like to stay that way. But last Monday was the first rehearsal of “push week” and we had zero of directors. That would have been a shock, I think, even if I hadn’t been blindsided while I was caught up in my bathroom crusade.

I hesitated to write anything about this because it was so bizarre. This has happened one other time in my entire community theater history and everything went okay, but I was like… I’m not gonna blog about this right now. I’m not sure how everything is going to shake out.

We are now three rehearsals away from opening night. And the show is…

Magnificent.

In the face of adversity, everyone stepped up. There’s always been a spirit of community in this community theater (which isn’t always the case, as diehard theater people will tell you), but everyone pulled together like a magnetic jigsaw puzzle. Suddenly, instead of four people in the costuming work area, there are six to seven every night. The scene shop is stacked with volunteers. The most commonly overheard phrase I’ve encountered has been “how can I help?” The sudden shock of wow, we’re really in a tough spot seemed to throw everyone headlong into enthusiasm and optimism in the face of adversity. And it’s paid off enormously.

It’s not necessarily the way I would have liked it to happen, obviously. I’m not recommending this to other theater companies like, “hey, you know what really makes a show pop? Losing your director two weeks before opening night.” But the show has not only gone on, it’s gone well, and I know we’re going to knock it out of the park on Friday night.

JUNE IS THE GAYEST

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That’s right. It’s June, and that means I’m once again heading up to Gay, Michigan, to chill for a week of isolation with my friends. You know what you can do while I’m gone? You can read my Radish serial, Taken By The Alpha King, which has hit 2.5 MILLION views!

I will return rested, with more freckles than I had when I left, and ready to rock, in a week.

I WAS PREY edibles game

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Have you seen the absolutely bonkers show I Was Prey? I started watching it on Discovery+ and I became hooked. The marketing explains that the show “recounts the hauntingly true stories of people who found themselves in a life or death situation, face-to-face with a dangerous animal.”

What they should have said was, “recounts the hauntingly true stories of people who made fucking terrible choices and ended up getting mauled by something. Come look at this guy’s stump.”

The formula of the show is pretty simple to understand. An episode tells two stories, cutting back and forth between them to keep viewers on the edges of their proverbial seats. Most episodes are what Mr. Jen calls “surf n’ turf,” because one tale will take place on land (a bear, for example) and the other in the water (almost certainly a shark), and they’re told in first person by the, well, prey. While bears, sharks, and gators lead the pack, you also get the occasional moose or hippo. Frequently, the stories are pretty hilarious. One time, a raccoon pulled a lady’s pants down. Another time, a man was shot twice by his son-in-law while being actively mauled by a grizzly (“Skeet saved my life,” the man tearfully recounts about the man who, I cannot possibly stress this enough, shot a person being attacked by a grizzly bear. Twice). A scientist with knowledge of animal anatomy shared the stunningly bad-ass realization he had while a shark ate his legs: “I know how to get that eye out.”

The gentleman did, indeed, go on to rip a shark’s eye out.

While the individual circumstances of the stories are what really make them pop (a man bitten by a rattlesnake realizes he left his cellphone in his locked truck; a ranger decides that today is a good day to leave the bear spray at the office), there are a lot of common themes and events that occur in each episode and that’s part of what makes it fun to watch. It’s one thing to laugh at the misfortunes of another (in my defense, these people survived), it’s another to be able to indulge in running jokes with the people who watch the show with you. It gives it that extra bit of oomph to place hypothetical bets on whether or not this shark attack segment will result in a dramatic stump revelation, or if the mountain lion’s breath will be described as smelling like death.

These hallmarks of the show give Mr. Jen and I so much joy, we decided to make I Was Prey into a drinking game. Lately I just haven’t enjoyed drinking alcohol. I do, however, enjoy watching I Was Prey while apocalyptically high, so I’m turning this into an edibles game. If you live in a place where you have legal access to marijuana-infused edible treats, consider the following recommended “doses” of treats for each event.

Unofficial and Unaffiliated I Was Prey Edibles Game
Every time one of these events occurs, take the suggested dose of THC. You will get fucked up.

  • “It seemed like a lifetime.” Any time the survivor describes time as slowing/freezing/standing still, says it felt like a lifetime (“I was only under the water for probably thirty seconds… but it felt like a lifetime.”) or an eternity, take 5mg.
  • When the survivor mentions how bad an animal’s mouth stinks, take 5mg. If they specifically mention that it smells like “rotten meat” or “death,” take 10mg.
  • When an episode isn’t a surf n’ turf, i.e., if there are two attacks on land and none involving water or vice versa, take 20mg.
  • When the animal returns after the initial attack to strike again, take 10mg for the second attack, 5mg for each subsequent attack.
  • “Suddenly, I’m on the ground.” When the survivor describes being knocked down by the land predator, take 5mg.
  • “I felt something bump me.” When the survivor describes the first hit from a water-based predator, take 5mg
  • If the episode is bearless, take 20mg
  • If the episode is sharkless, take 20 mg
  • If the episode has neither bears nor sharks, take 50mg
  • “I knew I was going to die.” Take 5mg at the moment in the story that the survivor realized they were in mortal peril.
  • Anytime the title cards are in passive voice, i.e., “Sally is being attacked by a mountain lion” instead of “A mountain lion is attacking Sally,” take 5mg.
  • If the survivor dramatically reveals their horrible scar, take 5mg.
  • If the survivor dramatically reveals their missing limb, take 20mg.
  • “I could feel his teeth in the back of my skull.” Whenever the survivor describes teeth in their skull, take 5mg.
  • When the survivor punches the animal, take 5mg.
  • When the punches are underwater, take 10mg.
  • When the punches do nothing, take 5mg.
  • When the survivor is wounded by something other than the animal during the attack. For example, Skeet, who shot his father-in-law twice while the poor guy wrestled with a grizzly, or the guy who stabbed himself with his pocket knife while a mountain lion attacked him. Take 20mg.
  • “I had to survive for my kids.” Everyone on this show has to survive for something. When they state what that thing is, take 5mg, unless…
  • The survivor’s motivation to survive the attack is their dog. If that’s the case, take 10mg.
  • The survivor accidentally left behind life-saving equipment. If, for example, the ranger forgot his bear spray that day, take 5mg.
  • The survivor intentionally left behind life-saving equipment. If, for example, the ranger intentionally left his bear spray in his vehicle because he’d never needed it before, despite being deep in bear country, take 10mg

You will likely ingest between 100mg and 200mg if you find the right episode. I recommend closing your eyes, scrolling, and surprising yourself. And if you’re not into substances, making it a hydration game and take a drink of water instead of edibles. Just be careful not to get water-drunk.

Does anybody in Trout Nation watch I Was Prey? Let me know if you check out the show or try the game.

Show Diary: Disney’s Beauty and the Beast: Rehearsals Week 2 and 3

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I may have picked the absolute worst show to keep a show diary for, to be perfectly honest, becasue at this early stage in rehearsals, there’s not a lot to report. Much of that is due to the fact that I’m a villager. There are only three villager scenes, so I’m not called so often. Especially since we’ve absolutely crushed our blocking in record time. Which is good, because…

Covid shut-down: Mid-week three, we shut down due to a high number of covid exposures in the cast. Not everyone turned up positive, but we took no chances. All rehearsals were shut down at the end of last week, through the Memorial Day holiday. We still have some cast members out, but a five-day quarantine hopefully mitigated transmission. I’ll be masked up until tech week because I’m not taking chances.

No one throws it back like Gaston: Dance rehearsal for “Mob Song” got me and my friend Kaleigh in a goofy mood. Maybe it was the heat of the rehearsal space? Maybe it was hearing that song over and over and over again? During the number, the female-coded villagers leave the stage while the male-coded mob goes to the Beast’s castle. With nothing to do on the sidelines, Kayleigh and I amused ourselves by twerking to the song (which we weren’t singing that night; when we’re learning a dance, we do it to a recording). The thing is, I didn’t remember that there’s a line where Gaston yells something about “grab all the booty you can find.” When that line hit, the laugh that exploded out of me was like a foghorn and an airhorn having a loud three way with a megaphone. It was completely unprofessional, immature, and so hilarious that I don’t regret a moment of it.

Our rehearsal space is so hot. Just oppressively hot. Anyone who has done theater knows that your rehearsal space is always going to be either way too hot or way too cold. There is no perfect temperature in any rehearsal venue anywhere. Yesterday, I spent our ten out in my car, blasting my pits with the a/c.

“Our ten” means our ten-minute break. Here’s some backstage lingo for yous: during rehearsals, you actually do hear “take five” or “take ten.” And when it’s over, they’re like, “that’s five,” or “that’s ten.” It’s not a cliche, it’s actually how the stage manager talks. And it can be very confusing, because you have conversations like:

Me: Hey, are we still on our ten?

Someone: Yes.

This might lead you to believe you’ve got ten minutes. But you’ve actually only got three minutes left to play Candy Crush on your phone, so the ten is meaningless. It just refers to how much time you were given.

It still doesn’t feel like this show is actually happening. Obviously, it is happening, and things are going super well. But since this was our summer 2020 show and it’s been canceled twice, I’m having a hard time believing we’re really doing it. It just became this mythical, far-off dream or something. After Sister Act: The Musical, where I was called practically every night from the first rehearsal on, it’s surreal to only have to show up twice a week. I’m looking forward to the entire cast coming together for full run-throughs, which starts during week seven. It’ll feel a little bit more like I’m actually in a show then. But honestly, having waited two years for this? I’m pretty sure I won’t believe we actually, finally got to do it until we’re tearing down the set.