I did a weird interview for Wonkette about my novella, "While You Are Over There," if you'd like some background.

And of course, if you'd rather plunge in with no warning: It's available here.


"While You Are Over There" is officially available for download in most ebook formats. I'm offering it through Gumroad because I like their "pick your price" system and the flexibility of the API, but if you have any paranoia about financial stuff or run into technical problems, shoot me an email. 


 "While You Are Over There" is found-footage science fiction. Widescreen in scope and intimate in execution, it's the story of two scientists -- imagine Reed Richards and Sue Storm, on the brink of a public divorce -- riding the wave of journalism and popular sentiment to the top of the ratings charts... And contemplating an abrupt drop into the abyss.

 Kirby Brendan and Jonah Hope, a futurist and an engineer, have spent the last fifteen years spinning a few defense contracts and media contacts into a whirlwind media flurry: Scientists of a new age, the spacefaring dreams of an entire globe hanging on their every adventure and discovery. Their snappy combination of Bravo-style reality TV and the scientific excitement of Neil Tyson or Bill Nye has brought a small Nat Geo channel down from the nosebleeds to become a water-cooler classic for families and intellectuals alike.

But years into their partnership, the cold has set in. An artificial intelligence, known to billions of viewers as their digital daughter, summons them to the orbital station they've paid for with fast talk, arms trading and photo opportunities. As the world looks on, Kirby and Jonah -- the faces of a new scientific optimism, the embodiment of a dream fulfilled -- are forced to reevaluate not only their personal values, but the reality of their marriage as a polemical act.

 Through on-site media appearances and satellite-relayed reports, re-aired interviews and scenes never dreamt fit for public consumption, we track Kirby and Jonah's last journey into space, to a reconciliation that could spell the end of the world, as family myths and history -- and computational analysis -- recombine into a desperate gambit for survival... Not only for one married couple and their half-human, invented child, but possibly the Earth's fate itself.

JACOB CLIFTON is a writer and critic based in Austin, TX.

"While You Are Over There" was written for Brenden Shucart, Caleb Kimpel, and Matthew Stockard White. Cover art by William Sellari, enginesroar.com


New Fiction: "This Is Why We Jump"

 He nods, distracted. “STARFISH,” he pronounces, flipping through his book. Gleaming up at me: It is him.

“Cut off an arm, another one grows. Forever and ever. Cut ’em all off, what have you got?”

A moon, cored and mined until it’s a satellite of steel and heavy metals. A solid city, in the skeleton of a moon that was. A skin of ice. But the same name, always: Home.

“Once the arms grow back, he’s new,” I say. “Something new and wonderful. He remembers what he was, but he grows and grows again.”

“Does it hurt?”

Always. Every time. But he grows, nevertheless.

Available in the June 2013 issue of Clarkesworld Magazine.


The Tricks: For a Graduating Writer

Do you have any advice for writers on the verge of graduating, and searching for the writing-related dream job?

The economy is turning over like an iceberg so I have no idea what the market will be like for journalists, or essayists, or really any kind of writer, in the near or the far future. But I would say that, if it really is your "dream job," then whatever it is you should start doing it immediately, without getting paid, and put it everywhere. The internet is a resource nobody had before us, and it's democratizing in a lot of ways. But one of the ways in which it's most helpful is that it forces you to think in terms of your brand, your integrity, your public behavior, your worth as a writer, your ability to cross the page from you to the person who is reading you.

And those are the nasty, dirty little details that make a writing career such a tricky proposition. So first of all, you have to ask yourself what you're willing to give up and what you're willing to let slide, who you'd sell out to, what you absolutely will not compromise, who you're interested in writing for, who you are NOT interested in writing for. And then you need to think about, if you were going to write for those people, how would you make them sit up and clap their hands. Because it takes an ass to fill every seat, and nobody -- least of all you -- is too good for that kind of labor. The sooner you start thinking of yourself as a brand, a product, an army of one, the less it'll hurt once you have to start chopping parts off.

So once you're accustomed to writing things that you are passionate about, in your particular voice, in the particular format that is most appropriate to your subject -- all without pay, all without any reward of any kind -- you need to develop regularity. Habits. The habit of writing, of calming and centering yourself and being honest at the drop of a hat. This has always been true, but again: The internet demands it. Consistency is all we want of a blogger, and simply by posting at the same time every day or couple of days, you will see readers proliferating like magic. I don't know why it's true, but it is true. Then you learn to walk the line between being friendly and marketing yourself, and being obnoxious by marketing yourself.

All of which is the business of writing, none of which is shameful in any way. And if you are still lucky enough to disagree with that, I wouldn't read further. It gets worse.

Because Academic Creative Writing is its own genre. Your heroes in that arena will not help you outside of it. Your personal voice coming out of that system has more markers and smells on it than you realize, which -- if you think about it -- is not something anybody inside that system would be able to tell you. And no matter how many instructors have tried to go Dead Poets on you about this, they are still selling you the same images and voices. None of them are yours.

Self-reference, structuralist and post-structuralist references, deconstruction, metafictional rabbit holes and any other self-regarding literary tricks from the Sixties -- your Nabokov and Pynchon, your Barth and Barthelme, your David Foster Wallace, even your Pound and Eliot -- work in spite of their brilliance, not because of it. They run on the tension this provides; it powers a generator in a sub-sub-basement that a formalist or hermeneutic or structuralist approach doesn't even know how to look for.

And this tension arises from the fact that opposing even the most dazzling wordplay is, somewhere in there, an emotional truth that is greater than the sum of its gleaming parts, and this is something without an art, because it is without artifice. It is something naked, without any prior semiotic scaffolding around it, because it is a thought that a person has never expressed before, in the history of humans. It is a feeling we all know, and recognize the minute we see it in your words, but which we never consciously knew about until that moment you revealed it. That is the measure you're aiming for, and if it is, then go with God. Because if you're going to play the trick, you need to earn it -- not use it as a substitute for insight.

I'm not saying these things as general writing hints 'n' tips, I'm saying them in answer to your question: The best thing that you can do when you graduate is forget everything you learned. You can trust that you will keep it with you, but only as part of your body and the way that you speak and think language. It's a tool in the toolbox, not the toolbox itself. Because your voice is specific to you, and only when you find it -- only when you have made your peace with being deeply uncomfortable for the rest of your life about the things your voice and truth reveal about you -- can you expect people to start handing you the success to which you were born feeling entitled.

The tricks will not help you get there, because it's blood magic. Any job done right is worth bleeding for, and this one is closer to crazy than almost anything else you could have picked for your calling. You cannot think yourself there, no matter how brilliant your big fat throbbing brain is, because there is always just past where that brain, those tricks, can take you: It's a Dark Scary Forest, and your college career has been about staying on the path, getting gold stars for writing the best literary fiction.

Or, if you've chosen the other cliché -- I did, I did both -- going nuts, because that's what artists supposedly do. Both of these are bullshit: All you've been learning are the skills and tools to make the rest of your life easier, not the secret to anything in particular. (There is no secret to anything in particular. Nobody ever goes in the same forest as anybody else. The only secret is that it will probably, hopefully, hurt.)

The tricks can help you express yourself -- eventually -- but until then, they are a wall of knives pointing toward yourself from yourself, because there is nothing that combats the fear of being vulnerable quite so well as the self-satisfaction of being clever. The first thing you do in the forest is start whistling, because you have something to prove -- and the tricks are just another form of the same. For the same reason that the smartest crazy person stays the craziest -- because the detours around the Dark Scary Forest are infinite in number and immeasurably useless -- the best-trained academic tells the shallowest stories, and this is because she knows the tricks.

So you forget the tricks. They'll come when called.


First Ever Fiction Sale, Go Read It Immediately It's Great

Available at Tor.com, iTunes and Amazon

Please Please Pull It Together On Facebook

You've got two ways of viewing Facebook.

One is your Feed, which is what everybody is talking about. If you just go to Facebook.com, that's what you're probably looking at. It's a random mashup of things that happened.

The other is your Wall, which is yours. It belongs to you. You can say whatever you want. Think of it as home base. It's yours, it's like your MySpace, it's like your hometown team. (Maybe this is called your Timeline; next week they'll call it something else. The point is that it's yours, it has your name on it.)

When you scroll through your Feed and start commenting on things like it's your Wall, we have problems. It's the difference between picking the music at your wedding, versus complaining about the music at somebody's wedding you weren't even invited to in the first place.

Your Wall belongs to you. But your Feed is just slices of everybody else's Wall that don't belong to you. It doesn't even exist (because you're aggregating it based on your friends, and their friends).

Somebody on your Feed posts an article? Read it before commenting. Yeah.

You might only see comments, or whatever random copy that site or app pulls in to get you interested. That's not the point of the article, and it's not the reason your friend is posting it -- they didn't write that copy, they aren't selling the idea of the article. They have actually read it, and posted it on their Wall because they've read it.

The comment conversation that comes off that post is about the piece they're posting -- not your feelings about the subject you've vaguely picked up by flicking past it on your Feed. Jumping in at random to say how stupid the thing is only makes you look stupid when the conversation -- and probably, it is, I mean, your friend didn't just randomly become stupid -- is about something entirely different that you don't know about yet.

Remember, your Feed does not really exist. You are the only person that will ever see it, because it was created for you from slices of other people's lives.

Somebody on your Feed has something to say? Somebody on your friend's Wall, or your friend commented on a third-degree-away Wall? READ IT FIRST. It pops up, you've got an opinion? Do the work, you're already at a computer accessing the internet, you're just one click away from not making a fool of yourself.

Think of your Feed like a newspaper: It's not your identity, it doesn't mean anything about you -- it's just slices of other people's lives. People you may or may not know, or agree with. Don't just log in and think that what you're looking at is an accusation, because it's not. Your Feed is not about you. It's the opposite.

When you comment on those conversations as if they were, without thinking, what you are saying is:

"I'm kind of a jerk, and I think the world revolves around me, so therefore whatever I see and what it makes me think is very important, and I should share it with this person I might not even know, and all of their friends, and their friends' friends."

The screen you're looking at is a window on the world, but it's not the truth. You are not being attacked. You're being privileged to see parts of other people's lives -- some whom you know, most you don't -- that they think are interesting or important or otherwise very special. They clicked a thing to share that idea.

Please, please try to understand the difference between your Wall -- which belongs to you -- and your Feed -- which belongs to an infinite number of people that are not you -- before you throw shit out there.

You're deciding to take part in a conversation which doesn't really matter to you, but matters a whole lot to the person whose Wall you are actually posting on. Because that is their "house," basically. But you're looking at your Feed, which is just like a newspaper. You wouldn't talk back to a newspaper, right?

Even if you're agreeing, you are still walking into somebody's house to tell them you agree. Even if you're just giving them a "Like," you need to imagine this as though you are walking into another person's home and giving them a literal, physical thumbs up. They'll appreciate it, because they know you're not being a jerk. So don't be a jerk, because nobody appreciates that.

To review:

Your Feed is specific to you, but made of pieces of other people's lives.
Your Wall, on the other hand, is yours to do with what you like. It represents you.
Your Feed is only slices of other Walls. It means nothing. It's like flipping through TV channels.

At the end of the day, the things you say do matter, because you have gone into someone else's house and -- at worst -- crapped on their floor. At best, you've done a nice thumbs up thing or contributed to the conversation in the way they intended. The two things couldn't be more different. They put that there so you would agree, or have a valid conversation that involves your understanding of them as a human being, and all the other comments -- you have to read them before you join in -- as a conversation to which your Wall has only invited you to think about joining.

Listen, I'm sure you're a nice person, and you don't mean any harm, but you need to understand this basic thing about how the internet works, and apparently -- if you've been directed to this page -- you don't. So please do think about it. It's not about you, it's about the Thing. The thing your old college friend, or nephew, or (more likely) college friend of your nephew actually thinks is important enough to post on Facebook. It matters to him or her -- it doesn't matter to you. Which is why it should matter to you.

The same beautiful system that lets you post whatever you want on your Wall is the system that asks you not to treat your Feed in that way.

Behave yourself, or I'll bring screen captures to the table so you can actually see what the difference is. But I don't think you actually need that. We don't blame you for thinking the internet is entirely about you, because that is the cunning disguise of the internet, and we for sure won't hold it against you. It was just invented five minutes ago, and something else will appear once we've conquered this etiquette, but I don't want anybody to think wrongly of you in the meantime.

So just keep this stuff in mind, okay?


Why It's Good I Saw The Master On Michaelmas

Michaelmas is my favorite of the quarter days, because I'm obsessed with calenders and things like that, and I was raised as a witch, which is all about Sabbats and the Wheel of the Year. As a "Christian," I map a lot of those onto the historical quarters and cross-quarters, and my favorite is Michaelmas, because the Archangel Michael is the archetype of the dragon-slayer. When I talk about unicorns -- peaceful, strong, stewardship over ownership, "servant leadership" -- I'm talking about Michael.

In the Waldorf School, Michaelmas is one of the most important holidays because it represents the primacy of Will, which is another word for Tao, or the thing you were already going to do until you got sidetracked by things that are not emotionally financed by Will or directed by your highest self.

St. Michael is the one that slays dragons, but he is NOT the one that threw Eve out of the Garden. He exists to Lead, to be Victorious, and to be True and always Honorable. He is the saint of paladins, and also an Angel. Two jobs for which I started applying very early, once I realized they weren't taking applications for Actual Unicorns.
This movie is less about a "cult leader," and more about a romance between Caliban and Prospero. A faulty messiah (which resonates with me) and a wild thing, a beast in the form of a human (which also resonates with me), and how they manage to love each other despite their failings and completely different ways of being human.
The only thing I could think of was a line -- I can't think of it without tearing up, frankly, is how autobiographical (autopathological?) it is -- from my favorite Talking Heads song

I'm just an animal looking for a home and
Share the same space for a minute or two

and two of my favorite contemporary songs, Miike Snow's "Animal"

I change shape just to hide in this place but I'm still
I'm still an animal
Nobody knows it but me
When I slip, yeah I slip
I'm still an animal

and Ke$ha's "Animal (Billboard Mix)", that remix specifically:

I'm not asleep, I'm up for the fight
Into the magic
And I don't want the concrete
I am alive, it comes with the tragic
So if it's just tonight
The animal inside, let it live and die

and how inevitably my favorite stories, from BSG to MSCL to Gossip Girl to The Good Wife to even Homeland, have to do with finding the exact point in space between Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn where they fall in love.

Where they can see, and smell, and touch each other, and realize that they're both uncivilized and civilized at once -- and that what matters then is compassion, and strength, and honor, and most of all Will.
I wrote a whole book about it! My best novel I ever wrote, The Urges, is specifically about this love affair between Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, as played by female twenty-somethings. How they rotisserie around each other, over and over, until you can't even remember who the bad guy was supposed to be, because you love them both enough that these words stop meaning anything.
It's not that I'm looking for acceptance anymore, or even a "family" -- I've made peace with my various pieces of family, and love them very much -- but that I want to find a way to bring those two magnetized parts of myself together and actually let them touch. The Paladin and the Satyr is what I call them in therapy. The Master and Freddie is what they're called in the movie.

Astrologers since I was a kid have looked at my chart and said, "You'll either be L Ron Hubbard or Max Cady," essentially. Start cults or join them; save everybody or destroy yourself. To Catch in the Rye, as it were. Ginger Snaps, in another formation; the connection between Jean Grey and Quentin Quire, or Jack Frost and Ragged Robin. It's a compelling archetype, bringing civility to the beast in you and wilderness to the downtrodden.
Facebook friends are already aware of the complex, loving, adversarial relationship between Drunk Jacob and Regular Jacob. I send him songs, he buys me presents. He sent me an action figure once, of Grunt from the Mass Effect game series, with a note that said, "For the boy who loved krogan most of all." (He is right. I love those guys more than anything, and Grunt most of all. For reasons that are more apparent in the context of this post than usual, if you know that game at all.)

I text him songs I think he'll like, and vice versa. He tells me what our sex life is like, when I'm not around for it. It's very much a give and take, and it's something my blackout ass has become uncomfortably comfortable with. But in the letters we write each other, it's comforting to know that he's also fighting about the Paladin and the Satyr question. He has not solved it. His idealism is as inspiring as his selfishness is illuminating.

He believes in America more than I do, for example; he writes me incredibly intense, impassioned letters about the State or generational sociology that only I -- and occasionally our friends on Facebook! -- will ever read. He picks at the scabs I ignore, and I send him little messages of encouragement so he doesn't feel so afraid. We watch out for each other, but neither of us have really gotten there. He just likes the Satyr more than I pretend to, and vice versa the other way. He doesn't have a lot of patience with what I would consider my characteristic condescension masked as compassion. He suffers fools even less, and hates me when I do. It is a good romance, frankly.
I don't buy into the "drunk writer" or "crazy artist" idea -- I think we're being sold those kind of things by a force that would prefer we shut up, for the betterment of the status quo -- but I do think that, as an artist, you're standing by the Door. You open it up, and let a thing through, one or two at a time. And just by standing near that door, you yourself become radioactive. In a way that has nothing to do with your anger or your authority issues: You just naturally are a certain amount of On Fire, all the time.

And that, plus the Door itself, means sometimes you let more things out than you should, or at the wrong time. Which looks exactly like Crazy, but ultimately is just the risk you run -- embarrassing yourself, which I do awfully often -- by standing guard at the Door in the first place. My shame never lasts long, is what I'm saying, but I do think of it as penance for, or the price of, or simply part of, my job: Guarding that Door.
So there's a way in which it's impossible for me to look at this movie objectively. But the acting is fantastic, I may have stopped hating Amy Adams, and Joaquin is finally somebody I will be seeing every time he acts, same as PS Hoffman. Mostly, though, it was a beautiful love story, told in the violent and controlling, and abject and passionate, and beautiful and ugly way I like best.

Every time he laughs, it's wrong. His affect is aberrant. His beautiful, hideous face never does the right thing. True. But every time he laughs, wrongfully always but sometimes fearful or hateful or devouring -- most of all, because he is experiencing something larger than his body can contain -- it teaches the Master something new about what it is to be human.

Me too.
I only cry when it's too big, personally. Even when I do that one spiritual giggle, it's only because I'm about to cry. I think we all know that feeling, right? When something comes from outside and touches things you thought were a secret just for you, and you realize that PT Anderson or Terrence Malick or whoever has your number -- Joss and Sorkin and Berlanti also, even Ryan Murphy on the oddest occasions -- but even still:

My tears, and his laughter, don't sound that different. In the end, being overwhelmed by joy, or sadness, or whatever thing you can't name, is the only way I know for sure I'm a person at all. The rest is just guessing, based on the supposition that our bodies don't really have that much of a difference in volume, for things as large as the divine.

When we slip, yeah we slip. And thank fucking God for it.


The End of the Summer: News

I know I haven't updated for a while, but I've been cooking some things up. As of today, I'm off for the next month -- so you can expect at least one short story I'm very excited about writing. Other than that, it's been a heavy season for work, so I haven't had time for much else, but there is a bit of news.

After thinking about it and thinking about it, I've decided to make my novel The Urges available and free for download. It's always been kicking around online, but the response to it when people actually do read it makes me want more people to read it.

In October, Tor.com is publishing a novelette I wrote called "The Commonplace Book" (which I may have mentioned a few times before). I've never sold fiction before, so this whole process has been tremendously exciting -- especially getting my first sale with such a prestigious place and great people. Liz Rissover makes me want to be a better writer.

And then starting on the last day of September, I'll be back at TWoP covering the last episodes of Gossip Girl and the new seasons of The Good Wife and Homeland (!), which takes us through the end of the year.


Future Starts Slow

You have to break the walls, in the end, between concepts in your head like pride and hubris over here, and confidence and self-respect andcharisma over there. The Woman Problem is a People Problem, because we are all trained to think of these as radically different things. But the difference between self-respect and overconfidence is in the eye of the beholder, and arises mostly from fear: Fear of what you'll do, fear of what you'll break or hit or burn down. 
What they call humility -- absolutely a virtue -- is not real humility. It's a performance you've been trained to give, like a dog, in order to appear safe. 
Real humility is showing yourself the same compassion that you pretend to show everybody else. And once you practice that, it becomes a lot easier to love the people you were supposed to hate. Starting, again, with you. So if you can do this thing, if you can figure out that hubris is just a hateful word for the passionate romance you should be having with yourself for the rest of your life -- that your existence is not something you need to earn, or anybody else to validate, or requires any apology at all -- and that the only people who ever try to scare you out of your strength are the ones who fear it. 
If they can get you sick enough of it -- the bullshit, the egos -- and start to wonder strongly, and inventively, bravely and rigorously, exactly what it would look like to accomplish something without having to spend half the energy navigating the shortsighted, selfish, self-involved and oh-so-fragile ecosystem that's designed to take your oxygen away.
Not too timid, not a bitch. Not too hard, not too soft. And we won't need a word for "bitch" at all, because nobody will need to apologize for existing in the first place and we can breathe.


The Unflappable Jeremy

Conversations I have had over -- or immediately after -- dinner  with Jeremy, my BFF and favorite person.

On a weekly basis
Jacob: "I'm going to find that guy, Jeremy, and I'm going to kill him. You don't have to help."
Jeremy: "Okay."
Jacob: "You should have plausible deniability on this one, Jeremy."
Jeremy: "Okay."
Jacob: "But you can't tell anybody, or else Twitter will turn into Craigslist, and I don't want that to happen. It wouldn't be fair, Jeremy. To Twitter I mean."
Jeremy: "Promise."

Three times in the last week
Jacob: "I'm not saying you're wrong, and you know how I hate to state my opinions as categorically correct..."
Jeremy: "Well, that's not at all true."
Jacob: "...But in this one case, I am absolutely right about Daniel Tosh and you could save us both a lot of time right now by just agreeing with me."
Jeremy: "Probably happen anyway. But can I talk now?"
Jacob: "Well, Jeremy, you can certainly try."
Jeremy: "Whatever."

Regarding the currently ongoing downward spiral
Jeremy: "So what happened after I left?"
Jacob: "We did 'it' until the sun came up."
Jeremy: "All right."
Jacob: "Did you get a vibe from him? Because it was really more about carrying out the mission than..."
Jeremy: "-- I thought it was fine until he started yelling at us because we didn't have pot."
Jacob: "I mean, we were all trashed before he showed up, so. And he's got a lot going on, Jeremy."
Jeremy: "...I can see that. I could see that he has a lot going on."

Several weeks ago
Jacob: "Hang on a sec, I've been wearing a jockstrap all night. Sometimes it's nice to have a secret."
Jeremy: "Cool."
Jacob: "So I'll be right back. It's really diggin' in there, Jeremy."
Jeremy: "Cool."
Jacob: "Here, and also over here in this location."
Jeremy: "Cool."
Jacob: "But on the other hand, I was protected from possible injuries the whole time."
Jeremy: "Cool."

Last night
Jacob: "Cut my foot on a neti pot."
Jeremy: "Sure."
Jacob: "So I'm going to be wearing sandals, Jeremy, first of all. And also I don't want to go to one of those restaurants where you walk around a whole lot."
Jeremy: "Got it."
Jacob: "It shattered, Jeremy. I was a butterfingers and it shattered."
Jeremy: "Show me. Yikes."


Well Done, NRA

Yes, life is tenuous, chaotic, random and dangerous. No, 100% security and safety can't ever be guaranteed. But you're talking about the gun lobby, the pilot program for convincing* Republicans to misread the Second Amendment, worship gun ownership as a right, and above all keep repeating that this is simply a matter of partisan politics, not lives lost.
* (Just like healthcare, just like taxes on the top 1%, just like corporate personhood or same sex marriage: Any way a corporate entity can sell you on voting against your own self-interest, it's going to come down to either making it seem like "politics as usual" -- which goes right to false equivalencies, which are the GOP's lifeblood because everybody turns off their minds when it goes there -- or an endemic issue of humanity, with religious or patriotic significance.)
I think it's very sad that this poor boy went crazy and hurt people, and I agree that it's random. Completely random. But pinpointing blame for the parts of the situation that are avoidable? "Politicizing" it? You bet your ass; it's already political. That's because at hear it's not politics, it's a rational progression of thought, and a natural one.
As a corporate entity, partisanship is part of the game because there's no ideology beyond more, more, more: They can troll, pushing for 100% deregulation they'll never get, so that we get tied up in policy and "we'll never be completely safe," false-equivalency mobius loops. Money, generating a strapped-together belief system from the contradictory pieces of what you need to be sold, by acting on the most selfish and privileged parts of your personal existence. All true. But really, in this case it's much simpler than that:

The NRA has one mandate, which is to make sure that Americans like James E Holmes don't have their rights -- to keep and bear arms -- infringed. 

Which makes every death, today, an NRA success.


How Fast Til I Delete This Episode of The Newsroom

My workweek starts Sundays at 8pm, year round, so it can make my schedule confusing. But it does make it more fun to play games like How Fast Until I Delete This Episode Of Community, or this week How Fast Til I Delete This Episode of The NewsroomHaven't seen it since the record-breaking ten minute mark on the premiere, and this is the third episode I think -- so this one should be interesting.

-1:00 Wait, that one guy on that zombie show that almost made me watch it? Good sign. Also, good on him for dying so I can watch him in other shows. Assuming he stops being in shows like this.

0:00 These credits are like the West Wing credits had a baby in Williamsburg and can't shut up about their stupid baby

0:03 I am so obsessed with Adina Porter, good get. She and Kimberly Scott are like my two favorite HITG. Kevin Alejandro and Aisha Hinds were also that way, until I wished so hard that they were suddenly on every single show.

Cross your fingers, Adina Porter! Cross your fingers, minority actors besides these two that I have saved! With my gay white upper-middle wishes!

Of white people, Kathleen Rose Perkins has been my favorite white person for a while. I don't know why she doesn't get most jobs in Hollywood. I love the idea of letting Chlumsky rock, but still.

0:05 I literally checked out because a hot old white guy was talking. Rewind, that's the point. Idiot. You love Jeff Daniels. You love everybody on this show. Work it out.

Jacob Clifton ‎0:06 Aaron Sorkin solves the entire campaign finance problem. Done.

In under a minute, and I'm not being facetious. A) because that's not the job here, and B) because bitch is talking truth. Even a crackhead squirrel finds a nut every now and then, and Aaron Sorkin was my favorite screenwriter until a month ago when I realized he got a case of the Olds.

0:06:30 and yet this is still because my generation is retarded, got it. There it is. Well, I guess that's fair. I say you're obsolete and you say I'm green. But the difference is, I understand the internet gives us both a platform to talk, and you are still butthurt about the entire idea of people being wrong somewhere

0:07 We take a strong position against pandering and nonsense ... by adopting old people libertarian nonsense.

I keep saying how I want to fuck Ron Paul and then being like, "I mean Paul Ryan! I always do that."

‎0:07:30 There is at least one woman who is not the stupidest piece of shit in the universe. Which we know because he named her by name. And so on.

‎0:09 Taking privilege and identity out of it, this literally happened on a show about a gorgeous blond-haired blue-eyed roustabout:

Guy: "Jew, did you write that amazing thing that was like exactly the beginning of Network?"
Jew: "No! How could I have."

‎0:09-0:11 "Wait, are you saying old white guys aren't in charge of everything? Oh wait we are, never mind."

Wait Jack & Bobby is on this show? And zombie show guy that I love too? I would like to see more of this room where they all convene to talk about how interesting Jeff Daniels is, and how he's shaking up conventional mores and saying something nobody ever said ever. [Ex] always made fun of me for loving whichever character on Jack & Bobby this guy played, but it was because of the character. Who was in love with the lady who plays Megan Draper, whom I loved less back then, all btw.

This was such a great show and this was the best episode and that's why I love Kim Pine, in addition to her being Kim Pine. Man, I forgot how good that show is. There are reasons to class Book of Daniel, Joan of Arcadia, and Saving Grace together, but those reasons have shit-all to do with God. 

*That group includes Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls, maybe even Pushing Daisies (S1), and most certainly the last two seasons of Battlestar.

‎0:14 "The Teabaggers aren't racist, it's Abby Hoffman's fault!"

‎...And that's the end of this round of "How Long Until I Delete The Shit Out Of This Episode Of HBO's Newsroom."

Look. A brilliant screenwriter once wrote: "How can you say you love America, when you clearly hate Americans?" and I was happy to agree with that, until "Americans" started including me.

As a gay man, as a person 30 or below, as a person who is not the white upper-class straight piece of shit that wrote that line, I do: I agree with Bill Maher, I agree with that horrible Colbert rally, I agree with fucking Dawkins, in theory.

I just love my country way more than I agree with any of those people. And I sure as FUCK love my country more than this hateful, retrograde, everything-phobic piece of crap. Every revolution turns to the right, and every revolutionary eventually gets Old and Boring. You're fighting a war that isn't relevant anymore, and deciding to hurl yourself into the breach as a response. That's sad. You fucking crackhead.


Why Anderson Cooper Is A Thing

If you think about how many moments in our daily lives are about ignoring or negotiating the sex lives of straight people -- from jokes about dads with shotguns on the porch, or about what's going to happen on your wedding night, or "I saw mommy kissing daddy's [whatever]," to how you deal with your son-in-law, to what being a grandparent is really about -- and think about just how much of etiquette, social interaction, communication are about getting around the sticky subject of straight people fucking, you can understand why straight people get so weird about gay people: There's none of that social filter built in, the sexual aspect is not blurred out like it is with straight people.

Imagine if you didn't have that filter with straight people: All you would think about is them fucking, all the time, because that's mostly what straight people talk about. Dating, romance, sexy clothes, losing weight, marriage, weddings, their kids... It's always Sex, sex, sex with you people. You've just normalized it to the point where you see it as a safe part of culture.

There's no assumption that gay people are doing normal nonsexual things most of the day, like with straight people, because as far as straight privilege is concerned, gay people are just straight people who have gay sex: That's the main thing that sets us apart.

It's why the simple answer to the dumb question How do I explain this gay stuff to my kids never occurs to the people that ask it, because they can't imagine leaving out the sex part in their own construct of what gay people are about: You can say "Some princes want a princess, some princes want a prince," without blowjobs coming up a single time, just like when you're explaining straight relationships.

"Coming out" is going to keep being everybody's business until those things equalize, and I don't know that they ever will. But especially here -- and in Pride season, when so much is written online about "these gays aren't as gay as they used to be" -- I think it's important to think about this distinction, between socially mediated sexuality vs. sexuality-as-identity.



Apparently Magic Mike is a good reason to review the rules.

Dear Straight Girls: You are not gay men. Please don't presume to speak for us.

Oh, have you once entertained Bisexual Thoughts? Yeah, sorry, no matter how many seconds or years you've been a lesbian, you're still not a gay man. Which is the specific thing you're appropriating.

You know what you can do, though? Speak for yourself. I realize you've been socialized to consider that an alien concept, but appropriating my life as your fun vacation in somebody else's oppression doesn't actually help either of us. You have plenty to do on your side of the farm before you start telling me how to feel about mine.

Sorry to rain on your parade -- through my rainy-day lack of civil rights, and your fun experiment in being oppressed -- but that's how privilege works. And yes, screaming about that just makes you look like more of an asshole, which is also how privilege works. 


Update 1: The thing is, I get that a woman's sexuality -- a person's sexuality -- is a moving target. There is not a person I love that hasn't fought this fight, and I mean that literally. I don't have a family member or a friend that hasn't come into this conversation. What that means to me is, You fight your fights and don't fight your not-fights.

If there was a reason for me to claim bisexuality, I too could write down the dates and times I wasn't exactly gay. There's not, because bisexuality, especially among women, especially provisionally, claims privilege.

What does it for me is this idea that being more victimized or more outraged equals more of a voice. If you feel that way, you're operating from the privilege of that option. You wouldn't be reading this if you misread or misunderstood my values that much. Powerlessness feels like powerlessness all the time. I am gay all the time. You are a woman all the time. Not just when it's politically or morally expedient.

If you play the political card, you have changed the conversation into being about bona fides, rather than your actual identity, and at that point you have already lost whatever fight you think you're fighting.


If I Were To Talk About GIRLS (Mailbag Time)

I guess my feeling about the whole situation there is that sometimes being outraged is the best way to get control of a conversation, especially for women, especially for women on the internet, because women particularly are socialized to apologize for everything, which ends up meaning that playing the victim or demanding an apology is the cheapest way to get your power back. 

So a show like Girls, which -- for me at least -- is unnervingly true to life, but is also written by a 25-year-old privileged white girl about situations you could easily write about yourself... Either you admit that she's a talented young person, or you recoil from the whole situation because it's taking away your power. I think it's sad, but it happens a lot with TV of all kinds. Ultimately there's never been a TV show that was about so many nuclear things at once: Women, women's bodies, money, writers, hipsters... Each of which create tons of pointless bullshit and infighting every day on their own. Combining them into a perfect storm? Ha! 

Not to mention the style of the comedy itself, which can be hard to get your head around if you're not expecting to see people take accountability for their own stuff, because you can't imagine doing that in your own life. It's easy to see the self-indicting comedy in something like Superbad or Knocked Up (easy, that is, if you haven't already decided to be outraged by those things in turn) -- but nobody's going after Apatow about it, because they're not seeing the Apatow touch, because they're unable to separate themselves from the artifice of what's going on: 

It's not a story about girls who are assholes, it's a story about girls by an asshole, because you can't even imagine a woman having that much control over her story.

So then for those reasons, and others I assume, you're cornered into a place where you HAVE to come up with a way to be outraged by it, and that puts you back in control of the conversation. It's fake feminism, but it's what the internet has produced at this point in its infancy. Outrage as unquestionable control.

I don't find that offensive, I think it's ultimately very understandable and I feel compassion for it, but I do personally think it's pretty pathetic, in an "I will raise my daughter to be a feminist that isn't also an entitled asshole" kind of way. I mean, there's no surer sign of privilege than getting upset on behalf of a hypothetical Other.

...I guess is what I would write about Girls, if I had time this week, heh. But honestly, the controversy seems to be mostly over at this point. It's a good show, which is all it's really called upon to be. For me, the controversy lies in the fact that because of the Girls shitstorm, nobody talked or is talking about Veep, which is just as good or better.

Thanks for asking, that's very flattering of you to think of me.

Okay, How About This Analogy Instead

Generation X worries that people from the internet will find you in real life.
Generation Y worries that real-life people will find you on the internet.

This is not a false equivalency, it's translating an entire language:

"Product A protects you from asbestos!"
"Product B has never even seen a building that contains asbestos!"


Caprica Six & The Rainmaker of Kiau Tchou

Mailbag time.

...Your comment, both here and on Facebook, that it's all about Caprica Six. I'm intrigued, and interested in hearing more, if you have time. I'm finding that my mental hierarchy of all of the characters' arcs and their significance has been shifting as I re-watch, but I still haven't quite decided where to place Caprica Six. It's amazing to rewatch an entire series after seeing its conclusion, even if it was an imperfect conclusion. Many things take on new and different meanings, viewed through that lens. you find out that maybe you weren't watching exactly the story the writers were telling all along. My sympathy for Baltar, for example, has grown immeasurably. Also my disgust for him, oddly. But Caprica is fascinating and elusive, and as I'm at about mid-fourth season now, I'll be keeping an eye on her based on your statement.

Well, it's kind of a long one, but since you asked, I think a lot of my personal emphasis on Caprica Six is really just overidentification with the character. She doesn't show up, in any real way, until halfway through the series, but it's pretty telling that, before she comes back, Boomer was my favorite. And then the things that I loved about Boomer became things to love about Athena. They both cross the salt. 

But in the final analysis, Caprica does it best because Sixes don't love the way Eights do: Not through Boomer's interpersonal, relationship, boy-girl Love, but through a kind of love that we don't really talk about in our culture much because it's fundamentally "religious." And not through Athena's sense of loyalty and honor, which are beautiful, and certainly helped shore up her version of love against some odds.

It's a Jungian truism that the one place that Christianity, or the Western Judeo-Christian viewpoint, is often weakened in its denial of balance: That absolute good is possible and that peace is possible, and therefore anything that doesn't fit the program should be repressed, ignored, or destroyed. That means untold damage you're doing to your own soul, when you hate so much of yourself instead of looking into it and exploring, to my mind. 

I was thinking today about Star Wars, and how the Jedi should have been my favorite thing -- "soldier" plus "priest" -- but I was immensely distrustful of the whole idea even as a child, because when they talk about bringing "balance to the Force" they're using "balance" in a really weird way that means ignoring and attempting to destroy all darkness everywhere, including people they think are tainted by it. It's very thin Eastern lipgloss on a fairly old Western idea: We admit dichotomy and opposition, but are content to wish things were otherwise.

Contrast then with Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which I would say is the Gen Y equivalent of modern myth to Gen X's Star Wars "fighting Daddy" obsessions) which is centrally and continually a story of recognizing and negotiating darkness within the self. No Big Bads, in the way of the Emperor: Even the vampires are complex people, with all manner of capabilities and qualities inside themselves: The complete opposite of the faceless Stormtroopers (who are eventually revealed as literal clones).

Anyway. The reason I love Caprica Six is that from the first moment we see her, she is demonstrating both opposites at once: The heartlessness of war, and the seed of what will become the greatest compassion on the entire show. Her model's dedication isn't corrupt or compromised by anything: It's a Six that runs the Farm, blows the Armistice Station, and starts the Cylon Civil War, because she believes that children will lead us closer to God. If Caprica/BSG is about moving through sentience and into soulhood, my money is on Caprica Six because she's the only one who is realistic about anything. 

When she explains to Tigh about the clarity of pain -- while her angel counterpart is inspiring Gaius to his litany of heresies -- it's because she's been there. She holds her values higher than anything, including her own safety, which is another step beyond Athena's evolution, which is group-centered. Gaius is made a scapegoat, but Caprica offers herself willingly. 

She is intellectually nimble enough to murder her spiritual leader and take over the government when Three makes a wrong ethical call, because her ideals are higher than anything the other models can even conceive. And I think she got there through hard spiritual work that transcended any of the intellectual gifts she was programmed with, which is something to which I aspire -- but also is the final nail in the conflict. 

Past mid-S3, everything bad that happens comes out of personal vendettas and weaknesses and horrors and revenge motives, but Caprica is the only person who ever manages to put things back together, and it's because she's not afraid of opposites and dichotomies, which is -- again, in Jungian terms, and before him, the alchemists' -- the highest spiritual state we can aspire to, because it means you can finally stop fighting yourself and start the work.

Personally, it's because I am unbelievably morally rigid and judgmental, and fairly certain I'm smarter than everybody else, and I love the idea of God and I love kids, and that's all she's really got going on. But in terms of the story, I really do think the evolution of Caprica Six -- by the end, or rather the almost-end -- tells the story in a way that could never be done upfront, through actual narrative, because it's too internal and too magical. But I think she saves the world.

There's a story in the Jung community that everybody likes to invoke, before certain discussions, about this Chinese village the Sinologist Richard Wilhelm was observing, Kiau Tchou. They couldn't get any rain, so finally they called in a rainmaker, this old dude, who came into the village and wrinkled his nose and demanded that they sequester him in a cottage and bring him food and leave him alone, and on the third day it not only rained, it snowed, and the ethnographer was like, How did you do that? "I didn't do anything." You made it rain. "Oh right. No, I just come from a place where the people are in order, they're in Tao. And when I got here, you guys weren't, and it infected me. So I went inside until I was back in order, and then the weather got right again."

Bitchy, but still TCB. Sounds like my girl to me.


Top 11 Songs of 2011

11. "House Of Balloons," The Weeknd - This was my first favorite song of this whole year. It is so good. I don't know what else to say about it except that I am glad I don't take pills or do hard drugs very often, because sometimes I imagine that a person's whole life could sound like this song. Unlovely. 10. "Lofticries," Purity Ring - Sometimes it's possible to be creepy and not feel weird about it. It's hard for me, but I know that it's possible, and at best it would sound like this song. I always thought it would be so hard to live with the Munsters because you would just want to get rid of the cobwebs and that would make them sad. You know? How stressful for everybody. Sometimes I have this dream where I look over and something that I thought was me is dreaming. Very big, very hairy, very scary to look at. And I just know that I have to take the best care of it. 9. "Aroused," Tom Vek - Good song, perfect voice, amazing video. This is how I feel on the fashion days. Or those days when you have to deal with people and you aren't in charge of them already and you can't work them immediately. Sometimes if they're scary I think about the beginning of "Peter & The Wolf" because that song gave me strength when I was little, but when I feel energized, it's this or "Destroy Everything You Touch" by Ladytron. One or the other. 8. "Who Are You Really?", Mikky Ekko - Absolute awesomest song of the fall -- and of use to so many TV shows!

Also: "SEE ME BARE MY TEETH FOR YOU" is used so often and so well that it should be closer to the Dan Smith Listener song, in terms of saying what I feel or think better than I can do those things I can't do. If I were a tattoo-getting person, that would probably be the thing I would have on my body first.
 7. "Somebody That I Used To Know," Gotye ft. Kimbra - This song helped me make sense of a thing I did to a person I loved very much. 6. "Video Games," (Lana Del Rey) Bombay Bicycle Club - The very best cover of the very most important song of the year. Yeah, I love Adele too and LDR hasn't got one-tenth of the whatever-she-is, but this song is a very big deal. And I love this band anyway, so it's awesome they did the best version of it. 5. "Settle Down," Kimbra - I described this one as "True Grit meets Douglas Sirk," which is true, but also a humble-brag because when my childhood best friend Will took me to West Side Story (tour with the original choreography!) before the house lights went down he said, "Have you seen True Grit yet," and I said "Heck yeah because that little girl..." and he goes, "I told my husband about twenty minutes in that it was like watching you when we were kids. If you want to know what Jacob was like, you're looking at it." Which made me so happy, because it is true. Sad and also good because it is true. 4. "Sail," AWOLNation - Hey, it's that guy from UTIOG doing his usual ragtime/soul bullshit but it doesn't annoy me! And the video is awesome! And he is mesmerizing! I will tell you one thing: I am not going out like this. Also: Good for yelling. 3. "212," Azealia Banks - you already know about it, we don't have to talk about it.

2. "Wooden Heart," Listener. The official video -- which is not this -- was released this year, so technically it can be the second-best song of the year. This song is partially about my second-favorite part in the whole of Michael Ende's Neverending Story.

 "...my hopes are weapons / that I’m still learning how to use right / but they’re heavy / and I'm awkward..."

He mailed me this CD months ago and I still haven't opened it because it lived in his house and he sealed it with his hands and probably he breathed at some point. The plan is, I marry this man forever and ever. I mean, unless something shows up that makes more sense than him. So far, not much does. No homo. 1. Hyuna, "Bubble Pop." Probably the best song and video in all creation. The way girls -- not boys -- feel, or once felt, about Britney Spears is the way I feel about this video. I get soooo crunk and I watch it over and over sooo many times. My friend Jonny was like, "I've never bought anything off the internet" and I said, "Not even to charities? What do you do when you're drunk?" and then I started thinking about ways to be drunk and not spend money. I asked the internet for my new favorite song, aloud, and said I would be checking for confirmation bias. And since then I don't need much more than this video. BONUS: Not yet actually available as far as I can tell; album coming out Jan 24 2012. Chairlift, "Guilty As Charged." Only people who are awesome enough to watch The Secret Circle got to know about this one and then we all spent weeks trying to find a decent copy of the song. See you in 2012, amazing song!


WHAT IF? Marvel On Rowling

Claremont: Everybody mind-controls everybody else and they all wear black leather straps instead of clothing and fight in underground fight clubs. Ron gets really fat and mind-controls everybody into wearing black leather straps instead of clothing and fighting in underground fight clubs. Lucius Malfoy is obsessed with Harry's DNA and keeps trying to steal his wizard semen using fake Ginny Weasleys. Hermione is blind but has computerized eyeballs that make her invisible somehow, and she is mind-controlled into wearing black leather straps instead of clothing, and also she fights in underground arena fight clubs. Everything is also Kaballah.

Len Wein: Minorities! Rita Skeeter is black and from Egypt and also a goddess of weather and also she is kind of a lesbian. One of the Weasley twins is Russian and the other one is from West Germany. Cedric is now a proud Apache warrior who sadly is eaten by a sentient island. Tonks smokes cigars and -- just like in the original books -- becomes everybody's favorite character for no reason whatsoever. Now she is Canadian and has adamantium claws and a refrigerator stuffed with Japanese women.

Austen: Snape kills Dumbledore, but it wasn't really Snape, he just thought he was Snape, and there is another Snape who is Chinese and might be Snape or his twin brother or something. Hagrid's father is actually the Devil, even though that makes no sense, and Hagrid dies or something. Dumbledore gets Wizard AIDS very immediately. Everything is very serious, so please don't laugh.

Nicieza: Hermione is not blind anymore! Now she is a Japanese ho. A butterfly comes out of her face sometimes, and she has a psionic knife that is the focused totality of her psionic knife powers. She dies of wizard AIDS. Everybody gets wizard AIDS and dies, but then comes back. Crossovers with Twilight, Vampire Diaries, and most other things that exist result in a paramilitary atmosphere and lots of hip pockets and giant guns.

Claremont: A future daughter of Ginny and Harry returns from the future, where she has been mind-controlled to hunt wizards whilst wearing bondage gear. Lesbian Parvati makes contact with Future Lesbian Lavender in order to stop this future from taking place, or maybe this is what makes it happen. The Ministry of Magic is mind-controlled into wearing bondage gear and dressing up their house elves in absurdly offensive mammy outfits. Everybody is put into concentration camps, wearing leather bondage gear instead of clothing.

Simonson: Slytherin is still more interesting than Gryffindor, but we barely ever see them. Neville dies pointlessly to save a supremely annoying, half-bird house elf mutant creature. A Veela shows up and everybody goes to space for a million stupid years. Ginny dies, so Harry marries a lookalike who is also a member of Steely Dan. Gryffindor start a "wizard-finding" service that appears to be bad but is actually good, which doesn't keep lots of wizards from committing suicide in a thinly veiled metaphor for internalized homophobia. Somebody in Ravenclaw is in a wheelchair and has magic pet lobsters.

Claremont: Albus Severus Weasley Potter is magically abducted to hell and then comes back a few seconds later full-grown, wearing bondage gear and growing devil horns whenever he practices magic. He enters a gay relationship with Cedric, who has a pet dragon now. He accidentally brings hell to earth, covering himself in eldritch armor with an eldritch sword that is the concentration of all his eldritch power. Inside the armor is Albus Severus as a baby, who immediately dies of wizard AIDS.

DeFilippis & Weir: One book to meet all of the young children, six books to murder them one-by-one in more and more horrible ways, while the original students -- all grown up now, all with mental disorders -- are forced to watch.

Whedon: Lavender and Parvati sleep together one night and then are brutally murdered. Ginny Weasley becomes a half-elf computer expert for no reason, and then is brutally murdered. Hermione gets addicted to time-turners and must defeat her future self like six times, including several brutal murders. You start to feel sorry for Dolores Umbridge, and then she is brutally murdered. Everybody sings a bunch of annoying songs and then are brutally murdered. Turns out they are sex workers this whole time.

Ellis: Hermione joins MI-5 and teams up with basically John Constantine to solve political British in-jokes. He's pretty cynical and smokes a lot, but underneath it all he just really believes in people. It is not really about the kids or about Hogwarts or wizardry or magic or anything you might have thought it would be about. Harry is actually Houdini's grandson and Hermione is descended from Tarzan and the whole Weasley family is actually from the Little Nemo universe and they just forgot. They get all the most awesome students together, and become sexy fascists. Also the media is aliens putting lizard babies in your abdomen, most likely.

Liefeld: Everyone's spines are bent into horrible contortions, they all get giant breast implants and weird crosshatches over parts of their bodies, the hip-pockets double in number and size, and the new Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher is Snape from the future and he has a twin brother who is also Snape but from the different future and from different parents who wears a toaster over his face. It is mostly nonsensical and has itself a latent homosexuality. All the spells do the same thing, which is go KRANGGG and SPOOSH and BLONK.

Morrison: Everything is perfect and way better, except the last book is still an unholy mess. Wizards are now a wonderful, vibrant and visible, culture-setting minority the rest of the world adores, almost like in real life. Dolores Umbridge turns out to be totally awesome and just says she was drunk the whole time she was with the Ministry; instantly forgiven. Snape is actually a future version of Harry Potter but doesn't remember everything in time to save everybody, but that's okay because everybody is everybody else and there's no such thing as Voldemort because he is all of us but inside-out and backwards, so deal with it. PS, Ginny Weasley is God.

Bendis: Stupid fuckin' Mrs. Weasley -- a person who dresses like an ugly stripper and is married to a robot and her only personality trait is to go insane periodically -- goes insane for the millionth time and wishes there were no wizards, so then everybody goes back to being some kind of ridiculous 1960's version of minorities that doesn't even exist, because Marvel is an idiot.

David: The gang goes to therapy! Which is lucky, because they all have serious mental problems. Hermione becomes an alcoholic, then gets pregnant. Harry has sex with alternate versions of himself in secret, then marries a little girl in a future concentration camp. Ron and Cedric also are gay on occasion. Please do not tell Rob Liefeld.

Liefeld: Ron and Cedric are not gay.

David: Ron and Cedric are totally gay.

Liefeld: Ron and Cedric are not gay or else.



I'm in a small, gluten-free café in the hills of Los Angeles, waiting for my lunch dates to appear. Ever since the Weinsteins' record-setting deal on Jacob Clifton and Gwyneth Paltrow's co-production, I DON'T KNOW WHY SHE DOES IT, they've been impossible to track down.

Variety: "Jacob, you said you've been working on this script for a while?"
Clifton: "For a little while, yes. Of course, without Gwyneth onboard it never could have happened, so things actually ended up moving very quickly..."
Paltrow: "It's been a breeze, really. Jacob is a dream to work with."
Clifton: "Oh, Gwyneth. It is you who are the dream."
Paltrow: "You just 'get' me. Do you know what I mean?"
Clifton: "I 'get' what you mean..."

I have no idea what either of them means.

At this last, said with an arched eyebrow, they laugh -- desperately, honkingly -- clutching at one another like Dakota and Elle Fanning might, if they were children.

Variety: "Gwyneth, how would you describe your character?"
Paltrow: "Well, we said from the beginning that we wanted our characters to reflect us, and our process..."
Clifton: "But I mean, we're not playing ourselves. Any more than usual, that is!"

Again with the laughing. It's disconcerting. I wonder if either of them has ever had a friend before. I wonder if Claire Danes has any friends.

Paltrow: "I play an aspiring country musician who pays the bills by acting in blockbuster hits."
Clifton: "Same, but I pay the bills with intellectual fraud."
Paltrow: "Basically, the movie follows us through our lives as we make irritating choices."
Clifton: "I wanted to show what it's like for regular people, you know, succeeding in several different industries simultaneously. That power of delusion. Cookbooks. Lifestyle branding."
Paltrow: "I just wanted to take my top off. It's been a while since I did that in a movie."
Clifton: "A lot of it is just bare-assed excuses to have a lot of witty, self-aware dialogue. We're big fans of wit."
Paltrow: "And awareness."

One critic called the film "a more insecure version of Baumbach or Anderson, you know, taken to the next, even wankier level." I ask about the critical response so far, and am met with a wall of intense enthusiasm.

Clifton: "Am I a genius? I doubt it. Am I a saint? I try. Is this the best movie of all time? Who knows. Certainly the Cannes board doesn't get it. Could it herald a new genre in film? Probably."
Paltrow: "I call it Bumble & bumblecore."

They are forthright and forthcoming with all details: About the film, their eating habits, their families... I find it's hard to get a word in edgewise, to ask about the film, with the two of them up each other's sweaters the whole time. There is a discussion of kale that goes on longer than most features. It's worth noting that the two seem to have become inseparable.

Clifton: "We don't really like to have 'fun,' per se."
Paltrow: "Sometimes we prank-call Anne Hathaway."
Clifton: "True. True that."
Paltrow: "She's just asking for it, you know?"

When I ask Gwyneth and Jacob about their husbands -- mainstream rocker Chris Martin and CIA Director David Petraeus, respectively -- they just roll their eyes and laugh, once again.

Clifton: "It's kind of like being married to that computer that almost won Jeopardy!, but more intense."
Paltrow: "I don't understand a single word my husband says. I think that's what makes it work."
Clifton: "Really, we're married to the work. And each other. And Walter Van Beirendonck menswear."
Paltrow: "GET."
Clifton: "I'm paleo right now. You can almost see an ab."
Paltrow: "I subsist entirely on pages torn out of W magazine at the moment."
Clifton: "We talk about food a lot. That's one thing we do that is fun. And has no calories."

What follows is a dizzying ten-minute ramble in which labels and brands go whizzing by my head almost audibly:

Paltrow: "When it comes to organic herbals, I try to grow my own at home. But sometimes that's just not convenient, so I turn to the cold-packed, hand-picked herb mixes from my friend Elsie's line, Easy Being Green. Sometimes Chris makes me wear a mask of Thom Yorke."
Clifton: "The new Thom Browne is almost too much. I'm into trad right now. I want one of those leather helmets they used to play football in."
Paltrow: "I once made dinner for the Cleveland Browns. I told them I was using my grandmother's skillet, but the reality was vastly different. The skillet was from Lodge's Logic line -- I bought it at the Burkina Faso Williams-Sonoma. The truth is that I have no grandparents. I was made in a lab."
Clifton: "David and I are naming our next child Bristol-Myers Squibb. If it's a girl."
Paltrow: "If it's a girl we'll have to get her some Tom's shoes and an Apple iPad. Oh, and my friend makes the most wonderful artisanal bath salts for children. All-natural ingredients. You can only get the range at her small brick and mortar on Carnaby in London, but I'll have them mail over some for little Bristol-Myers Squibb. The line's called Precious/Precocious."
Clifton: "That's ironic."

I'm never sure if they're looking to use me for product placement or if they just talk in these terms all of the time, but just to be sure I am redacting that part of the interview. I ask them what their plans are, after the movie gets its wide release in a month. By the time you'll be reading this, of course, its success or failure will be a thing of the past, but in the meantime they seem somehow both jaded and hopeful.

Clifton: "Hitting the slopes. Wait, what? I don't ski. I guess that's just the person I was trying to be just now. How odd."
Paltrow: "How Drew Barrymore."
Clifton: "Ugh, right? No, for me it's more like, I want to meet Ryan Seacrest. Go to the Poconos, maybe. I want Andy Cohen and Brian Wilson to fight over me."
Paltrow: "I've already been to every country, with Anthony Bourdain."
Clifton: "Like, to the death."
Paltrow: "But travel's always been very important to me. Especially now that I keep having children and naming them things."
Clifton: "Travel. This junket is really taking it out of me, honestly. Do you know that we've had this exact same conversation we're having with you, literally forty... What is it, forty-two times?"
Paltrow: "Thirteen of those times were en français."

I try to imagine them having this conversation in French, thirteen times, and it so disturbs my equanimity that I squeeze my crystal water tumbler until it cracks with a high, near-imperceptible ting. Paltrow reaches out and takes my hand, while Clifton looks intently at my face, as if searching for something.

Clifton: "I mean, you seem like a nice lady..."
Variety: "-- Thank you."
Clifton: "...But not so nice that it offsets the boredom. Here, have a hazelnut."

Later, when I ask what he means, exactly, he goes into detail. I have never met two people more comfortable with being patronizing in my life. It's like being slowly smothered to death by a well-meaning gift basket full of organic beauty products.

Clifton: "It's not that you're boring, of course. It's that... Well, don't you get tired of asking movie stars such as ourselves the same questions over and over? Wouldn't you like to..."
Paltrow: "Something about authenticity. Say something with 'authenticity' in it."
Clifton: "Wouldn't it be more authentic to, I don't know, talk about anything other than the work?"

The entitlement of these two, for a moment, is nearly breathtaking. Of course, why should they earn anything?

Paltrow: "They're going to come see my movies no matter what, homeslice. Why overdo the whole publicity thing?"
Clifton: "See, that's authentic."
Paltrow: "My mother, Blythe Danner, beat Jacob in an arm-wrestling match."
Clifton: "Too authentic."
Paltrow: "I am new to this, sorry. To authenticity."
Clifton: "It's okay."

A fan approaches Clifton with a bouquet of hydrangeas. Paltrow sits back, deep into her chair, flashing a toothy grin of satisfaction, anticipating what will happen next.



  • Our block's water main was shut off for like an hour yesterday. Even today I feel profound gratitude when I turn on the faucet and water comes out of it. I am going to take so many showers now and they are going to mean something.
  • Billie Joe tweeted that he got thrown off a Southwest flight for having too-saggy of pants. Why not just pull up your pants and stop fighting the power for like one second? You're a dad now.
  • There's something stubbornly Gen X about complaining about celebrity tweets, like, you're staring into the glory of celebrities actively engaging in their own demythologizing and you can't think of anything but the generic superiority of rejecting entertainment figures. "I prefer to stay in this cult of personality and complain about it rather than acknowledge that they are people, and generally most people are pretty boring sometimes."
  • When You Reach Me is such a great book I lost the desire to finish Mondegreen as I was reading it. It's the kind of non-genre SF I like best, but with some hefty wisdom, like, on the level of Harriet The Spy wisdom. Enjoy it for your own self.
  • I'm recapping The Good Wife for TWoP this season, which reminds me of how I forgot to write about  hybristophilia in vampire fiction.
  • I had a zombie dream; you know how much I hate zombies but I need to disclose this: It was in a Home Depot. Somebody wrote a play about surviving the zombies and we performed it for each other to stave off the grim certainty of our coming demise. In the end, I led Yaya DaCosta out through the warehouse and over to my cottage behind the Home Depot, locking the door behind us; there was a full garden there and a bunny named Miles in the cabbages again. She asked why we even stayed in the Home Depot with the zombies to begin with, and I woke up.
  • Did I ever tell you about my friends Emily & Jodi? They make me incredibly nervous, but I love them.
  • Please resist the desire to ask other people whether Hunger Games is just Battle Royale again. It's not clever, and you might never date again. You'll certainly receive tude from anybody who's been getting that goddamn question since goddamn 2008.
  • Also, on the subject of conversations/horses that die minutes after their birth, George Lucas is the new The Help.


Bullying Followup #1

The trouble with writing constantly about teenagers as though they are people is that they inevitably talk back, also as if they are people, and then you have to have yourself a think. I got an amazing letter from a kid this week about the bullying stuff, heavily excerpted below, and apparently my response to her response went over well, which is good. Mostly, I was just amazed at my own blind spots, which is always gratifying.

...I don't really know if this is something even appropriate to even do, but they don't have a comments section for the recaps and there's something on my mind regarding your recap that's been bugging me a lot. As a disclaimer, I'm really sorry if this is something that's not acceptable to do or anything, but then again... you wouldn't put your email for the public to see online if you didn't want people to email you. Before you freak out, I'm not creepy or anything I promise... I'm just a fan of your recaps on televisionwithoutpity.com and I read something tonight and I don't know what to make of it.
"If you're going to be the kind of person who gets bullied, and you can't handle it, you need to stop being that person."
I don't buy [this] at all ... really want to understand what you're saying here because I think it could really mean something to me if I understood it.
For the past three years of high school I've been bullied. It's not obvious bullying though, which is why my case, I think, is kind of an exception to some of your argument. I am a genuinely nice person and I get bullied for it. I get harassed because I'm too nice of a person to defend myself when others make fun of me. When there's a disagreement I find it easier to just go along with whatever the other person wants because they should get what they want rather than causing a huge scene. When people make fun of me, I don't defend myself because I don't want to make the other person feel unhappy... I just take it because I'm a good person and I don't want to create a big deal out of it. That's just the person that I am.

...You say that whatever I'm being bullied for I should change. How can I change my disposition to be nice? Maybe I'm interpreting your argument wrong. I just feel really unclear and I hope that maybe you could do me the favor of clarifying that.

Once again, I'm sorry if I seem really stupid or if this is inappropriate... I don't mean to be annoying. I just really want to know what you meant because it's bugging me.

I mean, what do you say? Obviously a sweet kid, a smart kid. A girl who deserves applause for not just plugging her ears when she got to a part that sounded like bullshit, which is more than 99% of us are willing to do. I just kind of stared at the screen for awhile and wondered how much and what kind of danger this neat girl's fire was really in. Trying not to count the apologies, qualifiers, passive-voice and the rest of it like I was going to serve her an itemized list at the end of our conversation.

Because the kind of person who takes that statement apart -- and I'll grant, the original ranterview was a little on the unstructured side, because I was trying to leapfrog questions and draw an emotional through-line -- and honestly asks, "Are you being a dick or what am I missing," well, that's the kind of person I want reading my writing. You know? Almost entirely 100% of the time, an email asking for "clarification" is really just being passive-aggressive and calling you out without actually doing it. But not this lady, no. So I was cowed, and maybe that's why the reply was blunt, but I thought either way it was worth preserving here, since the bullying thing seemed like such a valid conversation the first time around, last week:

I think that where the problem comes in is that we have different definitions of being "nice." I'm not saying this applies to you, necessarily, but I will tell you about my friend [J]. He is smart, and strong, and I admire him in a lot of ways, but he has a lot of problems about being "nice." 

Everybody wants people to like them, of course. (I do too, probably more than most people.) But what I see J doing is thinking that by not having an opinion of his own, or by being quiet when he shouldn't be quiet, or agreeing with things that he doesn't agree with, it short-circuits in the end. He is resentful, because he gave away his own power -- and it didn't even work! People don't like him more because he is quiet, they don't like him any more because he agreed with them, and they certainly don't like it when he comes out resenting things after the fact. 

He's very interested in being The Good Guy. The guy that doesn't make waves, the guy that doesn't make people angry or disagree with them, even when they're wrong. The guy who knows the right answer, but doesn't always say it because it would make other people feel stupid. I know he feels bullied. I know he feels bullied personally by me, because I don't know if you know this but I can be kind of intense, and that's a bad mix. I am not a very good friend to J, at all, which is especially gross considering how much I love him. But also, it wouldn't matter, because he's already gotten himself into that position most of the day. Sometimes just asking him to form an opinion makes him feel bullied -- because he doesn't want to be the Bad Guy  who said No.

That's not being nice, in my opinion. That's being weak. That's holding your own image of yourself as the Good Guy, or the Nice Girl, above relating honestly with other people. I think that a lot of our society, and the ways we are raised, give us the idea that not having opinions, or never saying no, is the way to make people like you. 

But you know that this isn't true. You wrote to me that it isn't true. It isn't working.

What I see is a situation where you get to be the Good Guy, because you're "always nice," and if it doesn't work out -- that's everybody else's problem. You don't ever have to risk disappointing anybody, or getting anybody mad, or starting any confrontations, because you're always being "nice." There's nothing for them to get mad at!

Our culture raises us, especially young women, to think they're doing the right thing when we do this. That Nice Girls are good, and Not-Nice Girls are bad. But the definition of "Nice" that is used for that idea is really gross, and wrong, and old-fashioned, and nasty. It's designed to make you hate yourself, and to keep you small, and to keep you quiet. 

And then you get the reward, for following along: You get to be the victim, because you didn't offer your opinion and they didn't ask. You get to feel like you have the moral upper hand, because you're "nice" and everybody else is not-nice. You're the winner. You're the victim.

And what I was writing about in the recap is the idea that any time you see yourself as the Victim, you need to stop what you're doing and look at your own ability to change the situation. Because nobody ever makes us crawl, and nobody makes us feel bad without our consent. And I will tell you another thing, [Lady], and I hope that you don't think I'm being a jerk or that I don't understand:

Nobody was ever too kind. Nobody ever got bullied because they were too kind, nobody was ever victimized for their compassion. Ever. 

And what that means to me, is that you need to think about the difference between "nice" and "kind." "Nice" is passive and lazy and cowardly, and thinks only about itself. "Kind" is active and strong and thinks aboutother people. I think you should remove the word "nice" from your vocabulary for a little while, because my reply would be that -- whether or not you want to hear it -- you're not a special case: You're just like everybody else. 

We all were brainwashed to be "nice." We all were taught that we need other people to feel okay about ourselves. We all were taught that popularity is the most important thing, and that being "nice" is a good way to get there. But it's not true. None of it is true. You have to find a place of your own, to stand on. Even if it's just the ground underneath your feet, you have to know that you own it, and you don't owe anybody else for it. 

So yes, that is the thing you have to change about yourself, but it's just a dictionary definition in your head that needs to change: That "nice" is the opposite of "strong," and you're not any more "kind" than you would be otherwise. Nobody can be expected to respect you if you don't show respect for yourself, and that starts with having convictions and standing by them, showing character and strength, and remembering to be kind. You can do those things and still be true to yourself.

You are a smart person, and you have good intentions. It's nice to see you thinking, and curious, about this kind of stuff, and I hope you read these words in the spirit that they were written, because I'm not trying to be rude, or condescending or bossy or whatever. I am impressed that you wanted to get more into that sentence, it means a lot to me -- I hope this helped, whether or not you think I'm right about the rest of it. Good luck!


Moral of the story? Don't write me fanmail or you might get some words back, I suppose. Certainly her response was intensely gratifying on a whole other level. Either way, a helpful reminder that the shorthand you use throughout your mental day doesn't always come across -- and that's not really because people are lazy, or at least, not as often as you're/ I am apt to assume. It only makes you smarter when you get to go back and look at what you said and why, and fill in the gaps, but you often have no reason to do that. Unless, apparently, you're in the habit of corresponding with precocious young girls.