An Electrifying Saturday

We get plenty of rain in Seattle, but it’s usually in the form of a misty drizzle– the sort of rain where you’re not sure if it’s even worth the trouble of opening an umbrella. But a few times a year, lightning does light up the sky. It’s not very often, and the storms never last long, but whenever I hear that rumble of thunder, I immediately get excited and even somewhat nostalgic for the Southeast U.S. For me, there’s something therapeutic about ferociously bad weather, as long as I’m enjoying it from home and not, say, trying to drive through it.

Last night we got one of the best storms since we’ve moved to Seattle, and even though it was still relatively short (there were two or three brief bands of rain and lightning over the course of maybe two hours), it was nevertheless fun. I’ve been playing with a new camera (a Canon EOS 7D), so I took the camera to the overhang at the front of the building, set up a tripod, and decided to see what I could capture. Naturally, as soon as I did the rain and thunder faded away, but my patience was rewarded when another band of storms came through and I caught this picture, at about 1:30 am this morning:

That may be one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken. The overhang of my apartment is not exactly the greatest view– with a better vantage point I’d love to get a picture of lightning framing the Space Needle, or the downtown skyline– but given that it was my first attempt at lightning photography ever, I’m pretty happy.

Also, apparently taking that picture used up all my electricity-related karma for a while. When I left this morning to drive to Writer’s Group, I found my car battery dead. I took a taxi, and when I finally joined up with my fellow Wordslingers and turned on my laptop, I found it was only at half-power, despite having charged all night.

I got a measure of revenge on the universe by having this conversation on Twitter. (Warning: terrible puns ensue. Click on link at your own risk.)

Post-Election Advice, from a Liberal to the GOP

Obviously, I’m violating my no-politics rule here. But since we only have a Presidential Election once every four years, and I need to get this off my chest, I’m granting myself a waiver.

This election season has been long, expensive, and emotionally draining. As someone who leans left on the political scale, I have to admit, I’m pleased with the results. We re-elected Obama. Pretty much all the social conservatives who shared their views on rape were soundly defeated. Marriage equality, having gone 0-for-32 in previous elections, went 4-for-4, including in my own state of Washington.

To any conservatives who happen to be reading this, I’m not posting to gloat. The issues are too important to treat the way you would a college football game, rooting for one team or another and trumpeting over the folks who you “beat.” The governance of three hundred million people is at stake, and it’s in everybody’s interest to have at least two parties, motivated by different philosophies, working together to overcome the challenges we face.

The GOP is already trying to come to terms with this loss, figuring out what happened and how to avoid it in the future. With that in mind, here’s a few tips from this side. (Not that I think Karl Rove will ever actually read this or anything.) Believe me when I say this is honest advice, offered in good faith, from one American to another.

Appealing to minorities: A lot of GOP pundits seem to think that inviting Marco Rubio to give a speech at the RNC counts as Latino outreach. Or inviting Condoleeza Rice counts as outreach to African-Americans (and women).

Let me give you a tip: it’s not the color of your spokespeople that matter; it’s your policies. If Tom Tancredo and Kris Kobach are setting policy behind the scenes, it doesn’t matter if Marco Rubio’s your face. Minorities, like most people, aren’t stupid. They vote primarily based on policy, not skin color, especially here in the 21st century. And when you suggest otherwise, you’re just adding insult to injury.

You want to improve your appeal to minorities? It’s not enough to find a member of said minority group to be your face. You have to listen to them, too, and pursue policies that broadly appeal to them.

Appealing to women: I can’t count the number of times a Romney surrogate got on TV and belitted issues related to the so-called “War on Women” as “small”, “distracting,” or “shiny objects.” Regardless of whether or you agree that there actually is a War on Women, the fact is there were millions of women (and millions of sympathetic men) who were very much worried about women’s access to pre-natal health care, birth control, and reproductive rights. Belittling the issues they care about is not a good way to get their vote. If you honestly think your approach is better, then by all means, have that argument. Being argumentative is far better than being dismissive– at least the former shows you care.

Also, the note on minorities applies here, too. You can’t just nominate women and expect other women to automatically vote for them; policies matter.

Don’t blame Chris Christie. If Hurricane Sandy had struck when an election wasn’t going on, then nothing Chris Christie did would have so much as raised an eyebrow. He did what we expect of competent government officials: put aside politics and focused on the important task at hand.

Two major crises erupted in the final months of the campaign: Hurricane Sandy, and the attack on the consulate in Benghazi. Here’s the thing: Americans like it when our leaders transcend politics during crises, as Chris Christie and Barack Obama did. It’s how Democrats and Republicans reacted after 9/11, after all: they put aside politics (at least for a little while) and sang God Bless America on the steps of Congress. It’s how Reagan responded to Carter’s failed attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran.

Mitt Romney steadfastly stayed political. He had a political statement out about the Middle East unrest even before the actual Benghazi attack, and after Sandy, he co-opted a political rally for a cheap photo op. Imagine if he had, say, taken a day’s worth of advertising dollars and donated it to the Red Cross… or made some sort, any sort, of actually meaningful gesture. He’d have fared much better. He’d have looked like a President, not just a Presidential Candidate.

Over and over again, Americans have shown that we like our leaders to transcend politics in times of crisis, to show that even though we disagree, we’re still all Americans, and we support each other. It’s what happened after 9/11; it’s what didn’t happen after the Benghazi attack or after Hurricane Sandy. And that’s not Chris Christie’s fault.

Liberals Aren’t Just Looking For Handouts. Over and over, conservative pundits insist that liberals, and democratic voters, are just people looking for government handouts, people who see government as “Santa Claus,” as Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly put it. Um, no, that’s not it at all. I’m a white male middle-class voter with a good job who’s never been in debt or gotten any meaningful sort of government assistance in any way (except for, like every other American pupil, a free grade school education). If that situation continues for the rest of my life, I’m fine with that (okay, I would like to see some of the money I’ve put into Social Security and Medicare back at some point, but that’s money I paid into the system, not a handout).

I admit, I vote out of compassion, and empathy. As I said in my pre-Election Day post, I see government as a tool for addressing society-wide problems, including poverty and health care. I believe that we as a society have a vested in ensuring that children don’t go hungry, and that they get health care and a good education. I believe we have a vested interest in keeping our air, water, and soil clean; in keeping our bridges, roads and airports in good condition; in funding scientific research for the sake of improved medicine, technology, and quality of life.

You may not agree with me, and that’s fine. But don’t belittle me as wanting “government handouts” because I see government as a useful tool for addressing society-wide problems. If you can honestly examine why I vote the way I do, then you’ll do much better against me. In the words of Sun Tzu, Know thy enemy.

Don’t blame the media. There is a whole industry, from Fox News to Rush Limbaugh to the right-wing blogosphere, that has made a very successful business out of telling conservatives what they want to hear. And while we all like to be told we’re right, and to have our beliefs validated, this election took it to an extreme. Many conservatives who were genuinely expecting a Romney landslide were surprised and shocked when Nate Silver and the mainstream polls turned out to be correct after all. Reality burst the bubble of conservative punditry, and rather than take a step back and self-reflect, many conservatives are now mad at the media. To me, this argument sounds like:

Person A: Two plus two equals three.
Person B: Two plus two equals four.
They look it up, it turns out Person B is right
Person A: It’s all your fault for not agreeing with me!

Um, no… that’s not how reality works.

If you think the media is really liberal, consider the response to the first debate. It was virtually unanimous, even among liberal pundits, that Romney won. Now consider the other debates, particularly the Town Hall debate. The general consensus, among everyone but the conservative pundits, was that Obama won. In every case where Mitt Romney performed poorly, the conservatives tried to spin the facts to match the reality they wanted. Liberals spin, too, but (as in the first debate) they were generally faster to acknowledge reality as well.

Look, there’s definitely a place for spinning, and putting the best light possible on the facts. Everyone does it. But spinning the facts should not be a total replacement for self-reflection. After the first debate, liberals engaged in a lot (possibly an excessive amount) of self-reflection. Conservatives never did, and by and large, they aren’t doing it now.

After this loss, I see a lot of finger pointing at others: the media; Chris Christie; greedy liberals who just want a government handout. It’s all spinning, none of it’s self-reflection. But when you’re belittling and dismissive of the things people care about– be it immigration reform, health care, access to birth control, gay rights– you’re never going to win their votes.

Final Summary: You want people to vote for you? Listen to them, don’t just dismiss them. You’ll do much better if you try to convince them that your approach is a superior way to address their concerns, rather than telling them that their concerns are invalid, or that they’re stupid or greedy for placing importance on them.

This is a video of my neighborhood in Seattle Tuesday night, celebrating marriage equality and the re-election of America’s first African-American president. You may not agree with it, but this is our country, and I am mighty damn proud of it, both now and always. Political tides come and go, and there will probably be elections in the future where you’re dancing in the street and I’m crying into my beer. But America will go on, and if we treat each other with respect, if we work together honestly, to solve our problems, we will be so much better off for it.

When it comes to America, whether your side lost or won, it’s no reason to stop believing.

How Not to Get Any Writing Done

Go exploring in Seattle on a sunny weekend.

Find a bunch of baby goslings and their parents while wandering around South Lake Union Park.

Visit a street fair in the University District.

Take a walk on the seashore.

Go kayaking in Puget Sound. (Note: this is not me, but as far as ways to not write go, this seems as fine a method as any.)

For good measure, you can always read a couple of novels.

And acquire that kickass TV show you’ve been meaning to watch on DVD.

Bonus meta-procrastination: Compose a blog entry explaining in pictorial format why you haven’t been writing.

I’m sure I am not the only writer who failed at getting writing done this weekend, though for most people I suspect their reason rhymes with “Riablo Smee.”

Basking in the Crowd at Emerald City Comicon

Saturday was an excellent day. After spending the morning at Writers Group, and getting feedback on Chapter 1 of a new novel, I headed over to the Washington State Convention Center to spend the afternoon at Emerald City Comicon.

This was the second year in a row I spent a day at ECCC, and I have to say, this year was way more fun than last year. I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because I wasn’t fighting a cold this year. Or perhaps it’s that this year was way more chaotic and crowded.

That’s right, you heard me. I like chaos at cons. I like crowds. The energy is fantastic, and I have never once had a problem with stereotypical smelly B.O. Let’s face it, folks, we’re well beyond the days of the basement-dwelling nerd. Geeks have self-respect these days.

In all seriousness, though, this year did feel much different. Just for comparison, here’s a shot of the main exhibition hall on Saturday afternoon at last year’s con. Busy, but not really crowded:

Here’s a shot of the exhibition hall on Saturday afternoon this year:

I rest my case. Not only were there more people, there seemed to be a lot more energy in the crowd. (Although again, that may be because I was healthy this year.) I got the same vibe from ECCC this year that I get from Dragon*Con: mad delightful chaos, with plenty of energy, enthusiasm, and of course, lots of kickass costumes everywhere you look.

ECCC also had a fantastic guest list this year: George Takei, Wil Wheaton, Summer Glau, Adam Baldwin, and Edward James Olmos, to name a few. The lines to get into the guest panels were incredibly long (I saw on Twitter that people waited for an hour and still didn’t get into the George Takei panel), but luckily for me, I wasn’t that interested in the special guest panels. Instead, I walked around, took pictures, toured the exhibition hall, and attended a Star Trek vs. Star Wars Dance-Off put on by members of the fantastic Portico Dance Company (see right).

In other words, I soaked up the atmosphere and just had fun. I’d love to see a George Takei or a Wil Wheaton panel sometime, but I’m not going wait in line for hours to do it, especially when I’m only there for one afternoon.

There are two types of conventions I go to: media cons, and literary cons. Media cons, like ECCC, I attend for the crowds and the costumes and the energy. Literary cons I attend to meet authors, sit on panels, and learn stuff that I didn’t know before. Admittedly, most cons have a little bit of both (and Dragon*Con is as close to a fusion of the two as I’ve found), but ECCC was a pure media con. Fun, crowds, costumes, merchandise, spiffy art.

Next week is Norwescon, and that’ll be more the literary side of things: hang out with writers (including, hopefully, many of the awesome folks I met at the Rainforest Writers Village), attend panels, do the writer’s workshop. I’m really looking forward to it, but mostly for different reasons.

What literary cons and media cons have in common, though, is getting to hang out with passionate, creative people. At literary cons, it’s the writers I get that vibe from. At media cons, it’s the cosplayers. There were some amazing costumes, most of which took a lot of work and dedication to put together. Cosplaying well takes skill (and sometimes guts), and like writing, it’s essentially a creative art– a completely different one, perhaps, but still, it’s a manifestation of that same fusion of creativity, passion and energy that I sense in writers, and indeed, in all pursuers of the geeky creative arts.

Speaking of creative arts, there was some damn fine art of the drawn and painted variety there too, of course. I went to the ECCC Art Auction in the evening, and bought a cool piece by Lar DeSouza. (All the proceeds went to the Seattle Children’s Hospital, so I blew my budget for a good cause.) My favorite find of the day, though, was a print from DPI Studios. Jaysin is a nice guy and a fantastic artist, and I bought a limited edition print of the picture that is currently featured on DPI Studios’ homepage. I snagged the last one, too, which makes it all the sweeter.

There was creativity of another kind as well, in the form of a preview for BrickCon, a Lego exhibition that will be at the Seattle Center in October. There was a lego Batcave, a lego Stargate, a bunch of lego Star Wars vehicles (including a very nice Lego Super Star Destroyer), and perhaps my favorite, a Lego Space Needle.

Next year I think I’m gonna have to carve out time in my schedule to go for all three days of ECCC. Maybe get a VIP pass, too. I mean, it’s only a ten-minute walk from my apartment. Since I have free lodging, I don’t have to feel guilty about shelling out the extra cash, right? As well as the extra cash for cool art? Right? (The correct answer is: no, I should not.)

Full slideshow of pics from the con is here.

Exploring Mt. Baker

Mt. Baker is an 11,000-foot mountain that lies about 90 miles north of Seattle, and is frequently visible from the city on clear days. Its snow-covered visage is almost as much a part of the local Seattle scenery at its more famous relative to the south, Mt. Rainier. So, in my continued effort to see more of the outdoor Pacific Northwest, I joined a group of friends, and people who would soon be friends, and headed north for some hiking and sightseeing around the mountain.

On Saturday we did a five-mile hike to Heliotrope Ridge. It felt a lot longer than five miles, thanks to a long uphill climb at the beginning and several streams which took us a while to ford. The trail took us up through dense, lush pine forest, into the streams and past meadows of wildflowers, to the edge of the Coleman Glacier. The glacier is the biggest on Mt. Baker, and even though it was at its smallest size of the year, it was still an impressive sight.

The weather was perfect: sunny, mid-70s, and not too hazy, which made for some very nice views, both of Mt. Baker and the surrounding scenery. Far up on the slope, where the snow and glaciers still reign supreme even in summer, we could see hikers and snowshoers making their way across the slope.

After a soak in the hot tub at the rental cabin, a huge and excellent dinner, and a night of games and conversation, we headed out again the next day, and stopped at Silver Lake near the Canadian border for lunch. Afterward, most of the group headed back to Seattle, but a few of us stuck around for a bit. I had originally planned to join the group heading back to Seattle, but I’m glad I didn’t. We got some excellent views of Mt. Shuksan (ninth-highest in the state), and made it up past the snow line to the Mt. Baker Ski Area. We had hoped to drive even higher, up to Artist Point, a viewpoint with a 360-degree view of both Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker. But the road was closed, and hiking there would have been an 8-mile walk. At that point, it was 4 pm, so we piled in the car and headed back to Seattle.

Now I’m in the middle of a two-day break between trips. Tomorrow, I’m meeting a friend from Texas, and early Wednesday morning we’re due to embark on a driving, hiking, and backpacking tour of Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. There probably won’t be much tweeting or blogging during the trip, but there will hopefully be some excellent photos and stories when I return.

(For those interested, here’s the full set of Mt. Baker photos).

On the Sidelines of the Pride Parade

Yesterday morning I went to the 37th Annual Seattle Pride Parade. Having never been to a pride parade before, I wasn’t sure what to expect… well, I had an idea, of course, but I was curious as to how close to reality it would be. So I took my camera and headed downtown in the direction of the rainbows.

After the first hour, I almost left. Not ’cause I was offended, mind you. Well, okay, I was offended, but it was because almost every single group in the parade was just a bunch of people in matching corporate T-shirts walking down the road, surrounding a car or mascot festooned with the corporate logo and handing out literature or coupons or goodies.

So while I’d like to acknowledge BECU, Esurance, Group Health, Microsoft, Verizon, Expedia, Macy’s, Fuze, Amazon, Orbitz, Alaska Air, Starbucks, Best Buy, Chipotle, Cupcake Royale, various radio stations and car dealerships, and anybody else I missed for their support of a good cause, I do have to ask: did y’all have to be frontloaded at the start of the parade? If it weren’t for the lesbian bikers who led the way, I’d have thought I missed the Pride Parade and stumbled onto the Corporate Advertising Parade.

I realize that parades need to paid for, and it’s great that so many corporations are willing to attach their names and their logos and their money to a cause once considered taboo. Equality is becoming mainstream, and that’s great! It’s just that I felt like I was exposed to enough advertising to make up for several months of not watching TV. I mean, holy Oscar Mayer® ham sandwich with Wonderbread® and Hellman’s Mayonnaise®, Batman©.

But I’m glad I stuck around, because the next two and a half hours more than made up for the first. It had its share of drag queens and raunchiness (which matched my expectations), but it also had chorus groups, and community and activist organizations, and dance troops, and sports teams, and drum bands, and even, to my surprise, churches. Despite the fact that I’m not religious, I grew up mostly as a Lutheran, and was proud of the number of Lutheran churches marching in the parade. So Central Lutheran Church, Immanuel Lutheran Church, and Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, among several others, I give you guys props. It’d be nice if y’all could get your more conservative compatriots on board, too.

The parade lasted for a solid three hours, and by the time it was done I was ready to leave– not because the parade was bad, far from it. But after several hours on my feet, I really just wanted to sit down somewhere, rest my legs, and get something to eat. Judging from how the crowds began to thin well before the end of the parade, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one. And I felt kind of bad for the groups at the end of the parade. While there was still plenty of crowd left, I couldn’t help but feel like those groups got shafted a bit. Maybe if the number of corporate marchers had been cut by, say, 50%, the parade would have been a more reasonable length? I hate to armchair quarterback. I’m just sayin’.

I also had a bit of an epiphany while watching the parade. Now, I’m not gay, and I don’t plan to get gay-married or civil-unionized at any point in the future. I support marriage equality and gay rights because it’s the right thing to do; because gay people in love deserve all of the same rights and legal protections and official support networks that straight people in love do. Gay people deserve to be accepted and loved for who they are, just like everybody else. And therein lies the root of my epiphany. I’m not just supporting gay rights for the sake of gay people; I’m supporting them for the sake of everybody. Because gender orientation aside, gay rights is ultimately the cause of allowing people to live their lives however they want, as long as they aren’t hurting anybody. And if I have some political creed at the root of my being, that is it. People deserve to live their lives the way they see fit, and gay marriage is an important step in letting that happen.

From my point of view, gay marriage is just one aspect of a wider change in society. It used to be that people let their identities and their lives be dictated to them by custom, by societal pressures, by religion. But more and more, I see people determining their identities and their lives for themselves, living life the way they want, determining their values not because it’s what they grew up with or it’s what society has pressured them into, but because it’s what they want and what they believe and who they are.

Whether you’re gay or straight or somewhere in between, that’s something you should be able to support. And if you’ve found your way in life, if you’ve found that niche that makes you happy, if you’re accepted for who you are and you accept others for who they are, then regardless of your gender or your religion or your sexual orientation, you absolutely deserve to be proud.

Writing Advice, and a Little Bit of Hero Worship

This evening, I joined about 2,000 fellow geeks at Town Hall in Seattle to see Neil Gaiman do a reading and be interviewed by Maria Headley. I’ve been attending a lot of author signings recently, but this one was particularly special, because if there’s any author working today whom I actually idolize, it’s Neil Gaiman. (I wouldn’t just dress up as any author for Halloween, after all.) On top of that, he’s not just an excellent writer, he’s also a great public speaker and oral storyteller. For many authors, skill with the written word does not go hand-in-hand with public speaking (I suspect I’m one of them), but Neil Gaiman is superb in both arenas, and if you ever get the chance to hear him speak, I definitely recommend it.

Over the course of the ensuing discussion and Q&A session, he gave several tidbits of advice for writers, but one in particular stood out for me. Paraphrased, it was basically this:

There will always be better writers out there than you. But, there is no one else who can tell your stories. So the sooner you stop trying to tell other people’s stories, and start telling your own, the better off you’ll be.

And he’s right. New writers, myself included, do start out by trying (often unconsciously) to emulate our favorite authors. But with enough practice, you eventually find your own voice, and that’s when you really start writing stories that are truly your own. It’s good to remember, because as a new writer, it’s easy to read stuff by great authors (like Gaiman) and think, Oh, geez, he’s such a better writer than I am! I’ll never be able to write the kind of awesome stuff what he does! I’m doomed to failure! And it’s true. You’ll never be able to write like Neil Gaiman. But if you’re true to your own voice, if you write your own stories, and bring to them your own unique set of experiences and passions, then Neil Gaiman won’t be able to write like you, either. The thought made me smile– it’s not about being better, or best. It’s about being you.

So with that in mind, I took my newly acquired signed copies of Neverwhere and American Gods (pre-signed, because an author signing with 2,000 people would just be painful), and headed home to write.

Rumor has it Neil may be back in town in November with his wife, Amanda Palmer, for something involving both reading and music. If so, I’ll definitely be there.