Category Archives: ethical conundra

The Tenuous Serenity of Not-Knowing

As I start writing this, it’s the morning of November 4th. The day after the election. It’s an event I’m guessing folks will eventually refer to in historical if not straight-up superlative terms: The French Revolution. The The War of 1812, The Tungusta event, the Election of 2020.

(Actual Footage)

This is, as they say, a big one. It feels melodramatic to say, “This is the election that will define America,” but it’s probably true. More than that, I hope this *isn’t* the election that shows what America has become.

Despite the fact that the election was yesterday, I don’t know the results. I did what I could leading up to the event. Donated money to places that fight voter suppression. I helped make arrangements so everyone who works for me or Worldbuilders had the day off so that they could vote or support other people who wanted to vote. I’d made sure friends were voting. Years ago, I started a newsletter with the hope of urging people to political awareness/activism, and it’s been trundling along quietly ever since.

Of course, this morning all I can think about is that I could have done more. That I should have done more. I always feel like I should be doing more.

Nevertheless, I don’t know how the election turned out because last night I focused on spending time with my boys. After I finished my afternoon meetings, we went for a walk. Then we made dinner plans. Then I read them a chapter of Slow Regard. (Something I started a while back on a lark, I wondered if they would enjoy hearing me read, and was startled at how into it they were. I could write an entire *other* blog post about what that’s been like all by itself.)

We read together and we cuddled. We brought the empty garbage cans back to the house. Did some chores. Had a feelings talk. Made and ate dinner together. Cleaned up and did the dishes and had our evening treat:

(Tim-Tams sent to me by the lovely folks at Ludo Cherry.)

Then we did our fun thing for the evening. We were going to watch Kipo and some Adventure Time. But when the time came, our mood had shifted, and instead we watched some Youtube videos: one about a guy called Rollerman, and another about people who do that thing where they jump off mountains and glide like flying squirrels.

After each video, I told the boys that I loved them. I told them I would always support them in whatever they chose to do in their lives. I told them their bodies belonged to them, and they were the only ones who got to decide what happened to them.

I also told them that I admired these people in the videos. And that flying down a mountain looked really cool, and part of me wishes I could do it. And that I was glad that there were people in the world who were willing to pursue amazing feats like that.

BUT I also told them that they could never do either of those things. Ever. They agreed.

We then watched some Minecraft videos. (We’re partial to the flavor of brilliant madness produced by Dream and his friends.) After that, the boys told me that while my choices were my own, and I was an adult and free to do as I liked, that I should never *ever* mine straight down. Especially when I was in the Never and wearing all our best equipment. I agreed.

We have a good relationship.

Then it was washing face and hands. Brushing teeth. And, because we managed to hit our bedtime, we got to read, so I read them the final two chapters of Slow Regard, and we talked about it until they fell asleep.

That was my evening. At no point did I poke my nose onto the internet to find out what was happening with the Election. There was nothing I could do at this point but worry, so I avoided it. This is a skill I’ve been trying to develop this last year: The Life-Changing Magic of Sometimes Just Not Thinking About It. (TM)

Today, I still don’t know what’s up. It’s the boy’s busiest school day, they each have three zoom classes. Breakfast and lunch. Tidy the house. A little e-mail. Setting up a video play date. There’s a lot to keep busy with…

(One of the things I’m keeping busy with is this blog. Pecking away at it here or there. Right now Oot is having his virtual Spanish class while Cutie is listening to the audiobook version of Agatha Heterodyne and the Clockwork Princess. (Yup, there are novel versions of the amazing comic. They’re both written by the Foglios, and if you buy it off that link you’re *also* supporting Worldbuilders.)

But here’s the thing, as the day progresses, I still don’t want to get into my e-mail or on social media for fear of seeing news about the election. Don’t want to message anyone for fear they’ll let something slip and shatter my fragile not-knowing.

Last night this was such a good strategy. I was proud of it. I was peaceful. I felt I’d made a healthy choice and enjoyed quality time with my boys rather than engage in pointless, self-destructive media engagement.

But today I’m walking on eggshells. The boys and I rake leaves and I think, “Surely if Trump was voted out, one of my friends would have pinged me with delighted crowing… so that must mean he’s still in.”

Then I think, “Surely if Trump was still in, one of my friends would have been unable to avoid howling in agony in my direction, so he must be out?” Plus I’m pretty sure it would be raining blood and the sky would be the color of burning tar.

But nothing is happening. It’s a really nice day out. We rake crispy bright-coloured leaves. We eat pickles and biscuits and soup for lunch. The boys practice their knitting.

I know something big must be happening, but right now it can’t touch me. I’m in an odd liminal state that reminds me nothing so much as when my mother died.

That’s a story I don’t know if I’ve ever told on the blog. Simply said: I got the call in the middle of the class I was teaching. I had a strict no-phone policy, but I’d told my students I had family stuff going on, and I might have to answer the phone if a doctor called. I stepped into the hallway, found out she was dead, then went back into the room and taught the rest of the class. Then I taught my next class too. Only they did I go home, get in my car, and head down to Madison to spend time with my Dad and Sister.

When I came back to Stevens Point two days later, I hung out with a friend. It’s so odd to think of now. I haven’t had local friends in ages, so the thought of just meeting someone casually for lunch seems so odd. Doubly odd now, as after the last 8 months, just the memory of eating in a restaurant feels surreal.

But back then it was odd for a different reason. This was back in 2007, two months before my book was published. Way back when I had local friends in town. All of them knew what was going on: that my mom had the sort of cancer you didn’t get better from.

I wasn’t on social media in a meaningful way. Social media didn’t really exist in the same way back then. The only reason I’d finally caved and bought a cell phone at all was because my mom was sick. As a result, my friend didn’t know my mom was dead.

When we got together to hang out, I didn’t tell them. Part of it was the fact that I couldn’t imagine how to bring it up. But the bigger part was that if I didn’t tell my friend the news, for the space of the meal I didn’t have to live in a place where my mom was gone. Down in Madison everyone knew. We were making funeral plans. Consoling each other. Offering support. I was soaked through with the incessant oppressive reality of her utter non-existence.

But my friend didn’t know. They weren’t sad about it. They didn’t mourn at me. Didn’t offer comfort. That meant that back in Point, for the space of a meal, things could just be normal a little while longer. Just for a while.

That’s what I feel like today.

As I finish writing this blog, it’s 3 AM on November 5th, two days after the election. I spent the day with my boys and despite my best efforts, I’ve become dimly, inexorably aware of the fact that it’s not just me that doesn’t know what’s up with the election. Apparently everyone’s in a liminal state. I still haven’t checked the news.

I’m not sure if I’ll post this. It certainly won’t be the first blog I’ve written and then left to lay fallow here.

If I do launch it. I hope y’all are doing as well as can be reasonably expected. I hope you’re experiencing a flavor of not-knowing you enjoy, or at least find pleasantly palliative. I hope for all of us, this isn’t merely the joyful bliss of an unseen iceberg. I hope for all of us, it’s more the tense uncertainty that comes before opening a gift you’ve been desperately desiring.

Or, if not that, a gift like the ones my grandfather gave me ages ago: a pair of soft pajama pants, wool socks, traction grips that fit my shoes for ease of winter walking….

Not gifts I wanted at that age. Gifts that were, quite frankly, annoying and irritating in the moment. But also the only gifts I used for decades afterwards. Gifts that improved my life in small, meaningful, persistent ways.

Here’s hoping,

pat

Also posted in a ganglion of irreconcilable antagonisms, Cutie Snoo, mom, musings, Oot, the man behind the curtain, things I shouldn't talk about | By Pat119 Responses

Fanmail FAQ: The F Word.

Dear Pat,

Life got busy for me early on this year, and I fell behind reading your blog. But now that school’s started back up again, I’ve been able to catch up by reading back through the archives during my more boring lectures.

So I’ve got a couple of questions. Well…. honestly, I have a couple hundred questions I could ask you. But I’ll limit myself to two that came to me from a blog you wrote back in April.

You talked about going to see Cabin in the Woods. And in that blog you said:

“My plan is to go see it, preferably in the company of an attractive, easily startled young woman. That way, when the movie gets scary, she will cling to me desperately for comfort.”

This struck me as a little odd. In you’re biography, you describe yourself as a feminist. That doesn’t seem like a feminist sort of thing to say.

I’m not trying to pick a fight here, honest. I’m genuinely curious. One of my favorite things about your books is how you handle your female characters. They’re strong and smart and… well…. kinda real. They’re not generic stereotypes and helpless maids in need of saving. They’re not cliche.

So my questions are these:

1. Was Cabin in the Woods any good?

2. How do you reconcile being a feminist and at the same time wanting to have pretty young girls cling to you for comfort?

Sorry this e-mail is a long one. And I understand if you don’t have time to answer it. I know you’re busy.

A fan,

Alanna

*     *     *

Okay. First off Alanna, you really shouldn’t be reading my blog in class. I am a former teacher, you realize. I can’t condone that sort of behavior.

Second off, while I am busy. (So busy.) I enjoy answering questions like this. Especially when it gives me a chance to talk about two things I enjoy: Feminism and Joss Whedon.

  • 1. Was The Cabin in the Woods good?

It was was so, s0 good.

How good? Honestly, I think I enjoyed it more than the Avengers. And I enjoyed the hell out of the Avengers….

It was so good that I bought the DVD just a couple days after it came out and watched it with my friends when they’d come to visit. I think it’s the first time in two years that I’ve done that. (Have I mentioned the whole so busy thing? Yeah. I’m that busy.)

Don’t worry about it being your typical cliche horror movie. Joss Whedon is way too smart for that. And he does a good job with female characters too, in my opinion.

  • 2. How can I consider myself a feminist and still want women to cling to me?

Okay. Here we go.

First off, we have to leave aside a huge, in-depth discussion of what, specifically, feminism is. Because that’s a big, big topic. It’s a whole book’s worth, let alone a blog.

Suffice it to say that there are roughly as many types of feminism as there are feminists.

Which means it’s really complicated. And believe me, it leads to some really interesting discussions when feminists get together and talk.

(And I’m not being catty when I say that. Yeah sure. Sometimes when feminists get together they fight like Paglia and Steinem. But most of the time when I’ve gotten together with other like-minded folks to discuss the nature of feminism, the conversations have been rewarding and enlightening.)

If I were asked for a very general, simple definition of feminism….

Well, honestly, if someone asked me that, I’d probably avoid the question. Partly because I’d suspect them of wanting to start a fight, and also because because there is no simple definition. As I’ve said, it’s a pretty complicated thing.

But if I were pressed for a definition, I’d say something like this:

1. Feminism is the belief that women are as worth as much as men.

1a. (Corollary) This means women should be treated as fairly as men.

1b. (Corollary) This means women should be respected as much as men.

1c. (Corollary) This means women should have the same rights as men.

1d. (Corollary) Etc etc.

2. Feminism is the belief that women shouldn’t have to do things just because they’re women.

2a. (Corollary) Men shouldn’t have to do things just because they’re men.

3. Feminism is the belief that women shouldn’t have to *avoid* doing things just because they’re women.

3a. (Corollary) Men shouldn’t have to *avoid* doing things just because they’re men.

As an example:

#2 up there means that (to pick a trivial example) ladies shouldn’t feel obliged to shave their armpits just because of some fucked up societal pressures that started due to marketing campaigns back in 1915.

#3 means that if you *want* to shave your pits, that’s cool too. It’s not like you’re letting down all of womankind if you do.

A more serious example of this relates to raising kids.

#2 means that women shouldn’t feel obliged to be stay-at-home moms.

#3 means that if you want to be a stay-at-home mom, and it makes you happy, then you should feel free to do that. It doesn’t mean you’re not a feminist, and it doesn’t mean you’re an Uncle Tom. (Or an Aunt Tommasina, or whatever.)

The key, in my opinion, is that people in general (and women in particular) shouldn’t feel obliged to do things due to pointless, bullshitty cultural constraints. Including (and here’s where #3 comes into effect big time) the cultural constraints put on them by other feminists with differing viewpoints.

Other folks have different opinions. And there’s more to it than that, of course. I could go on and on. But this isn’t really the place for it, as your question relates mostly to how I reconcile my being a feminist with a sentiment that, to put it plainly, reeks of machismo.

My justification comes from 2a and 3a.

2a means that I don’t *have* to act like a big testosterone-y alpha-male protector of the wimmins.

3a means that, if I feel like it, I can indulge myself and play the part of the manly protector. If (and this is key) I’m not a dick about it.

Here’s the thing: It feels good to be a big tough protector sometimes. Other times it feels good being protected.

It’s like when you’re spooning. Sometimes you’re the big spoon, sometimes you’re the little spoon. They both can be nice.

Here’s the problem: there are precious few chances to be a big tough protector in our civilized society. And honestly, that’s a good thing.

But watching a scary movie, that’s different. When I’m sitting in the dark theater, and the woman sitting next to me screams and grabs at me, her fingernails digging into my chest. Sorry. My broad, *manly* chest. It fills a deep-seated gorilla-type need to occasionally feel like a big damn heroic protector.

Now I’m not saying that’s now I’d like to live my whole life, but that’s one of the best thing about horror movies – they’re not real life. They’re like emotional cardio. They give us the chance to be terrified in a consequence-free environment.

That’s the joy of all fiction, really: you get the benefit of experiencing something without the burden of having to actually experience it.

And you know what? I’m gonna be completely honest with you here. Occasionally, it’s nice to have an attractive young woman cling to you in a moment of pure animal terror.

I know this because I went to see the original Scream with two pretty young women back in the day. They sat on either side of me, and I got it in stereo. Simply put, it was awesome. They both grabbed me at the same time, one of them hiding her face in my shoulder. And at that moment, I felt like Batman, Malcom Reynolds, and the next avatar of Krishna all rolled up into one.

Part of me, the educated feminist part, feels like I should be apologetic for this. Like I should feel guilty about it.

But you know what? I’m really not. No one is harmed by this behavior.

So there you go, Alanna. I hope you like your answer. It got way longer than I’d planned. But isn’t that always just the way of things…

One last thing before I sign off. Let’s be civilized persons here in the comments, okay? That means polite discourse. You can disagree with me or other folks expressing opinions, but let’s not be dicks about it.

Right? Right.

Fair warning: undue assholery from any corner will be viewed with extreme scorn.

Love and Peace!

pat

Also posted in Fanmail Q + A, Nathan Taylor Art, things I shouldn't talk about | By Pat131 Responses

My Fictional Nature

It’s strange to me, knowing that if I write a blog, thousands of people will read it. Thousands and thousands. A ridiculous number of people, really.

It was less strange when I wrote the College Survival Guide for the campus paper. With the column, I knew what my job was. I wanted to make people laugh, and maybe, occasionally, slip a bit of reasonable advice to my unsuspecting readership.

Pure advice is unpalatable. It’s preachy. But if you make people laugh a little, they may not notice you’ve slipped them a little bit of truth. And even if they do notice, they’re more likely to forgive you for it.

I was a tiny bit of a local celebrity when I wrote that column for the campus paper. A few hundred people read it every week. On rare occasion people would recognize me as that-guy-who-writes-that-column. Once, the guy delivering a pizza to my house looked at my name on the credit card receipt and said, “Are you THE Pat?”

I laughed. “I didn’t know I’d become superlative,” I said.

I haven’t done the column for a couple years. These days I channel my humor writing into the blog instead. But there’s a difference. Back then I was a little bit famous because people read my column. Now people read my blog because I’m a little bit famous.

There’s more to it than that, of course. People read the blog because it’s amusing, or because they’re interested in news about upcoming projects and appearances. They tune in because they’re curious about book two, or because they’re looking for writing advice.

But mostly, people read the blog because they read my book and were curious about the author.

So I tell stories and post pictures. I screed and opine. I post up little pieces of my life. Then y’all take those pieces, fit them together, and you form an impression of me in your heads.

This is the interesting thing. It’s something I think about a lot. That person you create in your head out of these bits and pieces. That Pat Rothfuss you get to know from the blog, he’s fictional.

(It’s true that you could say the same thing of anyone. You could say that you don’t really *know* any of your friends or family, you just have flawed impressions of them based on your limited perceptions and experience.

This might be true in some small theoretical way, but in a bigger more practical way it’s pure bullshit. You know your friends. Let’s not become hopelessly meta here. If you follow that line of reasoning too far you end up in the pointless philosophical morass of relativistic solipsism.)

Anyway, my point is this: I think about this fictional Pat Rothfuss sometimes. I wonder what he’s like.

I expect in some ways, fictional Pat is pretty much like me. I’m honest to the point of blinding stupidity, and I talk about things here on the blog that any sensible person would keep quiet about. Anyone who’s ever seen me speak in public can attest to the fact that I can’t help but express myself freely and clearly, even if it’s not entirely appropriate.

Still, I can’t deny that I present an edited version of my life on here. The blog lies by omission. I talk about my signings and answer fanmail. I post a cute picture of my baby and talk about the new foreign edition of my book. I link to an interview and do a fundraiser for my favorite charity.

Given all of that, fictional Pat seems to have a pretty swank life. He seems really nice. He seems kinda cool.

And that makes me feel dishonest, because it’s not really true. You’re putting together the fictional me without the grubby bits. The truth is, I am at times a contemptible human being. The truth is, I have deplorable habits.

For example, when I go on Facebook, I post status updates talking about Dr. Horrible. Or I joke about the dream where I ended up in bed with Willow and Spike. I don’t mention what happened the other day with Oot.

You see, right now Oot loves my beard. In terms of desirability, beard ranks #3 in all creation. Boobs hold the top spot, of course, and the telephone is currently a strong #2. But other than that, he loves nothing more than to clutch at my beard.

I think gripping it appeals to some primal, monkey part of him. He gets his sticky little hands tangled up in the beard, and some piece of his primal baby brain thinks: “Good. I’m safe. If we’re attacked by a predator and forced to run to safety, I won’t be left behind.”

The problem is this: if you don’t have a long beard, you have no idea how painful it is to have it pulled. He could swing from my hair from all I care. He’s even managed to kick me square in the junk several times in an ongoing  campaign of sibling prevention. Those pains are nothing by compairison. Having your beard pulled hurts as much as when you’re walking around barefoot in the middle of the night and you stub your little toe really hard against a table-leg.

Usually I’m able to head him off when he grabs for it, but his motor skills have really been developing lately. So the other day, before I know it, he has both drooly little hands in it up to his forearms, then he yanks on it for everything he’s worth.

“Ahhh!” I shout. “Stop it you little fucker!”

Oot doesn’t seem to mind in the least. For all he knows I’ve just called him by one of his other countless names, (Thunderbutt, Prancibald, The Dampener…) He just laughs and tugs the beard some more, happy to be safe from prowling lions and packs of hyenas.

Still, it’s a shitty thing to say to your baby, and I feel bad about it.

The point is this: I suspect that fictional Pat would never refer to his adorable baby as, “you little fucker.” I suspect he’s better than that. I expect he’s a nicer person than I am.

Part of me thinks, even as I write this, “Of course you don’t talk about those things on the blog. Why *would* you? That’s not why people read the blog. You’re supposed to be putting your best foot forward….”

But then I think about that fictional Pat again, and I feel dishonest. There’s a difference between putting your best foot forward and subtly misrepresenting yourself.

The thing is, professionally, I should be careful here on the blog. If I was going to be smart about this, I’d never talk about sex or politics or religion, never make any jokes that could offend anyone, never tell you a story that makes me looks like the idiot I sometimes am. The smart thing for me to do is carefully groom and maintain this fictional Pat and use him as a promotional tool.

But the truth is, the thought of maintaining that sort of professional persona makes me distinctly uncomfortable. Given the choice, I think I’d rather be too honest and have you like me a little less. I’d much prefer to look like a bit of an ass, because… well… I am a bit of an ass.

So tomorrow I think I’ll post up a story of one of the countless times I’ve made an fool of myself in public. Maybe I’ll tell a few of those stories. I don’t know if they’ll help round out the fictional Pat some of you have come to know, but I expect it will make me feel a little bit less like a poser.

Barring that, it should be good for a laugh or two.

See y’all tomorrow….

Pat

Also posted in a few words you're probably going to have to look up, BJ Hiorns Art, blogging, College Survival Guide, emo bullshit, my beard, Oot, things I shouldn't talk about | By Pat113 Responses
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