Green Privilege

Oh wow, it’s been awhile since I posted. My other writing projects are going so well, I just haven’t felt like blogging much. But I want to take a moment to say a few words about cannabis. And Netflix.

I rely on cannabis. It is by far the best medicine I’ve found for managing my anxiety disorder. I’ve used it nearly every day since 2008. I’ve smoked it in joints, in bongs, in pipes, in bubblers. I’ve vaped it, eaten it — I’ve even dabbed a few times. Compared to insulin or my allergy medications — the other medicines I rely on — it is fun. So much colorful paraphernalia, so many silly names for strains. My goodness, it comes as candy!

But there’s a dark side too. A history of oppression, motivated by racism and greed. Lack of protection for patients in their apartment rentals or their jobs when using legally within their state. A phenomenon I call canna-bigotry, when ordinary people or, worse, doctors, can’t see past the plant. When researchers or science journalists do a shoddy job in their work to confirm their own bias. Is cannabis damaging me in some way, even as it helps me hold down a job and pay bills and taxes? I don’t think so, but I don’t actually know. No one does.

But as my home state of California hurtles onward toward full recreational legalization, I find a disquiet brewing in me. Radio DJs talking openly about using — alright, that I dig. Billboards for dispensaries popping up everywhere — eh, good for them. Finally coming out of the shadows. Safe. Legal. I’m not wholly comfortable with them just out in public like that, any more than I am with billboards selling alcohol. Kids can read billboards too, after all, and unless they have epilepsy or cancer they have no business using the stuff until they are eighteen.

Stories of people who have been involved in the black market for cannabis — mostly people of color — being kept out of the new white market. That’s more troubling. Come on, cannabis has a culture and it is diverse.

But the most disquieting thing so far is Netflix. Today is the last day you can buy Netflix-branded strains at Alternative Herbal Health Services in West Hollywood. And I don’t mean someone else decided to start naming their strains Poussey Riot (inspired by Orange is the New Black) or Prickly Muffin (inspired by Bojack Horseman). NETFLIX THEMSELVES are in on this one. For three days only, they are advertising their new show Disjointed by selling nine strains of cannabis at this “pop-up event”.

I feel like I should be excited. What other new, cool things are unbridled, white market capitalism going to bring to cannabis? But…this is my medicine — I use it because my brain chemistry is not normal. And this is a thing that has gotten countless people, disproportionately of color, thrown in prison. It still gets people denied housing, jobs, and respect. Just five years ago, Daniel Chong, a college student, was kept in a holding cell for five days with no food or water because he had been at a pot-infused party in my own home city of San Diego. He broke his glasses, carved, “I’m sorry mom,” onto his own arm, and then ate the glass in an attempt to end his suffering. And now Netflix wants to cash in with their trendy strains for three days?

This is what privilege looks like. Ableist privilege. White privilege. Poussey would riot, alright.

Just…let’s get the nuts and bolts ironed out before we run too far with this new fun thing called Legal Cannabis. Let’s make sure patients don’t get turned down for a job or kicked out of their apartment because of a drug test. Let’s make sure patients can use in multiple states, not just their own, so they can travel this great nation like everyone else with their medicine in their luggage. Let’s make sure formerly convicted non-violent users and sellers are able to get in on this business. Let’s make sure formerly convicted non-violent users and sellers are all released from prison, and their right to vote is returned. Let’s make sure prices don’t go up and up and up, driving the poor and sick back to the black market because state and municipal governments want those sweet, sweet cannabis business taxes. Let’s make sure good research is being done into how cannabis helps people, and how it hurts people. My God, let’s make sure hemp is being grown for use as paper, fiber, and food again!

Then maybe we can all Netflix and chill.

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On Writing Mental Illness in Speculative Fiction

I’m not sure if write what you know is the most common piece of writing advice out there, but it’s got to be in the top three. And taking that advice, one of the themes I usually include in my work is mental illness and wellness. I struggle with it. I have an anxiety disorder, and I am no stranger to depression either. And a lot of people in my life deal with depression, anxiety, bipolar, and a smattering of other more arcane diagnoses.

So you’d think mental illness and wellness would be a natural pairing with my interest in creative writing. Especially since writing is one of my favorite coping mechanisms. And yet, I have found it to be an incredibly difficult theme to handle. It takes a deft touch to handle a suicidal or deeply anxious major character without the reader losing interest, or disliking that character.

I think that’s the nature of mental illness. It’s a stopping force, and a story (and the characters in it) need to go go go. Especially in speculative fiction. Maybe Holden Caulfield can mope around in his depression for a hundred pages, but Harry Potter sure can’t. Which is probably why Potter doesn’t seem to have PTSD despite nine years of abuse and neglect at the hands of the Dursleys.

That said, mental illness is something I’m going to keep including in my stories. I want to write about it, and I need to write about it. The trick I’m working on now is keeping a plot moving even when my depressed or anxious characters would rather just hide in their rooms all day. Through trial and error, it seems like the key is to not let a character’s state be static. If a character is struggling with mental illness, they need to be either getting better, or getting worse.

Which isn’t how mental illness works in real life. It’s a never-ending slog of medication, therapy, and maintaining healthy habits (like exercise, writing, and knitting) while avoiding unhealthy behaviors (like overwhelming myself with my own expectations). “Better” or “worse” is something that can happen quickly, but more it can take months. Or years. So it becomes a balance of mentioning the slog, but keeping it “off page”, and then forcing the depressed or anxious character into action through events out of their control.

The young necromancer spent years repressing his unsettling, unwanted powers. But outlaws just kidnapped his little sister. So who cares about upsetting people any more? It’s zombie time! He’ll just have to deal with his issues later, once things settle down and several months fly by in a brief passage.


It’s not easy to get that to work over the course of a novel. But I like how it’s turned out in a couple of short stories I’ve written (links below). Check them out if you’re interested in finished examples of my writing theories in action, or if you just enjoy short speculative fiction and have a few minutes.

“Saint Peter” — an artificial intelligence reaches out to a suicidal young man in an attempt to save his life. I posted this one not too long ago, but here it is again anyway.

“She Swallowed a God” — a family’s dysfunction and mental illness reframed as a fairy tale. This one is a flash fiction contest entry that didn’t win, but I really like how it turned out anyway. So there.

Star Wars Awakens: A Film Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is good. It’s really good. It has so many clever flourishes and amazing moments that it isn’t just a movie, but a film. It’s art. A+ for JJ Abrams and his cast and crew. If you haven’t seen it yet, go. Go now. Definitely don’t read this first, because it’s full of SPOILERS!!!

Okay, so you’ve seen the film. Good. Here we go.

From the opening shot of a shadowed star destroyer flying over and blotting out a bright planet, we know The Force Awakens is both the Star Wars we know and love (not that Prequel nonsense), and that it’s about to get turned on its head.

Sure, we’ve got the mechanically inclined future Jedi scrambling around on a desert world full of aliens and ‘droids. We’ve got an even bigger Death Star. We’ve got Storm Troopers and blue-tinged holograms and light sabers. We’ve got the Sith Lord and his far more interesting Apprentice. We’ve got the clash between light side and dark that is central to the Star Wars mythos.

It’s Star Wars reborn; all the old, beloved stuff we grew up with fresh and new on the big screen again. The Prequels may not be expunged from the canon, but they are utterly irrelevant.

So what’s new?

Diversity.

Not that the original Star Wars movies didn’t push the envelope with Lando Calrisian and Darth Vader both played by black men. But Vader the character is white when his helmet finally comes off, and Leia seems to be the only woman in the Galaxy after Beru is murdered.

By comparison, the Resistance is richly diverse. Male and female, human and alien, Caucasian, Asian, Indian, African. I haven’t seen  a more diverse cast of one-line characters and extras since The Matrix.

In sharp contrast, the First Order is pointedly homogenous. They got the women-in-the-workplace memo, but anyone with a little extra melanin had best keep his white helmet on, thank you very much. And aliens aren’t wanted. I don’t even remember any ‘droids among the First Order.

Since every other setting is rich with aliens, ‘droids, and humans of every color, it becomes clear that the purely human, overtly white First Order is a creative choice. Abrams has given his evil army a Nazi-ish vibe, emphasized by their military trimmings, their whiteness, and their chilling, bent-armed variant of the Heil Hitler salute. And before you roll your eyes at the Jewish director casting Nazi-analogues as his villains, remember that we have a certain political party campaigning on a platform of fascism and xenophobia*.

Think about it. Nazis are way more relevant now than when Captain America was punching them back in 2011.

Star Wars wasn’t so political before, but it was never meaningless space opera. It was psychological. The story of Episodes IV, V, and VI is a basic hero’s journey, and everyone undertakes their own inner hero’s journey when they decide to start fighting their inner demons. And Abram’s Star Wars remains psychological, the politics an extension of the discussion about light and dark.

The locus of that discussion isn’t Rey, or Finn. It’s Kylo Ren.

Having watched the film twice now, I’ve got to give a shout out to Adam Driver for his amazing performance. He’s suave, menacing, pathetic, and completely unhinged by turns. In Driver’s capable hands, Kylo Ren’s emotionality and fragility emerges slowly, until he’s outdone by a kidnapped, restrained, and untrained Rey.

Kylo Ren is the realization of what George Lucas attempted — and utterly failed — with Anakin in the Prequel Trilogy. We only see Ren near the bottom of his fall from the light, but we can picture his childhood with two famous, demanding parents and the threat of assassination over all their heads. We can imagine young Ben (his true name) training with Luke, asking questions about the nature of light and dark and receiving unsatisfying answers from his half-trained master. We can see Snoke entering the picture, the first to tell Ben that all his fear and anger is okay, even desirable.

Unlike Anakin’s fall, Ben’s transformation into Ren makes sense even if it doesn’t happen before our eyes.

As the good guys, Rey and Finn still stumble and struggle and don’t always have the courage to face what they fear. Yet they are strong in the light — they will follow their Hero’s Journeys to their end. But Ren? Who knows. I can’t predict if Kylo Ren will follow the full circle of Anakin/Vader’s path from light to dark and back to light, or if he will emerge as a more confidant Dark Lord in Episode VIII, or if madness will take him down some murky third path.

I’m guessing, obsessing over a character that could have been a complete joke.** There aren’t many stories that get me so involved.

Holy crap, I love The Force Awakens.

I love the new characters and the old ones. I love the nigh seamless mix of CGI and traditional effects. I love the costumes and the sets. I love the story, and Abram’s audacity to actually kill Han Solo. I love the performances. I love all the brilliant little moments; Poe Dameron looking back in interest at his jiggling blaster bolt as it hovers, caught in Ren’s power. Rey’s bread rising up out of a bowl of water and her “quarter portion.” BB-8 unveiling R2D2, and looking so small and sleek beside the older ‘droid. Ren’s red light saber jittering against the steady blue of Finn’s and Rey’s. Luke saying nothing at the end, but speaking volumes of hesitancy and pain with his gaze alone.

If I had to give The Force Awakens a critique, the only one I can offer is that the main characters never take a break. They run straight from scene to scene without the time to sleep, or eat, or even take a bathroom break in between them.

And that’s it.

Sure, there’s a good deal of Deus ex Machina, and the characters are awfully competent, and really, a whole planet has been terraformed into a giant sun-gun? But no one can honestly complain about such things. That’s Star Wars. That’s what we all wanted, and it’s exactly what we got, only made richer, contemporary, and unexpectedly relevant. Thank goodness, and thank Abrams.

I can’t wait for Episode VIII!

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*Bernie Sanders, you’re our only hope.

**I love Kylo Ren, but I also love Emo Kylo Ren, who has one of the funniest Twitter feeds I’ve ever seen.

Screw You, Ken Kesey

I’m loud and proud about pretty much any aspect of my life, but when it comes to the lives of those close to me I’m hesitant to spill their secrets publicly. Hence my few, vague allusions to “family stuff” keeping me busy.

But hey, I have permission to spill! And I’ve got something important to say while I’m at it.

Just what was the “family stuff” going on? Well, my husband has been very ill. His depression and anxiety got much worse earlier this year, much worse than my own has ever been. After trying everything else to save him from his inner demons we decided he should try electroconvulsive therapy, formerly known as electroshock therapy, and also known as ECT.

(Spoilers: My husband is doing great right now. He’s even started in on the 3rd draft of an excellent sci-fi novel, the first in what will likely be a long series — goddamn he writes fast!)

This seemed risky, because ECT has a checkered history. It was invented at a time when hysteria was still thought to be a real disease, and much of what was done to “help” the mentally ill amounted to torture.

But unlike hydrotherapy or lobotomies, ECT actually works, and after centuries of refinement has become quite safe.

It began with an observation: epileptics don’t get depressed, despite their plight being rather depressing. This led to the use of chemicals to trigger seizures in “hysterical” patients back in the 1700s, and later to the use of electricity for the same effect.

It worked, but there were risks. Most notably broken bones from thrashing about, and memory loss. So the process was modified. Drugs were added to prevent physical convulsions; muscle relaxants were used first, and then later increasing amounts of anesthesia until general anesthesia became the normal practice. Smaller and smaller amounts  of electricity were used, and in different ways, until confusion and memory loss were minimized.

Nowadays, it can be an outpatient procedure. It’s totally safe; the patient is only cautioned not to drive at all if they are getting multiple treatments per week. My husband got some severe headaches and nausea after his treatments, and he’s had some memory loss — nothing important, just little things like what groceries we bought, or that he has a doctor’s appointment. But that’s it. The only risks are those posed by general anesthesia, which are quite low. And long term, his memory should return mostly, if not wholly, to normal.

There doesn’t seem to be a consensus about just how effective ECT is. Wikipedia says 50% of patients receive some benefit, and of those half become severely depressed again and go in for another round of shocks a year later. The hospital’s informational video said “more than 70%” of patients receive some benefit, and “some” relapse. Of the patients we have spoken to, whether they have depression or bi-polar disorder, 100% benefited.

And my husband has benefited immensely, which is the important part.

So, why didn’t he try this miracle treatment sooner?

Well, it’s unpleasant, expensive*, and disorienting, so it’s a last resort. And I’ve heard from a few sources that as recent as the ‘80s ECT was a whole different beast. The memory loss was worse, the recovery times were longer, they weren’t using enough anesthetic yet to prevent all that scary thrashing. It frightened some of the health professionals (my sources) who administered it.

Oh yeah, and there’s this little book out there by one Ken Kesey. You might have heard of it, it’s only the most famous novel about mental health facilities.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Hey, a book! Literature! Now I can tie this back into the theme of my blog. So here’s that something important I wanted to say.

Literature is powerful, and screw you, Ken Kesey.

If it weren’t for that stupid book, my husband might have gotten the treatment he needed months earlier. See, our healthcare system works a lot better if someone is birddogging the doctors on your behalf. And I didn’t birddog for ECT early on because I was still correlating it with crucifixion and submission to the man, thanks to Kesey’s potent imagery.

To be fair, Kesey isn’t the only one who has made mental health facilities look like evil, awful places. American Horror Story’s second season insisted that asylums were full of rape and demonic possession. You almost forget how helpful the hospital and its staff are for Girl, Interrupted once she stops fighting the system. And for a long time, maybe even in the ‘60s, mental hospitals were evil, awful places. Some of them (county health**, cough cough) still are evil, awful places.

But that’s due to under funding and the general stigma we have about mental health in this country. And putting One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on high school reading lists doesn’t help.

I’m not advocating a book ban. That’s not how I roll. But it needs to be taught in historical context, not just handed to kids. And in general, writers need to stop using scary looking mental health treatments as a symbol for the struggles of normal people against fate or the government. I don’t know how this became a thing, but it sure is. Twelve Monkeys, Penny Dreadful, the whole concept of Arkham Asylum in the DC Universe. None of it paints a favorable picture of mental health care. All of it makes it look like something we don’t really need any more.

But we need it. It saved my husband’s life. So this is an open call to all writers, directors, and media creators. I get it that the asylum of horrors is a fantastically fun trope. But please consider painting a more authentic and modern picture of mental health treatment from time to time.

Who knows? You just might save a life.

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*This blog post brought to you by Obamacare. Obamacare: helping Millennials with pre-existing conditions get affordable insurance so they don’t have to move back in with their parents if they get sick.

**County Health does not mean to be evil and awful. But they are deeply underfunded, so they can’t provide many actual services. Mostly they are short-term jail for the poor and delusional.

Quentin Coldwater’s a Whiner: The Magicians Trilogy Reviewed

Alas, I still don’t have a new illustration for you. Lately my life has been hectic, and not conducive to creative projects. Happily there is light at the end of this particular tunnel, so maybe next time.

But for now, another book review.

Another trilogy review, actually. This time, I’ve gobbled up Lev Grossman’s The Magicians Trilogy, and it is good. Very good.  But I didn’t think so at first.

The problem was Quentin Coldwater, whose shoulder we perch on throughout The Magicians and for much of The Magician King and The Magician’s Land. Quentin grows up longing for magic, and then finds it while applying for college. Like Harry Potter (whose books are referenced frequently, along with Lord of the Rings, Dungeons & Dragons, and Discworld), Quentin is whisked out of his ordinary life to join Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy. Except unlike Harry Potter, magic and friendship don’t solve all his problems.

Which I like. I like Grossman’s more grown-up, sometimes tongue-in-cheek approach that still manages to hold so much whimsy. I like the self-awareness of the characters. They come from our own world, read the same books we’ve probably read, and so know the rules of magical lands and adventures without having actually been on them before. Like how quests just work out if you go with it, or how to assume the role of a King, or a Queen, or a Magician for that matter.

I like the various settings. There aren’t too many fantasy novels whose lands I would actually want to visit — they’re usually too war-torn and scary. But Brakebills is totally a college I would have attended. I would be happy to explore the Narnia-esque kingdom of Fillory, or even the eerie, endless Neitherlands.

And I really like Grossman’s take on the practice of magic. It’s hard. It requires an unbelievable amount of esoteric knowledge and finger dexterity. It requires mind-meltingly difficult calculations regarding the Conditions — time of day and year, latitude, temperature, etc. — to determine just how a spell should be adjusted and cast. To keep up with all this, the Brakebills students are all young geniuses; academic over-achievers, bored, intoxicant-seeking, and generally dissatisfied with their mundane schools and lives.

The result is that the characters are all damaged and self-hating, and none more so than Quentin. That’s usually fun for me. I have my own issues, and so do many of my closest friends. But there’s no obvious reason for Quentin’s deep malaise. Parents still together, no history of abuse, no dead friends, no chronic illness. He’s just aimless, and being aimless, terribly unhappy.

I can empathize, but after awhile it gets old. I got really tired of Quentin after The Magicians, and didn’t plan to go back for more of him.

But after a few months I went back anyway.

Part of it was that — in hindsight — the magical settings and beings and quests were so damn creative, they overshadowed my memories of what a self-destructive whiner Quentin Coldwater was.  Good fantasy is hard to find, and even if I didn’t like Quentin this was the good, pure stuff.

And part of it was solidarity.  Admittedly, Grossman doesn’t need my solidarity; he’s a successful author with books out, and merchandise to match.  And I’m not.  (Yet.)

But I’ve got my own self-loathing magus, Thades Morgan, and I’ve had my own beta readers go every which way on their opinions of him.  Mostly they love him, but one reader detested his melancholy.  So I toned it down, only to have a more savvy beta reader tell me that she wasn’t always convinced by Thades — that I should make him more disgusted with himself again.

You just can’t please everyone, can you?

In any event, I gave Quentin Coldwater another chance, and I’m glad I did.  Quentin matures considerably in The Magician King and The Magician’s Land, and learns to like himself.  The spells get bigger and flashier, more of Fillory is revealed, and the adventures get more creative and intense.  And Grossman does something really smart — as the story gets bigger, he switches from sticking with Quentin to hopping around between his friends.  And they too progress from dysfunction to finding peace with themselves, no matter what transformations they go through.

The Magicians Trilogy is just fantastic, really.  And if you get frustrated with Quentin, as I did, don’t worry.  You’re in the hands of a master here.  Lev Grossman’s the real magician.

Dreaming and Awakening (Two Reviews, Plus Philosophical Meanderings!)

SPOILERS for Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, and also for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.

The Awakening is an interesting cultural artifact, a proto-feminist novel that was nearly lost.  Written in the early 1900s, forgotten, then picked up again and lauded in the 1960s.

Since then it has been critiqued to death.

Seriously, my edition contains 100 pages of novel, and 200 pages of historical information and literary dissection.

I did not read those 200 pages, so maybe I’m going to say things that have already been said.  But (blog post spoilers) since I do tie this back to speculative fiction, maybe I’ll say something new.

The author, Kate Chopin, was an up-and-coming American writer in the early 1900s.  She was rich — not from writing, but from smart real estate investments — had five kids, liked to go out walking by herself (scandalous!), and for most of her life had no man.  She grew up in a household full of widows, and then later lost her own husband.

At a time in history when women were more or less owned by their husbands, she was something special.

Then Chopin wrote The Awakening.

It’s the story Edna Pontellier, a New Orleans Creole woman who “awakens” to her own emotionality, and discovers that she hates her life.  She does not love her husband, and has no interest in raising her own children.

Edna changes her life as best as she can within the constraints of early 1900s, New Orleans, white, upper class society.  But she can find no solidarity.  Her good friend Adele reminds her, “Oh think of your children!”  And the man she loves, Robert, abandons Edna to spare them both the indignity of Edna’s otherwise inevitable divorce.

That’s not the end of the story, but I have a few thoughts to share before I get there.

The first is that this book is hilariously, offensively old fashioned.  If this was popular in the ‘60s, no wonder feminism got off on the wrong foot with women of color!  A tacit, Southern respect for the Confederacy pervades the novel.  There are an impressive number of brown and black characters, but almost all are minimally described servants.

For example, Edna’s nanny appears at least half-a-dozen times, but is only ever known as “the quadroon”.

Edna’s reliance on visible but largely overlooked black people, while desiring her own freedom, creates a bizarre cognitive dissonance.  I don’t know Chopin well enough to say if this is deliberate on her part or not.  If she meant to say something about race, as well as sex and class, or if the statement made itself without her conscious effort.

The second is that the ending is inevitable within the framework and philosophies of straight fiction.

The ending, if you haven’t guessed, is that Edna kills herself.

It’s not out of the blue.  Edna’s been emotionally unstable the whole time.  (She does mask it well, but that’s easy when you have black people around to cook your meals, clean your house, and raise your children for you.)  She keeps making impulsive decisions, feeling no responsibility toward anyone in her life until Adele and Robert remind her.

Think of your children.  Think of your husband.

Due to the intersection of gender, class, and race, Edna can never have the life she wants, she can never be free.  She’s screwed her life up too much already, having a husband and two children she doesn’t want.  So she kills herself.

The ending fits the book.  Chopin built up to it skillfully, with a familiarity that lets me know she had experienced great sadness herself.  But suicide has its pros and cons as a literary device.  It’s a hard ending.  It’s over for Edna Pontellier, there is no Part II.  There’s no imagining how she’ll get out of her situation.

Much has been felt, even learned, but no solution is presented.

I’m not being fair to Kate Chopin.  This book was radical at the time, so much so that despite positive reviews from women, Chopin’s career ended with Edna’s death.  And reading it helped a lot of people “awaken” to feminism.

But I’d like to compare it to my favorite suicide in fantasy; Dream, AKA Morpheus in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic books.

Dream is the personification of the concept of dreams, an amalgam of REM cycles, whimsy, and hope.  But at the beginning of the series he is imprisoned by a magic spell.  He escapes 70 years later, but he never gets over it.  Dream has been sullied.

He builds himself a trap, an inevitable end for himself where he must die.  Sometimes he seems like he knows what he’s doing, sometimes he doesn’t, but in the end he dies.

And because this is fantasy, Dream is then reborn.  He gets to try again.

Obviously, these are two very different stories, rendered in different media, with vastly different purposes and themes.  They are both worthy of reading, and of serious consideration.  And I like them both.

But I like Sandman better.  I like that uptick of continuance and hope that so much of fantasy has.  I like the struggle through symbolism towards life, and towards wellness.

I had a friend ask me one time why I was writing fantasy if I was so interested in the psychology of my characters, if I was so interested in gender and race.  Well, I’ll tell you.

It’s because fiction ends with death, and that’s just where fantasy gets started.

You’re Not Yuccie, You’re an Artist

I came across this article this morning on my Facebook feed.

TL;DR*?  That’s okay, I’ll summarize.

In “The hipster is dead, and you might not like who comes next”, David Infante coins a new word to describe himself and people like him; Millennials living in urban areas who are willing to take uncertain, poorly paid positions so long as they allow for some form of creative expression/fulfillment/validation.  These folk want to start their own artisanal businesses, and hopefully get rich quick off their creative talents.

And despite their financial struggles, these folk are ultimately privileged.  They trust the system (and their families) to carry them through hard times.  They’ve never been screwed over enough to give up their dreams and take a sensible job.

Infante calls himself, and those like him, Young Urban Creatives, or “yuccies”.  (Like “yucky”, get it?!)  More sensible than the hipster, poorer than the yuppie, but full of “creative entitlement”.

This is myopic, self-hating nonsense, and I’m tired of it.

The problem is not the “yuccies” themselves, but a dwindling supply of good, stable jobs on “traditional career paths” coupled with a complete lack of respect for creative types.  I’ve experienced this lack of respect first hand, and it nearly destroyed me.

I can’t just watch this crap go viral without responding, so here’s my story.

At fourteen, I discovered my deep love for creative writing, specifically long, speculative fiction.  I had always been good at writing, I loved to read, and I had a penchant for literary analysis — maybe I should have figured out who I was sooner, but I managed it at fourteen.

I started telling people.

My high school was entirely unprepared to help me achieve this kind of goal, and actively worked to quash it.  A surprising number of people thought it was supportive to talk to me about “day jobs” and “alternate careers”, and to remind me that the odds would not be in my favor.  It’s no wonder I wound up clinically depressed and burdened by generalized anxiety by the time I was fifteen.

I spent the next decade “finding myself” — that is, turning into a failure.

I dropped out of my prestigious university.  I moved back into my parents’ home, jobless and unable to function.  I took random classes at a community college, hoping that bit of structure and the achievement of completed classes would galvanize me into… something.  I floated, cushioned from real hardship by the incredible luck of having a generous and loving family, but bleak and barren inside.

And my psychiatric medication killed my creativity, the very thing that would eventually help me pull myself back together.

From my perspective, Infante’s “yuccies” are functioning much better than I did.  Privileged or not, they’re making pragmatic choices.  They’re walking a thin line between self-expression and “making it”, and managing it as creative work is increasingly outsourced overseas, underpaid, or divorced from any kind of stability.

Infante decries his own choices and the choices of other young, creative types — but that’s just whining, wishing he could have his stable job cake and decorate it too.

He decries the privilege of “yuccies”, but just how useful is all that child-of-middle-class guilt?  It isn’t going to break down income inequality, raise minimum wage, strengthen our social safety nets, get us universal health care, bring paid vacations, sick leave, and family leave to American workers, end racism, classism, or sexism, or even feed, clothe, or house the needy.  Know you’re privileged, be grateful for it, be generous to those you meet who aren’t, and vote socialist so we can share the privilege around.

He decries his need for constant validation — well, that’s almost a good point.  “Yuccies” may be needy, but that’s a perversion of their natural creative drive.  We’re told we need to make something of ourselves — and make money — and are given few opportunities to do it without killing our souls.  Public funding for the arts is pathetic.  Try to talk STEAM instead of STEM, and everyone but Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks you’re coddling drug-addled theater majors.

It isn’t easy to be an artsy, creative person.  If you can be something else, that might be in your best interest.  But if you can’t, if your soul will sicken without self expression, take your genius by the horns.  Every career path is uncertain now, so get that artsy degree.  Turn down that boring job.  Don’t worry so much about the opportunities you’re missing, focus on the ones you have.

You’re not “yuccie”, you’re an Artist.  And don’t let anyone tell you differently.

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*for those who aren’t hep to internet acronyms, this one means “Too Long; Didn’t Read”