The Best in the Collection

No comments on my entries to the latest edition of The Midnight Collection, OK.  Now I’m posting what I consider to be the best story from the book.  Written by Joseph Kelly, it well embodies the theme of Bitter Cold, and is just unusually well-written fiction.  How am I dating this guy?  Check it out.  My post here is going to have the start of the story with a link to where you can finish reading it on The Midnight Collection’s website.  If you love or hate the story, or love expressing your opinion even when that is “meh,” leave a comment either here or there…

man in snow

“A man walking in the snow” – Engelhart, 1904

THE ICE BOX

Joseph Kelly

Content Warnings:  Ableist language, Child death/endangerment, Death of loved one, Depression, Disease, Horror Content in General.

In this country, the seasons were so wonderfully distinct.  You’d never mistake the autumn woods for those in late summer or early winter, with the leaves a vibrant patchwork and the grasses a uniform gold.  The blooming swamp irises would not let you imagine it was still March, and the dense blanket of snow would stay until the first crackling, melting days of spring.  Because of this, Granddad could never forget his daughter died in early autumn.

No walks together through the crunching leaves that season, only bitter mourning indoors, the curtains closed.  She had died so quickly, along with her husband.  Their bedroom remained untouched since then, their bed still unmade from where they were lifted by nurses.  Granddad installed a lock on that door so his granddaughter wouldn’t go wandering in.  There was nothing in there but a few humble possessions, and blood-stiffened handkerchiefs.  But their memory remained.  The scent of their illness dissipated, replaced by the scent of the little imported soaps she used, shaped like flowers and seashells.  Granddad threw them in the bin with glassy eyes, then took the bin away from the house.

They had fallen ill so quickly, then died far from home, never to return.  In Granddad’s youth, his mother had died in her own bed, surrounded by family.  Now people were just cut from your life.  One final glimpse in the coffin, then gone.  It left a terrible anticipation, like they might walk through the door any moment.  That he would wake from this troubled dream, back to how things were before.

And the little one, of course, had to feel it even more.  She had never known life without her parents.  Those first few days, she would sit by the door, staring at the solid wood.  She would mumble ‘I know’ to his reminders that they were not returning.  But she kept up her ritual, even after the second trip to leave flowers on the graves.  He allowed her; what else could he do?  She gave up once the snow began to fall, closing the season and that part of their lives, killing the timid hope that curled up in their hearts.

Granddad returned to his workshop and all the usual chores when the neighbors’ kindness dried up.  No more sweet lebkuchen and warm spätzle delivered by rheumy-eyed matrons.  No offers to watch the little girl to give him a break.  She was darling, an angel, but she was still too small to be left alone while he worked all day.  Nor would he want to leave her alone.  He stayed up an entire night to move her playroom into his workshop.  She could be beside him as he worked, her squeaks and shouts no longer an annoyance, but a comfort.

Long ago, he had climbed on roofs and repaired broken pipes, but now his work had to be seated.  And once, he had considered himself retired, doing his tinkering as a mere hobby to keep himself occupied.  Now it was a livelihood with his children gone.  He built and repaired tools for the neighbors.  Maybe they just paid him out of pity, though his work truly was well-crafted.  Too well-crafted, perhaps.  Once he built a hammer, it would last a lifetime—why buy a second one?  The men would mumble about giving it to a relative, goaded on by their soft-hearted wives.

He asked around the village whether someone might like a dollhouse for a little girl.  A rocking horse?  Some sturdy wooden blocks?  But children preferred toys from the fancy shop in town, not the outdated creations of an old man.  So he took his tools and his granddaughter out to neighbor’s houses to repair their attic steps, and nail down new baseboards to keep the mice out.

One afternoon, the two of them arrived to the Bürgermeister’s daughter’s house.  Her expensive ice box had broken, and it seemed a waste to purchase a new one, though they could surely afford it.  These days, a man came around to sell blocks of ice, a convenience compared to venturing out into the ice caverns to chip some off yourself.  All the middle-class families wanted their own ice box now.

A putrid smell hung in the air, and the windows of the fine estate gaped open.  The lady of the house rushed out to meet them.

“Forgive the smell.  The goose rotted.  That’s how we knew…”

Inside, the icebox lay on its side in a pile of wet rags.  The delicately carved trim looked so extravagant, but he could see the cracks in the joints, the sloppily joined seams.  The lady fetched him a stool, and he sat with a quiet grunt of pain.  Looking closer, he found the drainage hole—so roughly cut it was half clogged with splinters.  He puzzled over it, tapping with the hammer, seeing what had gone so wrong.  There was no point fixing it, the wood inside being so cheap and splintered.

“It’s such a shame,” the lady said, bouncing his granddaughter on her knee.  “So much money.”

“It’s a simple design,” Granddad said.  “One could make something like this out of an old cabinet.  They put too much effort on the exterior.”

The woman’s eyes brightened.  “You can make anything, can’t you?  I bet you could make one for half the cost?”

He thought to scoff, but there really couldn’t be much to it.

That evening, he rocked in his chair, a notebook on his lap.  He twirled his pen, pondering the design.  He didn’t have a factory or specialty tools, but if he could build a cupboard, why couldn’t he build this?  His granddaughter sneezed as she stacked her blocks, and he rushed over to fuss with her.  Her little hands were pink and cold.  It had grown a bit chilly, hadn’t it?

He spent long hours, and had to purchase ice from that smarmy city-man to test it, but he developed a prototype.  He could store soup for days, keep the leftover bits of dinner he usually fed to the garden.  But an old man and a tiny girl didn’t eat much, and leftovers wouldn’t keep their stove burning all winter.

As much as he hated to, he invited the grannies and aunties to the house, let them chatter away and poke and squeeze his granddaughter.  They marveled at his design as he showed them how clean it was, how easy to change out the old water, how much longer their ice would last.  There were two orders by the end of the night.

It was hard work, and he wished he’d come up with the idea years earlier, before arthritis stiffened his hands, back when he had the energy to saw and hammer and move bulky furniture.  He had no means to cart the things around, so he would have to assemble them in the neighbors’ houses.

His granddaughter had been whining for him to play with her, wanting him to sit his creaky body on the floor and watch her move her dollies around.  He would have loved to, but he only had so many wakeful hours in the day, and they needed to eat, to stay warm.  One evening he found her twirling a dolly with a strangely patterned dress—white, splotched with dark brown flowers: a bloody kerchief.

He took it from her as she cried.  The forbidden bedroom door gaped open, his step stool dragged close for little hands to reach the knob.  She had learned to open the lock.

There was no putting it off now.  He gathered up the old possessions, took the dirty linens to the trash, sold the costume jewelry for a pittance.  The room was empty, save for the bare bed, and the chair he’d sat on as he cared for them.  All traces of them were gone, besides a few trinkets he kept in a drawer with a sturdier lock.  It was like another death.

Snow filled in the yard, and now he had to bundle up the little girl if she wanted to follow him as he worked.  She kept losing her mittens, and he’d hunt around to find them abandoned on a snow drift.  He scolded her, said her fingers would turn black and fall off if she wasn’t careful.  His own fingers were a bit precarious too, with clumsy mistakes of his hammer and weary work with the saw.

The neighbors sent their young sons to help deliver the bulky wood and heavy tools.  The young men would scoff and snort at his attempts at conversation, rushing ahead with their long legs to leave him shuffling behind.  His granddaughter had become just as sullen as those young men, too fussy to come with him to his work.  No matter how he explained, she could not accept his long hours away as important for their survival.  But she was big enough now to stay alone, wasn’t she?  She was a big girl who could play with her toys while he was gone for just a couple hours.

One evening he returned late, the moon gleaming on the thick snow.  He was longing for nothing more than a soak in the bathtub.  The gate was parted.  He approached, dumbly fussing with the latch, mystified.  Had he left it open in his rush?  The terrible realization dawned on him, and he didn’t even stop to look inside the house.

He dashed around as quickly as he could with his stiff knees, crying out her name.  The snow was falling fast, but he could still catch traces of footprints leading out of the yard.  The way he’d come, his heavy boots stomping over them without even noticing.

He prayed it was just her coat lying in that snow bank, but he knew.  Her shoe had gotten stuck on a tree root, and it hadn’t occurred to the poor thing to just pull it off.  He shook at her, pawed at her frozen white face.  Her eyes were closed, frost matting the lashes.  No pink in her lips, her cheeks.  She’d kept her mittens on for once.

He rushed back home with her in his arms, mind spinning.  How?  How?  He had locked the gate, he was sure of it.  And how had she gotten outside at all?

The front door was unlatched too, a little chair pushed against it to reach the knob.  He laid her in front of the fire, shuddering.  He fell to his old knees, grimacing with the pain as he lay his ear against her chest.  Listen, listen… listen for anything over the creak of the old wood, of the crackling of the ice outside, of the drip-drip of the coming spring thaw.  Anything, a mouse’s peep, the tiniest flutter… No breath came from her blue lips.  He lifted one of her eyelids and revealed the pale, lifeless eye.

They would come take her.  Not even to the hospital—straight to the little box they’d bury her in.  He might not survive to see that moment; his old heart threatened to pound itself to death.  The fire burned beside them, melting the flakes in her lashes.  He gazed at her, imagining the chill blue fading from her face.  What would be left then?  A goose, left to spoil?

He bundled her in his arms.  He couldn’t let them take her from him.  She was all he had, and all he could ever hope to have again.  He stumbled out into the snow and laid her in a soft drift.  Spring was coming, and everything would melt.

There was still wood in the shop, enough for another cabinet, at least a small one.  He hauled the boards out into the yard and got to work.  His body screamed for rest but he couldn’t leave her out in the open that way, out with pecking birds and scuttling insects.

It was enough.  He could refine the seams later, make sure not even the tiniest insect could crawl inside.  His heart kept hoping that she would waken, that she would cover her ears and wail about Opa making such a racket with his hammer.  But she was still as a doll, even as he laid her in the little box, and tucked her in with handfuls of snow.  A puffy white comforter for her rest.

He kept the box close to the house and stayed in his freezing workshop, scribbling out plans.  A stupid old man could figure out an icebox, but what was he hoping to invent now?  An icebox where the ice never melted?  And what then, if he could even manage it?  Keep her sad little body forever, locked away like a trinket in a drawer?  He wept into his hands between his fits of labor.

The next morning, a knock to his door woke him in a startled fit.  That damned ice-man was back, bragging about his wares.  You could preserve a goose for a month with this…  Selling ice in the dead of winter!  Granddad rebuffed him and stalked back to his workshop.  But a thought began to turn in his mind.  The ice cavern was cold the whole year, especially the deeper you went…

READ THE REST HERE,

Or purchase the whole Midnight Collection e-book through Ko-fi.  A physical copy in paperback will be coming soon.  And lastly, you can just read the collection for free at the Collection’s website.

The Midnight Collection, Volume Three!

The Midnight Collection rides for again!  Just in time for xmas, you can read a winter-themed collection of short stories, poems, etc..  My man Joseph Kelly has published this compilation of dark fiction that I’ve previously mentioned.  You have a few options on how to read it – and one is completely gratis. I’ll explain that later.

frosty hell

This third installment of The Midnight Collection is themed “Bitter Cold.”  The collection is basically produced without profit at this point.  I’m just pimping it because I’m a contributor, and I’d love to hear what you think of my writing.  Although I am really curious what reviewers, casual or serious, will think of all the stories.

This is truly an unusual collection. Despite the uniting theme, it’s as diverse as the members of our secret cabal of writers. There’s poetry, comedy, a sprinkle of queer representation, and dark fiction ranging from traditional ’80s style horror to fantasy to sci-fi.  Overall this volume leans toward themes of social isolation and dark moods, as befits the season.  Some of the writers are more conventional, some rather unusual.  A little tour of the table of contents:

A GIFT FOR MANNY – Kelsey Nie
A new author for this collection, and what a character.  I did not see where this is going, indeed, still not completely sure what I beheld on the way there.  A brisk read with a bent sense of humor.

VARIOUS POEMS – Saoirse Aimhirghin
Returning from Vol. 2: Dark Harvest, this author serves up a passel of icy poems, interspersed throughout the book.

THE FROST ON TOMBSTONES – Kate Bledsoe
The most christmas’d out story in the collection, replete with a big pile of gifts, unethical medicine, and monsters.  Something for the whole family, from a returning author.  The spooky elements were gratifying.

SOUL EATER – Dominique Palma
She’s back from Dark Harvest, again bringing that international flavor, in a story that ranges across the Atlantic Ocean and history as well.  This is the author’s second story for us to include poetry, which is interesting.

KISS OF THE ANCESTORS, WATCHING TREES, THE ICE BOX – Joseph Kelly
My lovin’ man has entries of his own, besides pulling rather extreme labor as the editor of these little beasts.  Watching Trees is a short but immersive creep show, Kiss of the Ancestors is a dark fantasy tale that might trigger those of you who have suffered religious abuse.  The Ice Box is exceptionally well-written, spot-on for the theme of bitter cold, and emotionally brutal.

SLAY RIDE – Emily Socia
In Vol. 2: Dark Harvest, this author brought us a creep show of her own.  This time around, she’s written a narrative poem in that classic genre of christmas horror, each verse a haiku.

A CHRISTMAS NINJA – Christopher Scott Shelton
A poem about a christmas-themed ninja, this thing is my inner 16-yr-old’s fault.  And reflecting on the experience, I’m fucking pissed I didn’t work in a reference to Michael Dudikoff.

THE NEAR-EPIC OF INDOMINUS CAESAR – Brett Elijah Shelton
Back-to-back poems by Sheltons!  This one mounds archaic language to obscure its true narrative to the last verse.  True dad humor.

UP ON THE ROOFTOPS – B.A. Kerchner
Another returning author, Kerchner keeps the family horror and slimy monstrosity, but this time adds seasonal humor, influenced perhaps by the Fallout universe.  Enjoy.

RITES OF MILK – Damian Golfinopoulos
Before the first volume of The Midnight Collection came out, I personally invited this guy from our secret writing cabal to submit something.  His ideas were wild, influenced by stuff like Cronenberg and Burroughs.  And yet the stories he produced in the first two volumes seemed more buttoned-down, serious, even sad?  This is more like what I was originally expecting.  Good and greasy.

THE IMMOLATION OF THE THORNBLOODS, I BOUGHT THE TICKET – Caesar Train Magenta
In my pencil moustache-having persona, I wrap the collection in my Rod Serling way with I Bought the Ticket.  But earlier in the book I have a proper entry, my first gothic BDSM soap opera.  Will it be my last?  Probably, but it was an interesting experience.

HINTERKAIFECK, A WINTER’S FRIENDSHIP FAIR – Saoirse Aimhirghin
Hinterkaifeck is a true crime essay, A Winter’s Friendship Fair is horror short about cutesy white people facing mysterious peril.

STEALING CHILL – Bébé Mélange
Didn’t like Diana’s job interviews in Supply Chain Banditos and The Pumpkin Spice?  Neither did the employers, so she’s back for another interview.  This might be my best yet, breaking out of the “my mom’s ex-boyfriends” mold to tell us more about her family.  The lore deepens.

TRAPPED IN STONE – Rachel Friend
Aside from a few random F-bombs, this little spook story has a lot of child-like whimsy.  A self-satisfied librarian is snowed in, which seems like a dream come true for her.  Until books start to get mildly damaged.  That shit is uncalled for.

DANCING SKIES – Annie K. Su
The last proper entry of this volume brings back the big heart.  Set in a fictionalized Arctic land, this has a grim premise, but an interesting path.

a cool boy

“Chill Boy” – Joseph Kelly, 2022

HOW DO I READ THE MIDNIGHT COLLECTION?

The way that results in the most direct support for future volumes is through Ko-fi.  For a minimum three dollar donation, you can download the e-book in formats that work with most e-readers.  Due to holiday jackanapery, the printed version is not currently available, but may be soon.  And lastly, as promised, you can just read it for free at the Collection’s website.

There are a few original works of art by the authors and editor (nice!) but most of the illustrations are lovingly curated from public domain resources.  Some version of some of most of the illustrations are available on the website, more in the e-book, but yes, the best way to appreciate them is a hard copy… whenever we make that happen.

I’d love to see reviews, either of the whole package or individual stories.  For lowest effort you can drop some general thoughts in the comments below this article.  You can also leave comments on the individual stories at the Midnight Collection’s site.  Thanks!

Note:  I’m given to understand some non-USA people can’t use a card to purchase it through ko-fi, but if somebody specifically requests to make it available through Amazon, we’ll look into it.

Andvaka

Flashing Light Warning on this video:  It doesn’t actually have flashing lights, but the jarring camera movement and hard cuts between scenes in chiaroscuro lighting might have the same effect.  Also the music is intentionally cruel to the ears, but artistic.

Andvaka is the Icelandic word for insomnia, which isn’t terribly meaningful in itself, but as Iceland gets a season of excessively long daylight, they probably feel it harder than we do.  Last night I got to sleep about 2:00 AM and woke up hard at 5:30.  Time to get ready for work rolled around at 9:20 and I was still awake, so I had to call off.  As I type this it’s 4:30 PM and I’m flagging badly, glad I had the luxury of a paid sick day so I’m not making potentially ruinous mistakes right now.

I had a night a little over a year ago that was similar.  I couldn’t sleep, and my mind kept turning paces.  At that time, I was going over what I’d say if I was being interviewed by Rachel Maddow, over and over and over again.  Last night, it was a little more varied and less grandiose, but I think it dipped into talk show interview territory for at least a bit.  This seems like textbook mania, for a bipolar person, and there’s every reason based on my immediate family to think I have some risk of that.  But it doesn’t happen often enough to be a major problem.  Still, fingers crossed it doesn’t get worse.

There is something else related to my family health history that was on my mind.  I’m mutated.  I’m a mutant.  Seems to be from my father, and possibly my brother has the same issues.  We all have arthritis and degenerative disc disease in our lumbar vertebrae.  Last week I found out I have a mutation that increases risk of certain cancers of the abdominal organs.

it's a riverdale reference

This made me wonder if there’s a connection between the cancer risks and the spinal stuff.  Call it a developmental biology question.  As an embryo’s cells divide and differentiate, they move and branch.  Grossly inaccurate, but you could imagine it like a river delta branching fractally as it runs to the sea.  A mutation is like a stone near the head of the delta changing the shape of the waters downstream.

The mutation is known, but the mechanisms by which these things cause health problems are less understood.  I’m just wondering, when I was an embryo, did the mutation throw some shit in the river, neighborhood of my lumbar stem cells, that made both the spine and internal organs “downstream” from it more likely to fuck up?

Do the pancreas and colon even come from the lumbar part of the embryo, or do they grow in a different segment and migrate to their respective positions?  If the latter is true, my notion doesn’t hold up.  Every DNA-having cell in my bod has the same issues, whatever they mean.  I also have two other mutations that could mess up children if I had them, so good thing I’m no breeder, and another mutation with unknown ramifications.  It might explain the telekinesis and laser eyes.

Something bad happened in my not too distant ancestry and that’s life, babey.  Something to think about when you aren’t sleeping.

When Fat Ladies Sing

Fatphobia is still permissible in almost every aspect of society, tho some specific manifestations of it fall under sexual harassment laws.  If a doctor doesn’t treat you because you’re fat (“Broken rib?  You’ll feel better when you lose weight.  Next!”), that’s close to completely legal.  All the medical discriminator needs is a tiny sliver of plausible deniability about the specific diagnosis (“How could I feel ribs through all that fat?  Fat people should die tho.”) and their malpractice insurance rates don’t even go up.

So it’ll be a long time before fatphobia is addressed as a conversation at the level of society the way transphobia is now.  As bad as it is for trans folks now, it’s these kind of crucibles that lead to improvement in awareness, and real progress – eventually.  That conversation has barely cleared the ground, in how we treat fat people.

It’s annoying how all the prejudices of the world echo each other, though they have their own flavors.  Like black people in most of the 20th century, fat people are stereotyped as a joke, as funny, and not as someone you’d ever imagine in a romantic situation.  I’m thinking of the archetypes in black depictions by white people, like the picaninny and sambo.  No coincidence one of those stereotypes, the mammy, was also fat.  Intersectional oppression, oh boy.

The last one crosses my mind more, lately.  Fat people not allowed to be seen as romantic, beautiful, desirable.  There are a few depictions that get close, that show them as humans who deserve respect, who have needs, and can find relationships.  But even within those depictions, the characters are usually seen as funny, earth-bound, immune to lofty experiences and deep passions.  Nobody who would ever be desired in a deeply romantic way.

There’s some back and forth in activist discussion about how important that is, with some people saying it should be perfect and great for everybody to be allowed to be considered ugly and still get treated with full and proper respect.  Ugliness itself, from whatever source, shouldn’t lead to prejudice.  That’s not exactly my position, though I see a lot of merit in it, and I may be getting the particulars wrong.  I do disagree with the first part for a few reasons.

It feels like giving up on the possibility of fat people being seen as beautiful, which is ceding ground to fatphobes before the fight’s even really started.  It’s natural this exists as a counter to fat activism that focuses excessively on beauty, I’m cool with that, but I just don’t want to see the possibility of beauty in fat people casually chucked out the window.  Cultural archetypes influence us profoundly.  There has never been a movie where the hot girl that everybody wants is also fat.  That hasn’t, to my knowledge, ever happened.

And I, as a person who has always found fat people attractive, had my imagination warped by that.  (The following has less than nothing to do with sex work or sex workers.)  The madonna/whore complex, drawn broadly, is that there’s a dichotomy between those one finds romantically beautiful and those one finds sexually appealing.  Early in my life, this lack of romantic depiction of fat ladies shunted them all into the “whore” category.  I’m sure the way black people are treated by white lovers is also fucked up by this.  (Actually, for people raised in compulsory cisheterosexuality, they can often view their own assigned sex in the same way.)

That problem in my imagination hasn’t had any impact on most of my life, that I’ve noticed, but it annoys me.  I want to hold up the fat people I’m attracted to as beautiful in every way, but in the ancient core of my psychology, there’s a dissonant note in that.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to shut that shit off completely.  My stake in this is emotional, not practical.  I don’t want to fix my heart because it will help me treat people better, since I’m already doing that well enough.  I want to fix that aspect of my heart because of the way it feels.  (Per my last aside in the previous paragraph, I’d also like to see men more romantically as well, but that’s a little easier to find cultural reinforcement for.)

Anyway, for fat ladies being romantic, a good source is singers.  When an unskinny lady sings a love song, she’s the star of a romance.  I’m thinking of Ella Fitzgerald and Ann Wilson at the moment, but for a song specifically about romantic desire, observe Sólveig Matthildur.  She’s not very big, but bigger than most are allowed to be on the top 40, and that makes this song hit different for me.  Also she looks hella like a nose ring girl I crushed on in high school.  You’ll always be a star in my sky, Stephanie.


PS – This may also be on my mind as I’ve been playing at being feminine more often, and the reality that I’ve been fat for a long time finally begins to sink in.  My sense of self-worth was formed when I was skinny, and so has not been saddled with that burden of oppression.  As a usually masc-looking AMAB person, this doesn’t come up often, but I was fatphobia’d recently at an office party.  So here I am: a fat lady singing, in my own way.

These Dreams

These dreams go on when I close my eyes, every second of the night I live another life.  No, I’m not gonna embed the Heart video where the camera became allergic to Ann Wilson’s plus loveliness.  But I am going to tell you about my recent dreams, as if that was interesting, haha.

This will be a short one.  I didn’t make an effort to remember the dream well right when I woke up, and it was some time last week I had this?  Anyway, I was an evil clown.  Just for a minute, but that’s kinda weird.  It was one of those dreams that changes perspective, like movies change who they follow in different parts.  So it was basically one of the scenes that follows Jason around while he’s slashin’.

I shot these teenagers in the head with a crappy little revolver, but it got the job done.  One dead, two dead, three, four.  As I was killing these kids, I felt no especial joy or malice or anything.  I had only one thought:  Am I doing this wrong?  I’m supposed to be scaring them first, aren’t I?  I’m doing this wrong.

So now you know what lurks within the heart of the killer clown.  Mild self-reproach.

Socialize Social Media

Social media is clearly an essential service in modern life.  I was thinking about this a while back, because blogs like ours are just not seen by the masses, and I wanted a solution aside from “link every post from a social media account.”  I couldn’t come up with a single answer that seemed likely to succeed.  It’s the agora, for better or for worse, and nobody wants to lose access to that.

The social media actually is essential has led to the proposal it should be owned and regulated by the government, not by private businesses.  That it should be socialized.  I had hit on this as a solution to the twitpocalypse, but I figured this had been proposed by others, and wikipedia served up an answer to that question.  The article I linked takes the usual pains to be neutral, includes the arguments of detractors, but you can see how flimsy those arguments are.

“It would harm consumers because only the competition of private enterprise drives innovation.”  Essential modern services like internet and phone service are horrible in the USA, carved up into fiefdoms by oligopolies that exploit corporate welfare, extort from customers, and provide the minimum service they can possibly get away with.  The supposed competition doesn’t exist, and government services are capable of innovation.  They do this all the time, usually in incremental ways.

Plus the most popular social media is the most simple fuddy-duddy retrograde one out there – Facebook.  Socializing the service isn’t an all-or-nothing deal.  The boring backbone service for all the oldsters and low-fi people, the one that connects families, helps dying uncles feel less alone, that one should be less innovative!  Facebook changes up its UI all the time to allow more ads and other creepiness, you think 70-year-olds love learning a new interface every three months?  Then all the other social media can stay private.  The most essential and basic version of social media is there to fall back on when businesses fail, all the fun zazzy insta tiktok whatever can continue to benefit from all the supposed magic of capitalist free enterprise.

“It isn’t essential, technically you can live without it.”  Technically you can live without phone service, until you can’t.  If it is the public square, keeping people out who couldn’t afford the internet connection is discrimination.  The conversations we have on social media have toppled governments; indeed they are within spitting distance of toppling the pretense of democracy right here in the USA.  That means access to those conversations is as important to representation as voting itself.

There’s more, but you get the idea.  The reason it has become critical to bring this idea back?  Musk has shown that all you need to violate the privacy of billions of people, to completely fuck up the program, is phat bank.  A decade of people communicating in private with each other, assuming the platform would conduct itself with a bare modicum of ethics, and all it took was one creepy apartheid heir with a few billion in the back pocket to burn that trust to the ground.

Every branch of the USA government including the military has official twitters.  I’m sure they weren’t using the DMs of those branches to send classified info, but it points to how vulnerable these systems are to bad actors.

This got me thinking, the USA has a lot of public services that have been made private.  We let private businesses handle our power, our telecommunications, and so much more – varying from state to state and sometimes city to city.  All of those services are potentially prone to billionaires with napoleon complexes.

What’s to stop Jeff Bezos from buying Verizon and then just shutting it down?  If he wants to burn his cash, he can.  If he decides to buy a major power company, then simply turn it off, he’s within his rights.  Municipalities with private waste disposal, what happens when that company is bought by somebody who just wanted to see your city buried in rats and sewage?

At the very least, come up with a social media platform comparable to Facebook, run by the government.  Zuck Fuckerberg, he can cry about that on his pile of gold bricks.

What to Say, What to Say

I have a few sticks in my craw lately and don’t know which of them I should post about, or if posting about them would just rile me up worse.

One, Apartheid Beneficiary Musk letting famous transphobic inquisitors look at your DMs.  That put me in mind of the way cisheterofash always accuse LGBT+ people of being pedophiles, and the way actual pedophiles get nothing like this level of persecution from them.  Actual pedophiles are incredibly commonplace.  We all know them, they’re in every community.  They would not be hard to hound in this way, to be exposed and have their privacy invaded, to be threatened from all corners.  And yet, where is that?  Oh yeah, it’s somehow different for right wingers when it’s their dad, their brother, their pastor, their football coach.  Somehow he’s the one who can be saved if you just let him off the hook this one time with a promise to be different and never do that thing again.

Two, given how my boyfriend’s life has been enriched by using AI art, the prevalence of irrational and uninformed luddism in that discourse is especially depressing and infuriating.  On this site, at least, people pride themselves on being skeptical thinkers.  I thought I might leverage that to spread the word about how unfounded the AI hater’s main points are.  But focusing on that at the moment?  I dunno.

What do you like to see me write about?  What’s your preferred GAS content?

All the Dollars, Genre Edition

Capitalism is about every business needing to maximize profits at all times, at the expense of quality, of careers, of productive businesses themselves, of individual lives, of communities, of art and intellect, of the continued existence of the human species, etc.  I don’t much cotton to it.

Something wiser people than I have remarked on, or expounded at length, is that this has the effect of reducing consumer choice.  That might be small potatoes compared to it reducing the life expectancy of the human race, but it’s not nothing, and it’s what I’m talking about at the moment.  Briefly.  This will be a total driveby.

I’ve been reading Paperbacks From Hell by Grady Hendrix, mostly for the pictures.  It’s an art book of schlocky horror book covers, but also a history of the industry, artists, and writers.  Some combination of tax law and corporate greed led to the destruction of the mid-tier book market in the ’90s, and more relevant to my point here, led to trend-chasing and the death of entire genres.

It was never about public desire to actually read this or that.  It was about the money men’s perceived need to put all your money on the winning horse, to hedge no bets.  When Silence of the Lambs blew up, supernatural or scifi horror was chucked in the dustbin of history.  It couldn’t get published without a select few author’s names on it.  It was serial killers or thrillers, for the spooky end of the book rack, or nothing.

I haven’t finished the book yet so I don’t know if it mentions the way book stores don’t even have a horror section now, but they do have a supernatural romance section, boy howdy.  Anyway, all these genres are ridden into the dirt like so many Dr. Strangelove bombs, leaving the public tired and wired.  We still have needs for artistic and intellectual stimulation that are not being met, interests The Man has deemed unprofitable.

And thanks to cultural balkanization driven by social media, it’ll be pretty hard for The Man to keep these gravy trains on track.  Disney’s historically recent media monopolies seemed like they could rule forever, but those profits are sure to get limp over time.  What then?  For us, the consumers of media, we have our rabbit holes, our communities, our own trends that flicker this way and that like cat’s tails.

I don’t know if I have anything to say with all this.  It’s just what was on my mind.  I’m going to self-publish a supernatural horror action-adventure sometime soon-esque, and that would’ve been among the casualties of this mess, once upon a time.  Who’s to say what will happen with it now?

No Solutions

Content Warnings:  Mental Illness, The Failure of Social Services, Poverty, The Failure of US “Democracy,” Child Abuse, Murder, Paranoia, Doomy Thoughts.  But I’m OK, don’t worry.

People get overwhelmed, look at the whole of everything that’s wrong in the world, or just their lives in particular, and feel hopeless.  Generally, I think that’s depression or some other problem messing with you.  Life can be made bearable or have OK moments for almost anyone.  But I have to admit, sometimes in life there are problems with no solutions.

That’s the kind of shit I deal with at work sometimes.  I got somebody on the phone with paranoia, wanting help in protecting herself from imagined oppressors.  What the fuck is the recommended wisdom for helping people with paranoid delusions?  Do you humor them and act like you’re taking it seriously, but not facilitate any actual pursuit of their claims?  Do you tell them gently that they’re imagining things?  Tell them sternly?

Any action you take will only result in more paranoia, more delusion.  The best case scenario is that they get distracted and forget they talked to you in the first place, but unfortunately a lot of paranoid people have excellent (if warped) memories.

Sometimes at work* I have to tell people that they have no income, have a massive new debt, and are facing months of travail for a mere chance of setting things right.  Basically, “If you don’t have family to lean on, welcome to your new home eating rats in the underpass.  Or go back to work even though you’re disabled and stay doing that until it kills you.”

Technically, this is a problem with a solution:  Overthrow of the US government, or at least a progressive rout of the whole system.  But that magical probably-not-happening future does nothing for people fucked to death by the laws and policies of the here and now.

I wrote my senator about the need for progressive reform and her underlings sent a form response with clear tells that the message was skimmed at best, not really read for understanding.  That senator is literally the perfect person to write about the issue, sitting on a committee deciding the relevant laws.  Too bad, so sad.

Mutual aid is probably the only way the masses will survive late capitalism, but we’ve been systemically divided.  I don’t know the rotating cast of neighbors in my apartment complex and they don’t know me.  We have every reason in the world to regard each other as potential thieves and creeps.  We’re all busting our humps at work too much to do the emotional labor of establishing a community.  Instead we’re fighting over parking spaces, as the jacked up rent has the number of tenants per unit exceeding capacity.  There have been a few murders and attempted murders in my little apartment complex, and it’s not even considered one of the bad ones in my city.

One of those murders may have been the solution to a problem – a child stabbing a (possibly) predatory adult in the household many times.  But you know what happens to that kid next, and it looks like less of a solution in the end.  As common as child abuse is, most likely it was the motive, but I did open the article talking about paranoid delusions, and the murdered person may have been innocent.  Who can say?  As the meme says, the world is a fuck.

The idea that things can always get worse looks more true every year, with a natural end point for that in human extinction.  With a complex enough system there are thousands of ways for things to go wrong and very very few ways for them to go right.

But, you know, keep taking care of yourselves and each other, and maybe this will look less dire on the other side.  And in the meantime, if somebody can eviscerate Matt Walsh and use his entrails to hang JKR from the parapet of her castle, please do.  The sun will come out tomorrow, haha.

*This is the best job I ever had, in terms of recompense and security, and my only hope of clearing the traps of poverty in what’s left of my life, so changing jobs is not an option at the moment.  How’s your line, lately?