And indeed I think it is best not to be comfortable, no matter how much I want to. But there are still sources of strength.
Apparently the thing I do here now is, once a year, post a podcast I made with friends about a movie that already came out. This time I made one with my friend Anne! It’s about the non-classic 90s Teen Film Varsity Blues, for no clear reason that either of us could recall. Despite our claims at the beginning, we DID think of a belated title for it: Reel 90s Kids.
Because we remember.
I’m not going to link to the site we discuss for the latter half of the podcast because I don’t want to make anyone’s life sadder, including yours. I have faith in your ability to find it if you want to. Please don’t. Special thanks to small genius Aidan James for our outro music!
I really love Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but my fondness is as nothing compared to that of my friend Rachel, even though she’s actually more a fan of a work derived from—well, we’ll get to that. Sometimes we exhort each other about it on twitter. Our mutual friend Sumana (star of many recent entries here) has found this charming, and a while back she urged us to record some kind of longer discussion and put it on the Internet; we did so, but not without making her complicit.
This is a podcast! It’s about 53 minutes long and covers a broad range of topics, which I have tried to annotate below. It is centered around the reasoning behind our affection for the movie, and especially the treatment of sexuality, gender and kyriarchy therein. I have been lax in my duty as its producer and am posting it months late, but fortunately it is now in time for Chris Evans and his portrayal of Steve Rogers to reënter our consciousness in Avengers: Age of Innocence. I found this conversation valuable and was grateful to be a part of it; I hope you like it too.
3:40 – Steve has wood.
4:00 – Sumana’s reference to difficulty reading about torture “today” refers to when we recorded the podcast, in early December of 2014.
7:10 – Rachel and Sumana both knew the origin of the term “Winter Soldier” (it was news to me! I am a failed American).
10:30 – “Mothering versus Contract” by Virginia Held is an amazing piece of work, which came to me by way of my friend Monica; it first appeared in Beyond Self-Interest in 1990, and you can read some of it via Google Books.
20:25 – Specifically, Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1940. The joke about the title of this post is that they created him for a publisher known, at the time, as Timely Comics.
37:40 – Rachel here references Ursula K Le Guin’s classic short story (PDF): “Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No? Then let me describe
one more thing.“
39:00 – The Strong Female Characters are a joint creation of Kate Beaton, Meredith Gran and Carly Monardo.
40:15 – I couldn’t find an easily viewable version of the full pilot, but here’s a few minutes of footage from Global Frequency.
42:55 – Sumana is a graduate of Hacker School, now the Recurse Center, in Manhattan.
44:15 – I left this bit in because it has good comic timing.
46:05 – Sexy Murder Walk owes its name at least in part to Charlize Theron.
46:50 – The actress Rachel mentions, playing Bucky’s date and later starring in Doctor Who, is Jenna Coleman.
47:30 – Much of the inspiration for this podcast came from Sumana Meets Doctor Who!
52:35 – As requested.
My friend Sumana is pretty spry for a retired newspaper columnist. For years she was MC Masala, syndicated in several papers all over the SF Bay, even after she had left it for the other side of the country. I loved the column and read every installment, and I was delighted to see that she recently resurrected its archives on her personal site, nearly a decade after she began that phase of her career. (As befits her growing skillset and shifting direction, she wrote the CMS for it herself!)
From the beginning, the column showed off her skill (and taste) in comedy, cosmopolitan interest in religion, and clever use of parables from both ancient texts and her own life. I still use this aphorism about books and sandwiches to remind myself how to engage with people at social gatherings. I stole quite a few ideas for tiny stories from her, sometimes immediately, sometimes much later; she delivered insights about the nature of attachment that would influence me for years to come.
Over its run, she let her readers in on landmarks in her life in a friendly, almost conspiratorial way: her move from San Francisco to New York, the concurrent shift from one career to another, her wedding—and even personal connections to events on a larger scale, like the end of glasnost.
She was way ahead of the curve, of course, on relaxing vice laws and marriage equality. She showed up early to the fight against manspreading (and manxiety). She preceded me in getting over Aaron Sorkin, and I took way, way too long to come around to her Brian K. Vaughn fandom. And she made some predictions about herself that were wrong in amazing ways: she does, in fact, now give many thousands of dollars to charity, and one branch of her current unpaid public service uses skills she is still developing, and increasing all the time.
Reading back through these, I felt smug and flattered all over again that I got to make a subtle appearance here and there.
Her final column makes me well up with feeling. I first started following Sumana’s blog sometime in 2001, so right now it falls around the halfway mark in the timeline of our friendship. It’s only gained more meaning to me since the first time I read it—I’d never even listened to the Mountain Goats back then!* To this day, she posts regular entries stuffed with insights and links to explore, whereas I didn’t write a damn thing here for all of 2014. I am so fortunate that I was able to make a connection with her back then, and to have followed her with aspiration ever since.
It’s been almost nine years, Sumana; where are you from now?
I shouted, “Congratulations!” She responded, fist raised, “Perseverance!”
In December my friend Sumana came to visit me. I have a longer entry to write about her, but I want to publish this one first. One night as we were hanging out at my house, she asked if we could make something together. So we got out pencils and paper and we did!
What we made was zine, a sort of companion piece to a zine she worked on with a different friend about animals who run bookstores in the Bay area. This one is about an all-night animal bookstore in Astoria. Sumana wrote it and I drew the pictures, and—I must emphasize this—it is completely adorable.
You can download it and print it out yourself if you would like to. It’s in the “8-sided zine with one cut” format, no tape or staples necessary. Here is the Quill & Scroll PDF and another PDF with no margin, which may make for easier printing. And here it is as an image.
This work is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
But it needs to get written down anyway. On Saturday morning, September 7th, I woke up feeling grumpy about the way nerds had treated my friend Elizabeth and made the following series of ill-advised tweets.
So @twoscooters and I were both widely cited for being upset with Penny Arcade. She’s since received thousands of rape and death threats.
— bananabread (@BrendanAdkins) September 7, 2013
I haven’t seen a single negative tweet or email. No threats, no hate, not even an attempt to argue. Not one.
— bananabread (@BrendanAdkins) September 7, 2013
Now go ahead. Tell me again why women on the Internet need thicker skin.
— bananabread (@BrendanAdkins) September 7, 2013
If you see the numbers under those widgets you can see that they became the most far-reaching things I have ever written. I did not plan for that. They were tossed off, poorly thought out, and not particularly intended to stand in the record. This took a while to dawn on me, and when it did, I considered deleting them. I chose not to mostly because it wouldn’t undo anything, and because I should be held to account for my words.
I failed as an ally and a writer in several ways by writing what I did. The most significant and glaring is that I didn’t ask Elizabeth before posting them. That’s enormous. She and I had talked privately about the abuse she was getting, so it was on my mind, and I am so used to violent misogyny being directed at women who point out flaws in popular culture that I failed to consider her public stance about it. But even if she had discussed the hate more openly, I still should have asked. At the very least I should have reconsidered using her twitter handle, which made it even easier for a new wave of garbage to find her.
Also, as several people have pointed out, those three tweets are not exactly an iron syllogism. Elizabeth wrote a strongly worded post taking a strong stance against PAX; all I did was briefly express disappointment. I still think someone with a feminine name and icon would have received more abuse than I did for that tweet, but I certainly am not doing the kind of work Elizabeth does, and should not have tried to accord myself her stature.
There are other things about my phrasing with which one might well take issue, but those two are the most basic and important: I didn’t show my friend the respect she deserves. I can’t undo that, but the least I can do is point out for other people who want to be allies where I went wrong. I hope this helps someone else avoid a similar mistake in the future, especially if that someone is me.
As for the original matter of the controversy, I’ve been wrestling with it, but the simplest way to put it is that I take a version of Elizabeth’s view. I’m not going to PAX in 2014, I’m definitely not volunteering there, and I won’t be back unless and until they demonstrate change from the top down. It won’t be enough for PAX to come up to the standard of games conventions; from here on they’ll have to be twice as good as everyone else to make me consider attending.
I have dear friends in and around the Penny Arcade organization, many of whom work tirelessly to create safe space, and I’m not going to spurn you or your work for being involved with PAX. But I will say that attending any conference without a clear, detailed, rigorously enforced harassment policy is a bad idea. PAX rose to that standard in 2012, but when internal pressure from the volunteer corps relented this year, they failed again. That alone is a valid reason to stay away.
Some people can’t do that. PAX is a big part of how money works in games, and if the choice is between taking a stance and making your rent this year, I don’t have the moral authority to stand in judgment. I hope you’ve got other avenues for promotion too, though. I won’t see you there.
There’s this thing called con season. It is mostly called that by people who make and sell things at conventions, which are warm-weather phenomena, beginning in March of each year and winding down in the autumn. I don’t currently sell things, but I find myself talking about it anyway, because con season has been the dictator of my travel plans for several years running.
There’s Gamestorm twenty minutes north of me, in Vancouver, Washington, and then there’s a local house-sized gathering called Nemocon in May. June sometimes has a Fabricated Realities in Olympia and always (I hope) has Go Play Northwest in Seattle. This year, for the first time, I am flying to Indianapolis to go to the nerd-gathering granddaddy, Gen Con. (It’s hard to explain exactly why I’m going in much the same way that it is hard to explain why Indianapolis holds a convention named for Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.) And then there’s PAX in September, and Geek Girl Con the month after that, unless I go to Indiecade too–and then at last we rest. Until it starts again.
It’s kind of grueling. I’m going to have to cut back in 2014: I want to travel more outside the US, and save money, and this shit devours that budget. But what do I cut? The answer would be easier if “what” didn’t so easily swap out for “whom.”
There are a lot of variations on the con circuit: some people do tech conferences, some people do sci-fi cons, some people do cultural gatherings or music festivals or films and documentaries. All these gatherings have a rationale for getting lots of people together at a specific time and place, but over time, I suspect, the rationale becomes just that. I used to go to gaming conventions to play as many games as I could fit into a weekend. Now I play games at gaming conventions because that’s what my friends are doing.
Weddings, funerals and cons. You don’t get together just to do the thing, you get together because the thing you do is the way to concentrate as many of these far-flung people as you can. Many of the people I love are locative: available in a specific place at at specific time and then too quickly dispersed. Jackson and Joe and Joe and Ben and Matthew and Chris and Elizabeth and John and Shannon and Paul and Tony and Daniel and Twyla and Andi and Ryan and Lily and Will and Lisa and everyone I’m forgetting and everyone I have yet to meet. We only get so many rounds of this, in the warm season of our lives, and it’s hard to think about missing any of them.
Last September (oh dear) I said this on twitter:
The most rewarding and important thing you can do in this life is to seek out, cultivate, and invest yourself in friendships with women.
I phrased that as a prescription, because I wanted to see how people would take to it, and also I’m kind of a dick. It was actually a description that felt intuitively true. I tried to explain myself a few times, and failed, and then let it go quiet, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I still stand by my statement; here is the best I can do to unpack it.
The structural integrity of the system in which I live depends on men reducing women to their perceived sexual value and women being set against each other to diffuse their strength against inequity. This is awful.
If you are a man, the friendships you build with women will break parts of this structure, and put something new and better in their place. If you are a woman, I believe the friendships you build with other women will help restore the power that is yours by right and birth. If you occupy a place elsewhere in gender, I suspect you will find both of the above are true.
I am speaking from my lived experience, about the things I’ve seen through the women I know. Those are far from the only things friendship offers, and this isn’t really meant to be a generalization to the set of all people, not least because I have never been a woman. What I know about the power of female friendship is the way I grew up: watching my mother build a community of support and affection with the women in her church and school, who together accomplished remarkable things. I’ve tried to replicate that at every stage in my life.
Here’s the selfish part: the women I know are amazing, and have made my life amazing through their wit, kindness, generosity and patience. When I’ve invested in those friendships, they have yielded incredible and unexpected rewards in the real world, beyond the mere fact of my improvement as a person.
I owe myself to Monica Willett, Karie Miller, Leigh-Anna Donithan Roman, Maria Barnes, Amanda Brasfield, Lisa Brown, Emily Anderson, Leonor Linares, Sumana Harihareswara, Holly Gramazio, Erika Moen, Zoe Trope, Alison Hanold, Elizabeth Sampat, Anne Bradley, and more I know I am forgetting. Look for the women who will be to you what they have been and are to me. You cannot anticipate what your life will become.
For my 10,000th tweet I created the monster called RealBrendan. When I noticed that I was approaching 15,000, I wanted to do something along the same lines, if possibly a bit less splashy and horrifying. I’d been playing around with the “real name” field on my Twitter profile, disturbing a lot of people by changing it to Dank Nerd Basin (an all-too-accurate anagram of Brendan Adkins). When I went to visit New York last weekend—a great trip I should really write up here as well—Leonard, who was also graciously hosting me, helped me unlock this particular weird joke.
I’ve crowdsourced my name. If you mention @BrendanAdkins in a tweet, and if there are 20 or fewer characters in that tweet (ignoring URLs and usernames), and if those characters contain a B, R, E, D, A and two Ns, the new bot will pick it up and set my “real name” to that. It checks in ten times an hour, and it takes the most recent valid submission.
A lot of people were doing full anagrams or superset-anagrams yesterday, which were delightful—And Snark In Bed, Nard Skin Benda, Danken d-brains, Kind Banner Ads, BADSKINNY DICKKISSER—but you don’t have to work “Adkins” into it at all if you don’t want to. As of this writing, it’s “Brendan poops?!?” and I encourage you to make it anything else as soon as possible. (THANKS, ANNE.)