Monday, September 19, 2016

My Story About Robert

Robert Hill—A Story About a Story

It was a warm night on the hotel patio, as I sat listening to Georgia’s nocturnal noise. In the morning we would all be busily getting ready for my aunt Alison’s wedding, but right then I was relaxing and enjoying the evening. Being a bit of a night owl, I was just wondering what to do with myself until sleep finally took me, when out of the darkness strolled my other aunt, Stacia, and her husband, Robert.
They stopped to talk for a bit—it wasn’t often we could just walk up to each other, the couple having flown in from their home in England for the wedding—but Stacia soon decided to take herself off to bed; she had a sister to help guide through a wedding in the morning. Robert wasn’t ready to retire, though, and we sat whiling away the night in pleasant conversation. My uncle seemed designed for pleasant conversation, with his soft, smooth way of speaking, and a smile both gentle and infectious.
At one point—it must have been around 2:00 am—I was telling Robert the story of a large fish I’d caught somewhat by accident. I was quite enthusiastic about fishing at the time, and I’d gotten fairly involved in my story. I enjoy telling stories, and I was in full voice, and using intricate gestures . . . and halfway through the tale I realized, from the questions he was asking, that Robert didn’t know all that much about fishing. It occurred to me that, for someone who doesn’t fish, hearing my rendition of how I landed the big one might be akin to my having to sit through a shot-by-shot description of someone’s golf game: I’d rather have a tooth pulled.
Assuming he was merely being polite, and feeling an ass for not figuring it out sooner, I cut the tale short and apologized for keeping him up so late; this was his opportunity to quietly slip up to his room where he could tell Stacia how he’d  finally managed to escape her babbling nephew.
“No, please,” he said, taking me quite by surprise. “Do finish your story."
So I did, in just the way I’d been telling it before. Eventually the fish was landed, the story complete, and we sat there a minute, looking at each other across the patio table and listening to the quiet night. For my part, I was wondering if he had simply out-polited me, something I could very well imagine Robert doing. For his part, it appeared he was trying to figure out how to tell me something.
“You know,” he said, finally—and somewhat seriously. “I really don’t know much about fishing.”
“I figured that,” I said, feeling the blush creep up my cheeks.
“The odd thing was, it didn’t matter. The way you went about telling it, a minute or two into your story I already wanted to know how it turned out.”  Then he broke into one of those beautiful, infectious smiles of his, leaning forward a bit with the happy urgency of his idea. “Have you ever thought of writing these stories of yours down? I really think you should.”
He had no way of knowing I’d been wrestling with that very idea, wanting to start writing but more than half convinced no one would want to read what I wrote. As I sat there, somewhat joyfully stunned, he went on, and though I can’t remember his exact words anymore, I remember his enthusiasm, and his grin, somehow gentle and intense at the same time. It was very late by then, and we said our goodnights and went off to our rooms . . . but that smile of his was still on my mind, and the happy feeling he’d given me clung like a warm second skin.
A couple of months later, that very fish story won a small writing contest, becoming my first published work.
That was a few years and quite a few stories ago. Nowadays I do occasional public readings, and writing events, and one of the questions I’m most commonly asked is How did you start writing? And every time, my mind goes back to that patio table and chairs, that warm Georgia night, and that gentle-yet-intense smile pouring forth words of unexpected encouragement.
Robert Hill casually reached out that night and changed my life very much for the better. He didn’t intend to; he wasn’t even aware he was doing it. He was simply being Robert Hill: gentle, enthusiastic, and oh-so sweet. He created a moment in my life that I will never forget, and I thank him for it with amazing regularity. Perhaps now he will hear me when I do.

Thank you, Robert.

—Rob Smales
New Signature.jpg


Robert Ian Hill passed away on 1st September, 2016, aged 72, beloved husband to Stacia, father to Peregrine, Elliot, Naren, Shami and Clemency, grandfather of eight, and proponent of wonder and imagination.

He will be sorely missed.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Welcome to Boston (Recycled)

Okay, so here's the story.
This morning, while I was working on an editing job—a rather long editing job—my Chromebook decided to go toes up,  and fade away, never to be heard from again.
It’s dead, Jim.
So, needless to say there was no writing being done on my lunch. Or even after work—I was too busy running about getting a replacement Chromebook so life could go on tomorrow as if nothing untoward had ever happened. To make a long story short (too late, I know), I didn’t write a blog post for today. Instead—and you can thank my old Chromebook for this—you’re getting another look at the blog post from this week back in 2012.
Welcome to Recycleville. Enjoy!
Welcome to Boston
(original post date, 9/14/2012)

My friend SB was out here visiting from Colorado a couple of years ago. Now, she had never been out here before, and I had actually gone to great pains to impress upon her the . . . uh . . . “different” way we drive in Massachusetts, and in the Boston area in particular. She had been here for a day or so without mishap, and aside from being amazed at the thickness of the woods that line the highways (and believe me, if you’ve ever been to Colorado you’d understand her surprise, especially in the Denver area—talk about “wide open spaces!”) she had really seen nothing all that different from the way they drive in her home state. Then I almost took the wrong exit.
It was entirely my fault. We were having a conversation, and I was sort of driving on autopilot. I can’t even remember where we were going at the time, but I think we were on Rt. 95, and I was in the right lane. As we were talking I looked over at her, and when I looked back at the road I was cruising merrily onto an off-ramp—the wrong one. I wasn’t on it yet, though, and I immediately checked my mirrors, looked left, and saw I had a small gap I could fit into and stay on 95. I stomped on the gas to gain a little clearance from the car to my left and yanked the wheel. My Jeep jumped left into the regular traffic lane, saving me from (embarrassingly) taking the wrong exit—but my rear bumper had barely missed the car that was now behind me.
SB looked at me a little worriedly and said something, I believe it was along the lines of that was close, referring to the car now riding right on my bumper. I agreed, and checked the rearview mirror. There, leaned forward until her chin practically sat on the steering wheel she now gripped with hands gone white-knuckled with force, was the kindliest little-old-grandmotherly-lookingest woman I had ever seen. It was a face that should have been baking cookies, or knitting sweaters for grandchildren, maybe while telling those same grandchildren stories of how she and their grandfather met at the spring fair waaayyyy back when they were just kids themselves as the grandchildren sat gathered ‘round her rocker and ate homemade cookies.
That face, though, was now flushed and tight-lipped with anger.
“Whoops,” I said. “I didn’t mean to, but I just cut her off.”
“I noticed,” SB replied, squirming about in the seat to look behind us. “She’s like, right there.”
“I know,” I said. “Hang on, I want to get a little distance here. I don’t want to be driving along with her glaring at me like that.”
I put the pedal down and picked up speed. I started weaving through traffic a little, knowing that I would still look like a jerk to the sweet-looking woman, but a far-away jerk. I moved up quite a ways in the flow of cars, and I had started to slow a bit to just merge with that flow again now that I had left the angry granny behind, when I caught sight of my rearview mirror again. There, surging through the gap between two cars I had just passed myself, was Angry Granny’s car. She was right on my bumper and all I could see of the woman was white knuckles and angry eyes as they gripped the wheel and glared at me through horn-rimmed spectacles, respectively.
“Uh-oh,” I said.
SB cranked around in the seat again. “She’s still there?”
“Apparently. I think I made her pretty mad.”
I glanced sideways at her, then sighed and put my foot down hard on the gas once more. The Jeep leapt through the surrounding cars and trucks once more as I juked left and right, dodging through the traffic. I watched my speedometer climb swiftly past seventy-five, past eighty, and start creeping toward eighty-five. The whole time there was a neat, clean, well-maintained Mercedes on my tail, matching me move for move. I imagined I could feel the malevolent stare of the little old granny boring into the back of my neck, and I started to feel more than a little foolish.
“She’s still back there,” SB reported.
“Yup,” I replied, my response short due to concentration on my driving, and, I must admit, not a little embarrassment. The speedometer had climbed past eighty-five and was nearing ninety as we broke free of the long pack of cars that was motoring along. With nothing to weave around, I settled in the left lane and simply maintained speed. I watched in the rearview as the Mercedes made its way out into the clear road, swung into the right lane and the old woman goosed the gas. The car whooshed up beside me and settled there, holding on my right. I looked over, across SB who was studiously looking straight ahead, avoiding any possibility of eye contact with the speeding septuagenarian riding in the lane next to her.
“Terrific,” I said.
SB looked at me, and I jerked my chin toward her window, encouraging her to take a peek. She looked . . .
 . . . And saw the sweetest, most grandmotherly-looking woman you ever saw, energetically giving us the finger from four feet away, at ninety miles per hour. The fingers was up, almost touching the glass as she thrust her hand forward. She saw us looking and began to pump her hand and arm vigorously up and down, jabbing the stiff finger viciously into the air again and again as she carefully mouthed a phrase, over-enunciating each word so there would be no mistaking her message.
@#$% you!! . . . @#$% you!! . . . @#$% you!
It was too much for SB, and she burst out laughing. Granny Finger, seeing her reaction, apparently decided that enough was enough and dropped back to a more normal speed as we sped on down the road, finally putting some distance between us and my new biggest fan. SB laughed hard for a while, but eventually her guffaws slowed enough to get out a few words.
“Oh . . . my . . . God!”
I looked over at her, her face flushed, eyes filled with the tears of humor, and said the only thing I could think of.
“Welcome to Boston!”
She burst out laughing again.
Talk to you later.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Got A Pen?

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

It was a mid-week day. Wouldn’t have been anything special, but things had gotten a little crazy. One of the books I’m editing for had been pushed back, and back, and back again, waiting for some of the authors to get their work in. We’d had to shuffle other things around—this wasn’t the only furshlugginer project to be pushed back by authors missing deadlines—and rather than going into work two hours early to write, as I usually do, I’d decided that morning to edit at home and go in at my scheduled time. At home I have a two-screen setup, and those screens would make it easier to work on some of the editing I had to get done, and get done now.
So I’d sat down at my desk at 5:00 and stayed there until 7:30. When I finished the edit I looked down at myself and realized I’d not dressed before sitting down . . . nor had I made a lunch . . . nor washed up and brushed my teeth . . .
I sprang into action. If they ever make a movie of my life, this part will be covered by an 80s-style montage, with scenes of me putting soap on my toothbrush as I scrub my face with Crest©, hopping across the room in my underwear as I try to force my foot into a sock, shoving things into my work bag, shoving things into my writing bag, hopping back across the room working on the second sock, vaulting down the stairs with a bag on one shoulder, sprinting back up the stairs and then stumbling down once more carrying the bag I’d forgotten. In the kitchen I tore open the cabinets, yanked out bread and peanut butter, and started making a couple of sandwiches to get me through the day. About halfway through the process I decided spreading the peanut butter with a knife would be easier and opened the drawer for one of them, too.
My stomach rumbled then, reminding me loudly that I’d not had breakfast, either.
More bread hit the deck and I slapped together a third sandwich to eat in the car. I checked the clock: 7:40. I could still make it. This is why I just go into work early and do my writing/editing there: to avoid all this last-minute running about like a chicken no longer in need of a hat. I cleaned up my mess, made damn sure I had both bags this time, and ran for the Mini. The good news was I’d have time to eat my breakfast while I sat in traffic.
Traffic. Right. My greatest friend. No matter what I do to avoid it, no matter what I say to it—sometimes in incredibly vulgar terms and at the top of my voice—it’s always there for me. I sat behind an SUV—which in a Mini means all I could see was that SUV—and wolfed down my sandwich because somehow I thought speed of eating would translate into speed of driving. It didn’t. It translated into indigestion. I made the rest of the stop-and-go trip slightly queasy and burping up peanut butter.
What do they put in peanut butter that makes it taste so foul the second time?
I pulled into the parking lot nearly two hours later than I normally do, so the spot I usually park in was taken. In fact, all of the spaces near the building were gone, and the Mini screamed across the lot toward the only open slot I could see, just as far as you could get from the building and still be on government-owned land. As I shut off the car I noticed the dashboard clock: 7:59.
I hot-footed it to the building in that awkward half-jog-half-walk late-running idiots like myself somehow think is more dignified than just a straight run. It isn’t. Not by a long shot. I jalked (wogged?) right in the back door to the timeclock . . . and saw the Mini’s dash clock was running fast again. I had three minutes to spare.
Son of a bitch, I thought. This has been a crazy morning. Jesus, remind me again why I do this?
There you are!”
Coming toward me, carrying something in one hand, was one of the clerks . . . one of the clerks not known for being nice. Known for being somewhat harsh, actually. She knows it. She owns up to it. I sometimes think she revels in it. Oh, man, I thought, this isn’t fair. I’m not even on the job yet! Instinctively I began to shift my weight, preparing to flee—but the time clock was ticking, and I had to punch in on time.
I was trapped.
If they ever make a movie of my life, this scene will be filmed in super slo-mo: my eyes widening in dismay as she closes in, shifting my weight uncertainly; her striding forward, thrusting the thing in her hand toward me, insisting I handle whatever it is now, right now, unwilling to wait until I’m getting paid to do the work; my shoulders slumping in defeat, eyes squinting with pain, assuming this day was shifting from crazy to sucky in one smooth move—and then my eyes widening again, this time in astonishment.
The thing she was thrusting my way so insistently was a book . . . my book.
“Can I get you to sign this for me?” she said, breaking into, of all things, a smile. The book, I saw, showed signs of wear—the good kind of wear, the kind a loved book is supposed to show—and the bookmark sprouting from between the pages showed her to be almost finished, if it were to be believed (probably somewhere in the latter half of “Wendigo,” for those of you who have read Echoes). My surprise must have shown on my face, for she suddenly grinned wider and gave the book a little wiggle. “I thought you’da been in earlier. This is good!”
I’d like to say I broke into a grin to rival her own, but I didn’t. It dwarfed her smile. Hell, I nearly sprained my face. And through that face-straining toothfest I forced the only response that came to mind:
“Have you got a pen?”
She didn’t. We went off in search of one. By the time I got back to the clock I was punching in late, but found I didn’t care. As I swiped my card I remembered what I’d been thinking just before being accosted by the new World’s Greatest Clerk: Jesus, remind me again why I do this? Looking heavenward, I spoke aloud.
“Hey, thanks for getting back to me so quick on that one. If you’re in that kind of mood, I’d like to take a moment to talk to you about lottery tickets . . .”

Talk to you later!

Monday, August 29, 2016


Greetings, WYMOP readers!

It all started with me cleaning off the dining room table. It had been covered over time with the detritus of life—magazines, mail, etc.—and I was gathering stuff together into a small “keep” and a large “throw away” piles. I suddenly heard this whap . . . whap . . . whap! I looked up, and to my great surprise saw a fat black bug about the size of my thumb flying laps around the dining room ceiling.
“Holy crap! I shouted (or something similar, it may not have been exactly “crap”), and started ducking, because the thing wasn’t just flying laps around the light fixture, like it’s smaller cousins; it was putting on a bizarre aerial performance, looping low to build up speed, then curving back up to whap into the ceiling, as if trying to smash right through it. As I watched it did this again and again, seemingly uncaring of any damage it may have been doing to itself.
Staying low and hopefully out of its strange kamikaze flight path, I scuttled (but it was a manly scuttle, accompanied by manly high-pitched squealing) for the kitchen to fetch the fly swatter. And by fly swatter, I mean a towel rolled to a tight point and prime for rat-tailing. Rat-tailing (or towel-snapping, as it is sometimes called) is mostly known as a juvenile stunt pulled in boys’ locker rooms. Okay, it is a juvenile stunt pulled in boys’ locker rooms, but for me it’s a bit more of a weapon: I have been known—on much more than one occasion—to use a towel to snap a fly out of the air. This was what I had in mind for this bad boy.
I grabbed the dish towel from the front of the oven, rolled it, gave it a couple of practice snaps . . . and then, remembering the size of the flying behemoth in the dining room, went to fetch a full-sized bath towel. Yard-long weapon in hand I skulked back to the table, crouching low, head cocked and in full hunting mode.
The damn thing was gone.
I looked on the ceiling. I looked on the walls. I poked about in my half-finished piles, prepared the entire time to shriek and flail with the towel like a spastic five-year-old beating out a sudden fire. I may not have mentioned it, though perhaps you can tell: I don’t like bugs. Insects of all kinds—as well as their cousins, the spiders—skeeve me right the hell out—especially when they take me unawares and are larger than I think they have any right to be. And if insects and spiders could team up and go to war with snakes, causing all three to kill each other off, I understand it would be bad for the environment and all, but I think I could learn to live with it.
Oh, and centipedes are evil creepy demon things from the skin-crawlingest pit of Hell, and I’d like them all to go back. But I digress.
I laid the towel over a chair-back—still rolled and ready to snap at a moment’s notice, like the knell of mutant bug doom—and went back to work on the table, eyes roving nonstop in case the big bastard tried to sneak up on me. I finished in the dining room and, exhibiting the attention span and retention of a cocker spaniel puppy on methamphetamines, promptly forgot about Bugzilla as I moved on to other things about the house. I forgot about Bugzilla until about an hour later.
I was looking for a Sharpie marker. Not a pen (there were tons of those) or pencil (tens of tons), but an indelible, black Sharpie. I looked in the pen cup: not there. I looked on the bookcase: not there. I looked in the junk drawer: not there. I looked amidst the papers beside the sink: Bug-freakin’-zilla.
The skin on the back of my neck rippled like a stone-skipped pond; distracted by my search, I’d nearly put my hand on him. Instinctively I started for the towel, but stopped. He was sitting there atop the bills like the world’s oogiest paperweight, and if I snapped him there, with all the explosive results I was currently requesting via curse-filled prayer, it would make a mess all over them.
I rummaged, in a frantically manly way, through the tupperware drawer.
I clapped the 2-quart plastic bowl down over him. He didn’t seem to care. I slipped the bowl’s lid in beneath it, working it under him to get him off the bills. That he didn’t much care for. When I lifted the bowl and lid, Bugzilla trapped within, he went berserk, flying around and around and back and forth, smashing against the inside of his plastic prison with impacts that jolted the bowl.
I elbowed open the slider out to the back deck and flipped on the light.
“No offense,” I said, raising the bowl as I strode across the deck, “but you are one big ugly #$%^er, and you’re not welcome here!” With that, I yanked the cover aside and whipped the bowl up and forward, using it like the bucket of a catapult to fling Bugzilla out into the yard. His heavy, armored body flew straight over the low fence and out of range of the deck lights, disappearing into the night. “And good riddance!” I said, turning to march back into the house.
I had just stepped through the door—hadn’t even had time to stretch out a hand to pull the slider closed behind me—when I heard a quick fluttering brrrrrrrp, and something hit me in the back of the head like a ping pong ball fired at me from just a few feet away. A ping pong ball with feathery little wings and scratchy, sticklike legs.
I staggered forward, shouting “What the @#$%!” and looked down to see Bugzilla, inside the house once more and lying on the top step down into the basement. Though his repeated hard impacts with the dining room ceiling hadn’t fazed him in the least, indignant at being imprisoned and incensed at being ejected into the yard he had charged back out of the night to hit me in the back of the skull hard enough to stun himself!
With a cry, 210 pounds of of sneaker-clad weight came down on him. I lifted my foot. He was still moving. The sneaker came down again, and then again, and then I went in search of a hammer to really do the job right. I returned with a 20 ounce framing hammer, fully prepared to bash my assailant right down to the bedrock . . . but he wasn’t moving any more, and there was a little bit of goo leaking out of him.
There was great rejoicing.
I fetched my son to show him the beast, telling him Yes, you see? Monsters are real! He looked at me oddly until I told him about the thing zooming out of the dark to attack me, and the size of the whap it made against the back of my head. Then he laughed, uproariously, and went back to his computer. I went to huddle under the hottest shower I could stand, abrading the back of my head with the pot-scrubber side of the sink sponge and wishing I could get the skin there to stop crawling . . . right after putting a loaded towel in every room in the house. For home protection, you understand.

Talk to you later!

Since the shiny thing's a quarter, I figure the
damn bug's about the size of a 50 cent piece.
 A flying, buzzing, kamikaze 50 cent piece.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Do I Fat?

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

I’ve posted before about where some of my story ideas come from. I’ve also occasionally written of my customers, and how fun and funny they can sometimes be.
This is one of those fun times when those two concepts collide.
I recently sold a short story to an titled “Moving House.” It’s a witch story, and in it I have a character, an old woman, who has a thick Russian accent. I believe in the story I compare her to Mr. Chekov, the helmsman in the original Star Trek series, who said things like “Keptin! I cannot awoid the alien wessels!”
That’s, Captain! I cannot avoid the alien vessels! for those of you who never saw the show. Anyhow, I was concerned I may have gone a little overboard with the portrayal of her accent. Luckily, I have several Russian folks on my route, and for several of them English is definitely a second language—and don’t think I’m knocking them: I speak six words of Russian that have nothing to do with food, so they have it all over me in the language department. This brings us to Mrs. F.
Mrs. F. is the matriarch of a family who apparently runs an antique shop, and she occasionally receives things registered or insured in the mail—stuff requiring a signature, in other words. She doesn’t speak much at the door—she’s polite, but no chatterbox—and she always thanks me by handing me a little box or canister of cookies. I do my job: I get cookies. It’s a great deal for a guy with a sweet tooth, and they’re usually gone in less than an hour. Fifteen minutes, if I walk into it feeling peckish.
Lately, though, she’s begun receiving more registered mail. Like two to three times a week, compared with her usual once a month or so. I don’t know if that’s a good sign or bad for her business, but I do know one thing: she’s been giving me a lot of cookies. So many that the other day, when she handed me a packet of sugared butter cookies, I actually felt guilty, and decided to say something.
“Mrs. F, thank you, but you know you don’t have to do this.”
“No,” she said. “Don’t be silly. You take.”
“Well, okay,” I said, thinking hey, I tried. “But you’re going to make me fat.”
The door opened a little wider, and she looked up at me. “No. No. You swit. Yes? Walk all day. Hot day. You walk, you swit.” She stepped back and spread her arms slightly. “I swit all time. Do I fet?”
It was the most she’d ever spoken to me at one time, and she was asking me “Do I fat?” in a perfect Mr. Chekov accent!
I looked her right in the eye and said, “No, Mrs. F. You do not fat.”
She made a satisfied sound, pressed the cookies into my hand, and closed the door. I walked out to my mail truck, chuckling, satisfied that I’d done the accent in my witch story justice. And eating cookies. Then, just as I was climbing into the driver’s seat, it hit me, and I sat for a minute staring at my sweet snack.
What if she’s the witch from Hansel and Gretel, I thought, and she just brought some of her old kid-fattening stock with her when she retired?
I vowed right then to fly like the wind if Mrs. F. ever asks me in to help her with the oven.
I’m also almost done with a short story titled “Do I Fat?”

Talk to you later!

Monday, August 15, 2016

PB&J - Take 2

Greetings, WYMOP readers!

Last week you may remember I shared a video with you of comedian/magician Justin Willman that had been posted to Facebook under the heading “Magician perfectly destroys anti-transgender bathroom argument in 2 know, for the kids,” and gave my response.  It was a long blog post (if you haven’t seen it yet, you can find it HERE), and I put it up and sort of waited for a response.
Thankfully I didn’t have long to wait, because what I posted was apparently quite a poorly-written blog entry, to the point that people I talked to had received a very different message than the one I thought I was putting out.
My immediate temptation was to pull the post down: I call myself a writer, I should be able to communicate my ideas clearly, and that I did not is more than a little embarrassing. Rather than do that, however, I’ve chosen to leave the post in place to remind myself that I can make this kind of error. Instead I received permission from a couple of people to reproduce our conversations here. Hopefully sharing these Q&As will clarify my position a little better than I did last week.
First, I had my “clear as mud” writing style inadvertently pointed out to me by my friend, T.T.:

T.T.: As a parent, I understand your concerns. As you said, it's a small percentage of the overall population that is the problem, these are the ones that have us in fear, not the subset of a subset.
I will also add that I have never heard of a transgendered person assaulting a child in a bathroom. Maybe it's happened, but it's not on my radar. It could be me, but unless it's acutely obvious, I'm usually oblivious to the fact that someone is transgender. It doesn't matter to me if they are jelly or peanut butter so maybe that is the basis of my opinion that they should use the bathroom they identify with.
I truly believe that transgendered people are born into the wrong sex and they are attempting to make peace with themselves. I don't believe they are sex fiends looking for an excuse to assault young children. I don't believe they have turbo charged sex drives or sex fueled fantasies that target children. To be honest, if my young son was in a bathroom alone with either a transgendered man or a older man who spouts gospel or dispenses hate at those he considers unnatural, I'd be more concerned about the older man.
But, again, that's just me, and I understand that others feel differently.
· August 9 at 8:59am
Rob:  I've never heard of a transgender person assaulting a child in the bathroom either, and that was really my point. Are there sickos out there? Yes. Do they have anything to do with the transgender community? Not to my knowledge, no. But by failing to make that distinction and merely saying "that's not what it's about," I think that to people who are focused solely on the fear, people who aren't making that distinction for themselves, he's going to come off as saying "you people are idiots, you're afraid of nothing" rather than showing them that in this situation they're actually afraid of the wrong people.
· August 9 at 9:20am · Edited
Rob:  What's really bothering me, here, is that you, T. T., seem to have received a message opposite to what I intended. And I'm not saying *you* are bothering me, but I'm concerned that I may have communicated poorly.
· August 9 at 9:36am
T.T.: I admit I was confused by your answer to my post. For some reason, I had the opposite impression. It might just be me, that I didn't comprehend your message, and not that you communicated it poorly.
· August 9 at 10:00am
Rob  No, I don't think you're the only one responding that way. Just for the record, you got from my actual blog post last night that I'm anti-transgender?
August 9 at 10:09am
T.T.: No. What I took from it was that there was a concern about transgender people using bathrooms that were not intended for their birth sex. That the concern, unfounded or not, was valid.
August 9 at 10:34am
Rob:  Hmm. I need to stick to fiction. I got it halfway there and dropped the ball. For the record, no, I don't think that concern is valid.
· August 9 at 10:39am
Rob:  And thank you, T.T., for even inadvertently letting me know I was actually *that* unclear.
August 9 at 10:49am
T.T.: I'm sorry, Rob. I hope it was just me.
August 9 at 11:17am
Rob:  No, it wasn't. But hopefully I can fix this.
· August 9 at 11:43am
So I did sit down and try to think of a way to fix this. What should I do, post a clarification? Take another stab at explaining my position? Then, while I was pondering, another friend, D.N. started asking just the questions I felt I needed to answer:

D.N.: A couple of things come to my mind after reading this.... first, as a coach/instructor, you were in a "better" position to abuse your charges than you are as a stranger. Kids have stranger danger drilled into them, as you said, but are actually more at risk with adults they know and trust. Nothing against you specifically, of course; this is just fact.

Secondly, if you're worried about your 6 year old daughter in the ladies' room at the park, go in there with her. I'll bet most women would react fine, or wait, if you said you were in there with her. Or take her to the men's room. But don't send her in alone unless it's a single stall.

We can't let the fear of predators allow us to force people to live in ways that are damaging to them. 41% of transgender people attempt suicide. You know what brings that number down in line with the cis population? Acceptance. Acceptance by their families, friends, and neighbors. Being allowed to pee in peace. Being allowed to present the way they want to without being policed for not passing as cis.

I know you're on their side. I just don't understand how the magician is part of the problem now.
· August 8 at 10:57pm

Rob:  Okay, D.N., I waited a while to respond to you, and I'm glad I did. From another comment I received, and then some questions I asked of people who I knew read my blog without commenting, I've come to the conclusion that I wasn't nearly as clear as I thought I was―and that's on me as a writer, I'm not trying to push it off and say "you all just don't understand me." It's fairly embarrassing, really.

You finished your comment with a question, and your question was actually the entire point of what I was trying to say, so if I was muddy there then the whole thing just kind of falls apart. How is the magician part of the problem?

Basically, I think he has a great message―I love his message―but I think his delivery method is flawed.
· August 9 at 12:51pm

Rob:  I'm really talking about his target audience. His message isn't aimed at you, or even me, for that matter: it's aimed at people who "don't get it," as he puts it. If he's really talking to kids, then his obvious anger and reference to "fucking idiots" are a little out of place; he's really aimed this message at the people dead set against transgender folks being able to use the restroom designated for their sexual orientation rather than their physical sexuality because they are afraid. One of the things they are afraid of, and it's a biggie, is sexual predators.

Now you know, and I know, that has *nothing* to do with the transgender community. But there are still people out there―a *lot* of people, though just one would be too many―who equate anything different as deviant, and anything not like them as bad. Lots of people still have "transgender" locked up in the same mental storage space as "pervert," and "predator," and they don't see a whole lot of difference between them. It's shitty, and I pity people as close-minded as that, but it's sadly true.

Dammit, my lunch is over. I'm not done, but I'll be back here later.
· August 9 at 5:40pm ·Edited

Rob:  Okay, it's been over four hours; let me see if I can pick up my train of thought.

So he does a detailed job of explaining what transgender *is*, but when he comes to the part of the video where he might point out that those close-minded people's fear is misplaced, he calls them fucking idiots and dismisses their concern in a single sentence, spoken with anger and sarcasm. I don't care what the argument is, if someone tells you you're a fucking idiot and bushes your concerns aside you're a lot less likely to listen to what they're trying to tell you. You're going to be insulted at the name-calling and angered at the apparent dismissal of your concern. He started out making a wonderful, easily understood point, but then sabotaged himself with his target audience.

I'm stopping here for now, in case I'm muddling myself again.
· August 9 at 6:33pm ·Edited

D.N.: Nope, no muddling this time! He becomes part of the problem by not actually addressing fears with facts. And in fact, actually insulting the "dear reader." I hear you. The insult was way off base if he wanted to get people not already on board to listen. I agree.

Thank you for taking so much extra time to talk through this with me. You know i worry about my lemon-marmalade in a peanut butter jar. 😉
· August 9 at 8:45pm

D.N.: Oh, my confusion was around thinking your issue was with the fact that we can't look inside the jars in real life. That we have no better way of handling it than taking someone's word on their gender identity, as we do with sexual identity, or religious affiliation.
· August 9 at 8:48pm

Rob:  Yes, that too. We can't. And in this situation there will be people who lie about their gender identity as a way to hide the fact that they have a head full of bad wiring. These are the same people the public has *always* been afraid of, the Stranger Danger people, that the "fucking idiots," to use his phrase, are lumping the transgender together with through laziness, ignorance, or a combination of the two. That's terrible, and sad, and makes people angry, I know, but solving that won't be as simple as opening a jar. That's the part of the problem that I think becomes the most complicated.
· August 9 at 9:11pm

Rob:  The whole Stranger Danger mentality (and I'm not going to lie, I have it as well) is about looking for the untrustworthy hiding in the midst of the trustworthy. Transgender people have become a very visible group of Strangers in the simplest sense of the word: they are different. Don't get me wrong, we're all different―I, the cis male, have more in common, I think, with several gay people I know and at least one transgender person I know, than my own cis male cousins from down south. But in the minds of the "different from me is bad" thinking people, the emerging transgender culture (is that a thing, or do I just sound old?) is giving them a very visible group of "different" to focus on.
· August 9 at 9:20pm

D.N.: Yeah. It is complicated. I wish it weren't, but that did seem to be how goes, doesn't it? Pithy comments just can't capture reality.
· August 9 at 9:22pm

Rob:  Yeah. I hate complicated. And that's the part that he (Justin) seemed to be saying was *so* simple. It's simple to him, but not to the people he needs to convince.
· August 9 at 9:24pm

Rob:  Sorry: not to the people *we* need to convince.
· August 9 at 9:24pm

D.N.: Hrm... did you see that map that says there are 11 cultural Americas (US)? It makes sense that you have more in common with other people in the Northeast (I'm assuming) than with Southerners.

And, yes, trans people have replaced gay and lesbian people in the pariah column. Not that I think LGB are really fully accepted yet, but it's still legal to persecute the T in many places.
· August 9 at 9:26pm

Rob:  Would I be out of line suggesting unisex bathrooms? They're not a new concept―I mean, come on, am I the *only* one left who ever watched an episode of Ally McBeal? ;)
· August 9 at 9:27pm

D.N.: Nope, not out of line at all. And that helps people who fall outside the binary too!
· August 9 at 9:28pm

Rob:  Okay, I have to pack up this Chromebook and head for home. Thank you for asking your questions. This is why I write fiction: that I can keep straight in my head, apparently, but when I try to write about anything important I have floating around in here I do a damn poor job. I appreciate your showing me where I was muddled, and letting me clarify what I was trying to say, rather than just assuming I was an asshole.
· August 9 at 9:32pm

Rob:  I may still be an asshole, but at least I'm being clear about it. :D
· August 9 at 9:33pm

D.N. Have a great night!
· August 9 at 9:33pm

There. Much clearer! Still, if anyone has any questions from last week’s post, please don’t hesitate to ask, either here or on Facebook.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back and look at last week’s post. Maybe I can figure out where I went wrong.
Next week we should return to our regular, somewhat goofy programming.

Talk to you later!