I Love You, Uhh… Thank You.

It’s a funny trope in sitcoms. One person is in love with another person, and so they confess their love, only to be given a “Thank You” in reply. We cringe. We hurt for the confessor, and we feel bad for the one not in love. We are also impressed by the thanker, because it would have been easier to lie and say they too were in love, letting FutureThem deal with the fallout.

But it’s awkward. That is undeniable.

Thankfully, I found my person over 25 years ago. I love her, she loves me (and I’m really lucky she does, because I can be a LOT, y’all). But if we take that situation down a notch, I suspect there are many more mismatches. ESPECIALLY when introverts like myself are in play. Let me elaborate…

There are probably 5 people who I consider my very best friends. Then maybe a dozen who are way more than acquaintances, and I consider close friends. The next group in my expanding circle of indifference (is it a circle of indifference if the ones I care about the most are in the middle? Maybe it’s my circle of fading “difference”? But “difference” does not feel like the opposite of indifference, so maybe I’m using terrible words here. And because some of my friends read my blogs via translator to their native language, I have NO idea what this will imply because now I’m confused in English. And English is the only language I’m moderately confident with…)

I’ve decided to abandon the notion of an expanding circle, and I’ve decided to abandon that entire paragraph. My new geometric metaphor will be a pyramid. OK, in my head it’s actually a triangle, but since it will be stacks of friends, I’m not sure how they’d stand in a two dimensional stack, but I also don’t have NEARLY enough friends for a pyramid of people. But basically there are five or so people on the tippy top of my FriendAngleMid. Beneath them, are probably a dozen people who are close friends. These people I’m usually very comfortable around. Being with them doesn’t drain me emotionally. (Well, if I were with ALL of them at once, it would be horrible, and I’d be hiding in the bathroom texting my 5 cake-topper friends about how miserable I was at this stupid party I should have never thrown for my cat…)

Anyway. The next layer (we’re doing cake now, please keep up) is larger, and actually sort of fluid (not like we’re changing metaphors again, I mean they aren’t a solid group of people I could list). These are the people I don’t think about on a daily basis, but when I am near them, or interact with them, it’s enjoyable and I’m glad they’re in my life. Honestly, this is a large group. But because my brain is kind of a jerk, I couldn’t possibly name them all, because here’s the thing — when I’m with people in this group, they BECOME part of the dozen or so top-cake-layer friends. It’s weird, but this group of people is really really great. And I enjoy being with them and talking to them at least as much as my top layer friends. In fact, because I’m not with them often, in the moment, they’re pretty much temporary cake toppers. And not “pretend” cake toppers, but actual, bonafide Smurf figurines on top of my friend cake, celebrating our time together.

This is not the direction I thought this blog post was going. (I’m very happy with the cake metaphor though, we’re keeping that. Even though I’m more of an ice cream person. OH, and sprinkles would be perfect for the topper metaphor, except I want way more than 5 sprinkles… So we’re sticking with cake. Maybe Donna can be the ice cream. Because she’s like the ice cream, my favorite part — PLUS sprinkles, which makes ice cream even better. Yes. Donna is the ice cream, and she is COVERED in sprinkles.)

NOTE: This is why when I write professionally, I have an editor. Jill — I’m so sorry this is going to press. And I know you’re not technically my editor anymore, but you’re the only editor I’ve ever had, so when I think of an editor, it’s always you. Don’t get creeped out, I CLEARLY never think of editing. (Except I do, and I miss working with you, and OMG we should totally play on top of the cake metaphor soon.)

So, anyway most of the people I consider my friends are in that huge group of people that most people would call acquaintances. But I don’t consider them that, because I really, truly do love the people in that huge group. And in the moments I get to interact with them, I’m fully engaged, and fully real, and wouldn’t rather be anywhere else in the world. It takes emotional energy to spend time with these people, but it’s energy well spent. It’s like the reason I keep as much energy available as possible, because exhaustion from spending time with people you love is the BEST type of exhaustion.

It’s those people that make me both happy and sad in equal measures. I want them to be in my top cake layer, but I don’t interact with them often enough for me to feel comfortable leaning on them. They don’t know me well enough (very likely my fault) to lean on me when things get difficult. I WOULD totally be there if/when they need me, and I’m pretty sure they would be there for me — but again, I’m so bad at letting my guard down, that most people I consider friends don’t fully know me, and in turn, I don’t fully know them. And maybe that’s just how things work. We can’t have 1000 besties. Yet, to say these people are “less good” friends is just not true. Friendship is weird, and I’m not terribly good at it anyway. So perhaps I don’t really have any friends, and I just have human interactions, sorta. But I’m just gonna stick to my cake metaphor and say that the bottom layers of my friendship cake has a LOT of wonderfully sweet layers.

Oh, acquaintances. For me, these are people I tolerate, and I’m friend-LY with, but they’re the people with which I’d probably talk about the weather. (And not awesome weather conversations, just generic crap) These people are the raisins in our cake. They’re not like finding an eggshell in the batter, but you avoid them if you can.

And I’ll close with what I was going to write about in the first place. For introverts like myself, especially those of us who spend most of our time interacting online — it’s almost certain that my cake-topper friends, and my top-layer friends have no idea where they reside on my friendship cake. And I am very unlikely to be on the cake top of many people, or honestly even in their top layer. And that’s OK. Relationships don’t have be built on equal significance. People have different amounts of energy they can invest, and as long as the friendships work for both parties, it’s usually OK. Sometimes there is pain when we discover we don’t live on each other’s cakes at the same layer, but since everyone’s cake is different, direct comparisons don’t even make sense.

My only request is that you not pretend your raisins are sprinkles. Don’t lead raisins on. Be kind to them, but don’t make empty promises about how much we should “totally get together and make raisin bread soon”. It really hurts to discover you’re a raisin when you thought you were a cake topper.

Now I’m hungry. But not for raisins. They’re gross.

PS: Please don’t tell me where I live on your cake. Plus, out of context, that’s a really weird thing to tell someone. And I won’t tell you where you live on my cake either. But unless you’re a raisin, whenever we interact, you’re playing on top of the cake anyway. πŸ™‚

Internet Sin Ingles

I have many legitimate friends whom I’ve never met in person. Some of my very best friends are a group of folks who met online and have remained close for well over a decade. There was a time when that was considered a naive misunderstanding of friendship, but I’m happy to say it’s slowly becoming more and more common. (This is not to imply catfishing is no longer an issue, or that you should blindly trust people online — but rather a simple statement that technology has given us the ability to foster real, lifelong friendships with people we only interact with digitally)

ANYWAY, one of my online friends is Luis. I won’t link to him, because he may not desire random people stalking him online, but nevertheless he’s someone I consider a close friend. Luis lives in Portugal. As I started writing this, I tried to remember how we met. And I honestly can’t remember. Maybe through Linux Journal? It doesn’t really matter, because now we’re just nerdy friends who happen to live on opposite sides of the planet. We often send each other links or thoughts about cultural differences, because we’re both fascinated by such things. And whether we’re sending memes about the metric system (and how silly it is we don’t use it in the States), or having real conversations about difficult political issues, Luis always sees me as a person and not a stereotype. I appreciate that.

Yesterday, Luis sent me to a website that links to a cool interactive map you can drag around to see what countries/cities line up with other countries/cities based on latitude. The site was not in English. Mind you, Luis speaks English fluently, but it’s not his native language, so it makes sense he would visit sites that are not English. He even noted that I should run the site though a translator because it was cool enough to warrant the effort. (And it was, he was right) But here’s the thing — I had no idea how to do that.

I’ve translated words and phrases with Google Translate plenty of times. (Heck, I double-checked the title of this post just to make sure my early elementary level Spanish was correct. And I’m sure it’s slightly different in Portuguese, but I’m struggling with my Spanish on Duolingo, I can’t add another language yet, lol.) But any time I’ve stumbled across a non-English website, my browser popped up a little “Hey white boy, you wanna see this page in English?” button and I could just click and see the page rendered in English. But this page did not trigger my browser to offer me this hand-holding. And I honestly didn’t know what to do.

After a bit of googling, I discovered that I could simply right click anywhere on the page, and there was a “Translate to English” option which instantly made the site readable. And then I could play with the interactive map (which itself was actually on an English website, go figure). But it was another reminder that as a straight white male, living in the US, I’m really playing the game of life on the easiest level. No, that doesn’t mean my demographic can’t have struggles — it just means I don’t ALSO have hurdles of race, gender, language, etc. to manage along with the life situations I find myself in. Heck, translating web pages in order to read them is something I NEVER need to think about. And realizing that’s a privilege is one step toward a friendlier world.

I appreciate you, Luis. Your friendship makes me a better person. πŸ™‚

Monetization Sucks Beans

There’s a bitter sort of irony that people who enjoy selling things are rarely the people you want to give money, and those folks who deserve your money are cripplingly uncomfortable receiving, much less asking, for it. Mind you, this is a terribly generic take, which (might) be true for the majority of situations, but has so many exceptions it’s bordering on a trope or stereotype. So before you skip to the comments and call me a fool — lemme break down what I mean just a bit.

The sort of predatory salespeople we often (unfairly) associate with the “used car salesman” label, are not the most effective salespeople. The problem is, they’re moderately successful. That moderate success is built on narcissism, deception, selfishness, and a complete lack of empathy. They’ll encourage, and even push you to buy more than you need, and manipulate you to pay as much as they can get you to pay. The worse they screw you over, the better they feel they did — and so they’re self-motivated to be just the worst people ever. There are “crafty” versions of these salespeople, who wear the guise of giving a crap about you, but are really just more subtle about pushing those limits, and at the end of the day are only nice because it might benefit them in the long run. (referrals, repeat purchases, etc)

There are genuinely customer-focused salespeople. And oddly enough, they are the most successful type. The great irony here is that on a per-purchase basis, they are likely to make less profit. Yet, in number of sales, repeat customers, referrals, longevity, and countless other non-monetary metrics, they are far more successful than the smarmy, pushy salesforce. These salespeople are rare, and since the “crafty” salespeople mentioned above often appear to be this way — it’s difficult to find them, especially at first. But my hot take on the nuances of the psychology of sales is not what this post is about. I’m just avoiding the main point, because it’s awkward.

Beholden to NO ONE!!!

Some monetization is easy. Sorta. For example, early on (too early, honestly) in my web-comic-drawing-days, I commissioned a stuffed animal of Spot, one of the characters. I have those plushies for sale, and accepting money for them does not feel icky, because I paid for them. (I actually paid WAY too much for them, because I could only afford a limited run, and as such they cost way too much per unit, and so I sell them at cost plus a few bucks for shipping, and even then they’re way too expensive, but I digress.) I paid for them. I mark them up slightly (or not, see above), and I sell them to you. You have a tangible thing that you paid an amount of money to get.

Monetizing creativity, however, gets complicated and icky really quick. For a vast number of reasons. Let’s look at a few…

1: Creative Direction

Let’s say you decide to support my webcomic with a monthly subscription on Ko-Fi or Patreon. If I have tiers of rewards for patrons, it’s a little easier to get a sense of transactional value from your monthly donation. Maybe you see comics a day early. Maybe you get access to livestreams of me drawing. Maybe you get to see comics where Blue says swear words. Who knows. But with that sort of a system, I’d feel a little better knowing you have a transactional value for your donations. It means I have to adjust my creative endeavors in order to accommodate those things — but it works.

But most “lowest tier” support models are just a “big thank you” for supporting. And honestly, I don’t have tiered rewards set up, so if you support me (I have 1 supporter currently, at $4/month), you get nothing but a warm fuzzy feeling when you see Spot befriend a porcupine. BUT… because you’re giving me money, you might feel a bit of ownership over the comic. And that’s not entirely unfair of you. You’re helping make the comic happen, and shouldn’t you have some say on what does or doesn’t happen? Mostly no, of course, but it sorta *feels* like you should, doesn’t it?

This is far more pronounced with something like YouTube. If you’re supporting me with a YouTube Membership (I’m not eligible for monetization of any sort on YouTube yet, so don’t go try), and you’d like me to make more videos on shell scripting, and fewer videos on Kool-Aid taste tests — you might really feel like your opinion matters. And in that case, it really might matter. I mean, you’re paying me because you like the stuff I create. It’s pretty easy to feel comfortable requesting I make things that you like more often, since you’re literally paying me money. And since I’m an individual creator instead of a faceless corporate entity (like, Netflix for instance) — it’s in my best interest financially to listen to you. So… it gets messy.

2: Selling Out

If a creative person creates for money rather than the art itself, doesn’t that make them a sellout?!? WHAT ABOUT THE ART, MAN? Well… the “starving artist” trope is old and worn out, in my opinion. Plus it’s not even accurate. Have you heard of the Sistine Chapel? That ceiling was painted on commission, paid for by the Pope. Was Michelangelo a sellout? Maybe. Did that mean his art was any less art-sy? I’d venture no. It was probably better than it would have been if he couldn’t afford sandwiches for his lunch breaks. So while taking money in return for art doesn’t really make it less genuine or pure — it sorta feels icky. For some reason, if our motivation is to get paid, it often feels (and appears) like we’re only doing it because we’re getting paid. Which, is true. But is that bad? I mean, it shouldn’t be bad, but it feels like it is. Or it feels like it should be. Or… it’s very confusing, but it’s an issue creative folks have to work through.

Then, as if that whole situation weren’t complex enough, add to it the odd personal struggle many artists have with devaluing themselves and their work. It’s hard to charge a living wage when you feel like what you make isn’t work anything. Again, this disfunction isn’t true of all artists, but it’s really super mega common, and not just due to mental illness or abuse. When a creative person is creating, they’re just doing what they do. It *feels* like something anyone can do, or something that lots of people could do much, much better. (Look at my comic, y’all… if you love it, it’s not due to my amazing art skillz. Or, at least in my head there’s no way it’s because of my art skills)

So either what we do isn’t worth real money, or if we take money, we’re not doing it for the right reasons, or if we do take money we’re just shills trying to make a buck doing something that isn’t real work anyway. I guess what I’m saying is, monetizing creative endeavors is complicated. And often feels icky. And also often, it’s not something the actual creative people are good at doing even if they’re OK with doing it.

3: Being Flaky

Sometimes I can’t create things. There are any number of reasons why. For videos, perhaps I’ve lost my voice. Maybe I have a huge pimple or flushed cheeks that I’m showtoppingly uncomfortable with. At times I just run out of ideas, and need a vacation (of various sorts). The same is true with my comic, my writing, my silly cat photos, and all those other creative endeavors I do but haven’t yet shared with the world. (I’m sorry, and you’re welcome) What happens when I don’t do the thing that you are paying me to do? Will that $4/month subscriber of mine get angry if I don’t make a single web comic for a month? Maybe. And, maybe they’d be justified.

What if I fall into a fit of depression, and I can’t work at all for several weeks? I’d arguably need the monetization more than ever during those times, but it sure seems unfair to ask people to give me money for sleeping in the same underwear 7 days in a row. Heck, a few months ago, I got RSV which turned into bronchitis, and teetered on the edge of pneumonia. I’m a sickly dude, and that sort of thing happens to me. If I’m not able to be “ON” for an extended amount of time, does that mean I’m stealing from folks?

Yes, I realize there are responsible ways to prepare for situations like this. I could have a bunch of pre-drawn comics that are released automatically. I could make videos in advance and do the same. In fact, that would be a very healthy thing for me to do anyway, and I should really do that. But since I still have a full time job (because I haven’t successfully monetized my creative ventures), I can barely keep up with this just-in-time release schedule. So building up a buffer is a lot easier said than done. The flaky bit is just one more aspect of monetization that weighs heavily on me, and likely other creators as well.

No Great Answers

Oh, did you think this was an inspirational story that ended with a, “thus and heretofore we shall solve the problems inherent with funding fine arts…”? Yeah, no. This is just my blog where I think out loud. When I write out my thinky bits, it no longer has to live in my head full time. If you expected me to have the answer to life, the universe, and everything — I’m afraid “42” is the best I can do.

That said, I have discovered some things feel less icky than others, at least for me:

  1. If/when I ever get monetized on YouTube, I will not feel horrible about ad revenue. That’s largely because YouTube ads are the norm, and it doesn’t directly take money out of people’s pockets. (It takes a bit of time out of their day, which is arguably a much more terrible thing to do, but that’s another topic). I also like that YouTube has a “Premium” or “Pro” option so that you can pay a monthly subscription to YouTube and not see ads in videos at all. Creators supposedly still get paid, and users don’t have to watch ads. Once I’m monetized, I’ll be making a video about how the premium plan for YouTube is actually pretty great, and I would cancel Netflix long before I’d cancel my YouTube Premium.
  2. Affiliate marketing is really win-win. This one is weird for me, because it still feels icky. But honestly, it doesn’t cost the user any more money at all, and the creator is supported. I try to make it clear that I use affiliate links when I link to a product, but even then I feel like I’m “tricking” people in to buying stuff so that I get a percentage. And yet, it really isn’t that way. I suspect this is a personal issue I just get to work though. And my new “review” blog is me trying to add some value to affiliate links. We’ll see if that works for me emotionally and financially in the long term.
  3. Books. If (when, darn it!) I write books, I’ll be totally fine with selling them. That’s back to the transactional ideal though. You pay me, you get a book. I plan to write books that are self-published ebooks, maybe self-published print-on-demand books, and traditionally published as well. I have no problem accepting money for any of those methods. But also, writing books is hard. Or so I’m told. I haven’t done it yet. πŸ™‚

Anyway. That’s my brain dump about monetizing creativity. It’s weird, and I don’t have a handle on how to do it properly. Perhaps I never will. But if you’re also struggling with monetizing your passions, and you’d really like to monetize your passions (sometimes, if you don’t have to, it’s a better option to not do so!) — know that you’re not alone.

Star Trek Me This

A while back I posted a poll on Twitter about which Star Trek technology would be the most significant. Usually when I bring the topic up in conversation, people jokingly say the Holodeck, and then say, “But seriously, warp drive is the most significant tech.” I generally argue that the replicator is the most overlooked tech in Star Trek, because its invention would solve world hunger, put manufacturing centuries ahead, and make scarcity a thing of the past. I was pleasantly surprised to see that on Twitter, most folks think along the same lines.

But, I want to elaborate a bit on the items, because sometimes I have more than 280 characters of thought on a topic. πŸ™‚

Holodeck

The holodeck got little love on Twitter, and I understand. It seems the most frivolous of the items listed. In reality, the Holodeck is the one we’re probably the closest to actually having. It’s basically VR to the Nth degree. There are obvious differences, what with actual physical interactions and all, but VR is like a poor man’s Holodeck, and we can try it out today.

The use cases for an actual Holodeck are pretty incredible though, to be honest. The show generally stresses its usage as a vacation simulation, which would be important on interstellar trips. But the training, learning, physical fitness, and full immersion would make life better in so many ways.

That said, I think we all know, most Holodeck use cases would devolve into sexual deviance pretty quickly. Maybe that’s good, maybe that’s bad, I’m not here to judge. The takeaway though is that a Holodeck could do more than just entertain us. It could level the playing field for everyone such that privilege of wealth and/or location wouldn’t matter as much.

Transporter

There was some discussion on Twitter about whether the transporter was its own tech, or whether the replicator and the transporter were really the same thing, since the technologies are closely related. But since I was specifically referring to the transporter as a “mover of objects and people”, that’s what I’ll focus on here.

Quite frankly, the transporter tech creeps me out the most. The notion of converting mass into energy and then that energy back into mass seems fine for chairs and pepperoni pizzas, but for a living thing — it’s oogy. This is a trope in the Star Trek universe of course, what if people are “recreated” twice. What if the “pattern degrades” in the buffer. But I’m more concerned about what makes a person a person. When an object (or lifeform) is converted into the stream of energy, their existence is nothing more than a record of what they used to be. If you then rebuild them into that same record, are they the same person? Is there a spark of life that is more than matter/energy? Is there a soul?

Deep stuff, I know. But the transporter has always bothered me in Star Trek. And while I don’t want to get into a big philosophical debate about souls and the meat they may or may not inhabit — if the transporter idea for living things doesn’t creep you out, I’m a little worried about you.

Warp Drive

Arguably the most exciting Trek tech, it’s oddly the one that would probably affect humanity the least. Well, at least initially. With things like hunger, inequality, and scarcity eliminated, Warp Drive would allow for exploration without the sole purpose of exploitation. That would be amazing. But as a “first” tech? Yeah, I’ll pass. I don’t want to solve our energy problems by drilling for oil on a remote planet. That’s just putting the cart before the horse.

Obviously cool tech from a scientific standpoint. And not outside of the realm of “maybe someday something like what it sorta implies” — so I’m not anti-WarpDrive. I’m just not in the, “We need Warp Drive first” camp.

I already talked about the replicator, and why I think that would be the most important and civilization changing tech. But something that didn’t even make my list has gotten me thinking a lot lately…

Universal Translator

This is probably the most practical tech from a, “could we ever actually do it” standpoint. Not with the whiz-bang features of learning and deciphering an unknown language in near real-time, but as a way for people to communicate with each other regardless of their native tongue. Language barriers are more than just inconvenient. When we can’t communicate readily with someone, it changes how we see them. Being self aware enough to realize that our differences are insignificant when compared to our similarities helps — but when we can’t communicate, relationships break down.

When someone doesn’t speak our language fluently, we perceive them as less intelligent (even if we don’t speak THEIR language AT ALL). When we can’t express our intentions to each other clearly, it creates a mental us/them separation that bleeds into every other aspect of our relationship. When we can’t understand each other, we can easily dehumanize each other. And that road leads to the darkest of darkness. If we can’t communicate with people, we can’t get to know them. And if we don’t know people who are unlike us, it limits who WE are as a part of humanity.

There’s a much larger topic about diversity, inclusivity, and expanding our views of “us” — but this was just a post about Star Trek technology. So I’ll save the other stuff for another episode. πŸ™‚

This Blog Might Get Weird

I’m doing all sorts of content creation these days. I’m doing videos, comics, newsletters, reviews (I’m figuring that bit out still… but I wanna keep doing it), podcasts, other podcasts, and I’m still doing silly tweets and cat photos, etc, etc, etc. I want to be a full time content creator someday soon, and so I’m just doing STUFF. But the thing about content creation, especially if you hope to *make money* doing it, is that it’s often important to “niche down”. And that’s super annoy-balls. I’m not really built to “niche-down”. (As you can tell by the long list of stuff I’m doing recently.)

So I decided this blog will be my free-for-all, anything goes, digital void to scream into. The tagline has always been, “the thinks I think” here on my blog, and dog gonnit (dog gone it? hmm… I’m not sure now) that’s what I’m going to do. So things might get weird. I sometimes think things that aren’t fully refined. I sometimes think through difficult social issues. Often times during that thinking, I’ll change my opinion. My goal is to do some of that here.

I hope to be able to leave the comment section open. Those who know me understand that I’m generally OK with dissenting opinions, and I truly listen to other points of view, sometimes even changing my point of view. In fact, I try really REALLY hard to be open to my own wrongness. If I realize I am/was wrong, and accept that — it means I become a better person. And since I have a LOT of room to be better than I am now, the only way I can get from point A (fairly crappy) to point B (moderately less crappy), it will be by accepting and changing the crappy things about me. So at first, for most posts — comments will be open, and I’m in favor of conversation on my personal, half-formed thoughts.

BUT.

I am a founder and level 73 member of the Cult of Kindness (please don’t use our unfortunate acronym). Anything other than kind interactions which assume the best of other people will be shut down quickly. Yes, there’s a certain irony in assuming the best of others, and shutting things down when others seem to not play by the rules, but at the end of the day, this is my blog. If I shut down conversation, I’ll try to do so kindly, explaining myself, etc. But if you remember from above, I’m still fairly crappy, so I’m sure I’ll mess up my pie-in-the-sky notion of doing things right. I just know that online discussions via social media, comment sections, etc. tend to get super ugly super fast. And that is something up with which I will not put.

But some of my very, VERY best friends were forged in controversial forum posts. One sticks with me. I won’t mention her by name, but I’m sure she’ll know who she is if she reads this. I was a very conservative Christian person at the time, and the conversation was with several atheists/agnostics about abortion and Pro-choice/Pro-life stances. We both left the conversation with the same general viewpoints we started — but each did change our understanding and feelings toward the “other side.” That interaction changed me. It was my first step in a journey of becoming a more empathetic, understanding, and intelligent person. She is now one of my dearest friends, and she’s one of the most wonderful human beings I know.

That’s what conversation can do. So I want to have the comment section here open, because I’d really love for more people to have that sort of experience. But it’s often “team flaming blowtorch” conversing with “team gasoline soaked underbritches” — so if things go sideways, I’ll lock/delete/etc. And like I said, I’m still pretty crappy myself, so I’ll probably screw it up from time to time. Anyway. Welcome to The Brain of Shawn. The thinks I think. πŸ™‚