Using Black People in GIFs and Memes

Today’s topic comes once again from Twitter, where the message is that if you are not black and you are using a GIF of a black person to express yourself, that is digital blackface and is bad.

Me, a straight white male at the top of privilege mountain, should probably not touch this subject and just move along. I just took a shot of cough medicine, however, so I’m feeling more foolish than wise, so let’s do this.

I agree with the person in the tweet that if people are specifically looking for the black version of a gif to express themselves, that is weird. I don’t know anyone that does that, which isn’t to say it doesn’t happen. It sounds weird, and I don’t understand it.

That’s not really the direction I want to go with this, though.

I’ll get my personal experience with expressing myself with gifs out of the way. For the longest time, I’ve been running with a bunch of people on Twitter called the #WriteFightGIFClub. We’re all writers, we do writing sprints together in November, and we express ourselves with GIFs. It’s fun. It’s a good group of people that are very supportive, and it’s one of the reasons I latched onto Twitter as hard as I did. Covid kind of killed that group, but we’re still around. We’re just really, really tired.

I have definitely used GIFs of people that were not white. I didn’t really think about it. I just saw a picture of a person making some expression that matched the mood or vibe and went with it. I didn’t seek out black people, but I also didn’t exclude them.

There’s the heart of it. That’s what I want to talk about.

Blackface was a way of taking an entire race and reducing them into a caricature, emphasizing their physical differences and othering them for entertainment. Blackface is a way of saying, “look how different these people are. Aren’t they funny?” Blackface is about separation, dehumanization, and is obviously Bad with a capital B.

I have a hard time equating blackface with using GIFs of a black people. If I’m using a GIF to express myself, I’m saying, “This person is like me. This person is expressing what I’m feeling. We are the same.”

If people are just grabbing GIFs of black people and laughing at them because they think the picture is funny… well… that’s something else. There is separation there. Laughter is being had at the expense of the person in the GIF. There is a whiff of othering there.

But I know that’s now how I have been using GIFs, and it’s not how my friends were using GIFs.

It makes me wonder where the outrage is coming from.

Another part of the argument in the Twitter thread is in regard to knowing where a meme comes from. I have a vague recollection of a video where I thought “Bye Felicia” started. I don’t remember. But you know what? I don’t know where most of my memes come from.

Yeah, I have no idea where this originated from, but I think I personally make that expression at least three times a day.

No one is complaining about using that GIF. The root of the complaint in the original thread is about appropriation, and… and I can’t disagree with that. It is appropriation.

So where does that leave things?

I don’t know. If I’m wrong and I need to start looking at my GIFs to make sure they don’t feature people of color, well, I’ll do that. Or maybe I won’t use GIFs anymore at all. I don’t know. If my behavior is hurting people, I’m willing to change my behavior. I don’t want to hurt anyone.

If there’s something I’m missing, please let me know.


Staying on Task, Dealing with Mental Health

I feel like I’ve talked about this before. I’m going to talk about dealing with a lack of executive function. It’s something that comes up more and more frequently. As I understand it, this is a part of living with ADHD. I’ve never been officially diagnosed, but there are about a dozen signs pointing in that direction.

What is it like?

Emotionally, it’s frustrating. It probably looks like I’m being lazy or screwing around, but from behind my eyes, it’s much worse than that. There is a goal or a task I wish to accomplish, and I simply… can’t. Something won’t let me.

Have you ever had your arm go to sleep so soundly that you couldn’t lift it? You try and try, but nothing happens. That’s what it’s like.

Sometimes, I can expend a great deal of mental energy and force myself to work on the task. Sometimes, I can trick myself into doing the tasks through distraction. Bribes don’t usually work. Offering myself treats usually leads to me skipping the task and going straight for the treat. In addition to being unable to work on what I want to work on, my impulse control is also diminished.

I’m not sure how other people deal with it. I have a white board that helps, but putting the tasks on the white board can itself become a task that I struggle doing. Music is often a huge help, but that’s not always a practical option.

I think other people get help, but the act of asking is… well. I guess I’m still terrified. I don’t want to be like my biological mother. Bipolar. Manic depressive. The signs are there for that, too.

Even with my struggles with executive function, my brain is still my most precious asset. I use it to write. I use it to troubleshoot. I had a late evening with work tonight, troubleshooting and fixing things that depend on me being sharp. And, though this sounds prideful, I really am very smart, and it’s that strength that allows me to keep my job and be useful.

Messing with my brain scares me. After hearing about Covid messing with people’s personality and mental faculties, I was terrified that I would be diminished after getting Covid. So far, I appear to have avoided that problem. But drugs? Drugs for dealing with depression or bipolar or whatever I’m diagnosed with could be the thing that culminates all of my fear.

What if I’m unable to write?

If it comes down to a question of whether or not I would want to be a writer or be who I am today, I would rather continue as I am. Bliss is fleeting. Happiness is a moment. Even with the depression and struggles, there are still moments that rise above that are good and joyful. I would not want to trade away who I am for… I don’t know what.

And I really hope none of what I’ve said here is offensive. Mental healthcare is healthcare, and I’m not trying to diminish it or anything. I have fears around it, and I’m mostly talking about what I’m afraid of, which isn’t necessarily the reality.

The reality is probably that if I had better mental health, I could be free to be more of who I want to be.

It’s just really hard to see that reality from where I’m sitting right now. To me, moving towards that reality is like stepping into a burning building.

Why am I talking about this now?

Some conversations on Twitter made me think of it. And, last week when I went and saw Melissa’s doctor, I filled out a depression screening form twice. Once online, once on paper. Based on how I answered those questions, I thought I would be having a conversation with the doctor about mental health. But nothing happened. Nothing came from it.

Wednesday, I’ll be meeting my doctor for the first time. I’m going to try and talk to her about it then.


Brainstorming the Next Novel

I’ve had Cyberpunk on my brain for a long while, now. I’ve been playing Cyberpunk 2077 quite a bit lately (and streaming it, occasionally). I’ve watched and rewatched Bladrunner and its sequel. Neuromancer is my current audio book. I have a longing to get into a Cyberpunk Red or Shadowrun game. The only way I’m ever going to move on from this genre is to write an actual Cyberpunk story.

I’m not talking about fan fiction in Mike Pondsmith’s world, or an adaption of anything related to Philip K. Dick. I want to write something new. I think I can do it.

My 2nd novel, Spin City, touches on some Cyberpunk tropes. It’s SciFi with some noir flavor, which is a huge part of the aesthetic of Cyberpunk. But there’s more to it.

I want to write about body autonomy, the evils of corporations when capitalism runs out of control, and the people that get caught in the middle when the machines of industry grind against each other.

In my next novel, I think I want to sprinkle in some patriotism and faith, as well. It’s through patriotism and faith that we see atrocities committed today. I think I can use that as pivotal, motivational grease to keep my new Cyberpunk world believable and unfortunately relatable.

This isn’t to say that I have anything strictly against patriotism or faith. I respect faith and think it’s important in our lives, whether we identify it as faith or not. And patriotism, when held in check with critical thinking, can also be fantastic. Who doesn’t want to be proud of and feel like a part of a nation that is prospering and doing good work?

So, I think I have some material to work with. In my Cyberpunk world, corporations run the world, and my main character is going to believe in the company that they work for. They will believe in it so much that they will do regrettable things. Patriotism and faith will be key. And then somewhere in second act, I’m going to shatter this person’s faith and send them to the streets.

During the second act, we’ll take our protagonist and pair them with someone that is an anticorporate, anti-capitalist rebel. Someone that is pushing for the opposite of what our protagonist stood for. Maybe this will be a love interest? Throw in a little bit of enemy to lovers, maybe?

By the third act, our protagonist has traded one faith for another, so we’ll pull the rug out from under them again. Perhaps the rebels have acquired fissile material and mean to bring down the whole system permanently?

Of course, the fissile material would have had to come from the corporations in the first place, and our protagonist should start to put together how much of what’s going on in the street is manipulation. The conflict keeps people uniting. The corporate wars are all a front and a means of keeping people down.

I’m not sure how this will end. None of what I’ve said here is written in stone. I have a little bit of an outline started, but it’s thin. I don’t know that much about my main character yet. If this is going to be a full novel, I’ll need more characters and side stories that support and push against the main thread.

I don’t think this can have a happy ending. The best we can hope for in this scenario is a satisfying ending. I’m not interested in writing 100,000 words just to bum people out. I will need to find some way to shine some light of hope at the end.

The reality is that I’m just going to be writing about our world as we know it, but exaggerated. We already live in a Cyberpunk dystopia. We’re constantly connected, wired to a digital world through our cell phones. Corporations control everything. The rich keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer, and basic human rights are eroded through corruption and dark money and greed. It’s hard to look at current events and maintain hope for the future.

But somehow, that’s what I want to achieve by the end of this novel.

I might be biting off more than I can chew with this one. We’ll see how it goes.


The Writer and their Story

I just got home from Mike Baltar’s house. Today is his birthday, and today is also the day we were to meet with the rest of our critique group. I am the only one that had a submission this month, and it was The Writer, The Knight, and The Lady. I’ve recently talked about writers and their relationships with other writers, but tonight’s meeting got me thinking about writer’s and their relationship with their stories. So let’s talk about that.

My relationship with my writing is this: it feels like an extension of myself.

My stories should be products of my intellect and skill. That would be a healthier way of looking at it. I go into the word mine and toil, committing effort and sweat, until something is extracted, polished, and presented for other people to consume. It’s a product, to be given away or sold.

It feels more like I’m scooping out a part of myself, dressing it up as best I can, and then putting it in front of other people to be judged. When someone finds fault with one of my stories, they are finding fault with me.

They’re not actually judging me, and I’m not quite that immature when it comes to receiving critiques, but I always have a little bit of fear. I have worked on this. I don’t get defensive anymore.

This sounds like my critique didn’t go well tonight. It did! The critique itself was very positive. It’s a decent story that is difficult to execute well. If I want it to be great, I’m going to have to put more work into it. Right now, it’s just kinda good.

Before the critique started, I thought about the story and didn’t think it would land very well. A couple of characters don’t get enough screen time to be very well fleshed out. There were problems in the story that I was aware of, and I thought that would mean it wouldn’t read well.

But, it worked. My group confirmed some of the things I suspected wrong with it, and now I can choose to do more with it, or leave it in the pile with the rest of the short stories I’m not doing anything with.

I care about every story I’ve written. They are both a part of me and my product. I want them to find good homes and do well in the world. They were written to be read by others, so that’s what I hope for all of them.

I suppose that’s all I have to say on the subject. I thought it would be more complicated than that. There are healthy relationships between the writer and their work, and there are unhealthy relationships. I recognize some of the places where my feelings about my stories have been unhealthy in the past, and I’ve worked to put some distance between me and the things I write. But I think there will always be a link between my sense of self-worth and the way my stories are received.


Writers, Support Other Writers

Today’s unplanned topic comes from a conversation on Twitter, which starts here:


First, it’s preposterous to me that someone should get upset about content warnings. Trauma is real. Giving someone a chance to look away and avoid something that will unsettle them is a low risk, low effort kindness. Maybe some people use them for other purposes, but who cares?

It turns out that the guy that blocked Chad is another author, and that really stuck in my craw. As Chad points out, “Why try to find other readers when we can tear each other down.”

Writing is hard work. It takes an incredible amount of time and commitment of energy and focus. Writers should know this.

We should be building each other up and supporting each other. I know what I’ve gone through while writing my novels. I’ve spent time querying and have experienced the bitter taste of rejection. While most people have given me positive feedback for my stories, I know what it’s like when one doesn’t quite land. Being a writer brings me incredible joy and satisfaction, but it can be harrowing, and I know that every other writer out there has gone through some of what I’ve experienced. Many have had it worse.

The right thing to do is recognize the shared commitment and pain, then offer whatever support we can afford. Kindness is often the greatest gift we can give, and it’s free.

I have read some stories from less prestigious writers that didn’t land for me, and I’m not going to publicly bash them. It doesn’t benefit them, and it doesn’t reflect well on me, either. I’ll criticize authors with bigger names when it’s appropriate, because a bad review from me won’t hurt them. But in general, it’s better to just say nothing at all if I don’t have something nice to say.

As writers, we should buy each other coffee. When we’re happy with another writer’s work, we should shout it from the summit of Social Media Mountain.

We’re colleagues. Coworkers. For the most part, we are not in competition with each other. We’re all carving out parts of our soul with an ice cream scoop and dolloping it onto the page for prospective readers. It should not be that hard to have sympathy for people going through the same thing as us.


Not So Nice Guys

There’s this guy on Twitter named Dave that has caused a stir. He sidles up to young women writers, promotes them, and then expects favors from them. He slides into their DMs and makes them uncomfortable. Several women on Twitter have recently exposed his behavior, and I’m not going to link to him or any of the people he harassed, because I don’t want to give him any extra attention.

I’ve already blocked him and moved on. Tonight, I want to talk about people like him and some of the secondary damage they do.

Some of these online predators have learned to disguise themselves in kindness. They seem polite and generous. As they stalk, they pass themselves off as attentive. They use positivity and platitudes to win their suspects over, so they can get into their target’s DMs and apply pressure, either subtly or directly.

Women shouldn’t have to second guess kindness, but thanks to guys like Dave, they do. There are too many men out their putting on false smiles, masking their intentions.

It puts me in a bind, because I try to be honest and positive. I strive to be a sweet man, not a nice guy. I want to lift people up. I also want genuine connection and friendship.

Unless your name is Melissa Buhl and you live in my house, I’m not looking to get in your pants. Seriously.

So what are some ways to tell a not-actually-nice person (asshole) from someone like me?

  1. The assholes try too hard. Their motivation is for themselves and not for the person they’re interacting with, so their comments are a little bit off. Too heavy-handed, and they don’t know when to back off.
  2. The assholes focus on young women. I offer kindness to anyone that shows up on my feed, regardless of age or gender.
  3. The assholes are trying to get into their target’s DMs. I rarely DM anyone.
  4. The assholes are focused on their targets, so they don’t usually post about different subjects, if they post anything at all. Most of their communication is in replies to other people. I post stuff, about a wide range of topics.

What should you do when you find someone online like what I just described?

First and foremost, check with the people they appear to be targeting. Maybe the suspect is socially awkward online and accidentally giving off some creeper vibes. If the people they’re targeting are fine and happy, it’s better to leave things alone and not create unnecessary drama.

Once you know you’re dealing with a creep, expose them. Take screen shots of the posts, making sure to get context. The creep is likely to delete posts once they’re brought into the light, so hold onto the receipts.

Next, report them. Use your best judgement. Be honest and be fair. Let your friends know that there is a predator out there. Let them see the receipts.

Finally, block the asshole. This is important, because there is no amount of arguing on the internet that will make the situation better. You’ve already done due diligence before you got to this stage, and you’re not going to change them. By now you should have done what you can to protect would-be victims. Blocking the creep is how you protect yourself.

If they go around the block, with an alt account or something, report them again, but do not engage.

That’s basically it.

I think the world needs more genuine kindness. We need to keep lifting each other up, and we need to listen to each other with empathy. We cannot let the creeps make us less than who we are. Act and speak with integrity, and be as kind as possible.


The Value of Small Goals

I don’t have a lot of time, so this one will have to be short.

It’s fine to have dreams and big goals. Reach for that shiny house and fancy car. Put “Full Time Writer” on your boar and do the things you need to do to get there.

But don’t underestimate the value of small goals. Those tiny victories along the way add up.

I have a large goal of writing 50,000 words in November. To prepare for that, I set a moderate size goal of writing at least 31 blog posts throughout October. The small goal is writing one blog post today. That means finding the time, coming up with the topic, and executing.

It’s not going to win any money or prizes. It’s not going to draw a crowd or make me any friends. What it will do is prove once again that I Can Do This.

It feels good to accomplish things, both large and small. If you’re struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel, then look down and focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Keep going, and you’ll get there.

That’s what this is about. That’s what I’ve been doing for a long time.

Write the next story. Edit it. Maybe send it out. Maybe keep it in my pocket. Then write the next one. And then the next. One word at a time.

Just keep going.


Writing Excuses is Awesome

The last couple of days, I talked about some unpleasant stuff. Tonight, let’s be positive!

Writing Excuses is a podcast that is, ostensibly, fifteen minutes long, because you’re in a hurry, and they’re not that smart (or so they claim). But the episodes are often longer than that. Sometimes when I’m listening to them, I’m not in that much of a hurry. And, they are demonstrably smart and good at what they do.

It kind of sounds like I’m saying that the people of Writing Excuses are liars, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make.

As a podcast, they’ve been going for quite some time. It started as Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Taylor, eventually picking up Mary Robinette Kowal around season 4 or so. Those were the primary hosts, but they’ve expanded to have lots of different hosts. DongWon Song and Erin Roberts will be on the primary cast soon, which is fantastic, because I think the world of both of them, too.

Almost none of what I’ve said is news. They’ve won Hugos. They’re well established, and they offer great advice. So why am I talking about them tonight?

They host writing retreats, some of which are on cruise ships. Melissa and I have now attended four of these. We just got back from the latest a couple weeks ago. These are great events. They mean a lot to me. At times they’re instructional. Other times relaxing. Sometimes hilarious. Occasionally stressful. They’re adventures, hosted by people that really care about the community that they’ve built.

This last one, they went above and beyond.

Melissa and I attended in 2021, and no one got Covid during that retreat. We were hopeful that 2022 would be the same, but that wasn’t the case. A bunch of us caught it, and it wasn’t the fault of the cruise. We probably caught it at the hotel, before getting on the ship.

The Writing Excuses hosts made sure that those of us stricken with the plague did not feel left behind. And we weren’t just offered emotional support, though that was there and much appreciated. They made sure we had a place to stay in Galveston, since we weren’t going to be able to travel for a while. They put us up in a pair of AirBnB’s. Mary Robinette specifically stayed in Galveston herself, though she wasn’t infected, and she checked in on us to make sure we had everything we needed.

It feels like I’m understating this. The tail end of our cruise got obliterated by a virus, forcing us to go into isolation, but an effort was made to make it feel like we just had a longer vacation. An extended retreat.

I felt comfortable enough that I wrote while holed up in Galveston. I finished my latest novelette, which I’m currently calling The Writer, the Knight, and the Lady.

Writing Excuses is awesome. It’s made of good people, and it attracts good people. If you haven’t checked out the podcast, you should.


We Are Not Mature

I feel like I’ve talked about this before, but I’m feeling too lazy to go look it up.

We, the inhabitants of The Internet, are collectively immature.

There are many parts of maturity, but the one I’m specifically focused on is the denial of reality. When confronted with views that are opposed to the ones we carry, Internet folk reject the opposing view and instead look for other people that support the perspective they carry.

We don’t just slip into echo chambers. We actively reject opposing views, sometimes attacking the people that present the ideas that offend us. When someone offers an opinion that is not in alignment with our own, we unfollow, mute, and block them.

I keep saying “we.” I try hard to keep an open mind, but it is challenging because I’m always right, and none of my views are wrong because keeping an open mind takes energy and patience, and the world moves pretty fast these days. I do tend to block people that are anti-vax, pro-fascist, or offer a perspective that is ultimately dehumanizing or harmful. But that leads to…


It is extremely difficult to carry a nuanced view in social media, or online in general.

Nuance takes time and effort. Nuance demands more than 140 or 280 characters. Nuance is a blog post, and most people aren’t out there reading blogs. Ha ha!

Let’s go through a couple of examples of where it’s inconvenient to live in a technicolor world, when black and white is so much easier.

Black and White: It is always bad to kill someone.

Technicolor: Well… sometimes a bad person is going to something absolutely terrible and the only way to stop them is to kill them. Sometimes, you’re a soldier in a war, and your job is to shoot a gun at enemy soldiers, possibly killing them. Sometimes, someone gets sick and is in pain, and will never get better, and death is a merciful end to their suffering.

Nuance takes work. Let’s do another one.

Black and White: Freedom of Speech should be absolute. No speech should be infringed!

Technicolor: Well… shouting “fire” in a crowded theater is not protected speech and can lead to people getting trampled to death. Provoking someone to kill themselves is not protected speech and is morally reprehensible. Doxxing, SWATting, posting intimate photos of someone without their permission, and peddling child porn… these should not be protected speech. When speech and expression is weaponized to do actual harm, protecting that speech and expression is an amoral thing to do.

What if someone says something that hurts another person’s feelings? Am I saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to be assholes?

No. There is a difference between saying something mean and posting their address and phone number onto a public forum. There is a difference between telling someone to fuck off versus putting in an anonymous phone call, lying to the police, all in an effort to get a swat team to kick in another person’s door with guns.

Nuance matters. If you are incapable of this kind of discernment, you shouldn’t be in charge of hosting web content. This is a focused comment, and I’m not going to name names, because then this page might show up in a search engine, and one of those assholes might start doxxing and swatting me.

No thank you.

I’m talking about maturity like we all need to grow up. We can and should still play and have fun. Keeping an open mind and allowing room for nuanced views does not mean we have to be dour stick-in-the-muds. I may be a dour stick-in-the-mud, but that’s just how I’ve always been.

But McDonald’s has happy meals for adults now. Sometimes I wear a cape when I write. We should all stop working so damn hard from time to time and just be big kids.

Just… remember that there are real people with real feelings on the other side of the screen, and know that we’re all going through some stuff. Maybe we if just exercise a little bit more empathy and compassion, this whole Internet can be a little bit better.


Covid is Not Over

Around the time I first started showing symptoms for Covid, President Biden said the pandemic is over. He said we still have Covid to deal with, but that the pandemic is over.

It’s a real headscratcher. Hundreds of people are still dying every day. As of right now, we are getting as many deaths a week due to Covid as the total number of people that died in the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001.

Unfortunately, people are tired of living with the pandemic. They are tired of staying at home, wearing masks, and being afraid.

I don’t know what else to say about this. Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about nuance and maturity, but today I want to talk about Covid and why we should still be taking it seriously.

Pretending that the pandemic is over sends the wrong message if you want a healthy public. Telling someone that the pandemic is over, without any other context, suggests that maybe they don’t need to keep getting vaccinations.

There are still idiots that think Covid isn’t real. Or that it is just the flu. Or whatever other nonsense they want to use in order to deny the inconvenience of reality.

Most people have very mild symptoms if they get Covid after being vaccinated. That is not how I would describe my experience. I need to see my doctor, actually, because I’m pretty sure Covid damaged my lungs. It’s been more than 2 weeks, and I still have an uncomfortable cough and pain in my chest.

We need to be smarter about this. People’s health should not be a political talking point. None of this should be political.

There’s a virus going around killing hundreds of people a day, which has an exponential rate of infection even when people are protected, and if it doesn’t kill you, it might make it impossible for you to work for a while.

Let’s focus on that last bit for a second. Let’s pretend that Covid becomes weak enough that it no longer kills people at all. It’s just this really inconvenient sickness that makes it difficult for people to breathe or work effectively. Shouldn’t that be enough to make people stop and care?

Melissa and I are fortunate. We are in positions where we can comfortably miss work if we need to. Our daughter, on the other hand, needs her job. There are millions like her that don’t have the kind of support we’re giving her, and when they get sick with something like Covid, they run the risk of not being able to afford food or rent. Why should we be so callous with these people?

That’s not even considering people that are immunocompromised or have existing conditions that put them at greater risk when confronted with something like Covid.

So what am I saying? Am I suggesting we all go back into isolation again?


I’m saying we need to continue to take it seriously. We need to stop pretending that the pandemic is over, and respect Covid for the deadly virus that it is. That means wearing masks from time to time, and social distancing when appropriate. And it means isolating when we get sick, so that we don’t continue to be vectors, allowing the disease to run out of control.

It also means staying vigilant on vaccinations and boosters.

Get “back to normal” but react appropriately if something happens. Melissa and I went on the Writing Excuses Cruise, and we got bit with Covid. Our response was to isolate as long as we could, until it was safe to come home. It was inconvenient for us, but we did our best to minimize the risk to others.

That’s it. Be your best and do your best.

Denying the reality of Covid is NOT your best.