So this happened, really, I swear.
It was a nice surprise. I haven't made any money off my writing since 2014 when I worked for the USU campus newspaper and made, if memory serves me, five dollars per article. I suppose I could be trying harder to actually publish stuff that isn't blog posts. But I just want to say that everyone is more than welcome to follow this person's example. If you're considering it, do it fast before I offend you and change your mind.
I was going through the stash of old papers that I've hoarded for nostalgic reasons, weeding out the ones that I can now bring myself to part with, when I found this comic that I drew for a class in 2018. I posted it on my blog once, but I couldn't get the scanner to not cut off the edges, so I just took a picture of it that was probably impossible to read on a mobile device. This time I got a better scan with a better scanner and decided to crop each individual panel, and on top of that to offer the commentary that both people who read it the first time have undoubtedly craved since then. Through the miracle of modern technology, these scans bring out every wrinkle and smudge on the paper in high definition. (Believe it or not, in person it actually looks white.) The context of this comic was that it had to be about some aspect of American culture because the class was about American culture. (Mostly it was about racism.) So I made it about American political polarization and mud-slinging because that really ground my gears. (It still does.)
I got in arguments about politics at the school lunch table, mostly over whether or not I was racist, and when my parents got over their concern about me being kidnapped by strangers from the internet and let me get a Facebook account in 2009, I made a photo album entitled "Obama Sucks!" I really and truly believed he was an anti-Christ trying to destroy the United States and take away all of our rights. If he were president today, I would probably be "Meh" toward him like I am toward Biden. At least both of them can go five minutes without lying or globally humiliating this country.
The class in question was Honors U.S. Institutions, which (spoiler alert) initiated the slow process of my political views becoming more nuanced. Nowadays it must be the "heterosexual cisgender white males suck" class. The girl behind me, who I think underwent a similar process even though I don't purport to know her thoughts and only purported to here as an attempt at humor, is the subject of my essay "Chasing Kelsey."
This was my initial reaction to this quote, but now I try to live by it. Until recently, I displayed it on my homepage, but after leaving the church I cancel cultured Oaks because of some less admirable things he's said - "It's wrong to criticize leaders of the church, even if the criticism is true," "I know that the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them," and a number of homophobic statements unequalled by any other LDS leader still living. Last November during a Q&A at the University of Virginia, he straight-up lied that BYU didn't practice conversion therapy on gay men during his tenure as president, which is so impossible to rationalize that the church's apologists haven't even tried. So he's not someone I want to promote as a spiritual leader. Nonetheless, I appreciate the glimpses of political nuance that I've gotten from him (he's obviously conservative but not a fan of Trump or what he stands for) and I still like this particular quote. I had an extra incentive to cite it in this comic because my professor was new to Utah and I wanted to convert him.
Saskia and I were both admins of a Facebook group called "The Awesome Mormons' Secret Society of Awesomeness" that furnished an embarrassing percentage of my social life in college. Someone pointed the irony that the admins tended to be liberal while the group membership tended to be conservative. Someone, probably Saskia, said it was good and then clarified, "That we are liberal, not that all these conservatives are here." I said, "I take it I'm not welcome then?" And then Saskia said this and blew my freaking mind. The group is dead and most of the admins have left the church by now.
My first real exposure to Donald Trump was a Bloom County storyline where he gets hit on the head with an anchor and has his brain transplanted into Bill the Cat. That was also my first exposure to Bill the Cat, so it gave me a weird first impression. Bloom County's portrayal of Trump wasn't altogether flattering, but I figured whatever, maybe it's just making fun of him because he's rich, so that didn't give me much of an opinion on him one way or another. And then suddenly in mid-2015 I heard that he believed vaccines caused autism, and that was a wake-up call. And by the end of that year I thought his misogyny was so self-evident that I didn't understand why his "Grab 'em by the pussy" recording came as a shock to anyone. In fairness, when I attended one of Utah's Republican caucuses in 2016 the entire discussion revolved around stopping Trump from becoming the nominee, but of course as soon as that failed Utah decided that having principles was overrated. Yeah, I'm more liberal now, but my objection to Trump has always and will always have far less to do with politics than with the fact that he's an absolute garbage excuse for a human being and I'm sick of people kissing his ass and trying to gaslight me that he's the Second Coming of Christ.
The narration is poorly phrased. The "impossible concept" here is not being mindlessly devoted to one of two political parties. I still get this crap from strangers on the internet who assume I'll be traumatized by them insulting Biden after I've insulted Trump. And yes, even though George Washington owned enslaved people, he had some good ideas.
I stand by the first sentence in my speech bubble one thousand percent. A lot of people in this country are going to burn in hell for deliberately preventing us from solving this problem that the rest of the developed world has solved. For God's sake, America, stop pretending it's normal for your children to live in fear of being gunned down at school. The second sentence, I'm not sure about. It's complicated. The issue, notwithstanding how liberals constantly misrepresent it, is not one of just refusing service to people based on their sexual orientation - which I unequivocally oppose - but of refusing to participate in a practice (same-sex marriage) that the business owners believe are wrong. Nowadays I think such beliefs are wrong and harmful and I'm not sad to see them rushing to extinction, but the constitution protects people's right to not only hold beliefs that others find offensive, but to act on them within reason. Liberals now argue that this protection doesn't cover people when they're providing goods and services to the public, and I can see the appeal of that reasoning, but I don't think it's supported by the constitution. Not that I claim to be an expert. Also, yes, Germany conducted its 2017 election like adults.
I now have the answers to my questions posed here. They are "It was inevitable as soon as we ignored George Washington's warning and created political parties in the first place" and "We don't," respectively.
Here it is, folks, the most holier-than-thou thing I've ever written or drawn. The ZB on my shirt stands for Zaphod Beeblebrox. Get it? Nowadays, "snowflake" seems to have declined in favor of "woke." I've seen two people in my life claim to be "woke" and at least two hundred people derisively accuse other people of trying to be "woke." Not by coincidence, the latter group is much, much, much more annoying.
Okay, so both of my blog's regular readers could tell you that despite my best efforts to live by the Oaks quote and be eclectic in my political views, if I were to draw this comic today and be honest with myself, I would be standing further to the left, that is to say my left, which is the reader's right. As much as I try to be critical of both sides and blame both sides for the dumpster fire that is the United States of America - and both sides are to blame - I am forced over and over again to conclude that one side is a much bigger problem than the other. One side is a haven for bigotry, ignorance, conspiracy theories, censorship, and a uniquely American brand of narcissism. One side is constantly an obstacle to social, scientific, and environmental progress. One side simply denies the existence of obvious crises (e.g. climate change, systemic racism, a global pandemic) that it doesn't want to have to deal with, and openly mocks the other side for acknowledging reality (e.g. by calling it "woke"). And I've just been reading Peter Carroll's history of the 1970s, It Seemed Like Nothing Happened, and I'm equal parts fascinated and consumed with rage at how little has changed in fifty years.
I mean, just last night I saw Deseret News readers bitching because California is going to provide free school lunches for all students. Yes, geniuses, we know that "nothing is free." We know that taxpayers are going to pay for it, just like they've been paying for the kids to be forced to go to school in the first place for a very long time. If you're so damn concerned about taxes, maybe instead of complaining about children getting food, support police reform so that cities don't have to keep settling for millions of dollars because cops can't figure out how to stop abusing and murdering Black people. Just a thought. Also, speaking of cops, more children at school are shot dead in this country than cops in the line of duty, and since you're hell-bent on not letting that problem be solved, the least we could do is not make them pay for their own food. Anyway, this is the sort of thing that makes me want to scream to the heavens, "Why, why, why are Republicans so ------- stupid?" But I'm trying to be fair and balanced, I swear.
Oh yeah, and as a bonus just because I happened to find it in the same stash of papers, here's my preliminary sketch of the layout of the comic, with some marginal notes related to other aspects of my life at the time. It's garbage now, but future historians will be all over it.
I've had a reddit account since I don't know when, but until the last few weeks I only used it once in a great while to speak up when I saw something egregiously stupid, so I ended up with negative "karma" from people downvoting my comments. But I got into the positive a few weeks ago and, as the designers obviously intended, it gave me a bit of a dopamine rush. Haha, I thought, I hope I don't get addicted to this feeling. Of course I did. Anyway, the other day I saw that bestselling fantasy author and Latter-day Saint Brandon Sanderson had done an AMA (Ask Me Anything) and I was very impressed with his most popular response to the most popular question, so I'm going to pass it along here and save myself some actual writing for today. The question was asked by someone calling themself RattusRattus:
How do you feel about the fact that queer people are treated better in your novels than on the campus you teach at? How do you reconcile donating to a church that promotes purity culture, homophobia, and anti-Semitism with writing books for the general public?
BYU is pretty awful to queer people. In the 1960s and 70s it conducted witch hunts against closeted gay students with the object of forcing them to undergo conversion therapy (which didn't and doesn't work) or leave the school. A couple years ago it removed a ban on "homosexual behavior" from its Honor Code mid-semester, then for two weeks told confused gay students that yes, they were now allowed to date and hold hands and kiss just like straight students do, before the church commissioner of education who apparently had been asleep for two weeks told them that no, they still can't. Many students felt that they had been tricked into coming out of the closet. Hence the semi-regular protests since then. Ignorant people often ask why they go to BYU in the first place, and the answers include but are not limited to family pressure, the cheap tuition for members of the church that owns it, and the fact that people in their late teens and early twenties are often still figuring out their sexuality in the first place. An entire tax-exempt charity, the OUT Foundation, exists just to help LGBTQ+ students escape from BYU. So anyway, Brandon responded in a livestream that was subsequently transcribed thus:
Thank you for a bold but not insulting phrasing of that question. So the church’s general stance on LGBTQ people is not where I, as a liberal member of the church, would like it to be. That being said, I have faith in the church, I have had spiritual experiences, confirming to me that this is where God wants me and that God is real.
This gives me so much to think about. I've recently become even more convinced by the movie Lightyear that neutral or positive portrayals of LGBTQ+ characters in media are essential. I thought the movie was pretty mediocre, but these people having aneurysms because two women in it love each other can get bent. Disney has produced scores upon scores of movies where men and women kiss each other (or men kiss unconscious women, or whatever). One same-sex couple is not "forcing their lifestyle down your throat." It is not "grooming your children." It frightens me that some grown adults in this day and age still believe their children will turn gay if they ever see anyone being gay. For heaven's sake, see a therapist if you're that insecure in your sexuality. I grew up with heterosexuality constantly being shoved in my face by all the straight people who flaunt their lifestyles without a second thought, and I still thought sex was gross from the moment I learned what it was. What these media portrayals actually strive to accomplish is to demonstrate that LGBTQ+ people are just normal people with the same hopes and dreams as anyone else, thus reducing prejudice and making LGBTQ+ children (and adults) hate themselves less. No one can make me believe that isn't a worthy goal.
As an aspiring author myself, obviously not worthy to even mention myself in the same post as Brandon Sanderson, I never had much of an agenda to do this. My as-yet-unpublished novel references the same-sex relationships of a couple of very minor characters for no other reason than to acknowledge that this is a fact of the world now and in 2153 when it takes place. Just recently when I revised it yet again, I realized that my protagonist is a little bit bisexual. She's mostly into men but she flirts with women just because she can. I never planned for her to flirt with women. I don't even know how to flirt with women. She just went ahead and did it. Similarly, in a story that I wrote for a graduate school class and then incorporated into my thesis, the protagonist and her best friend developed a camaraderie that seemed like a bit more than just best friends, and the professor pointed it out, so I went ahead and made them lovers and barely had to change anything. It was neither essential to the story nor agenda-driven. It just happened because the characters wanted it to happen. So maybe I'll just continue along those lines in my writing career if I ever have one.
Brandon's response went over well. HandOfMaradonny said:
I'm just super impressed you answered and didn't ignore.
Brandon later responded directly to the original asker of the question:
Honestly, I'm really glad you asked this one.
Wow. Brandon Sanderson wants to wrestle with difficult ideas, difficult questions, and his own internal inconsistencies. A mind after my own heart. I think I'm in love.
RIP Brandi Weaver
I went to a small school where everyone in grades 7-12 knew everyone else's first and last name. When Kyle Cootware died in a four-wheeler accident in 2009, everyone mourned. A palpable gloom engulfed the entire school building. College hasn't been like that. Through the years I read in the news that a student I never heard of had died in a bike accident, and that a couple of students I recognized but never met had died by suicide, and that someone a couple blocks from my apartment had been murdered by her ex-boyfriend. But there wasn't the same sense of community and the same universal mourning. So anyway, I didn't know Brandi Weaver particularly well and I'm afraid I don't have a lot to say about her, but I did know her a little and it is a bit jarring and sobering that she's suddenly gone from natural causes at such a young age. I think I was in ninth grade when I sat at the same lunch table as her. It's been so long that I don't even remember, but I remember that she was always nice to me. She was one of those older girls who treated me like I was super cool even though I was the biggest dork. She smiled and joked a lot and just seemed to have a great attitude toward life. My condolences to her family and especially to her fiancé and children.
On Wednesday evening before graduation, there was an optional event for graduates to be toasted by their thesis chairs. Charles recounted how I didn't talk much for the first few weeks of his undergraduate class, and then I turned in my first story and he was blown away first by the grammatical correctness of the sentences, and then how funny they were, and how thoughtful and so on. He recounted how for my thesis I'd wanted to write satire about the pandemic and race and war, and he'd said that it could turn out to be a highly offensive disaster but if so, it would still be a learning experience, and then my stories were great and not offensive. He called me the next Douglas Adams. Of course he knew that was the highest praise he could give me after what I said about Douglas Adams in my thesis.
After that endorsement, the husband of one of my colleagues asked her, "Why haven't you had me hanging out with him this whole time?" And then when all the toasts were done and I was snacking again, Charles asked whether I planned to get a PhD and briefly made me more interested in that possibility than I had been a moment ago. He's the one who convinced me to do graduate school too. Maybe I'm just too wishy-washy.
Some of the toasted graduates after the toast:
The main graduation ceremony took place the next morning, early enough that only one of my classmates bothered to participate and I shouldn't have. I rested in the grass afterward because I'd gotten three hours of sleep for no reason other than God hates me. A nice lady offered to photograph me. It was much appreciated, because scheduling conflicts prevented any of my family members from being there to photograph me.
In between that and my college's luncheon, I noticed that I had gotten some emails from the library about my thesis. It was my fault that I hadn't reached out to them before, but it wasn't my fault that the university inexplicably misplaced all of the digital forms I filled out weeks in advance and didn't have my folder put together until absolutely the last minute after the graduate program coordinator emailed me late Monday afternoon asking me to fill out the forms that I'd already filled out as soon as possible. So that got put together on Wednesday, and then on Thursday the library was like "You need to schedule an appointment to drop off a printed copy of your thesis by 5 p.m. today or you can't graduate." The story of getting that straightened out is not interesting enough to justify the effort of typing it out, but I got it straightened out and I lost my tassel in the library. I got it back the next day, and now I hope someone will be kind enough to photoshop it into all the subsequent pictures.
Here I am with classmates waiting in the Wayne Estes Center prior to walking over to the Spectrum for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Commencement Ceremony. I didn't get to participate in this ceremony as an undergraduate because of my sister's wedding, and some of my classmates didn't get to because of the you-know-what.
Here we are waiting in the tunnel for twenty minutes to enter the Spectrum proper.
At the mouth of the tunnel one of my least favorite non-murdering cops, the one who sent the Logan City cops to abuse me and give me PTSD and then never spoke to me again even though he was in my bishopric, stood guard. As I walked past Brad, he took a very large and obvious step forward like he thought he might need to grab me. Not for the first time, I discreetly flipped him off. On stage a while later I had another opportunity to make eye contact, which I knew from experience would make him visibly uncomfortable, but I wasn't going to waste my special moment on him.
The thing I'm carrying is just for show and doesn't contain an actual diploma. There's always the theoretical possibility of going through all this pomp and circumstance and then not actually being allowed to graduate. Awkward. So anyway, of course I experienced a mix of emotions on this day and graduate school was amazing and it just zipped by unbelievably fast and I love my classmates and my professors and my students so much and I'm so grateful to have had this experience. I'd do it all over again. So maybe convincing me to get a PhD won't be all that hard.
I stopped going to Elders Quorum a while ago because of the occasional sexist comments that I didn't feel like tolerating, but I figured I should give it another chance. So of course this last week we had a lesson on marriage. I thought about walking out, but I figured God would bless me if I endured the pain. It started off with the obligatory acknowledgement that gay people exist before proceeding as if they don't. Then for most of it, the floor was open to ask questions of the stake president, the bishop, the bishop's second counselor, the Elders Quorum president, and a relatively new high councillor who's at least four decades younger than the previous one. And the first question asked was this: "How do we handle conflicts, like if my wife wants to work and I want her to stay home?" Really, of all the examples he could have chosen, he chose that one. I impulsively said "She should get a better husband" at what I hoped was the right volume for him not to hear but for the row between us to hear. I don't have a lot of patience left for this nonsense. Even before I became an angry feminist, there was never a point in my life when I would have seriously considered trying to stop my hypothetical wife from getting a job, unless the one she had in mind was prostitution or multi-level marketing. And of course I was set to walk out if I didn't like how this question got answered.
The bishop's second counselor answered first. He's very quiet, and I've never had an opinion about him until now. I wish I could remember all his exact words, because in conveying the gist of them it sounds like he was totally shutting this guy down, but he wasn't, he was just sharing his perspective. He said that his wife has a passion for working in special education, and it doesn't bring in much extra income, but it makes her happy and it makes her a better person, so why would he try to stop her? He said it's important to treat his wife like a person and make decisions together and not just be like "I want you to do this" or whatever. He said she only worked while the kids were at school, but different families have different circumstances and just saying the woman needs to stay home all the time to change diapers or wash dishes or whatever (which is pretty close to an actual Spencer W. Kimball quote) is sexist. I was very pleased with his answer and politely pretended not to notice how much it contradicted what the bishop said almost a year ago. If what the bishop taught us about gender roles in his Family Proclamation lesson is true (spoiler alert: it isn't), then the second counselor's wife needs to repent for not being completely fulfilled by motherhood and homemaking. On this occasion the bishop shared how happy his wife was with only motherhood and homemaking, but he held back on saying that God requires all women to do the same. It's a good thing his second counselor spoke up first and that the stake president I complained to after his Family Proclamation lesson was in the room.
(Pic to prove I'm not lying)
Toward the 1:09:30 mark of this video, if you are so inclined, you will see me reading an excerpt from my story "Do Robots Dream of Electric Horse Debugger?" that won second place in the Graduate Fiction category of the USU Creative Writing and Art Contest. Ironically, the excerpt I read had been cut from my contest entry to fit the length restriction, but the contest director was my thesis chair and after my defense I mentioned this and he said he loved that scene and offered to get it reinstated for publication. My story and some other stuff can be read in the latest issue of the USU English Department literary journal Sink Hollow.
Despite my terror of public speaking, it was a really great experience except that I noticed a typo in my excerpt that I, my thesis chair and Graduate Fiction Writing professor, my eight Graduate Fiction Writing classmates, and the Sink Hollow editor had all failed to notice before, and also when an acquaintance in the audience said "Great job" afterward I responded "You too." I ran into Paul Fjeldsted, a bishop I had years ago who was there to support his niece. I love that man. I won big in bishop roulette with him.
On Friday another stalker came out of the woodwork.
The catalyst for this, I believe, was a meltdown on my Facebook timeline from someone I knew growing up who used to be a phenomenal guy but now has a pathological hatred of our the church we grew up in. I have many friends who have left the church, including the majority of peers who grew up in it with me and the majority of my graduate school classmates, but I'm not accustomed to someone on my Facebook timeline going ballistic about how the Latter-day Saint pioneers were the personification of evil and deserved to be persecuted. It was most unfortunate. I didn't waste much time addressing his thoroughly un-nuanced historical sound bites (other than pointing out that the pioneers did not "introduce slavery to Utah" because the native tribes were selling each other's children to Mexicans well before then, after which he moved the goalposts on the definition of slavery) but fortunately another friend was willing to engage with him more and call out his toxic behavior until he stopped. It really just reinforced my sense of where I stand, since I've become more critical of the church lately, but I still feel defensive when it's unfairly attacked, and I criticize it because I want to make it better, not burn it to the ground. I understand that he's angry because he learned a lot of things that weren't in the paint-by-numbers version of history he learned at church. I've been angry about that too. But he's merely traded it for a different paint-by-numbers version of history, one with the colors reversed. It's most unfortunate.
Last night I felt the Spirit pretty well during a session of stake conference, helped by a 19-year-old speaker who inexplicably was even funnier than I am. I went out to eat with some people afterward and we didn't get our food until 10:30, so I was up late and too tired to feel the Spirit today, but these things happen.
As I reflect on my graduate school career that began only yesterday, I have to say it turned out to be pretty dang easy. It was a challenge, but the kind I like, the kind that stretches me a little, not the kind that makes me regret being born. It wasn't entirely devoid of stress, but I seem to have experienced a lot less than most of my classmates and colleagues. I credit that to my therapist a few years ago who said that his experience successfully procrastinating as an undergraduate made him less stressed in graduate school. That advice entered into my heart like few words ever have. For the most part, I've just gone with the flow and known that everything would be all right. One example of that would be how I was at lunch with some of my classmates and colleageus a few weeks ago, and they talked about revising their theses and scheduling their defenses, and I thought Oh yeah, I better get on that, so I made a few more revisions and sent my thesis chair Charles what I had, and he said it was good to go and I got my defense scheduled before most of the others. We held it last Wednesday.
Calling it a "defense" is very misleading, inexplicable even. I didn't have to defend anything. Charles assured me before it started that I would pass, and then I stepped out for twenty minutes while the committee deliberated, and then I came back in and Charles broke with tradition by assuring me that they'd already decided I would pass and my answers to their subsequent questions wouldn't affect that one way or another. So it was as rigged as pro wrestling or the 2020 US election. They asked about future plans for schooling, career, publication, whatever, and I mentioned how one of my thesis stories ("Do Robots Dream of Electric Horse Debugger?") won second place in the graduate fiction category of the USU Writing and Art Contest, so that's going to be published in the Sink Hollow literary magazine, but I mentioned that I had to cut some stuff to fit within the length requirement, so Charles said he could talk to the editor and get them to publish the whole thing. Rigged, I tell you. One of my classmates and colleagues won third place, but the person who beat us both isn't even an English major, so that's kind of embarrassing.
I also mentioned that I was hoping to stay at USU in some capacity and also for some kind of online teaching job so I wouldn't have to move but could if I changed my mind, and committee member Jessica mentioned a sudden opening to teach concurrent enrollment English 1010 broadcasts for high school students and I emailed her about it and she recommended me and someone else explained the job and I told them both I was interested and that was on Friday so I don't know if the job is mine just like that, but it might be. I hope it is because job searching makes me regret being born.
"Guys. Chris's blog is the stuff of legends. If you’re ever looking for a good read, check this out!"
- Amelia Whitlock
"I don't know how well you know Christopher Randall Nicholson, but... he's trolling. You should read his blog. It's delightful."
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender Christian male, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic and asexual, so you can't, unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.