DMGM: Three Fingered Salute

For those of you who aren’t of the Windows persuasion, a three-fingered salute (in this context) is the keyboard combination you press when a computer program crashes.

This song began with David’s string part, which I really love: it set the mood and tone for the whole song. David is incredibly self-deprecating about his musical ability, especially when it comes to creating new things, but he’s constantly creating things that surprise me. Generally speaking, if something in these songs is musically or sonically interesting it’s probably got David’s fingers all over it.

I think we put two live bass guitars in here (one for the low notes, one to play a melody) and turned up the reverb to get a nice swampy electric guitar: I don’t know what David was thinking but I was thinking The B-52’s instrumental Follow Your Bliss. I love that growly, 1950s American guitar sound.

If I were to re-record it I’d play the drums myself instead of using loops – you get a more fluid feel, especially on the hi-hats, when an imperfect human is hitting things with sticks – but that’s my usual inability to stop fiddling. The vocal isn’t technically perfect but it’s got a feel subsequent, more technically accurate attempts lacked.

The temptation with a song like this is to do the Full Bono thing and start emoting all over the chorus, maybe really ramping up the bombast towards the end, but that wouldn’t fit the lyrics. They’re about feeling tired, blank… the human equivalent of a computer crash. Hence me paraphrasing the IT in-joke: “have you tried switching it off and back on again?” and having the song stop dead. It’s the audio equivalent of a computer glitch, the sudden stop in a game or application.

The recording’s from December 2014 but I wrote the lyrics quite a long time before that, so they’re from a period when I was trying to fix my mental health. It turns out that I really did need to switch myself off and on again and “feel like a new thing”, but I didn’t do so for another three years.

DMGM: All Messed Up

I wrote about posting personal songs yesterday, but I want to start with one that isn’t. This one’s called All Messed Up.

I can’t remember who did what – David and I move between programming, keys, loops whenever we feel like it – but I love the way this sounds.

There’s a thing I love in music that I call the Godzilla Stomp, the feeling that a song could soundtrack you laying waste to a large urban area while making monster noises. This song has that.

Although it also has an unrecorded backing vocal melody I hear in my head every time I listen to it. That’s one of the reasons things take so long for David and I; there’s always One More Thing that we want to do. Sometimes you need to haul yourself away from a song and accept that you can’t work on it for eternity.

Lyrically it’s about heroes turning out to be zeroes: politicians mainly, but anybody charismatic who has people believing in them only to leave a trail of false promises.

Yesterday, when I was mad

One of the reasons I’m not a famous pop star, my stunning looks aside, is that it takes me an eternity to finish things. And when I do finish things, I tend to be shy about promoting them. Or I don’t promote them at all.

For example, back in early 2016, I uploaded a bunch of songs by DMGM – the name my brother and I use for our music – to Bandcamp.

“I really must put these on YouTube,” I told myself. “It’s the most important music discovery service for The Kids nowadays, apparently.”

I forgot all about it.

Still, better late than never, eh?

So just as I’m almost definitely no I mean it they’re nearly done for sure I mean it this time finishing off about three albums of new DMGM material, I’m uploading the stuff we did two years ago to YouTube. And what an emotional rollercoaster that’s turned out to be.

I’ve always written about personal things – a song I wrote in my late teens, What Did I Do Wrong?, is about somebody disappointed when “she looks in the mirror but she just sees herself”; my folks used to despair when I recorded endless four-track takes of a song called I Hate This Town (whose chorus, rather brilliantly, went: “I hate this town / I hate this town” and followed that searing insight with “I hate this tow-ow-owwwwwn”) – but listening to some of these is rather like being peeled.

The songs were all written before the, ahem, minor changes that have happened in my life recently. With a few exceptions they’re songs by somebody who’s quite literally losing their mind, the words of somebody not waving but drowning. It’s a very strange thing to listen back to them.

I’ll share some of them here over the next wee while. It’ll be a laugh!

Sense and sensitivity

“So a tran walks into a bar…”

I went to a comedy show last night, and the comedian didn’t make any jokes about trans people. I knew he wouldn’t – the comic, Jimeoin, doesn’t do that kind of joke – so I felt safe enough to go as me.

By “as me” I mean as Carrie, rather than in disguise. I should probably describe what that means in case you’re imagining some kind of Cupid Stunt or Lily Savage creature. When I’m out as me, I generally try to imitate what ordinary fortysomething women wear and dial it back a notch. Think of it like a golf handicap: because I’m trans (not to mention taller and heavier than most women) I stand out much more, so I need to be a little more sober in my presentation.

So for example last night I was in jeans, casual boot/shoes, a top and a cardigan. That’s about as dramatic as I get. Makeup-wise I go for the “hide my horrible skin” approach rather than smoky eyes and ruby lips; on top of my head the hair is simple, just short of shoulder length and undramatically blonde.

That doesn’t mean I don’t stand out, though. Last night’s show was in the new auditorium of the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. The bar area is notable for being incredibly brightly lit, incredibly spacious and incredibly short of anywhere for people to sit. The few seats around the edges and every bit of wall space were already occupied, so my pre-gig G&T was sipped while standing in the middle of the room.

You know that dream where you’re doing something in front of an audience – in the school assembly hall, maybe, or at a big work conference – and for no good reason you have to do it in your underwear?

That’s my social life.

Everybody looks. Everybody. Some do it subtly. Most don’t. And they look in different ways. Younger women generally do the “oh, trans” look and get on with whatever they were doing. Older ones often double-take and then get on with whatever they’re doing or give you a really hard stare before getting on with whatever they’re doing. The oldest women couldn’t care less; they’ve seen it all before.

Men are different. Some look at you with open disgust. Some stare so hard you fear they’re actually going to dent your skull with sheer stare power. Some look at you in a threatening way, making it clear that they know they’re making you uncomfortable and that’s the point. And a few – bookish types, usually – give you the “oh, trans” look.

It’s an odd thing to experience when you don’t want to stand out. Bono from U2 famously and stupidly said that being famous meant he knew what it felt like to be a girl; but to be trans in a brightly lit public room gives you a pretty good idea what it might be like to be Bono.

You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh.

You say it best when you say nothing at all

I can’t say I particularly enjoy it, but it’s part of the territory. As is misgendering, which is when you’re called sir when you’re presenting as madam or madam when you’re presenting as sir.

Misgendering is a common tactic of anti-trans trolls, who delight in saying “you’re a MAN!” to trans women in the apparent belief that they’ve never been yelled at before. It’s background noise on the internet but when it happens from strangers in real life it’s surprisingly powerful.

I’m under no illusions that I pass as a cis woman. I’m 6’3” in my favourite casual shoes and I have a voice that makes Barry White seem awfully squeaky. But I’m still taken aback when, as last night, I hand over my concert ticket and the woman tells me where my seat is and calls me “sir”.

It’s hardly the bucket of blood in the film Carrie, I know. But it still knocks the wind out of your sails: it’s a reminder that the two lots of shaving, the agonising over what to wear, the carefully applied makeup, the three-times-attempted nail polish, the expensive wig and all the rest of it was completely and utterly pointless. You’re a heifer in heels, a dude in drag.

I’m not offended or outraged or overreacting, just thinking out loud in a blog post, but it strikes me that this is a matter of simple sensitivity.

I try not to use words or phrases that might make other people feel awkward – for example by assuming that they’re straight, or that they’re not religious, or that they share my political views – and if somebody in front of you is clearly presenting in a female way then surely common sense suggests that they might not want to be called “sir”. In such cases, surely it’s better not to use any term than to accidentally use the wrong one.

No offence

Getting it wrong, intentionally or otherwise, is what’s known as a micro-aggression. It’s a term feminists and trans people have borrowed from people of colour: Columbia professor Derald Sue used the phrase to describe “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of colour.”

When a commenter notes that a working class black man is articulate when the same wouldn’t be said about a white graduate, that’s a micro-aggression. If someone says an African woman’s name is too difficult to pronounce, that’s a micro-aggression. If you use the word normal as an antonym of gay, that’s a micro-aggression. If you tell a woman that you want to see the manager because you assume she isn’t the manager, that’s a micro-aggression. If you misgender a trans person, that’s a micro-aggression.

Individually, micro-aggressions don’t do much. But they’re like drops of water. It’s what they do cumulatively that matters. It wasn’t the individual drops that drove victims of Chinese water torture insane. It was that the drops just kept on coming.

Asking people to consider the words they use often results in people railing against “snowflakes”, especially in the columns of right-wing newspapers. Apparently asking people to be respectful to other people is a step too far. It’s political correctness gone mad.

As another comedian, Stewart Lee, said a long time ago:

The kind of people that say “political correctness gone mad” are usually using that phrase as a kind of cover action to attack minorities or people that they disagree with… [they’re] like those people who turn around and go, “you know who the most oppressed minorities in Britain are? White, middle-class men.” You’re a bunch of idiots.

Everybody makes assumptions, including me, and the language we use often reveals those assumptions: we may be unconsciously making assumptions based on people’s race, class, sex, gender, accent or any one of a myriad other things. Questioning those assumptions doesn’t cost us anything, and might just help make the world a slightly better place. None of us is perfect, but we can try to be a little bit better.

And as for political correctness gone mad… you really shouldn’t use the word mad either.

“In the 1970s, if you thought Ted Bundy was a hero for murdering all those women, you kept that to yourself.”

This, by Robyn Pennacchia , is superb. It’s about school shootings, but it’s also about the problems of empathy in an age when other people are little more than non-player characters on your screen.

In the 1970s, if you thought Ted Bundy was a hero for murdering all those women, you kept that to yourself. You couldn’t just casually say, “Wow, that guy had a POINT!” to someone or else people would think you were nuts. You couldn’t go on a YouTube video and post about how great he was. Today, people who feel that way can find each other, they can commiserate without being judged. They can talk online about how much they would really like to murder a bunch of women. They get to cherish their resentments, nurture them and watch them grow.

“Consider your man card reissued”

Following on from yesterday’s post about violent, insecure men and shootings. here’s how the AR-15 assault rifle used in the most recent shootings (including Sandy Hook and yesterday’s atrocity) has been advertised.

This one dates from 2010. In the accompanying press release, Bushmaster Firearms explained:

…visitors of bushmaster.com will have to prove they’re a man by answering a series of manhood questions. Upon successful completion, they will be issued a temporary Man Card to proudly display to friends and family. The Man Card is valid for one year.

Visitors can also call into question or even revoke the Man Card of friends they feel have betrayed their manhood.

This is what toxic masculinity looks like. As the writer Andi Zeisler put it on Twitter, toxic masculinity doesn’t say that men are toxic.

It refers to cultural norms that equate masculinity with control, aggression, and violence and that label emotion, compassion, and empathy “unmanly.”

And sells military assault rifles as the solution.

“And we go back and read and share the old stories because we’ve got no new words.”

Dave Pell of NextDraft on school shootings.

The old articles trend because we already know this story. We know it’s insane to make weapons of war available to citizens. We know the availability of these weapons and the resulting carnage is what makes America different from all other countries. We know kids regularly get murdered in their schools and that more efficient hardware is making the problem worse. We know we’ll hear about acts of heroism from people who sacrificed their bodies to shield others. We know that no such heroics will happen in DC. When a kid who survives a mass shooting pleads with us to get something done (“We’re children. You guys are, like, the adults.”), we know our leaders will offer thoughts and prayers and not much else. We know there won’t be satisfactory response to Steve Kerr’s comments: “It doesn’t seem to matter to our government that children are being shot to death day after day in schools. It doesn’t matter that people are being shot at a concert, at a movie theater; it’s not enough, apparently, to move the people who are running this country to actually do anything.” We know not to expect any answers about this national disgrace in a political environment where even asking the questions has been repeatedly stifled. We know that the death of 17 people at a high school in Florida is unlikely to lead to gun restrictions, but very likely to lead to a loosening of gun restrictions (and, of course, a temporary pop among gun stocks). Yes, we know all of this. We’ve known it for a long time. We’ve seen this story before. And we go back and read and share the old stories because we’ve got no new words.

His daily newsletter isn’t always so serious but it’s always worth reading.

“Women and children are target practice”

Another day, another massacre in a school in the only country where school massacres regularly happen. Coincidentally it’s the only country where people lobby for people’s right to carry heavy weaponry into schools and refuse to accept that while guns don’t kill people, people with guns sure do.

Everything about it is predictable. The thoughts and prayers from politicians who’ve accepted millions of dollars from the NRA, an organisation defending the rights of child killers. The revelation that the authorities were warned about the shooter. The reminders that when the UK and Australia had a single school massacre each, they banned guns and haven’t had a massacre since. The knowledge that if Sandy Hook didn’t bring about gun control, this atrocity won’t either. The ghoulish media.

Social media adds a new horror: the spectacle of children live-tweeting while the massacre is still happening. Seeing children being coached on how to hide in real time… I don’t have the words.

Social media also gives us the disturbing spectacle of click-crazed media outlets contacting those children for photo permission while the shooter is still active.

Tweets from media outlets asking permission to use photos

“Can I call you?”

As Rob Manuel put it on Twitter, “The public want information and pictures. Publishers want not to get sued. A perfect storm that creates vulture-like swarming on victims and witnesses.”

I listed some predictable developments, and here’s another (insert alleged wherever you see fit): the shooter was stalking a young woman.

Of course he was.

US mass shootings aren’t just about guns. They’re often about misogyny too.

As Vox noted in November, “America’s domestic violence problem is a big part of its gun problem.” In more than half of the mass shootings since 2009, the perpetrator had a history of violence against women and children.

As Pamela Shifman and Salamishah Tillet wrote at the New York Times, “Men who commit violence rehearse and perfect it against their families first. Women and children are target practice, and the home is the training ground for these men’s later actions.”

The NRA’s answer, of course, is that women and children should have guns to protect themselves. However, the evidence shows that if they do, the gun is more likely to be used against them. The death rate of women from domestic violence is three times higher when there’s at least one gun in the house.

There is a toxic combination here. Violent men, men who feel entitled to women’s bodies and attention, men who abuse women and children because they see them as lesser creatures, men whose only power is to hurt people more vulnerable than themselves, have access to weaponry designed to kill as many people as possible in the shortest possible time.

It’s not just a gun problem. It’s a guy problem too. 

Banning guns won’t change a culture where toxic anti-women views are mainstream in both traditional and social media, where domestic violence isn’t taken seriously, where the perpetrators of domestic violence are rarely caught let alone punished, where men’s hobbies are seen as more important than women and children’s lives.

It would reduce the carnage, of course. But it wouldn’t cure the cancer that causes it.

To paraphrase the NRA, guns don’t kill people. Guys do.

Detox your digital life without giving up your digital life

We’re coming out of digital detox season, where newspaper columnists share the incredible insight that you can get a lot of stuff done if you don’t spend all your time dicking about on the internet. But as the developers of the excellent iA Writer app point out, taking a break is good but going offline permanently is hardly desirable or practical.

…you can’t escape digital culture as long as you live in a society that lives on digital fuel. If you block email you’ll have trouble holding onto most jobs. If you have no cellphone people just won’t get in touch with you anymore. Who calls landlines these days? However long your digital Sabbatical, you will inevitably get sucked back in. And so will your kids.

What you can do, they argue, is to make your digital life more meaningful. They use the analogy of being a tourist walking down a busy street in a foreign city: the people yelling to get your attention aren’t generally the people you should be paying attention to. As in life, so online.

The challenge when you are in is to not become passive. To change from consumer to maker, following to self-thinking, quoter to commentator, liker to publisher, but mostly, from getting angry about headlines of articles you haven’t read to reading precisely, asking questions, researching, fact-checking, thinking clearly and writing carefully.

These are the developers of a writing app, so they’re talking primarily to writers. But it’s sensible advice generally. It’s easy to fall into a passive role online, to consume only the content that’s pushed to you. In the era of social media that’s often the lowest quality content.

The article talks about blogs, and the changes to blogging culture that have seen blogs and blogging become very much a niche activity (incidentally, almost 20 years ago I wrote my first ever piece of published journalism about the then-new niche trend of people publishing online “journals”. It’s come full circle and is a niche once more).

One of the reasons blogging has fallen from favour, and there are many others, is that commenting – what used to be the lifeblood of blogging, the conversations that began when your post finished – became poisoned. Drive-by bullshit from complete strangers. Spammers and hackers trying to drive traffic to other websites. And marketing.

God, the marketing.

Even now, there isn’t a single day when I don’t get approached by somebody wanting to publish a guest post to my blog, or asking me to replace a dead link from a post I published in 2005 with a link to their site, or an offer of an infographic, or any of the other things that I say I don’t publish on the sodding contact page of this website.

So the comments had to go.

Comments were the first core function that got gamed. For trolls, PR companies using persona software, SEO blackhats, spammers, and dogs pretending to be humans the comments section was free sex. Commenting costs nothing. Managing comments sections is so expensive that even big media organizations can no longer afford them.

I also stopped blogging here for some time because I felt I was saying what I wanted to say on social media. But whether that was true or not, what I was saying wasn’t being read. Unless you upset somebody famous a tweet is just a drop in Twitter’s Niagara Falls, a Facebook post something that a handful of people will see if Facebook deems your post worthy of their attention.

iA again:

it’s writing as opposed to liking, thinking as opposed to reacting, owning your traffic as opposed to building up your Facebook followers that one day a Zuckerberg will take away from you when it suits his needs.

What I’m finding works best is to mix things up, to continue with short, sharp, knee-jerk stuff on social media and to post more interesting things by others here (as well as to post my own longer, more rambly thoughts). I still share the links on social media, but I don’t hand over the entire content to Facebook or Twitter: it remains here, where it can be discovered long after social media sites’ short attention spans have moved on.

Writing gets real when it is read. Before that, it is a dream in letters.

A dream in letters. I like that.

“My computer turned into a Nazi.”

The banality of evil: I married a white supremacist. 

As it turned out, becoming a Nazi was not unlike catching a common virus like the flu, and then having it spiral out of control as it hijacked your immune system and ultimately your common sense. As I tried to retrace my ex-husband’s descent into madness, my very Jewish computer became an alt-right conspiracy theorist whose new interests included obsessing over the “fake news” of the far left and praising President Donald Trump’s (then candidate Trump’s) candor and can-do promises which, as of yet, remain largely unfulfilled.