Testing Our Mettle | Gimme Schalter №10

Ty Schalter
8 min readOct 4, 2021


Bran thought about it. “Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?” “That is the only time a man can be brave,” his father told him.

I’ve never read A Song of Ice and Fire, the series of books better known as the source material for the TV show “Game of Thrones,” but these two simple lines (which thankfully made it into the show) have stuck with me.

I tried to hook this topic with a bunch of different idioms (‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating,’ ‘a man is only as faithful as his options,’ ‘everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth’) that all kind-of engaged with my recent thoughts. But this idea, that courage can only exist in the context of fear, comes closest to what I was really thinking about: That you can only claim to live by principles when those principles have been tested.

Since the passage (and success) of the American Rescue Plan Act, a lot of Very Online people have taken a hard look at their social media presence. America is letting out a sigh it’s held for five years, settling into accepting how things are the new normal instead of burning with fury at everything our phone is showing us every waking hour. We’re all being much more intentional about how and when to gas up our political flamethrower.

A lot of my mutuals are making sure all their Tweets say “Currently On Hiatus” or “[name] Is Taking a Break” across the top, so we know they’re at least trying to cut back on their production and consumption of political outrage. Yes, I’m teasing these people, but they’re making what’s broadly a very good choice!

What’s troubling me is which issues are being defended, how vigorously, and by whom.

After what felt like nine straight days of 24-hour discourse about the significance of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wearing an expensive dress that said “Tax The Rich” on it, I’m concerned about how few of my fellow progressives — especially white, especially male — don’t seem nearly as concerned with the years-long intentional erosion of abortion rights that just caused Texas to fall into the reactionary sea.

It’s important to note: Most Americans believe abortion should be legal, just like they always have. And an increasing percentage believe it should be legal under any circumstances:

via Gallup

But somehow, the consistently less than 20 percent of Americans who are hardline anti-choice extremists have spent the last two decades driving all of the abortion policy at every level of our government exclusively towards their hard-line position.

Again: 4/5ths of Americans currently believe abortion should be legal, in a country with a representative democracy where a 4/5ths majority can pass any legislation it wants.

But through a combination of medical ignorance and political inertia, we find ourselves on the cusp of the Supreme Court rolling back 48 years of guaranteed civil rights and self-determination — not just for people who might need an abortion someday, but for anyone who loves anyone who might need an abortion someday. Anyone who relies on anyone who might need an abortion someday. Anyone whose career, whose family, whose children, whose happy life is a direct result of somebody somewhere being able to choose for themselves when, how, and whether they carry and deliver babies.

Anti-choice extremists have so thoroughly twisted the frame of the debate that we can’t even acknowledge that the right to safe, legal, easily accessible abortion care is a FUNDAMENTAL PART of our society. Taking it away wouldn’t just mean some of those red state people would be mildly inconvenienced. It would mean every sector of our economy, every corner of all of our home lives, would be drastically impacted by the fact that a huge chunk of our workforce and caregivers are just randomly going to have their working or caregiving derailed for years without warning.

It shouldn’t take 500 female athletes sending an amicus brief to SCOTUS saying women’s sports basically can’t exist without guaranteed abortion rights to make us realize it benefits everyone when people who can bear children have the same right to self-determination as people who can’t.

And when it’s the same extremists trying to make high-level women’s sports impossible via an abortion ban and attacking trans rights in the name of “protecting women’s sports” at the same time? Well, the jig should be up.

And, in the case of both abortion rights and trans rights, a lot more my fellow white male progressives’ torches, pitchforks, and flamethrowers need to be up, too.

So, MY DUDES: Listen to, and amplify, the activists who’ve been fighting this fight with expertise and a vested personal interest. Call your representatives at every level and demand action. And don’t be afraid to be loud and visible! If you don’t stand up for your values when they’re tested, they aren’t really your values.

Everything Awesome

On Saturday, an unranked college football team from the temperate climes of The Pleasant Peninsulas went down to the Swamp-Ass Peninsula and not only beat №24-ranked Miami, they did it by playing faster and fresher than the home team in its own high-90s weather.

In this piece, Couch reports Michigan State players had already been bringing up new head dietician Amber Rinestine’s name, unprompted, for weeks — before many of them credited her with having the mojo to play the fourth quarter at a quicker tempo than the first.

“I kind of had a little breakdown (celebration) on the sidelines,” Rinestine said. “It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it was all worth it.’ (The players) being like, ‘Hey, it worked, our plan actually worked,’ it was like, ‘Yes. Hell yes, it did.’ ”

Rinestine has been MSU’s head football performance dietitian for less than nine months. For many of MSU’s players, it’s “Where have you been all my life?”

Many sports cultures suffer from a He-Man mentality where games are won and lost by the determination of individuals. They’re actually won on collective effort — and everyone with any kind of role on the team affects the outcome.

GenXers and Xennials who grew up with DOS prompts, driver conflicts, and 492 cables that all might accidentally get kicked out of place will be disgusted by this article about today’s college kids being helpless to conceptualize saving computer files into specific folders.

But the brilliance of Chin’s work here is that she doesn’t frame this as the kids needing to “learn how use a fucking computer.” She carefully anticipates every knee-jerk reaction people my age might have, and explains that college freshmen (who were nine when the iPad was introduced) have grown up surrounded by magic-box devices with quick, smart global search built in. Many kids’ “school computers” are or were Chromebooks, which famously don’t expose the underlying file structure to the users, either.

Even the metaphor of manila folders in filing cabinets — an abstraction that was super intuitive for office workers in the 1980s — is completely alien to humans who are young enough for me to call them “kids,” but old enough to have drive cars and have jobs. A floppy-disk icon you can click in order to “Save” was once a helpful signpost. It is now a literal hieroglyphic, an ideogram you can only understand by being told the meaning. It’s not kids’ fault for not getting it!

After I graduated high school in 1999, I got a DBA and started building and installing computers as a side hustle. I looked into IT certifications and studied for A+, the standard “this guy can fix a computer” cert. I got to the part about memorizing the color-band system used for resistors and quit, because I knew I’d never be soldering resistors onto circuit boards like it was 1987. If the computer had a bad mobo, I’d just OEM it and get a new one. That attitude might have horrified my techie elders, but it’s the world I lived in.

Michel is no stranger to the conversation on publishing genres, literary fiction, or whether genre fiction can be literary.

SFF fans like myself have often raised an eyebrow when Very Serious Grownup Writers have drawn raves for daring to engage with futurism or fantastisism, the supernatural or superluminal (and raised our noses when they act as though it’s never been done). SFF fans like myself also like to make fun of some of the Great Novels of our time as “800 pages of a white guy having a normal one,” or “a woman just lays in bed and thinks about things,” which I admit is at least a little bit unfair.

Michel brings up the flaws inheren “literary” describe both a common mode of storytelling and that story’s artistic quality. But his central point — defining genres not by the content of individual works, but the conversations around them — is not just insightful, but practical. And defending the idea of genre labels by showing how he made a list of them (“science fiction body horror baseball noir novel”) the North Star of his just-released novel, THE BODY SCOUT, is insightful and practical, too.

[SIDEBAR: Waaaaaaay too many amazing-sounding books came out in the last couple of weeks. Don’t they know football just started?]

You probably saw this already, as it went viral on every kind of football social media. But this kid td.sports absolutely dismantled his beloved New York Jets with one still from one play, and it. was. glorious:


Last Tuesday and Wednesday, I was taken by a bout of creative inspiration and wrote then synopsis for a whole new novel project that I’m really excited about.

Last Thursday, I blew my (self-imposed) Thursday mid-morning deadline for Gimme Schalter. I’ve blown it before, but usually by an hour or two. Sometimes, I’ve gotten it out just barely before COB. But after taking a bunch of early-week writing time for novel stuff, I didn’t ship Gimme Schalter until almost COB on Friday.

As all of us in the #content game know, publishing on Friday afternoon is basically like going out in your backyard, digging a hole, putting all of your labor into it, covering it back up, placing a gravestone over it, and carving “RIP This Content” on the gravestone.

So! This week I’ve made sure to crush all my deadlines. You should be getting this well before lunch on Thursday, and my Pickwatch column should be filed not long after. That leaves the rest of the week and weekend’s writing time to work drafting a few scenes from the new project, which I’m codenaming “A&A.”

Once that’s done, I’m going to circle back and see whether A&A has enough mojo that I should set CODEX 17 revisions down and draft it out.



Ty Schalter

Professional writer & talker (@FiveThirtyEight, etc.). Sports things & nerd stuff. Rather cleverer than most men; mistakes correspondingly huger. He/him.