I have two more writing-related posts half written, one of which I hoped to queue up for Tuesday, but I was cranky, exhausted, and still sick when I got home from work. So I’m just going to whine about feeling sick and how I cope and related things. Which means that this post is going to be, as one friend calls them, a “what I had for breakfast post.” I probably won’t talk about breakfast, but if you’re not interested in just mundane stuff, don’t click through: Read More…
A few months back James Palmer posted A Message About Message Fiction that hit several of the points that I have tried making before about writing, including the notion that from one perspective, all fiction is message fiction. Which isn’t to say that every story is meant to convey an ideology or convince the reader to accept a particular thesis. Writers, just like all other people, perceive the world via minds that have been molded by a lifetime of experiences; they craft narratives in frameworks built from their beliefs, memories, hopes, fears, and a plethora of thoughts and ideas encountered throughout their lifetime.
A story cannot exist without such a framework.
But seeing the world through the writer’s eyes is not—or should not be—the same as being indoctrinated with an ideology. I’ve seen many people try to make the distinction between message fiction and fiction which happens to have a message. I never found their arguments persuasive, coming to the conclusion that they were talking about a difference without a distinction. I thought I was through talking about this, but then a friend asked a question about metaphors and how you craft them. At the time, I was too busy explaining that that isn’t how my process works (I never plan a metaphor on purpose; other people have to point them out to me in my story afterward) to notice that while he was talking about metaphors, he also expressed the desire to craft a story that didn’t beat a notion over the reader’s head, but rather left them thinking about things afterward. It didn’t leap out to me until I was re-reading our text exchange later, while looking for a link he’d sent me earlier.
That seemed like an important distinction: preachy message fictions delivers an answer, whereas good stories raise questions.
Yes, the way the author poses the question may tilt toward a particular answer, but that isn’t the same thing as insisting on that answer.
I’m a little embarrassed that this particular means of drawing a distinction didn’t occur to me before, because my own writing process has always been about looking for answers to questions. Sometimes the question is, who are these two characters jabbering away in the back of my head? but it’s always a question. If the seventh son of a seventh son is fated to have great luck, what about the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter (or seventh son of seventh daughter, or seventh daughter of a seventh son)? What if a dragon sought redemption? What if a prophet/seer was always right–and she insists that freewill is real? What if a god retires? What if the foretold apocalypse literally can not be averted?
I start with questions like that and then write to try to find an answer. That’s my process, I really am writing to try to find out how the story ends. In longer stories, there is usually a point long before I reach the end where I realize what the ending will be, and then I spend time figuring out how I get from what I have to the end, but I almost never know how a story will end when I start it.
Just because that’s the way I work, I am not saying that that’s the way everyone else ought to write stories. A friend of mine who is also one of my favorite writers usually can’t start a story until he knows the ending. He spends a lot of time thinking about the situation until he figures out how everything will go. That process works for him and creates great tales. But when we’ve talked about his process, he doesn’t talk about metaphors or messages: he talks about actions and consequences, and whether the reader will enjoy the ride. So even then, the focus isn’t on trying to convince the reader to agree with something.
While working on earlier drafts of this blog post, I went back and re-read a lot of the articles and blog posts about message fiction that I had read when wrestling with this question previously. When I examined the specific examples cited in each one, I found that most of those articles that tried to draw a distinction between message fiction and fiction with a message really were just constructing rationalizations to commend messages they agreed with and condemn the messages with which they disagreed. So my earlier conclusion, that it was a difference without a distinction was completely wrong. There was a distinction, but it wasn’t being explicitly (or honestly) delineated.
Some of my favorite stories (whether novels, short stories, or movies) have been tales that blew my mind by making me see something I had never seen before. They made me question my own assumptions. And the ones that did that didn’t just push forward an agenda, they problematized assumptions. What I mean is, they took a set of assumptions—whether the author’s or those held by a significant proportion of society—and examined problematic implications of said assumptions. They created a situation where I could see more than one side of the issue; in other words, they made more than own perspective on the problem appear reasonable.
In other words, they are stories where, at some point in the process, the author was exploring. Which is, in my not-so-humble opinion, an essential part of art. Message fiction doesn’t explore, it dictates. And that isn’t art, at all.
For another take on some of the topics covered here, but not from the viewpoint of a sci fi fan, you might find this informative: The Sci-Fi Roots of the Far Right—From ‘Lucifer’s Hammer’ to Newt’s Moon Base to Donald’s Wall
So, I was in either my late 30s or early 40s before I learned what pot smoke smelled like. It was at a convention in a particularly maze-like hotel and I commented to my husband about a weird odor I had run into out in the hall. He asked about where it was, then laughed and said he’d walked through that section of the hall a few minutes before and it was reeking of pot smoke. “Oh,” I said, sheepishly. The next time someone sat near me on the bus and had that particular stale pot smoke odor, it took all my willpower not to exclaim ‘So that’s what that smell is!’ because I’d encountered it many times before, but never knew what it was.
Over the years I’ve had numerous opportunities to vote on various aspects of marijuana law–each time I voted in favor of decriminalization or legalization. When some early attempts in our state to decriminalize pot outright through initiative failed, activists took new tactics. There was a successful city initiative to make simple pot possession the lowest priority of law enforcement, for instance. That one had a lot of interesting side effects. The city attorney at the time had vehemently opposed the initiative, so after it passed, he actually drastically increased the number of cases they prosecuted. So the next time he was up for re-election, a guy ran against him who vowed to enact the initiative… and he won by a big margin, and proceeded to dismiss cases and so forth.
The first statewide initiative to make pot a lower priority failed, but we passed a medical marijuana initiative eventually. Then finally in 2012 we legalized recreational pot completely. And while there are still some cities that have banned legal pot stores, and a few groups still trying to get weed re-criminalized, the industry appears to have done well.
Despite voting in favor of people having access to weed a bunch if times, I’ve still never actually used it, myself. Caffeine and cocktails remain my personal drugs of choice.
Last spring when we were looking for a new place to live, I didn’t even notice the first time we came to this apartment building that there was a pot store just around the corner. At least one of our friends commented on it as if it were an exotic thing. Another friend pointed out that there is about one every five or ten blocks on the major thoroughfare nearby, that they aren’t really that uncommon. It’s just another of the businesses I walk past every morning on my way to the bus, right?
I don’t remember when it was that I first started noticing the odd business trucks that would park on the street in front of our building on work from home days. The first time I saw the Roto-rooter type trunk, for instance, I wondered if one of my neighbors was having plumbing troubles. It seemed as if every work-from-home day I would notice, when I went to refill my coffee mug, and thus walked past the dining room window, that there was some weird delivery truck out there, such as the bottled water truck, or the plumbing related truck, or (this was the one that really confused me) the pool cleaning company’s truck.
One sunny day a few months ago I was getting another mug of coffee when I saw a bottled water delivery truck pulling over to park at the curb in front of our building. So I stopped to watch and see where the drive went. Did one of my neighbors have a water cooler in their apartment, perhaps? The guy got out of his truck, looked around with a definitely surreptitious air, and then turned and walked to the corner. At the corner, he turned left. Which is when I finally made the connection.
It was maybe five minutes later he came walking back, then climbed into the truck, started the engine and drove off.
Now I understood. A guy’s at work, driving around doing his job, and while it might be okay to have your truck seen parked at a coffee shop or fast food place in the middle of the day, you might not want to be seen popping into one of the local pot stores to pick up some stuff for the weekend. Sure, it’s legal, and yes, you are allowed to take breaks on the job, but there’s still a bit of a worry about how it might be perceived. So, you don’t ever pull into the store’s parking lot with the company truck. But, if there is a residential street which often has plenty of empty curb space in the daytime just around the corner from one of the pot shops in the part of town where you work, well, on the occasional Friday you may stop and park there and go on a short walk, right?
It probably would be obvious to anyone else, but it just didn’t occur to me until I watched the one guy go around the corner.
Ah, well, at least now when I give my coffee mug a warm-up on work from home days and notice an odd truck outside, I just smile instead of wondering why they’re there.
One of the things I love about tumblr is how easy they make it to share something cool, interesting, or informative you find on someone else’s tumblr blog with your followers, while maintaining a history of who all has shared it and where it was originally posted. Especially of someone says something that I’ve been thinking or trying to write a post about, but here is someone else’s words saying this thing I’ve been thinking for a while so well. And I know that now if I try to finish my own blog post, even if I try not to phrase things the same way as this other person, I’m going to repeat key phrases and so forth. So I’d much rather quote the whole thing, then add a few comments of my own.
Such as this interesting post from the blog the only living boy in new york:
The thing I hate about coming out is the way society expects it to go down.
When gay people come out, more often than not they are expected to almost have to beg for their families love, and if they receive it without having to, they are expected to be over the moon and rejoice and be thankful and think, “what loving family and friends I have”.
The way coming out should go down is the exact opposite.
Families and friends should almost have to beg for your love, and should most definitely be apologetic for the homophobic shit they most likely put you through whilst you were still in the closet. They should be like, “I’m sorry I was a bigoted prick all these years, I hope you can still love me and forgive me”.
The thing that bothered me the most when I came out was that my families reaction was just, “of course we have no problem, we love you no matter what”… when what I really wanted was an apology. An apology for having been ignored for years, an apology for having to sit though homophobia not only by them, but by my extended family and their friends. But what I got was, “of course it’s not a problem, now lets not talk about it again and lets not bring up all the horrible shit that we said to you openly or allowed to be said about gay people openly because we don’t want to feel bad”.
It bothers me so much to this day how much society loves to praise straight people for being so accepting of gay people but no one ever praises gay people for accepting and loving their families through the years despite all the homophobia.
—the only living boy in new york
While the beginning of the post focuses on coming out, that isn’t the only part of a queer person’s life this is limited to.
Yes, it is more than just annoying that people who spent years regurgitating anti-gay myths and homophobic stereotypes around us when we were closeted (and in many cases ridiculed us directly using homophobic slurs) act as if they are doing us a favor by being tolerant or accepting when we do come out. But the truth is that they are never as tolerant as they think they are. The homophobia becomes a bit more subtle. They use dogwhistles rather than bluntly bigoted language.
If we point out that something they said is unintentionally homophobic, we get accused of being too sensitive. If we point out that a politician they support advocates homophobic policies, or that a charity they support has actually contributed to the deaths of queer teens, we’re told that we’re overlooking all the good things because of one little bad thing. Never mind the queer people are denied needed healthcare, or lose their jobs or homes, and so forth. It’s not important.
And we’re supposed to be grateful?
The same people who accuse us of being too sensitive throw hissy fits because some businesses say “Happy Holidays” in their advertising rather than “Merry Christmas.” They’re the same people who tried to organize boycotts of businesses that chose to provide health care coverage to the partners and kids of their queer employees. They’re the same people who do call for boycotts if a movie and television show includes a queer character (usually supporting character who is given little screen time and is never shown with a same sex partner except in such ambiguous ways that the casual viewer will think it’s just a friend or a sibling).
And they expect us to explain why something is offensive, no matter how many times we’ve already explained it. Besides the fact that if they applied the teeniest tiniest bit of empathy they should be able to see it on their own. Heck, they get angry at us if we hold hands with our partner in front of them, and think it is horribly thoughtless of us not to realize they were uncomfortable, but don’t expect them to know they shouldn’t tell an AIDS joke in front of us!
And I don’t have an answer. Except to urge you, if you think that you are a supportive friend or co-worker or family member of a queer person, to stop and check yourself. If you start looking at your own words and actions from an outside perspective, you may be in for a sobering surprise.
I’ll give you a couple of suggestions for some ways to do this:
1. If you’ve ever said, “no offense!” to an LGBT+ acquaintence…
2. If you’ve ever said, “I’m not talking about you, of course, I’m talking about those bad people” or “Present company excepted”…
3. If you’ve ever dismissed anything as being politically correct…
4. If you’ve ever said, “I’m not homophobic, but…”
5. If you’ve ever noticed that your queer relative declines your social invitations again and again…
…you may not be nearly as accepting as you think you are.
There’s a lot of things I didn’t finish during my Christmas vacation. I have three very different half-written blog posts that I wanted to squeeze in before the end of the year. I spun my wheels for many reasons, one being that I wasn’t sure that the particular mood or perspective on the issue under discussion was something I wanted to put out there. This is similar to one of the reasons that I didn’t do any updates about my goals for the last few months. After completing the move, I re-evaluated the goals, because two of the big goal categories had been centered on the move and things that we had to take care of before moving. And certain parts of the new goals weren’t topics that I felt were appropriate to share in a public blog post.
The other problem I had was that I was trying to get my Patreon creator’s page sorted out. I’d set it up with an introduction and some levels and things, but the rewards or whatever you want to call them were contradictory, and not necessarily things that I could really commit to on a monthly basis. So I was trying to get that plan sorted out. And it occurred to me that a monthly blog post about my goals and how I was doing on them was more appropriate there, and is a fairly common sort of benefit to get at a low level of patronage. So it would defeat the purpose of the Patreon if I were sharing those posts for free at this blog, right?
Then there was just the craziness and stress of work, the holidays, the continuing existential crisis posed by our current political system, trying to figure out how to take care of ourselves for the holidays without have to navigate the minefield of my trump-supporting and often homophobic relatives, and NaNoWriMo and my actual writing (which is what a lot of the goals, particularly the ones that ought to be shared on Patreon are in aid of), and so on…
Not to mention the panic kicked off when Patreon announced the big change in fees that caused thousands of patrons to rescind their pledges and the creators to start scrambling for alternatives before the policy was rescinded!
The upshot is that I’m still trying to find a new rhythm to get my workweek, writing, and social life in synch…. Read More…
First up, a little good news: New York City: Felony Crime Rate Hits Record Low. One of the on-going American myths is the mistaken notion that crime is on the rise, that there is far more crime happening today than there was when we were younger or in the good old days, or whatever. But that is simply not true. At all. Don’t believe me? Take it away Brennan Center for Justice:
Even despite recent increases, rates of murder and violent crime remain at historic low points, almost 50 percent below their early-1990s peaks. A preliminary analysis of 2017 crime rates in the nation’s 30 largest cities projects that the overall crime rate and the violent crime rate will decline to the second-lowest levels since 1990.
They have a lot of statistics and analysis (and nifty animated graphs!) on their site. It is true that in 2015 and 2016 several cities saw a dramatic increase in murder rates. However, the murder rate continued downward everywhere else. In 2015 the violent crime rate went down 2.6 percent compared to the previous year, and some people would say that a 2.6 percent change isn’t very significant (in fact, certain conservative politicians argued exactly that), but the fact that it was the 14th year in a row that the national violent crime rate went down is much more significant.
Also, they are projecting that the cities which had dramatic increases in 2015 and 2016 are all seeing declines this year, some quite large (Detroit looks to be seeing a 24% decrease!).
In news that is harder to classify: Trump Deported Fewer Mexican Nationals In 2017 Than Obama Did In 2016. This is a bit surprising given some of the crazy lengths that the Trump administration has gone to rounding up suspected undocumented immigrants. Part of me wants to make the cynical observation that the racist jerks can’t even pull off their racist policies right. I really haven’t found anyone analyzing this story in a way that we can evaluate why the deportation numbers (not just to Mexico) are so far down. Maybe because in their zeal that keep rounding up people who actually are here legally, then losing the legal fight to deport them anyway?
Let’s end with something funny. The Daily Show did an end of the year special, and this skit (don’t be like the idiots commenting on Youtube: it’s a parody of both the music industry, political songs, and much, much more) is definitely worth your time. Watch it all the way to the end! Song for Women 2017 (feat. DJ Mansplain) – The Daily Show:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
I keep finding myself writing either cranky and dark stuff, or fluffy weird holiday stuff. And then not wanting to post it. Meanwhile, the interesting images I swipe from various parts of the internet pile up. So here are a few of the more thought-provoking ones:
This next one was being shared several places but without the attribution of whose book is shown. Fortunately, feeding an entire sentence into Google got me the name of the author and the book in question.
This one should more accurately say: “A banker and two working class people—one white, and one not—are sitting at a table with 20 cookies. The banker takes 19 cookies and warns the white worker: ‘Watch out, that other guy (who I bet isn’t even a real american) is going to take your cookie away.’” Because there is a long history of the rich pitting people against each other along color lines. The recent use of variants on immigrants are dog-whistles for the racism.