There are good people in the world. There are strong people in the world. There are knowledgeable, informed, active people in this world, and they are doing good things. And if we just keep being positively rebellious and rebelliously positive, every little thing will be okay. Trust David Tennant: he’s a Doctor.
I found this the other day when I was searching my old Blogger blog for something else. I wrote this in 2012, but it’s Relevant To Our Interests in this post-truth age, methinks. Hang in there, my lovelies. Be good.
The Small Person is in bed, again, at last, and I’m reading, again, but not books, because books can’t hold my attention right now when I’m restless, and tired, and vaguely guilty for the fact that my house looks like it’s lived-in and there are toys in the corner and folding on the lounge and unfinished paperwork on the table and dishes in the kitchen, though all the non-dishwasher dishes are clean and really I just need to unstack and stack. There’s a basket of wet laundry waiting to be hung out on the line like flags, colourful flags that symbolise everything we are and have been, because we wear our clothes every day and they make us, and we make them, the caterpillar suit that belongs to Small Person that is my favourite, the shirt I should have thrown out months ago but that I love, the sheets that my husband and I bought together, lie in together, change together.
All of this is calling to me, but I’m sitting here reading, and my soul is full. I’m reading about courage, and hope, and change; I’m reading about things that outrage me, things that try to excuse themselves saying they ‘didn’t mean’ to be offensive, and so therefore aren’t – to which I silently, furiously, blood-boilingly disagree, because when you are the powerful one, you don’t get to define what offends those in less powerful positions. And I’m reading about love, and life, and wanting to uproot everything you are and have and just get out, change, do something different because what you’re living is so empty, so small, so nothing.
I, too, was raised under the unconscious message that bigger is better, that more is more, and I’m not talking about the world, about acts of greed and selfishness and plastered billboards and enchanting lights and beautiful people with beautiful drinks and cars that change your life and computers that sing and dance and long slim legs and long thick hair and sparkling eyes and full breasts in bikinis and clear skin and stuff and things and more-more-more. I’m not talking about that.
I’m talking about other things, unselfish things, things that help and heal and minister. Things that change the world, that can only BE big because what can small do against a world of greed, a world of pain and hurt and envy and pride, large gaps getting larger and privilege and wealth and so much poverty that I never, ever see. I’m sheltered, spoiled, I don’t even KNOW anyone who qualifies as poor, and we’re not rich and we have bills but we also have a car, and a motorbike, and a house and new furniture, a dishwasher for Mothers’ Day and fishing rods for Christmas, thousands of dollars of books and a flat-screen TV, and how dare we think that we need stuff in a world where people die so easily at the end of a gun wielded in a bar brawl, in front of their wife, with two small children at home?
And I’m doing nothing, or so it seems, because we’re told that the only things that count are BIG, that if you’re not serving overseas it doesn’t matter, that soup kitchens and street alleys are the only places you can make a difference, that unless you’re fighting to stay alive with everything you have your perspective isn’t valid, doesn’t count.
And I’m thinking all this because of what I’m reading, because the woman whose blog I’m reading has felt all this and I do too, and it’s guilt, and it’s more guilt, and I am so. sick. of guilt. Guilt is poison, a spider bite in the vegetable garden, a snake curled in the blankets of your bed, a fire-ant sting at a lavish summer picnic, ready to flood your senses without provocation, devouring, destroying, souring the taste of the cherries because cherries are expensive, and out of season, and you shouldn’t be eating them because the cost to ship them here from America ought to be prohibitive, and people in the world are dying from lack of sustenance and you’re eating things that cost a year’s worth of food for these people, and you’re enjoying it, and you must be perverse.
Sometimes, even big things aren’t enough.
But I’m reading, reading, feeling and still reading, and a sentence makes me pause. In all of this, the quiet reminder that even if we don’t feel like they do, the small things count, because we’re not in this world to fix it, it’s broken, it’s crumbled, and one day maybe we will rebuild but for now there are just as many working against as there are working for and really, ultimately, there’s nothing we can do. One day it will all be gone and we’ll start over with everyone, everyone, who wants to see that, regardless of race colour creed size shape gender age. We will all be there, and then it will be fixed.
But now, here, we’re not fixing things, no one can do that, we just can’t, we’re fighting against powers and principalities not of this world, and here, on Earth, it’s a losing battle, though ultimately it’s won. But I’m reading, and I know: that doesn’t mean that what we do doesn’t count. It’s like the starfish, which has been retold so often it’s cliche, but it matters, it still matters even if you’ve heard the story a thousand times, just like what we do. We do it so often, all that small stuff, that it becomes cliche, and we’re inured to it, and we forget that it still matters, that even though we’ve never seen a smile of ours make a difference, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t. That giving a few dollars here and there still helps, even if it’s boring, even if it’s tiny, even if it’s ‘done’.
And I’m reading, and I find the thing I didn’t realise I was looking for, the sentence that gives me hope. We’re not here to fix things, we can’t, it’s too much. Instead, all we need to do it tip the scales. We’re striving for justice, for mercy, at least I am, it’s what I burn to do with everything that I am, every time I read something that makes my blood boil it’s because I hate, I hate injustice and I hate unfairness and I hate that there are people in this world that think that privilege is okay, that power over others is God-given, that discrimination is alright. I long for justice; I ache for mercy. And in the end, that is what we are to do, all we are to do, everything we are to do: to tip the scales in their favour.
And I read this, and I remember: it only takes a grain of rice to tip the scales in the end. We don’t need ‘big’, or loud, or bright or shiny or dazzley; we just need. Everything tips the balance, one way or the other.
I did something useful, even though it was a very small thing. It wasn’t like I brought peace to the world or anything. I just kept some people from killing each other for a little while. I was useful. It felt good.
Nothing I did will last. Omar will live the rest of his life without his parents. The killing will keep on going.
But in that little place, for those little moments, I actually did something good.
Context is everything.
Deborah Ellis, The Cat At The Wall
Amanda Palmer, multi-media artist extraordinaire (and, though I am loathe to fall into the old ‘identify the woman by her family’ trap, wife of Neil Gaiman) is pregnant. I happened across this article today, in which she defends herself from an eloquent yet, in my opinion, insufferably critical and nosey fan who is concerned essentially that Amanda’s standards are slipping, and will continue to slip when/because she has a baby. Amanda has some lovely things to say, and I think you should definitely take a couple of minutes to go read the article (link again), because this is an Important Issue.
What’s the issue? Fundamentally, a compartmentalisation of women’s roles, stemming, I think, from the fact that a woman’s contribute to the public sphere has been historically undervalued. Put simply, this issue is this: while it is never called into question that men balance fatherhood and careers on a daily basis (some better than others), women are constantly beleaguered with questions surrounding their ability to balance motherhood and a career. I’m too lazy to go look up links right now, but there are plenty of examples of female celebrities being asked this question in professional interviews, while their equally-famous husbands are quizzed simply about their jobs. I’d like to say that this goes double for artists of any kind, but let’s be honest: western media culture as a whole lacks competent role models who are both mothers and workers. Trying to figure out how to balance the two falls solely on our shoulders and, if we are fortunate enough to have personal role models, those around us.
Amanda notes in her article that she is terrified that becoming a mum will somehow vanquish her identity as an artist. This really resonated with me, because I had the exact same fear when I fell pregnant with my first child. Teaching, I knew, wasn’t optional: for us, me not working was never an option. But writing? Art? Writing was a hobby, a love, something I wanted to turn into a career but something that wasn’t really contributing to the family income. Would I have time to write? Would I even want to write? What kind of person would I become when I had a small person to depend upon me?
The answer, obviously, is that I would become the exact same kind of person I was before I had a small person depending on me, because becoming a parent doesn’t change your identity, it just throws another cap in the ring. Yes, becoming a parent has changed me profoundly in many ways–but it hasn’t changed me, if you understand the distinction. I’m still the same kind of person I was–just without a lot of excess flaff. As my husband once put it, having a baby is a great way to distill your life to its essence, to what’s really important and what’s not–because you don’t have time for what’s not.
And to my great pleasure, writing was one of the things that was really important. It took time, of course; I quit writing at one point because it had become yet another yardstick by which to measure my own failure. But before my son was a year old, the itch returned–and by the time he was two, I was writing my non-fiction book From The Ground Up (2016). Last year I wrote over 100,000 words. So far this year, I’ve written nearly 70,000 words of fiction. My best year ever was 200,000. Has having children slowed down my art? A little, yeah. But has it killed it? Hell no. And as the babies grow ever, onwards, older, they will need me in different ways that are somewhat less demanding on my sleep reserves and time, and late evenings (my peak writing time) will once again be mine. (In point of fact, my day job has interfered with my ability to write far more than having children, because in busy weeks I’m stuffed by the time the kids are in bed.)
Ladies? It is possible to both mum and art. You can be an arting mum, or a mumming artist. Having children will change you profoundly–but it only makes you more you. If being an artist is what you are, don’t fear. When the dust settles, when the sleepless nights are over, your identity remains. Art on, my lovely one. Art on.
Having just had a discussion with my husband last night about writing dark-ish stories, this is so on point.
If you do just one random thing today, let it be this. This is the most powerful expression of why dark stories need to exist.
It’s pictures, and it’ll take you all of a minute to read. Head over to Akimbo Comics and have a look now.
Possibly the single most beautiful and profound discussion of racial discrimination I’ve ever seen. It’s gentle, it’s lovely, and it’s all in pictures!
But seriously, it’s lovely. And profound. Check it out.
I’ve blogging about this here before, but it can always stand a reprise…
Finally, I figured out why it is that I don’t like depressing fiction in any form. I thought about trying to explain this to some of the people that know me in person, but really, it’s a kind of weird, complicated answer and it would sound silly in person.
It might still sound silly written down, but at least here you all expect me to be strange 😀 So, blogging it is.
(You do expect strangeness, don’t you? If not, I’m not sure where you’ve been the last few years…….)
So, on to today’s randomness: why I don’t like depressing fiction.
For years, now, when people try to convince me to watch a sad or depressing film or read a sad or depressing book, I’ve resisted. When pressed for a reason why, the best I’ve been able to come up with is that my life is sad enough, why would I want to be sad in fiction too? And besides, I’m a writer, it’s my job to resonate with the feelings of characters, and when I read/watch depressing/sad fiction, my imagination goes crazy putting me in that situation, and it’s really depressing/sad.
Now, all of this is true, but in a way (I’ve discovered in Today’s Random Brainwave), it’s also the cop-out answer. Because the real answer is much… well, stranger, and more complicated.
You see, I realised this morning – or perhaps late last night, I can’t recall now and it doesn’t matter* – that it’s because deep down, I don’t really believe in it. Now, you can see why that would sound majorly strange in person: no, sorry, I won’t watch depressing movies, I don’t believe in them.
Um, yeeeeah. And I’ll bet you don’t believe in the lovely men in white coats who I’m just going to go call now to come visit you… Riiiight.
But this is why I like writing: it allows me to clarify, and no one can interrupt me until I’m done, bwa ha ha. >:) (control freak, much?) Because what I really mean is this: I don’t believe in it for me.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I’ve had my share of crap in life. Friends dying suddenly with no warning, family dying prolonged-ly after many many years when we thought it might all be all right; parents divorcing during my final year of high school, my husband having study-induced depression; me having depression; other friends having depression and attempting suicide. Pets dying, financial strain, life pressures – yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah. Been there done that.
I still don’t believe in sad/depressing fiction. Because I believe there’s more to life. It might be that I’m religious, or it might just be that my personality is this way, but deep down inside of me, I am never, ever convinced that the sad stuff, the bad stuff, is all there is – or even that it will win. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, and even if it’s a train, well, at least if you’re clinging to the tracks as the train barrels over you, desperately hoping that it’s not going to collect you as it whizzes past – at least you’re lying down. Things can always get worse.
And things can always get better.
And, I don’t know. My mind insists on the better. It’s like that story I heard once in high school (probably junior high to you USAians) about the man who’d somehow managed to break both legs falling from something (or something, yay fuzzy memories) and yet was smiling and laughing and joking when the ambulance people came to pick him up. They asked him how he could be so happy, and he told them, “In life, we have only one choice: to be happy with what we have, or to be sad. I choose to be happy.”
Now, y’all that know me will be shaking your heads and raising dubious eyebrows here, because HELLO, we all know I’m hardly Miss Queen of Peppiness, especially if it’s before 8 in the morning. I’m not claiming to be some kind of super-freak happy queen. All I’m saying is, I trust in my deepest of deeps that everything will work out okay in the end. I live by the saying, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
So depressing fiction that says there’s no hope, that there is nothing in the world worth saving or living for, or even that there is nothing at-all-zero-zilch-absolutely to be grateful for, in even a tragic situation – well, it just doesn’t fit with my world view. It doesn’t resonate with me. I have to work to ‘get’ it.
And really, when there’s so much good fiction out there, why waste time on something I know I’m going to have to make an effort to get, and that the ‘getting’ thereof will make me sad?
Well, because it’s good for me and expands my horizons and reminds me how other people live and all that blah blah blah. I know that. Which is why, every now and then, I let myself be convinced and I watch/read something sad/depressing. And cry for the rest of the day 😛 😉
So there you go. My random piece of strangeness for the day, allowing you to see deeper into the inner workings of the mind of the Inkly One. You may now run away screaming; I promise not to chase you.
* Clearly evidenced by the fact that I spent not only a parenthetical comment on it, butalso a footnote 😛