Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Thoughts on grief and shopping

In an uncanny, almost freakish coincidence, our cat Bella, littermate to the late lamented Zee, has died of the same illness (lymphoma), almost exactly one year later, i.e., during the recent holidays, which are already horrible by nearly all measures, at least for me.

So, first off: Rest well, beloved Bella. We miss you.

I've just noticed that I am coping with my devastation in a way that replicates the premise of my first novel, Bigfoot and the Baby. That is: we shop because we grieve. I suspect I've bought more unneeded items for myself in the past 24 hours than I did all last year. And, sad to say, these purchases somehow make me feel better, if only temporarily.

Notions of "filling the void" come to mind, but seem inadequate, as an explanation. Perhaps there's an illusion of control--I find something I want, I buy it, I own it--that eludes us when a loved one is ill or dying. When we shop, we complete a concrete transaction with a gratifying result. There's no helpless guessing what might happen if we make one choice or the other; and if we don't like what we bought after all, we can usually return it (or the consequences of our mistake are usually minimal).

But the grief we feel may be more inchoate, which was an underlying theme of Bigfoot. Though I'm not religious, I believe Judaism and Christianity capture this feeling well with the story of the Fall. Our lives are rooted in a tremendous sense of loss, of reaching for that paradise we can never quite envision, let alone regain. Every actual loss resonates with that fundamental condition, making grief seem both bottomless and holy.

What evolutionary advantage this might give us, I can't really say. But it does give a real boost to consumer capitalism.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

More thoughts on writing and living during the apocalypse, which is not going away

This article on Flavorwire, "How Do We Comfort Ourselves When Staying Vigilant (and Anxious) Feels Like The Only Responsible Option?," really spoke to me. Three-plus weeks into the Upside Down, I'm still mostly unable to concentrate on anything but scouring Twitter for any sign of hopeful news (occasional!), confirmation of my worst fears (frequent!), and concrete actions I can take (quite a few, though I never feel sure they are "helping").

I've also read several articles by members of marginalized groups saying something to the effect of: "Feeling anxious and voiceless, white liberal? Welcome to my world." This is very true. It's now clear that one effect of privilege is the ability to relax on a regular basis, to assume that everything will be more or less OK in the end--because it usually is, more or less, for most of us. So now we know. And it isn't fair or reasonable to expect sympathy for the shock and sadness and weariness we suddenly feel--though solidarity is a different matter. We can bond over these feelings, and channel them into collective action.

But what does it mean if I still want to relax sometimes? Is that a slippery slope to relaxing all the time, to assuming other people are taking care of it, to deciding that my daily phone calls to Congress or my petition-signings or my donations are too-small drops in the bucket anyway, so why continue? And what about when I'm called upon to do something larger--as I now doubt will be?

Is accepting the same as "normalizing"? No, this and other articles tell me. Accepting on some level is even necessary for action. We must know something is real before we can take real steps against it. But accepting also feels scary, because it means we really can't go back; the world and life we had are truly gone. Yet, can we recover anything of that old life? And what does it mean to try to do so?

This leads me to a problem I'm having with resuming my writing. My basic assumptions about the world I'm depicting--even if it's a not-quite-real world to begin with--have overturned. Everything now seems to require a dystopian frame, an overarching totalitarian menace above and beyond, say, the standard dysfunctional family or workplace. Something like the Eye of Sauron, perhaps, or Nazi Germany. Raise your hand if The Man in the High Castle now looks completely different than when you first watched it.

So in addition to not really feeling like writing (though I am getting there), I don't yet know how to write in this new (to me) world. But part of accepting--and not normalizing--means learning to do that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

On (fiction) writing during the apocalypse

I've seen a lot of discussion online about whether fiction writing still matters, post-November 8. I have wondered the same thing. Who cares about our carefully crafted worlds, our beautiful sentences, our quirky yet lovable characters, when the American experiment may be at an end? Shouldn't we be doing something with a more immediate effect, that reaches out to more people than those who already agree with us?

Here's the provisional conclusion I've come to. We need to keep writing, no matter what it is that we write. We're going to need good stories to get through this, including stories that aren't overtly political. (And by "good," I mean by the same definition as we used before November 8--nuanced, not overly didactic, respectful of the reader's intelligence, etc.) Let's not censor ourselves. Someone else may try to do that soon enough.

However. Let's also not kid ourselves that fiction writing represents a sufficient form of defiance in this new era. We're all going to have to be braver than we ever were before. We're going to have to feel scared and sick a good part of the time, as we push ourselves beyond our previous limits. I had to fight with myself just to call my liberal Democratic Congresswoman's office yesterday--I'm that phone shy. And I'm going to have to do a lot more than that. I'll have to be ready to protect people who are being harassed or threatened or even physically attacked (even as I may be a target myself, though that's less likely). I'm going to have to march, and do many other things I haven't even thought of yet, but which will scare the hell out of me, and which I may try to find excuses not to do, because I'm so scared, and still partly unwilling to believe that any of this is really happening.

So I must not use my "liberating" or "subversive" writing to excuse inaction in other areas. But I also must keep writing and reading--for respite as well as inspiration. We will all need both, in abundance.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Thoughts on Day Two of the Horror Clown Show

Like almost everyone else, I believed the polls and the polling aggregators. They said don't worry; I didn't worry. I worried a little, only because the unlikely outcome was so awful and unthinkable. I donated money to Clinton and the DSCC repeatedly, but I didn't phone bank. I should have. Maybe it would have helped. But I was pretty confident that we would pull this out, and that on Wednesday I'd be giddy with relief and proud of electing our country's first woman president.

Then the impossible happened. And now that I have finally managed to get some sleep and choke down some food, I'm beginning to get my head around how and why this was not only possible but highly probable. Of course, there isn't one simple reason. This was a perfect storm of reasons, absent any one of which we'd probably have another President Clinton. White racism and sexism. White women who, it turns out, feel their race privilege is more important than their bodily autonomy. Media false equivalence. A Democratic candidate who embodied the establishment, against a Republican propped up by the establishment but authentically voicing (because he really feels it) inchoate anti-establishment rage. Cowardly, opportunistic, dissembling Republican leaders. Pollsters who missed the true story, badly, and those of us who wanted to believe them, so we did. Comey. Russia. Wikileaks. Clinton's strategic missteps. On and on.

Of course, as many writers and thinkers I respect have already started doing, we need to talk about what to do next, and then act. Not once, but over and over and over till we are sick of acting, but still we must. Life as we knew it is now over. It not only can happen here--it did happen here. It is happening. How do we stop it?

Slate has posted a number of articles with concrete suggestions, like this one and this one. We can also donate to the ACLU, and Greenpeace, and numerous other organizations protecting human rights and the planet. Blue Staters  and even Red Staters can push their legislatures to do what California's has already done: vow to resist the regime and protect all residents.

If we're in relatively privileged positions, it also behooves us to listen--really listen--to those whose very lives a Trump presidency immediately threatens: people of color, LGBTQ people, religious minorities, sexual assault survivors, immigrants, disabled people. Do not say, "Don't worry, it will be OK." It will not be OK for these people. Do not say, "I know exactly how you feel" and then start detailing your feelings at length. Listen quietly. Offer a hug. Then promise that you will work to stop this shit.

And then stop this shit. Every day.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

What? Oh, yeah, I'm still around.

Yes, yes, I'm around, and everything is mostly the same. You know. Working. Editing a new novel that's about to go out on sub. Chewing my fingernails to the nub over the election. Worrying about life stuff. Writing songs about Bigfoot for a choral performance. Eating. Drinking. Sort of sleeping. Oh, and tweeting. Lots of that.

Haven't had much to say in the long form lately (obviously) (as if a blog were "long form," good lord, how far have we fallen). But that will probably change as I climb out of the abyss of an odd summer and into a suddenly busy but more routine fall.

I like routine. Here's to more of it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

"The Truth about Psych Camp" is now on Audible!

Just in time for summer vacation, and perfect for your approximately 40-minute commute. My short story, "The Truth about Psych Camp," is now on Audible. With fabulous narrator Luci Christian.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Why is writing so difficult? No, really--why?

It's the perennial question for those of us who call ourselves "writers." We supposedly need to write as much as we need to eat and breathe. Maybe more so. We don't even care if anyone ever sees what we create, let alone likes it. (This is a lie.) Writing is our identity, our passion, our reason for being. And yet, as often as not (at least for me, so I suppose I should say the "we" is royal here), we dread sitting down to do it. We do not want to. Our inner toddler begins kicking and screaming, maybe vomiting a little for good measure. If we manage to quiet this monster--or if we can endure him or her screaming in the background--we can get something done. And then we hate what we've written.

Why is writing so hard? Why do we hate what we love so much? And is there anything we can do about this?

If I knew the answer, I would tell you. I promise. But here are a few thoughts I have at the moment.

1. Writing is exhausting.

I'm closing in on the first draft of a new novel, and instead of feeling excited and exhilarated, I feel increasingly drained. Though I'm only actually "writing" for an hour or two every day, my head buzzes continually with ideas, corrections, doubts, aha moments ... It's like the Buddhists' "monkey mind" turned into a giant gorilla and running amok. I am burning glucose in large quantities. I feel dizzy and not entirely in control. I don't really like this feeling.

2. Writing is uncertain.

In fact, like faith, it's the opposite of certainty. Even as I put a word on the page, I think, "There's a better way to say that. What is the better way? Should I say that at all? Maybe I want to say something different. What should I say instead?" If it doesn't happen right away, it will happen as soon as I stand up to make a cup of tea, or--invariably--once I turn the computer off. Related to #1, above, writing means coexisting with constant doubt. Doubt fastens itself to me, like a twin conjoined at every point from head to toe. I drag doubt around.

3. Writing is exposure.

Even if no one ever sees your work but you, putting what's in your mind onto a page or screen makes the internal external. That means it can be seen, and, worse, interpreted. Maybe I think I'm saying A, but someone else thinks I'm saying B. And B is a very bad thing, which reveals my profound incompetence, wickedness, naivete, and general fraudulence. I don't want to face these things in myself, let alone allow anyone else to discover them. Why on earth am I doing this?

4. Writing is unrewarding.

Yes, I know, writing is its own reward. So is persistence. So is growth. But wouldn't it be much nicer if, after you wrote 500 words, your computer dispensed $500 into your damp and trembling palm? Or you received 500 prestigious awards? 500 compliments? Something?

5. Writing is self-indulgent.

I also know the arguments against this one. The world needs art, the world needs novelists. Although you're not directly feeding the hungry, or building a wall around Donald Trump, you're helping to create empathy and understanding--and increasing your own capacity for both. But shouldn't I really be building that wall right now? What was I doing while the U. S. descended into fascism? Finishing my satirical novel?

From all the think pieces I've read on this very topic, I've concluded that none of these issues can be solved. Again, like a Buddhist, we must just acknowledge them and press on. It's just that it's all rather disappointing. I thought this was supposed to be fun.

Well, sometimes it is.