Tuesday, January 24, 2017

On writing during the apocalypse--part three or four of many more

A few weeks or months ago (time in the T__p era is already a blur, events and hours run together as if in a dream), I lamented one of the many problems of writing in the beginning of the end times for America. The particular problem concerning me was the need--I felt--to give all stories and novels an explicit totalitarian context. Anything written before November 8, 2016--especially written *right* before--seemed newly non-credible. How could anyone write about, say, a family coming apart at the seams or vampires falling in love without acknowledging that it all takes place under a completely fascist regime? But then again, how to stay out in front of all that this regime can and will do, so that even your worst predictions don't end up seeming quaint by publication time?

This, as you might imagine, has proven a mostly paralyzing mindset. Trying to plan a new novel and a new story, I found myself adding layer upon layer of complexity, trying to inject government perfidy into every aspect of my character's lives. Too many threads competed with each other and the gears of narrative ground to a halt.

So now I'm thinking of starting very small. As Jonathan Franzen said in a Powells.com interview years ago, "The real pleasure in writing [The Corrections], for me, was discovering how little you need." I'll begin with one character, one story line and work outward, rather than first attempting to create a whole world system that will never be as strange or sinister as the one we now inhabit.

I have a feeling the larger totalitarian context will arise of its own accord.

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.