magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Staring down the beginning of the Clarion West Write-a-thon, two things seem especially important.

First, that I just re-ran-into the Adrienne Rich quote which reads, "To know we are not alone, that our identity is not random but has a history and a meaning shared with others—that our existence has its own special kind of beauty—this is the great force of art to people moving against alienation."

And second, that I'm about to start a new job at the beginning of July, and that I am, even now, searching for a new apartment and preparing to turn my life upside-down again.

Second explanation first: my big barrier to completing my Write-a-thon goals in years past was that the WAT always corresponded with the end of the fiscal year at the University where I worked, and I happened to work in a financial department. Apparently the theme of my life getting really busy as soon as the WAT rears its formidable head is not going away with the passing of the job.

And the first explanation second: well, if there's a pie-in-the-sky idealistic goal, not just for my Write-a-thon writing but also for my writing in general, it's to wedge a few more ideas into the ever-evolving discussion that is fiction. Gender is one I keep coming back to; so are cultural estrangement, signification, relationships, power, the inability to communicate, the majesty of the known and unknown, and the existence of questions which have neither easy nor satisfying answers. I spend a lot of time circling around those high, idealistic goals, though how well I achieve them is another question entirely.

(And here I'm reminded of another quote, Michael Cunningham's: "You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire. But even if the book in question turns out fairly well, it’s never the book that you’d hoped to write. It’s smaller than the book you’d hoped to write. It is an object, a collection of sentences, and it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire."

As I've said on my Write-a-thon page, I don't know what I'll write, or how much I'll write. But you can expect to see some of the above themes cropping up alongside the other, more magpie-minded projects.

Anyway, I hope the writing (and writing about writing) will be entertaining to those of you reading, and I hope you'll consider sponsoring me or any one of the many, many other fine writers in the Write-a-thon this year. There's a wealth of talent banding together to support a new crop of talent which, in turn, is being taught by a roster of extraordinary talent, and I, for one, am excited to get started.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
...and obviously rather old, judging by the date on the Scalzi post. Still, worth sharing.


John Scalzi has written an eloquent, elegant, and brilliant post up on Whatever: Things I Don't Have To Think About Today.

[...] Today I don’t have to think about the people who’d consider torching my house of prayer a patriotic act.

Today I don’t have to think about a pharmacist telling me his conscience keeps him from filling my prescription.

Today I don’t have to think about being asked if I’m bleeding when I’m just having a bad day.

Today I don’t have to think about whether the one drug that lets me live my life will be taken off the market.

Today I don’t have to think about the odds of getting jumped at the bar I like to go to.

Today I don’t have to think about “vote fraud” theater showing up at my poll station.

Today I don’t have to think about turning on the news to see people planning to burn my holy book.

Today I don’t have to think about others demanding I apologize for hateful people who have nothing to do with me.

Today I don’t have to think about my child being seen as a detriment to my career. [...]


And Patrick Nielsen Hayden sums it all up:

Spot on. The essence of privilege isn’t wearing a top hat and cackling yar har har while lighting expensive cigars with $100 bills. The essence of privilege is not having to worry about the crap that the unprivileged do.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
"At first I thought, all the more reason to say nothing. But the I thought, that wouldn't be fair. To me, partly. Love has a right to be spoken. And you have a right to know that somebody loves you. That somebody has loved you, could love you. We all need to know that. Maybe it's what we need most."

–Isidra; "Another Story (or) A Fisherman of the Inland Sea", Ursula K. LeGuin
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Years later, I was at a con with Chip when a young man asked him a question. That young man, gay and black, as Chip is, had just attended a writing workshop where he'd found it very difficult to get recognition about why the things he was writing about were important. He asked Chip how a black gay man could find his voice in science fiction. Almost before the words were out of his mouth, a white woman overrode him with, "Well, I just don't see race in my life. I don't make it a problem. I don't see race. It just doesn't exist as an issue."

Very gently, Chip replied, "If you can't see something that threatens my life daily, then you can't help me fight it. You can't be my ally."

–Nalo Hopkinson, Looking for Clues
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
You know what? I have a headcold right now which is making it difficult to think about anything coherently, let alone put it into words, but it seems to me that the works people turn to in order to laugh, or to cry, or to get inspired by, or to masturbate to, or to fill an otherwise empty time are works which get remembered. If they're not remembered in specific detail, they're still remembered in favorable generalities, or why else would people make a habit of turning to them? The person who reads through en entire shelf of pulp novels, each one pretty much the same to an outside perspective, is getting something from those novels. The novels are filling a need.

And because they fill a need, or just because they comprise a present and recurrent part of the consumer's life, they converse with the consumer's worldview. People get inspired by a football play or moved by an anecdote in Reader's Digest, and those are real effects on real people. If you're good at matching a need to an audience, you can use those vehicles to make real changes.

You can use movies to liberalize attitues toward homosexuality. You can use photo galleries (link NSFW) to alter standards for physical attractiveness. You can use video games to educate children as to how to avoid landmines. You can use moments in softball games to teach lesson abut grace. This is true despite the fact that you'll have no difficulty finding people who will dismiss, out of hand, how seriously film or art or video games or sports should or can be taken.

Intended audiences derive meaning from what's produced to entertain them. By accident or design.

Which is why I balk when people dismiss the impact things like fiction – even fanfiction – can have, or when people say that no one should care what messages are put in movies, because they're just movies, after all. The implication is that things like racism or sexism or ableism or whathaveyou doesn't matter if it's shown in these things, because they matter so terribly little. Because of course the constant omission of the voices of people of color in literature doesn't contribute to the creation of a single story, and the fact that Edward is a vampire and thus clearly fictional means that a generation of young women readers won't grow up to romanticize stalking and other sorts of potentially dangerous behaviour.

Statements like "It's just fandom." "It's just TV." "It's just for fun." assume that people segment their experiences in such a way that those experiences don't ever cross over, ever inform each other. They assume that we gain and learn nothing from those things. And they assume that those things occur in a vacuum, sealed off from the rest of our experiences of the world, whether we're the consumers or the creators.

Human endeavor comes out of human experience and feeds back into human experience, whether or not it's supposed (or assumed) to. In many ways it's completely involuntary, as familiar scents trigger memories or, as Chimamanda Adichie recounted, our opinions of others fill themselves in on a paucity of facts. It's why watching our media, our art and our entertainment, can be such a valuable diagnostic tool as to the lives and opinions of the people – and why working to improve that can feed back and improve society as a whole.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
When you genericize slurs like gay, retarded, or lame into insults, even if you're not referring to people when you use them ("That movie is so gay," etc.), you're training people to react to those words with derision. And you can point out all you'd like that intellectually, you know the difference between a gay person and a thing you call "gay", but slurs and insults don't engage people intellectually. They engage people emotionally. And emotions do flavor the way we interact with things.

If you can undercut someone's sympathy for a person, you can legitimize actions and attitudes taken against them. This is why, on a grand scale, war propaganda has historically tried so hard to dehumanize "the enemy." This is also why things like the gay panic defense works – everyone knows that gay sex is gross, everyone knows that having to endure homosexual attention is terrifying, so isn't it understandable if you flip out under that threat and someone gets hurt, even killed? If a man was approached by a woman romantically and flipped out and killed her, that would be totally unacceptable, but that's not icky in the same way a man approaching another man is. Everyone knows this.

Note that "gross" and "terrifying" and "icky" aren't intellectual arguments, either.

Emotions get people killed.

Attitudes get people killed.

And when they're not getting people killed, they're making their lives hard to navigate in. They're creating worlds in which what someone is can be constantly under attack, because if you identify with one of those terms, or if a family member does, if a loved one does, you're hearing that word spoken with derision as part of casual interchange with the culture around you.

And yeah, on the surface, calling something "gay" or "retarded" or "lame" doesn't seem like much, but it normalizes those negative attitudes. It legitimizes that derision. It's not murder, but it supports the attitudes thereof. It's a part of a culture of judgement and violence.

No one dot on a polka-dot dress is a polka-dot pattern, but every single one of them makes up the pattern it's in.

This is one of many reasons why I'm working hard to eliminate words like lame or crazy or gypped from my colloquial vocabulary, and why I'm grateful to the people who have called me on those words in the past. Because I'm a writer; I rely on the power of words to create pictures of the world, to influence thoughts and emotions, and I refuse to lend those words to the cause of hurting people who have done nothing wrong.

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