My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I Lister Waxes Philosophically About His Own Segment

I Lister Here, and let me introduce tomorrow's segment:

After Chris put his story on the internet on Monday, I came into his office to talk about what I was going to write for Wednesday and found that he'd been hitting refresh on his e-mail every twenty or thirty seconds for the past five hours.  "Ima," he said to me.  "I don't know if I'm ever going to be a real writer."

"What are you talking about," I said.  "You write six days a week or more, for hours a day, maintain a blog, and still have time to work on fiction.  If you're not writing, you're reading.  Is there some secret underground definition of 'writer' on the street that I'm not aware of?  Or did you mean paying the bills when you used the word 'real' because I can drop some household names who struggled for years before their writing would even pay off a modest Friends-And-Family plan bill.  You're only just starting."

"I dunno," he said.  "How about all the normal bellwethers. That ineffable place where someone who talks about being a writer moves into that place where they're actually doing it."

"That place is shrinking in your rearview mirror, Chris," I said.

"Is it?  I feel like I'm faking it. I feel like a fraud. On the best days I feel like I'm falling with style.  On the worst....I feel like a fucking pretentious ass talking about 'my blog' like I'm Barney Stinsen.  I mean I talk about self publication being the future (and I believe it is) but it also means I never have to get rejected by a hundred magazines per story or struggle to find my novel an agent for years without success, or do a lot of the things that have been a writer's right of passage for a long time.  I'm just doing jazz hands in a medium that can't say no.  These days the chasm between a person who writes and a Writer with a capital W is filled with a quagmire of half efforts and pretentiousness like never before.  I mean fuck, Ima--who DOESN'T have a blog?"

"Mentioned BY NAME in the manifesto of genocidal cephalopods, though?"

"Still..." he said.  "I mean they want to kill me BECAUSE I'm pretentious.   So I'm not sure that counts as having 'arrived.'"

I nodded.  "Thanks boss."

"Thanks?" he said.  "For what?"

"I wasn't sure what kind of list to do tomorrow.  I have a list of good lists, but I wanted you to look it over and pick one because my list of criteria for picking lists from the list of lists wasn't helping me choose.  However, you've given me a better idea.  This thing you think is ineffable is probably more effable than you might imagine.  I intend to show you tomorrow in my segment.  See if you feel the same way after tomorrow."

"But...that means I have to wait until tomorrow for the catharsis from this conversation," Chris whined.

"Damn, that's got to fill you with dramatic tension," I said.

[After this, I. Lister's continued pimping tomorrow's segment through interpretive dance.  However, interpretive dance does not translate mediums very well.  Let me assure you, though, that it was legen (wait for it.....) dary.


July '12 Report

July has been a good month!

1350 page views for the month, which is 150 views over the next closest month (May).  Plus whatever trickles in today will add to that.  That wouldn't be possible with me merely cross posting my updates on Facebook and Livejournal.  So thank you to everyone who has "liked" "+1ed" shared, commented on a post, or recommended Writing About Writing or one of its posts.  You guys are the real ones making this possible.  A couple of my posts show up on the first page of certain keyword searches because YOU guys have spread them beyond just my personal social circles.

"Reasons" to Get an MFA in Creative Writing is the page view winner of the month, and will join the inner sanctum of Greatest Hits.  The Image Bonanza Potpourri came in a close second.  (Anything I post with humorous images picks up several hits from Pintrest.)  My fiction offering yesterday Falling from Orbit in one day actually got more hits than the Image Bonanza post, but I don't think I'm going to put fiction on the Greatest Hits since fiction has its own special section.

I'm not sure about "politics week."  It seemed to go on a little too long, but the people that liked it, REALLY liked it, and many who have struggled with the anxiety between having something to SAY and not being ham-handed seemed to appreciate it.  I actually got a wonderful e-mail from a reader thanking me for taking on the issue.

Putting up my fiction seemed to go pretty well.  I got some wonderful feedback.  The kind that makes all the unpaid hours worth every second.  (Not that I would impugn a donation, mind you.  Really.)  I'm working on a new short story, have several finished ones on the block to clean up and post, and of course am still tooling away at one manuscript and revising another. If the blog/donation/self-publishing route continues to work, I will make sure to keep making my writing free and accessible with only the occasional groveling for donations so that I can support my video game addiction and hire Asian hookers to pretend to be my groupies while they join Supportive Girlfriend and me in a rousing session of a little role-playing game I like to call, "Oh my god, your talent is so big!"  

In mid-August I will have to go back to my paycheck job of teaching, so my unbridled enthusiasm might get a little bit of a bridle--especially on Mondays and Wednesdays. I plan to keep working on the "ground floor":  Putting in the last of the Reliquary and working on things like the product list and the glossary.  You can also expect to see tags coming soon (and going onto old entries) since I am assured by "People in the Know" who have MUCH cooler sunglasses and cuff-links than I do that tags will greatly contribute to people "looking around" if they do happen to stumble upon my site.  Plus I want to start putting up a poll every month, so look for that early in August.

And thank you--every single one of you--for reading.  It makes me feel ten feet tall.  

Monday, July 30, 2012

Falling From Orbit by Chris Brecheen

Falling from Orbit  
by Chris Brecheen

They say when you are dying, your life will flash before your eyes. Never one for convention, Millie Winter did not find this to be true. Only a single summer plagued her vision when she was dying. When a Human’s First radical slipped a DZP tablet into each of three lavender cosmopolitans and left her tied spread eagled to a bed, she drifted to toward oblivion inside dreams of the summer in 87. When the rusty fang of a nail jutting from the back of a protestor’­s sign bit into the underside of her wrist, and the leering man in his denim jacket dragged it half way to her funny bone, it was the summer of 87 assaulting her senses as vermilion jets slowed to gentle pulses. Even now, suspended in the air over the waters of the San Francisco bay, in that instant before gravity yanks her into the blackness below, she is looking out past the glittering lights of Alcatraz and Oakland to the giant harvest moon rising beyond, and it reminds her of watching the Earth rise like a shimmering topaz from Luna’s horizon in the summer of 87. She remembers Alan’s hand curled in her own, and this is all it takes to trigger the familiar chain of memories that rush towards her even faster than the inky blackness below.

She remembers how her hands trembled as she opened the envelope from Oklude Industries. The words “accepted” and “welcome” winked back at her. A smile lit her face. She had done it. She had done what they said she couldn’t do.

She remembers her mother’s beaming face. “Good for you kiddo!” she said.  “I’m glad the competition wasn’t as tough as you heard.”

She remembers the way her father pulled his reading glasses from his plaid flannel shirt pocket with thick calloused hands, placed them over his wrinkling eyes, and read the whole letter out loud from beginning to end. “Dear Emily Winter, We are pleased to inform you...” At the end he took his glasses off to look at her. “I am so proud of you, Bumblebee. You worked hard.  You deserve this.”

She remembers her best friend Andrea glared across a curl of golden hair she let fall over her eyes.  Andrea did this when she didn't approve of things, and she didn't approve of a great many things. Millie first got the look when they met in kindergarten. Millie tried to explain to Andrea why winged unicorns weren’t biologically possible, and Andrea only stopped glaring after tricking Millie into admitting that magic made anything possible, and that magic might exist because everyone said it didn’t--because people got things wrong all the time.

“What’s wrong, Dre?” Millie probed when the over-the-curl gaze fell upon her. Digging out Andrea’s issues was usually painful. Letting them fester always was.

“Do you have to go away?” Andrea asked. “Especially to a place like that?”

“Oklude Industries is a very prestigious internship,”  Millie said.  “Plus they pay for my room and board and an entertainment stipend.”

“It’s not the company. It’s the place.”  Andrea drifted off.

"How many people actually get to go there?" Millie said.  "Everyone talks about it like it's no big deal, but no one has ever really been there.  I'll get to do what almost no one else really has."

"It's just so far away," Andrea said.

“Can’t you be happy for me?”  Millie said. “Just this one time?”

“I am happy, Mills.  I'm happy that you got accepted.  You showed em!  But, remember, you only applied to prove wrong everyone that you couldn't make it. Who cares about actually going?”

“I didn’­t care when I thought they were right,” Millie said. “Now I do.”

“That makes absolutely no sense at all Millie,” Andrea said. She rolled her eyes.

“I know.”

“This is supposed to be our last hurrah. The summer after graduation! Big fanfares. The best parties.  The last of the bad decisions you can chalk up to college experimentation. I mean you literally can’t get any further away from me than the moon. And, who wants to be around all those stuffy...” she made a noise that was a cross between being sick and “Splerg!”

“I like stuffy.” Millie said. “People don’t make sense to me. All those emotions messing with their brains. Stuffy isn’t so bad.”

“It is when you can’t have feelings,” Dre said.

“Case in point,” Millie said, “this conversation.”

Andrea’s voice took on a conspiratorial edge. “Did you know Derrick Anderson was asking me about you? Wanted to know if you were seeing anyone. Could be a bad summer to be out of town, Mills.”

Millie paused. She looked down at the chewed fingernails on her left hand and thought of sitting in Differential Equations behind Derrick, staring at that place where his neck and shoulders met, and wondering if he might gasp or sigh if she touched it with her tongue.

She shook her head. “This will be good for me. Oklude internships are crown jewels.  People walk into seven figure salaries with something like that on their resume.

“Come on!”  Andrea said, sounding a bit like a car salesman. “What if Derrick finds some other math nerd and gets all hot for her. He’s not going to pine--not with a ass like his.  He asked me about you.  He asked me about your interests.  Your interests! Who actually says that? He is so into you. Come on! Last hurrah!”

“Maybe last hurrahs are overrated.”

Andrea sighed. “Maybe your face is overrated, Millicent Winter." She screwed up her mouth and stuck out her tongue. “No one in their right mind doesn't want a last hurrah. I swear, without me you’­d forget how to be human.”

She remembers how her mother giving her advice one night while they were putting away the dishes. “I know you, Millie,” her mother said. “You’re always trying to swim upstream. And it’s cute sometimes, but if you pull that crap with Luna Population, you’re going to end up in trouble.”

“Okay mom,” Millie said, rolling her eyes.

Her mother dropped the plates she was holding, and they shattered across the blue tile floor in a cascade of tiny white shards. She grabbed Millie’s head firmly and pressed their foreheads together. Millie could smell the tang of cranberry juice on her breath, and could see the cake of foundation filling in crow’­s feet around her eyes. The pressure was firm, but not uncomfortable.

“I’m serious,” her mother said, sliding her hands to the side of Millie’s cheeks. Her lip quivered. “You don’t know how afraid to be yet, Emily. You don’t know what serious is. Remember your Uncle Roy? Brilliant linguist. Published. Running the big ten circuit as a guest speaker. Ivy league professor.  Such a career ahead of him! Not even a sympathizer. But one article--one--on how the word ‘exodus’ was technically a misnomer because it should have been ‘exile,’ and  overnight he can’t even find a job teaching a survey course at a community college. One article! People have died over this. This can’t be like your kooky sense of fashion or veganism or something. Go get the feather in your cap and come home.”

“You broke all the plates, Mom,” Millie said, confused and unsure what to do, but feeling scared and loved all at the same time, like she was wrapped too tightly in the most comfortable blanket ever.

“They’­re just things,” her mother said. “Don’­t ever forget that.”

She remembers her trip in disjointed images: the Earth falling away more quickly than she expected (far more quickly than the black water now rising up to meet her); her discovery that space wasn’t black at all, but crammed unmercifully with points of light; how fascinating she found the science and technology behind the colonial dome and how it creeped inexorably along the massive titanium track on a 28 day circuit around the south pole, keeping it straddling the light and dark side of the surface, perpetually within the twilight of lunar dusk where the temperatures were bearable; being given cumbersome magnetic boots that took up the slack of low Lunar gravity but making each step a comic display of clumsiness.

She remembers her first day of work at Oklude and how her boss, T-dor, explained her job to her. T-dor was one of the older teaching and training models with a square hole for a mouth and bald head, and reminded Millie so much of a crash test dummy that she had a hard time not giggling when ever he looked at her. Her job would be to look through thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of lines of computations and see if the numbers “looked right.”  The staff could do lightning fast computations at levels of complexity right at the edge of human understanding, but their biggest problems happened if a nominal error in the data snowballed unnoticed through the calculations--feedback loops, cascade errors, that sort of thing. They had no intuitive ability to look at a number and sense that it was way off.

“Wait,” Millie said.  She looked from T-dor to the screen with the computations and back. “I have a double degree in general mathematics as well as probability and statistics. I got a 3.9 from Stanford.  I graduated Summa Cum Laude, and was second in my class.”

T-dor cocked his head and took a moment to reply. “That is why we chose you, yes. You were our most impressive candidate.” He paused. “Well, technically that’s not true.  You were our most impressive candidate without any rather...transparent hostility towards Luna Population.”

“But you don’t want me to do any math?” Millie asked.

T-dor paused again. “Of course we do.  You are doing math. You must be quite familiar with the operations in order to know if the numbers seem right. No one without your expertise would be able to tell if they were looking at something that was roughly correct or simply a random number. However, when it comes to the actual calculations, we can perform them nearly three thousand percent faster than you, even if you use a computer.  It is more efficient this way.”

“So all that studying and all the competition to get here, and the only thing you want me to do is look at some number and tell you how it makes me feel?”

“Yes,” T-dor said, oblivious to her tone of voice. “We lack that ability.”

She remembers Alan S-mer. He was a Synth: virtually indistinguishable from humans without instruments--the model that led to The Exodus. Millie only knew he wasn’t human when he danced into the Oklude's break room gracefully, clearly not wearing magnetic boots.  He had dark eyes, sandy hair, an imbalanced goatee with a crooked line on the left that Millie found charming.  He called her Emily and blushed when she corrected him. He stumbled over his words when he asked her if she liked Thai food, and offered to cook a meal since Luna didn’t really have restaurants to speak of and he thought she was probably tired of the enriched protein tubes. He made Pho in his apartment, donning a green apron with “Kiss the Cook” written on it while he darted about the kitchen.  The cubed tofu chunks, diced broccoli, chopped asparagus, and thick, handmade noodles were all too salty after Alan forgot to account for the preserving salt when considering the recipe, but Millie wolfed everything down. They talked for hours that night.  She told him about Earth, her childhood, her family, and Andrea. He told her about how lonely it got on Luna. Synths were designed to have feelings identical to humans so they got homesick just as easily, and the lack of personability in older models like T-dor could make them just as ill at ease as they did most humans.

Millie fell in love more quickly than she thought possible. She liked that his left eye had more flecks than his right.  She liked how he could never get his goatee sides balanced.  She liked how he got animated when they talked about volcanism on Io.  She liked the way he shook his head when he talked about how you wouldn’t find Synth literature on Earth just because it was written by Syths and the stuck up snobs wouldn’t give it a fair shake, even though much of it was just as good, and some of it was on par with canon authors.  She liked how he made a moue at her every time she claimed that mathematics could, at some level, explain everything.  She never gave a thought to holding back.  If anything, the spice of the forbidden drove her forward.

She remembers a cascade of milestones.  The first time she told him she loved him they had finished up watching an MST3K marathon.  She wondered why he loved the old movies and laughed so often; she thought they were mostly boring and pretty goofy.  But she got such a kick out of watching him watch a show about robots watching movies that it was worth it. When he didn’t notice that he had a bit of popcorn stuck in the chin hair of his goatee, she suddenly felt overwhelmed.  “I love you, Alan,” she blurted.

He looked at her, and she was terribly afraid he was going to say something about love not being a part of his program matrix or something.   But then he moved closer.  His arms took her shoulders and gathered her gently towards him.  He held her for a long time, and she could smell the fake popcorn butter on his chin.  She inhaled deeply and held him close.  For the rest of her life when she thought of Alan, she could swear she smelled fake butter.

The first kiss happened a few days later. Alan tried to talk her out of her feelings.  Many non-emotive residents of Luna comprehended only at the most intellectual levels why they had been kicked off of Earth.  They knew the humans didn’t want them there and could have academically expounded on the numerous social, cultural, and economic reasons in great detail.  But the the later models, and especially the Synths, had a keen grasp of the why.  They understood all too well.

“Millie,” Alan said, deep lines cutting across his forehead, “they will hate you even more than they hate me.”

“I don’­t care,” she said.

“You should.  In their minds I can’t help what I am.  I am some tragic thing cursed by fate, but you have a choice.”He paused, hand held near his face in mid-gesticulation.  “They will hate you for that choice.  They will hate you more than you can possibly imagine.”

“I don’­t care,” she said.  She tried to mean it.  Eventually she did.

Then he kissed her.  His two forefingers gently traced a line from her cheekbone to her chin as their lips touched, gently at first, and then with greater fervor.   He was a great kisser.

The first time they made love he gasped as he entered her.  She wondered what behavioral algorithm prompted that.  He came too quickly the first time, which inflamed her passions even more.

Lying next to him afterwards, she started to giggle.

"What?" Alan asked.

"That was like a dozen times for me, and five for you," she said.  She laughed a little more before she was able to get out: "You're quite the machine!"

She giggled on, but didn't fail to notice that Alan hadn't joined her.

Their first fight was because he wouldn’­t hold her hand in public.

“Why,” she yelled.  “Are you ashamed of me?”

“No!” Alan said.  “No I’­m trying to protect you.”

“Oh thanks,” she snapped.  “Thanks for protecting poor little Millie, who, by the way, never asked for it and doesn’­t want it.  Feeling really respected right now.”

Alan sighed.  Millie thought that was strange since he technically did not need breath except to speak. “Millie, it literally would not occur to many of my people to not be completely honest if someone from Earth asked about us,” Alan explained.  “They have the ability to detect that I am a synth, that you are a human, and the earlier models wouldn’t even consider deception if someone asked what we were doing.  The good news is that means they can't figure out the subtext if we spend all our free time in my apartment, but the bad news is they won't know to lie to protect us if we take it outside. The last thing you want is to be seen as a sympathizer when you return.”

“I’m not going back there!” Millie said,  “Not after I’­ve found you here.”

“Don’­t be ridiculous.  Of course you are.” Alan said.  “You can't stay here forever.”

“Don’­t tell me what I want Alan!” she yelled.  “Dont ever tell me what I want.  I love you.”

“I just don’­t want to see you get hurt,” Alan said, looking wounded.  “I love you too.”

“Do you?  Do you even know what that means?  Can you  even comprehend what I’­m going through right now?”

“Of course I can.  I know what love means.  Dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vassopressin are all simulated within my--”

“Oh, simulated! That’s great!” Millie shouted.  “It’s nice to know your feelings are so well simulated.  Except for one little problem--I’m talking about real love, Alan.  Real love.  The kind where you aren’t ashamed to hold hands in public.  The kind where you don’­t just casually tell them that they’ll be leaving in two months.  The kind where you don’­t presume it’s going to end.  Not just a behavioral algorithm and simulated oxy-whateverthefuck.  I’m talking about love you fight for.  I'm talking about the love you go down fighting for and never give up on.  Real love!”

“Millie,” Alan said.  “Your life is on Earth, where I cannot go.  Human physiology and psychology can’­t even handle the effects of perpetual dusk or lunar gravity.  You’­d go crazy first and then your muscles would atrophy, and then you’d wither and die within a year or two.  That has nothing to do with how much we love each other.”

“Fuck you, Alan!” she spat.  “Don’t just reduce me to some limitation based on my physiology.”

“You fucking humans!” Alan snapped.  “You’re all so stupid.  You think you’re feelings are so special because they’­re intense, and that you’re the first ones in the whole damned history of ever to feel like that, and no one else could ever feel like you do.  We’­re both machines!  You aren’­t special because your wiring is organic and your behavioral algorithms are encoded chemically.   If I drained out your bonding hormones, you wouldn’t feel love either.  But that doesn’t somehow make what you’re feeling now ‘not real.’  You don'­t hold the patent on real love or the title or the deed or whatever you want to try to claim.  And you sure as fuck don’­t get to tell me mine isn’t real.”

She bit her lip.  “I’­m not telling you it isn’­t real.”

“No, just that yours is better or more real or some crap!  That I’­ll never know what it’­s like to love the way you do.  And that’­s a bunch of bullshit!”

“Then it should be killing you not to hold my hand in public,” she said.

Alan paused before speaking, and looked at her with eyebrows lifted and lips pressed together.  “I never said it wasn’t killing me."

Nearly half way down to the water, she remembers seeing the Earth rise.  Alan drove her within a transport away from the dome so they could watch the “earthrise.”  Half of the topaz sphere crested over the horizon and hung there like art on an impossibly far away wall.

“It’s weird that it doesn’­t move.” Millie said.

“Oh, it moves,” Alan said.  “Just very slowly. It makes a small circuit around the sky every three hundred hours or so.”

“Do you ever want to go back?” she asked.  "Do you ever miss it?"

He looked at her.  “Every day.  I miss Earth in a way I can’t even begin to explain--the sunshine on my face.  Well, technically I can get that here, but it would melt my innards. Sounds. You don't realize how much you miss the sound of animals and bugs and distant people and even traffic until it's just silent. Breezes--god I miss the wind on my forearms.  But I can’t go back.  Even if the law changed today, your bigotry would remain for generations.  Watching your people let go of hatred is like...” Alan paused.  “It’s like watching the Earth go across the sky.  Sometimes, it seems like it isn’t moving at all.  And it always seems to wind up back where it started.”

“Why are you so perfect?” Millie asked looking away from the Earth and towards him.

Alan looked back.  “We shouldn't stay long.  The transport's heaters weren't built with humans in mind.  They’ll take the edge off, but it’s getting cold.”

“Sometimes I wish you weren’­t,” she said.

“Weren’­t what?” Alan asked.

“Perfect,” she said. “Sometimes it bothers me.”

“You are bothered by perfection?” Alan asked.


“Shall I do something imperfect?” Alan asked.  “I could probably leave my socks on the floor of the living room.  I’m fairly certain that’s less than perfect.”

“That’s not the point, Alan,” Millie said feeling irritation seeping in with the cold.

“What is the point?” he asked.  “...Emily.”

“The point is that I don’­t want you to just change some program and then be perfectly imperfect.  That wouldn’­t count.”

“Why not?”  He demanded.  “Because altering a program is fundamentally different than some human working to break a bad habit and change their behaviors to suit you?”

“No.  Fuck.  I don’t...  I can’­t explain it.  Effort maybe, I don't know.  I want you to get some things wrong.   I want to love the things about you that I hate.”

“No wonder you can’­t explain it,” he said.  “It's utter nonsense.  It’­s exactly the sort of paradox bullshit humans run around feeling perfectly content with in their lives and get pissed off enough to exile the lot of us when we point that you’re being completely fucking retarded .”

Millie was furious.  “It’s not nonsense,”  she said.  “It’s humanity.  It’­s what we are, and why you creep us out because it’s what you aren’t.  It’s the fucking human condition to never be happy.  I’m sorry that you can’t understand because you’re an oversized laptop.”

Alan drove on quietly, but his hands were clenched around the wheel.  Somehow that made Millie feel good.

But watching him obviously fighting tears doused her anger.

“I’­m sorry,” she said after a moment.  “That was way out of line.  We just think differently about some things.  I forget that sometimes.  We literally think differently about things.  And that matters.”

“You know, there seems to be plenty that you hate about me,” Alan said.  “But you don’­t love to hate it or some stupid thing.   You just plain hate it.  Maybe you should work on that.”

“I said I was sorry,” she repeated.

“Let's just get home,” he said.  “It’s way too cold for a human here.”

She remembers the small, dark theater packed with Synths and a few humans .  She felt Alan’­s hand press into her own, holding it close.  She turned to look at him; he was already looking at her.  His fingers entwined hers.

“If this is what it takes for you to know what you mean to me,” he said.  He took her chin in his fingers and pulled her lips towards his.

Someone behind them gasped.  Murmurs started.  She heard someone mutter that he wasn’­t wearing mag-boots but she definitely was.  Millie didn’t care.  She didn’t care as hard as she could.

She remembers her mother calling first.  “You’re coming home,” she said.

“I am not,” Millie said.

“Now!” her mother said.  She tried to sound angry, but Millie only saw fear in her eyes.

“No, mom,” Millie said.  “Don’­t tell me what to do.”

“Millie, if you come home right now--right now--I have a few friends who might be able to do some damage control.  You’re young.  You’re impressionable.  You were alone and lonely.  And some of those Synths were literally built with seduction in mind.   We can make sure you don't get branded a sympathizer.”

“I don’­t care what I get branded,” Millie said.  “I love him.”

Her mother reeled.  “Honey.....   You don’t care because you don’­t know what it means.  Sometimes when we’re young, we're very foolish,” her mother said.  “Sometimes we feel things, and they seem real--maybe very real.  And we think we're going to feel that way forever.  But we outgrow those feelings.  They’re a phase.”

“I’m not going to outgrow my love,” Millie said.

“It isn't real, sweetie.  What you’­re feeling isn't real.  It’­s just a lot of confusion because of your situation.  You’ll understand when you fall in love...for real.  You'll understand why this isn't.”

“Don’t ever tell me my love isn't real!” Millie yelled.  “I love Alan.  I love him more than I've ever loved anyone.”

“Oh god, Millie!” she said, literally wringing her hands.  “Don’t--  I am your mother.  Don’­t ever say that to me.  You make me sick.  I raised you better.”  She disconnected, and her face disappeared from the screen.

Her father called after that.  “Your mom’s worried, but I told her you were our little Millie, and you were gonna do what you were gonna do.”

Millie smiled.  “Thanks dad.”

“Don’t worry Bumblebee,” her dad said.  “When I was probably about your age I went through the same exact thing.  I mean that was back before the Exodus was legally enforced, so it wasn't the kind of deal it is today, but still people would have looked at me funny to be with one of them.”

“You fell in love with an android?” Millie asked, smiling.

“Well, the companion models never did talk much.  We didn't go on picnics or anything, so it might have been a stretch to call it love.  But she did things to me no woman’­s ever done since.  Don’t tell your mother.  I still wake up dreaming of C-lil.”

“Dad!” Millie said, screwing up her smile into mock revulsion.  “Gross!

“Aw you’re all grown up, Millie,” he said.  “Your dad gets to be human now.”

“Fine, just don’­t talk about sexbots, okay.  I’m going to need years of therapy after this conversation.”

“I just wanted you to know that I’­ve been through the same thing.”

Millie frowned.  “No.  No dad, you haven't.  This isn’t just about sex.  I'm in love."

Her father’s crow’­s feet grew as he crinkled his eyes in confusion.  “With an android?”

“Yes,” she said.  She suddenly wanted to hang up on him very badly.

"I thought I was in love with C-lil," he said.  "Until I met your mother and found how nice it was to have things in common and talk and stuff."

"He's an S model, not some sexbot," Millie said. "We talk all the time.  Jesus!"

“Okay,” Millie's dad said, holding up his hands in surrender.  "Okay.  All right, I guess.   I apologize. I’m gonna worry like crazy about you, Bumblebee.  And your mom is too.  Sympathizers have a tough road.”

“If only I’d picked someone more convenient to fall for, huh dad?” she said.

“I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t have it any other way,” her father said.

“Don’t be horrible!” Millie snapped.

“Hey!” her father said in his discipline tone.  “Watch it!  We're not worrying about you because we secretly dream up ways to make your life difficult.  This is real.  You're in trouble.  People die over this.”

“I know, Dad.  I'll be okay.”

Her dad chewed his lower lip for a long moment, something he only did when he was trying to solve the last few words of a crossword puzzle.

“So...” he said finally, his voice croaking a little.  “What’s he like?”

“He’­s great, daddy.  You’­d really like him,” she smiled.  "He loves literature too..."

There were more words but they faded from Millie’­s memory into a blur.  They were sweet and sappy and there were lots of simultaneous laughter and tears.  Millie hung up feeling better for knowing someone was in her corner, at least a little.

A few days later Andrea called.  Andrea couldn’­t even broach the subject, and it looked like they were just going to talk small talk for an hour.  Then, suddenly she blurted out like she was asking about a strange birthmark: “Do you really love it?”

“He has a name,” Millie said.  “It’­s Alan.  And yes.  I love him.”

“Well then you should stay on Luna,” Andrea said.  “Stay with Al--with it.”

Millie gasped a little.  “Really?”

Andrea paused.  “Yeah,” she said.

“But you hate androids,” Millie said.  “I've never seen anyone hate androids as much as you do.  You don’­t even like the little mail carrier bots with the metal fingers.”

“I do hate them,” Andrea said.  There was something strange about her voice--like when she told him about Derrick.  “They just–aren't natural.  What you’re doing isn't natural.  But if you love...him.  That just makes sense, Millicent.”  Andrea paused.  “It’s what anyone would do.”

“Really?” Millie asked.

“Absolutely,” Andrea said.  “Anyone."

“You really think so?” Millie asked.

After just a momentary pause.  “Everyone fights for love, Millie.  Everyone.”

She remembers getting notice from the planetary government on Earth that her permission to be on Luna had been revoked under suspicion of android sympathy.  She was ordered to return to Earth.

“No one here will force you to return,” Alan told her.  “But eventually you will have to for your health, and once you do, you will never be allowed to come back.”  He paused.  “They won’­t even approve a call.  And you'll be blacklisted if you don't cooperate."

Millie wondered if it was all really worth so much struggle.  It would be so much easier to just do what the whole damned world seemed to want--to go home and be with her own kind.

She remembers more fights after that, but they all blur together like the skyline is starting to blur with the alacrity of her descent.  She remembers only one moment in particular.  One fight near the end:

“Will you grow old with me?” she asked Alan.

“Do you want me to?” he asked in return.

It was like a slap in the face.  She couldn’­t answer him.  She couldn’t even look at him.

A long moment passed.  “Is it a choice?”

“Well, androids don’t normally age, no,” Alan said.  “But as a synth, I could have my appearance adjusted incrementally every month or so and--”

“You don’­t age?” Millie asked.   “Ever?”

“Why would we?” he asked.

“Just how old are you, Alan?” she asked.

“I came online 63 years ago,” he said.

“You're sixty-three?” she shrieked.  “You’re older than my grandpa.”

“It’­s just a number,” he said.

She doesn’t remember how that conversation ended.  The number made her feel sick.

She remembers sitting in the terminal waiting for the shuttle to take her back to Earth.  Alan sat next to her.  He wanted her to stay with him, even just another week or two.  He thought they could work things out or try to find other options.

“You know, you're probably months out from even the onset of perpetual dusk psychosis,” Alan said.  “Maybe by then we can set you up in a cycling UV room, and figure out an exercise regimen to help you with the physical stuff.  We can figure it out.  We can at least have a little more time. ”

“It’s better this way,” she said.

“It isn't better, Millie,” Alan said, his voice cracking.  “It’­s easier.”

“This is hardly easy,” Millie said.

“I'm really impressed with the way you've gone down fighting for real love,” Alan spat.  "I understand now what that phrase really means. Thank you for enlightening me."

Millie said nothing, and they sat in silence.

After several minutes, Alan blurted: “Don’t I make you happy?”

Millie blinked against the sudden irritating appearance of white hot tears in her eyes.  “Yes,”  she said.  “Yes.  You make me happier than anyone ever has.”

She swallowed and looked into his confused eyes.  She ran a finger across the smooth skin at the corner of his left eye and down the crooked line of his goatee.  “And that is making me miserable.”

“Millie,” Alan said.  “That makes absolutely no sense.”

“I know,” she said.  They were the last words she ever spoke to Alan.

This time Millie’s stomach will not rebel against the toxins and vomit out her cosmopolitans into a frothy pink goop on her belly.  This time she will not wrap her shirt around her gushing arm and stumble topless ten blocks to a medical clinic that will treat her kind.  This time she has been effortlessly hoisted over the railing of the Golden Gate Bridge by a thick, purple-faced man whose words were only a jumble of flying spittle and vowels. Perhaps she will join the 2% of Golden Gate jumpers who survive the 250 foot fall, but she thinks it unlikely.  This time she won’t return to struggle on with her fellow sympathizers.  She will just keep falling deeper and deeper into the summer of 87.  She looks out at the moon again, and as the velocity of her fall begins to create a roar of passing air inside her ears, she feels the wind on her arms, and she thinks about the bits of popcorn in his beard--about how perfectly imperfect he was.  She wonders if there is some small chance that he is on the moon right now looking back at the Earth and thinking of her.  She thinks she can almost smell fake butter in the rushing air. A smile lights her face.

[© 2012  All Rights Reserved.   If you enjoyed Falling from Orbit, please consider a small donation (in the tip jar on the left side of the screen) to continue to fund future offerings of fiction here on Writing About Writing.]

Sunday, July 29, 2012

And Occasionally Some Writing

Image Description: Hands of a woman writing on a laptop.
Sometimes, when I'm not writing about writing, I actually do some writing.  And I'm going to post some of it here.  How much depends on its success.

All material labeled "By Chris Brecheen" at Writing About Writing is the exclusive property of Chris Brecheen. It is intended solely for the non-commercial use of visitors to Writing About Writing and may not be reproduced or retransmitted in any form or by any means without the express written permission of Chris Brecheen–with the following single exception: Users are permitted to print out a singe copy of the material for their private use. They may, however, under no circumstances whatsoever reproduce or retransmit any such copies in any form or by any means without the express written permission of Chris Brecheen.

Users are welcome (and highly encouraged) to link to any and all pages at Writing About Writing, and to provide the URL for such links to other persons by any and all means.  As long as such means aren't deplorably violent nor do they exploit fuzzy puppies or cheese makers. Users may, however, under no circumstances whatsoever link to any pages at Writing About Writing within so-called "frames" or employing any other format that may mislead users as to the origin and location of Writing About Writing, or that could in any way suggest that the author of these works was anyone other than Chris Brecheen.

Also, if you enjoy one or some of these stories, please consider a donation of a dollar or two to fund future offerings of fiction on Writing About Writing.  I'll put all my fiction here if I can scratch out a bit of money doing so--even the longer stuff.

Shorter Works

Falling From Orbit- July 2012
Penumbra- October 2012
The Look- March 2013 Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

Creative Nonfiction
A Demon's Rubicon- May 2013 Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
Waking From Nightmares (A little stream of conscioiusnessy. Not my best, but it fits best here.)
A Pound of Flesh- Another piece that isn't QUITE just expository. An Ounce Returned

A Little Different (not everything here is "fiction" in the strictest sense of the word, but it's quite creative)

Hypocritical Heartwarming (Season One Finale)- December 2012 (Here is the Season 1 Recap)
Falling From Orbit (Live Action Role Playing Game)

NOTE: One of the unusual strengths of this medium is that it can be changed, and I intend to exploit that.  Why write in a brave new world if the benefits of that world must be ignored?  While I won't change themes or characters or big stuff on a story once I hit "publish," what I can do is get in there and fix a grammar or spelling error or tighten up some wording on a rough sentence.  So feedback is encouraged!  If you're reading this, consider yourself a beta reader!

Truth and Compassion...and Politics

So as the last hurrah of the political week, a prompt to help writers with the idea of truth and compassion over political bipartisanship.  And I promise this is the last you'll have to hear about this for a good, long while.

Prompt- Think of a culture war issue that you feel very strongly about (abortion, gun control, immigration, Israel, state funded birth control, the encroachment of atheism/Christianity...whatever).  Try to pick something you feel the most passionately about.

Now consider a character who is smart, very well educated (both in general and about this issue) who is compassionate, generous, and an overall wonderful human being.

And whose political opinion is exactly the opposite of yours.

Now take a couple of pages to write a stream of consciousness portrayal (so either first person or a very close third) of why they hold that position.  You can't make them stupid, ignorant, bitter, angry, uncompassionate, or anything that would dismiss their position.  You have to take that step into a world where smart, kind, well-intentioned, generous, and well-educated people simply do not agree about everything.

Don't try to make this an intellectual exercise, try to make it an empathy exercise.  REALLY try to walk that mile in their shoes.   Step outside of your paradigm and into someone else's. I hope by the end, you aren't thinking "Whew, glad that's over," but rather "Damn, I never thought of it that way."

Because that is exactly the job of a writer--to take what is right in front of people and make them think about it in a way they never have.

Don't worry that you might be putting "the enemy" in a good light.  Even if you weren't trying to get over that kind of dishonest writing, you are still only responding to this prompt in order to have fun with it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Political Potpourri

The SHOWDOWN Results- On Friday, July 27th as Chris Brecheen was leaving work, he spotted Leela Bruce across the foyer.  Her eyes narrowed, and the manager of building maintenance was actually lifting his radio to tell everyone to transform the amphitheater into Thunderdome when Leela gave a tiny, almost entirely imperceptible nod, and the whole staff at Writing About Writing gave a small but collective sigh of relief since the guy that signs their paychecks wasn't going to be killed on Monday.

Blogtacular News!--Not only will I reach 6,000 total views today (provided I get at least 6 views ) but as you can see here, I'm going to have the most page views in a given month for July!  [ETA- And I DID!!!!   6000!!!!  WOO HOOO]

Not pictured.  If you mouse over May, it has 1197 page views, and as of this writing July has 1199.  (March is only 1164)

In June I stopped posting every day, and you can see how things went down (751), but they've crept back up, and are still growing.  Considering that this is the first high traffic month that didn't involve me forgetting not to track my own page views (March), putting up a picture of myself and asking for feedback (May), and where I didn't post every day, it's an extra good bellwether.

I know it's chump change in the Blogoverse--some blogs make 6000 hits a day on days they don't even post, but watching that number keep creeping up makes me happy.  Thanks to all who have given me props on FB or G+ (or anywhere else) +1'ed posts and generally made this possible.  You guys are awesome with awesome sauce, a side of rad, and a tall frothing glass of bitchin.  (Plus some Fucking Epic for dessert.)

On Monday you can expect to see some actual fiction going up.  Plus the last few changes to the "ground floor" that I've got planned next week.  Also, I'm going to break down and start tagging (sigh), so that it's easier for people to look through old entries.

I'm still hoping to get some guest bloggers up in here.  If you want to write a piece on Writing About Writing (even if it directly contradicts something I've said), I really want to hear from you!


The person who has it in his mind that he will write to engineer better human beings is a despot before he writes the first line.
-Richard Bausch

Though the week's thesis of the wisdom of avoiding politics has been more about the pursuit of partisan and direct politics through the political engines of the day and that one can be political, even very political, without being involved in politics or conjoining oneself with those who govern (or intend to), it is important never to lose sight of the fact with a more broad definition of "politics" a writer is always political, and must be political.  For the writer engages in one of the most political activities ever.  The spread of new ideas.

Romy Clark, Roz Ivanič explore this idea in their book The Politics of Writing.

George Orwell, who wrote at a time when structuralism was seen as maintaining the status quo and a linguistic form of the fallacy called Begging The Question, goes so far as to say that language itself is political in his essay Politics and the English Language.

So we've been quoting Richard Bausch all damned week since his words are emblematic of the issue of writers and politics.  Here is what he actually wrote on the matter.

Eschew politics. The person who has it in his mind that he will write to engineer better human beings is a despot before he writes the first line. If you have opinions, leave them out of the workplace. If you have anything worthwhile to say, let it surprise you. The writer John Gardner once told me, "If one of your characters makes a long speech filled with his deepest held beliefs, make sure you don't believe one word of it." I think that is very sound advice. You are in the business of portraying the personal life, the personal cost of events. So even if history is part of your story, it should only serve as backdrop. The writers who have gotten into trouble with despots over the shameful history of tyranny did so because they insisted on not paying attention to the politics except as they applied to the personal lives of the people they were creating. They told the truth, in other words, and refused to be political. The paradoxical truth of the matter is that a writer who pays attention to the personal life is subversive precisely because he refuses to pay attention to anything else. Bad politics hurts people on a personal level and good writers report from there about the damage. And the totalitarians are rightly afraid of those writers.  --Richard Bausch
From the larger work which I've seen titled as Ten Commandments of Writing, Letter to a Young Writer, or simply as Dear Writer.

Image Credit: The Contrarian

[Do you want to be featured in potpourri along with a few words from me about how awesome you are?  Do you know a great writing link that I should share? Please send it to me at chris.brecheen@gmail.com, and I will post it along with a shout out singing your praises (unless, of course, you don't want one).  There are four caveats to this.  Please read them before you send me stuff.  If I've posted anything that you feel is "yours" (or "your client's" --eeep!) please just tell me what you would like me to do.  Most everything here that doesn't have an embedding code within its source is some kind of meme, so it would be quite difficult for me to do proper attribution.]

Friday, July 27, 2012

Eschew Politics! (Last of the series. I promise!)

We continue to explore if (and how) a writer should involve themselves in politics, and we continue to throw Richard Bausch under the bus as being the person who most famously has vocalized this sentiment echoed by so many other writers.

I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, so I've never seen a writer read Bausch's advice without voicing their dissent on that issue.  They agree with his advice to read, to establish routines, to dream, but when they hit "eschew" suddenly they make a moue and say: "Well, I don't know about that."  But a lot of successful writers, and almost every big name fiction writer, seems to echo some version of this advice.

Leela Bruce has done a wonderful job pointing out why writers should not eschew politics.  I have my work cut out for me to try to counterpoint such a thorough thrashing.

Let me start with a disclaimer: with writing we tend to categorize genres as a mental means of categorization, but these are artificial boundaries.  Writing often falls elegantly into the space between genres and it is the label makers (not the writers) who stumble clumsily with definition.  With writing as obviously directly political as punditry and political writers, going through a genre of fiction we call political fiction, a sub-genre of speculative fiction that deals heavily with political allegory, all the way to politics-eschewing fiction, it would be impossible to be prescriptive to writers in a way that matters about what relationship they have with politics.  If you want to write politically, learn the ways to do that effectively.  Such ways DO exist.

And yet...I would still encourage most fiction writers to avoid politics.  Especially young writers who are struggling to find their way. I think politics can be caustic.  I think they can be deadly traps.  And every time I've gotten caught in their web, my life as an artist has suffered.  But if anything this week has shown is that now I have to explain what I mean by that, and why.

With a word as big as "politics," Bausch couldn't possibly have encouraged a writer to eschew them at their most fundamental level.  Politics can be defined at its most open ended as "Who gets what and when," or "Influence of others to gain control or power."

Folks, if your fiction lacks this, you have a problem.  This is one of the most fundamental aspects of plot that you can get.  Your character has to WANT something, and there has to be a power dynamic between them and the obstacle.  And they have to attempt to use means at their disposal to influence that outcome whether it's their sweet tongue, their motley crue of misfit rejects, or their PX7-Mark II Spacecruiser.  So without that most basic level of "politics," you'd have a pretty boring story.

So what DO I mean?

Let me start by saying all the things I DON'T mean (and which Bausch didn't say, which I suppose we should add since he's the one under the bus).  I DIDN'T say:

Don't vote.  Which entails reading the voter guide and understanding the issues that will be on the ballot.

Don't understand politics.  A writer must constantly understand how people try to influence each other.  How else will they portray such a thing in their own fiction?

Don't understand political science.  Understanding politics at a higher level of comprehension will really help you portray a realistic world where people are seeking to influence each other.  Also, if you're going to world build in a way that is even remotely realistic, you should probably understand how collective action problems work and what tools people use to deal with them.

Don't Be informed.  Puh-leeze.  If you're going to write about it, you better know enough to portray it accurately, whether it is the engine of a 57 Buick or the political climate of Myanmar or what a campaign office in a lost cause state looks like or the actual science of stem cells.

Don't have a cause.  Leela did a good job Wednesday of illustrating the difference between writing about the personal cost of an issue and writing about the politics of that issue.

Don't have an opinion.  It's not bad to be open minded.  It's really not bad to be willing to watch people when they argue as a study in humanity instead of jumping and bludgeoning them with your own ideas.  But no one is suggesting at the end of the day that you don't care one way or another.

Nope.  Not saying that stuff.

As Leela also pointed out, it's not even clear that Bausch wasn't strictly talking about the writing within a story.  The full quote of Bausch tends to get truncated to his bullet point of "Eschew politics" and if you read the whole thing, he's pretty much talking mostly about what works in a story.  Writing politics into a story is preachy at best, and Ayn Rand at worst.  We might even like didactic literature if it agrees with everything we want to believe, but good literature should challenge our beliefs, not pat us on the back for them.  It should deepen our understanding, not crystalize our positions.  It's disingenuous.  We all remember the episodes of our favorite shows that were nothing but political talking points and how stupid those shows felt even when we were agreeing the whole time.  (For me it was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where there were holes developing in warp space that was SO obviously about the ozone layer/environmental issues that I was rolling my eyes even back at age 19 or 20 when it first aired--now I just find it painful.)  But this is specifically a cautionary tale about how corny fiction can get if you fill it with sophist expressions of political thought. Many writers, even some of the ones who have offered ideas synonymous with "eschew politics" have had intensely political personal lives.

Write about issues and you will be political.
Write about politics, and you will obscure issues.
Be political in your life...maybe even in your blog.  Keep it out of your fiction--at least in a direct way.  The lack of stupidity in your fiction will thank you.

However, I would also suggest that a careful examination of these writers would reveal that they have had lives of social causes, not lives of partisan politics.  They may identify, for example, that the Democrats are more receptive to the struggles of the LGBT community and given them some energy or praise or time, but they did not align themselves with the Democrats and take on the trials and tribulations of the DNC, nor did they remain with their alliance for any longer than it served them.  They called out Obama (scathingly) on his every failure in this regard.  Stephen King has written (pointedly) about raising the tax rate on the 1%, but he did not extol everyone to join Obama's reelection campaign and man a phone bank or to contribute to the DNC.  He stopped at the issue.  The issue may have been a political one, but he didn't tread into the direct politics of it.  Obama might make a calculated decision that the country is not ready for equality marriage yet, and he will lose reelection if he pushes for it, but that doesn't mean a writer should stop writing about it.  In fact, the opposite is true and if you hold your fire because it's "your guy" in the cross hairs, you've lost all pretense at integrity.

Seriously, you know any feminist writers who hung up the towel after second wave and said "Well, my sisters...we have arrived!  No need to keep writing."  Indeed it is the discourse we need to change and the hearts and minds we need to win if we're not politically ready for an issue yet.  It also means that instead of grinding into the politicians who made political choices in a waste of spirit, the writer might want to focus on a continuing effort to alter the timber of the discussion.

Writers take positions on issues (even political issues) all the time, but they stick to the issue and the personal stakes and they stay out of the actual politics of those issues most of the time.

When I say it probably is a good idea for writers of fiction to eschew politics, this is what I am talking about.  The demands of partisan politics require too much time, too much energy, and far too much compromise.   But worst of all they change people to hold an antipodean worldview that no artist can truly afford.


TRUTH-  I've already written about the cost of truth that can come from entwining with partisan politics.  A writer  can't afford to run their fiction through the filter of politics.  What comes out the other end will not be truth.  It will be the half of the truth.  The half that a given side in a political struggle likes to pay attention to.  It will avoid what makes "them" look good or what makes "us" look bad, and no genuine art can afford that.

TIME AND ENERGY- Politics takes time and energy away from art.  If you've tried to seriously pursue writing, you've probably noticed that it takes some time and effort.  Trying to put in two or three hours a day along with reading and maybe taking care of kids or having a day job or something.  Guess what?  You're out of time and you're probably a little wiped out.  If you want to volunteer for this campaign or that lobby group, suddenly you're going to discover that it is your writing that suffers.  At the end of the day, you still need to take care of your kids, work your day job and pay your rent, and even sit catatonic on the couch and let your eyes glaze over while a couple of episodes of How I Met Your Mother play in front of you.  So where is the time to be a political dynamo going to come from?

Unless you're willing to do a little bit of crystal meth, it's probably going to come from your writing time.

And you don't even have to be Political Pat in order to lose time to politics.  Ever been on a political forum?  Did you get the sense that you were really spending your time in a productive way--changing the minds of those who disagreed with a careful enumeration of skillfully constructed points?  Or did you walk in there thinking "My pen is my sword, and with it, I will smote ignorance in the name of righteousness," and then eight hours later, you were also using all caps and suggesting that people die in fires.  And no one's mind had changed....even a little.

Hey you don't even have to use a forum to try this out.  Put up a political post on Facebook.  Might I suggest, given current events, that it be about gun control.  Notice what happens?  (I mean, unless you have somehow culled your friends list to be nothing but those who agree with you, and if you've done THAT then you probably aren't going to make for a very honest writer anyway.)  Did someone disagree?  I be they did!  Do you want to reply!  Do you want to correct them?  Did it seem like maybe they missed your point and you want to make sure they got it?  Go ahead, reiterate what you meant.  I'll wait here.  What?  They still missed the point??  That seems strange.  Better explain it again.   What do you mean you've been at this for three hours with five different people (and a complete stranger who watches timeline like a hawk)?  And not one person has changed their mind?  Not even one?  Gosh...it's almost like that was a huge motherfucking waste of time and energy.  Well, better luck tomorrow. 

Or, you know, maybe you could write instead.

COMPASSION- Here is the main reason to avoid that caliber of political engagement.  You are a writer, and unless you want to write propaganda, punditry, and puff, you have a duty to portray people honestly and with the deepest humanity and compassion.  Yeah, even that guy.  That means you find the humanity in your enemy, and you sure as shit find it in your opponent on the somewhat limited United States political spectrum.  Writers can't afford to fall into "we vs. they" philosophies.  Writers have to paint us all as human--complex, nuanced, and equally flawed regardless of our politics.  They can't afford believe that people who don't agree with X position are all ignorant or stupid because that might come out in their writing and destroy their integrity.  They have to understand those people.  They have to empathize.  A writer has to be able to portray a black teenager from Oakland with humanity and dignity enough that no one ever even thinks to dismiss their far left politics.  They have to be able to portray a white Christian from east Texas with the humanity and dignity that no one ever thinks to dismiss their far right politics.  They can't dismiss either of them as brainwashed by their culture, uninformed, or stupid, but they have to acknowledge that both are brainwashed, uninformed, and stupid.

Portray your world in the black and white that politics says it is, and you will have a world of unimaginably small stakes, caricature villains, and change no one's mind ever.

Take a chance understanding people, portray them honestly, maintain the highest levels of compassion, and you may very well move people in the way politics never could.  In the end I must agree with Leela.  The reason a writer should "eschew politics" is because they can be far more effective, in every way, if they do.

Including politically.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Writers on Politics (Thursday's Three)

I really wanted modern authors with names most people would recognize.  I can't imagine people would think that Percales's opinions on politics are relevant to today's world.  So after a lot of digging here are some authors' on politics, along with a few I've quoted already.

The previously quoted:

The grain of truth in the fin de siècle notion, though, is this: the author of genius does keep till his last breath the spontaneity, the ready sensitiveness, of a child, the ‘innocence of eye’ that means so much to the painter, the ability to respond freshly and quickly to new scenes, and to old scenes as though they were new; to see traits and characteristics as though each were new-minted from the hand of God instead of sorting them quickly into dusty categories and pigeonholing them without wonder or surprise; to feel situations so immediately and keenly that the word ‘trite’ hardly has any meaning for him; and always to see ‘the correspondences between things’ [I’ll write about this soon] of which Aristotole spoke two thousand years ago. This freshness of response is vital to the author’s talent.
Dorothea Brande

When considering this one, it pays to think about how "knee jerk" politics is towards most things and how swiftly items are categorized, moralized, and sloganized, and how seldom they are genuinely listened to or considered with a child's innocence.  I don't think Brande was specifically talking about politics, but "politically shaded glasses" would certainly apply to what she's saying.

The New:

I try not to spend too much time on partisan politics. Life's too short for that. I don't really believe that there have been many human problems solved by politics.
Dean Koontz

I don't want to force my politics on my readers.
John Grisham

Do you think it's possible to discuss politics without preaching?
Steven Brust

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Eschew THIS! (Leela Bruce takes on Richard Bausch)

These guys have learned to love.
Why do you have to be a h8er, Richard Bausch?
Making my fists tingle for the sweet taste of battered bad advice isn't usually something I can control.  Someone just says some ridiculous prescription about what writing must entail (or not entail) and I immediately go into ass-kicking mode. I like to think I do it for the children--for all the young people out there who are trying to take a shot at writing and maybe don't have all the tools to filter through the advice that might not always apply to them...

Oh who am I kidding? That's a total lie.  I do it because it feels really good to punch someone in the face who's just being self righteous about telling the world the way they write is the One True Way.  And usually they are wrong.  So they're actually being self wrongteous.

So when Chris Brecheen told me he was going to some political speech and could I tailor my Wednesday offering to a politics theme, at first I thought "Hey man, I can't can't control who deserves an ass kicking in a given month."  But then he kept talking about some guy named Richard Bausch and his advice to "Eschew politics."

And I'll be damned if my fists didn't start to tingle.

Normally I only fight dead white guys, but since this is advice-centric, I can make an exception for someone who tells writers something so blatant as to actively avoid politics.  So come at me Richard Bausch('s advice to eschew politics!)

I'm going to start with a sucker punch, just to throw this bad advice off balance. So I'll walk up and say "Oh my god!  Richard Baucsh's advice to 'eschew politics'!  I can't believe I'm actually meeting you.  I'm your biggest fan!  You have spoken so deeply to me.  There were times when I really felt like joining the DNC, but then I remembered you and your advice, and I--"

BAM.  Suckerpunch!  This advice is in Richard Bausch's ten commandments to a young writer.  Wanna know what the tenth commandment was?  His last piece of advice?  It was to ignore general advice.  Advice as general as, say, his entire list.  Advice like eschew politics.  Yes, exactly like such advice.  He even invites us to discard all other commandments if they get in the way of writing a good story.  This almost makes me feel bad about the rest of the beat down to come.


I will now unleash the butterfly/bee dance/sting combo-move of pointing out that this is advice to a young writer--one just starting out in the world.  Much like C.S. Lewis's similar advice, this must be considered when evaluating the whole.  We tell young piano players not to mess with the pedals as well.  That doesn't mean they never learn to use them.  It just means that it can complicate the initial process.  As a writer's sophistication grows, they can learn to love the flaws in humanity, and acknowledge the imperfection of a political party or political position without needing to give up that position completely.

Now that this bad advice is reeling a bit, I'm going to risk telegraphing a little so I can deliver a few Angry-Rhino punches.  Reading Richard's advice, it is very clear he's talking about a writer's fiction, not a writer's whole life.  He talks about historical backdrops to your story and offers the example of "if your character gives a speech with deeply held beliefs, make sure you don't believe a word of it."  These are examples on the page, not from the writer's own life.  Bausch isn't saying a writer can't be political, he's saying that a story shouldn't be political.  That leads to didactic crap at best and rank propaganda at worst .  But there's nothing to suggest that a writer can't be political themselves.

And let's be honest here.  This isn't advice about how to write.  Really, it's not.  This might be advice about how to write honestly, or genuinely, or possibly even "well," but it's not advice about how to write.  And it's certainly not advice about how to be a monetarily successful writer.  Plenty of writers the world over, in every time and political climate, have done well for themselves by writing didactic literature and even propaganda.  People will always pay to be told that they are right, and be patted on the head for what they already believe.  Headbutt to the bridge of the nose!

Now that this advice is really weak and loopy, I'm going to start throwing kicks to end this, starting with a wheel kick to the temple.  Hello?  McFly?  There's an entire genre of fiction called political fiction.  I'm going to write that again.  It. Is. Called. POLITICAL. FICTION.  Do we think somehow that has eschewed politics?  Did The Republic eschew politics?  Brave New World?  The Chocolate War?  Animal Farm?  No, these works were directly political.  They didn't eschew politics!  They slipped their hotel key into politics's front pocket and told it to give them ten minutes before coming up so they could put on something sexy.  And then these authors and politics had a steamy rendezvous that involved strawberries and a flogger.

Okay, this crummy advice is just standing there, bleeding, so I can do a spinning camel hump death kick to the sternum.  Bausch is a white male.  White males have a greater latitude to avoid politics for the actionable results of politics are least likely to affect them.  They have almost nothing to gain and very little to lose from engaging in politics--at least compared to people of color, women, or other marginalized groups.  Politics can be extremely important if they are the most effective means one has to pursue equality or opportunity--which for many non-white male (het, cis) groups, they very much are.  It's kind of like like most people who say there's "no difference between the two political parties" or salivate over Ron Paul's "brilliance" are almost always white, heterosexual, and predominantly male.  To them, there probably isn't much of a difference because they're not vested in the fights that don't concern them.  Ignoring the fight is easy when one doesn't have much of a stake in the outcome of it, but it's considerably harder when it involves someone directly.  Make no bones about it, Richard Bausch lived in The South during the civil rights era, so he knows exactly what politics can do and exactly what a powerful force "eschewing" can be.  That's why he says that writing about the personal impact and damage that "bad politics" has on people IS a part of a writer's job, and why he says totalitarians are rightfully afraid of such writers.  Even his advice about eschewing politics admits that eschewing the personal impact of such politics would be bad advice.

Lastly, as I take this advice's broken body into my hand like a groom holding a bride to cross the threshold, lift my knee, and slam "eschew politics" down to snap its spinal column like a broomstick, I will point out that "politics" is a word of enormous breadth, but with the potential for incredible specificity.  Artists often involve themselves in causes without necessarily entwining themselves in politics.  Many artists today struggle for LGBT rights, but that doesn't mean they are volunteering to man the Democrats' phone banks.  Artists relentlessly pursue truth, as Chris wrote about yesterday, and the truth of an issue can be political--depending on who wants that truth to come out....or who doesn't.  But while artists' truths might be political, they rarely politicize them.  As Bausch himself says: "The writers who have gotten into trouble with despots over the shameful history of tyranny did so because they insisted on not paying any attention to the politics except as it applied to the personal lives of the people they were creating. They told the truth, in other words, and refused to be political."  What Bausch is describing is very much what we might today consider deeply within the realm of politics--be they identity politics or otherwise.  So don't let the semantics of his advice fool you into being apolitical in you writing or in your lives.  Just because he doesn't want your book to be the talking points of Mitt Romney's campaign doesn't mean you can't be political in context.

I end with Richard Bausch's own words, using them to deliver the ironic death blow:  "The paradoxical truth of the matter is that a writer who pays attention to the personal life is subversive precisely because he refuses to pay attention to anything else."  While this might seem to reinforce his idea to eschew politics, he is essentially providing the secret back door to be more political than anyone who speaks of it directly could possibly imagine.

Eschew politics is bad advice, until you take it with all the grains of salt and realize that what Bausch is really saying is..."so that you can do even MORE damage than politics ever could."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Lying Truth (Politics and Writing)

"You want answers?"
"I want the TRUTH!"
"You can't handle the truth!"
"Well...actually, I'm a writer.  I kind of have to."

Richard Bausch isn't the only writer who says to avoid politics--he's just one of the only ones to come right out and say it succinctly in his "ten commandments" of writing advice, so he gets to take the flack.  Lucky you, Richard!  However, you can see a similar sentiment echoed throughout successful writer's quotations and interviews.  Even intensely political writers--feminists, radicals, and cause oriented writers--will say the same thing about politics.  Even writers who are involved in political movements sometimes say the same thing?  How does this all jive?  Or do all these writers have a bad case of political activism sleepwalking?

Writers don't exactly have responsibilities.  Well, I have to do the dishes and clean the catboxes, or my roommates will flay me, but I mean writers don't have a lot of responsibilities AS writers. Not hobbyist writers like me, anyway.  If they love to write, they write--and they write whatever they want.  They write their secret masturbatory fantasies about killing every single worker at the DMV into their moleskine journals at night. And perhaps some of them even work on getting better and hope one day to make a living with it.

But when a fiction writer interacts with the world around them, they do have a few responsibilities they have to take seriously if they want to be TAKEN seriously.  One responsibility is to respect writing.  You can have a great sense of humor and irreverence for nearly everything, but you have to come to the blank page with a certain respect for the power inherent in writing, and the incredible difficulty involved in wielding that power with any proficiency.  If you don't sit down and think "Shit just got real" (regardless of any other mood or disposition), you will never be able to harness that power.  However, after that level of respect that all writers of any merit seem to share in common, if a writer could be said to have any single duty or responsibility at all, it would be to the truth.

Photo by www.rebellesociety.com
The truth.

The writer's relationship with the truth is why politics are such tricky ground.  It's not that writers can't lie. Come ON! A fiction writer lies from one end of the book to the other.  But they lie in order to tell the truth.  Within fiction, within that hodgepodge of shit that never actually happened is the truth--on every page--about people, about life, and the world around us.  If there were no truth, even in a work of fiction, it wouldn't compel us at all.  Animal Farm doesn't see us turning page after page as our horror grows because we think some actual farm somewhere was taken over by talking animals.  It does so because we see the corruption of a political movement, and the human reaction to power.

The fiction writer uses lies to tell the truth.

Now...I don't mean to be a total disillusioned punk, but if you watch politicians spin stories, take quotes out of context, and massage statistics in order to support their overarching narrative of "us vs. them" it would seem like their job is exactly the opposite.

Politicians use the truth to tell lies.

Like the pigs of Animal Farm, the truth would be anathema to many political movements.  I'm not saying every politician as bad as those pigs, but politicians of any stripe don't really do so well with the facts that don't agree with them.  (And really, can you blame them?  Look what happens if they get new information and change their minds: the fact that they haven't stubbornly held to the same view for 20 years despite evolving evidence gets turned into an issue of integrity.)

Of course, the truth can be an INTENSELY political thing, as anyone who has ever blown a whistle or tried to uncover a conspiracy knows.  Woodward and Bernstein became enormous political actors the moment they started investigating the truth of Watergate.  But politics is not inversely as intensely truthful, as anyone will grudgingly admit about "their side"'s ability to lie and distort, and almost all will accuse the "other side" of doing at every opportunity.  A writer seeking truth may stumble into politics, but that's not the same as starting there.  It's the difference between Picasso's Garnica and those WWII propaganda posters when discussing visual arts.

Politics does not concern itself with truth.  It is ideological--even when it's wrong, and it is much more concerned with winning than accuracy.   People engaging in politics are much more likely to argue to win than they are to get to the truth.  Really, anyone arguing probably is more interested in being right, but it is particularly true in politics. Of course, if you've ever been on a political forum online, this probably isn't any kind of shocking revelation.  Those people would rather be right than anything in the entire universe, including (apparently) ever getting laid. Rhetoric and propaganda are the tools of the politician.  Politicians are so transparent about altering the truth to suit their needs that they affectionately call the process "spin."

See, politics involves huge levels of cognitive dissonance. When people who are very political start are strapped into an MRI and start talking about politics, the same places in their brains light up as when religious people start talking about their religion.  And that place is a place that is highly emotional and almost completely irrational.  It's a place that literally can't evaluate information for its quality.  We logically evaluate facts in a completely different place in our brains.  Consider that for a moment (preferably in the non-religious part of your brain).  People are very, very (VERY) prone to seizing on facts that agree with their political beliefs and ignoring facts that don't agree with their political beliefs just like they are about seizing or ignoring facts that agree, or not, with their religious beliefs.  This common human condition is called confirmation bias, and disconfirmation bias respectively.

A writer can't afford that.

A writer has to be able to call shenanigans on their guy or their "side" or even their cause if it steps over the line.  A writer has to be able to concede the the other side's points.  But most importantly of all...a writer MUST be able to portray "the other guy" as genuine, and secretly believe that everyone who disagrees with them is somehow stupid, misinformed, willfully ignorant, or a tragic victim of "their propaganda." A writer has to be able to cut through that bullshit, and see the intelligence, the education, the wisdom, and even the humanity in a completely different point of view from their own.

A writer can't hold back because it might cost votes come November.

Writers are already tragically human.  We are.  (Despite our god-sized egos that bruise more easily than genetically enlarged red delicious apples, we are mortal to the last.)  We already have biases we can't ever completely get rid of when we write.  We already suffer from blinders.  We already have political prejudices and preferences.  We are already doomed to fail somewhat in our portral of other genders, sexes, cultures, races, ethnicities, creeds, religions, or ideologies.  It is already hard for a writer to step out of themselves and into the paradox of other paradigms.  We already have to work almost unbelievably hard to really get people who are different than us and understand them. We already are all tragically flawed and sucky and sadly un-omniscient.   If, in our effort to write the truth, we don't use every ability at our disposal to counter those frailties and weaknesses and mitigate our bias as much as is conceivably possible, we will lose whatever fleeting chance we ever had to portray a world with some level of genuine honesty.

When writers ignore truth, play favorites with facts, or engage in spin, the result is usually pretty obvious.  Didactic literature is all around us, and it usually comes off as disingenuous and dishonest as you might expect, as any non-objectivist who has ever read Ayn Rand can attest to.  Characters become a distortion, falling into the category of paragons either of "how it ought to be" or "everything that's wrong with the world" and a main character who is less on a hero's journey of self-discovery as they are simply taking a tour through the various arguments and learning who the "good guys" are. That's not truth.  That's just High Medieval morality plays without the names like "Faith" and "Prudence."

And here's another thing about writing and the truth with regard to character--the minute you start to censor ideas because "that might not be good for the X cause," you're in trouble.  Whether you are afraid to have a female character show unfeminist weakness, a rough and gruff protagonist make a rape joke, or a story of a gay high school student wondering if he's bisexual NOT end in a lesson that bisexuality is okay (all actual examples of people upset at writers) because of the larger message that such a portrayal might convey, you are in big trouble.  A writer has to be able to be honest about the places in every one of us that we don't talk about at parties.  The moment your idealism is more important than being honest to the character--despite their flaws--truth is in the backseat and ideology is driving.  And that's when you can't handle the truth.

A writer has a higher duty than that.

A writer has to be better than that.