Artists Are Nature’s Pinhole Cameras

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Artists are the pinhole cameras of society.  We create shadow plays of the events happening in our culture.  Sometimes the shadows are what you expect; sometimes every thing changes and moves, or even disappears.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that ART (including fiction) is the safe place to watch the big, cosmic things happen.  You don’t need special equipment, or mechanical tricks of light and shadow.  This service we provide is a part of out nature if our voices are free.  We show you intangible things like eclipses and justice.  The feel of sunlight and hope.  Of darkness and despair.  We show you as much as we can, to the best of our ability, but also within our limits.  It’s up to you, and me, what we do with it.  We create the world we live in.

I keep forgetting to mention it, but I really do like hearing your points of view (and stories) on my various topics of writerly life.  Sometimes I’m slow on a response, or completely miss a comment, but I AM trying to make myself available as a sounding board.  It makes the whole thing seem less like self-imposed solitude.  NOBODY understands the creative weirdness of the artist/writer life like another artist/writer.  So feel free to comment, here or on Facebook.  (Twitter seems harder to follow threads, but also do-able.)

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Triggers and Knee-jerk Reactions

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Have you ever caught yourself ranting about a topic that you didn’t think you felt strongly about?  I have.  (Not about last week’s post; I’ve been stewing in that topic for a while. Don’t silence the writers!)

Did you stop yourself mid-rant, or blunder ahead, full of piss and vinegar?  Did you observe yourself?  Take notes, mentally or physically?  Observe others and their reactions?  Did it spark story ideas?  (I am SO putting this jerk in my next book!)

Since this blog is mostly about my painful and exhilarating journey through writing and self-publishing, I’m assuming most of you are writers of some type.  It’s fairly common for writers to observe the world around them.  Some of us even use ourselves as guinea pigs, just for the chance to observe life from the inside.  I’m not sure if that’s a sane choice, but writers are not known for their sanity.  Our working conditions make us the mad hatters of the modern world.

A lot of people use food to self soothe after a trauma. (Show me on the taco where your feelings were hurt.)  Some people use mind altering substances, both the legal and illegal types.  (I don’t have a joke for that; the results are too depressing.)  People also use therapy, in the form of a friend’s shoulder or even a professional shoulder.  (Would ‘Professional Shoulder’ look good on a business card?)

Writers use those techniques, too, but I find the most soothing thing is to write about trauma.  We go where the discomfort is and prod it, because that’s where the best stories hide.  Written inside out and upside down, taken apart, put back together, then stuffed into a ill fitting costume.  Then I let it go.  Frankenstein’s monster lurches down to the village, once again, making everyone uncomfortable.  (He sits at your table, even when there are plenty of empty tables in the coffeehouse. Or something.)

I believe that is a writer’s job, to help us see other points of view.  Entertain us, yes!  But also teach us something about the world.  Something we haven’t considered before.  Open our minds. Give us something to believe in, or show us something we feverently hope will never come to pass. Story telling shouldn’t be safe. Help us find our boundaries, our line in the sand.  True north on our moral compass.  Help us to find a place to stand firm, where we can say, “No. You move.”  (Can you guess my favorite superhero?)

I’ve been adding people to my Facebook page–writers mostly–and not often those I agree with. At this point in an election year, I would normally be nose down in books, avoiding commercials and social media like it’s… well, anything related to politics and socializing.  Instead, I’m sponging it up, spongingly spongelike, yellow and absorbent, bits of the scrubby pad wearing off, and starting to smell a bit.  It’s been educational.  In some posts the tiniest disagreement on syntax can start a flame war, accruing hundreds of hateful comments, while the actual topic gets ignored.  Other posts are a think-tank, with ideas and disagreements being examined rationally and with great thought. Most posts–of course–fall somewhere in between.

Is there a point to this blog?  Perhaps it’s just a continuation of last week’s rant.  Perhaps I’m filling the space, avoiding that future post about helpful grammar books. Perhaps I should take a chance and post one of those uncomfortable Franken-fiction stories.  I’m not sure.  I think I’m just squeezing out a bit of the excess moisture.

Happy writing, and don’t be silenced!

Fear of… Secrets.

I’m terrified of the world.  It feels like a train wreak happening before my eyes.  We are shown so much information on things that don’t matter, while turning a blind eye to some really shitty things.  Sexism.  Racism.  Classism.  Human rights violations. Slavery.  It’s all still happening, sometimes on our very own street, our very own house.  Have we really made any progress at all?

I though my last post was about sexism.  It wasn’t.

It was about books, and hoping books would make everything all better.  They won’t.

I was attempting to turn a mirror on sexism in books, and in my own life.  I failed.

I whistled a happy tune while tap dancing my way around the issue.  I apologize.

The truth is that I’m terrified.  I’m terrified there are so many people who still don’t understand that a legal abortion is better than the destruction caused by unsafe abortions.  I’m terrified that people are unconcerned with a significant wage gap dependent on gender.  I’m terrified people still hear of a rape and automatically think “What did she do to deserve it?”  I wasn’t terrified that the UN reported how badly we were doing at women’s equality in this country, but I was profoundly sad.  I’m also sad at how hard it still is to find female action figures, but then I’m a geek.

I’m furious about the fact that there are books and seminars on how to get away with rape, and how to control and subjugate your wife or partner.  I’m pretty pissed about the sexist grandstanding currently going on in the political arena, and how many people seem on board with it, including females. I guess it’s some kind of backlash against feminism and women’s equality.  Sometimes the movement goes too far in the wrong direction.  Sometimes you have to scream and pitch a fit to even be heard, but then you do damage to your own ideals.

I’m angry that there are four males in the world that have sexually abused me, and that it is unreported abuse.  I’m not even talking about the times I have been treated badly for being female, or cat-called, or just general sexual harassment.  Just about every woman deals with that everyday, which is sad in it’s own way.  I’m talking about four males who have had their hands or bodies on inappropriate places on my skin.  Against my will.

One incident includes rape.  I’ve been raped. It is horrible and strange to admit it.  Now all those judgments people put on victims of rape will be turned to me, but I’m tired of the secrecy.  It has not made me any safer or happier. Do you picture me differently, now?

Despite being decades ago, It haunts me to this day.  Being stronger than the incident is exhausting.  Some days it’s easy, and I forget how hard the hard days are.  Other days it’s nearly impossible to get out of bed.  Some days I tune out the world and write.

I truly don’t want sympathy.  It is actually a small thing in a life of ups and downs.  What I want is anybody reading this to just spend some time examining their own behavior.  I have, and I continually find places my views are horribly sexist, against both genders.  It is unbelievably deep in our culture and our brains.

Brace yourself, here’s the hard questions… In what ways are you promoting sexism?  Your behavior?  Your jokes?  Your silence?  Your secrets?

Why haven’t we done better with this as a society?  Why are we smug about the small progresses we have made, and ignored how bad it is in some cultures?  Why are we sliding farther from true equality?

Now, take a deep breath.  I’m not saying you are bad. I think you are good.  I think most people are good.  I think we are all good enough to ask ourselves the hard questions, and to examine ourselves, and our society.  We are good. We are humans. We can be better.

Would you like to know the number one thing that terrifies me?  I have a teenage daughter.  She’s next, on the front line.  She’s next…

Sexism Reflected in the Writer’s Mirror

I read an article/blog two weeks ago about Sexism in Fantasy stories that has really bothered me. I left it pinned to the top of my Facebook feed, so I could re-read it a couple of times, while trying to figure out what was bothering me. You can read it there, or I’ll try to post a link…

http://mythcreants.com/blog/five-signs-your-story-is-sexist/?platform=hootsuite    Yes?  No?  Whatever, just go check it out on my Facebook page, I’ll sort it out later.

What bothers me is not just this individual article/blog, but the way so many people are pointing fingers at books, blaming them for perpetuating the ills of modern society.  Even the students of higher learning–the place you go to expand and challenge yourself–have started protesting the books assigned for the course by the teacher. It made them uncomfortable.

The above article/blog continued the finger pointing, and because it hit on one of my favorite genres it caught my attention.  I have read the books it was accusing of sexism, and I had opinions. Opinions somewhat similar to the blogger in some ways, but widely dissimilar in others.  If you really tried to follow this blogger’s suggestions, you would have to not include females in your story at all, for fear of making them too trope-y.  But that would be sexist, so maybe you could make all of your characters females.  But, wait, isn’t that sexist, too?

I guess I don’t like being told to play it safe.  It made me uncomfortable.

Also, allowances weren’t made for the age of some of the books, and it’s unfair to expect writers of past generations to have the same sensitivities as a modern writer.  We are going through a very painful stage of growth as a society, trying to understand the deep hooks of misogyny, and how to pull them out without doing more damage than they are causing.

I admit it, I have hot buttons, too.  (Skinny-shaming is a big one for me.)  A trip through ‘multi-media land’ makes me unhappy on a daily basis, with advertising, memes and all forms of entertainment subtly–and not so subtly–trying to maintain the status quo.  I think the point of no return-to-the-kitchen has been passed, and we must all work together to redefine ourselves as humans, not a specific gender of human.

Meanwhile, let’s explore what makes us uncomfortable.  Discomfort is where you find your internal boundaries.  What direction does your moral compass point?  Is it a fair direction, for EVERYBODY?  Do your boundaries allow humans to be free, or force them to conform to your personal view of the world?  Has a book or other story made you feel uncomfortable?  How did that make you feel about the writer?  Were you angry someone wrote such trash?

Banning books has always been a questionable behavior for me.  You are giving free publicity to something you seem to hate, somehow unaware that you’re working against your actual wants; for people to not read THAT book.

You know… THAT book.  The one with sex, or magic, or rape, or swords, or homosexuality, or dragons, or bondage, or aliens, or death, or drugs, or war, or slavery, or racism, or sexism, or classism, or icky-ism, or something-ism, or we-don’t-talk-about-that-ism.

Often, the words beginning the protest are, “I haven’t read the book, but…”  Please, stop. With those words, you have lost all credibility, and I really don’t care what your uninformed opinion is. Writing and reading are subtle arts, and reading a line or two does not convey the place of those lines IN a story.  If this concept is too advanced for you, maybe you shouldn’t be the one trying to decide what other people can read.

The writer’s mirror reflects our society.  That is its job.  To show you the past, the now, and the future.  What we were, who we are, and what we could be. Some writers show the positive side of society, some the negative, but most seem to show a mix of both. Setting, character, plot, and technique all are tools of the writer trying to tell a story.  I believe every story is telling us something important, and needs to be told.  We need to listen.  We need to be made uncomfortable.  I hope I will make my readers uncomfortable.

For now, I will polish the mirror.