Teachable Moments

I have a professor who recently gave a beautiful lecture on writing through challenging times. No matter what side of the pendulum you swing, these are challenging times to be sure. The news has become a barrage of info-dumping and inflammaStory-telling. Social media is the equivalent of dumpster-diving for gems. And everyone has a fucking opinion. Even if it’s the same opinion as yours, they still feel the need to cram their “facts” down your throat.

Artists, and I will specifically focus on what I know: writers, bloggers, authors are expected to write about the world as it’s happening. We feel compelled to or that it is our responsibility to color our stories with the climate of the day. Sometimes all I want to do is write the thing opposite of what is happening in the world. I want to make people laugh and feel joy. I want to make them feel like I understand them. I want to relate to my readers as humans, not as the person on the other side of an issue than me. At the end of the day, we are all human, I think, mostly.

Writers create stories, settings, and characters from our lives, from our imaginations, from our minds: the information centers that have been receiving all the info-dumps from the news, social media, and other outlets. Whether it’s personal experience or complete fiction, fantasy even, we cannot eliminate what we feel and know when we’re using all our sensory tools to create. In essence, in some form or another, our work is essentially colored by the current state of the world. We cannot change what we’ve seen, read, and heard, but we can craft it into our settings, our character’s opinions, into our narrators.

What I’m trying to say is, our work is always going to be a reflection of what we know. To create an alternate Universe with a governing or non-governing body you need to know what a Universe is and what a governing body is before you can make one up. If you told me you knew nothing of such things, but then wrote a book without any formal or informal education, from a room you’d been held captive in for a century or more, I would argue still, that you wrote from what you knew in your current situation. Your governing body being your captor.

It’s not revolutionary, but it blows my mind. I love books. I love authors that give their characters strong opinions and don’t filter the truth of the character. Sometimes I feel like my characters are so much stronger than I am. They’re able to say what they think and live their truth in ways I cannot.

I spoke my mind not too long ago on something I found irritating. My opinion was not to any one person specifically. It wasn’t political. I expressed my position. In doing so, I was given a slap on the wrist and immediately banished from this person’s “world.” I then shut my mouth and went peaceably into the Internets and pretended it didn’t happen.

In my book the Habitation Game (coming soon), the character Emily is a lot like this. She hides when there’s conflict. What she believes is an innocuous rebuttal her roommate, Adeline, interprets it as offensive. No matter how Emily explains herself, Adeline does not see it. She repeatedly admonishes Emily. Often, quietly and from behind the safety of a computer.

Isn’t this quintessentially today’s form of communication? Be it the president tweeting his feelings, or co-workers messaging each other versus walking two feet to the other person’s desk or texting to ask someone out, or Facebooking instead of making a plan to see someone in person? I could go on and on.

While the recent incident in my life did not influence the novel, as the book was written long before, I couldn’t believe that it happened almost identical to the way it does for one of my characters. Messaging through social media has become an institutionalized form of bullying in our world now. My book is dark and comedic, it wasn’t written to mimic or have a role in making a statement on our culture, but it does. Because it’s based on what I know, see, feel, and think.

So, it appears I may have rambled a bit here, but to all my friends, you are influencers in the world. In your art, in your work, in your daily postings. With each thread of communication, your actions are a contribution to art. We writers are writing and illustrating what we see and hear. Our experiences and you contribute to those, are what trigger ideas and storylines. So, THANK YOU.

And writers, even when you feel you should be but aren’t writing about the affairs of the world today, I say, you have, and you are whether you know it or not. So, kudos.

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