The Color Question

I think about race.  I think about race in terms of what I write; not my in-my-own-naval blog posts on philosophy, interpersonal ethics, and philosophy, but when I’m writing fiction.

But I haven’t thought about it enough.  Because when I picture people in my head, I tend to picture people that look like me. Which is dumb, because I look around and the world I live in doesn’t look like me at all.  It looks like an amazing blend of colors and styles and backgrounds and interests.  My job, as a writer of fiction, is to build a world that is believable.  For writing to be believable, it has to have sufficient connection to reality to be grounded.  My reality isn’t all one color.

So I had a brief exchange on twitter with another author who is using the multi-racial composition of her book as a marketplace discriminator.  Honestly, it made me sad.  Why isn’t that the baseline?   How do we still live in a world where you can say with authentic feeling that your book is unique because you have a multi-racial protagonist?

That being said, and I’m ashamed to admit this, when I was in the train with Willow and Ian, looking around at who else was there, Willow stood out as a bi-racial woman.  I wasn’t thinking racial implications, I was thinking about her as a woman who is torn between two worlds.  Someone who lost her mom and has been told ever since that who she is has to be boxed in and confined to be acceptable.  Because that is the world we live in.  Judgments are made long before  you open your mouth.

I can’t go back now.  Willow is who she is, and I’d like to think she’s complete.  A product of her parents, of course, but who they were, not what they looked like.    And some of the other characters are set.  I can’t un-write Tane’s blue eyes.  Or Ianthe’s blond stick-straight hair.  But book two broadens the world of The Camellia Resistance.  There are more opportunities for me to pay attention to what can only be described as laziness in imagination when it comes to characters.  Writing character descriptions is far more interesting if you’re describing traits instead of features.  Somehow, getting into what people are wearing and their finely-chiseled noses ends up sounding like historical romance.  But it does matter, and it matters because too often, our cultural default is white.  So I’m going to pay more attention in the writing, because maybe a white default is normal for the movies, but it isn’t normal for the reality I’m living in.  Nor do I want it to be.

Don’t even publish your book: Tolkien’s option

Originally posted on Call of the Siren:

With my recent conversation with Jim Rossi about self-publishing in mind, I turn again to J.R.R. Tolkien, whom I’ve been reading lately because of the publication of his Beowulf translation in May.

tolkien-associated-pressHe published The Hobbit and LOTR, and more besides these, but his translation of Beowulf never saw the light of publication in his lifetime.

Though complete, and though he generated a vast set of notes to go with it, it went into a file cabinet or a desk drawer.

It’s an extraordinary translation. We’re so lucky to have it.

So why the heck didn’t he publish it?

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Why First, Then How

The Prophets of Science Fiction caught my eye last night.  It’s on Netflix, I was puttering, I write borderline SciFi…  it seemed like a good idea at the time. Except it wasn’t.  Seriously, could it have been more depressing?   Philip K. Dick’s androids and memory planting and general exploration of what it means to be human, what constitutes reality, and the slippery nature of both humanity and reality is one thing.  The fact that people are actively trying to make the technology of his imagination happen is a totally different thing.  This thing where you can program a robot with life-like facial features to respond like a person, like a deceased person, like your deceased spouse…

There is way too much asking of “how” and not nearly enough asking of “why.”  All this stuff we’re attempting to stave off: death and boredom and loneliness… I know it’s easy to be theoretical when someone else is having the miserable side of the human experience, but seriously.  If there wasn’t the darkness, we wouldn’t have stars.  There’s no equivalent to the second law of thermodynamics that I know of which regulates the mix of good and bad in a life.  Yet, we’re supposed to die.  We’re supposed to experience boredom and loneliness and loss and pain.  We’re supposed to break down and be participants in the cyclical nature of death and rebirth.  Everything from redwoods to galaxies are born small, expand to their capacity, and collapse back into nothingness to start the process over again as the fuel for a new birth, expansion, and death.

Everything we do to try and take ourselves away from the dark side of the experience of reality just makes it worse.  The ecological havoc, the social ambivalence, the death of empathy.

Here’s what I think.  Ask why before you work out the how.  Do no harm.  Listen to Rilke when he says let it all happen to you, the good and the bad.  Live the life you have.  Live all of it.  Do what you can.  And love.

Love hard.

Compass Over Maps, Agile, Everything Wrong with Everything

It isn’t like I have the “right” approach.  I’m just pretty sure that most of the time, the traditional application of command and control doesn’t work.  In fact, I can’t help thinking that the notion of a “right” answer is all wrong.  The variables are too many, the unknowns growing exponentially, the way we each fit into the world so highly precise, trying to define a single path from here to there is deeply unlikely.  The traditional framework for problem solving just seems so egocentric.  Like there’s one problem and one solution and if you just sit and think about it long enough, you can figure out the “right” answer and get there.

I’ve never seen it work.  Not personally, not professionally, not in organizations.

We’ve gotten used to the the thinking that organization and process and procedure solve everything.  That if you want efficiency, if you want success, you’ve got to make it bigger, impose standardization, make it all repeatable.  It just seems like we get so stuck in thinking that there’s one way to approach the issue, this one way we’ve been using all this time, that alternates rarely get explored.

Meanwhile, it is messy.  We’re concocting organizational schemes and building boxes for everything to fit neatly in and reality looks at those boxes and hierarchies and laughs.  Then it goes and does whatever the hell it wants to.  It’s entropy, and entropy always wins.   At least when it comes to physics.  Clearly, I don’t always win.

Would it be such a disaster to admit that we don’t know?  To stop trying to turn everything into a factory?  To bow to the inevitable and pick a direction on the compass and head there instead of trying to plot out on a map every step?  How much are we missing when we’re searching for “right,” trying to make reality conform to our myopic supposed to’s, instead of interacting with what is?

Hell.  I for sure don’t know, but I don’t think that puts me at a disadvantage.  Since I don’t know, I can at least figure it out.

Real Butter

Yesterday, I had reason to step foot in a health food co-op in pursuit of organic, free-range chicken.  Part of me loves the grocery stores that don’t sell coco puffs.  All those varieties of honey.  Tea that is going to save my life.   Incense.  Coconut milk.  Tofu hotdogs.  Real butter.

Okay, sarcasm aside, I’m super excited about real butter.

So I’m up and down the aisles, feeling virtuous about blue tortilla chips, and I make it to the vitamin aisle.  There is a supplement for everything.  And I’m turning in circles in this aisle, the ecologically sustainable lighting bouncing off of gleaming bottles, and beginning to feel fear encroaching.  Eventually, I figure out that I’m having the same problem with the store that I have with religion.  The message is that if you do the “right” thing, you can control your outcomes.

In religion, it is conformity to the scriptures that the culture chooses to emphasize.  Hate gay people, ignore the part that says you can’t eat meat and milk together.  No more cheeseburgers for you, my friend.  In political ideologies, if you just defend this aspect of our definition of freedom, then you will be on the right side of history and if we can implement the ideology across the board, then everything is going to be okay.

It’s all this fight against uncertainty.

And you can do the same basic thing in the aisles of your local health-food store.  Bee pollen.  Antioxidants.  Ayurvedic herbs.  If you just cut out enough stuff – partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, aluminum: and add in the right things – organic everything, a mysterious mix of herbs and vitamins, whatever.  Then you can control things like cancer, aging, wrinkles, Alzheimers.

I can see it.  Why wouldn’t you want to create the best possible conditions for yourself and your health as you move through life?  If you can just not eat off of aluminum and reduce your chances of getting Alzheimers, that makes sense to me.

But somehow, this ongoing fight against chaos and entropy does something horrible to my sense of balance.  Ideology, religion, health-obsession, they share this common assumption: if I do xxxx, then everything is going to be okay.  I want everything to be okay too, I really do.  But the luxury of believing that I have control over that is no longer available to me.  In that dichotomy between wanting to be correct enough to prevent disaster and the recognition that such things simply are beyond any of our control, I get nervous.  Really nervous.

Three chocolate bars and some eco-friendly laundry detergent later, I ran.  Can’t we just shrug our shoulders and admit that we don’t know and we aren’t in control, and you just do the best you can with where you are?

Oh, because pragmatism doesn’t sell stuff.  Only fear sells reliably.

A Contest and an Offer

The Contest

Book two – The Camellia Reckoning – is getting to the home stretch of the drafting phase.  I’m fleshing out the rest of the Ministries in the New Republic, and I need some names.   The prize on offer is the naming of one of the following:

Chief of Staff to the Minister of Enterprise:

Minister of Infrastructure:

Chief of Staff to the Minister of Infrastructure:

Minister of Administration:

Chief of Staff to the Minister of Administration:

Being the author and just a little willful about the names, I’m going to pick winners by the best suggestions.  It will be completely subjective, but in my defense, the names do have to fit with everything else.  I’m looking for a mix of male and female names, and for these characters, I’m leaning towards classic names that aren’t overdone.  Lance, for example, was on my list of potential male names.

The rules are as follows:

1) you must be a follower, either here on the blog or on Twitter.

2) You get one name submission for every retweet or re-blog.

3) Send your proposed character name and a link to the re-tweet or re-blog to a.reid.williams (at) gmail.com.  You can put multiple submissions into a single e-mail.

4) Do all of this by midnight, 7/31/2014.  I’ll post the results on Saturday, 8/2/14.

The Offer

For any readers who are in book clubs…  I will send a signed copy of the book to the first ten people who convince their book club to read the book.  If your book club is interested in talking to me, I’ll join the post-reading discussion as well.  We can figure out the logistics on a case-by-case basis.

If you’re interested, e-mail me (address above).

Thinking Makes It So

In the world of american enlightenment, that pastel colored sparkly melting pot of spirituality and philosophy made of zen, individualism, money worship, Christianity, fiction, manifesting, reincarnation, reinvented druid mythology, superhero stories, astrology, shamanism, grandmas good sense, and the kitchen sink, this truth shows up again and again.

You are what you think.

There is nothing good nor bad but thinking makes it so.

Change your mind, change your life.

Which sounds good until I break my toe, and let me tell you, it hurts all by itself. I don’t have to think it hurts, that part comes naturally.

Beyond that, no one tells you how. It isn’t like we can’t wrap our logic around the impact of our thoughts.  If I am awake at three in the morning, thinking, I’m perfectly aware that my thoughts are a problem.

Yet and still, I’ve never been able to convince myself that an unwanted event was wanted.  You want what you want, you feel how you feel.  Trying to tell yourself otherwise doesn’t help. That turns into the feeling about the feeling, and nothing good happens there.  Which makes me wonder if, beyond the obvious part where an event is just an event, it is our feeling about the event that determines whether or not we call it good or bad, the “nothing good nor bad but thinking makes it so” bit isn’t a little unhelpful.

After all, that particular quote comes from Hamlet and you’ll note that he doesn’t have that epiphany and immediately thereafter rejoice in his uncle’s marriage to his mother.  Nope, he carries on feeling like shit and the play grinds inevitably to a sad end.

Where I’ve found incremental progress is in paying attention.  Notice the incremental part, because I’m pretty rubbish at it.  Aside from my inability to achieve perfection in this, things do go *better* when I just pay attention.

I’m fighting myself again.

I’m talking bad about my body again and all it is doing is hauling what I think of as *me* around.

I’m resisting what is and it isn’t working.

I don’t know how to stop all of that.  I do know how to take a deep breath.  I do know how to ask these things questions.  Like is it true that no one will love me if I have wrinkles around my eyes?  I do know how to pay attention.  I do know how to drive like a crazy lady in the general direction of the pool because swimming makes it easier to be balanced.

It isn’t what to do that we have difficulty with.  For the most part, we know the right answers.  It is the *how* that kills us.  The best how I’ve got is to notice when I’m fighting myself again.

The intermediate step is to notice, and then to remember to breathe.

I think the advanced approach is to notice, to breathe, and then to start gently asking the thing that’s troublesome questions.  Are you true?  Are you helpful?  Are you going to get me closer to where I want to be?  Are you constructive?

Super advanced is to not judge the troublesome thing or the answers you get when you ask it questions, to just let them be what they are.

But like I said, if I remember to implement this at all, I do it so unevenly as to ensure I never hold myself up as an expert.  It’s just the best I’ve got by way of a how.