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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
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Saturday, 3 November 2018

The Conversation about "Partisan Divisions" is All Wrong



I need to scream somewhere. Every media outlet I like, and probably some I don't - today, it was Vox, which I usually like enough - has done a "gee I don't understand why there's so much partisan division going on right now owo *shrug emoji*" type of piece.

Look - we can't have a "civil conversation" when part of the platform of the party is about not accepting the human rights of the other people.

The screaming - is this real?


It feels like the world is gaslighting me, trying to remember when legislators would disavow the KKK and mean it. I know those elements were lurking. This is probably my white privilege talking, at least to some extent.

But we can never have "civil partisan conversations" or "reach across the aisle" until we, as a society, stamp out fundamental intolerance's validity as a political position.

I miss conservatism that was rational and reasonable, a time when it meant caution. Yes, the racism and prejudice were in there, lurking and growing, but there was a time when they were at least openly disavowed.

Now, in the face of a fractured center and left, trying to explain this feels like a sort of strange nostalgia for an imagined thing. Was it ever really so?

Nostalgia mode: engage


I miss conservative conversations where we could talk about how much spending and actually have reasonable discussions. But conservatism has been usurped by fascism and nationalism. I mean sure, it was always there, somewhat, but I'm pretty sure there was a time it wasn't okay.

I hope for the rise of conservatives again - but that can only happen safely if they are willing to flush bigots out of their ranks. Until that happens, we can't have conversations safely. Until we accept that some respect for people's fundamental rights must be at the core of an argument, and that the question is not always "whether or not," but sometimes "how much," politics will not be safe for those who are disenfranchised. We have spent too many years debating whether First Nations people (in Canada and America) or Black people (mostly in America) deserve upgrades and full rights that we've accepted that as normal - instead of a heinous and terrible argument in the first place.

We cannot legislate away fundamental human rights, something both Canada and America have done for decades and centuries, and consider that an acceptable casualty rate of democracy and negotiating across the aisle.

A plea to the right


I address this essay not just to people on the left, but more so, to the people who probably don't read my articles and posts - to the families and campaigners who dislike or are frustrated by us. People in the Manosphere, people in the center, family members who just don't understand why we don't like Trump - this is for you. I come not to insult you or belittle you, but to beseech you.

Conservatives who still believe that, say, trans people deserve to exist and black people shouldn't be shot - I don't mean to alarm you, but you are now basically liberals. At least compared to some of your comrades or fellow soldiers, or however you might wish to be addressed.

Please, those of you who identify in the centre or the right - I ask, nay, beg of you: flush out your ranks. I realise it can be tempting to ally with someone to get legislation pushed through, but those of us facing a true fight for our rights have no wish to harm you. We on the left, we children of abuse and of plural identities - we wish only to exist in safety and comfort. This need not threaten or remove your comfort, not on a fundamental level.

Sure, there are scary conversations that might make you upset or even angry - things we have been through ourselves, and go through still - but all of us want to be housed, alive, taken care of medically, and to have full bellies. And we actually want that for you, too.

We want everyone to be called by the gender prefixes they prefer and identify with, to marry who they love, to have families by their own choice, to be fed, and to have access to an education. We want running water and heat and air-conditioning and safe living conditions for everyone. That includes you.

Please, when it comes time to vote - ask yourself who cares about the fundamental human rights issues. And then tick off their name.

All we have left is to strip away the technicalities and subtle arguments, and beg you for our lives. 


***
Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime, housemate, and their cat. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and nightmares, as well as social justice issues. She is currently working on the next books in her series, other people's manuscripts, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.

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Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Solidarity and Other Dreams

One of the most subtle and painful things about the internet age - perhaps any age - is finding out that someone you admire has acted in a far less-than-admirable way. Reconciling that with continued affection can be tricky. For example, I've heard some mega-questionable things about Amanda Palmer, wife of Neil Gaiman - who has been thoroughly castigated ad nauseam in public and private.

And so it goes for many celebrities and important figures around the general Leftist/leftist/liberal community. You can probably think of someone you like who's done or said something insensitive, ableist, transphobic, racist, homophobic, misogynist, or otherwise disappointing. Someone who didn't take a strong enough stance, or too strong a stance, or said something that made your skin crawl.

Have I been this person? Probably. I try to hunt down and deal with my own mistakes, relying on the trauma-survivor skills of micro-self analysis. I count my sins and errors and mistakes like pre-reformation Scrooge with his money. I do not forget or forgive myself. This is not necessarily a character strength, either, nor something I recommend to others.

And of course, many of us do that with others.

But recently, after ditching a friendship that was bad for me, I went to my "blocked users" list on Facebook and really had a look at this. I remembered most people on it. Some were casually encountered, but some had become friends - who had, at one point or another, said something I really, really didn't like.

And I considered...is it really worth keeping someone blocked if you can't remember the exact nature of their infraction? 

What makes someone unsafe? 


I've seen my share of panicky, touchy arguments on Facebook, including one where an activist I looked up to accused someone else of "gaslighting" them for having a different opinion about interpretations of a Steven Universe character's race. I've been in those arguments, too. (Not that one in particular, but similar situations.)

Part of the problem for those of us on the left is that calls for solidarity usually result in a backlash of people saying, "we have to work with those we don't like? But that means supporting abusers!"

Well - sometimes it doesn't. It's tricky to talk about abuse, because those of us who've survived it in various ways tend to be extremely gun-shy - sometimes excessively or even unhealthily so.

And in the moment, it can be hard to tell if someone's comments about, say, a given woman or actress represent their feelings about All Of Womanity, or anything else.

Do we tolerate mistakes? 


This is such a tricky problem. Obviously, as a white woman - even a queer, plump, neurodivergent, partially disabled one - I have a giant swath of privilege that affects how I'm coming at things. I'm cisgender, and I'm white, and even femme - all things that can, in certain circumstances, give me a free pass that would not be afforded to others. Obviously, kyriarchy - hierarchies and power that exist outside of patriarchy - is a thing that exists. Dealing with it sucks. Some people get forgiven for their screw-ups a lot more readily than others, and the people forgiven are usually white. The people who don't get away with things are usually black, or other people of colour; men also tend to get away with more than women.

BUT - there are also times when we have to question whether conflicts or errors are as important as the general need to fight for our rights. And perhaps we need to be more honest about how dangerous or not-dangerous specific people are.

As one of my found-family siblings, Iskara, put it,

The left are collectivists and the right are individualists. We know this. But you can't use those traits to compete with others who have the same trait, you're pretty equal. So to establish a hierarchy within their respective groups, they use the opposite approach. The left will attack individuals who are below them to prove that they are the wokest. The right will attack entire groups of people who don't have the right values as individuals. Therefore, the right is willing to unite with people it disagrees with because those disagreements are part of the life of an individualist, but collectively they hate this other group more and they have that in common. Meanwhile the left is trying to figure out which single persons belong in or out of the collective which makes us far more likely to attack our allies over trivial matters, because we consider the purity of the person beside us to be a reflection on our own purity.

The hidden rules


The thing is - and trying to put this politely is difficult - white people who are queer tend to engage in this purity-testing a lot more often than others. Black people and people of colour, and those with multiple intersections of disability, are already used to forgiving others a lot or gritting their teeth and bearing things. As members of a visible majority in North America, we feel confident in our ability to reject others and replace them as need be. We're inherently comfortable, a lot of the time, in the belief that someone else will come around and fill the empty seat, because there are just so many white and queer people. This can be less true for transgender people, but the squabbles I've seen online suggest that the sense of white social complacency is still basically applicable. 

This is not to excuse myself. When I was a teenager, and even in my early twenties, it seemed a lot more important to be strict about whom I interacted with, within the left, and how they perceived things. As much as micro-aggressions and macro-aggressions both matter, and as much as both can grind us down - those of us with the emotional resources and privilege to do so need to be aware of our padding. (That's not just a pun on my own weight, but hey! I can't resist a punchline.) 

Forgiveness and calling in 


Since our family expanded to a third person, our housemate and queer-platonic partner Kit, we've had a lot more small discussions about being offended and annoyed. Honestly, instead of making fights or tension worse, it tends to disperse them. Anyone who lives with someone else will be familiar with the struggle of doing dishes, making food, handling laundry, cleaning the house, dealing with work duties, and arranging transportation. But being clear yet tactful about one's feelings can handle conflict far better, and keep it from becoming "a thing."

The same is true of our long-running D&D group and some of my various friend groups. Learning to filter my communication to people, talk to them after the rush of emotions, and avoiding that ever-so-tempting duel of witticisms that is the Facebook philosophical fight, have all been really good for both myself and the people around me.

Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves - what are we trying to accomplish? If the answer to that is "protection of people's human rights," then the only people really worth kicking out are trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), sex-work exclusionary radical feminists (SWERFs), and people who have exhibited a pattern of abuse without repentance.

Everyone else? Well, maybe we need to be honest about our hurt feelings, cool off a bit, and try to talk stuff out in private.

Does that mean we need to forgive abusers? 


Ooof. Even with a counselling degree and many years of sad-violin life experience, I don't know if I'm equipped to answer this one. Apart from saying, "it's a case-by-case basis, but worry about the people who aren't just rude, but really dangerous," I'm not sure what to recommend. 

Maybe we just need to stop sanctifying and demonizing people, and present them - both celebrities and individuals - as complex people with tokens on both the good and bad sides of the scale.

I do think that there are cases where people can reform. I hate to be mealy-mouthed or seem indecisive, but if internal politics were easy to handle, the left wouldn't be falling apart like an improperly-chilled gelatin dessert. 

Ultimately, all I can recommend are emotional self-validation, politeness, patience, and forgiveness with each other. We are stronger together, and since we, in multiple countries, have to fight to maintain our very existence, we need to defend each other's existence.

Maybe this means forgiving someone you're still mad at. Maybe this means going to apologize to someone. But with actual far-right activists, neo-nationalists, anti-choice activists, and violent racists and transphobes in the streets, and more active and internationally validated than ever, we simply can't afford the ephemeral and impossible luxury of complete ideological purity.

Does this mean allying with people we disagree with? Well, as long as they're not advocating for killing us...maybe yes. But again, my tired and beleaguered siblings and family, those of us who are white need to do the work on this. Reach out to others. Offer comfort. Give forgiveness - after you're done being mad. Sleep on things.

Nobody else is going to fight for our lives.

***
Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime, housemate, and their cat. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and nightmares, as well as social justice issues. She is currently working on the next books in her series, other people's manuscripts, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.

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Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Elegy for a Mistake: My Toxic Friendship

My usual post style and topics tend to encompass writing techniques, analytical bits and riffs on TV and movies, or even the odd podcast. Once in a while, I turn my attention inward and try to offer lessons by example from my own experience. Today, I find myself talking about a humbling and painful, yet freeing experience: the release of an unhealthy friendship.

Normally, I'm a peppy, jocund, and self-assured writer, with solutions ready at hand by the time an article is ready to go. In public and private, I am known for my likeable and kind personality - though I would privately describe myself as a haplessly bumbling, well-intentioned blowhard.

Let us presume that both cases are simultaneously true. This time, I have only an ouroboros of self-doubt and a cautionary tale. Bear that in mind: this essay lacks an easy or blithe answer to the questions I've posed and struggled with.

A word of warning 


To protect this person's anonymity, I will call them "Micah." I have changed their gender pronouns for this article to enhance their privacy as well. I won't talk about their personal circumstances at much length, either, for the same reasons. Figuring out their identity from context clues in my personal life and my blog is possible, but ultimately, unimportant.

For the same reason, I will not be including screenshots or "proof" or other receipts. I don't want to roast Micah's books or sabotage their career. (For reasons I will outline below, they do a great job of that on their own.)

Another big issue with Micah was my long-term working relationship with them. No matter how much you like someone and trust them, never work for free. More precisely, never work for free. or for exposure, or work trades if you find yourself shouldering a very unequal load.

I did this. I knew better - but Micah (and my own affection for them) let me talk myself into it over and over. And that was far from all that went wrong.

"Everyone has dead people," insisted Rocket Raccoon in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. Everyone has their share of mistakes, ghosts, demons, and regrets. Perhaps Micah had more demons than most. But at the time, I saw them as a dammed fine writer and a tough person, a marvel of endurance.

That's still true, but their coping techniques to maintain that survival were another matter. Micah had ways of judging people and justifying their reactions to relatively small incidents that, over time, caused a lot more harm than I realised at first.

The warning signs I ignored 


The thing is, Micah had a thin skin and a very sharp tongue. They were happy to nitpick and harangue anyone and everyone - usually in the safety of our private messages. This included people who thought of them as a friend and authority.

Everyone has gripes with friends from time to time, nitpicks about media, and qualms about significant industry names. Micah had all of those - and a long memory to boot. Eve their partner was far from exempt from critique and bewailing.

Yet I was, until the end of our friendship, the one person almost always exempt from these critiques. Not that I always got praise, but the mildest compliments were gold in the context of their otherwise unceasing criticism.

Surely this seems like an unflattering picture, but consider, reader, the burden of guilty pleasure that lies at my feet. I did not think I was complicit in their unhealthy patterns of criticism; I would sometimes softly defend people, but always in private.

On many occasions, I took the brunt of a fight to defend their honour - from a person who often had no idea Micah was offended. But I got to be the one good person in the world, who measured up - until I didn't.

But even before the change in tenor and tone, things were starting to go wrong. I was avoiding my favorite social media platform and my many friends there, because I dreaded the gloom and pain in Micah's messages. Our primary mode of communication was inevitably draining and depressing. Nobody has to be happy all the time, but unceasing misery is simply not okay.

The problem 


While Micah and I do struggle with similar mental health issues, they had many severe physical issues to boot. I let this excuse their temper, their dark moods, and sometimes arbitrary coping mechanisms fat more than I should. They refused to deal with their mental health issues with medication or supervision - even though said issues were life-threatening.

And I, who normally would have spoken up about that, kept tolerating it.

Micah went to no small effort to convince me they knew best for themselves...even though the benefit of hindsight makes me question that deeply.

The problem is that Micah's depression was thick in their writing, and I think - I know - it sometimes negatively affected my own. Refusing to write happy or happier stories that were "not true to their experience, " they chased off potential fans and professional allies with endless cutting and overly specific arguments.

But I found their positions and their writing eminently defensible. They were very good at articulating arguments which I found persuasive.

When Micah excoriated me on a thread in public, in private, and on Twitter at various points, over a variety of issues, I began to question the state of our friendship. I think it's pretty fair to say that most of us know it's not good form to rip a buddy a new one "in public" or in private, as it were. Especially when, say, you actually agree on an issue, but have failed to state things in the exact way they require and prefer - and when that is an offense meriting a hard scoldin', it's a sign that something's awry.

 Unfortunately, smart people can talk themselves into anything.

The fallout 


I was unable to complete a dark and melancholy book for Micah, and they had a mental health crash - which was,  by that point, indistinguishable from their usual state. They said they wanted to talk less to me because they were deeply hurt that I hadn't recognized the toll of their books on my own mental health - even though I told them as soon as I realised it was a problem, and had found a reasonable way to articulate it. (That took probably 36 hours, for the record. I was unable to criticize their books to myself before that point.)

They were deeply upset, and I blamed myself - for their mental health crash, just as they wanted me to. Realising that I could no longer work for free or be fast enough, I found myself questioning many things about their books - and even Micah themselves.

I even asked a celebrity (whom they'd caused me to pick a fight with by complaining at length about her "horribly offensive, ableist" perspective that writing books too fast and immediately publishing them does not result in good books) for her insight.

Jenny Trout was kind enough to hear me out, and even warn me that a friend like Micah may not be a real friend. That really made me think. Ms. Trout was so eminently reasonable, and I thought about how repetitive Micah's books had been lately, and I just couldn't disagree with her point.

When we continued discussing the topic, Micah had the temerity to refer to artistic writers (as opposed to commercial writers) as "blowhards". When I admitted that had offended me, they took the tack of insinuating that ghostwriting, editing, or enhancing are "not real" writing, or part of a shadowy underground industry, not deserving respect as part of the industry (even though ghostwriting and editing have been present in writing for as long as books have been made.)

Frustrated and upset beyond communication, I had to get my partner to write the message saying I needed a break from Micah.

I spent the next two weeks in agonizing tension, worrying about the future of our friendship. About twelve days into the proposed three-week hiatus, I messaged Micah to check in, hesitantly extending an olive branch.

They ripped into me, accusing my partner and myself of unhealthy and unsafe behaviour towards them - for sending a short, clipped message in the middle of a hard mental health crisis.

As I stared at the screen and skimmed through their messages, I had to face the facts: I would never be good enough for Micah.

I was bound to bump into their exacting rubric of communications and requirements eventually. It had finally happened.

But when I realised I needed to end things, I felt almost deliriously free. I spent a good week smiling and laughing more, and enjoying a generally great mood. But then I had to think about everyone I had blocked or critiqued or mocked with Micah, and the way they encoraged me to shred others. In all, it is almost a wonder that through my relationship with them, I kept the vast majority of my friends.

 How does one proceed? 


Having patience for friends with mental health issues and complex disabilities is vitally important. Learning to talk about people and vent in private, rather than picking fights or airing the pettiest of grievances, are both important. How do I use the best of what Micah taught me while critiquing their perspectives after the fact? Is hard to say what would be different if we had never become close, but there will be no escaping their impact on my music taste, writing, and memories.

There are no tidy answers or how-to charts to figure out whether a friend simply has complex needs, or is facilitating and enabling your bad habits. Unhealthy friendships can also involve a lot of mentorship, support, and intimacy. If they were straightforwardly awful, they wouldn't last.

 but at present. I seem to be, for the first time in my life, unencumbered by any toxic relationships. I have more energy and time for my friends and chosen family, and even my partners (my original partner Andrey, and our queerplatonic housemate Kit).

All I can do is try to wrap my head around both how much and how little I really lost, and apply my lessons to improve my friendships with others, ensuring they feel heard and cared for. At the same time, I must remain safe and self-critical enough to avoid perpetrating the abusive cycle and behaviors all survivors must constantly guard against.

At the end of the day, they left me with conjecture,. and not much else. I thought we were the closest of friends....yet I never heard their voice, met them - or even knew their given name. And there is only so much you can love a friend who won't share their true self with you.


***
Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime, housemate, and their cat. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and nightmares, as well as social justice issues. She is currently working on the next books in her series, other people's manuscripts, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.

Catch up with Michelle's news on 
the mailing list. Her books are available on 
Amazon. She is also active on MediumTwitterInstagramFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. 


Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Global Warming: Why The Winds of Winter May Never Come

This morning, I found myself penning a feisty screed about sequels, and I've been meaning to write an article about them for some time. Apparently, the moment has come. 

I have a theory about why ASOIAF's main storyline is screwed up beyond repair. It's not unrelated to the issues of the Kingkiller Chronicles, which have also been all but abandoned by Patrick Rothfuss.

As much as authors don't owe their fans instant gratification or satisfaction of every whim, offering a finishing date and moving that is a breach of etiquette and trust, especially since it's been going on for so many years. 

I'm no stranger to setting up sequels and struggling to finish them. No author is. But these books have gotten somewhat out of control, and after a few years of trying to discuss it, I think I can summarize the reasons why, both quickly and simply.

The what now? (No, really.)


If you've somehow been living under a rock or in a windowless void in some alternate dimension, A Song of Ice and Fire is the series by George R R Martin that's been adapted to a big-budget tv show by HBO. It's been a smash hit, especially for its controversy-courting topics and often blunt, insensitive approach to issues. It's basically historical fanfiction combining The War of the Roses (mostly as presented by Shakespeare), the Borgias of Renaissance Italy, Mongolian Huns circa Ghenghis Khan's reign, and Vikings, with protagonists plucked from other works of classic literature for spice, and absolutely shameless borrowing from Memory, Sorrow and Thorn's plots and themes (a series by author Tad Williams that features a fire priest, coming winter, undead creatures, nasty political conflict, and the reawakening of magic). 

(If you don't know those names, I recommend a wander through Wikipedia for the basics, because the history stuff is really cool. There's also somewhat inaccurate but entertaining and lush series about the Borgias, Vikings, and Mongolian rulers on Netflix. Shakespeare covered the whole War of the Roses, so you can listen to or watch readings of the plays on Youtube if you're wondering what those were about. There's no shame in reading notes for Shakespeare, and hearing all that intricate speech is easier than reading it sometimes. So now you know!)

Oh, and there's some dragons, intriguing bits of Lovecraft/Robert E. Howard fanfiction that doesn't go anywhere, and nods to Celtic myth cycles that also don't really get used that much. Everyone else and their dog has covered the feminist and representation issues in the series, but this should give you a rough idea of what it's about or what it's like. He also kills way too many peasants in the series, which did not happen in mediaeval Europe, because a) they were civilians and b) peasants are an important resource in a non-industrial country, but I guess that's what it takes for an adequately upsetting body count. 

It has some strong points, like the way Martin manages to subvert tropes by exploring them very fully, and the disability representation is pretty good, in my opinion. It has tons of worldbuilding porn and description porn, but long-term readers of fantasy and pulp aren't going to find anything truly challenging here. Basically, it's fine. But it's not perfect, and it could be better - as I'll explain in a second.

SO - be aware of the SPOILERS SPOILER SPOILERS referred to herein.

Why should we care? 


The thing is, A Song of Ice and Fire about the Starks. There are other characters, but we meet them first, we are given cues to care about them, and we connect with them. We explore more of their perspectives than those of any other family, including the Targaryens and Lannisters. Ned Stark died in the first book, as we probably all know. However, that wasn't a dealbreaker - as his family got scattered to the winds, readers and Martin had a strong motivation to see them reunited.


The reuniting a family theme is actually underused, but it worked in Fivel Goes West and it worked here. Eagerly devouring the books, we all hoped to see the Starks come back together, surviving their harsh circumstances (which are historically inaccurate as heck, by the way). 

BUT - in book 3, when the Red Wedding happened (killing eldest son Rob Stark, his mother, and his new wife - even though his mother returned as a scary undead lady), it all fell apart. Sure, it was a brilliantly unpredicted plot twist - but it messed up the emotional throughline. 

Who do we care about, and why?


A land is made up of people. The history of a world is meaningless if it doesn't include individuals. By killing off so many Starks one by one - and by killing their direwolves, too - GRRM completely nuked his own emotional throughline. That's why books 4 and 5 start focusing on Noble #5 and Suitor #3, characters that we don't care about, and why they're such a mess. The books would benefit from focusing on non-noble characters, but classism fetishization is an important problem in fantasy as it is, and GRRM does little to remedy it.


All the other families could be torn apart, but by killing too many of his real protagonists, he made the emotional throughline of the book completely collapse. I don't know if it can be fixed, and I think that's why The Winds of Winter just keeps failing to come out. He's trying to write his way out of a hole, but the fact remains that he killed the characters who gave us a reason to give a shit about the story.


Someone might say "but the story is bigger than the Starks!" But that's the point - it isn't. They symbolise so many other families torn apart. There is no real hope in the series. It's equivalent to a romance novel where one of the protagonists gets killed halfway through (in a contemporary setting without magic or tech to bring them back) or a mystery where there's no solution.


What's wrong with that? 


Artistic works usually set up an emotional contract with the reader, albeit an unspoken one: "I will create people and a journey for you to care about, and you will spend your hours reading my work--and in exchange, I will provide you some kind of satisfying conclusion, or at least finish what I set up."


ASOIAF has broken its most important throughline, and the author has inadvertently sabotaged himself. Between that and the pressure of living up to what he's set up - because The Big Fight That Changes Everything is a risky creative choice at the best of times, actually - Martin has to fight himself to get it out. Hence the years of delay. But if an editor had been allowed to cut all those stupid and unemotionally interesting attempts (far too late in the series, I might add) to hook us into someone else to care about, and to mess with his stupid murder-fetish earlier, maybe the series could have been saved.


Of course, I might be wrong, and we might see The Winds of Winter come out any month now. But it sure is hard, as a former fan, to watch the deadlines keep getting pushed. Because it's not just "the book isn't done yet" - it's that he's mentioned release dates, and they fall through over and over. Even if that's his right, it does suck to deal with.

And personally, I just don't care anymore. In such times as these, I've gotten weary of endless dark and gritty tales with few redeeming features. Having outgrown Can Lit and the fetishes of literary fiction - more on that in my next post - I need more than chronically depressed murder-hobo protagonists. 

I need hope, and life, and a world outside the muggy, stifling confines of imaginary Western Europe.


***
Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime, housemate, and their cat. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and nightmares, as well as social justice issues. She is currently working on the next books in her series, other people's manuscripts, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.

Catch up with Michelle's news on 
the mailing list. Her books are available on 
Amazon, and she is also active on MediumTwitterInstagramFacebookTumblr, and the original blog. 

Friday, 13 July 2018

Evil is Boring, and Other Unexpected Things

Like a chipmunk crouching in a forest next to a nuclear reactor, Canada is in close proximity to the slow-motion disaster that is the United States of America. With a president who coasted into office on a wave of electoral fraud constantly compromising the safety of the country's information and people.

A part of me - perhaps unbelievably - is a little embarrassed to be excoriating Trump as thoroughly as I am, even though it's nearly a universally understood truth at this point - and even though his party's legislation has directly resulted in the caging of immigrants and their children, and their detainment in concentration camps.

That said, I think one of the hardest things to understand about Donald Trump is that, inasmuch as he's basically as evil and villainous as it gets, he's not the kind of villain I was raised to to expect.

What is evil?


That's a complex question, but for our purposes, I'm going to reference both aesthetics and intentions. My personal stance on evil is that it's more of a verb than a noun. One's actions, weighed in the balance of their impact, as well as the current historical or contemporary perspective, tend to determine whether or not one is classified as evil. For instance, Winston Churchill tested mustard gas on Kurdish villagers before deploying it during WWII, and the otherwise admirable Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who created the "New Deal" and a number of important social security measures for American citizens, also was responsible for the internment of Japanese-Americans. Canada has its own examples of leaders with similarly mixed legacies. In the context of colonialism and that resulting violence, it's hard to canonize any leaders, especially those in the "New World."

That being said, Adolf Hitler's actions and his legacy are pretty good examples - nearly archetypcal examples - of what we see as evil nowadays. (Well, those of us who are not neo-Nazis, anyway.)

But do they look evil?


Between Disney and other fantastical films, very clear portrayals of "a villain" emerged - a villain was supposed to be stylish, attractive, usually or frequently non-white, damaged, and either coded-gay or overtly homosexual (sometimes asexual). In contrast, heroes - especially in the nineties - were usually laid-back slackers, usually white, straight, and male; always heterosexual, and both mentally and physically well, often athletic or extremely nerdy, and usually lacking self-confidence and/or social skills. Frequently, said heroes were disproportionately popular, due to some inexplicable "leadership quality," and I'm sure many of my readers will be familiar with the token reward girlfriends usually accorded to such heroes as a matter of course.

The state of the present


Much hay has been made of the idea that young white men grew up seeing themselves as heroes based on their birthright, and therefore, have not had to do anything to deserve that mantle. Said young and less-than-young men are also increasingly fond of mocking marginalized people who dare set boundaries on the portrayals of their cultures, sexuality, and themselves.

Given that white men and white women voted for Trump in droves, and have continually shuffled out of the way when held accountable for inequality issues, I feel it's fair to say that both the left and right have come to see straight, white, cisgender, heterosexual, and able people as - well, the "enemy," or at least a source of antagonism - and as a "persecuted minority," respectively. That said, from what I can tell black people and other people of colour don't really hate white people, not really - but centuries and decades of persecution and marginalization and abuse have led to a lot of pain and entirely reasonable resentment.

More recently, in addition to the many nigh-endless microaggressions and larger acts of violent discrimination perpetrated against people of colour, images of the cargo shorts-clad and tiki-torch wielding racist protesters trying to "defend their white heritage and children" are inescapable. For white queers, a similar dynamic exists with "the straights" - it's not that we hate straight people, but we exist in a constant state of trepidation, wary of that moment when a friend or relative will suddenly reveal that they hate people like us, or have no interest in preserving the rights of people like us.

Because narratives cut us out of the spotlight or cast us in antagonistic roles, queers and people of colour grew up fixating on minor characters and often, on villains. When I thought about it tonight, my heart cracked to realise that the people who were supposed to be the heroes fighting injustice - ordinary white men - seem to care little about our rights and their so-called birthright - and those who were always cast as villains had ended up being, well, the ones fighting for people's rights to marry, control their own bodies, vote, and not be incarcerated or killed on fatuous or fabricated charges.

Coping with it


On the other hand, I finally had the emotional resources and the chance to watch Black Panther recently, and I think the movie - which did not disappoint - offers both hope and some potential solutions. Martin Freeman's (hilariously) American CIA agent is overtly (and rightly) called a colonizer, but he learns to listen to Nakia and Shuri rather than questioning them or assuming he knows better. The movie nods to the historical reality of American interference in other countries' governments, but unlike Andy Serkis' character, he doesn't refer to the Wakandans as "savages."

The peaceful resolution at the end of the movie brings tears to my eyes as I recollect it. Conquest and murder won't make reparations for the sins of the past (and present). But resources and nurturing might, and will save the current and future generations - as well as enriching all of us.

And personally, that's the future I want. Let me be clear - as a scary leftist, all I want is for everyone in my city, my province, my country, my continent, and this world to be housed, fed, and safe; for people to be happy, healthy, and loved. That includes the straight, white, cisgender people, not just the marginalized.

I want to see what the world can be if we work together to take care of it. I want to see what kind of art we can produce when we have the opportunity to make it, and what we can discover if we put the resources towards the sciences. And from what I've gleaned from talking to anarchists, communists, socialists, and even many people on the liberal spectrum - that's what all of us want.

But to do that, we have to figure out what we're fighting for, and maybe, who we're fighting.

As a writer...


I was never prepared for this eventuality. Will Ferguson's Happiness (TM), a book in which the end of the world is wrought by a self-help book, had some excellent points about the banality of evil. I think a lot of us still think of evil as stylish and classy, but where in that schema do we place a tasteless human vuvuzela like Trump? The bland and smiling "worst teacher you had in high school" persona of Mike Pence has something of a place in the rogue's gallery of archetypes, especially in dystopian fiction. But how do we reconcile with the fact that the people we were taught to trust and idolize - for instance, cops and parents - are only too happy to hurt us?

Honestly? I don't have an answer, so I want to know how all of you feel about this. Reblog, comment, and answer - how do you feel about this reversal? How are you going to write about villains and antagonists?


***
Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime, housemate, and their cat. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and nightmares, as well as social justice issues. She is currently working on the next books in her series, other people's manuscripts, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.

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