So, tonight I'm in a funk. One of those moods where I'm trying to make a list of things I like about the world and I'm coming up with, oh, my girlfriend, her kids, and kalamata olives. And in the list of stuff I hate I have pretty much everyone else in the world, and everything animal, mineral, vegetable, and political.
The odd thing is, this been a great week for me. I accepted the book deal on Bitterwood. It's not as good as my wildest fantasies would have liked it to have been, but it ain't bad, either. Much better than my deal with Phobos for Nobody Gets the Girl, at least. It's with a company that I have good vibes about, Solaris, a new fiction line from BL publishing. They are located in the UK, so my book will get a truly international release, which is damn cool. So, I'll move Solaris out of my hate column, and, what the hey, the rest of the Brits. Good people.
No, I think I can narrow down my hatred tonight to Americans. You hear conservative talk shows going on about how liberals hate America--well, why not? I'm not even a little bit liberal, and I'm fed up with it. The way we spend money at such a crazy pace--both on a national level and at a personal level. Are we insane? We are a nation living on its credit cards, and I see not one politician of any stripe who has the faintest plan of what to do with it. Tax and spend was awful, but borrow and spend is worse. And it's the same old endless cycle of it all that gets to me--the problem's facing the world today seem to be variants of the same problems we faced twenty years ago when I was in college. Social security in crisis, conflict in the middle east, political corruption... it just gets wearisome. I tune out. Then I hate myself for tuning out, because I believe that we've wound up in the mess precisely because people tune out.
I'm not sure what brought me to the snapping point. But it's been a week where every news story just drove home to me that I live in a world full of scummy, awful people. For instance, there's a guy here in North Carolina who was recently let off death row because it was learned that the prosecutors in his case had surpressed clear evidence of his innocence--namely, at the time of the murder, the convicted man was securely locked up in jail for entirely different charges. His name is Alan Gell--you can google him if you want to learn more details about his case. In a way, it's a happy, feel good story if you're an optimist--the system worked, the innocent man was spared, after nine years, from death row. But, if you are in a mood where you hate everyone, you have to wonder why the prosecutor was allowed to almost get away with murder and faces no real consequences for sending an innocent man to jail. Then, to make sure there's absolutely nothing good that came out of this case, this week Gell was again hauled before the court, this time to face charges of cocaine possession and having sex with a 15 year old girl. Were his nine years in prison such a holiday that he wanted to get back in? Here's a man who was literally given a second chance at life--and he seems to have made a choice to live that life in prison after all.
Then, tonight, driving home I was listening to the radio and they had two stories in a row about finding the bodies of missing children. I know no further details. But hearing the news just left me despairing. How do you fix a world where people murder kids? Religion sure as hell hasn't worked. Politics seems to be making a mess of it. Prisons apparently aren't answer. I ask myself, what can I do about this? About anything? Nothing.
So, yeah, I'm in a pretty bad funk tonight. And I'm trying to hold onto it just a little longer. Because, I know, I'm going to get some sleep, then tomorrow I'll be busy mowing the yard, catching up on email, maybe going to a movie--and I'll forget about it. The evil in the world will be a distant and forgotten thing if I stay away from the newspaper and the radio. It will become someone else's problem again, nothing I need to worry about as long as the people I love are safe.
So why would I want to hold onto such bad feelings? Because, often, the further down I go into a dark mood, the more likely I am to surface from it with a story. There's a lot of story potential in the question, "How can the world be made a better place?" In many of my stories, I struggle to answer this question. Which might surprise some of my readers--I'm often told that the worlds I show in my stories are rather dark ones, and I'll plead guilty to that charge. But I think, on the whole, my stories usually move in the direction that allows the lead characters to find happiness or at least peace in the middle of their broken, fucked-up landscapes. Devie in "Perhaps the Snail" finds bliss after having her entire life exposed as hollow and meaningless. Rob in "Little Guilt Thing Goin' On" learns to allow himself to love who he loves rather than who he thinks he should love. Tony in "To the East, a Bright Star" faces the ultimate apocolyptic conclusion, at ground zero of a comet strike, and, with inescapable death seconds away, to live a good, full, final fifteen minutes.
Not all of my stories fit this model, of course. But, a few years ago, in a critique group, a woman named Mary (and, alas, I'm drawing a blank on her last name at the moment), gave me a bit of advice that was probably the best thing I've ever learned about writing. She told me to show my character's beautiful world. She used the example of the movie Trainspotters. The characters are heroin addicts, living lives that by any objective standards are pretty rough, yet the movie still manages to show why they live this way--it finds the beauty that the characters see, the reason they stick with lives others would find unacceptable. I'll take her word on this specific case, since I've never seen the movie. But, it made sense when she said it. Since then, I've written some pretty bleak, dystopian futures (and presents for that matter), but I've always been aware that there are things that my characters do in pursuit of happiness.
I'm rambling, aren't I? I started off talking about hating everything in the world and worked around to beauty and happiness. Dammit, I knew I couldn't hold onto my funk if I started writing about it. Writing is my pursuit of happiness. Ultimately, it's my own answer to what I can do to fix things. Maybe one of two people will see the world in a different light when they are done with one of my stories, and see a path to happiness in a world that seems in active opposition to their joy. I'm writing to save the world!
Now if only I can work up the same enthusiasm for mowing the yard tomorrow....