I don’t often write here about politics.
Err…DJT aside, I try not to write about politics, at least.
On the other hand, my fiction very much has modern/current politics as a subtext to pretty much everything, whether character or plot. Like most writers, I just can’t help it. They tell you in the writing intro classes to “write what you know.” What they really mean, by the way, is that you need to write about those things that are important to you. When you write stories about things that do not truly matter to you, it is pretty damned obvious.
To me, writing is a way to talk about and explore the things I would otherwise keep to myself. Yes, I put into words things on this blog that I would never say in any face-to-face setting. Yes, these words scratch part of that “important to me” itch, but not all of it. Not by a long shot does this blog scratch all of it.
I say more in my fiction writing than I ever would here. In those characters and scenes I write about concepts and themes and ideas that I will not — cannot, even — express in any other way. I’ve talked on this blog about depression and suicide and the power of music and words. I have talked about them, but never have I actually explored here the true emotional power those things hold for me. Only in my stories have I let go of myself enough to explore the truth behind them.
With the words and opinions I have expressed here, and in my fiction, I have been told that I should “shut up and write.” I should not focus on the dark side of life. I should not expound on politics, nor on a universe and society that is seemingly inimical to fairness and equality and simple human dignity. I should, instead, write about how those at the bottom have failed themselves. I should, instead, write about how those at the top are the worthiest. I should, I have been told, leave the dark underside alone so it can decompose and disintegrate in forgotten and ignored peace.
To answer that I have only my words. Whether those words project out into the world, or sit quiet and alone, they are still a shout. They are shout of opinion and belief, yes, but they are more than that: they are a shout of defiance. They are the throwing of emotion and thought into the teeth of a universe uncaring and cold.
When folks tell someone like me to “shut up and write” — or a musician to ”shut up and sing” or an athlete to “shut up and play” — they are showing not strength but fear. Fear of those words and concepts with which they do not agree; fear of those things that might disturb the comfortable bubbles in which they have chosen to live.
Our first instinct, of course, is to respond with our own fear. Our own fear of reprisal; our own fear of having our bubbles penetrated; our own fear of the darkness waiting for those who stumble and fall…
When you recognize that fear, however, you are freed to ignore it. That is surprisingly liberating. Oh sure, failure and darkness are still very real — and always near — but who honestly gives a damn? We are all going to fail and fall at one point or another. Most, actually, will fail and fall far more than once. I know I sure as hell have. I’ve fallen so often that I’ve lost count of the scars on my psyche, my soul and my liver…
I have put more than once into my protagonist’s mouth the words and concept of someone with nothing left to lose. Beyond the agency and power of that concept for him, lies the agency and power of that concept for me. I’m pretty damned sure I could never have taken the step to put personal emotions and truth into my words until I decided I had nothing left to lose. I certainly could not have learned to give the mental finger to those who tell me to shut up and write without admitting to myself just how little I had to lose.
For aspiring and new writers, then, there are all kinds of articles and interviews out there with more advice than any one human can absorb. Many of those pieces will tell you to harness your fear, or let go your inhibitions, or channel the wisdom you learned in kindergarten. Plenty will also focus on the practical advice that writers need, too. But the one bit of advice I wish I had received when I first got started? I’ll give that bit to you in the form of lines from a song:
“The beat-up side
Of what they call pride
Could be the measure of these days”
Musical Note — By the way, when it comes to music, if you’re not listening to Dave Hause, you’re doing it wrong. I listened to the song below quite a few times before I decided to link it here. In the end, however, I had little honest hesitation because, well, not only is it the song I quoted above, but its final line says it all for a writer with nothing to lose: “it’ll be alright.”