Oh, The Places You’ve Been!

ohtheplaces2We got to talking, some friends and I.  We got to talking about a lot of shit.  We’re good at that, you know, the “talking shit” thing.  The subject came up of where we wanted to live.  Barring silly little things like money and jobs and family, where is the best place in the world to live?

The variety of answers you get with that question are pretty damned amazing.  Some, even, are surprising.

Kinda like mine.

“Wait, you bastard,” one friend cried, “you live in the middle of fucking Yellowstone, for fuck’s sake.  Why the fuck would we even ask you?!”*

unnamed*Ever wonder why my characters curse so much in my stories?  Welcome to my life…

The thing was, you couldn’t just answer the question once.  You couldn’t just say, “Fresno”** and let things stand with that.  You had to explain your answer, then come up with two more places.

**And, yes, that there is some weapons-grade sarcasm, if you’re wondering.

My first answer was easy to explain.  Hell, my first answer was actually doable for someone like me — someone with no fear of change, or of starting completely from scratch.  Of course, I also Boats at Dubrovnik old town portdidn’t have to actually explain my first answer, I just had to show a picture.  One look, and my friends were on board with living there, too.***

***Yes, I’ve been there.  And, yes, as someone who has been to dozens of countries and hundreds of cities, it is one of my favorite places in the entire world…

My second and third answers, however…they took some explaining.  One of my friends — either smarter than the rest, or more sober — even managed to find the common thread linking those three places.

“Wait a second,” he said.  “You’re a stupid fuck.  Why are all these places on the water?  And why are they all looking fucking west?!”

Oh, by the way, I never said my friends were particularly, uhh, friendly.  Ahem.

If any of my friends had ever learned to read,**** I would’ve pointed them to a previous post of mine.  

****Can you see now why we’re friends?

Okay, so quoting yourself is the writing version of a Circe Lannister orgy, but I’m gonna go ahead and do it anyway:

photo-1498804040961-7a2a6e07c263“You sit out at the end of the jetty, several hundred feet from shore. A drink in one hand, perhaps, and a cigar in the other. The ocean stretches in front of you; not just as far as the eye can see, but as far as the mind can wander.

The sun dips, touches the horizon. Fire in the sky, and in the clouds. The ocean turns from blue-grey, briefly, to molten metal. You can’t break yourself away; you continue to stare blankly, to watch and absorb the closest thing this world has to infinity. There is nothing in front of you but water. Intellectually, you know that a few thousand miles away you will find islands and peoples, but there is no room for “intellectually” when you’re staring out over the edge of the world.

No, when you’re looking out into that infinity, there is nothing in your universe but sunset and water and thought. Memories and dreams…a certain emotional distance from the world itself…and the “knowledge” not that you are at the end of the world, but that you have everything in front of you.”

Okay, so beside the fact that you have no idea just how badly I’m itching to edit that passage before I quote it, I should probably offer an explanation.

Of all the places I’ve been…

Of all the things I’ve seen…

Of everything I’ve done…

Nothing can make me feel that particularly bittersweet medley of small, nostalgic and warmly comfortable like staring out into infinity.  And, no, the sunrises of coasts on the east don’t do it.  Sunrises are about anticipation and hope.  They are about beginnings and energy and tackling your problems.

Sunsets, on the other hand…

shutterstock_381332338.jpgSunsets are about that pause for reflection.  For memory and reflection.  For that feeling of a day well done, of a chunk of your well lived.

With a glass in one hand and a cigar in the other, of course.

The Evils of Preaching

So, how much of yourself do you put into stories? I’m not talking about blood, sweat and tears; plenty enough of those go into any fiction story. No, I’m talking about opinions and beliefs…I’m talking about the underlying messages and themes you want to communicate, especially those messages and themes that center on politics and current social issues.

I’ve written before about the futility of those who demand that others “shut up and X.” Whether that variable is sing, play, write, act, paint doesn’t matter. However you fill it in, it still comes down to an admonition that is, in essence, nothing more than a petty, childish demand for everyone on the playground to do what the admonisher wants. The rest of the demand, by implication, is that if others don’t give in to the demands, well…they’ll just take their ball and go home.

Pure, futile stupidity.

No, I will not “shut up and write.” Not anymore than I would expect an actor to play a role without bringing to bear a layer of subtext and meaning that goes beyond the mere words of the script. Nor a painter or sculptor to produce a work without message or substance. If you have something to say, you say it, regardless of occupation or calling. That goes double, by the way, for those creating their own works (whether song or story or painting or any other damned thing).

FA17A784-1CB4-4C5A-8EDF-B6B1AA146E0FBut — of course there’s a BUT — but communicating subtext and meaning can all-too easily become preaching, and that very quickly becomes tiresome. I don’t mind having my assumptions and beliefs challenged by a work, but I do not want to be preached at, no more than I want to be lectured.

So how much is enough? How much is too much?

That’s a hard one, not least because there really is no correct answer. The only rule I can really come up with — at least for myself — is that when your messages and your themes become proselytization, let alone evangelism, it’s time to dial them back…a lot. You have to trust your readers to follow the breadcrumbs of thought and insight you put out there. If you try to force them to follow, you’ve already lost.

EA8533C7-F1EB-495F-B9DD-7998C727A086Now, look, I like putting elements of social commentary and politics into what I write. Certain themes are very much at the center of the sci-fi I envision, to be honest, especially those themes that are focused on the individual, and on all the shit — the exploitation and marginalization — that we as a society allow and condone. But if I start preaching that? If the story becomes more about a message than it is about the characters and the plot?

Yeah, that doesn’t work. At all. (Yes, Ayn Rand, I’m looking at you…)

If I wanted to read a philosophical or political treatise, I would’ve bought one.

I wish I could say there was a magic formula, and an easy answer, but there’s not. Hell, for my own writing, I actually worry about this from both sides: as much as I think about, and try to defend against, being overbearing and preachy, I also worry about being too soft. Hiding too deeply and obscurely what I want to say is, on a personal level, just as bad as getting up on my soapbox.

The simple fact is that I spent a lifetime being quiet, telling others only what they wanted to hear.* I didn’t challenge their assumptions or prejudices, and I certainly didn’t offer any hint or view of something else…of something more. I’m done with that. I have something to say and, goddammit, I’m going to say it.

*As I’ve mentioned before, I am in fact a reformed sales & marketing weasel.