As I’ve said before, I think that chapters are moving permanently to Saturdays because Fridays have, for various reasons, become impossible.
The main reason today, though, is that I not only have been grinding my teeth in my sleep – which is normal procedure. I drive my dentist nuts, and once broke one of my teeth this way – but appear to have been chewing on my tongue all night, which for some reason made me very cross and not inclined to writing a chapter.
Though I’ll be honest with you, I might skip this week, because the novel is at that stage where I need to go back and read over it and “fix it up” before continuing. This used to be a normal way of working for me 20 years ago, but now it’s only needed when writing something THIS slowly.
So instead, I’ll talk about how I got up feeling like I’d had very disturbing dreams or something (hard to tell what makes one chew one’s tongue) and groggily went down the stairs of our three-floor Victorian (not as posh as it seems, the third floor is an un-heated and largely stacked with boxes attic) to the kitchen, and made myself some tea, and just sat there, sipping it.
Not sure why but I thought how long the house has been standing here, and how it is in its way a piece of American history. Some of the really old features are still present, and now there is added remuddling from the sixties and seventies, and the stuff we’ve clawed back (I mean, like removing the funeral-parlor wall paper from the kitchen.)
And I thought “this house was standing here when WWI happened.” And “This house was standing through WWII” – I tried to imagine the people who lived here, what they must have felt and what they must have done. (It is still very odd to me that we live in houses for ten years or so and move on, and strangers move in, considering I was born in a house where four generations of my family had lived before me – I know as a curious aside that another Sarah Hoyt lived here once, because Colorado College started sending me alumni stuff, until I called and asked them “What?” Appears one of their first women graduates, way back, was a Sarah Hoyt who lodged at this address. So they thought I was her. Considering she graduated around the twenties, I had to point out to them I’d be over 100 years old, and while that’s not unlikely EXACTLY (Robert says he gets a lot of 100+ patients when volunteering at the hospital) it’s not terribly likely.)
Anyway, it made it all feel safe as… as houses. But then I thought again. The people who lived here through what were two conflicts of unprecedented scale and power didn’t know how those wars would end.
No, this is very important.
Look, I’m going to admit right now, I’m a book wussy. If the suspense gets too strong and the writer has an history of killing main characters, I’ll actually go and look at the end of the book to make sure it turns out all right. And this can apply even to cozy mysteries, where I NEED to make sure the character I like isn’t the murderer, so I can enjoy the book.
You can’t do that in real life, but there is a tendency to think we can.
I know this is all sounding like I’m hallucinating, and it’s probably because I haven’t had nearly enough caffeine (and my tongue still hurts.) But bear with me.
Humans are creatures of story as much as of body. What I mean is, you’ve been steeped in stories since you were born and part of how you learned language is stories. Stories is how we learn, how we make sense of the chaotic information around us, and it might be what gave humans an evolutionary edge.
We are programmed to remember stories, so instead of just saying “don’t go into the woods” granny told you the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Studies have shown that we remember stories told vividly enough as though they’d happened to us. (This explains the false memory syndrome and also, btw, makes me question the “raped and hogtied” style of YA literature. Why would you want to traumatize an entire generation?)
The problem with stories is that they have a beginning, middle and end. The present has only two of those, and we’re stuck in an eternal middle.
This matters, because particularly as the way to dress discontent in ideological clothes has become sophisticated enough, thanks to the media, the best narrative tends to win, whether or not it has any contact with reality.
Also because, looking back at WWII we tend to sneer and feel so superior we don’t engage in propaganda now, and we don’t give demeaning names to our opponents.
The first – the ability of the best narrative to win – explains why Marxism tends to get hold of a country again and again and again. It presents itself as a political system, but it’s really a religion, complete with rousing redemption of the human race at the end, in the stateless system in which we’ll study war no more, and every one will be perfectly selfless. It’s the type of story we’re programmed to like and for which countless martyrs have died. Only because Marxism and its various step children don’t work in the real world, usually they make OTHER PEOPLE martyrs.
The second is sort of like our putting down our machine guns and refusing to fight with them, because, well, machine guns are such terrible weapons, even as the enemy advances on us, with every weapon in his arsenal. Who knows? Words might be more important than machine guns, in that they’re what make people willing to fight the machine guns.
Does war propaganda demean the enemy and make him a comic book hero? Sure. The equivalent of low information voters – low information fighters? – need things pointed to them in black and white. Might they understand the more nuanced and realistic view? Sure, of course they would. Most of them. But nuanced and realistic views rarely rouse anyone to fight. Just like novels are better if you delineate a clear villain (even if you make him “tragic”) so with life. Narratives that are clear cut might be less realistic, but they’re more rousing. And they’re a weapon.
The third problem with stories is again and always that “we’re stuck in the middle.” The temptation to write the end is enormous and either to believe we cannot lose, or that we are already defeated. And both are fatal.
Look, like you I’ve read all the books about how WWII or the American revolution or whatever “could not have gone any other way.” – but if you go deeper, yes it could. It all hung in the balance, several times.
So, I sit there in the kitchen and I think “Are we at the rebirth of liberty?” I know and have said that the socialist illusion had to come to the States to die. It’s that whole The Future Comes From America, thing. If we let it flourish in our college campuses and take refuge in our “bien pensant” class, the rest of the world will continue embracing it. It had to come here. But will it infect us forever, and make us shoddy and not us anymore? Or will we kick the fever and become more ourselves than ever?
I don’t know. And neither do you. And neither does anyone, no matter how convincing their reasons and accounts. (And half of them, knowingly or not, are really Tokyo Rose.)
So – some things to remember: Despair is a sin. We have reality and human nature on our side, but they have a wonderful narrative. There are no warranties. But… despair is a sin. The future is unwritten. It’s up to us to write.
I say this is the rebirth of American liberty. And I say we make it so.
Be not afraid.