One of the things I’m doing tonight, as I sit down to write this post, is ripping some CDs and copying it to a brand new mp3 player. (Cheapest possible, natch, but the sound on my computer is unreliable and I can’t write without music, which, yes, is stupid. Deal. The only mp3 player still functioning is for audiobooks, so I needed a different one for songs, or I’ll be forever running out of memory.)
And one of the things I found are CD copies made by Dan for me to take to Oregon Writers Professional Writers Workshop — 16? Good Lord, SEVENTEEN? — years ago. He made them because he didn’t want me to potentially lose part of our cd library. Also, because he could condense a lot of cds into one disk.
One of the CDs I just came across made me giggle because it says “French Music, listen to should wild euphoria erupt and should you need some countermeasures.”
And then I looked at the song titles and decided I’m not nearly euphoric enough to have them on the mp3 player.
Which brings us to those little influences that can make you feel like you’re dragging your tail.
I’ve been, as you all know, preoccupied with a lot of things, most of them pertaining to real estate. Because I’m in and out of the house and stressed, I’ve been reading a lot of mystery.
And in a moment of weakness I bought the “Agatha Christie” Mystery “co-authored” by a young author. In my defense, I assumed this was bonna fide fan-fic, written from a Christie outline. I didn’t expect masterful prose, or even really Christie, but I expected good, honest fanfic. You know, tips hate to material, etc.
I expected, as it were to meet an old friend, somewhat altered but not unrecognizable.
I should have read the reviews. Because what I got was not a childhood friend aged 20 or 30 years. What I got was finding mommy in the kitchen, eating live snakes in the middle of the night.
Took a while to sink in too. It wasn’t that the book was so awful that I threw it against the wall. I mean it was in no way, shape or form an Agatha Christie book. It was all explained when I learned the “co-author” was not working from outline, had decided not to use Christie’s voice AND writes “psychological thrillers.” That last one explained the police detective who was almost too neurotic to remember to breathe and walk at the same time, and who kept giving us hints he was gay, something that a) had no relevance to the plot and b) was so jarring in a Christie world as to make me ALMOST throw the book against the wall. And also why NO ONE in the book was clean.
That last one is what took a while to sink in. I was so revolted with that book calling itself a Christie book, that I returned it. And then I got another mystery (I’m almost sure it’s original indie, but I haven’t checked) and read that, and then another…
And then today I realized I felt depressed and out of sorts. Not the active depressed where you want to kick someone or something or cry but just the blah depressed, a low grade sort of grey cloud hanging over me and my life.
And I realized the last three mysteries I read, starting with the fake Christie were DEPRESSING.
They aren’t outright supposed to be depressing. I mean, these are cozies, set in England, and they are supposed to be… cozies, set in England. yeah, there is supposed to be a murder, but you don’t dwell on it, you dwell on the puzzle.
And a couple of them actually have decent puzzles…
The problem is this feeling that no one is good, no one is honest, no one is even acceptable, and the detectives are often the worst of all.
Agatha Christie gave her characters foibles, sure, and often there was a tight intrigue and not just the murderer but two or three other people would be no good. BUT the propensity of the characters gave you the impression of being good sort of people. Perhaps muddled, confused, or driven by circumstances to the less than honorable, but in general driven by principles of honor or love (even sometimes the murderer) and wanting to do the right thing for those they cared about.
You emerge from a Christie memory with the idea, sure, that of course there was unpleasantness, but most of the people are not horrors.
How did we get from there to now, where the characters aren’t even evil? They’re just dingy and grey and tainted, all of them equally. The victim, the detectives, the witnesses, will be vile and contorted, grotesque shapes walking in the world of men.
If this is a reflection of the psyches of most authors, I suddenly understand a lot about the self-hatred of western intellectuals.
But I wonder if it’s a fashion absorbed and perpetuated, communicated like the flu, a low grade dingy patina of … not even evil, just discontent and depression and a feeling that everyone in the world is similarly tainted.
I realized that was part of what was depressing me, partly because I’m a depressive, so I monitor my mood fairly regularly. BUT what about normal people? What if they just absorb this world view — and the idea that it’s smart and sophisticated, too — through popular entertainment, through movies and books and shows and then spew it out into the world, because it stands like a veil between them and reality, changing the way they perceive everything.
My friend David Burkhead, wrote a blog post about something like this (Well, actually about star wars, but…)
Back in the mid to late 70’s the “New Wave” was in full force. Downbeat endings, “black and gray morality” (which can be good if handled well, at least as a change-up from more clear cut items) or worse “black and black.” Those were the tone of Science Fiction.
Then, fairly close to each other, two movies came out which took an entirely different approach: Lucas’ “Star Wars” and Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The rogue was given back his heart of gold. The callous youth could be the hero of the piece, not ground down by the world weary cynics. Heroes who are actually heroes fighting bad guys who weren’t so “sympathetic” that you couldn’t tell hero from villain.
It was a refreshing change. And the result was that, for a time, it became OK to have good guys who were good guys. Bad guys who were actually bad and not just “oppressed” or “victims of their backgrounds”. You didn’t have to wonder who to root for.
Today we’re kind of in a similar position. One of the best selling series, for young people is The Hunger Games. Black and Very-Dark-Gray morality, little really to choose from in the sides, and (no spoilers) that’s shown pretty clearly in the ending. And in printed SF? So much “humanity is a plague” stuff. Bleah. (Read the whole thing)
What he didn’t say, though he might very well have thought it, is that such despairing stuff, such low grade despair and unpleasantness change us, particularly when they’re unremitting. You internalize these thoughts, they become part of you. If humanity is a plague, who will have children? If humanity is a plague, why not encourage the criminals and terrorists? If humanity is a plague who is clean?
You. Me. Most human beings. Oh, sure, we’re not perfect — I often think people who write this lack the ability to distinguish between not being perfect and being corrupt and evil — and we often have unlovely characteristics. But, with very few exceptions, most people I know TRY to be decent by their lights, try to raise their kids, help their friends and generally leave the world a little better.
Now, are we representative of everyone? Of course not. A lot of people are raised in cultures (here and abroad) that simply don’t give their best selves a chance. But why enshrine those people and not the vast majority who are decent and well… human?
Even in a mystery there should be innocent and well intentioned people. It gives contrast to the darker and more evil people and events.
Painting only in dark tints is no more accurate than painting only in pale tints. It doesn’t denote greater artistry. It just hangs a grey, blotched veil between your reader and reality, a veil that hides what is worthwhile in humans and events.
Make yourself aware of the veil and remove it. It’s time the low-grade depression of western civilization were defeated. No, it’s not perfect, but with all its failings it has secured the most benefits to the greatest number of people in the long and convoluted history of mankind. Self-criticism might be appropriate, but not to the exclusion of everything else.
Say no to the dingy-grey-patina. Wash your eyes and look at the world anew. And then paint in all the tints not just grey or black.