There is no glass slipper — a blast from the past February 2012

There is no glass slipper — a blast from the past February 2012

*Sorry about this.  I crashed at nine last night and slept till almost nine today.  Doing better now, but now well enough to write two posts (today is my day at Mad Genius Club, our group writing blog).  This one is more about writing, but not really — it is also about life.  I keep running across people who confuse story and reality — including our president.  The reason he thinks that global warming causes terrorism is that in a story the jihadis would come from destroyed villages, upended by some non-man made catastrophe.  BUT that’s in stories.  Real life, what people learn and what’s inside their heads counts too.*

Your life is not a story.

I mean, oh, of course, in a sense it is a story – of course it is – in the sense that things happen in chronological order, it has a beginning and one day it will have an ending.  You could also say it is divided in chapters.  In fact we often talk about “entering a new chapter” of life.

But there are differences.

I’ve told you – haven’t I? – that my final exam in Theory Of Literature, consisted of two questions.  The first was specific and required analysis of the use of commas by a Portuguese poet who wrote in blank verse.  The second was “Explain the difference between literature and life.  Give examples.”

Since I have a fraught relationship with punctuation I knew I’d get at best half the points on the technical question, so I had to get full points for the second.  So I spun from memory of my Philosophy classes a deal about Plato and the cave and how only through literature could we see life outside the cave.  I knew that would appeal to literature professors and, as most of you know, my morals are weak.  (If they weren’t would I lie for a living?  No?  What do you think fiction is?)  So… I passed.

However, my rather mendacious answer notwithstanding, or my wished-for answer which was “if I kill you in a book you’ll continue breathing.  If I kill you in real life not so much” the true answer is more complex than that, and more simple.

Life is not like literature because life doesn’t have to make sense.  (We’re reminded of this daily as we see what some of my colleagues post on facebook.)  More rarely we’re reminded of this as an impossible coincidence surfaces that makes us go “What?  That wasn’t laid out in the plot.”

But we forget that too.  We forget it very often, particularly those of us who are dedicated writers – or readers.  We forget it as we think as though life WERE a plot, as though it HAD to make sense.

I was reminded of this a couple of days ago while talking to a friend who is a beginning writer.  We were trying, somewhat ineffectively, to convince this person it’s best to go indie now, while this writer has no track record.  This writer was yelling back about wanting what I had.  (Apparently people HANKER after ten years of kicks in the teeth.) About how I was famous (Am too.  Right now I’m the most famous person at this desk.  Well, the cats have left in search of food.)  About how I was a real writer, and therefore I could now go indie with a clear conscience (I’m trying, okay?  I’m trying.  I need time, since I’m also still writing for traditional publishers.)

And then this writer explained that since childhood, the writer had dreamed of having books out “on shelves” and being able to tell friends to go and buy them at any bookstore.

Useless to tell this person that there was that year I had FIVE books come out with traditional publishers and you couldn’t find a single one on a single shelf in the whole state of Colorado.  In this person’s mind, that story from childhood, HAD to have a happy ending.

It’s conditioning.  As writers and readers, we are trained to pick up “promises” in the plot early on.  Some of you who have been following Witchfnder are unreally good at picking up on those promises.  I’ve had emails guessing at Nell’s origins, at the ultimate end of the book, etc, which are, at this point, GUESSES.  Have to be, since my cluing has been as hidden as possible.  And in one case the clue is not yet connected to anything.  And yet, people GOT it.

Unfortunately, we tend to reason about life that way, too.

This might be a case of chicken and egg.  I know that stories are what happens when we turn our mind lose on life and allow it to impose order on reality, whether that order is real or imaginary.  We tell ourselves stories.  And we tend to make stories out of our lives.  Perhaps that’s how we make sense of life.  Perhaps that’s how we remain what passes for sane.  Or perhaps not.

Perhaps life used to be more predictable, too.  I’m not betting on it.  I grew up in a small village, where people by and large, with minor innovations like electrical light and running water, lived the way they had for centuries, observed the same feast days, cultivated the same plot of land, kept the same farm animals as their ancestors world without end – in a place where Romeo and Juliet might have happened in the next village.  (I thought it had, the first time I heard someone talk about it.)  Looking back, life looked a lot more… well… ordered.  You knew the pool from which you’d choose your mate, more or less, you knew the places you’d see in your life, you knew where you’d be buried when you died.  You knew the kids who worked hard in childhood would probably make good, and you knew the class clown would probably have a checkered career, and the kid caught breaking into a neighbor’s house at ten would probably eventually come to a bad end.

But that’s from a distance.  If you increase the granularity and go life by life, person by person, you find it’s not like that.  That kid who worked hard in childhood, walking out his parents’ door one evening, gets run over by a car and spends the rest of his life as a paraplegic, having to be looked after.  The kid who was a bad lot?  Well, he gets drafted, goes overseas, becomes a hero, comes back and picks up a steady job, never has a hobble again… until he’s fifty when he embezzles his boss’s money, runs away and dies a millionaire in Brazil.

Even in the village, with its ordered cycle of life, people could surprise you, events could surprise you, things you counted on – like inheriting the family business – would turn out quite differently – when you found out the company was bankrupt, for instance.

After all, that small village produced me and – good or bad (and often bad) – you can’t say my trajectory was predictable.  When I was born to a rather traditional family in a traditional village and as a female (which in that culture means far less mobile) I can safely say that if some time traveler had told family, friends or extended acquaintances that not only would I survive (an iffy thing, since I was extremely premature, born at home, and not allowed access to an incubator) but I’d leave home and go live in the states on my own (no relatives, other than my husband) AND become a novelist in a language no one in the family spoke at the time (correction, my grandfather spoke it.  He didn’t write it.  But he had no one to speak it to) NO ONE would have believed it.

But even those of you who aren’t little vortexes of unstable fate can probably point out to events in your lives that were in no way “foreshadowed.”

However, it goes further than that.  MUCH further.  Right now, we are in a time of catastrophic change.  By that I don’t mean the intentional, phony and often strange change brought on by political moves.  I mean bone-deep technological change of the kind that leaves a mark.

Part of the reason that change is so difficult is that we are essentially two cultures.  One of them is  “the people who talk.”  (I’d call it “the people who think” but that is unwarranted flattery for most of them – for most humans, actually.)  These are the media, the academia, the people who tell stories whether fictional or fictionalized.  These people in general know nothing – or very little – about what the other culture is up to.  The other culture is “the people who fix”.  These are the people who know how things work, the people who can build and create.

For years now the people who talk have been ascendant.  We’ve been building a little reality of words, telling ourselves stories.  “This is the way things work” and “This is the way things will go.”  Actually, we haven’t been ascendant so much as we were the only ones saying these things, and the other people didn’t or couldn’t contradict us, so we thought we had it all.  Our story was undisputed.  Like the garrulous wife of a silent husband, we sat there for years making plans.  “And when we retire, we’re going to live in Miami.”  And because the poor sob across the table said nothing, we thought we could do as we pleased.

The silent people who fix and create things were, all along, quietly, often in an inarticulate way, pulling the rug out from under our feet.  While we were talking about our condo in Miami they were building an entire retirement community from discarded beer bottles, in the backyard of our house in Michigan.

So while we were creating our just so plots, the people who fix and create things changed the world on us (the bastages.)  While we were climbing the ordered ladder of publishing (such as it was) they were building ebooks, and even – gasp – places like Amazon to sell them.  They were creating the computer revolution which allows us to attend lectures from home (I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, education is next in line for that change.)

So, now there’s a choice of courses for us.  The world is changing.  It’s called catastrophic because it resembles Atlantis subsiding beneath the waves.  We can’t change it back.  We can make phony political changes that will make things go a different route, and possibly a worse route, or we can shout into the wind, but it’s not going to stop the change.

The metaphoric oceans are coming in.  You can choose to stand there going “I’m despondent.  My life is over.  I want my beach back.  When I was little I dreamed of a condo in Miami.”  Heaven knows I’ve done a bit of that myself and still have instances of it.  HOWEVER that is not a survival-enhancing behavior.  Those who will survive – and many who will thrive – are already running for the hills, scouting out the now-barren peaks that will be fertile islands when the change is done.

I know it hurts.  It hurts like heck.  We want our stories to make sense, and we want our life to be a story.

But you have to be aware that at some level it was always a lie.

To the extent that you need stories to survive, make this one be about the plucky author/educator/artist who survived catastrophic change – who got out ahead of the mess and the turmoil and came out much more successful than traditional routes allowed.  Make your prototype that of the mythological (but then so was Atlantis) sage who got in a boat ahead of the continent sinking and went to other lands to teach what he knew.  And who was treated as a god in the new land.

You’re not Cinderella.  There is no glass slipper.  BUT if you’re good and pro-active and if you stop lamenting and start looking to the future, there MIGHT be a fortune in canned pumpkin or trained mice.

First let go of the glass slipper dreams.  It was never very comfortable and it came off when you ran downstairs.  Then shake yourself, look around, and find new dreams.  You can do it.  Remember, the best stories change direction halfway through.  Why should your life be any different?

79 responses to “There is no glass slipper — a blast from the past February 2012

  1. Life is not like literature because life doesn’t have to make sense.

    It seems the folk most outraged over this are the ones advocating a philosophical view of nihilism, of existentialism, in an uproar in fear their pretensions might be real — that there may be no meaning to human existence, that there may be nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. So they tantrum, insisting their world be made into a safe space where nothing to trigger the bad thoughtz is allowed in.

    If Life has meaning, if it has a plot, it is only in the same way the ancient oracles gave: in retrospect. Looking backward it is possible to construct a narrative, to point to plot points, to developments, to twists and turns — but that is a conceit of the present, that one’s path made sense rather than one has imposed sense upon the path taken.

    We are all of us aware that the MSM is not in the business of committing Journalism so much as it manufactures narratives, casting public figures as protagonist, antagonist and spear carriers. And yet we subconsciously absorb this narrative because it is in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the chips we scarf. We need instead to rely on a more constant pole star by which to navigate lest in the swirling narrative we become turned about and lost.

    • These are the “Arrow of History” folks, or lately the “Arc of History” folks, where the arrow points (upwards) to them and the arc only arcs downward after they are gone.

      If there’s no narrative, no arc, no arrow, then they can’t be at the top of the story.

    • At least the spear carries have their spears. Table knives will require a “may issue” permit and salt will be rationed in that future they’re Progressing towards.

      For some, life *must* have meaning, else what is the point? If their religion does not supply it, they must manufacture one- a reason, or a religion, or both. This gets in to how the left gains some of its followers.

      It’s not only the apathetic and weak who join the left. There are otherwise kind-hearted and well-meaning ones, too. It is just that those virtues are bent and used in ways at complete odds to what you or I would think of them- infanticide, because they care so very much about women; the destruction of family, education, and future for minorities (especially blacks), because they respect (pity) and honor (fear) “African-American culture”, and the active defense of those who want to kill us, because *we* are not a mortal threat to them.

      What justice is it to allow a child to remain a child through their whole lives, shielding them from the cold harshness of the world up till the very last minute, and then expecting them to somehow survive the shock? What kindness is it to give only handouts to the poor, never asking the least bit of work in return, then wonder why they never apply for a job? Misplaced virtue, and the brighter and more perfect the end, the more one tries to justify the darker and less decent means.

  2. Semper Gumby.

  3. The problem with expecting a fairy-tale ending is making certain you know which fairy tale you are in. The original Grimm’s stories are not all that sweet. Ditto a large number of the tales in the Coloured Fairy Books. And G-d help you if you find yourself in Hans Christian Anderson’s world. “Beauty and the Beast” could turn out to be “Bluebeard,” and then what do you do?

    I’ll write and live my own stories, thanks.

  4. SheSellsSeashells

    Heh. Oddly enough, this is the exact way I handle any prepper questions. “OK, self, here is a story where the Seashells family is fat and happy ten years after the poodoo hit the fan. How did they get to this position?”

  5. Life is not like literature because life doesn’t have to make sense.

    I’ve heard that many times. I think I might have echoed it now and then. But it’s not quite true.

    Viewed “on an equal level,” by someone who can’t see its totality, it’s very unlikely that a viewer will see a life as “making sense:” i.e., as conforming to a plot that displays organic unity. But from the perspective above time, where everything is visible and all actions can be coupled to their consequences, all lives taken together would make perfect sense, because Reality has unbreakable laws.

    Granted that that would be a poor argument to submit to a loan officer, or a criminal jury.

    • And one notable difference is that a book can end on a high note, where life keeps right on rolling.

      • This calls for an obligatory Chesterton cite:

        “The wise old fairy tales never were so silly as to say that the prince and the princess lived peacefully ever afterwards. The fairy tales said that the prince and princess lived happily ever afterwards; and so they did. They lived happily, although it is very likely that from time to time they threw the furniture at each other.”

        Happiness, after all, is a choice. Tolkein could have ended his story with the One Ring’s destruction, yay, everybody goes home. He could have ended with the cleansing of the Shire. Instead he ended it rather differently because that was the actual tale he wanted to tell.

        We don’t read books for their realism (although that may gain them awards) because realism is usually pointless, most characters are neither particularly good nor evil and their deeds usually merely ensure another day’s bread on the table. We read books to imbue ourselves with the delightful idea that life may have meaning, for an alternative to the grey goo that fills the interstices between this day and the next.

        “[W]hat would posterity think we were? Demi-gods? We’re men, no more no less, trying to get a nation started against greater odds than a more generous God would have allowed.”

  6. Wayne Blackburn

    Discussing the dichotomy between life and fiction by dealing with how things often don’t follow expectations is sort of… odd.

    I mean, don’t most adventure-type stories start out with at least ONE “WTF?” moment?

  7. Terry L. Sanders

    “The bones of a hundred princes hung from the thorns around Sleeping Beauty’s castle: and I’m sure some of them were excellent fellows.”
    One For the Morning Glory

  8. > change

    The development of writing let people fix knowledge to something other than human memory. Clay tablets or knotted strings were unchanging and immune to the “Telephone Effect.” Technology was still passed on by apprenticeships or guilds, nobody cared much about history, but religion… instead of being individually interpreted by any given priest, the theology became fixed, and led to things like the People of the Book, and slow but massive changes in culture worldwide.

    The development of the printing press allowed copies to be made swiftly and cheaply. Gutenberg’s shop and others printed literally tons of political and religious tracts and handbills, and led directly to social upheavals like the Protestant Reformation.

    Modern network communications has allowed bypassing the old printing and distribution systems, eliminating the gatekeepers. To statist mentalities this is a catastrophe.

    • Once upon a time, some British officials took down some tribes’ genealogies. After a half century, they started to say that they had taken them down wrong — alliances had changed, and so, therefore, did their familial relations. . . .

      • You know, if magic were real, you could maybe do that.

        It would be hilarious to pull on people in a role-playing game.

        “Your clan is now descended from Thor instead of from Ingvar Ingvarsson, and therefore you have gained strength and lost wisdom. Also, your familiar just turned into a goat.”

  9. And then this writer explained that since childhood, the writer had dreamed of having books out “on shelves” and being able to tell friends to go and buy them at any bookstore.

    And now, half those friends would probably reply “great! is it on kindle?”

    (I’d probably still buy a hardback, and ask for an autograph, to make my friend feel good… but if I wanted to actually read the book, I’d still ask if it was on kindle)

  10. This post reminded me of the writer who protested the PEN award to Charlie Hebdo on the grounds that it was a racist narrative–the whole idea of these evil brown people coming in and killing an office full of white people. Now, first of all, it isn’t true (Charlie Hebdo had a number of non-white writers and cartoonists), but secondly, it made me want to reach through the computer, grab the writer by the throat, and say, “This is not a ‘narrative,’ you #@$! moron. This actually happened. I’m sorry these people being MURDERED didn’t happen in such a way that it validated your preferred way of looking at things, but you need to get your head out of your colon and accept that events in the real world don’t happen in order to advance a particular storyline.”

    • Now, now- putting things in terms of “the Narrative” lets the cringing little SJW separate them selves from the harsh reality and pretend they have some sort of power over events.

      • They project themselves as The Narrator. The one who supposedly knows what is (really) going on, but isn’t mixed up in all the messy bits of whatever the story might be. It’s a Consequence-Free existence.

        • “I’m on the Right Side of History, here. It isn’t my fault everybody else keeps blowing their lines.”

          • Apparently they forgot just how much of the world drives on the left side… and if they get outside their safe space to where the rules are different, they’re gonna get run over.

            (And then there’s the middle east, where I’m not sure the drivers actually believe in sides of the road. Which… makes an amazing amount of sense in the metaphor, too.)

        • That reminds me of the Narrator’s fate in Act 2 of Into the Woods.

  11. Ever get the feeling you’re a bit player in the story of your own life?

    • All the time. Sometimes, I’m not convinced it’s a speaking part.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Better that than being the comic relief. [Wink]

    • I am ever expecting my next line to be a stage direction: Exit, pursued by a bear.

    • One time in a late night gaming session one of my friends speculated that we might just be PCs in someone’s game.

      Another friend had a more chilling idea… what if we’re NPCs?

      • Do you randomly come up with information useful to others?

        Do you pick fights in taverns or harass wenches?

        Have you ever put a geas on anyone?

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Well, by my understanding of Role Playing Games, NPC can just be random “background” characters not as important as the PC.

          IE if we’re NPC, then we’re not important as the Players. [Evil Grin]

          • In general, the distinction of being an NPC is that one is controlled by the DM, not the player. They can be used to move the game along, or as disposable characters who are essentially redshirts, no matter what they happen to be wearing.

          • On the other hand, we’re less likely to be railroaded.

        • Do you randomly come up with information useful to others?

          Well, I’m not sure how often the “random” and “useful” aspects coincide, but yeah.

          Do you pick fights in taverns or harass wenches?

          Not with my BAB, and with my CHA pretty much anything would be considered harassment.

          Have you ever put a geas on anyone?

          Never. Do you have any idea what level I’d have to be for that?

          Oh, crap… I’m an NPC.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          I often do start talking about the political situation at great length.

        • Do you have weapons or other useful items for sale at the asking?

          • Are you interested in [swords], [axes], [maces], [bows and crossbows], or [other weapons]?

          • Reports are the Home Shopping Network is planning to add a GunTV Channel (expected to debut Jan. 20), offering a full array of gun culture product. All guns purchased will be shipped to a licensed dealer near you for pick-up and background check (not in that order.) Segments will cover “topics like women’s concealed weapon’s apparel, big-game hunting and camping.”

            Reports are the ceilings at the NY Times editorial offices are being steam-cleaned.

            • Reality Observer

              Oh, my. I’ll have to keep an eye out for it on my provider. The spouse watches HSC quite a bit – I can’t wait for her to come home and ask ME what I’m watching.

              (I wonder if they’ll sell Larry’s MHI lowers…)

          • Did you ever take an arrow to the knee?

        • Patrick Chester

          Do you have your own meme and fanbase?

          😀

      • For some time I’ve had this strange image of someone dying, after a long hard life, and… the kid wakes up, pulling his head from the VR setup at some arcade and declaring, “Well, that sucked. I want my quarter back!”

        • Personally I want to have some words with the game designer who made it so fricking hard to lose weight!

          • It isn’t the designer’s fault we’ve eliminated dysentery, intestinal parasites and famine. You hack the game, you’re gonna get unintended consequences.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Ever read Kevin Anderson’s Gamearth Trilogy?

          Some gamers had created this Game World which had become real and one of the gamers realized it so he decided to play a game that would destroy the Game World.

          We see the story as the characters within the Game World try to protect their world from its creators.

          At the end of the trilogy, we find out that the original gamers are characters in an alien’s game. [Evil Grin]

  12. Btw, Orson Scott Card has an Alvin Maker story out as of last week. Since it’s a bit… relevant, he does his best to make the story funny, and otherwise adds a spoonful of sugar to make the messaging go down.

    Nicely done example of how to entertain and make a point, rather than just knifing the reader and then beating him over the head until dead.

    I did think it was pretty funny when Card said “when it was forest down to the shore of the lake” (ie, Lake Erie), because I wouldn’t call cranberry bog and cranberry prairie and swamp a forest. That’s what used to be everywhere from today’s Bowling Green, Ohio to the shores of Lake Erie — The Great Black Swamp and the Cranberry Prairie. But it’s an alternate universe story, so we’ll let that go. (I will agree that the Swamp had a fair amount of trees, but the Prairie didn’t.)

  13. Oh – life used to be predictable in the good old days.
    You could predict the need to hide everything at least once each year when armies passed through.
    And the need to up and flee the area, at least twice in your life, to move elsewhere; or stay and die.
    And people you know know would die for a variety of reasons each year.
    And…

    • And you can predict the eating is going to be pretty spare if you didn’t get the usual amount of rain in early spring.

    • You could predict that if you had a bunch of kids, some of them might live to adulthood, but all would take just about a miracle.

  14. Glass footware always seemed an invitation to disaster.

  15. “And then this writer explained that since childhood, the writer had dreamed of having books out “on shelves” and being able to tell friends to go and buy them at any bookstore.”

    I’ve mentioned more than once that I’m against copyright and patents. I refuse to get into such an argument about the issue at this time; it is sufficient to say that I’ve grown up with the ideas of both, and my views towards both have softened considerably, starting with my heavy use of Linux, which is successful despite eschewing both.

    In any case, the point I wanted to make is this: if I had a magic wand, I’d get rid of patents and copyrights, effective immediately, and at a minimum I would take away the power of the FDA to specifically remove their power to make it a felony to use an unapproved substance for medical purposes until it’s been fully vetted to FDA risk-adverse bureaucrat satisfaction.

    Having said that, as a child in Junior High, I would design things as class projects, and even keep special “Inventor’s Journals” so that I could prove that I originated an idea when I wanted to get a patent. Even though I now consider this process severely flawed, I still have this notion that I could invent something, patent it, and then…Profit! (And I have this notion, even despite one of my greatest fears being that I’ll work hard and independently on an idea, and work hard to bring it to market, only to learn that some punk patent troll has an overly-vague patent of dubious quality that I have to bend over backwards to accept, simply because I couldn’t afford the lawyers needed to bust that patent in court…)

    These narratives that we build up can really stick with us, whether we want them to or not!

    • I like what the British patent office or such adopted during WWII for ‘perpetual motion’ devices: Applications must include a working model.

      I recall the story of Bell (and Gray) racing to the patent office AFTER having built a working device.