I’m attending Denver Comicon this weekend, at the Wordfire booth, which has a deal with Baen to host Baen’s authors where Baen doesn’t have a booth.
Yesterday was relatively slow, because Friday always is. Relatively slow is still orders of magnitude larger than the old sf/f cons.
Because all program directors are partly prankster gnomes, and because I was QUITE LITERALLY in between two house moves while the programming was being set, and skimmed the emails without reading, I ended up on the least desirable — first — panel of the con and that was it. That’s fine. It’s not a complaint. I just need to work more with them next year.
However I was so out of it, I only realized early morning that my panel was on mental health in sf and f. (I have a vague memory of having seen that before, then promptly spaced it.)
I have no idea why, still — except maybe the program director thought I was being nuts? — since I’m neither a clinical psychologist, nor a social worker, nor particularly interested in “when your mind goes wrong.”
I thought it was because of Darkship Renegades, where I wrote possibly my worst nightmare: having your mind “invaded” by “someone else” which has sort of happened to me twice. Not “someone else” as in the book, but simply being temporarily impaired due to concussion (once) and hormonal imbalance (once). It is fairly close to being taken over by another mind, in the sense that you remember being able to operate normally for you, you’re aware you’re not, but there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s one of the most frustrating situations in the world. Anyway, so I thought that’s why I landed on the panel, and maybe it was.
But as the panel progressed I figured out none of my characters is EXACTLY normal. I mean, Thena is probably a psychopath (maybe) or at least presents as one. Tom and Kyrie suffer from spectacularly weird childhoods, Zen is recovering from a very traumatic incident and at any rate was raised by wolves, the least said about Luce’s mental health the better, and that’s without getting into witchfinders, musketeer vampires, and other weirder creatures.
I disagree with the thrust of the panel in one thing: my colleagues were very much people of the “writing to change society” persuasion, while I’m writing for money persuasion. Oh, sure for passion, too. But mostly for money. And while I don’t sit around looking at characters and going “which one will make me more money?” I also don’t sit around going “which character will communicate my message.” Some things are not entirely under my control, and most of all I have to have a character who is alive in my head. (Related: someone in the audience “Some cultures value mental illness, like hearing voices.” My colleagues on the panel agreeing “That’s true, and I think it’s something that needs to change.” Me “I could say a lot about this, but I’ll only say, half in jest, ‘Yeah, my royalty checks are not nearly large enough'” — which got me puzzled glances. Sigh. I was born before or after my time. One day I’ll figure out which.)
The thing my colleagues were right about is how affirming it is, if you have a disability or “just” are weird to see someone like you portrayed as a hero/main character.
Now, we’re all grown ups, and don’t NEED that particular affirmation, but I did get more emails of thanks for my Jane Austen fanfic in which Mr. Darcy is handicapped, from handicapped people whom the story made feel “sexy” for the first time in their lives, and I still get occasional notes saying “Thank you for making Nat and Luce fighting men, as I rarely have anyone I feel fairly represents me.”
But in a greater sense, the fact that characters are flawed — partly because it makes them more interesting — is a good thing. Because when the main characters are flawed and still achieve great things, it gives everyone something to shoot for.
Look, none of us, achieving maturity, can say our psyche or our body is unflawed (unless we’re the most unself-reflecting person alive, which is in itself a flaw.)
I was recently surprised by someone who saw me at the height of this eczema flare up saying “I don’t know how you can live with/interact/go about your daily business with that.” Well… I’ve had it since I was one, and humans are an infinitely adaptable organism. I’m not about to let a little (itchy, annoying, responsible for my being awake just now) skin condition hold me back. I have things to do. Being less than normal, even in the pejorative sense, was never a reason to sit down and mourn your fate. Humans, as a species, are the kind to be up and doing. Do you think great great great grandfather Ogg in his cave didn’t have any physical or mental health problems? Ah!
Which bring us to “I’m uncomfortable” — physically or psychologically — “so someone needs to make things right” movement. These people are more or less infants, who think the entire environment including other people exists for their comfort and convenience.
Which is why they’ll never do anything or accomplish anything.
The rest of us, flawed or not, have a date with the future. So set about building, creating, supporting, helping. The only way to forget your own problems is to immerse yourself in tasks bigger than yourself.
Sure, of course, you’re cracked. We all are. But to quote Leonard Cohen “There is a crack in everything. It’s how the light gets in.”