Enter Rumor, painted all in tongues…
Like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, I grew up in a village, which means I saw a lot of wickedness, but also of the inner workings not just of the human mind, but of human societies. In small model, as it were, it’s more obvious what is going on than in our vast, loosely connected society, and it’s easier to see the workings of rumor better.
The village ran on rumors and whispers. Not all of them malicious, mind. I found myself at the center of several fables which were designed, as far as I could tell, to make life way more interesting for everyone passing them on. Because in the village knowledge was power, and therefore no housewife or cleaning lady would ever admit to not knowing anything.
I must have been a particularly vexing subject, because — it wasn’t even rebellion — I never quite “got” the code of behavior for Portuguese women (at least in the village) on top of not quite acting like a normal human being, in that my body most of the time doesn’t talk to me, and Mr. Hormone couldn’t make his voice heard until well into my twenties, and even then in compartmentalized circumstances. So, for instance, I went around with my ersatz brothers (my brother’s friends, who, when I was three, nationalized me as “the people’s sisters”) without any consciousness that we weren’t in fact genetically related. Because I’d accept rides from them, or sit across them studying at the coffee shop, the village assumed I was a loose woman. But because I never actually became seized with the consequences of such behavior, and because I wore no makeup and lived with my nose in a book, I must be a spinster-in-the-making.
Add to that that I received letters from men abroad. Not just my then-boyfriend, no. Lots of letters with male names. (Most of my friends were always male.) AND that I had friends visit, both male and female and some as old as my dad.
The stories they made up to explain this sometimes made my head spin, but all you really need to know is that Dan is an Italian I married in Germany, and the village is still confused as to why we moved to the US.
Those stories amused me. I would whoop with laughter at the idea that I was actually dating my brother’s best friend and “playing false” my far away boyfriend. And as for the story of Dan’s and mine multi-country romance, it still makes me chuckle.
Not that these rumors weren’t damaging, mind. They would have been lethal if I’d ever intended to marry in the village, or even in Portugal. As is I’m sure if I smiled at a boy twice (A sure sign of interest in village code, but in my case likely to happen because I realized I’d been staring blankly at him while miles away in my mind, and then smiled embarrassedly to cover it up) a delegation of the village matrons descended on his mother who was told I was a loose woman and dangerous and she should not allow such a thing in her family. The only one that came back to me — because the young man in question was a friend with whom I traded books and we were both amused at that being misinterpreted — the delegation not only told his mother of my shameful “history” but also informed her I was an Almeida woman, and therefore if he married me, he’d never be able to call his soul his own. As I was at the time engaged to Dan, I passed this on, and we still joke about it. It amused me because THAT reputation of women in my family was deserved.
However, nota bene that I was considered a “loose woman” while the wildest excitement of my weekends was translating a text between five languages and seeing if it matched at the end, or going out for Chinese food with my brother and sister in law (and yes, usually one of my brother’s friends. Yes, it’s possible my brother was trying really hard at matchmaking, but honestly, that didn’t even occur to me till I was married for fifteen years and also, good Lord, if the man was interested he should have SAID. Because in such signals I need a two-by-four. The first guy to kiss me — at eighteen — was the first who thought to OUTRIGHT ASK me. It’s NOT a coincidence that my marriage came from a over-the-phone courtship, okay?)
It sort of brings to mind another Shakespeare allusion. Something about being as cold as ice and pure as snow. It didn’t matter. I stuck out, and so the village’s fevered imagination circled around me, making up all sorts of crazy things, which mostly amused me, because no I wasn’t interested in marrying in the village. (Honestly, I never thought I would marry at all.)
Some of those rumors, as seen above, while not malicious in themselves, in their crazy effort to make me interesting they posited things that damaged my reputation and prospects. It’s human and unlovely.
But then there were another kind of rumors, and those really stained everyone they touched. They got added to the “just for fun”rumor mill and wildly spun.
I don’t know the ones about me — well, I wouldn’t would I? — but I knew the ones about a friend’s sister, someone who frankly probably never looked at a guy twice in her life. But she was “above the village” in origins and upbringing, and she went away a lot with cars picking her up, and that was enough.
I tamped them on them really hard whenever they cropped up, including when women in my family repeated them. Trust me, there was no possible way anyone would consider these plausible knowing the woman, but the village wasn’t interested in knowing the woman. They were upset because she was “not of them” and the only way they could reach her was to fling mud.
I left the village far behind, both physically and psychologically. My preferred habitat is big cities, not because I’m mad-crazy for many people but because in a large enclave I’m possibly the least interesting thing ever. Also, because there’s anonymity in multitudes. If the next door neighbors never asked my name, they can’t track me down online, much less make up things about me. (Unfortunately my husband talks to neighbors. In our old, solidly blue neighborhood, the neighbors had real trouble reconciling the artsy, vague cat rescuer with “to the right of Lenin” which in their minds meant Hitler. Which meant sometimes they approached me carrying Whole Foods bags as a sort of shield of righteousness, or, while talking to me, would let drop they were for gay marriage or that pot should be legalized with the sort of expression of a two year old saying the F word. And were shocked when I agreed. Let’s say I think it was good for everyone when I moved away. They probably have fewer migraines.) Oh, also I like cities for museums and parks. I’m that curious kind of introvert who NEEDS to see some number of strangers every day. It’s just best for everyone if I don’t actually interact.
Anyway, imagine my surprise when I found Science Fiction was the same writ large. Or writ weird.
I should have realized it, because, under traditional publishing, our population was about the size of the village’s, at least if you filtered down to “People who make a living of this, or are serious enough to try to.” We all attended the same cons, (to meet editors), were in the same email lists, and generally rubbed elbows every day.
As in the village, I didn’t really know the vicious rumors about me. But I had a couple of people start conversations with me in the serene belief that I as a) South American b) hated America (no clue why they thought I was here, then) c) had come here because my family was starving to realize that what I call “Narrative A” was in play. Narrative A is the set of assumptions that Americans bring with them whenever they meet someone of Latin ancestry. I first met it when my mother in law on my (civil) wedding day told me I must strive not to be subservient, or Dan would get bored with me. (“Sarah’s too subservient,” said no one, ever. Which told me it was narrative A.)
Then there were crazier, “makes them way more interesting” stories, like the belief that we were in a group marriage with our best friends. Oh, I know why. We were all very comfortable with each other, so we might lean on each other, or put arms over shoulders in public. But …. yeah.
However, I had enough experience in rumor to know there must ALSO be vicious rumors. I went through my first ten years as a published writer watching everything I did and said in public, for fear that I’d give these rumors fodder, particularly as I’d realized some of them were politically based. (And though I AM to the right of Lenin, the opinions they ascribed to me were bizarre. Yes, yes, racist, sexist, homophobic, the last one sending my devoted fans — many of them gay — into whoops of helpless laughter. As for sexist, I don’t like twats of either sex, but I don’t think twatness is a gender per se. It’s just a combination of entitlement, maliciousness and stupidity, and boy, have we seen enough of it.)
After ten years I came out politically and gave up my prospects in the village. Fortunately there is indie, so I really can’t care less what they repeat. Which is good, since, you know, because the things they say are crazier than the bunch of stories dreamed up by hyper-religious village widows and spinsters.
No, seriously. Even they were careful not to accuse me of things that were flatly impossible for me to do, and stupidly unrealistic for me to want to do.
They might have accused my mother of wanting to topple the government and seize power (she would have done it, too, if it weren’t for her tricky heart) but no one would have said that of me, because… how would I do it as a school girl with only a few friends the same age? Now, if I’d had journalists in my pocket and politicians terrified of me, like mom did, that would be plausible. (No, I don’t know how. You’d have to have met mom to know how to achieve that with a fourth grade formal education and no family connections. People say I’m a force of nature. No. Mom IS a force of nature. Probably a tsunami. I’m the very pale reflection.)
But the village widows and spinsters of science fiction are crazy enough to accuse a group of writers, only one of them a bestseller, of wanting to keep “Women and minorities” out of science fiction. Let alone that about half of us are women, and two of us are “minorities” there is the fact none of us are editors and publishers.
Do editors and publishers want to keep women and minorities from writing sf/f? Danged if I know. Back when I cared about things NY publishers said, I was told often enough that women didn’t have the mind to write science fiction, and watched a friend of mine who is a physicist be told the same and also that she has the heart of a fantasy writer. (She swears she’s hidden it, and the jar won’t leak.) And I was told that I must write “authentic” narratives, meaning stories with Portuguese people, because apparently that’s the only story I can tell. (There are Portuguese people in my stories. But I’m not limited by that. Hell, I haven’t been there in 35 years. Except for brief visits. It’s all changed so much I can’t write anything set there. Like I know.) And I heard from friends who tan interestingly that they ALSO were told to write “authentic” — meaning limited and circumscribed — narratives.
So, yeah, there might be someone keeping women and minorities out of science fiction, or at least make us feel uncomfortable, but you know, weirdly they were all on the other camp, and well connected enough to get us slandered in national publications and wikipedia pages.
But us? Okay, let’s think we had a ranging need to do this (and were therefore insane, since, you know, some of us are women and minorities oh, and the majority of writers and publishers are women, so taking them out of sf/f would mean the end of the field) HOW? Being sane it would never occur to us. It would be like me deciding I’m going to change the variety of wheat sown in the US. How?
Now apparently people in this blog hate gypsies and want to commit genocide against them. This is amazingly bizarre. Yes, I know that the idiot Floppy Camel has taken stuff from comments and interpreted it through his looking-glass mind to mean that. Yeah. Well, you know, he’s so invested in disguising his perfectly normal, traditional marriage, because he and his wife have been scamming the community out of “diversity” attention for years, that he can’t possibly be thinking anymore. The migraine of trying to reconcile that nonsense, including, btw, the belief that Dave Freer will cause people to attack them by revealing they’re utterly conventional (and across the world. And annoying/reviling people who have never attacked anyone, ever) probably rotto-rooted what remained of his brain.
BUT the truly bizarre thing is that this has now come to me three times from the left. From what should be normal, sane, rational people on the left. No, seriously. They’ll say something like “Well, I think gypsies shouldn’t be killed!” in that tone of a two year old saying something naughty. And are usually completely confused with my answer that I don’t think any ethnic group should be killed. Just like my former neighbors were by my support for gay marriage.
It’s illustrative of the kind of insanity the left buys into that they would believe we’d actually discuss that, in blog comments, as a part of our plan for… what? world domination? Yes, because a bunch of odds scattered all over the world, most of us in academic and artistic professions are totally going to form a world government. And most of us being in America totally have a say over what Europeans do with their minority populations.
The person who came spinning onto comments here (the village idiot of village idiots, so betwattled as to not even bother getting where the person who started that thread lived or who she is) seemed to think this was our serious plan and was shocked, shocked, after misinterpreting everything we said, that we could talk about genocide.
Because Europe going nuts and killing the strangers in their midst is such a ridiculous idea and hasn’t happened throughout history. And Europe isn’t about to hit the wall with the welfare state and EU and need a scapegoat.
Yeah, we did say gypsies’ behaviors encourage this. But they are their behaviors. Not rumors, but things they are actually proud of. And which, incidentally, mesh very badly with the welfare state.
And no, we’re not being racist. Behavior is not race. If you think it is, Hitler would LOVE you. “Behavior is race” IS the justification for genocide.
The fact that they comb through this blog every day and have to resort to taking comments wildly out of contest and misinterpreted to build their crazy rumors on is telling. As is the fact their minds are apparently virgin of history, sociology and psychology which form the background against which such discussions move. As is the idea that they think we’re “plotting genocide” as though we could, you know, put it in action, because we’re… I don’t know? All powerful? Isn’t it weird that the people who say they can ruin/have ruined our careers also think we run the world? Don’t you think they’d get headaches.
Rumors make no sense, and aren’t supposed to make sense. This doesn’t stop the bitter people with no life from making them up.
I only get upset when people who should know better, some of whom are at least friendly acquaintances start repeating them.
And, of course, when crazy people with axes to grind start spreading them in order to ruin other people’s careers.
There is a reason maligning other people used to be considered a sin.
Unfortunately, like most other sins, starting with envy, in the Marxist heresy rumor mongering is a virtue. How else are you going to gather up all the subversives into the Gulag, unless you listen to the rumor mill and isolate anyone who might, once, have had an unauthorized thought.
If I were still dependent on publishers to get my work out I’d be worried.
As it is, I just laugh, as I leave the village behind.