Whispers, particularly malicious whispers against someone, are a terrible thing. Anyone who has seen them to their work, winding around a workplace, a small town, or even a profession, an avocation, a political organization, knows how destructive they can be.
This is partly because human memory is not … reliable. I did a post for PJ recently (hasn’t gone up yet or I’d link) about why it is a good idea to demand proof instead of running off and condemning people because someone’s testimony is “credible”) and frankly what I found shocked me, because human memory just plain isn’t reliable.
This is a problem, because so much of what we are and our image relies on our memories of what we did, thought, believed. Particularly for those of us who have lived a life of the mind, it is helpful to say “I believed this. I stood for this. I fought that.”
But it turns out what you remember — anything you remember, not just traumatic memories, or important ones — is porous, malleable, conformable. Turns out things can leak in. Particularly in terms of small incidents (stuff like someone giving you a dirty look or giving you a wide berth as they pass you in a hallway. Or even touching you in passing. Things you would not have paid attention to even if they’d happened) it’s easy to make you remember things that never happened. This is also easy with things a long time ago, say more than ten years. There are other things that happened and you find proof happened and you did but you have no memory at all of them. They just vanished like water off a duck’s back (on this was based the whole cult of “repression.” I.e. you’re supposed to have repressed memories that were so traumatic you wholly walled them in. Now, apparently it is proven this is just not true. Sure, there are memories you’ve lost forever, but they’re as likely to contain completely trivial stuff as very traumatic stuff. Your brain is just not a great recording instrument. Of course, this is not as good for storytelling as the one great memory whose unlocking will change character and world forever. The world persists in disappointing the craftswoman in me. First Atlantis never existed, now this. Sigh.) Oh, also every time you remember something it becomes contaminated with the tie you remembered it, or with something someone sitting nearby said, or with your current feelings on the matter.
It is also possible for stories you read or watched to contaminate what you remember. You know that whole “We laughed, we cried, it became a part of us”? Pretty much. Emotions felt at a piece of (successful) entertainment can wrap themselves around similar (or dissimilar) memories of yours and give them a different meaning.
And no, I’m not going to give links to all of this, because I did about half of them for the article which will come out eventually and it took me the best part of an afternoon.
However it turns out life would be much easier if we were just the place where falling angel meets rising ape. We are that, caught forever between spirit and flesh, but it turns out except for the individual moment, we’re half story and half dream, too, all wrapped up in the spirit and the flesh.
This not only makes it important for us to believe ourselves as part of something bigger than our individual lives (and in this post religious and post nationalist age, that is very often some crusade or other, and at the very least “virtuous” in the way the current world views virtue. Which– never mind. That need to be part of something bigger gave its force and its horror to both Nazis and Communists. No, nationalism wasn’t to blame for any of the long wars of the 20th century [not even the first. It was more stupid alliances] but the need to be part of a greater whole that was going to bring paradise to Earth was in fact at the root of making normal people into monsters. Remember that. Perhaps it is that all created things will eventually recreate the sins of angels. Who knows. But remember that. When a movement’s aims are too good to be true and promise the impossible, ignore how good it makes you feel and remember what such movements have done before.)
Because we know our own individual death is inevitable, we are susceptible to stories larger than us. We get captured in them and pulled along. Yes, sure, religion has been that, at times. And at times the narrative has been such that the story was heinous. But getting rid of religion only makes us susceptible to other, more secular stories. Again, if someone promises you paradise made of normal human beings, in this too solid world, step back and think. Because we’ve heard and seen and read and — as a species — lived that story before.
But that impermanence of memory and that strange fluidity of humans who need to belong — that social ape frame upon which we’re built has a lot to answer for — makes whisper campaigns very effective. You hear something about someone you work with, or even more effectively, someone you see only infrequently or meet only over the internet. You hear they’re evil, or dangerous, or have beliefs that go against the current society’s most prized virtues, and suddenly it seems to you that you remember all sorts of things. And you step back, and you feel the crowd must be right.
And suddenly someone with a stellar reputation, someone who’s been as honest and reputable as a human can be, someone you rather liked in fact, finds him or herself in the middle of a social desert, and finds career — and if bad enough family — falling apart. Often with absolutely no idea why or how. Oh, of course, usually people find other excuses for doing the person down. And even if later on the initial malicious rumor is disproved they find reasons they were perfectly right to treat the person as they did. Most likely by then, this person who found him or herself reviled and exhiled for no reason he or she could figure out has started lashing out, and is resentful or angry, or worse, depressed. So it’s easy to find a reason. He/she is either hostile or lazy. You were perfectly right to treat this person badly. Bad temperament. Hard to work with. Not someone we want around.
I know the rumors about me. I know because the writing community leaks like a sieve and is made of socially inept people, which means sooner or later someone tries to either confront me or condole with me. Which means it all comes out.
I also have shrewd guesses as to the — self interested — sources but there’s at least three, and it’s all gone mingled.
Sure, I’m hostile, lazy and occasionally hard to work with. Or in other words, a writer. If you don’t believe me ask anyone who’s ever done a stint as an editor. I found this out when I did anthologies. Mostly we’re cranky, dissatisfied with our output, mope and sometimes lash out for no reason other than that we’ve been fighting the story in our heads and it just won’t work. Pretty much all sane writers know we’re like that. (The insane ones view themselves as wronged angels.) We console ourselves with the thought that visual artists are worse. I was actually surprised it was true, when I tried to buy art.
Difficult to work with and crazy beyond the norm of writers? Well, I’ve yet to cuss out any of my editors to their faces (doing French verbs in your head helps with that) or to publish names and places, and scan in or paste the crazier parts of editorial letters and manuscript notes. I’ve also never sued my publishers or editors, something that’s not as rare as you would think. Oh, and I’ve never called book distributors to call them names because my book isn’t on shelves.
I’d say for a writer that counts as being fairly stable and easy to get along with. I know that on the line level I’m actually almost supine. Oh, you want to change was to might have been? Tilts head sideways. Whatever. You want to move a punctuation mark? Be my guest. I missed punctuation class because I was sick. Yes, each time for each of seven languages. Shut up. It’s how I remember it.
The other stuff? The racist, sexist, homophobic stuff? Oh, hell. Yeah, sure, if everything means exactly its inverse. Does it? Or if — beyond what you believe — socialism/communism is best for minorities women and gays. Is it? Because if not, no, I’m none of those.
I am Odd, always was. I have real trouble believing the notion of race. Partly because in our village I saw someone from Africa come in, marry in, and there not being a trace that you could say “African” in her granddaughter.
Are there racial characteristics? Sure. Mostly caused by human populations being geographically or culturally isolated and breeding with each other (probably. We aren’t actually sure, to be honest, but that’s the logical hypothesis and we’ve seen it happen in other animals.) Does it come with mental and emotional as well as physical characteristics. Probably. But probably not as tightly bound to “appearance” as people tend to think. The stereotypes we associate with races first of all vary by culture that holds them (no really.) and by time (apparently the idea that black people can’t help gambling was a racist stereotype at the beginning of the 20th century. Something I only found out by reading books written at that time for people of that time.) But more importantly humans are plastic because our memory is. We’re likely to live up down (and sideways) to stereotypes. We’re likely to be influenced by our upbringing and culture might have deeper roots than genes. And we’re very influenced by story. So if we believe our race “has always been held down” no matter how ridiculous, we’re going to be hostile and expect things to be handed to us. Regardless of what race we are.
IQ… ? Again, part is what you do with it. Even things like memory are trainable. Do me a favor if you have little ones. Make them memorize poetry. Vast tracts of poetry. Turns out there was a reason for that. It trains you to be able to memorize things you’ll need later. But it’s not just Anatole France that has proven that sometimes the physical apparatus has nothing to do with the IQ displayed. Time and again (ask any brain researcher) you find people with brains so diseased or traumatized or otherwise screwed up they should not be functional have done brilliant and wonderful work. And the inverse too. Because that story part of us, that dream, that whatever you call it beyond the physical can make us brilliant or stupid more so than what we were born with.
Nature or nurture? Yes. And heaven help us, we have no idea where one stops and the other begins.
I believe in race for racially-bound genetic illnesses, and even that… meh. Sometimes they don’t go with external characteristics.
I believe there are also racial narratives which can make people act a certain way. For some reason the 20th century decided it would get rid of all in-group positive ones, and fill it with negative ones instead, which… didn’t work so well. Blame Marx and the rush to be “oppressed” because that meant the future was yours.
I believe in individuals. And if an individual is decent — or even interesting — I couldn’t really give a good goddamn what color you are, what your features are or even if you have an accent. (Though I have trouble understanding accents. Stop laughing.)
Sexist? Um… to an extent. Guilty as charged. It’s grandma’s fault, see. She taught by example more than by word, that men were very well in their professions, and perhaps, maybe, the more trustworthy ones, certain aspects of politics. But the truth was anywhere outside their metier they were basically overgrown children with their enthusiasms and their strange fixations (in grandma’s defense, most men in the family are Odds.) Women who did all the real and important work, from finance planing to looking after kids, to real estate trading, to social positioning of the family so jobs and opportunities would come to us, were supposed to never let on that men weren’t quite the masters of the universe they thought they were. Because, hey, look, not their fault and they were doing the best they could. Also, they were in their own way as cute as kids and puppies. Why be mean to them? Support them, help them, keep them fed and clean, and let them do what they’re good at to help you with your aims.
I’ve grown a bit before that, and I don’t view all of those roles and characteristics as solely male or female, and I, thank heavens, married a man who is a true partner and someone I can talk to. I also think my sons are fairly all-around useful, and not just in their chosen path. Grandma wasn’t wrong for her culture and place, but seriously, I’ve gone past that. Sometimes, though, I reflexively fall into it, and drive all three men insane, particularly in times of stress when I try to get them to get out of my way as I shoulder whatever the problem is which is likely too big for me. Sorry guys. It happens. Childhood training abides and comes out when you crack.
However, I’m afraid these people think/say I’m sexist AGAINST women. I’m not even sure what sense that makes. Sure, I’m against women when acting as a mob and donning the holy cloth of victimhood, mostly because they’re letting the story get away with them. Sure, of course, to be sure, women were very oppressed throughout history (mostly due to biology.) But make no mistake, despite what history which only records powerful men says, so were most men. The past was a bad place. You don’t want to go there. But no woman alive today in the west was really oppressed. Sure, life wasn’t all they wanted. Yeah, tell me a story I don’t know. They might have been abused and mistreated — as often by women as men — but those are individual ills, not group ills.
And yeah, I’ve been known to tell my fellow American women that they’re acting — as group — like lunatics, by buying the stories spun to them. Look, someone has to do it, and the guys are afraid to. Also I’m terribly unimpressed by those that say (or find scholarly quotes to the intent) that women like me are what keeps women in bondage. You are not in bondage, except inside your head. You want to look at bondage, look at Islamic countries and think. The only bondage you’re in is to STORY and the story that’s being spun to you to make you part of an unthinking mob is that you’re oppressed by INVISIBLE sexism. Look, guys, when a story depends on an invisible villain and attacks those who would disprove it, it’s not only not true, it’s incompetent. Storytellers should be better than that. I am. Even while very, very ill.
I also believe that men and women have certain, coded in the genes, differences. Always accounting for statistic variations, which means you can find individual examples that are the opposite, men are stronger, faster and better at visual thinking than women. They also tend to think in straighter lines, faster, and because of the way the brain is influenced by hormones with more assurance. Women are better able to bear pain (or weight) for a long period of time or make a great effort over a great period of time, better at verbal thinking and … more connected thinkers. We think in weird clusters and by bizarre paths, which give us a bigger — and often more contradictory — picture than men get. Which also means we present as slower and less confident. But which is in many ways necessary for species survival. Or IOW you know the thing about coming to conclusions with insufficient data? The thing that throughout the ages got called “feminine intuition”? As much as its fun to make fun of it, there’s something to it. Often we can’t pinpoint why but we “know” something and yet it’s true. If you analyze our thought process getting there, you understand we used insufficient and marginally related data to make a picture which is predictive with a high degree of certainty. Since most of the world isn’t a math equation, all variables known, this skill is invaluable.
Is it sexist to believe in those differences? Well, yeah, so is biology. I am sorry, but I’ll believe my lying eyes, not your pretty story.
Homophobe? Are you for real? Seriously now? Can you say that without laughing?
Being an odd I spent my life falling in with other odds, and sometimes these were people who stuck out for differences other than just thinking upside down and sideways. I’ve pretty much always had gay friends, though sometimes I wasn’t aware of their preference (nor did it matter for our association.) I’ve found by and large they’re… people. Some are good, some are despicable. Some are smart, some are dumb, but more importantly, some I want to spend time with, some I don’t. Which is all that matters to me.
In the long scheme of things, who you like to sleep with makes absolutely no difference to me unless I’m married to you. In which case, I hope you want to sleep with me. (So far so good.)
Unless I’m friends with both members of the couple to the same degree (happens) who my friends sleep with is always inexplicable, but if that person makes them happy, I’m happy for them and will treat the SO with the courtesy and respect due someone very important to my friend. That’s the extent of my interest in it.
Oh, unless you mean that by hating socialism and communism I’m bad for gays. But you know, this actually came up in a free for all yesterday, and I can’t think of a single communist country that treats gay people well (or like full citizens.) Not one. Totalitarianism and not being like everyone else don’t mix.
As for socialism, yeah, I know, someone is going to bring up Europe. Europeans are polite and have a social face. I know. I used to be one. Whether you’re a minority or gay, if you visit the socialist (or non socialist. Are there any?) countries of Europe, you’ll come away thinking they’re the sweetest, most accepting….
Be glad you can’t live there, as a citizen. You’d find differently. Warts and all, the US is the most accepting of those who are different, and that includes racial and orientation and any other differences. Europe as a rule is way more conformist and enforces the “normal”, which no, isn’t any of us.
As for women, it depends where in Europe. I loved how I was treated in Austria, but I was a tourist. More southerly latitudes, your illusion in European — and you’ll think socialist, natch — enlightenment might not last out your vacation.
I believe individual freedom is best for all minorities, even that ultimate minority of one.
And I like individuals. I like them a lot. In fact, after being subjected to group attacks (mostly psychological) all through 5th and 6th grades, my love for individuals saved my life. I started by finding them hilarious, honestly, and then went on to find some of them admirable, and sometimes to find the admirable and the despicable together and forgive the later for the sake of the first, because… who is unmixed.
I’ve never behaved badly at a convention, except once and I wasn’t on a panel then. Someone on the panel said America was finished, and I was half out of my seat and arguing before I realized what I was doing. I’d have behaved worse but oldest son by-adult-adoption grabbed me by the back of my coat and held me back, reminding me I was out of order. It was one incident, okay? And at most I planned to be vociferously argumentative. Not even swear words.
I might be hard to work with as a writer. I don’t know. I know there have been horrible delays the last seven or so years, mostly because I was very, very ill and didn’t know it, so I couldn’t account for it.
Edits? I have an issue? I tend to believe whatever critique people give me, unless it’s out there, other-world outlandish. My friends who’ve been with me in critique groups know this, which is why I’ve been forbidden by them from being in critique groups anymore. Semi-outlandish critiques I’ll buy whole, and they’ve sometimes destroyed/stopped books.
If I fight back it’s because there is no sane way to fit critique and work in the same world. Or because someone is kicking history, because, no. I still have to be able to justify decisions made in say historical or alternate history.
Other than that, I’m more likely to be TOO compliant.
Now I know this will do absolutely nothing to counter rumors. And the ones who think anti-Marxist means sexist, racist, homophobe will decide they were right. Be that as it may. There’s only so much you can do for people. Sooner or later they’ll run out of narrative, and maybe come to reality again. Unless they find a better narrative with spiffier uniforms, and then Lord help us all.
After fifth and sixth grade where, after a point I was put in Coventry and no one would speak to me or acknowledge my existence there is very little that any social group can do to “punish” me that I can’t live with or get around.
And as for making a living? Bah. There’s indie. And so.many.names. Catch me if you can.
Cons? Look, remember I can see my numbers in indie. Cons might sell me one or two books over what I’d normally sell. Maybe. Sometimes none. They’re important for meeting with my fans, because they want to meet me. But for what they give? Too much effort, too little return. I go to LC because I get to see most of my friends and fans in one place, all together. It’s easier. It’s also a family trip and as the boys move away and have families of their own, that will be even more important. Other than that? It doesn’t matter. As the boys get more on their own and we have more money, I’ll try to do weekends here and there to see the rest of you. I teach writing almost every week at MGC, and I’m available to talk on various online platforms. I’m not an hermit, and I don’t need a con to have a platform.
So on the whole, while I know I can’t counter the whispers, I’m lucky to be in the profession I am, when I am. It might set me back a little, and sometimes it makes me sad, but overall? Nothingburger.
All the same, I thought it was useful to point out what I actually believe and who I actually am.
So people suspicious of a narrative have a place to go to and point at.
Those who aren’t suspicious of the narrative, and who let themselves be manipulated and pushed by it? I can’t help you.
And sooner or later you’ll find that those who live by the narrative die by the narrative.
At that point, you might think I’m an idiot, because despite everything you’ve done and said I’ll be here, ready to help and be your friend.
I’m not an idiot. I’m just tolerant of human frailty and like individuals. I might never trust you the way I used to, but I’ll help you if I can. You’d need to be truly heinous and have hurt my friends a lot for me never to change my mind about you.
You see, I like individuals. And unlike grandiose narratives built of stone, or creeping whispers made of poison, individuals change, individuals surprise you, individuals can be redeemed.
And I like individuals.