Was life ever simple? Or do we just see it that way looking back, because for good or ill all decisions have been made, and things are the course they are? I don’t mean just personally, but collectively, as for lack of a better term “a civilization.”
I know people — particularly the left, but the right too, in a sort of strange, wishful way — have a way of looking at the period of the thirties through the fifties as very simple, and clear. Part of the reason the left thinks MAGA is “racist” is that they have in mind this time period where (they think) people of other races/cultures were shoved out of public or professional life, and all you saw was the perfect white family with two children, a dog and the — white natch — picket fence.
Life was never that simple or that clear, either in racial terms, or really, anything else. First of all, humans mysogenate. It’s what they do. I’m fairly sure we haven’t had any aliens land, or we’d all have alien DNA. Might be just a little bit, might not even be compatible with ours, but some ancestor would have found a way of doing the dirty dance with the alien, and now there would be “weird, we all seem to have some amphibian DNA of unknown provenance.” Because humans. We’re complicated, and we fall in love with the weirdest people/things. In fact, I remember reading something about the heart being perverse, which I take is Biblical for what Jordan Peterson talks about. We like to imagine ourselves as our conscious mind, ONLY, but heaven help me, the rest of you gets a vote too. And it’s very often a stupid vote. My body for instance doesn’t seem to know how to communicate “we’re tired” or “We should take a break now” except by throwing a major wobbler that sends me to the emergency room. And the non conscious parts of my mind, which is where my writing comes from? Yeah, those are fun.
I am not, as it might sometimes appear by what I choose to write when completely gormless about what sells.
True, I don’t read many bestsellers. Mostly that is because most bestsellers have an “easy pattern.” Okay, not easy, but very common. There’s something to the pattern of their plot that ties in with the human mind so well, that it’s “intuitively obvious.” Unfortunately, like my younger son’s, my mind sees patterns really easily. Which means when I pick up your big hit thriller, I know every step of the plot in the first chapter. So the only way I read those is when I’m marooned at some vacation resort and those are the only thing to read. This is not likely now with the kindle, but it used to be that those were the books people bought and left behind, and that being in a constant situation of being broke, those were the only things I had to read for months on end.
The problem is that I’ll make plans on what to write and plan out the details, because I know what sells. This came up because we were having a discussion with friends on facebook about what — for lack of a better term — sells best for a little bit of again for lack of a better word “kink.”
For instance, if you’re writing urban fantasy and add a gay male couple, you’ll probably sell better (yeah, even if you put in woke politics) because most of the readers of urban fantasy are women, and women don’t mind that (as long as you don’t go ridiculously, explicitly graphic.)
In the same way, if you’re writing adventure/action sf/f you’ll sell better if you add in a lesbian couple (sans politics) because most of your readers are male and that’s fine with them. In fact, it might make the books marginally more interesting. Again, if you don’t put in graphic stuff, not that males object to that but because they tend to prefer their erotica visual.
When I said that someone asked something like “So, Sarah, A Few Good Men? Why?”
Well, because the part that actually writes the books couldn’t give a good goddamn about my years of careful observation and tabulation of “what sells.”
And if I try to write something that part of me isn’t interested in, it just won’t. I get hours and hours of sitting and staring at the computer and nothing happens. While if I write something it feels needs to be written, things flow out so fast that I have trouble keeping up with the 5k words a minute.
Which is why Peterson advises we bribe and reward that part of us. Which is not really easy right now, because we don’t have money to bribe it (my writing self understands very few things as enough of a bribe. One of the few things it “gets” is weekends away in a hotel. Writing weekends away, even. But those set us back $500 a weekend, and right now we’re already overcommited, until younger son finds some sort of part time work to finance HIS part of the expenses. (Not as easy as you think. There isn’t much in part-time engineering in our region. He’s doing what he can with his typesetting business, and he’ll soon have a website where you can see what he does and his work. But… well. We’ll manage. I just can’t bribe myself effectively to do what I must do to make money so I can bribe myself…)
It occurred to me it’s not just humans who are thus divided. All of the world pretty much is. There is this memory of “the simple times.”
And then you get hold of primary sources on the thirties or fifties. Let’s say it’s particularly hilarious to read stuff from the right lauding that time of great freedom in either of those decades. Let’s just say that if some of the things happening back then were happening now we’d all be talking about how we were ready for revolution. (And the only reason they weren’t then is that the press was mass-media. You think it’s bad enough now, with a lying press? They had the same, but no way to check it. It was that concentration and lack of individual communication or access to the public by individuals unfiltered by the media/publishers that put us in the situation we’re in, with what is functionally the enemy of western civilization in control of the vital organs of culture. Before you get discouraged, it helps to remember, we’re only now fighting back. Continue fighting, but remember things take time. The larger a movement is, the longer it takes for it to become noticeable, much less prominent in the culture.)
And as for the left thinking that everyone before the oughts were good white Christians or whatever… Oh, sweet summer children. Let’s say when they get their freak on, with witchcraft or being naked in public, or talking about their poli relationships, or whatever the actual hell they have in their heads that day, they rarely if ever (I’ve never seen it) would have managed to shock their ancestors or ancestresses 100 years ago. Those Edwardians… well… Let’s just say they had fewer hangups. Yes, I know what the public image is. But none of them would have worried about things that the left worries about now like “differential of power” or “implied patriarchy” which meant they were much freer to do whatever crossed their heads at the moment. Of course they also thought they would have shocked their ancestors. And I bet you they wouldn’t.
At some point, if you have a chance, read a book called Our Bones Are Scattered about the Indian revolt in Victorian times. I only read it once because it’s a deeply disturbing book, one of those clashes of civilization where you feel sorry for both sides. But it is very well written, and the beginning of the book is…. revealing. The British commander was… well… sort of married to a woman who had been sort of married something like six times before and who went from man to man, collecting kids along the way. Notwithstanding which, they were Victorian nobility and had a bunch of kids of their own and…
Let’s just say Victorians aren’t the way we’ve learned to think of them either. In fact you can be sure pretty much no one ever was. People kept and keep the front they need to, but behind the scenes things were always messy and complicated.
Which often makes finding our own way in this messy and complicated way very difficult.
I was talking to friends about finding the right marriage partner, and I had to explain that even if there is someone you’re “meant”to be with “before time itself” and you do go along with this plan, it doesn’t make it perfect or strife free. In fact almost all the couples like this I know are… well, if they weren’t “meant” you’d think they were utterly unsuited. (Take us, for instance.) But there’s an undercurrent, something you can’t express or explain in words, because it isn’t a thing of words that makes it possible. And that would make anything else much harder.
I suspect it’s the same thing with career. I know I hate, writing. Well, not writing. I love writing. In fact we were joking that if we won the lottery it would give me “more time to write.” The fact this is a goal tells you how broken I am. But I hate the business of writing. When I came in, I felt like I was trying to climb a ladder that was dissolving under me. In a way it was. I was also perfectly clear on the fact that my politics were probably already hurting me and would hurt me more if I came out of the political closet. Because our world was permeable, and there were acquaintances from before publication who knew my politics, it’s possible I was never in the closet. Which frankly explains much.
Talking to older son yesterday, talking about changing “goals” — which is not quite right, but changing your goal within the goal — I told him my ambitions have been broken so many times I don’t even know what I’m aiming for right now, mostly because I’m having trouble believing in a goal or that I can reach it. (Yes, this is a personal problem. And don’t worry too much. I’ll figure it out. It’s just some psychological wounds are deep and take time to heal if you don’t want them to fester.)
But you need a goal. You need something that challenges you, that pushes you to excel. You rational self must have something to strive for, or you can’t convince the mute, annoying part of you who actually does the work to work.
And I think that’s part of the issue, with our civilization at large. You see, the world is very complicated, and people are given the impression that it’s never been this complicated — which is a lie — and know for a fact that things are changing very fast. They no more find a path, than it dissolves and crumbles under them.
We’re preparing the new generation rottenly for this, too. Look, every generation is educated according to what their grandparents thought was desirable. Which is why I had the education that would have helped an upper class Portuguese Lady in the mid 19th century to make a good marriage and shine in society. For practical purposes, other than diplomacy (which only my mother ever thought I was suited for and which elicits snort-giggle from most other people) the only use for my degree was academia by the time I took it. Though business desperately needed translators, we weren’t being taught office skills, or the terminology we needed to translate science or industrial stuff. (I learned those on my own, through running into them head first, as I learn practically anything.)
Kids now are being educated to the dreams of the early twentieth elites: for a communitarian world with a strong central government. They’re being told this is the future and what to expect, because when that idea made it into academia, and slowly worked itself through to curriculum and expectations, that was the future everyone EXPECTED. Even conservatives thought that the future would involve central planning. They just wanted to keep a little more individual freedom with it.
I remember blowing the world of Robert’s third grade teacher apart when we informed her that no, in the future there wouldn’t be a need for MORE group work, and that all creativity wouldn’t be communal (which frankly is funny. Creativity doesn’t work that way) but that it would be more individual, probably with people working on their piece of the project miles and miles away from the rest of the “team” and having to pull their weight alone. Dan and I explained why based on tech and trends, and all the poor woman kept saying is “that’s not what we were taught.”
Our kids were prepared not only for a world that doesn’t exist, but the world that idiot intellectuals (all intellectuals are idiots. They mostly don’t know a thing of the real world or real people) thought would come about, somehow, automagically. Think of Brave New World, but everyone is happy and doesn’t need the soma. (rolls eyes.)
And then we sneer at millenials for not finding their way, when people my age, who are self-directed and battlers, and have vocations, find ourselves caught in the grinding gears of change and get our goals and work broken over and over again, and yeah, also don’t find it easier to find our way.
Talk to the kids. Help them find something they’re “meant” to do (that’s not how it works, so make sure they know there isn’t only one goal and only one vocation, but there’s almost always something that their skills and ability are useful for RIGHT NOW. And the ability to learn more to change.) If needed, hook them on multiple streams of income. Help them see it’s possible. Dispel their illusions that life was ever easy.
Sure, in the past there were people who got “the one job” and stuck to it through thick and thin to the golden watch at the end. But I don’t think they were ever the majority. And by the time I came along, you couldn’t have any loyalty to your company, because it would have none to you.
But there was a way. There were paths. You had to be nimble and stay awake (not woke, because that’s just an agrammatical word for the embracing of an irrational and ever changing philosophy proclaimed from above. So the opposite of what you need in a fast changing world.) Acquire skills when you can. Learn new things. And be ready to jump sideways, backwards and forwards, into a field of endeavor that might not even have existed when you started on your way.
Dream big. Dream of new and undiscovered ways to succeed. And then chart your course and adjust it. Daily if needed. But it’s probably more productive to do it every few months.
How can you support yourself, but also how can you do something you find worthwhile in the middle of these choppy seas?
You’ll manage it. Your ancestors did. Tech change might not have been as fast for them, but I will promise you their lives were also no picnic.
Learn, think, change, but above all, do. Challenge yourself daily.
The winds are contrary and the compass is spinning like a top.
But if we stick through it, there is at least the possibility of a better future ahead.
Hands to the wheel. Let’s go.