Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Our Futures, Ourselves

The science fiction community is once again convulsed around the bad behavior of some of its members. In this particular instance, the bad behavior is some particularly ugly and unprofessional displays of misogyny. Part of me is furious that we as a field are not already past this, but part of me is glad that the uproar exists. The fact that people are loudly unhappy is - in a world where sexism still exists - a sign of progress. There are people willing to stand up and push back and say, "no, this is wrong, and this is not who we are."

One of the comments I've seen show up more than once in reaction to this mess is a variation on "But science fiction writes about the future. How come it's still stuck in the evils of today? Why is it still a sexist field?"

We build futures, yes. But they are futures that are recognizable to us. 

Here is the thing about being in power, about having privilege. Having those things gives you the luxury of not having to think about them, and what they give you. Because I am white, I don't have to ever think about what it means to live life as a person of color. Because I was fortunate enough to be born into a body that matches up with my gender identity, I don't have to think about what it would have meant if I hadn't been.

Now, whether I can write a good story (of any sort, not just SF) without taking into account the experiences and lives of people other than ones who experience life like I do is a different question. I happen to believe that the answer to that question is no. I have less and less patience for supposedly great literature that can only portray one type of human well, where the only people who look and act like fully realized people are the ones that tick the same boxes on the census as their creator does.

Thankfully, not all SF is like this. And there are writers - not just in SF, but in every field of writing - who work to expand their perceptions, to tell bigger stories.

But if you don't have to recognize your privilege, if you never bother to realize that there are people around you living very different lives, if you never choose to think about how those different lives will shape and be shaped by what happens next, then you are going to recreate the sins of the present in the stories of the future. You will continue show a world where there is only one type of person in power, and that person is going to look an awful lot like you, because who is ever going to write a future where they don't exist? Or where they are suddenly the ones who have to struggle and face oppression?

And so the futures that get written are the futures we have seen before - the presents of the powerful, with shinier props and new set dressing.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Ghost memory

When I started writing, I hated the revision process. I knew it was necessary, as perfect stories do not usually spring, fully-formed, from the nib of my pen, but I still somehow felt they should. I looked at revision as a marker of how far I was from perfect, of how I wasn't yet the writer that I wanted to be. I agonized over drafts, hanging on sentences, trying desperately to get all of the pieces right the first time, to write the story that wouldn't need revising.

I don't think that way any more. A lot of the change has to do with the fact that I am writing more, that I have to write more to keep up with my professional obligations. But it also has to do with the fact that I trust myself more as a writer - I know if I can get it reasonably there the first time, that I can fix it later. I know that even if it is a disastrous hot mess the first time, I have smart writer friends who beta read for me and say helpful things like, "Kat, this is lovely, but you do realize you forgot to put the plot in, right?"


It's winter right now, and the cold seeps beneath my skin, and wakes up my old fencing injuries. The ache in my hip from cracked cartilage, the torn hamstring, the dislocated shoulder. My entire right side reminds me of all the places that got broken at one point. I remember the practices and tournaments I got injured in, or that I trained through. Physical therapy, cortisone injections. I remember the frustration of being weak, of having a body that wouldn't do the things that it had done before, that I needed it to do again.


I usually like revising now. I like the knowledge that I am making my story better and stronger. I like the things I learn about story structure and writing character and my own quirks as a writer when I revise. But there's been a project, sitting on my desk for about two weeks now, and every time I go to start revising it, I turn away. Surely, there's something else that can be written, or maybe my apartment needs cleaning, or anything really.


I know what it's like to come back from an injury. To get strong again. To rebuild the fitness that was lost, to relearn the skills that aren't in practice. To wonder if maybe this time I can't come back, that it was one stress too many, that there won't ever be strength again, or a way of moving through the pain. 

We talk about muscle memory. The actions repeated in training so often that they become ingrained, that we do them automatically. It's why we practice, for hours and hours, over and over. Because if you had to consciously think each time, you'd never be fast enough to win. 

I know what it's like to be in a body that remembers what it should be doing, and can't this time. Not anymore. It felt like being in two bodies at once - the current, frustrated, failed one, and that past Kat, fast and strong and skilled. I got better, but it was a constant fight against myself to do it.


There are other pieces of us that remember, too. The last time I was working on this project, the one that sits on the floor by my desk in a stack, it was during a period of tremendous stress and upheaval in my career. It was when my darling dog, Sam I Am, had a period of ill-health, and then died. I look at these pieces of paper that represent the broken pieces of a story, and I am afraid of what it means to fix them, because to do that, I need to put myself back into that story, and that has the side effect of meaning that I am looking back at that time, at that past self, and it hurts, and I don't know what the physical therapy exercises are for this.