Despite the conclusion in my previous post on the white artist and her Emmett Till painting, I found myself being drawn into writing a story that involved racial discrimination. My plan was to send it to my sister-in-law for approval because she’s not white, well-versed in race issues on both an academic and an activist level, and since I strongly suspect she dislikes me already, I don’t risk losing her friendship if I offend her.
Luckily, my husband read the story first, and his response stopped me. Stopped me not just from sending the story to her, but from the story in it’s current state. He didn’t say much, that it was a weird (he doesn’t read sci-fi, so he thinks everything I write is “weird”) and that he didn’t know why as a white woman I would feel entitled to write such things, but that was I had chosen to do.
Shame can be productive, and in this case, I realized I should just re-write the story as I had originally intended it, with the emphasis on class, rather than racial, disparity.
In making this decision, I have to hear the voice of my mother in my head in her exhaustingly aggressive tone saying that I am backing away from a subject because I’m afraid. The implication, which she’d likely spell out if given the time, is that we “artists” should not be afraid of taking on any subject. The further implication, or the subtext of her comment, would be that I am afraid, that I am PC, that I have become a small, shriveled, fearful person that is not doing the ball-bashing of the world she had expected me to be doing.
It’s to the voice of my mother that I frame my response: I have much to say without sticking a point in someone’s eye. Which is how reference to racial discrimination in a story feels to me. It seems as though I am making a point at some one else’s expense, as if to defend them I need to open a wound. There’s a place for that, and there are certainly issues I think warrant pushing past my own and other’s comfort zones. But not race. In large part because I have nothing new to add to the discussion: my invocation of race would be as other put rape or pederasty in a story, as if to say, “Look! Look at this bad thing! We all agree it’s bad bad bad!” But there’s nothing novel in this. Rather the inclusion has everything to do with justifying a revenge story, or giving a terrible back story to a character that is behaving badly. And sometimes to show just how bad the world is. All of these reasons, though, piss me off: just fucking write a story without a [usually female] victim. Rare is the story that has something to add to discussions on sexual violence. Peter Watts is one of the few that I have seen, and only one story in particular, in which the rape is never described but the after effects are addressed, really has something to say.
so that’s my transgression. but luckily one I backed away from.
On slow growth, it’s occurred to me that this new plateau I find myself with my stories is where I was with my poems when I was a teenager. That’s 20 years ago. When I was a teenager I like my poetry, I put my best mind to it. I knew each poem had its own symmetry and resonance. It was a matter of realizing what needed to be a poem and them reaching for the right words, sculpting the path the words took. But I had no illusions as their value either to themselves or to me. The poems simply were. This is not to say I didn’t, embarrassingly, try to share them. I did. No one cares. And trying to share your poems in high school is a good lesson in keeping things to yourself.
Some how after high school I lost my mind and began to believe that writing would take me to some new territory. The glamorous place where I, a rare specimen, would be among my peers. Because I was young, dumb, and had nothing, I fantasized about much more: wild success, popularity. Attention. Of course, I also like to imagine that one day my body would be shaped differently than it is. With my body, I could only come to accept it as it was, and stop pushing for it to be otherwise, when I understood that anatomy held its own mysteries quite apart from whether I was desirable or not. In defense of my sad, pathetic younger self and dreamers everywhere, my husband has pointed out that in America we work so hard for so little that of course we fantasize about over the top success.
One story I have now, which I believe is quite decent, is just about to have exhausted all the sfwa recognized markets. Is it worth then submitting to all the other magazines out there? I’m not sure it is. But the process is making normal what used to be tragic: rejection letters.