The End of the World 5.1.19-5.7.19
A lot of the things my readers say to me really stick.
And they’re not always things about my books—although, of course, those stick regardless of whether they’re kind or cruel. Sometimes, the most impactful remarks are just what would normally be a passing comment. Honestly, I don’t think they would even sink in if I wasn’t sitting in front of the person, about to attempt to spell their name/my name/anything correctly and not irreversibly f*ck up their new book. But that’s a story for another day.
More often than not, when people tell me their name or start in on small talk, my brain is already working on what I’m going to say next. I say I’m “terrible at names”, when the truth is, I just wasn’t paying enough attention when I learned it. Frankly, it’s a lot less rude to just say that the problem is with me not having a good memory than I didn’t care enough to listen.
Moving along. When people buy my book, all of my focus is on them. Because if it wasn’t, I would f*ck up my signature/their name/literally everything about the interaction. My readers are the most important to me, and they deserve my undivided attention for our brief encounter. I want to know their names, I care about knowing their names, and just to make sure I’ve got the spelling down, I usually jot it on a piece of scrap paper before continuing on with our conversation.
And, usually, we don’t just make small talk. Something about speaking author to reader makes us both more profound. Instead of chatting, we discuss the changing world. We talk about why there should be more powerful female characters in fiction. We talk about how beautiful paper books are and why it is a shame they are drifting out of society’s norm.
Continuing right along…
We bond in a way that is so very rare outside of the book show, each interaction stands out in its own unique way. I usually remember their names, for a while at least, and when I think about our conversations, I discover new ideas for my own books.
What got me started on this tangent was a video my brother, Arthur, put up yesterday. He was walking along a sidewalk, being his usual clever self, and making fun of his ‘Spring’ day. There was green grass all around him, blossoms on the maple trees, and about an inch of snow. It was a veritable blizzard (I believe that his area now has about a foot of the white stuff, so stay inside and hide).
While funny, it got me to thinking. Our planet is confused, it’s sick and the weather doesn’t make sense anymore. We’re stepping into a new, dangerous future, one where dystopian Science Fiction seems a little too on point. And it reminded me of one reader in particular.
He was about twelve years old, with his father at a book show. He got to pick out three books to take home, and I had the honor of being the author of one of them. While I was signing his copy, he read my posters.
“This says it takes place in the year 3000?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I smiled at him, about to launch on my ‘book speech’ and tell him all about this strange world I created.
“There isn’t going to be a year 3000,” he said.
I just stared at him. Here was this twelve-year-old boy, obviously a reader and a thinker, who didn’t believe that the human race could survive to the year 3000.
And I laughed, and said that that was why we had to move to Mars.
We agreed that our planet couldn’t withstand the continued thoughtless ravaging of the human race. We agreed that our existence for another thousand years, without change, would be impossible. And he took his book in one hand, his father’s hand in the other, and they left me at my table.
But our talk rattled me. It’s one thing for adults to gripe and complain about how we’re doomed. It’s commonplace, and it always has been. And now, with science telling us that our world is dying and we’re the reason why, it seems like we are on the brink of extinction. That’s just what we talk about, as we put our beer bottle in the recycling and say we’re doing our part.
That little boy should still believe that his future is boundless, that there is no end, only beginnings and dreams.
Of course, then I think back to when I was twelve. Anyone who says that children are without a care have forgotten their own childhoods. I was terrified by the thought of the end of the world. I heard that the sun would eventually die, and for months I went around peeking small glances at it, wondering if I would see the balls of flame rocketing toward earth. Or if one day, I would wake up and it would be dark. Dark and never light again. I would hold my breath in the hours before dawn, waiting to see if the sun would rise that day.
Children hear everything we say.
And it doesn’t just glance off of them. The difference is that they have an easier time pushing their fears aside—even forgetting them altogether—when they’re playing with other kids or having a happy, exciting moment. But when the quiet comes and they have time alone to process what they’ve learned, a child’s fears are every bit as weary and horrifying as an adults. More so, even, because for children, there is still magic in the world. And as any kid can tell you, not all magic is good.
I really didn’t think that I would talk about this for this long. When I set about writing this blog, I figured I’d talk about how kids are seeing the world as a finite thing and about how it scares the shit out of me. I figured I’d mull it over and then tell you all about the hike I took, or about how I keep a rain coat, down jacket, a t-shirt, and an extra pair of boots in my car, because I literally don’t know what the weather will be when I leave work.
But instead, I’ve wandered somewhere darker. And let me tell you, it fits my mood.
Today, I watched it snow while listening to how comedians are poking fun at which fight will be America’s next great war. I was doing my hair and my makeup, just like I do every morning. I listened to the news and heard about a school shooting in Colorado. It registered in a quiet place behind my heart. And then, as my brain started to wander on, I froze.
Seven children had been wounded (last I heard) and one child was dead. They had been shot in a school. Eight children had been shot in an American school, and it seemed so commonplace, I almost continued scrolling down my news feed.
It made me nauseous.
That it had happened, of course. But more so because I didn’t think it was HUGE news. We’re not living in a warzone. We don’t have bombs going off around us, or soldiers marching in the streets. Do we?
There are bombs being set off in spiritual houses, places where love and understanding are preached. There are bombs being set off at the beginning of races, where people are working to better themselves. There are children shooting children in American schools, and it happens so often, it barely catches our eye when we scroll down a Facebook feed.
We’ve gotten so content with the idea of America being the land of the free, I don’t think we as a nation have bothered to look at ourselves for what we’ve become. It’s like when you diet and you work out and you lose a weight. You’re feeling great, you’re looking great. So one night, you think that you can have that extra slice of cake because you’ve earned it. You deserve it. You’re skinny now. It won’t hurt you.
And you do that every day. And you stop exercising, because you’re already strong. And you stop watching what you eat, because you’re already skinny.
A year later, when you can’t fit into your clothes and get out of breath walking up the stairs, you gripe about when you were younger, you were skinny and trim and strong. You complain that things weren’t always this way and you used to be passionate and beautiful and motivated.
You forget the constant, continuous work it took for that you to exist. It was never something you were given, it was never something that just came that way.
And I think that’s my biggest issue with the slogan, Make America Great Again.
Well, no, that’s probably not my biggest issue. I have so many issues with it, and the mouth it came from, my fingers can’t even keep up with my fury-powered brain. But here’s one that is at least coherent.
When, exactly, was America great? What greatness are we hoping to go back toward? The 1950s? When women stayed home and men worked and everybody smoked, when we painted our baby’s cribs in bright shades of lead paint? The 1920s? When women were arrested for wearing swim suits in public? Before that? When the President of the United States of America—the land of the free—said that the “only good Indians are dead Indians”? Or before even that? When we owned human beings and called it economic stability? Should we go back to our glorious origins, when European immigrants flooded onto American soil, destroying the cultures that were already here?
What greatness have we aspired to? What is the point, if our children cannot go to school without the fear of death? When a little girl knows what it feels like to be shot. When a little boy watched his friend bleed to death on a school floor?
How can we see this, watch this, know that this has happened and will happen again? What part of this is great?
I write dystopian Science Fiction, and I cannot imagine a world more cruel than that.
Well, now that I have effectively vented and likely pissed off more than a few readers, I’ll call it a day.
Sometimes, the world just feels a little to heavy. It’s like trying to balance on a beam and juggle a thousand knives. It’s like more and more keep raining down on us, until our only option is to let them fall. Sometimes I feel like I just can’t keep up with my life, like I’m slipping and gravity is singling me out. And when something like a school shooting happens, the very air in my lungs turns to iron. I take a step back and stare hard at who I am, what I believe in, where I live and what is happening where I live. And I just can’t believe what we’ve become.
Since Trump was elected, I feel like I live day-to-day in fear. I’m terrified of having a leader who I do not believe in, who I do not trust. I’m horrified by the things he says about women, about the things he says about cultures and races other than his own. And, more than that, I’m sickened by the fact that almost half of my home, my country, decided he deserved to lead our nation into—or back to—a future.
So when a twelve-year-old boy tells me that he doesn’t think there will be a year 3000, what am I supposed to say? I want to give him hope, want to tell him that people exist who can change the world for the better. But here I am, reading about a school shooting and not even recognizing it as something unusual. Here I am, as a woman, wondering why a room full of men are deciding what rights I have and do not have over my own body. Here I am writing dystopian Science Fiction, and I cannot imagine a cruelty greater than the ones I see flash by on the news every day.
I have to believe in heroes. I have to write them, have to make a world a thousand years in the future that can be saved by a ragtag group of rebel women with a dream called freedom. I have to. Because if I don’t, what exactly are we saving?