I caught him with his hands in the still…
(the reason the moonshiner gave for firing his assistant)
I was reading HEART COUNTRY, Kerry McGinnis’s second autobiographical book about droving and building a station (a ranch) in Northern Queensland. Now, it’s hard country, hard people… and oddly a high level of tolerance for differences and incompetence. Because you had to. That’s it. There is no-one else, so you have to live with what there is.
It also had fascinating glimpses into the life of Old Mac, Kerry’s father – who did his growing in the depression. I wanted to quote this bit verbatim because… well, you’ll see.
‘The war’s over, the depression finished. Why can’t you forget about it? I’m sick to death of hearing about it.’
‘You should have tried living it, girl.’ His voice was flinty. ‘And you’d have some reason to complain. You’ve got absolutely no idea what the soul-destroying futility of being unable to get work does to a man. You ought to be grateful to have a job and money coming in.’
The world has changed somewhat, hasn’t it?
Work is a kinda dirty word these days. The idea that it could be a privilege to be able to do so even more bizarre. To be able to be idle, and wealthy, naturally is the utopian ideal. Utopia, we’re told, is the ‘next big thing’ in sf.
Yet for people like my parents – who became young adults in the Depression – this dialogue rings true for me. It colored their lives and attitudes for the rest of their lives, and a fair bit rubbed off on me. My father could never have sat still and done nothing. He was always making, building, fiddling with, if he wasn’t actually at a paying job.
It took me years to get over the guilt of writing, not ‘working’. And, yes, I have ‘worked’ at manual labor, intellectual labor (a lot of it is like manual labor, very routine, and less exciting than you may imagine), and the ‘orrible jobs in between, which don’t need any real brain (but you can’t not concentrate, or you will mess up as a cashier) and don’t need any real skill with your hands, or strength.
Writing is work, if you do it properly. Mostly intellectual work, indoor, no heavy lifting, but yes, that can leave you tired too.
The world has become very much more about ‘rights’ and entitlements rather than viewing being able to work, to earn, as something you’re lucky to do, about ‘self-love’ rather than men owing a duty to their families to provide. About enjoyment for the sake of it, rather than as a reward for having done.
I fit pretty much 110% in the old camp. I don’t expect you to, or have any desire to dictate that as a way of life. I can no more give up doing, building, making, than I can give up breathing, without dying. As I don’t believe in the ‘directionality’ history, I suspect that the depression or a similar social disaster will come around again. It always has in the past, and no I don’t see that humans have changed, regardless of how technology has. Even if it has, and we move toward the socialist utopia where everyone can be idle… I think that being a builder, creator, worker, is not just in our society, it’s in our genes, at least for some of us. I’m not sure that we’re designed to be idle without blundering into self-destruction. I always wonder, when I read about utopias, how long before we tore them apart.
Which is why books about new frontiers, about building up from disaster, about colonizing new worlds are a favorite of mine, both to read and write. Solving problems, striving in itself, is a large part of the appeal for me.
I realize, though, that there is an opposite, just as there probably is middle ground. I blundered into a site the other day which was totally alien to me and my world-view – narcissist and self-absorbed in modern urban trivia and the flavor-du-jour of social (largely sexual) issues – All fashions, gay and bi sexuality, the joys of legal drugs to get stoned on in Canada, celebrities and their vapid lives, bits about trannies, raves, bizarre sexual fetishes, etc… I read some of it out of a kind of morbid and defensive curiosity. The more I read the more I became convinced the writers were targeting an audience who were urban, had never actually made or built anything in their lives, had no interest in doing so, and — if they were employed — worked reluctantly at those ‘orrible jobs, which required neither brain, nor brawn, nor problems solving. Indoor, no heavy lifting, urban, and that I am deeply grateful I don’t have to do.
I did find myself wondering if these Ark Fleet Ship B folk all suddenly were transported to a better place how long we humans could survive until terrible disaster (perhaps a plague contracted from a dirty telephone) overtook us?
Whatever: It’s an audience. A market segment, one which I suspect many of the Puppy Kickers who actually get around to writing service (as their social and political agendas and outlook seem the same). They’re welcome to it and them.
I’m writing for the kind of people who build, who strive, who contrive, who don’t wait for others – the Government or Acme Corporation’s Board of Directors — to decide to do for them (in both cases, at a fee), and whose pleasure comes from that doing. No wonder that they find little entertainment or to identify with in the books that please their antithesis.
And if there are none of them, I – and those like me, won’t sell any books.
I’m happy to leave it to that. One has to wonder why they feel only extermination will do for us.
I also wonder what the ‘next big thing’ in sf will actually be?
No thanks. You can have mine.