What Could Never Be
Last night I dreamed that I had two dogs, a corgi and a Dachshund. And before you go “And” let me explain my TASTE runs to boxers and bulldogs, though I also like Labs. While I like Dachshunds if I had one, I’d also have a “larger, can walk and run with me even in winter in Colorado” dog. Also what we’re likely to have, if we do, is a hypoallergenic dog, because younger son is deathly allergic to dogs. And even if he doesn’t ever again live with us, we’d like him to visit.
This is of a piece with the dream the night before, when I dreamed I had two daughters, and was a little puzzled I’d never managed even one son. I mean, I loved my daughters, but it felt somehow wrong. As it should since in real life I have two sons and no daughters.
So, you’ll ask, what does this have to do with writing (and reading)? I’ll tell you.There are a number of people who disapprove of you writing something you’re not. These same people lament there aren’t enough books for people who are slightly off standard. (Hey, guys, we’re ALL off standard.)
Perhaps not entirely coincidentally these are the same people who stomp their little feets and scream that we shouldn’t go to space till we fix the Earth.
Pfui. No, seriously, pfui. With cake topping and a cherry on top.
We’ll never “fix” the Earth. For the simple reason that the Earth is an ever changing globe of rock and dirt, and there is no “perfect” state for it. A walk through any natural history museum tells you all the many, many imperfect states the Earth has gone through. And not a perfect one among them.
And if you mean “fix” so humanity is living in paradise? Humanity are jumped-up higher apes, not angels. Like the Earth, our state is ever changing. We will never be perfect. Some regimes, of course, bring us close to perfection, by killing vast amounts of humans. In the grave every human is perfect: Perfectly still, perfectly peaceful, perfectly dead, and — at last — at one with nature. To those who think we should all be like that? You first deary. Remember, down the street, not across the road.
The whole point of well done fiction, be it written, or performative, is to allow you to escape, be it ever so shortly, to the space behind someone else’s eyes. Because you spend your entire life listening to the one behind your own eyes.
There are many advantages to being able to do that. It gives you ideas you’ve never had before. Something like Austen helped set expectations for how to behave and act in her society. So even very badly brought up young ladies would know what to do. But it now gives the opportunity for women to experience what it was like in the past.
In the same way, you can experience various futures, completely foreign cultures, etc.
I loved Barry Hughart’s stories of “a China that never was.” Nowadays he’d be crucified for daring to write stories of China’s past and mythology, without having Chinese DNA. But that’s bullshit.
Here’s a secret: when you experience past, present or future in a book, it’s not the real past present or future. Hell, if you read first-hand accounts of the Regency, most of it is not at all like Austen’s view. Sure, Austen’s view could exist in it, but it’s not IT. It’s what the regency (her native time period) was like INSIDE HER HEAD.
I don’t write many stories set in Portugal, partly because I’m aware of how limited my view was, partly because I don’t feel like it. But if I did, what you’d experience is MY PORTUGAL. I.e. the place distilled through my mind, stored in my memory and narrated by the voice behind my eyes. And yeah, I came from and was raised there to adulthood.
There is no “authentic” blah blah.
Sure, white people and black people have different experiences. And sometimes, for a limited amount of circumstances they hinge on race. The difference between male and female is bigger because it influences everything about who you are and how you experience the world — note for apes it was vital to know if the approaching stranger was male or female. Vital for survival — but unless you were raised by the Satanic nuns of St. Beryl, there isn’t a single woman who hasn’t experienced close relationships with SOME male and talked to him at length to the point of being able to “fake” the voice behind the eyes. And vice versa.
It might be harder, mind you, but it can be done. (Some of us naturally write reversed and have to learn to write our proper sex. It’s doable, too.)
And here’s the thing: whether the person came from x or has g chromosomes? Makes no difference. You’re only experiencing the space behind the eyes of THAT person. “Authentic” doesn’t come into it. (Though please do some research so those of us who know the time/history don’t brain you with a wet sock.) What comes into it is that the voice behind the eyes IS NOT YOURS.
Knowing how others think, feel and experience; how others project the past and future, not only allows you to escape, momentarily, it allows you to figure out that there ARE in fact other real people in the world. It increases empathy, sympathy, and understanding.
It won’t make you perfect. But it will make you better.
Go read or write something today.