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.

45 thoughts on “What Could Never Be

  1. What’s strange to me are the people who claim to want to read about characters “just like them”.

    I never wanted to read about an over-weight Odd who wore glasses. Those type of people weren’t fun to read about and/or for me to imagine that I was “them”. 😉

    1. There was an article linked on the Passive Voice a couple days ago from someone who loves to read YA books about miserable black teenagers and was confused that actual black teenagers seem entirely uninterested in these books. Of course, she blames the fact that they have to read classics in school rather than being force-fed these miseries.

      Actual sentence from the article:

      Yet we’re still giving kids novels with characters who don’t look like them, who don’t talk like them and who don’t even have internet access — and they’re told to understand what’s happening and pass a test on it later.

    2. In a way, I do want to read about characters that are like me– not “just like” me, but like Melody of Pern, who was a bit of a loner but did awesome stuff. (and could make music; oh, Lord, I can’t even sing, we Shall Not Discuss my poetry attempts)

      Or Sherlock, who saw stuff nobody else noticed– and then was able to put them together to useful stuff!

      Or Robin Hood, who saw something was wrong– and DID SOMETHING about it!

      1. I really loved Menolly as a character and identified with her strongly in spite of the fact that I had a loving and supportive family, never had any barriers to creation, whether art or music, and in fact had a life that was so little like hers it’s surprising that I connected with her at all. (Except for music. I adore music even though I don’t have the drive to become a top-class musician.)

        1. …and maybe sometimes feeling isolated?

          (is there ANY human being who doesn’t?)

          I can still recite poems from that at teh drop of a line.

      2. Yeah, Menolly (I recently re-read the books, which is the only reason why I remembered the spelling, I otherwise kept remembering it as Melody as well) was PHYSICALLY nothing like me, but she had something similar to me, which was a passion nobody else around me really could relate to (until I found you guys oh my God ❤ ); she was also isolated, a loner, and socially ostracized.

        I mean, she was as far away from me as you could get; Menolly being described as a tall, long-limbed, musical genius, and I can't carry a tune in a handbasket, never mind compose, or play or make instruments!

        But I sank into her story and longed for fire lizards, rubbed my hand and realized how precious it was.

        1. I “connected” far better with Menolly than I ever did with Piemur, and I don’t even share both chromosomes…

          Although (just looked it up) I was only 16 when the first book came out, I’m pretty sure that I never read it until I was in my twenties.

          Which brings me to an observation, which may not be accurate, I’ve not done any research – but don’t most of the “Young Adult” books actually have protagonists that are young – and are adults in behavior, whatever their chronological age is? Menolly certainly is, at least past the first chapter or two; Piemur eventually is (the longer time might be why I didn’t connect quite as well). That, right there, says to me that the successful authors are not writing characters that are “just like” the targeted demographic.

          When I was young (yes, I WAS young, sometime around the start of the Cambrian, I remember it quite clearly) – among my age cohort, there were exactly two, count them, two people that I would call adult. The rest of us, myself included, were typical young idiots.

          1. Yeah, well in the last Ice Age, when I read the books, I noticed that Menolly and Piemur were 14-15 in their respective books, though Piemur was introduced… at 11? 12?

            And to me they behaved the way they should in a way that was plausible to me; Menolly was given fairly adult responsibilities (for us, in this day and age) but I came from a background where ten year olds could and often did do at least housework and babysitting and such; and teens did work not too different from adults (Expecting adult responsibilities seems to be a dating methodology in books…)

            Pern didn’t strike me as the kind of setting that lets kids be children for very long.

            1. Oh, yes, completely plausible (and would have been implausible otherwise, IMHO).

              Dating – by the time McCaffrey was writing, though, in the US things had largely moved away from “work to feed the family,” and was already moving away from the “work for my mad money.” I was probably part of the last cohort where most pre-18s worked for much of anything. (Not to say that many still do – but it’s not a cultural assumption any longer.)

              Maybe more later – right now, I’m poking the son up to do some work; clearing the path for the washing machines. Although he is well over 18 now.

            2. I’d say eleven, because of the time gap between when he is introduced and when his voice breaks. (Dang, but I felt for him when I tore up my voice and had to quit really singing for over a decade. My voice is still Odd.) But I don’t think we’re really told, are we? It’s been a while.

              1. Actually the age at which boys’ voices break has been going down with the age of puberty.

                I read a series where in one book, the heroine from another world was disgusted by the way fathers could betroth their daughters at birth and marry them off fully at puberty, and in a later book, she is somewhat mollified by the realization that on average, that meant marrying at eighteen.

          2. When I was young, we didn’t have YA. We had juveniles.

            And the thing I notice most is that while YA MUST have a juvenile protag, the juveniles could easily have an actual young adult. Was in an online discussion of Andre Norton’s Catseye where everyone talked about how mature it seemed, and when I pointed out the main character is just routinely looking for a job they all agreed that was a big factor.

            But most kids that age were more mature because they had more responsibilities as Shadowdancer says. Plus of course would you really want to read a book about the sort of whining teen who is typical?

    3. I never wanted to read about an over-weight Odd who wore glasses. Those type of people weren’t fun to read about and/or for me to imagine that I was “them”.



      ( sometimes wonder how much of his output boils down to a dare)

      1. LOL! 😆

        And if we’re talking Jim Butcher’s character, he even became a Jedi!

        1. Correct in one.

          I was imagining having to explain that, since it’d be a great password.

          computer: “Authorization code?”
          Character A: “Ahem. POLKA WILL NEVER DIE!”
          Character B: “What … the… heck?”
          Character A: “Oh, it’s just a great, heart warming scene from when a hero and an undertaker necromantically raise Sue the T-Rex to battle robed mysterious wizards attempting to take over Chicago.”
          Character B: “….”

    4. Hey now, Bilbo Baggins was pretty much just like me (other than being shorter and not having glasses). He wanted to stay home, smoke his pipe and eat. I really like the eating part.

  2. And here’s the thing: whether the person came from x or has g chromosomes?

    Ooh, which species has “g” chromosomes? And are you currently writing any books about them?

    (Sorry, I know what you mean, and I probably shouldn’t give you a hard time, but I’m about equally burned out right now, and that sort of typo nitpicking is about the best I’m capable of).

      1. Thank you for naming the chromosome (trisome?) possessed by the “bearing” neuter in an alien race. Although it would have to be the French soft “g” in their language.

        Note taken for when I get back to work tomorrow after replacing the washing machine. (That is, note to self to actually get back to work.)

  3. “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.”

    Oh, you went and pushed my button again.

    Ever read a book that was set in Canada? Ever wonder how it has come to be that a Canadian author writing about a Canadian setting will ALWAYS suck like a Shopvac?

    Clue #8654, right here: http://sunburstaward.org/2019_sunburst_jurors

    The Sunburst Award, juried by a bunch of hardcore academics. But this one here is my favorite:

    “David Demchuk has been writing for performance, print and digital media for nearly 40 years, and has a special interest in queerness and monstrosity.”

    Mr. Demchuck’s -debut- SFF/horror (Award Winning!) novel came out in 2018. But he’s on the SFF award jury in 2019. And his interests are “queerness” and monstrosity, both super duper relevant to science fiction. Nothing against Mr. D personally, but that guy is probably not writing for the mainstream, lets just say.

    But that is who wins the awards and gets published in Canada. And I’m sure he’d be stamping and screaming against space flight right along with the rest.

    1. When one of the most lionized Canadian novels is a romance involving a librarian and a bear.., um, yeah. Something is seriously off-kilter with the award committee.

      1. When one of the most lionized Canadian novels is a romance involving a librarian and a bear.., um, yeah

        But I loved Rose Red and Snow White!


        K, probably wasn’t a rewrite of that fairy tale, at least not keeping the whole fairy tale aspect, huh?

        1. Very no. This is X rated, or at least would be if it were not literature. The bear does not turn into a prince. The title of the book is _Bear_.

              1. It actually is bestiality porn, and Engle managed to make it even more boring and messed up than such things usually are. Published in 1976 and people are still yammering about it. But not -reading- it. Because ew.

    2. My favorite Canadian author is L.M. Montgomery although it’s possible she’s been unpersoned by the Literary crew by now.

      1. I don’t know. The fact that she firmly believed the “War to end all wars” nonsense (and that EVERYONE knows Anne of Green Gables) might save her.

  4. Most folks allergic to dogs are actually allergic to the dander. While evergrowing coats (poodles and doodles) address it for some, others… not. But there are hairless dogs that such folks generally can tolerate — a good trouble-free choice is the American Hairless Terrier (hairless Rat Terrier) where the hairless gene is not associated with other defects. I can recommend a breeder in Phoenix whose dogs I’m hands-on familiar with.

    Labradoodles originated as the Guide Dogs’ attempt at hypoallergenic. Except that cross proved the worst of both worlds (combining the Lab’s drive with the Poodle’s inability to take responsibility) and as Guide Dogs, they were an utter fail.

    If you want a temperament more like a working dog, but with the poodle-type coat — consider a Portuguese Water Dog, and clip the whole dog. Some people report less allergic response to Curly Coated Retrievers, and if you can find Australian/New Zealand lines, they’re easy to get along with. (English and other Euro lines, less so.) Old-line standard Poodles can also be more workmanlike, and less dizty than a Doodle, but you want “nothin’ much” pedigrees (like in the reds and phantoms) to stay away from the bottleneck issues that can afflict the major show lines.

    1. We have a poodle here at Chez Phantom. 8 months old, BIG and far from calm. Good, and nice (and smart, OMG), but mental. He’s a hard driving testosterone factory, and still a puppy. Thinking what he’s going to be like at 2 years old, it gives one pause.

      1. Poodles, like many dogs, get calmer as they grow older. But it helps if they have a job doing something, and get training.

        Can’t help you on the breedin’ and fightin’ side. Plus they are good at climbing, jumping, and squirming around fences.

        1. He’s just started the fence squirming, since you mention. Now I have to make a fence stretcher and tighten up the horse fence I just put up. He’s like a skinny noodle with teeth.

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