Geese and Things

So I have finally gotten a chance to start reading Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning short story collection (and what a treat) and in his Introduction he kicks around the idea of whether or not fiction should be ‘safe’ – whether we should be able to read stories without taking any risk that we will be frightened, upset, or disturbed by what we encounter in them. This is a pretty interesting question and also dovetails so nicely with what I wrote last week about the anti ‘my story made a swear’ app that for a minute I thought about writing this week’s blog entry about it.

Then I remembered Writing Crisis #2 (see previous entry if you’re interested) and that Doing the Same Thing as Neil Gaiman does not end well.

So I won’t do that, but will suggest you go read the Introduction to Trigger Warning, and while you’re at it you may as well read the rest of it too.

——

I did think about that question and another book I finished recently, Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands With the Devil. If you’re not familiar with it, it describes General Dallaire’s experiences as the commander of the UN mission to Rwanda that was originally tasked with facilitating the implementatin of the Arusha peace agreement and ended up bearing witness to an unspeakable genocide.

This was not an enjoyable read, in any conventional sense of the word. A lot of it was deeply distressing and frustrating and enraging to read, in part because of how saturated the work is with Dallaire’s own pain about what happened in Rwanda. So this was not a ‘safe’ book to consume. I am very glad I read it, though, because I think the issues Dallaire raises about the global community’s collective failure in Rwanda, and the fundamental mistakes in the world’s approach to the crisis in Rwanda, deserve to be heard and are clearly (it seems to me) immediately relevant to problems we grapple with today.

I think it’s an important book, even if it isn’t a safe one. Sometimes it’s fun to read something that isn’t very safe (think Neil Gaiman’s stories), and sometimes it may be good for you. Sometimes the unsafe has something to tell you. Obviously safety is a good thing, but I don’t think it can be the only thing we ever look for. So read something unsafe, I think.

I don’t have much else to say about it, though, so that’s not really going to make a blog entry either.

——-

So still flailing about for something to write about this week, that is kind of uniquely mine, I latched on to something I said on Twitter. About geese.

What? No really.

It is the time of year here when the Canada Geese are doing their big spring migration northwards, so the skies over my house are periodically, but consistently, filled with these immense formations of birds, on their way to various destinations. From time to time you will glance at the sky, and see something there that seems impossibly huge, to be up there, and it is moving and what can this be, and then you will realize that it is not one Big Thing, but just That Many birds, travelling together. If you step outside you can hear them calling to each other as make their pilgrimage; to me it is a pleasant wilderness kind of sound in the middle of my urban world, although obviously your taste may vary.

There has always been something about this that has stirred something in me. When I was small(er), I would run outside the house when the geese were going over, just to hear the sound of it. The birds are quite large (if you haven’t seen them) and they travel in real armadas of the air (which is not at all the right term) and the sight and sound of them rushing overhead, twangs something deep inside me with a sense of Going Somewhere. Time to go, let’s go together. It’s very compelling. If I could fly I’m sure I would have followed along, and ended up in some marshy spot or other, deeply disappointed.

At times it is even reassuring – sometimes there will be only a scattered few geese, perhaps broken off from one of the really big squadrons of birds, still travelling on. It especially strikes me when it is getting dark, and these three or four birds are still going, and still calling to each other. It’s ok. I’m still here, you’re still there. We’ll get there.

(There’s a comparison to be made here, maybe, between this and social media, which I am not up to this morning)

I don’t know how they choose which ‘there’ to head for, how they choose who goes where in their great ragged Vs, or even really how they know and agree that it is Time to Go. I do know that there are great untold adventures in these journeys, stories that we will never know, and just guess at as we watch the sky.

Whatever you were expecting when you came to read the blog today, I bet it wasn’t that. My apologies.

——-

I feel like I should say something about the Hugo Awards ruckus, since I am arguably ‘in the field’ (albeit in the brambly, fence-posty periphery part of it) although I also know I don’t have much standing therein. I am also not deeply familiar with the process whereby the Hugo Awards happen, nor the recent history that has (apparently) brought us to the controversy around this year’s nominations.

So perhaps best to say nothing.

However, to say nothing seems cowardly at best and at worst might appear to endorse a particularly hateful agenda, so I decided in the end not to do that.

All I’m going to say, in the end, is that I firmly believe that the people who oppose diversity in writing, in characters in fiction, and in the world in general, are on the wrong side of history. I suspect that in the roots of their souls they know this, and that is why they lash out in the ways with which many people are familiar. This doesn’t excuse it; no-one should receive death threats for writing a story while being a woman, or having a particular sexual orientation, or belonging to a particular ethnic or cultural group. Trying to silence these voices is flat out wrong and it diminishes us as a people. However, I believe that love really is stronger than hate, that this old world keeps changing, and that history will eventually tell the story of the triumph of diversity.

And yet, if my years as a history student have taught me anything, it is that history is nothing but the actions of people. It is, really, just what people do. So what to do. I don’t have any ideas about what could or should change about the Hugos or the industry or anything along those lines. But, what to do as people who love amazing stories – read works by all kinds of different and diverse authors. When you find ones you like, tell people about them. Give someone the gift of a wonderful story, which is to me one of the best gifts you can ever receive. Give an audience to writers who deserve one and help them find a bigger one. That’s how we, as fans of speculative fiction, can best foster a plurality of voices in the field. To me that might be more important than who wins an award, anyway.

Peux ce que veux. Allons-y.

Anyway, that’s it. I know this week’s entry is a bit of a mess. I’ll try to do better the next time.

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