Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bracing the Darkness... begins

28 Days: Day 4


It was nearly two months ago when my wife pointed out the small library tucked behind the shopping centre near our home. She mentioned it again a week ago when I complained about my inability to get a seat at two of the local Starbucks to write. I wasn't excited by the possibility. I'd tried working in libraries before, and it had always proved difficult. Unlike most cafes, they're filled with children and young teenagers. As a former youth worker, I love kids, but in most libraries they are very loud and very annoying. I'm tempted to say that kids today are more rude than they were when I was young, but we adults have a tendency to forget just how loud and annoying we were. Kids are kids. Anyway, she convinced me to take a look, and sure enough, it was a particularly tiny branch, with three small sections of tables divided by shelves of books over a single floor. It did however, have quite a few electrical outlets, a necessity for my 1999 laptop, and a cozy feel to it. The red brick and maples out front only made it feel smaller, which I liked. It has become my new writing spot. And so here I am, tucked away in the back corner behind the rotating shelf reserved for teen fiction. The hum of conversation is distant and mingles with the sound of turning pages. It feels like home.

The 28 day experiment has become a fascinating experience for me, if only because I can't recall being this focused. In the words of my wife, I tend to "flit from one thing to another." A blog, an article, a book, my research. Sometimes having a number of interests can be a curse, as I am easily distracted by any number of things. Which is why I can't go home. The lure of the internet (my laptop is too old and not equipped to handle it) and the bed and sometimes television means the writing must happen away from such temptations. These days, I am particularly hooked on Facebook, and if you're unfamiliar with the social networking site, feel free to look it up. But be warned. It's addictive. Especially when your tendencies lie towards discussion and discourse. From politics to religion to health care to sports, the only way for me to ignore that particular siren is to stay far away from her shores.

On the positive side, those discussions allow me a glimpse into the workings of human tendencies, especially my own. And when it comes to various topics, especially politics and religion, it never ceases to amaze me how involved and passionate they become, how the rhetoric so easily leads to personal attacks. How is this positive? Well, when you write speculative fiction, you're responsible for world creation. My novel is set in the late 13th Century (comparatively, as it is a different world) and it is dominated by the Cursh Empire, built through the centuries by the spread of its church. A single country, Dioneysia, has managed to maintain its independence. The politics and governance of those two entities, along with the number of small communities that exist as either part of or separate to the larger ones, means that the issues and discussions on a forum like Facebook inevitably find themselves played out in my work. People have not changed, and while the issues change as our culture changes, the mind sets and systems stay remarkably the same.

This past week I was involved in what became a rather heated exchange on Facebook. I was so upset that I took a day to think about what had upset me and why the discussion had escalated. I realized, rather belatedly, that while my views had changed over the years, I was still stuck on proving that my system, my ideology, was the correct one. And so while the content of my beliefs had changed, the style had remained the same. It was a disheartening revelation. An apology followed, ending the discussion, though it did little to ease my frustration for my inability to see the forest.

In writing Forerunner, I have discovered characters with whom I disagree greatly, characters that I wish would just "grow up." That they can not and will not speaks not to their immaturity, necessarily, but to their humanity. Recent neurological studies have helped us in this manner, by revealing just how soothing certainty is, and perhaps revealing why Pundocrats like Ann Coulter can be at once so polarizing and so popular. Life is uncertain, and it is difficult to live peacefully when we can never be sure of anything. Perhaps that's why so many of us are angry or depressed, or get so easily wrapped up in a rhetoric that ultimately becomes personal.

Josh (my main character) stands in a unique position. Raised in a country home by powerful parents who gave up much to affect change, they unwittingly forced him to live a lie, although they consistently reinforced the importance of truth. In fact, the Bishop (Josh's father) risked exile in publishing one of his works, which the Church considered heretical. And yet now, Josh stands alone, pushed forward by those who believe that he stands in the gap between the Creator and Her creation. Everyone knows what is right for him, what is true. But in Josh's experience, truth is the playpen of our own ego. Everyone thinks that they're right and everyone can prove it. Yet his desire for the best in those around him leads him to the confounding ideals of conflicting systems, all of which promise certainty. All of which have large holes in which some people are favoured above others, holes where the system becomes blind. No matter where he turns, equality remains nothing more than a hopeless ideal.

The path Josh takes is the one we all take, I think, in our search for ultimate truth. The search for a system that provides answers for the brokeness of our species. I am unsure how his journey will end just yet, he has not shown me, but how we handle the balance between our frailty and our ideals is something we can all relate to, if only because it is the essence of being human.

-Steve