As I write these word I am sitting on a VIA train bound from Toronto to Ottawa; Kelly and I are going just for the night, to hang out with friends and bask in the wonders of an emerging arty phenomenon known as The Timberhouse. I had a terrific time in Ottawa when I went to CanCon in August, and am looking forward to getting to know the city better. Our nation’s capital moved up the bucket list as soon as Kelly and I arrived in Ontario, but it took us until this year to get there. I am predisposed to fall head over heels.
The train runs along the shore of Lake Ontario for a good portion of the route; it’s more of the same track I take to Scarborough when I am teaching there. The simple act of riding east fills me with happiness. I thrive on having a once-a-week gig at UTSC, commute and all. I undertand it would be a tiring slog if I was headed out there Monday to Friday, term in and term out. But so much of my incredible 2016 is caught up in memories of taking the Go Train out to campus, of starting and ending my teaching day with solitude, scenic beauty and comfort.
Like many people I had a difficult November: like many people, the heart of it was the turn in U.S. politics, but there were other things, too, like an old friend announcing bad diagnosis on Facebook, like a particularly feisty round of flu germs taking out me and Kelly simultaneously, like the unfortunate chance of my having forgotten that I always struggle with fiction writing in this eleventh month specifically. Usually when I see November coming, I try to plan around that drop in productivity, but this year I was wrapped up in other things, like you, and I only figured out the seasonal angle on about the 28th, when someone else spoke up.
Now it’s December, and my new book will be out on Tuesday, and meanwhile my agent and I have agreed on a schedule for finishing the next novel. I’m trusting that my natural creative rhythms will assert themselves. I want to draft about 1500 words a day between now and mid-February, starting Monday. That means I have this last weekend to fritter: Kelly and I went to see one of our favorite bands, The Weepies, last night at the Drake Hotel. It was a singularly delightful experience: we were eight feet from the stage, in a pack of people who just wanted to hear, and enjoy, and sing along.
Naturally, I’m excited too about seeing how this boho weekend at Timberhouse will unfold.
There have been good things, these last two weeks. Every moment of calm, every joy-inducing sight, every breath of warmth and comfort, every well-written sentence (whether inhaled as a reader or exhaled into my own manuscripts) has had a certain intensity, the fine-cut edges of a rare, faceted opal, flashing ethereal fire against the darkness, spark by spark. I am talking to strangers more, now that I can draw breath without coughing, reaching out. I see that desire to talk, connect, to just be damnwell be nice, mirrored in their reactions. The energy I have at hand for being kind and prosocial seems more abundant. And every moment with my family and friends seems a gentle sort of victory.
Science fiction writers are very good at worst case scenarios, and the part of me that has extrapolated our current circumstances to an exceedingly miserable and bitter end has, at least temporarily, overriden the part assigned to petty worries about the future. Different parts of the brain are chewing different stressors, I know, and while I’m not appreciating the things generated by the newly active neurons, the absence of certain habitual gnawing mind-loops has been a source of both relief and navel-gazy intellectual interest.
I have been dreaming more, and most of the dreams have been unexpectedly good.
I have also experimented with posting the occasional political thing on my social media. I try to be choosy, and in particular to talk about Canadian racism, Canadian responses to oppression. I’m not sure yet what I think of the response. There’s usually a sea of likes and good comments–naturally, I like those–along with one or two wanky pushbacks. These seem to be angry dudes with thin arguments–and I haven’t quite sorted out how much of that I want in my Facebook feed, particularly. I need to get the hang of ignoring them, probably. I don’t need to give everyone who posts a snarky comment a breakdown on why the CBC article didn’t actually say some thing being ascribed to me. The problem is a nagging sense that I owe them an argument, somehow, and that if I’m not willing to have it I should shut up.
What else? I read a book about DDOS actions and activism by Molly Sauter, THE COMING SWARM which talks (among many other things) a present-day tendency to measure all civil rights and other protest movements against a rose-colored-glasses view of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. It talks about how we are tempted to devalue civil resistance when it doesn’t look like Johnson-era marches led by Martin Luther King. This interests me, a lot, and I’m thinking about what I see as effective protest. (I think the book’s interesting and useful, and I hope to get some other recs from her soon.)
In the book I’m writing now (whose working title is WIN CONDITIONS) I’ve imagined a near future society where humanity has a light but geniune grip on a host of climate change problems, where people are laboring mightily to terraform the Earth to make it fit for long-term human habitation. I started this book early in the year, and it ties into some things I said in my SpecFic Colloquium talk: that we cannot simply offer visions of apocalypse, that SF writers have to imagine workable optimistic futures, scenarios where we get out of the political and ecological jams we’ve created.
People can more easily believe in a happy ending if we create it. They can grab onto possible solutions to our current cluster of crises if we imagine the solves, show them in place, and inpire our audiences to tweak and implement them here in the real.
By the time WIN CONDITIONS takes place, the Millenials have long since endured a period called the Setback. Their children barely survived the Clawback. Now there’s a cohort of grandkids who refer to themselves as the Bounceback generation. Bouncers believe humankind will save the earth, one ton of carbon and one reclaimed suburb at a time.
In one of the early chapters I make a passing comment about the first Setback presidency. I was envisioning our present situation, while hoping it wouldn’t come to pass quite so soon.
Still, I choose to believe the Setback will end, and not through some passive stroke of luck. Activism, courage, creativity and compassion will end it. People will end it. It’s easy to say, and much much harder to do, and I know that very well. Do keep me posted on how I can help.