(Incubus nostalgia comes on you with a vengeance, is all I can say about that title, friends.)
I don’t write contemporary fiction. I talked about it years ago, about why a novel I spent years working on was shelved. What I didn’t say, perhaps, is how it never felt like fiction. (JK, I’m pretty sure I at least said it felt like thinly veiled fiction.) It felt like cheating. The story was already there; it felt like I was just telling it back to you, and as though you really didn’t need me to do that. I felt unimaginative.
Just as a Shakespearean aside, I’ve felt all manner of things that make no sense, people. This ain’t unique.
And then, 2016 happened. Of course it didn’t happen suddenly or in a vacuum; it was the moment after critical mass. It’s not necessary or possible to list every sin or infraction that birthed or contributed to the disruption. The tear, the breach. When there’s a years-long campaign against a people vital to the foundation of this nation and its conscience, when there’s a march of civil-servants-turned-mercenaries from the scene of the crime to the courthouse and back out into the line of duty without consequence or justice, it’s sin enough.
And then, the sins continued. “Well-intentioned” people revised their beliefs to make room for injustice, to safeguard their comfort – and it required the oppressed to either be “equally” wrong (for their “methods” usually) or else praised for the beauty and grace of their long-suffering. Encouraged to settle for the moral victory of being wrongly executed, rather than to seek an end to it.
And then November came, and the realization that standing by while injustice thrived might have sent the message that justice need not be for everyone. And if it need not be for everyone, then eventually, it won’t be for you. And now, the majority of the country is devastated and afraid. Collaborators tend to become victims, I should have mentioned. But my stars, the confusion! The shock and incredulity.
And oh goodness, Bethany, what does this have to do with writing contemporary fiction? Well, it felt redundant (to write, not to read, apparently). It felt like preaching to the choir, on some level, and that felt – well, wait, I tweeted about this not too long ago.
And that doesn’t even speak to the realization that – as evidenced by the extensive incredulity – there were so very many people all along who didn’t get it. I thought it was preaching to the choir because I gave “well-intentioned” people too much credit. I thought they were doing work they hadn’t even begun.
And so now I’m musing on a contemporary short story about the world as it actually is, for the young among us who are surviving scenarios and realities that shame this nation. And unlike any speculative fiction, or at least in a way they didn’t, it feels almost too ambitious. What felt like cheating before feels impossible. Describing something in which we’re consciously mired would be a feat in any year, but let’s not forget… I haven’t just been witness to all of this. I may be trying to wrestle it now, but it’s gotten a significant head-start. Since 2014, each year has been the hardest of my life. Not because my personal life matches what I see, but almost because it doesn’t. There’s been a rampant and persistent displacement and disorientation when it felt like a group of us were living in an ugly world on our own, trying to explain it to people living beside us and somehow somewhere else entirely. My interior life has been ravaged watching society happily resurrect its demons. There’s me in thought, me in daily life, and me in society, and daily life and love and friends have been overshadowed for what feels like forever. Or at least what feels like forever from now on.
Writing contemporary fiction feels too ambitious now. Which, of course, is another reason I have to write it. I have to relearn to be explicit, that it’s not and never was redundant. I have to describe it even when you think you already know what I mean. When you think you’ve been paying attention, I have to tell you what you’ve missed. In all honesty, I don’t know if I can. But how can I not.
Some links to me: