For the past 2 weeks I’ve been participating in a NaNoWriMo-related Blog and Social Media Hop, hosted by blogger and author Raimey Gallant. I did the Facebook, blog, Twitter, Google+, and Goodreads hops. I finished following everyone on the very last day of the follow period. I followed Facebook pages as my author page, and that seemed to protect me from being blocked the way some others were.
Otherwise, this year wasn’t a successful NaNoWriMo for me. I started out thinking I was going to do “NaNoEdMo,” and edit my WIP every day, getting it into more publishable shape, or at least a shape for which I wouldn’t get the same old same old feedback that amounted to, “you’re not following the basic genre fiction rules about reader engagement” 😦
Then the US Presidential election happened. The rise of social media, and of my participation in social media, amplified everything in a way that in retrospect I didn’t understand, and probably still don’t. In the run-up to the election I felt overwhelmed by the negativity, lies, hate, and slander being spread about all the candidates, but especially about mine, so I started trying to avoid election-related news, and even went as far as to unfollow those Facebook and blogging friends who got too political in their online postings. I was trying to stay “positive,” at least on my own Facebook wall and blog, although I sometimes went over to friends’ walls and commented there. It was hard to resist completely.
I woke up on the morning of Election Day feeling optimistic, hoping that the long political nightmare of the past year was going to end and maybe I could start watching the news again and could re-follow my Facebook friends. I even said to my son, as he got on his bike that morning for school, something like “today it will finally be over!” I held onto that hope throughout the day and into the evening when I went to a rehearsal for the Holiday Magic concert. But by the time I went to sleep–sleep that was fitful and disturbed–I had given up hope.
I gave up on my novel too, that day. I couldn’t face it anymore. It is an ecofiction novel about the year 2074, when the USA has federalized into autonomous regions and people living in flooded areas trying to save their homes are subject to government-ordered memory wipes, and/or become refugees–and that’s if they’re lucky. In the days following the election I became overwhelmed again, this time by the fear that that dystopic future, or an even worse version of it that I had been too naive to imagine, would come to pass. I sometimes woke up in the middle of the night, heart pounding with anxiety.
Then, a week and a half later, I went to my writing group. November was the month to discuss my work, a 50-page excerpt of the novel that I had sent around before Election Day. I had edited and rewritten that much, hoping to address previous concerns about plot, structure, and pacing. The first two critiques I received suggested that I had failed in that particular goal. Again. “Unless you are writing literary fiction,” said one of the readers, helpfully. “Then you don’t have to worry about this as much.” I decided then and there that yes, I was writing literary fiction. Literary SF does exist.
Then another reader joined in and said, “I don’t want to talk about this plot stuff anymore. I want to talk about the characters. That’s what I read for in fiction. I want to ask you something. Do YOU care about these characters? I just didn’t get the sense that you really cared about them or empathized with them.”
At that point, something welled up inside, and I started to cry. I began, haltingly, “I’m kind of shocked to hear that,” I said. “At this point, I expect to hear critiques about plot and pacing and structure, because I know I struggle with that, but I don’t know what to say to this. Yes, I care about these characters. I feel like I care too much about these characters! I’m terrified that this future, of the broken country and the flooding and the refugees is going to come to pass. And I feel powerless and afraid. I haven’t been able to write anything since the election.” I trailed away into a soggy mess.
A productive conversation followed. I pulled myself together at least a little bit. I talked more about the rest of the novel and where I saw it going. We all talked about our feelings–it turned out we were all a little scared–and what we could do moving forward. We agreed that writing takes courage, and is hard. I remembered in that afternoon both why I didn’t and did want to be a writer.
I’m not sure yet where I’m going from here. It’s still a work in progress. I think I finally feel ready to pick up the novel where I left off. It’s likely to be a lot darker than the theoretical cautionary tale I originally imagined. In that dark night of the soul when I came home from rehearsal on Election Night, I felt very alone. My husband was supportive, but he is German and couldn’t vote. He immigrated here and got a Green Card based on his marriage to me. This is supposed to be my country and I felt–and still feel–betrayed by it and estranged from it.
As California enters its 6th year of drought, the fate of the environment has become personal to me. It was the issue I cared most about during the election, and neither party said or did much to address it. Neither candidate thought our votes here in CA were worth campaigning for–a reasonable tactical decision, I guess, when a vote here is worth less than a third of a vote in Wyoming. And when it does come up, the discussion seems to be limited to the tired and rather useless “debate” over whether climate change is primarily caused by humans or not–as if the unlikely finding that humans were not primarily responsible for global warming would somehow let us off the hook and let us continue as before, free of consequences, with destructive and wasteful behavior.
It’s much worse to have a climate change denier leading the EPA than to not have one. And it will not help anyone for the US to pull out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. These developments can and should be opposed, and the current political climate makes progress more difficult than it would have been if my candidate had won. But this issue is beyond politics at this point. Barring a genetic engineering breakthrough, I probably won’t live to see the year 2074. But my children, and Ivanka’s children, will.
One thing I feel more sure of than ever: silence, avoidance, and forced optimism didn’t work very well for me. So I’ve re-followed my Facebook friends anyway, on all sides. I’ve come out as a Democrat and a Sanders and Clinton supporter (yes it’s possible to be both), and I don’t apologize for any of that. Like everyone else, no matter who you voted for, I have to try to understand and learn to live with points of view I disagree with. I have to try to figure out how to navigate this strange social media world of bubbles, conspiracy theories, and fake news. I’m hoping that one answer is more writing, more conversation, more free speech, more blogging, not less.
This is the eve of the solstice, the darkest time of the year, the time when we have only hope that the sun and spring will return. But they always do.