A hypothesis, as part of an attempt to explain what the hell is going on

Source: Leah Millis / Reuters via NBC News

It’s often said that there are two kinds of people in the world, although the labels for the two categories vary. There are people who want to move forward and people who want to cling to the past. There are people who respect history and people who want to destroy it. There are good people and bad people, however the speaker wants to define those comparisons.

I’m going to propose another comparison. In recent years there has been a growing push to get people (mostly privileged people) to recognize that their lived reality is different from that of other people (mostly underprivileged people). So my hypothesis is this: there are two kinds of people. One group recognizes that their lived reality – their personal experience, their own “truth,” if you will – is their own, and not the same as the lived realities as others OR the same as objective, universal, verifiable facts. The second group denies this, believing that their lived reality and their personal experience of truth is identical to Truth-with-a-capital-T. When this second group commits to this belief, they have no choice but to regard those who express a different experience and a different personal truth as crazy, liars, or enemies. Under pressure from this social movement to recognize the different realities of underprivileged people, those in the second group may put a different spin on it: if there is no single personal truth, then there is no single universal truth either. If people’s personal reality – which, to the second group, is identical to universal truth – can vary, then facts can vary, too.

In our society, personal reality has gained complete primacy. You see it in advertising, which has been working hard to turn wants into needs since at least the 1950s. You see it in the abandonment of major news sources watched by everyone in the U.S. in favor of social media feeds that easily enable you to shut out any voices that are different from your own. And you see it in the White House statement that functions as Trump’s concession speech:

“Even though I totally disagree with the outcome of the election, and the facts bear me out, nevertheless there will be an orderly transition on January 20th.” [emphasis mine]

Donald Trump is a person whose wealth and status have buffered him from having to face any reality other than his own for his entire life. I would argue that his most ardent – and armed – followers also fall into my hypothetical second category. But we all, as humans, have the tendency to veer from want to need, to see our own experience as Truth-with-a-capital-T and struggle to accept others.

The solution to this primacy of personal reality is not to throw out attempts at seeking universal truth, claiming that if everything is true then nothing matters. Nor is it to deny or attempt to extinguish people’s individual expressions of truth. All dilemmas are not zero-sum games. There are more than two choices. I am a Buddhist, and I’m going to phrase this in Buddhist terms: there is a middle way, between grasping and rejecting.

I do not say this in order to convert anyone to another religion, but there are Buddhist teachings about how the human mind works that apply to anyone with a human mind, and have also been confirmed by modern science and psychology. (People have, after all, called the Buddha the world’s first psychologist.) Here’s a relevant teaching: We encounter things in the world, and immediately sort those things into one of three categories – I like it, I don’t like it, or I don’t care. Then we start telling ourselves stories to explain and justify these emotions. (Modern brain science says it like this: data received by the senses travels to the amygdala – the emotion center – and the prefrontal cortex – where the analysis happens. The path to the amygdala is shorter, so we experience the emotion first, and that emotion can color the analysis.) We run into trouble when we start believing that the stories are true, identical to Truth-with-a-capital-T. We stop seeing external reality and thereby cause suffering for ourselves and others. So the Buddha – and many modern psychologists, in fact – suggest sitting with the mind, dropping the storylines, and just watching the emotions without grasping or rejecting them. This is meditation. In time we can recognize that the emotions come and go in response to things we encounter, but if we do not stoke them with a grasping storyline or put them in a pressure cooker by rejecting them, those emotions will pass on their own. Our lived realities can change.

We do not have to give up our experiences and emotions to acknowledge those of others. We do not need to deny our concerns about government, or about the security of our elections, or about whether incoming politicians really have our best interests at heart. And I am absolutely not demanding that anyone give up their beliefs and listen to me. I do not claim to speak the Truth-with-a-capital-T. There is an often quoted (and often paraphrased) saying of the Buddha, that we should not believe anything just because others have said it, even their most revered leaders and teachers, but only when we examine something in the context of our own lives and see what results it has should we believe it. And when people grasp so violently at the absolute truth of their own fears and anger, then we get armed protesters storming the Capitol Building.

We can sit, we can take a breath, and we can see how this works. We can release our grip on our fears and anger, work to recognize the reality that we all share, and move forward.

May all beings be of benefit.

Life’s Work

Okay, I’m being a little melodramatic again. But I’m super excited about *drumroll, please* finishing the first draft of the Big Fat Historical Fantasy!

(Note: No, a word count of 80.4 k isn’t quite Big and Fat. Although I did run it through a quick editing pass and now it’s up to 80.7, so there’s that. More editing to come.)

Let’s review.

1970-something, maybe 1980-82: I read a book set in the American colonies in the 17th century. There are Roundheads and Cavaliers running around, and while I have no idea what that means, it sounds mighty exciting, and a history nerd is born.

Continue reading

A Modern American in 17th-Century England; or, NaNoWriMo Fail

Still from Cromwell, a movie that takes major liberties with historical fact but has some great battle scenes. (Image source)

It’s not really accurate to say I failed at NaNoWriMo, since I never really signed up for the challenge. While word counts don’t motivate me at all – I can write crap fast if I push myself, but writing something worth keeping takes time – I did decide to use November as an excuse to sit down and write. And it seems to be working. I’ve managed to get a good start on a project I’ve been trying to write for more than twenty years: the Big Fat Historical Fantasy.

B.F.H.F. is set in the Stuart era, during the English Civil War. If you’re American, you’re probably not familiar with the Stuart era. (It’s the one right after the Tudor era.) I am an American, and by some bizarre chain of causes and conditions, I’m a big fan of the Stuart era. So how did this happen? And what on earth am I, an American, doing writing about this corner of English history?

Continue reading

Writing Dilemma – Analyzing a tough choice

Avengers: Endgame still from IMDB.

Hello, my long-unused blog! Is anyone still reading? I have to say that it’s been a relief to take a break from the twice-weekly schedule I had set for myself, and I’ve even come up with a story idea that I feel motivated about and isn’t like pulling teeth trying to write. It’s much too soon to talk about that, though. What I want to talk about now is Avengers: Endgame.

This discussion will drop HUGE spoilers for the movie, so click away now if you don’t want to see them.

Continue reading

Stories from Refuge – 139 – “I can get anyone to give me access to anything.”

Refuge: an underground city built to save people from an apocalyptic world. But how will its people save themselves? Read the stories in any order, or start with the introduction at part 1.

Reconciliation Council report C-36, interview with Nina 59A, recorded by Beatrice 75C
RY 101.1.29

When I was a little girl I hacked into someone’s head for the first time. One of my teachers, maybe grade three or four, an old man who was mean and cranky and terrified all his students. I made him put down his chalk and spin around like a dancer. All the kids laughed and he just stood there wobbling and wondering what had happened. I was sure he had no idea there was a Type 1 in his classroom. I didn’t even laugh to give myself away, and I never told anyone, so I was sure I had gotten away with it.

I was arrogant then. I probably haven’t changed as much as I’d like to think.

Continue reading

New Year Leave-taking

From The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. (source)

There’s a scene in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel where the title character visits a very eccentric artist who refuses to sell any of his paintings. In fact, he won’t even show his best painting. Midge manages to charm him, as she does almost everyone, and he takes her to the hidden room where he stores this amazing painting. It’s wonderful, she says. Why won’t he sell it, or at least give it to a museum? And why does he live this eccentric, lonely life, without a family? I put everything I have into that painting, he says. There’s nothing left.

I don’t want to sound as melodramatic as this, but I can understand what he’s saying. When I look back at the work that I dumped most of my soul into, it’s the Gbahn and Archipelago books. I wrote them ten years ago (though the pub date says 2013) and I feel like I’ve spun my wheels ever since. I have written some other things since then, some ideas I wanted to explore, but nothing really grabbed me by the throat and demanded to be written like those books. They sucked out my soul and there’s not much left.

Yes, I know. Still sounds melodramatic. I’ve enjoyed exploring the themes in my unpublished mystery novels, as well as the unpublished Refuge novel and the flash fiction I’ve posted here. But I think I’ve done all I can do with those. I’ve said what I wanted to say and I’m done. Pushing the point doesn’t result in good work, kind of like my attempts at the Big Fat Historical Fantasy and the week or so of NaNoWriMo I tried to do. Both felt like pulling teeth. I just didn’t care enough about the characters or the story to make it work. If my heart and soul aren’t in it, it’s not worth writing.

So I’m taking a leave from writing for the New Year. Kind of an anti-New Year’s Resolution, a resolution not to do something, which sounds much less anxiety-provoking. I’ve got one last entry in Stories from Refuge scheduled for tomorrow, and I might still do some poetry when it comes to me, but I won’t be pushing myself to follow this once-a-week schedule. I might even write some fiction if I get an idea, and if it doesn’t feel like pulling teeth.

Thanks so much to the followers who have been reading, and best of luck for your own writing. And happy New Year!

Stories from Refuge – 138 – “Why would he confess and deliberately get himself arrested?”

(c) Svedoliver | Dreamstime.com

Refuge: an underground city built to save people from an apocalyptic world. But how will its people save themselves? Read the stories in any order, or start with the introduction at part 1.

Reconciliation Council report B-108, interview with J.S., recorded by Mary 80C
RY 101.1.27

Yes, I’m back. I already talked to you about being a hacker, and why should I admit that if you’re arresting people, and then I find out that I got amnesty. You didn’t even do anything to make sure I couldn’t crack your systems again and read the last report. I got amnesty because my actions were against Government, but Carol hired me and she gets a criminal charge.

So that’s it, right? Like that woman from Civil said yesterday. Confess a crime like rioting or sabotaging bots or hacking into Government systems and you get to go free. Confess that you stole something from an ordinary person or bought drugs or beat someone up who wasn’t wearing a helmet and you get charged. Like all those other people had nothing to do with Government. Like we aren’t the way we are because you people were the way you were.

But here’s something you weren’t expecting. Let’s see how you handle this.

Continue reading

Stories from Refuge – 137 – “That’s what the law was supposed to be.”

(c) Serjio74 | Dreamstime.com

Refuge: an underground city built to save people from an apocalyptic world. But how will its people save themselves? Read the stories in any order, or start with the introduction at part 1.

Reconciliation Council report C-35, interview with Laura Wright, recorded by James 72A
RY 101.1.26

I work in Civil Council. I’m handling legal cases now, the ones that used to be arrested by Military and investigated by PsyOp, and we were just in charge of sentencing logistics. Now we’re handling everything, and we don’t know what to do.

That was an awfully unjust system, and we all knew it. I’m not the only one who kept old law books in my office, hiding them in holes dug out under the floor so no one found them when they came looking for paper to reuse. We didn’t understand half of what those books were talking about but we knew that’s what the law was supposed to be, that’s the way it was before we were locked down here a hundred years ago. That was the real refuge.

Still, it didn’t help us when the bottom fell out and two Councils were suddenly gone and we had to do everything ourselves.

Continue reading