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Marissa Lingen

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The work of optimism [Jan. 14th, 2017|05:26 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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My friend Fran Wilde said this week, “Do not hesitate to speak up for the reality you wish to live in. Don’t live in silence or fear. Those are really crappy universes.”

They are.

Having an optimistic imagination as a professional skill is hard work right now. It’s never actually trivial, but when the people around you are all muttering, “These are the times that try men’s souls,” and you know exactly what they mean, it’s hard to turn from that to creating entire worlds from scratch with hope as a major component.

Hard, but important.

Hard, but necessary.

But hard. Did I mention hard?

I’m working on three things at the moment, two of which have other people involved in one role or another, so that’s taking up a lot of my time and energy. And rightly so. But every day this week I have made sure to write some number of words on the third project, which is an optimistic science fiction novel.

That’s not to say that it’s teddy bear picnic science fiction. Lots of dreadful things happen. Some of the characters are–brace yourselves–not all that cuddly. But many of them–most of them–are making at least some effort to solve problems and treat each other decently. Even if they don’t always agree on what’s a problem and what’s a solution. Even if they don’t always agree on what decent treatment would entail. It is science fiction about people who are trying. It is science fiction for adults. About people who are trying.

Did I mention that this is hard work? because it is. And combining the difficulty of it with the other projects I have going on means that I’m not writing reams at a time on this thing. A couple hundred words a day is all I’m getting for now. But I can see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel with the other projects. I’m getting them toward a point where I can pass them back to the other professionals involved, and my main project focus can be optimistic science fiction novel for awhile.

And you know what? I think it’s good for me. I think that making this effort, doing this hard work–putting in the energy to imagine doing some good, putting in the energy to imagine doing better–is a bit like working out. You get better at it. You find more capacity in yourself the more you do of it. And you find more challenges, places where your previous skillset would have been insufficient, but now you can manage, you can just barely manage.

I know that some people find that writing about terrible universes is their way of trying to avoid living in one. And that’s fair. Saying, “OH GOD NOT LIKE THIS” is valid both as art form and as approach to improving the world, to the extent that the two are separable. It’s just that it’s not the only valid approach. And honestly right now I think it’s the easy way out, and if we’re going to have some balance, some of us are going to have to take the hard way. Some of us are going to have to imagine realities we would rather live in, and then speak up for them.

A little bit a day will do.

Originally published at Novel Gazing Redux


[User Picture]From: sartorias
2017-01-15 12:31 am (UTC)
Thoroughly agree. One thing that really struck me when I got addicted hard to the Chinese drama Nirvana in Fire was that it was about justice, loyalty, decency, honor. That helped give my own paradigm a focus sharpen.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2017-01-15 07:04 pm (UTC)
Inspiration, hurrah!
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From: swan_tower
2017-01-15 01:35 am (UTC)
If in October you had asked me what project I'm most likely to be working on two years from now, I would have described an epic fantasy trilogy that involves a resistance movement against an evil government where one of their biggest challenges involves persuading people to get off their butts and do something to help. With bonus "Marie Brennan picks a fight with grimdark" along the way.

Now? Now I'm not sure. Because while that series is ultimately about people trying, I'm not sure I want to immerse myself in the world their efforts are trying to change. I seem to be in the camp where I'm more inclined to write about awful situations when the world I live in is pretty good; when the latter takes a turn for the worse, I find myself craving something a little less on the nose.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2017-01-15 12:55 pm (UTC)
That is entirely valid. And honestly I think there are probably several people who wouldn't have had ideas in that direction in October and now do, so the weight of type of story may well balance itself out. But if it doesn't? That's okay. Less on the nose can really be our friend.
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[User Picture]From: redbird
2017-01-15 01:56 pm (UTC)
I don't write fiction, but this makes sense to me both as a reader of fiction, and as a way for all of us to imagine the world. Even when I'm thinking about what (possibly small) things we can do to fight Trump and all he stands for, it's ways to preserve what's good about the world: calling my senators or representative is an act of optimism, it means hoping that they can make things better than they would otherwise be.

I don't need (more) fiction to show me how things could get bad, or how bad they could get; there's enough of that in history books.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2017-01-15 07:04 pm (UTC)
I think some people do need the fiction version, and some stories need that sort of setting. But not exclusively that. Not only that. Diversity of tale in so many ways.
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[User Picture]From: pameladean
2017-01-15 06:34 pm (UTC)
It is very hard, and I am grateful that you are doing it. A little a day is a huge thing in the end.

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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2017-01-15 07:04 pm (UTC)
I send you hugs.
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From: sheff_dogs
2017-01-16 05:11 pm (UTC)
I think this is incredibly important. My OH works in transport planning and at one point had to run a series of workshops for the senior management of his organisation which oversees the road system and public transport in our metropolitan area asking where they wanted the transport system to be in ten, twenty, fifty years time. Most could manage the ten years, a very few could manage the twenty years and none of them could manage the fifty years. Most of them found it impossible to get beyond 'but we can't do that because of X thing that is happening now', but they also had real problems just envisioning how a good system would work. The thing they couldn't seeem to grasp is that our roads and indeeed our societies mostly got to where they are without any planning and that in some areas it is possible to say 'where do we want to end up? What changes will we need to make to get there? How long are those changes likely to take?' and put a plan into place to get to our desired state. OH can think like that and while I know we all have different kinds of brains I think one of the reasons we can both think like that is our science fiction and fantasy habit which has stretched those muscles. So please all of you who write thank you and go on helping people stretch those muscles, it does have an effect in the wider world!
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2017-01-16 05:49 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for saying this. It's good to hear.
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