Monday, May 30, 2016
This morning, due to an odd dream, I found myself sleepless at 2 AM. The dream wasn’t particularly profound, just the day’s junk remixed.
Usually, I can recover from such dreams easily. I pace, try to do some stretches, then quickly realize I’m too tired to do anything of consequence. My head hits the pillow and I’m off to dreamland again.
But not this time. So I scrolled through Facebook. Nothing interesting there, so I decided to check e-mail. Junk. Finally, I decided to check my crescentseries account, my “writer’s account”, on the minute chance there might be something juicy afoot.
I don’t check that account very often, maybe twice a month, because, truthfully, it’s not all that active. Occasionally I get a couple of quick notes from people I don’t know who took the time to read my book. I always thank them, and try to answer their questions if I have time.
I had two messages. One was from my e-mail service provider asking if I’d like to purchase some space in their cloud. Delete. The other was from some incomprehensible string of characters and had a subject line in broken English, something about book, world, and gorgeous. I figured it was one of those advertisements for counterfeit Viagra. I almost trashed that one, too, except I don’t get junk e-mail on that account because I never buy anything with it. So I scanned it to be safe and opened it.
It was a legit message. Someone in Moscow (!) had read my book and had lots of questions, not only about the book, but about this country’s current political situation.
Holy crap. If I answered every question fully, I was going to have to explain America. I hate when people ask me to do that. It’s like when customers at work ask me where a certain store that I’ve never been in is at the mall. When I tell them I don’t know, they get all indignant. “Don’t you work here?” they cry. Why yes, I want to tell them, I work in this store and when I’m done, I rush to my car and hightail it home. Do you hang out where you work after hours? I’m not an expert on the mall. Likewise, just because I live in the U.S. doesn’t mean I understand everything about it. Sometimes this place baffles me too.
My correspondent’s command of English grammar might have been tenuous, but his knowledge of U.S. history and current events wasn’t. He knew things many Americans probably wouldn’t know. Basically he asked me if I thought my book was coming true, and did I think the United States was headed towards some type of revolution, and when was the sequel to LOVE IN THE TIME OF UNRAVELING coming out, and what historical events did I use as a model for the Crescent, and did I think America would survive?
Whew. Maybe I shouldn’t have checked my e-mail. Because after I read that, my mind was racing.
Do I think my book is coming true?
Literally, no. I’m no clairvoyant. The characters in LOVE first came to life in the wake of Katrina but didn’t start keeping me awake at night until after Deepwater Horizon blew. I did what many writers of speculative fiction do: I extrapolated a future from the present. I knew the Deepwater Horizon spill would have long-lasting effects we couldn’t even begin to imagine. I knew the effects of environmental degradation would more adversely effect the poor and people of color. People of means would devise some way of escaping the worst of it. I could see corporations trumping governments and business becoming the model for what little government remained. Crescent Region is governed by a board of rich white property owners. Which, incidentally, is how this country began.
When I was researching for a historical “feel”, I read about the Gilded Age and the period leading up to the Civil War. Because that’s what the present feels like to me: a combination of the two.
The Gilded Age vibe is obvious. The income equality of the present is a mirror of that past. And while the barons might not be as bold to deliver bags of cash to Congress anymore, they do hold secret donor conferences and audition candidates. It’s glaringly apparent the government doesn’t work for the “small people”. That’s one reason you’ve got Trump. (Not that he cares for the common people either.)
The Civil War part is obvious, too. We’re still fighting that war over a century and a half later. Racism still exists. Folks still fly the Confederate Battle Flag.
But something else struck me when reading about the period directly preceding the Civil War. Slavery was so ingrained in American culture, people could not see or think their way out of it. Otherwise decent people thought the peculiar institution was as immutable as the laws of physics.
Today most of us (and by "us" I mean descendants of masters; slaves always knew the score) recognize slavery as the great evil that it was, but we aren’t living in the midst of it. To take a stand against something that was so woven into the social fabric took unbelievable vision, perseverance and courage. And even then, it took a blood sacrifice to end it.
I believe there are current institutions and systems that will seem as evil to our descendants as slavery does to us today. Thing is: like slavery, these practices seem as immutable to us as natural law. Only the most visionary among us can even begin to see a way out.
Imagine: there are entire sectors of the economy that depend on paying people far less than it takes to survive. Recently those sectors have been shamed into changing their ways, but their stocks have suffered. Think about that. In order to “work”, the system demands exploitation.
We massacre the environment daily, yet we seem powerless to stop. Oh, we recycle and drive hybrid cars, but what is needed is a radical re-visioning of energy use.
Change WILL eventually come whether we like it or not. I think even the most clueless among us feels that in our bones. That anxiety about the future haunts our lives. Like animals before an earthquake, we can feel the rumblings, but because of our fear, ignorance, bitterness, and rage, we have rendered ourselves powerless to do anything constructive about it.
So: do I think this country is headed towards revolution? I believe we’re careening towards something and I pray it’s not a bloody mess. I hope as Papa Z says (or will say, and that’s the only spoiler I’m dropping) it doesn’t take a war to fix this. Because Lord knows, the Civil War didn’t fix anything. The required paradigm shift was never completed. You don't raise consciousness with a hail of bullets.
Will America survive? I don’t know. Something will survive; I know that. Perhaps the country will split into regions like the Crescent, Liberty City, and Upper Midwest. Some people will survive and they will continue to make love, life, and art against all odds, even if they can’t go out in their bare clothes (and even then, they’ll turn their haz suits into high fashion).
Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, though.