The TLDR is: hi writing peeps, I’m back. Long version:
It’s about two years since I updated this blog. I had no plans to resurrect it until suddenly–as in, like actually yesterday, the day after the General Election–something in me spun on a dime and changed. I’m a little surprised that I feel this, but nevertheless I’m feeling with some urgency that I want to reconnect with the writing community.
Why did I step back in the first place? I have cited practical reasons in the past, and they are true, but it was more than that. I don’t wish to dredge up the events and nastiness that unfolded over 2013 or so and that came to a head around the time that Shadowboxer came out in 2014. I mention it because my attitude towards the SFF writing community became cool and distant after that time. I was hurt, and even after I thought I was over it I wasn’t over it. And let’s face it: even before stuff kicked off I had been feeling embattled and I was struggling with my identity as a writer and my place in that world. I was never at ease in SFF.
But I have been away from the scene for quite a while now. My life looks a lot different, my relationship with my writing has changed, and the world has changed.
For like a year I worked on my PhD pretty hard. Big adjustment. But it was good until last autumn after the IPCC report came out. Brexit food insecurity soon led me down a rabbit hole into climate-induced food insecurity and implications for full-on social collapse. I hit a bad patch. I don’t really want to go into it deeply. I’ll just say that my partner and I had rebuilt our lives from financial ruin and when I was accepted on a funded PhD I thought I was finally on a path to solid ground for my family. Brexit had been a blow, Trump had been a heavier one; but with the IPCC report I realised that bad had come to worse had come to worst, that there is no longer any solid ground for the future, for the kids I’ve brought here and worked so hard to protect and do right for—-no solid ground, in fact, for anybody or anything.
I barely paid attention to my science work for several months. I was really swept away by what I was reading in the climate movement, realities that I had managed to shove aside and not think about or even fully take in. So I scrambled to try to fix my own life. I tried to make adjustments, to hold up my end, to plan, to reassemble some kind of path under the feet of my children, to deal with my own feelings about the accelerating collapse of nature as the headlines mounted. I was desperate to do something—-anything—-to avoid dealing with the helplessness and despair engendered by the new information. I changed my family’s diet, cut way back on driving, started organic gardening and extreme budgeting and zero-waste, oh, all kinds of stuff. I wanted some kind of control, to prepare the family for bad outcomes.
And in the end, despite having kept myself to myself for years, I joined Extinction Rebellion and went to the October Rebellion for a few days. I’m still loosely involved with my local group, although by November I had to set myself hard limits because I’d neglected my science work for too long.
Writing has been shelved completely. For a long time I could not convince myself that there is any point in continuing to write stories and especially to pursue publication when one of the biggest enemies our planet faces right now is consumerist denial and carrying on as usual. I would look at Twitter, people talking about their books, and honestly I would feel sort of sick to my stomach. Then I would go outside and pluck slugs off my homegrown mange tout with a little bit of a superior air, but also with great loneliness because how can you really talk about this stuff? It’s not a cheerful topic. I would spend time just walking in the forest and being with the trees, because really that was all I could handle. I had to stay out of my head.
But life is always moving, and I think I’m seeing things a little differently after the Tory landslide in the election. Also, through contact with Extinction Rebellion I’ve become conscious of the need to deal with vulnerability. I’ve thought about what community means. I have started to reflect on my own American-culture-indoctrinated beliefs about the supremacy of individualism and independence and to realise on a visceral level what a nonsense that is and how I have not let go of it but I need to. I almost can’t believe I’m about to post this on the Internet, because I have so carefully curated my relationship with the online world to avoid showing too much of myself. I have repeatedly recoiled from the toxicity online—there is so much of it, in so many forms. But now here I go, typing these words to say that it seems the only way forward is vulnerability, is tenderness.
I have asked myself many times, what contribution can I make to the world? There are things I hope to do with the technical knowledge that I’m developing in my PhD, maybe a little further down the road. But fundamentally I’m an artist. I know a little about creative work because I have done it for many years in all kinds of circumstances. And maybe that enables me to offer something useful.
I’m starting to see that part of our survival as humans must come from how we think, what kinds of stories we tell ourselves and others, how we empathise and take on one another’s point of view, and how we value our own creativity and its messiness. I’m not talking about writing for market now. I’m talking about the fact that creative acts are how we construct ourselves out of the maelstrom of real and virtual life. They are how we individuate from the machinery. Maybe there is a part for me to play in supporting the work of others even as I am a little shaky about making my own right now. I have been moved by Gareth Powell’s tweets helping other writers. I think he has the right of it. I think we need to look after one another and do what we can to hold one another up.
I’m going to start posting stuff on this blog again. I’ve been on Twitter for a while in a super low-key way, but I have followed very few people in the writing community so far. Sometimes in the past Twitter felt too much like playing status games to me, and I didn’t want to feed that side of my personality. I’ll try tuning back in a little more now, maybe not a lot, maybe only sporadically, but I’ll try just putting myself out there, thin skin and all. I’ll do what I can to help.