I wanted to be told I was basically a good person.
A friend just told me he would only go to a therapist who was a lot like him.
Another said she sometimes went for access to drugs.
Are writers therapists? Is writing their therapy? We all know about writers who behave badly. Would they have been better people if they had gotten “treatment”?
The Ten Commandments were written as a reminder that none of us are without sin.
But if we believe that we (and maybe our characters) are basically good or that there is no such thing as goodness since goodness must be in the eyes of the beholder, what is the point of telling a story? If sin does not exist, if the world is empty of meaning then what is to be done with the many definitions we’ve made for ourselves? A literary spectacular absent of heart falls flat except with a few critics in the know.
What is the meaning of creating flawed characters with no access to therapy? Why create flawed characters at all?
The light came into the world but people prefer to live in darkness.
How do we make peace with being basically good and terribly flawed?
How can it even be discussed with people who think this whole thing called life is just random?
On some basic level most people recognize something called EVIL.
To be told we are basically good might be the most dangerous lie in the world.
So what do you think? Are humans basically good? If you were a therapist, what would you tell your favorite character?
“There is a stereotype of literary fiction shared by both science fiction readers and non-science fiction readers: that academically-sanctioned, “serious” contemporary fiction is all about dull middle-class people having affairs, and that the writers of this fiction do such things as use a couple hundred pages to describe events that could quite easily be described in a paragraph.”
An interesting thread on romance in fantasy writing:
“But for people who want verisimilitude and detailed characterizations, romance is going to be there. Real people deal with romance in their actual lives. It’s a huge part of being human.
Romance doesn’t mean the book is plot-less or spends all its time dealing with vampire-werewolf three-ways. Badly written romance means the book is plot-less or spends all its time dealing with vampire-werewolf three-ways.” unconundrum
Have any of you suffered through a three week flu? It’s awful, isn’t it? But there is a bright side. Everything I do is in slow motion so I’ve actually spent more time with my humans and animals–especially my animals who love sick naps.
I was once a misanthrope. How could I not be? I went to public school and watched PBS. It didn’t take a genius to see that as a white girl I was personally responsible for pollution, slavery, genocide and the deaths of baby harp seals. I stopped eating meat as many a white girl has done to distance herself from all evil. The moral high ground of starving oneself is a great thing for one’s self esteem until your body gives out and you realize you really don’t want to die. It is then that I realized that my idealized love for animals actually made me wish for the deaths of other humans. Humans I didn’t know. Humans out there who polluted.
Have you heard of the Georgia Guidestones? They are stones in the middle of nowhere calling for a mass reduction in humans. Scary.
I re-grouped after the doctors forced me to eat hamburgers and researched my family tree looking for Indian killers and corporate evil-doers. All I found were men and women who wanted to be free. They intermarried with Indians, fought against tyranny, worked for oppressive bosses at age sixand died in the fight against slavery.
Outside the classroom of my youth and when I was hospitalized for a serious condition that wouldn’t have materialized if I hadn’t hated humanity and loved fuzzy animals, I was amazed to discover that all around me were humans with the capacity for good. Of course I always knew my family members were basically good (though misguided for eating meat), but there were others! In the world beyond! Doctors and nurses, scientists and hunters. Activists and skeptics.
For a while I watched nature films. You know the ones showing a crocodile killing unsuspecting little Bambi. The I got a small farm. I’ve watched ducks brutally kill other ducks for no apparent reason. I’ve seen the aftermath of a fox killing frenzy. I’m pretty sure the fox didn’t pray over his prey.
So eating lettuce is now bad for the environment. Huh. Maybe we don’t get to live in Utopia. Yet as I sit at my laptop reading about misanthropes and cucumbers, I smile. I love western civilization even with its faults. I love its art, its music, its cinema. I like insulation in winter and an air-conditioned hospital room when I’ve eaten nothing but lettuce for weeks. I like napping with dogs (it’s what dogs do best), but I LOVE writing novels and reading blog posts and obsessing over Christmas gifts for people–yes those crazy characters who occasionally tell really good jokes (my dogs can’t do that).
I love loving people no one loves. So I can’t be a misanthrope.
WARNING: This is not about gay marriage. It’s not about gender politics or more aptly put: gender war. This about history.
Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” Genesis 2:18
For much of recorded history most people looked around and noticed that men and women looked and acted in different ways (with some overlap). They looked at animals. Rams and sheep, bucks and does, ducks and drakes. We don’t have to believe in the Biblical account of creation to understand that most people realized a duck and drake were of the same kind, but their purposes were complimentary and different.
Let’s march onward to the US Civil War. In THE VACANT CHAIR The Northern Soldier Leaves Home Reid Mitchell devotes a chapter to the need for femininity in the masculine world of war.
But women are soldiers now you cry. Yes and for a disturbing look at women who kill from thousands of miles away click HERE. Women are strong. They write songs about roaring and not needing men. Go women!!?
I’ve never seen our ducks declare war on our drakes (though occasionally they squabble). Same goes for our sheep and goats. Same goes for the Civil War soldier and the women folk back home. Reid even goes on to say that one of the reasons the southern soldier had it so hard is that he believed in his manly role as much as his northern brethren. Northern women remained safely out of the actual war’s reach. Northern men could at least rest easy on that. They could go fight a war and miss their wives and sweethearts and dream about being nurtured by them at war’s end in the same homes they left.
Not so for the southern men who had the added worry of their women and children directly in the war’s path. Towards the end of the war the Confederacy held back the troops mail for fear of large scale desertion–though not really desertion but an adherence to the manly virtue of protecting one’s family.
And what about womanly virtue? Modern culture decries anything that smacks of the Bible–maybe it’s why there is such a hatred for history (especially American) but as a college student being indoctrinated by men haters who blamed Jewish rabbis and Jesus freaks for everything I wish I would have opened up the good book myself and read PROVERBS 31 which describes what a virtuous woman looks like. It would have given me some balance:
10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
14 She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
17 She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
19 She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
20 She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22 She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
24 She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
25 Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
26 She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
27 She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
29 Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
30 Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
The soldier of the Civil War even if not a Christian (though most were) lived in a culture saturated by Judeo-Christian values. Sorry, that’s just the way it is.The basic notion of men and women serving complementary yet distinct roles seemed to serve humanity fairly well for thousands of years. Despite Louisa May Alcott’s fictional tomboys and the few hundred women who impersonated men to join the ranks of the Union Army most women played mother or lover to the soldiers. Whether as nurses or homemakers, activists or laundresses most women accepted their feminine side–many actually valued it!
And so did the men. They missed the nurturing, the companionship and the spirit of women. They did not wish for more men.Letters home were filled with talk of home and the women who made it a home. Of course there were some men happy to get away from women and some women relieved when such men left, but the overriding feeling as the war dragged on was one of deep missing, deep lonesomeness for the opposite sex. Other men just couldn’t cut it.
How does one make sense of this desire in a culture bent on gender fluidity?
When researching for my novels many of you know I “went to war” as a reenactor. My college indoctrination was wearing off as I studied history not through the eyes of embittered leftist college professors, but through the eyes of the men and women of the time writing about their lives in diaries and memoirs.
I still clung to the notion that I had to be the same as men so I convinced my father to buy me an Enfield rifle. We drove to Gettysburg to pick it up. The thing is beautiful, but I immediately realized with sinking heart that there was no way I was going to enjoy carrying it in a wool uniform.
I wrestled with womanhood. First of all I was hardly virtuous. Then came Antietam. A friend let me borrow a corset and hoop skirt. I figured as a researcher it would be interesting to see how the other half lived before getting fitted out to play one of the few hundred women who fought.
And then it happened like magic.
As I walked around owning my feminine side I suddenly understood the power of it. At first I assumed the feeling would go away, but it got stronger each time I slipped into the role. And here’s the equally weird thing: men treated me differently. Now to be fair we were all slipping into what we thought we knew about the 1860’s.
Weren’t people more polite back then? Yes and no. But the part that intrigued me and intrigues me still is that once we played at respecting gender roles we found that we respected the opposite gender more. We behaved better towards each other. (Okay better is relative–I get it, but I don’t care).
Maybe someone smarter than me can explain how playing a virtuous northern woman actually made me respect myself and men more.
Why did men stand a little taller as I walked by?The same men who chatted with me in jeans the day before as we set up our tents. The uniforms we wore as men and women of the 1860’s fit better than the unisex jeans and t-shirts we wore in our real lives. Some will say it’s just a game we played–but it was a game worth playing.
BTW, THE VACANT CHAIR by Reid Mitchell offers such valuable insight into the minds of the northern men who went off to war I think every angry man hater (and woman hater) should be forced to read it as penance. Can’t we just love one another?
“I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world.
The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives.
Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate.
That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing.
For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community.
It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”
Good news! There was no such thing as “rape culture” among Northern soldiers fighting for the Union in America’s Civil War. Scholars looked for the tell-tale signs of “rape culture” and found none. No Rolling Stone frat parties gone awry, no Duke Lacrosse team—oh wait those things didn’t actually happen. Back to the Civil War. Despite what popular culture would have us believe about men and boys in America, most don’t rape–or think of rape. Many don’t even want to be around women anymore for fear of the “rape culture” witch hunt.
Oops. Back to the Civil War:
Northern men in the 1860’s were supported by a culture that valued self-restraint. In fact self-restraint in men was seen as one of the top indicators of a truly masculine man. To lose control was seen as childish, feminine and kind of pathetic. Of course this does not mean that all men kept away from prostitutes or that all men were angels–there were a few cases of rape but astonishingly rare.
For all the bad press patriarchy gets, the notion of the South going against the father (government) and the brotherhood (the northern states) created an interesting twist when it came to how the northern soldiers viewed southern women. This changed over the course of the war to be sure as the women went from outspoken vixens (she-devils) to co-combatants (stories of women luring soldiers to guard their homes only to shoot them in the head spread like wildfire and in some cases were true). There was a sense initially that messing with southern women was like messing with your best friend’s sister–not good. As time went on it seemed more soldiers fantasized about killing southern women than sleeping with them.
And what is this thing about rape during war anyway? There’s always plenty of hookers hanging around. Rape during war is mental assault against an opponent–what kind of man isn’t able to protect his women folk? Again I will remind everyone that northern soldiers were hardly ever rapists (like most US men are hardly ever rapists). In the rare recorded cases the raping seemed to be more a thing done to slave women (considered southern property) and usually in front of their white southern female owners as if to warn them that it could happen to them if they weren’t careful. Some Union soldiers blamed the fiery southern women for prolonging the bloody war by convincing their men to keep fighting against all odds.
There were a few well-documented cases of gang rape done by colored troops and here the reasoning may have been more in line with revenge against their former white masters.
Here are my questions: When did self-restraint in men become something to be laughed at? When did men begin to cling to childhood and abdicate their proper place as men? What’s not cool about taking care of families (other than divorce courts being brutal on men)? When did childish women decide that unrestrained lust would make for better relationships? When did these same women start calling all men rapists?
There was a Cult of Womanhood back in the 19th century. Women had a great mission and a great power. Not everyone lived up to the ideal or even wanted to and that’s fine, but when a culture turns its people into children unable to use self control and actually applauds self obsession and stupidity one wonders when the real men and women will stand up.