Thursday, June 13, 2013

Doctor, Heal Thyself

Status Update: got a fresh bag; beans are high quality. Had a Moment this morning when I poured my first cup. Since I drink my coffee black, I always regard my first cup with a bit of fear and trepidation. It is the opening salvo of the day--your first cup of joe should be a firm cuff alongside the noggin. This morning's dose was stiff enough to stand a spoon in. I'm surprised it didn't dissolve the bottom of my Shakespearian Insult coffee cup/rocket fuel tank. In other words, success. Story is going well. Part 2 of Nightmare Town is turning into Part 2 of 3. It's the ever-expanding outline of DOOOOOOM. I'm still trying like a dickens to end at a reasonable word count--I want this bad boy to wrap at around 30-35k words when I finish this section. There's going to be a pretty serious cliffhanger at that point.

Chuck Wendig has me thinking again, in that inimitable way he has. His series of posts this week about gender biases in writing has a small corner of the Internet in a tizzy. There has, in fact, been something of a flap.

His posts are, in a nutshell, about how sexism pervades the science fiction/speculative fiction/etc corner of the writing/publishing industry. And he goes on to note how terribly important it is that you be aware of these tendencies, so you can fight them whenever they pop their goblin heads up out of their nasty little subterranean gopher holes. And I completely agree with him. At best, gender bias makes for dreadfully flat writing. At worst it excludes 50% of the human race from your discourse. Unwise!

In my own fashion, I'm not going to be writing anything terribly controversial. I have the rabble-rousing abilities of a bowl of oatmeal.

It does, however, have me thinking about identifying patterns of behavior.

Okay, backing up a bit.

The thing about biases like that is that they are never fully reasoned out. They are the result of a lifetime of learned behavior, both from your actions and those you associate with. They are formed as a result of physical experiences and the language and culture that you immerse yourself in. They are very rarely something that anyone consciously adopts.

These attitudes you pick up are almost never acquired wholesale. You pick up bits and pieces here and there. A bit of language your Uncle Ralph uses (that bastard), an opinion on something seemingly unrelated from your best bud from culinary school who Totally Had That One Thing Happen To Him On A Bus. It all goes in that big hopper you call a brain where it slides down into your subconscious and becomes sausage.

Writing is thinking.

If there is a portion of your thinking that you are not explicitly aware of, your writing will be influenced in some way or another. Being aware of your biases is the least you can do. And you have to always be on your toes.

For example.

When I was a kid, I used to use the word "gypped" a lot. It's a short word, and doesn't have any meanings or connotations beyond getting screwed out of something where I come from. In fact, I would go so far as to say it was my go-to word for those sorts of situations.

But the thing is, in many parts of the world it's a racial slur. It's short for "gypsies", which is a somewhat impolite word for the Romani, who have an undeserved reputation for thieving and low-dealing. "Gypsy" itself isn't much of an insult, but using a derivative of their name for petty thievery is.

And then I got older, the Internet became a thing and I got called out on it by someone who lives where the Romani are common. Back where I came from, gypsies just aren't on the radar. They are as common as elephants or high-grade plutonium. I'd always placed them in the same mental bin that I store dragons and elves. To find out that they do, in fact, exist, as a cultural group and are a people who face constant discrimination was a revelation.

So, I stopped using "gypped" as a verb, at least not without being rather self-aware of it.

Biases like that are very rarely obvious. In fact, the first reaction when it's pointed out is to scoff. It's when you have that reaction, that first "you've got to be kidding" moment--that's when you have to be on guard. Because if it matters enough to someone else to point out something like that to you, then maybe you should hear them out.

Yes, nine of ten times they're going to be full of shit, but it never hurts to stop and reassess your own actions and assumptions. These weird little unspoken assumptions usually make for lazy writing, so it's never a bad thing to call yourself on it.

Even if you think everything through and go ahead with it anyway, maybe you decide that your art will be all about how inferior women are or how the working class is full of thieves and liars or whatever bit of degrading nastiness you decide to wallow in, you should at least be aware of your prejudices, so you can play with or use them. Writing should be about challenging expectations, especially your own.

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