My post in early February was just before COVID-19 hit the page. If I was concerned about the weight of the world then… wow. What has followed is a twist after twist, morphing reality – like a poorly written spec-fic that no one really wants to read anymore. The big reveal? How fragile “we” are – the economy, the healthcare system, our sense of community, and even our sense of science. There are those who discount COVID-19 as a fraud, a made-up, over-inflated trick being played on America and the world. (Seriously, the world is flat, too). The Jenga tower is tipping and anyone with half a brain is aware of the criticality of what hangs in the balance.
How do you get and remain creative in this kind of reality?! How do you craft prose when the future of so much is threatened?
Answer: you adjust your perspective, your elevation, your angle of attack.
Yes, there’s an information war being waged against the citizens of the U.S. Yes, guerrilla misinformation tactics are being used divide us. Yes, there are actual racists in a too-large segment of our country – a tradition passed down by their parents and society. Yes, they are printing money without any basis or backing. Yes, we live in a paper-mache construct pretending to be a country. Yes, a sophisticated airborne virus is selectively taking out people, leaving others heavily damaged, and not impacting others very much, if at all… BUT! None of this is really new (except the virus).
That’s right – every aspect of what’s wrong today has been wrong in some form going back to the beginning of our civilization. Controlling the masses has been a full-time occupation of those power-minded individuals who inevitably become the real leaders of our industries and governments, even if from the shadows. Yet, the sun still rises and sets, as always. People don’t focus much on the shitshows that dictate their overall well-being… especially if the shitshows come with advanced distraction programs: we’re talking Netflix, movies, extreme Amazon addiction, etc…. basically extreme cultural distraction. People keep being people and largely move on, making do with whatever is available in the way of prosperity, happiness, and opportunity (despite the hardships created by greed).
So it’s about elevation. Perspective. If the world’s a shitshow, filled with distraction from dire situations that need our collective attention in order to address, what place does writing fiction have in it? Perhaps my moral compass is too strongly attracted to True North, but that shitshow is my children’s and grandchildren’s future home. It’s billions of people’s present and future home. They have to live in it. So I feel obligated to some effort to address it, even it’s comparable to hollering at the street hooligans from the 3rd story window.
Writing. Reading. Literary escapism for some. So, fiction with roots in meaning is needed. Painting a story with parallels to our world that resonate, illuminate, and, perhaps, inspire. Placing oneself above the shitshow, examining its key elements, and using fiction to embody those elements in an entertaining story of strife, struggle, and good vs. evil (or degrees thereof) is one method of instilling purpose in the creative effort. Make it more than just fiction for escapism – make it matter the way our world matters. Make the stakes as high as our stakes are. Make the message, not just the story. If you don’t, it’s quite possible the reader will be under-impressed with the challenges your protagonists face and switch to Google News instead to review what their own challenges are.
Or… you disconnect. If your moral compass allows for it, disconnect from the real world and focus solely on the construction of a world of your making, with as many or as little parallels to our own as you like. Write for the sake of writing, for creating a world so full of content and character the reader forgets this shitshow for a while. True, uncut escapism. For some, that may be the best book around.
In the end, the best approach to creativity is unique to the writer. For me, principled and passionate as I am, I’ll run the parallels, I’ll imbue the antagonists with some of the same selfish, short-sighted, and greedy traits found in our politicians and “philanthropists”. I’ll paint the corporations as they are, perhaps with some exaggeration for poignancy of threat. But creative I must be, if I’m ever going to become a regular writer/producer of books.