I remember an exercise in a college art class dealing with the use of negative space. We were challenged with the task of creating an image only by the definitions caused by shadow, avoiding highlights and midtones - just focusing on the darkness as a means of defining the object or objects themselves. I can't even remember what it is I drew, now, it's been so long. But the lesson clung, apparently, to my brain, and just crept back up this morning.
It's been a difficult time for a lot of people. 2016 - also known as "the year that killed everyone we liked" - was rough, with more than a few countries making some difficult political decisions. And people have gotten angrier and angrier, smoke is rising into the sky, and the sounds of gunfire and sirens echo through the air. It's not Armageddon, but it sure feels like...something.
It's a strange time to be a writer; especially of science fiction, of dystopian fiction. How do you write about a fictional world so critically divided, when you already live in a world so critically divided? I've been working on Automata for over a year now, wrestling with ratcheting up the complicating swell of the world in a way which doesn't go past credibility - and each time I feel like I'm reasonably skirting the fantastic, the world catches up or passes me.
But what gets me - what truly just crushes my brain - is the faith that people, really and truly, aren't so divergent. I don't think we're a lost cause, and I do not believe that we've passed that tipping point, that point of no return. I look inside, I look around me, and what I see are people who are angry, tired, and.... and then what?
I know this is, at its heart, a good world. People are good, things are...well, they are what they are. But all I feel like I see or hear are shootings, explosions, civilians killed, nazi graffiti, crooked government, lying news, blah blah blah blah. People scream back and forth from differing political perspectives, firing epithets from behind their safe and often unsupported shields of supporting evidence. Not listening. Not hearing. Not moving an inch, not even willing to consider the possibility that they're wrong.
Why are we such a rebellious and resistant species? What makes us cling to our beliefs even in the face of the facts with which we come into contact? It feels sometimes like we're racing headlong into oblivion at our own hands. If it's not climate change, its the toxins in our food and water, or it's guns or missiles or a meteorite.... Sometimes, all I can see is the darkness, floating around us, and it makes me afraid of the future.
Today, I woke up to learn of not just one but two mass shootings and an apartment fire which killed and injured dozens of people. The American congress is either taking away health insurance or pretending like a corrupted election isn't worth looking into, while England wrestles with what it's going to do with their departure from the European Union. Uncertainty, death and chaos. It's enough to make a writer put down his laptop and question the entire potentiality of fiction.
But then.... suddenly that whole art assignment came back to me. Light, as defined by shadow. It's not just darkness, the unending and undefined abyss which yawns wide before us all; the shadow cannot exist by itself: it is as much defined by the light as it defines the light.
So there we are. There's our path. As a writer, I can't just describe what I see. I can't simply lay out my spin on the world as it is. I have to do better than that. I have to not just condemn the world for that which is not, but embrace it as the world it could be.
The shadows we see are just the outlines - they are the periphery of the world as it is. The evil, the entropy, the selfishness and pride are the outside of the joy and potentiality of life. Death is a transition. Rain and fire cleanse, preparing the way for renewal. Ends become beginnings.
At the end of every day; at the end of every year - we and the world shut our eyes and from our exhaustion surrender to the dark unknown. And each day - just like the end of every winter - we open up our eyes and are reborn, rested, to face a new day. And so we must accept all these little pains. These cuts, these bruises, these countless injuries - they are not the path, they are the thorns which grow in the flowers beside it.
Or here's another way to consider it.
Life happens to all of us. The experiences, the events of our day to day transpire in somewhat equal portions to every human. Our perceptions define our emotional impacts - we feel as we do about the world dependent upon the filters through which we look upon the world, which in turn defines how we expect to see the world going forward.
So life happens, we feel our response, we define the world, and then we act accordingly. Life --> Feelings --> Perceptions --> Expectations --> Action --> Life.
Ponder that a moment. If that's really the way it works, then we are empowered to create the world we desire.
This is what my brain is telling me today: stop listening to people tell you how the world is, and start making it what it could be.
We good? Let's do this.