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On politics, or lack thereof

I am not a very public person.

Being professional is something that everyone who works should be capable of - but in general, that’s eight hours a day, five days a week. Professional behaviour is a very narrow range of polite, considerate, and largely vanilla interactions; it’s a way of navigating a world full of strangers. (Yes, there are other ways.) When you are among friends, you aren’t professional - you’re friendly. The behaviour is different.

I don’t know everyone who will read these - or any of my other - words. But if there’s nothing personal in them, they’re not actually interesting or compelling.

But if writing is very, very personal, it can also be edited. It can be checked for clarity. It can be vetted by in-house editors (alpha readers, friends, long-suffering spouse). It can be shelved. If the inherent anger in some of my writing is overwhelming the point I’m trying to make, it can be set aside until anger is less white-hot.

#

I am a public person, because I am a writer, and writers are expected to be on the internet.

Combining the natural disinclination toward being a public person with the need to be in public is always somewhat fraught. I’m aware that people I do not know, and will never meet, read my words--even these ones.

When I was first published, I was not aware of this. Before I was published, I was as public on the internet as anyone else. If I had opinions, I shared them. I expected they would be given weight if I argued rationally and logically. (Yes, I was younger.) I didn’t expect them to be given more weight because I was an author.

The first time I posted something - on LJ - and people rushed in with sympathy, I was surprised. Genuinely surprised. I had made similar posts before, without receiving that; I didn’t get hostility, but most of the people who were reading me were people who knew me; they could hear my real-life voice. People who had never met me in real life couldn’t, which made sense in hindsight.

This taught me that I wasn’t speaking only to the internet friends I’d gathered in ones and twos over the years. It widened the sphere of public, and what it meant to me.

#

I’ve been writing for over two decades.

I am not an overnight success in any way.

But over time, I’ve amassed my “reasons to keep writing” folder.

I have had people write to me to tell me that my books have literally stopped them from committing suicide (twice). Both times, young teenage girls. I have had people write to me to tell me that my books helped them cope with their own severe depression (again, young teenage girls). I have had people tell me that my books helped them cope with their cancer and chemo, or with the long hospital stays when they sat by the bed-sides of people who were undergoing the same and dying.

I have been happy, viscerally, incredibly happy that something I’ve written has had this kind of effect on people who I might never meet. That it’s brought comfort or escape or engagement when it mattered the most to them.

And do you know what else I know about the lives of the people who’ve chosen to share that with me? Nothing. Not one other thing.

#

I have friends in real life who vote the way I don’t. They are still my friends. We do not talk politics much. I understand that people hold political views the way people have favorite sports teams in some circles. It’s not—it’s never—the whole of who they are, but it is a viscerally important part of them.

And I understand that for some people, politics is a way of life because it affects their lives so profoundly. I am not - and would never - tell anyone else how to handle their politics. With friends, though, I understand the contexts of their lives, as they understand mine. Context colours everything.

But many of the people who read me now are not real-life friends. These people wouldn’t find me or read me if I weren’t a writer. And many of my readers read the CAST novels because they want a brief vacation from their real lives. Many read them because they take comfort from them. They hit the internet, they find my web-site, they find me on twitter or other social media. They want to know about the books. They want to know that I’m still writing those books.

They don’t come to me because they want rage or politics. There are some readers people gravitate to because of the rage and politics. There are readers who find the political similarities just as safe or comforting or affirming. It would be foolish for those writers, imho, to be silent. But that’s not how people associate with my fiction, which is often their first introduction to ... me.

I have struggled to keep opinions about many things mostly to myself because of that. Because regardless of your politics or your political affiliation, when you’re undergoing chemo or you’re sitting at the bedside of someone post-op in a hospital (which is a trying environment even when you’re in there for happy reasons), I am happy to lend a literary shoulder. When you are seriously considering suicide, I am happy to lend that same literary shoulder. If something I’ve written becomes a lifeline or a talisman that enables you to keep putting one foot in front of the other when life is grim and harsh, I am honoured to be part of that, however indirectly.

If you are struggling, if you are drowning in life and my words are a life-line, I want, always, to be that lifeline. Because I think most people in real life would do the same thing. They wouldn’t be standing there with clipboards and ticking boxes before they extend that hand or offer that shoulder.

And if I am highly political on-line, some of those people might lose the ability to engage with my books in that way, which would be heartbreaking, for both of us.ETA: LJ cut tags

Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
nancylebov
Apr. 27th, 2015 04:00 am (UTC)
Thank you for writing this.

I've been caught up in various politics, and I'm not sure it's been a good idea. I may have been too much influenced by people who seem to believe that everyone should have politics as a primary concern.
la_marquise_de_
Apr. 27th, 2015 11:46 am (UTC)
This is very sensible and very sane: thank you.
Me, I can't not be political; I was raised that way. But it matters that we get to be different, that we get to live our lives our way.
msagara
Apr. 28th, 2015 02:22 am (UTC)
Yes. I would never tell anyone else that they were too political. Ever.

But sometimes I really hate myself for being silent =/. And sometimes, I post regardless. I just needed to write this as a reminder of why I made this decision. And possibly as an explanation to people who wonder.
la_marquise_de_
Apr. 28th, 2015 12:01 pm (UTC)
Nods. That sense of pressure to comment is an element of this on-line world that worries me.
Much love.
msagara
Apr. 28th, 2015 04:37 pm (UTC)
Sadly - or happily, depending - all the pressure is internal. I wrote something that everyone I know basically said I could not post as it was written after they read it. And in hindsight, they weren’t wrong.

There are things that I can post in anger because they cut across all political lines. There are things I can post that are personal - the posts about parenting - because they’re obviously so individual.

But some of the things that make me truly angry are ... less universal. And I’m still struggling with parts of that original post. This one was actually some part of that one.
la_marquise_de_
Apr. 28th, 2015 05:53 pm (UTC)
I have an imaginary post called 'On not being a USian' that I am never, ever going to write, because... Well, because.
I empathise.
thestormcellar
Apr. 27th, 2015 04:25 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
sartorias
Apr. 27th, 2015 09:02 pm (UTC)
Yes, oh yes re politics.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 29th, 2015 08:46 pm (UTC)
Good for You
I am a very political person with strong views. I am a retired college administrator and now an adjunct professor. My views are not in sync with much of higher education. I tell my students I am not politically correct at all, and they do know how I feel. BUT college is where they should formulate their own ideas. My job is not to tell them what to think but how to think. I do that with a vengeance. I love your books because I do not find them politically motivated. If they were, it would sap my enjoyment of living in another world. Politics and religion are best discussed with your very best friends, and preferably if they share your views! I love the fact you posted this on your blog. I am the furthest thing from starstruck, but you are at the top of the list of a "somebody" I would love to meet. Keep being you. Oh yes, and do please get the next *Cast in...." completed. I am anxiously Cast in Waiting. Cheers. Pat
mtlawson
May. 1st, 2015 02:39 am (UTC)
I love this post. (And welcome back!)

You know, I started reading your LJ because of your posts somewhere else, and that actually led me into your Cast books. But I don't think of you simply as Michelle the author, but Michelle the person.

Reading your LJ posts help to round out the image of you as a person beyond the scope of the author of books (or your F&SF articles). It gives me a glimpse into the humanity behind the image on the book jacket.

Just keep being you, and that's fine with me.
msagara
May. 1st, 2015 03:09 pm (UTC)
In the early days of LJ, a lot of the people who followed me didn’t read my books. LJ was more about interacting with community than it was about interacting specifically with my readers. And that was fine.

But at some point people did start to appear or comment - about my books - and I realized that LJ was my de facto presence on the internet as an author. But I felt really self-conscious talking about my books in a community that was not, in fact, about my books - so I created an author web-site, where I could do that.

And I did post to LJ, but as time went on, I posted less - although that’s also in large part because of time constraints. But - thank you :)
(Anonymous)
May. 22nd, 2015 09:14 pm (UTC)
Future Work
Dear Michelle,
When I was very young my Mother would insist that I write thank-you letters when I received presents from distant relatives at Christmas and birthdays. I never wanted to and would postpone and procrastinate, sometimes managing to avoid the chore altogether. Well, I've been reading you since the early '90s and I can no longer put off thanking you for at least 20 years of presents -- sympathetic characters, involving situations, exciting worlds, and an appealing sensibility. In other words, I really,really,like your stuff.
After I finished "Oracle," I was impelled to go back and reread (for the 4th or 5th time) the "Sun Sword" sextet and found I was missing Kiriel a lot. There were many indications that you planned to bring her back on stage at the time that you were writing "Sword" and I am curious as to whether I can expect to see her again, and if so, how many books down the road do you think she is? [I was 75 recently and feel my wits getting a bit duller, so I wonder if I will be sane or alive if she does return.]
Anyway, many, many thanks for all these years.
-Emile De Antonio
(Anonymous)
Feb. 17th, 2017 10:29 pm (UTC)
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( 13 comments — Leave a comment )