writing about the human condition

“I should read some more of The Dove Keeper it’s been a while”

*reads 10 paragraphs*

*stares at wall and contemplates life for 4 hours*

*paints masterpiece*

*goes outside for the first time in 17 years*

*writes poetry about philosophy and the human condition*

*cries*

*gets dove tattoo*

*calls grandmother and listens to her talk about war*

*takes a chance and finds love*

*overcomes anxiety*

*finishes writing novel*

“Hey you know I haven’t read anything in a while I should read some more of The Dove Keeper”

In Defense of The Reboot - What the new generation of Trek movies brings to the canon

When Star Trek: Into Darkness came out last year, it was met with plenty of mixed reviews, but one fan’s question stuck with me: “What does this movie even add to the canon?” Many Trekkies hasten to agree – isn’t the reboot nothing more than a flashy, sleek, bastardization of our beloved science fiction show? Has Star Trek been stripped of all it’s original glory of Boldly Going and reduced to explosions, epic battles, and uninspiring plots of revenge?


There are plenty of things wrong with the rebooted Star Trek movies. One need only spend 5 minutes on any Trekkie-filled website to be inundated with the lists… However, with all its faults, I would argue that the reboot adds something very interesting to the canon – something that directly ties in with the very nature of the original show.

WARNING: Hella long.

[This essay is centered on American sociopolitical culture but does not intend to imply that said culture is, in any way, more important/normative/influential than any other.]

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Game of Thrones and Invisible Cootie Vectors

Grandpa Slowpants has decided that HBO Go is the cure for what ails him. He thanks you crazy kids for your advice about the electromagraphic signals tubing to his computerhoozits.

Now, in response to an anonymous query about the term “soap opera,” hell yes. Soap opera. A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE / GAME OF THRONES is the biggest and most glorious soap opera in the history of soap operas. It’s soap opera for people who like swords, magic, dragons, and sexy brooding people in armor. Next time you get some jackhole telling you he doesn’t like “girl stuff” (relationships, emotions, animal companions, family concerns!) in fantasy, see if you can catch him enjoying GAME OF THRONES. Then ask him HOW HE LIKES HIS FUCKING SOAP OPERA. Try “HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR HUGE-ASS SWORD AND SORCERY TELENOVELA, YOU GIRL-STUFF LIKING MOTHERFUCKER, YOU?”

You know who likes girl stuff in fantasy? George R.R. Martin. You know who could build a suspension bridge to the moon knitted entirely from ten-dollar bills? George R.R. Martin. I’m just sayin’.

Now, it’s undeniably true that male writers (including yours truly) are generally and commercially allowed to write about “girl stuff” without being penalized for doing so. In part this is the same old shit it’s always been… I’ve said before that men who write mostly about men win prizes for revealing the human condition, while women who write about both men and women are filed away as writing “womens’ issues.” Likewise, in fantasy, the imprimatur of a dude somehow makes stuff like romance, relationship drama, introspection, and adorable animal companions magically not girly after all.

In a sense, we male fantasists are allowed to be like money launderers for girl cooties.

There is no easy solution to this because self-satisfaction is nearly always less work than empathy. All we can do is point out the obvious and try to do better, bit by bit, book by book, reader by reader.

When April 6th rolls around, we can also ask the more obnoxious girly-stuff disdainers if they’re enjoying their fucking soap opera. I for one can’t wait for my soap to come back.

deancas au where dean’s supposed to be catching a flight, but his fear and anxiety get the better of him and he purposefully makes himself late. he really needs to go though, so he rebooks the flight and decides to wait it out in the airport, thinking the more people he sees safely make it off the plane, the better it’ll make him feel.

a few seats down from him, he notices a man around his age sitting and watching the crowds as well. for whatever reason, he catches dean’s attention in a way that’s not usual for dean. he feels a sudden and deep curiousity that he can’t draw himself away from.

after about 20 minutes of side glances and pondering (the guy doesn’t have any luggage, so maybe he’s waiting for someone), dean decides a conversation might be good to pass the time and scooches over a few seats, asks, “waiting for someone?”

and the guy is startled, like maybe he thought he was invisible, and when he looks at dean it feels like a punch to the gut because holy blue and there’s such an intensity in his eyes, the kind that isn’t intimidating but still feels like a physical weight on you. dean shifts in his seat and offers a great big friendly smile.

“no, i’m not waiting” he says and dean relaxes somewhat. “i’m just… watching.”

“well that’s not creepy,” dean says playfully.

“less creepy than you watching me for the last half hour or so.”

this is the point at which they both smile, shake hands and introduce themselves. they end up talking for a long time, dean explaining that he, uh… missed his flight, definitely by accident. cas tells dean that he’s a journalist with a fascination with the human condition and he enjoys watching and writing about the different sorts of things he sees here, the variety of the people and the emotions behind each of them, whether exhaustion or relief or love or any number of things.

they grab a meal together and just talk for hours, learning each other, laughing, joking. before dean knows it, his boarding is coming up and he has to go, but his hands aren’t shaking nearly as bad as they had the first time he’d picked up his boarding pass.

as they’re parting, cas tells him, “you don’t have to be afraid” in such a painfully sincere way, staring at dean like he’s seeing his dang soul.

dean scoffs out a little nervous kind of laugh, rubs the back of his neck. “i never said i was scared.”

cas smiles a little and says “you didn’t have to. it’s okay.” cas playfully bumps him before dean leaves, and the whole way he’s walking towards his plane, he’s got butterflies in his stomach that have nothing to do with his fear of flying.

during his flight, the fear starts to come back. he sticks his hand in his pocket to find his phone (some tunes will definitely help) and when he pulls his phone out, a little piece of paper falls out too. written down is a number, a name and the message everything will be fine. call me when you get back.

the rest of the flight, dean can’t stop smiling.

My Outlander Obsession

This little essay is inspired by the conversation I had with the lovely gotham-ruaidh yesterday, when she very kindly messaged me to welcome me to the Outlander tumblr community. I had commented on one of her posts and she noticed that I was new here so we sparked up a dialogue. I admitted that I had been a fan for over 20 years, and she mused that maybe I should write a piece about why these books mean so much to me.

I have always been a bookaholic, in fact I think most of my family and friends would say my natural habitat is a bookshop, and so it was no surprise that following university, and while still without useful employment I found myself browsing the shelves of my favourite local bookshop, Readers Rest (sadly no longer with us), in Lincoln. This is early 1993, I think. My eye happened upon a fairly thick hardback, entitled ‘Cross-stitch’ ( original UK title), and reading the cover blog ’ love story spanning 2 centuries’ , it sounded interesting. So I started reading. Before I knew it, nearly 90mins had passed and I was still stood in the exact same location, absolutely immersed in the story. At this point I thought I should probably buy it.

And that’s when this little obsession began. I traveled home on the train, still reading, returned to my little flat, still reading and in fact did not actually go to bed that night at all, because I was still reading. Outlander (or Cross-Stitch) is in fact the ONLY book that I have actually given up a whole nights sleep for. I finished it, I remember, sometime around 5.45am and thought it was probably pointless trying to get some sleep after that!

So why do I love it so much, and the subsequent books? Maybe it was the age I first read it, I was in my early twenties and it just seemed to seep into my very soul. I suppose I am a romantic and it probably is the greatest love story I’ve ever read. I had never really been in love myself at that point and so I suppose I was drawn to these two characters who were just MEANT to be together. I had also never read love scenes quite like Diana’s before, where it wasn’t just about what goes where etc , it was about the CONNECTION between these two separate individuals and about how they became as one. Emotionally as well as physically. And about Claire and Jamie themselves? Well, Claire is just awesome, I love her foul mouth and she has wonderfully unruly curly hair - so I immediately identified with her, because so do I - that scene where she brushes it and curses - yep that’s me, everyday! And as for Jamie, well, who doesn’t fall for him, hook, line and sinker? His way of expressing his feelings for Claire is just wonderful, and I know that DG has said herself that some of his lines are taken directly from her husband. Jamie is strong yes, but he also has that vulnerability about him, and to be loved like how Jamie loves Claire, I think all of us long for that. They’re both intelligent, fully rounded individuals, WITH FLAWS, and that’s why we identify with them. Because they are like us. They’re not perfect. And I have continued to enjoy the series, because the subsequent books are all about the light and dark of a marriage, the ups and downs, the perfect and the imperfect. Diana is an expert about writing about the human condition, that she does it so darn brilliantly is a gift to us all. Does this explain my profound love? I’m not sure, but what I do know is this : I am not alone in my obsession. And I am very glad to be part of this Outlander community.

In recent years, I’ve seen a lot of writers (published and otherwise) who seem to think all stories should adhere to conventional morality. If there’s a character who does bad things, by the end of the story, he must either learn the error of his ways or be punished somehow.

If that’s what you want to write, fine. But don’t tell me that’s what I have to write.

I want to write stories where there aren’t good guys and bad guys, just guys who think one thing and other guys who disagree with them. I want to write about usurpers of the throne who are actually halfway decent rulers. I want to write about women who sleep around and nothing horrible happens to them because of it. I want to write about people who do stupid or bad or mean stuff and never learn “the error of their ways” because those are the stories I want to tell. I think it’s more realistic than having every guy who beats his wife miraculously changing overnight, or every character who utters a racial slur being mysteriously run over by a train.

And what if the moral thing to do is less obvious? I’ve never read or watched Les Miserables, but I find the situation of a guy stealing bread to feed his family fascinating. Which would be more wrong: breaking the law by stealing, or letting your family starve to death? There are many situations in which people do bad things for good reasons, or good things for bad reasons, and none of us can say for certain what we’d do until we’re in that situation ourselves.

When it comes down to it, I think so many people just write conventional morality because they’re afraid of what people will think if they don’t. I saw a post online once where someone had a teenage character who had been bullied so much that he finally snapped and beat up the bully. There was an adult character who approved of his actions, and the author was worried that people would think he was condoning violence by writing this. A lot of people advised him to have an adult lecture the character about how violence is never the answer, blah blah blah.

Which might be a perfectly good story. But when did we get to be role models? Why should we have to change what we write just because it might make some people uncomfortable? No, maybe violence isn’t the right answer. But it’s an incredibly human answer, and most of us, even when our characters are aliens, are really writing about the human condition.

Let’s face it. Regardless of what you write, someone somewhere is going to hate it. You can’t please everybody, and trying to is just begging for heartbreak. I know the things I write are going to upset some people (if I ever get around to finishing them, anyway), but that’s how it should be. Not because I believe that line about how True Art is supposed to make people uncomfortable, but because different people like different things, and not all of them are going to see things the way I do.

To Anyone Who's Ever Written Anything In Their Lives

Forget about the masterpieces. Stop writing like you’ve a limited supply of words - that’s the nicest thing about words, you don’t - time, yes, perhaps. Still, stop writing like each piece will be your last. Not everything needs to have extended metaphors or five layers of meaning or address the meaning of the universe. There’s the joy in a masterpiece, and joy in writing something meaningless and lovely-sounding. They’re different. Experience as much as you can before death. Sometimes just writing something pretty is enough. 

Forget about wanting to grow, forget about your personal style. Analysing all your past pieces and wondering how you’ll replicate that isn’t going to work. You’re not going to be the next Keats or Neruda or Plath or Kundera, you’re going to be yourself. Stop worrying that you’ve reached your pinnacle, you’ll never be able to write something good as the piece last, that when you try you’ll fail to measure up to the girl next to you in lit class. 

Maybe you will. Maybe you won’t. Maybe she’s reading this too and thinking of you. Give it time, give it practice - that’s how you’ll grow. Maybe you’re a genius. Maybe you’re not. You’ll never really know.  Write about the warmth of your cup, a girl in a white cape, the most beautiful umbrella you’ve ever seen. You’re writing about the human condition - so write what you know, and write what you don’t, and write what you want to no matter how tiny or silly or slow. 

Language is a gift. Don’t be afraid to use it. Maybe you’ve forgotten the simple joy in it. Remember it now. Start the damned poem - you can always edit later. There is joy in communication, and there is power in language - so control it well, and don’t let it control you. Language is a celebration of the mind and the soul. Write the big and the small. Write day and night. Write what makes you happy, and so I hope that you write often and soon. Write: and that’s how you’ll grow. 

I had not mopped or swept the floor in months. I had used paper towels when there was a spill and hoped that eventually the entire apartment floor would get wiped up this way. The method of cleaning the floor, in patches, I imagined was like writing a poem every day until you eventually said everything about the human condition there was to be said. But it didn’t really work that way, even in poetry: grimy corners remained while certain floorboards got burnished to a slippery hellish gleam.
—  Lorrie Moore, A Gate at the Stairs