The other afternoon I was having what I considered an average conversation with a good friend. It was about politics, love, life, friends, and sci-fi. She presented me with a problem she was experiencing with another friend. This other friend feels like if it’s not political it’s not worth writing or reading. Appalled at this proclamation my friend, shall we call her VegasaurusRex , challenged our other friend who we shall call D.B. Downer to explain himself. I’ll spare you a transcript laden with profanity and give you the essentials.
D.B. Downer hates to feel vulnerable; that kind of vulnerability that comes from being open and receptive to the world around us. Making everything about politics and political identity makes it possible to look at the catastrophe of the world around us and not feel pain, confusion, fear, sadness, rage, or hope. When you wall yourself up you miss out on the chance to feel things that remind you what you’re fighting for. For example, we’re not just fighting for everyone to have a home, but I’m fighting for Helen, the women I buy street my copy of Street Sense (the local homeless paper) from because I’ve talked with Helen and her fear at another winter on the streets is in her every word. I fight for the clients I see each day who speak of hopes that one day they will one day be cured of a disease that as of yet has no cure. I certainly fight for the memory of the forests around the place I grew up that were so mercifully clear cut. Because when I visit those clear cuts the energy of the earth to want to regrow is palpable. I don’t fight for anarchy, I don’t fight for revolution. Those are things that may or may not come to pass. What I fight for is what it will feel like when we are free – calming, cooperative, joyous, smooth, seamless, loving, hardy, healthy, growing, lustrous – just to name a few ways I think it will feel.
Alas, D.B. Downer only feels for the political. Politically he will say how it will or will not feel. Politically he can identify what needs to change. VegasaurusRex on the other hand is like a porous sponge that sucks up the feelings of the world around her for processing and wringing out over and over. But where this argument started was with writing. D.B. Downer saying that only the political I worth writing and VegasaurusRex arguing, rightly I would say, that the articulation of the world to come is one that can be written in so many ways.
In the end D.B. Downer just couldn’t see it and VegasaurusRex in a huff asked me how to fix D.B. Downer. I thought for a moment. Thought real hard. In the end my mind when straight to what I know best – fiction books. I find a great power in the use of words to tell fantastical stories of great meaning for every day use. Fiction, particularly speculative/fantasy/sci-fi/visionary fiction can help us to articulate whole new ideas of making and shaping the world we live in, new ways of relating to each other and the earth, and help us grapple with big questions of power, violence, and race.
So I brought to my friend this: In Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series there is the concept of the One Power. This power moves the Wheel of Time. Half of the One Power is male and the other female. Some can channel the One Power, but most cannot. It can’t be controlled, the One Power just is, but it can be tapped into, or channeled for use by those who can channel.
In a great battle to defeat the Dark One (again with dark and light) the saidin or male half of the One Power was corrupted in an effort to seal the Dark One in a prison. This corruption, which I will simplify for you, led to the breaking of the world and war, strife and general chaos and upheaval. Another thing it led to was that now any males who can channel will eventually go insane and often become quite dangerous.
Ok, still with me? This is where I remind you to stick with me; it comes out in the end.
What I said to my friend was something like this:
It’s sort of like he can’t tap into the One Power without going insane. It’s a lot to take on, feeling the world around you – being empathic and open to pain as well as joy. To this she replied by asking why he would go insane if he really started feeling things. Well, I thought about it again and said, the world’s been busted pretty badly by men, mostly men and that’s heavy stuff. We all feel our privilege differently and some have a lot more than others. Some of us can hide bits of who we are and where we came from, while others can’t. My dad talked to me a lot about privilege. He referred to privilege as bags we carry and that we have to start opening up those bags and casting them off. You do this by living in real time with the world around you, feeling everything. Deconstructing differences you feel with other people because of privilege, not just recognizing these differences. Building relationships with people, being genuine, living with and among people in a cooperative way, highlighting similarities instead of standing behind differences – this is a lot of how my dad looked at privilege. VegasaurusRex called this “keeping it real”. That pretty much sums it up.
Well anyway, D.B. Downer maybe can’t handle taking a look at his privilege and doing more than just taking a look at it. He can’t live without looking at…he can’t live actively trying to deconstruct it.
To this VegasaurusRex asked again how she could fix D.B. Downer. I said the only thing you can do is just love. Be open and boundless with love. It won’t fix people but it will be a source of power and comfort.
So another part of the One Power and the corruption of the male side is that the female side can do what is called “gentle” a saidin. This is sort of like a frontal lobotomy. Not cool. But so, stick with me here. Applied in this context it could be that to gentle someone is to love them, boundlessly and openly. For real. Martin Luther King knew it, Dorothy Day knew it, Mother Jones knew it, Ammon Hennacy knew it…shit. Dumbledore knew it. Yet love, in activist circles, especially white ones that are very male, is an over looked and under appreciated source of power. Well, deal with it. Love is, to get unreasonably cheesey, like a One Power. It’s kind of scary but don’t worry, we won’t let it make you go insane.
All of this is to say: you can learn just about anything in a fantasy novel if you try hard enough and if that fails you can always turn to the movie Clueless – you can always learn something from clueless. Always.
PS. VegasaurusRex called this our corniest conversation ever.