I’m working on an essay about a small a gap I see in crime fiction settings and whether there’s a classist connection at its heart but it’s slowly becoming apparent that I have an entirely different problem.
This is probably not as much of an issue for me as it is for many others, but it’s there; an uneasiness at stating my thoughts. A sense that I’m good enough to craft fiction without problem but forming an opinion based on my experiences and those shared with me is seemingly above my station
I’ve been trained that speaking out loud is “whining”, that calling out something that seems wrong is “negative” or “ill-informed”. I’ve been told that railing against problems like lack of diversity, lack of own voices, or recently, children in cages, is problematic. Speaking out about these things is negative and removes the fun in writing a genre about people murdering each other, apparently.
Obviously, not a single marginalized writer has said those things to me, so you do the math as to who I hear that from the most.
What I’m left with is feeling like shit because I notice problematic trends that hurt people and hurt the genre in which I write. I’m left feeling emotionally exhausted and, frankly, hurt because people I liked seem to look down on me. Ultimately, the grift seems obvious: wear people down to the fucking bone so we walk away. Inspire hopelessness with a smile, it seems. Some criticize every action or word as never good enough – convincing those willing to take a step forward that they don’t have the baseline faculties to even walk.
In other words, gatekeeping “normalcy”. An avoidance of even subtle change for fear the world will turn inside out.
I find myself wanting to explode every day. Not in anger – it ain’t that serious – but with emotion. I want to talk about the problems I see and I want to find solutions – even if its in my own little bubble. I want to drag the microaggressions out into the light so we prevent the bigger monsters from entrenching themselves. Then there are days I wish I could burn it all down (something others might find laughable, but I’d argue they have no idea what this feels like).
Isn’t there a line past empathy that veers directly into frustration and then anger? Shouldn’t I be angry hearing the latest sexual assault story or about another case of casual racism when people are proving themselves CONSTANTLY? Nodding seriously and saying, “I know that feel bro/sis.” starts feeling like muscle memory – something without effort that ultimately means nothing now.
And everything becomes so fucking hard! It’s hard to narrow down my focus when I feel this way. It’s hard to explain myself when I have to constantly filter and preen and fucking pick my goddamned words to avoid harming folks with none of these insecurities – people who’ve never once given me the same benefit.
What’s wildest? The idea of wanting diversity; of asking why there isn’t room at the table for new things is an unpopular opinion. As if wanting to treat folks with minimal respect is the same as bringing up how I like Freddy Got Fingered while at a dinner table full of people talking about Citizen Kane (spoilers: both movies suck but the former is at least enjoyable).
And the doubts still creep in. I’m wrong. The world isn’t so bad. I’m making too big a deal of all this. Maybe I just don’t matter in the greater scheme or worse: I’m a hack and I’m deluded. I just want something to whine about since everything is fine now, see? There’s like, three people of color at this table. The checklist is finished! Besides, why should I speak out if I’m not taking 100% of my own time to fix the problem? Surely, I can’t be serious if my life is not utterly consumed with the mission; job, family, and mental health be damned!
Let’s stop real quick for some clarification. I’m not fishing for a goddamn thing here – this blog is where I can promote and also express myself. If you’re reading the posts here, well, 1) thanks and 2) this is the only goddamn place in the universe I can speak without feeling the weight of a stare – I’ll talk about what I want. I don’t need assurances or comments or shares (I also do not need DMs and texts looking for gossip). Move on. If you get a little bug up your ass whenever I speak because I’m always SO WRONG – move on.
The doubts, yada, yada, yada…
But I need to keep moving.
Yeah, the system is entirely built to make me want to quit and to make me doubt everything I do. The ladders reserved for everyone else are built with extra rungs. The peaks at the top aren’t flat either. They’re narrow and jagged.
It took me a long time to realize that I can no longer please everyone. I’m pushing 40 and there are those in my peer groups that still insist on me fitting a criteria they define; on being another support for their own motives. I’m done with that. I’m done feeling weird or wrong for writing what I write and saying what I say. I work hard to prevent hurt and I work hard at being the best person I can be. I’ll never be perfect but I also know what’s in my head – I know I don’t say these things and work the way I work in order to keep up appearances.
I also know plenty of people won’t believe that and that used to bother me too. I have to stop letting it bother me. Those people do not deserve that from me.
I’m going to write and I’m going to edit and mentor and podcast. I’m going to work as hard as I can to bring diverse voices into the room with me (and guess what, diverse means EVERYONE. Its not tokenism). I’m going to continue to produce material that’s publishable and readable and if it all means a single half-breed kid with a lot of social issues picks up a book about things that speak to them; hey, I’m good.
I’m also going to finish that essay. Whether anyone reads it or takes offense to it is up to them. It isn’t up to me. I’m not here to make anyone feel better about themselves. That isn’t my job. Just like it isn’t anyone else’s job to make me feel better about myself.
I can 100% do that on my own – and I will. I am angry and I will own that. I think we all have a right to be angry. The real work is in finding how to use this anger to do better for myself and others. To refuse to let it eat me alive.
OK – vented. Thanks again for reading. Back to work.
4 responses to “Carry That Weight”
Heavy stuff. I hope you aren’t getting too down. As someone who passed the midcentury mark, I think one thing that helps me keep perspective about “moving it forward” is to write not for my ossified co-quinquagenarians (many of who are of course NOT at all screaming at kids to get off their lawn) but instead to address the next generation, or the next, where many of the aspirations of my time (which were mostly apirations handed down from the previous generation) have become the commonplace matrix in which they live. I sometimes feel we’re living in the worst days of the past and the best days of the future all at the same time, especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion. As a white male this is easy for me to pretend, of course; I know that. But writing for the future makes it easier to believe, too.
Pushing 40–ha ha ha ha….
But seriously, much of what you’re expressing here is similar to what I feel and what many others I know feel, at least they seem to when the subject comes up. Something that helps me is to try not to take myself so seriously–walk with confidence and work hard, sure. Take the work and the issues I’m passionate about seriously, sure. But taking myself too seriously means I carry a weight that isn’t always healthy. I work to make my small corner of the world a better place, then I branch out when or where I can. Sometimes, that’s not at all, and it absolutely never feels like it’s enough.
With regard to diversity, a couple of things I’ve heard recently really resonated (I’ll be paraphrasing here because I don’t remember the exact statements). One: it’s not enough to get diverse voices to the table, we need to work to keep them there. Two: My speaking out and my support helps those diverse voices know they’re not shouting into the void. I need to do better with this, for sure.
I’m sorry that this community says one thing and does another. Wanting you to be happy that they “let” you in, and be “civil”.
You’re a fine writer. I won’t tell you what to do. But I hope you can always write stories that you love and are proud of.
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