I live in Toronto, Ontario and make my living writing science fiction and fantasy; I also review books and teach writing online at UCLA. I’m a legally married lesbian and in my spare time I take pictures with Toronto Photo. My wife’s name is Kelly and we have two cats, Lorenzo and Chinchilla, born in spring of 2014.
Title: This is Your Origin Story
Your name is Bruce Wayne. You’re ten years old, and you just saw a movie with your parents. It’s a Tuesday night in November, a gorgeous evening. Everything’s normal, you’re on your way home… and what happens next almost breaks you forever.
The truly great thing about being an author is that it’s a license to think in big-scale dramatic terms. You can make anything into an opera. A single dead stalk of corn in one field can spawn a screenplay about a hero who fights off an an epic famine. Or… is that a new freckle? Set aside time for a biopsy and start picking your funeral music… oh, wait. It’s actually a bit of soya sauce from last night’s sushi extravaganza. Still, you got a story out of it.
Believe me when I say that there’s a part of me that feels that any decent crisis of faith should involve six months of fasting and self flagellation, a barefoot walk along the Appalachian Trail, mysterious encounters with bearded sages of all genders and then, finally, some heartwarming moment, music swelling and a spectacular sunrise, before the profound moment of spiritual renewal takes hold.
But I hate camping, and I’m pretty sure we don’t have the time.
A number of people I know and treasure have lately posted about the importance of storytellers in dark times. There’s A. Merc Rustad’s beautiful “The Necessity of Hope.” (https://amercrustad.com/2016/11/17/the-necessity-of-hope/) Ada Hoffman is eloquent and passionate in “On Hope and Voices.” (http://ada-hoffmann.livejournal.com/168478.html) They make eminent good sense as they talk about self-care and balance and surviving despair. They talk about story and its role in kindling the flame of hope.
We all have moments of weakness. Even as I recognized the necessity and the importance and the compelling prose in these essays, and others, the calls to action and the offers of comfort and solidarity, part of my heart lay dead to their message. Part of me wondered if staying at home, getting three squares a day, zoning out in front of the tube whenever I needed to just stop thinking and continuing to write the rest of the time… if, for me, embracing that message that wasn’t just a little self-serving. If it wasn’t just writing myself a cheque to keep living my life as if nothing had changed.
I could, if I wished, pat myself on the back. I could point out I’ve been writing about this stuff all along. Strip out the magic and my first two books are about fascists and white supremacists and the Office of the Holy Inquisition trying to scrub rebellion, dissent, and enchantment from the face of North America, by stealing the last remnants of mystical power from its First Nations peoples. My current trilogy–of which THE NATURE OF A PIRATE is the rollicking and genuinely romantic capper–is set on a world that may well be Earth’s far future, after a catastrophic ocean rise and other light disasters. Even now I’m three hundred pages into a near-future biopunk series about how we might terraform our poor scorched habitat back to a point where humans can sustainably live on it.
So, fine. Maybe I haven’t entirely wittered away the past twenty years. Guess what? The past is over. Martha Wayne’s pearls are bouncing down the alley, remember? So here’s what I have to say about the present.
There’s a story we tell here in the west. We tell it over and over. In it, you are sleeping in your pit in the castle kitchen, your only reward a crust of bread and the faint hope that Chef won’t cuff you hard enough to concuss you again, at least not until the last skull fracture heals. Then some grizzled old dude turns up, hands you a sword, and says you have to go out and fight a dragon who will otherwise eat all your villager friends, starting with the brown ones and the queers.
Or… wait. No, that’s not it.
You have your hairy feet up on the ottoman in your hobbit hole, smoking your pipeweed, minding your business, not bothering anyone, and that same old dude ducks under your doorframe and says you need to take some damn inherited trinket the eff out to Mordor and melt it in a volcano.
Maybe you point out, reasonably enough, that the stupid ring isn’t yours. It’s not your fault it’s in the house! Oh, baby, I feel you! But all that guy is going to say is: “It’s Sauron, man, what you gonna do? Melt it now or get eaten later. That’s how archvillains work.”
There is, literally, no getting out of your origin story.
Why are storytellers important? Because none of what I’ve just said would make sense to you if it wasn’t hardwired into the fabric of who we are as a people.
You all understand this story.
Merlin is at your door. *Yours.* Not some hypothetical narrative “you” but the person reading these words right now. We only used to bother making a fuss when he came for the blue-eyed fair yous, the folk who were unequivocally boys and who were in the market for a princess. But we’ve been working on that, both in our stories and out in the world. Sometimes King Arthur is Luke Cage these days. Sometimes he’s Ellen Ripley or Ororo Munroe.
And maybe Merlin’s not so pasty, either, or so very equipped with the long white Santa beard. Maybe he’s Morpheus from the Matrix. Maybe he’s your grandma. Maybe he’s a photograph of an ancestor you lost at Dunkirk or Pearl Harbor. It doesn’t matter. What matters is what he’s saying to you now. And it’s what they always say.
You have been chosen. This is your time.
I know. It sucks. You weren’t expecting to be Indiana Jones, Wonder Woman, and Steve Rogers rolled into one. Nobody bothered to tell you that your name was Buffy Summers, Slayer in Waiting. We are all absolutely flabbergasted to find out that after however many years in this universe, after the years in school and the careful building of the career–the marriage, the kids, the mortgage, the works–that we are the chosen ones. That time you named your pen Excalibur? You thought you were joking. So did we all.
The battle between good and evil makes great story. That does not mean it is not a real thing. We are truly blessed that, mostly, we’ve had the privilege to imbibe it for entertainment. Those of us who weave new versions of the tale, who get to broaden its scope and explore its variations, have been lucky–so unbelievably lucky–to have the opportunity to craft those stories for you, and to share them.
Here’s a thing, though. Being chosen… it’s a big deal. It’s terrifying, yes, but even now you are blessed. There is no reason to appreciate this–and *I’m* certainly not grateful for the lesson–but we have all been called to live out the ideals represented in the narratives we love. To be the heroes we love. We have been drawn into the tale. We are, all of us, bound to march on Mordor.
As a kid, did you never want to be sucked into a story? Guess what? It’s happening now. You stepped into a dark alley or perhaps a polling station, and you stepped out as Hermione Granger.
To writers, my closest kin, I say this: your sonic screwdriver is a maker of words. Wield it. Tell stories. Write your elected officials. Craft speeches for the charismatic. If they chicken out, read them yourself. Refuse to be silenced. Share your power with all the other potentials. Do in the flesh activist things and then go home and post about them on Instagram.
And yes–rest, and eat, and refill your wells, and hug your loved ones, and see to your physical and spiritual needs. Then throw yourself back into it.
It’s only natural to mourn your undisturbed life in Hobbiton, to scrape the edge of despair, but listen for Merc and Ada and the others. When you can–as soon as you can–allow yourself to hope.
Because, you see, we all know how these stories end. We are going to win. We are going to take out the Death Star. And maybe this time, if we move decisively–if we don’t wait to see how the land is lying, if we dive in at the earliest possible opportunity and we refuse to give any ground–we can save Alderaan and Gotham and even Gallifrey from the Daleks.
Is it terrible? Absolutely. Frightening? Yes. It is also, frankly, amazing.
So sharpen your stakes, Chosen Ones, because the sun’s going down. We have miles to go, incredible feats before us, adventures and wonders and even miracles to work, before daylight glimmers again.
(alyxdellamonica on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and just about everywhere else. Official website @ http://alyxdellamonica.com)
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