Mortality

Three and a half years ago I got my first tattoo. A few months before that time my father had fallen very ill, and while his condition eventually stabilized, at that time I was thinking a lot about things I’d wanted to do, things I’d put off doing and the danger that a life could end, incomplete.

I’d also been progressively putting on weight since I’d left university, and since my father’s illness was a complication of diabetes I was growing worried that I didn’t want to start down the same path. I stopped drinking pop. Bought a bicycle. Failed to lose weight.  I got more tattoos, traveled to Cuba and back to China, had a daughter, published a book. Reassessed my health needs, started using calorie counter apps and measuring exercise. Lost sixty two pounds.

For three years I frantically ticked off things I’d always intended to do and made sure I got them done. In part because, at the age of 33 I’d felt the first breath of mortality in the frailty of a man who’d been a constant in my life.

It’s been a rough winter. At the start of it, a casual friend, who was a very close friend of some of my close friends died suddenly and unexpectedly. I’d dealt with sudden death before, a few of the friends in my youth committed suicide, but this wasn’t somebody deliberately ending their life. This was illness claiming a peer. Then Lemmy Kilmister died, David Bowie died,  Alan Rickman: artists I’d followed to one extent or another for my whole life. It was a kick in the teeth.

Today I heard about David G. Hartwell. I didn’t know him that well. We’d met. I was one of probably a multitude of emerging authors who he provided some personal advice to at World Fantasy Convention. I’d seen him around on panels and in room parties a few times. He seemed like a good guy. I have friends who knew him much better. And for them I feel the deepest sympathy.

We are, none of us, immortal. And that’s terrifying. But I learned something through this bitter season of grief and pain. It was something hovering around my consciousness for the last three years.

We have the capacity to carry things on for those who pass before us. When Bowie died Choir! Choir! Choir! brought together hundreds of people at three events to sing re-arranged versions of his classics. As tribute to an artist, who constantly re-shaped his image and his art over a decades spanning career, other artists helped a group of people create new art.

A form of immortality can exist, though it’s a tenuous one. A lot of people suggest it lives on in the memories of people who knew them. But even that fades in time. Rather it lies in the deeds a person inspires.

So what I want to do, what I hope we can take away from this season of grief, is that we can build something beautiful even on a foundation of pain. We can create art. We can sponsor a cause. We can try to build something, accomplish something with our own lives. Life is brief and fleeting, and loss hurts whether it’s a close friend, a friend of a friend or a revered celebrity. So let’s build something lasting on foundation of that loss as a bulwark against the erosion of time.

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Happy new year 2016

Ok, I’m pretty deep in my cups, it being 1:30 a.m. January 1, so I’m going to start with that as a disclaimer for grammatical oopses and general thread-losses.

So let me start by saying Happy New Year everybody! I hope 2016 is the year when we learn from the wrath of 2014/2015 and use our newly built tech-aided telepathy to increase joy, compassion and understanding within the world.

With that in mind I’m going to be talking a bit about Star Wars and fandom. I will try to avoid spoilers (even though I’ve previously set the end of my personal spoilers embargo at Jan. 1, 2016,) but if you haven’t seen the film yet and you want to avoid any information going in you might want to stop reading now.

Launching the ships

In a Star Wars discussion group I joined after watching the film there’s been some sharing of fan fic images. These sketches have displayed various iterations of Rey/Finn/Poe ships that take for granted the chemistry between Finn and both of the other two lead protagonists new to Episode 7. My personal favourite has Rey introducing her boyfriend Finn, and his boyfriend Poe.

It’s pretty obvious, at least in certain circles of progressive fandom, the extent to which Oscar Isaac plays his friendship to Finn as a romance, if a subtle one. Isaac has actually confirmed this in an interview.

Between the press-junket soundbite from Isaac and the wonderful tendency of fandom to ship everybody with everybody else, it’s little surprise that we’re seeing so much fan-art focusing on the possibility of a relatively open love triangle between the three.

Furthermore, perfectly mature adults who, in the same group have spent quite a bit of time sharing and discussing critical analysis of the new film, have been enthusiastic both about the images and about the idea that we live in a world where a story like that might some day achieve canonicity.

Think about that for a second. We now live in a world where the idea of love being divorced sufficiently from gender that a person might love two people of different genders in effectively the same way isn’t automatically met with derision. To me this tends to support Theodore Parker’s oft-quoted axiom that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

It’s been a rough year for justice.

It sometimes seems that our southern neighbours are tearing themselves apart, between increasing discontent over police brutality and the gong-show of the long wind-up to the 2016 presidential election. Across the Atlantic, Europe is embroiled in yet another eruption of wide-spread, and sometimes frightening, xenophobia. Vast swaths of the Middle East are in a state of war with no clear solution to the conflict in sight. China’s economy, the engine that kept the gears of the world turning since 2008 has stumbled, and stuttered as a new normal suggests the years of double-digit GDP growth and an expanding middle class are over. Suddenly the seemingly harmless corruption of the past two decades seems more sinister, and regional tensions all the more volatile. And meanwhile, in Canada, we smugly congratulate ourselves for electing a government that clears the low bar of being adequate and not-entirely-heartless and then proceed to do little to make anything better.

But none of these are new problems.

Racism and xenophobia, war, political strife and political lethargy disguised as thin progress are all very old problems. Some of the oldest.

But we live in a world where the race of a couple of protagonists is so unremarkable that the most conservative construction of relationships in their film is the one that includes just an interracial heterosexual pairing.

We live in a world where I can’t find a Rae doll for my daughter in two different toy stores not because she was excluded from distribution but because she’s already sold out (though the release of her figures was still delayed far too long).

The fandom and merchandising surrounding a Christmastime movie release aren’t much in the face of the very real grief and pain caused by the injustice we still haven’t fixed, but I sincerely hope they reflect a sea-change in general public opinion. I want to believe that the Overton window has moved sufficiently that the realm of public perception is now one in which opinions that were previously on the far fringes of liberal “deviance” are now accepted as just another way to be, another way to love and to live.

I’d like to believe that, in 2016, we’ll see action movies with POC leads, with hero journeys belonging to women, with queer protagonists in all of the possible infinite diversity that love can reflect.

I do believe the world is ready for this. This doesn’t mean it will be easy to shepherd these changes into the world. The process of shaping public perception is a constant struggle between compassion and liberty on one hand, fear and isolation on the other.

But the year is over.

We’ve spent another year truly learning what it’s like to have instant access to the hearts and minds of humanity in all its diversity, good and ill. We’ve had another year to assimilate the joy and the burden of knowing the inner life of the growing majority of the population who now participate in the great transformation of online life.

And so its without bitter irony or grief that I wish you all a happy new year. We have a lot of work to do. But we can do it. We have a tall mountain to climb, but if we look down we can see the height from which we started. The arc of the moral universe is long and the path it takes is winding. There are false starts and there will always be push-back from people who fear change, who benefit from the old systems and who don’t want to lose those benefits and people who are just misanthropic and unhappy. But ultimately the arc bends, slowly and inexorably, toward justice.

Let’s make our resolution for 2016 be to do our part to help that arc curve a little bit faster. The struggle might be hard, but if we approach transformation from a place of justice and compassion, at personal, national and global levels, we can make 2016 a year to be happy about.