(*For those of you who saw this first bit on FB already, scroll down– I’ve got more stuff below it:-)
Okay… so I’m sitting at my computer and the following happens…
…An Altoid’s box is plunked right next to my computer by my sober-eyed Zoomboy.
“What is that?”
“Greg. My fish.”
“Well I wasn’t going to bring the whole tank out here!”
“Well I would have brought it!”
“Please tell me the mints aren’t still in there with him.”
“No. I took them out.”
“And be careful. There’s a lot of water still in there.”
“DUMP THAT OUT IN THE SINK, DAMMIT!”
“Okay.” He dumps the water. “Can we bury him now?”
“I’ll go dig the hole.”
As he disappears, Squish comes in.
“Where’s the fish?”
“In the Altoid’s box on the counter.”
“Where? Oooh… let me look!”
Zoomboy comes back in with the shovel. “Is it cold out there?”
“Put on a shirt.”
A few minutes later: “Mom, I don’t know where to dig in the flowerbed. There might be dead rats or cats that I don’t know where they are.”
So I’d like to apologize to anyone who saw me digging a hole in my flowerbed while wearing my pajamas and no bra. I promise I’ll harness the girls shortly, but in the meantime, everybody say a brief prayer for Greg the fish. He was a good fish,a quiet fish, a fish who knew how to swim in his aquarium and make that work for him. He lived for a year and a half, which is a long time for the fish of a boy who got him on his ninth birthday.
Rest in Peace, Greg. You owe me a box of Altoids and my dignity… and… oh gees… somebody let the dog back in!
(BTW– the death of Greg the Fish happened not two hours after a conversation with Elizabeth on how proud we were that I’d had a fish survive longer than a minute and a half. Gees, tell one story at a dinner table about how you once replaced your daughter’s entire tank because you’d been throwing food on dead fish for a week while she was at camp, and nobody will give you a break, will they?)
… The kids, fresh from buying not one but two new bettas (the better for one betta to see the other, fan his fins and go, “Holy shit! It’s a fish!”, thus extending his life by at least a year) start running back and forth from Zoomboy’s room and back.
“And mom, we’re putting this thing in this bowl, and this thing in this bowl and…”
And so on, until my eyes are closing (well, lack of sleep had something to do with that) and I’m all but snoozing at my keyboard.
I go to take a nap, and when I wake up, the television is still not on.
“You guys didn’t watch SpongeBob?” I ask, because that’s usually what happens during the hot part of the afternoon when the AC cannot combat the brutal sun on the television/kitchen side of the house.
“No,” says Squish. “We were watching the fish!”
Had they not just gotten out of school, and probably cooked their little noggins with all of the outside activities that the school put on in the last three days in the heat, I’d worry about those kids.
…I find out I’ve been quoted on Booklist Online!
… I WROTE THIS.
… I realize I’ve trained the dog to jump up onto my body at the count of three. Usually it’s at one and a half– little bastard can’t count for shit!
… (And this is a long one– are you ready?) I realize that I have accidentally spawned the horror that is THIS ARTICLE. And I only wish I was kidding. If you read the article, you will see the author say that she was inspired by “a commenter” from another article who said that “the only thing that differentiates romance from literary fiction is nothing more or less than the idea that love is redemptive.” She links back to my comment on her other article– the article in which she lamented the fact that women didn’t seem to be reading women, and then completely neglected to mention romantic fiction, which is 25% of ALL FICTION published– when that industry is primarily written, edited, published, and promoted by women.
She was very proud of this– she replied to my comment with a bright eyed post saying I’d inspired her to gather together an entire other article!
Forgive her Goddess– she knows not what she does.
I have seen romance dismissed before– I have, before I was forced to defend my place in the world, been one of the dismissers. But having your job ripped away from you because the powers-that-be believe you’re writing “porn” makes you evaluate who you are, what you are doing, and whether or not you are using your abilities to their fullest. Is romance the most I could be writing? Am I underselling myself by not writing literary fiction? I mean… it’s only romance, right?
*laughs quietly to self*
You all know the answer to this– most of you who’ve followed me for any length of time will know what I’m going to say before I say it. But, like “the albatross” at the end of Serenity, some people like to hear it repeated.
Poetry is more important than history or philosophy.
Now that links to two other posts in which I’ve discussed this idea before, but, well, old posts. I need to revisit.
Right now, as I type, I’m listening to the Jon Stewart show, and an Egyptian emissary is discussing the inhumanity of the regime. It makes me want to cry. It makes me ill. It makes me angry.
I want to scream at the screen, because treating people humanely seems to be so very basic, and it’s constantly ignored.
But it’s easy for me to sit in my kitchen and ignore that. It’s news. After a while, we just have to let the news roll off our back or we can’t function.
But what if I’m reading a book, and the hero/heroine is in Egypt. What if he/she is being tortured. What if, while understanding the political complexities, I’m also understanding what it feels like to be a real, living, breathing human being in that place.
Well, if nothing else, I might be voting or donating or even writing for that cause.
Because that’s what the power of poetry– emotional fiction– does for us. It allows us to fully empathize with another human being, to take their part, to live their lives.
And that’s why romance is important– and not in the “It’s escapists literature” way that this article implies. (States openly.)
Romance allows us to be somebody else– and becoming somebody else is the only way to change who we are.
It’s often been said that artists and writers are the vanguard of social change, and it would be easy to assume that writers like Charles Dickens, Harper Lee, George Orwell, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mary Wollstonecraft, Ayn Rand, Aldous Huxley, Richard Wright, Eli Wiesel, Sandra Cisneros, or Henry David Thoreau have a corner on that market. Those writers, you may argue, talked about things that were real. They talked about social structure, they talked about civil rights, they talked about oppression, they talked about the effects of the mass government on the individual. Those authors aren’t romance authors–romance really has no place among them.
Except Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice took Mary Wollstonecraft’s ideas and made them human. George Orwell, Ayn Rand, and Aldous Huxley took ideas they’d talked about in article after essay and gave those ideas a face. (Even if you don’t like Ayn Rand, you have to admit that the only reason her work has lasted as long as it has is because we were fascinated with that face.) Harriet Beecher Stowe and Harper Lee took the world of Richard Wright and made it relevant for the societal class that was as far removed from the oppressed black man as possible. Charles Dickens took his travails in debtors prison and made them real for people who would never go without. Eli Wiesel and Sandra Cisneros didn’t only give the Jewish and Hispanic communities artists to identify with, they gave the other ethnic communities a way to identify with what they perceived as outsiders. And these ideas– these lofty, important ideas about the human condition and government and how we conduct our lives with meaning–have everything to do with romance.
Romance is not just the primary expression of family and the optimism of redemptive love in literature, it is the ultimate expression of civil rights. One of womankind’s first demands as equals in this world was the right to marry for love instead of to be treated as chattel, and that was what Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft wrote about. One of the major conflicts in the works of Jane Austen was the right of a woman to interact equally with a man and not to be judged as an ornament. When Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harper Lee, and Richard Wright wanted to show a society gone horribly awry, they showed what the rules and the oppression did not just to the black men in their novels, but to the entire family who gathered around the men. Charles Dickens showed how horribly romance could go when poverty and social class were allowed to intervene. The primary relationships that were destroyed by the oppressive governments in the world of Huxley, Orwell, and Rand were the romantic and family relationships. Cisneros and Wiesel show us the family unit, impacted by war, impacted by culture, impacted by the inhumanity that humans inflict on each other– in the very personal units of the growing individual and the family.
If the purview of literary and speculative fiction is to show us what is wrong with the “world”, the purview of romantic fiction is to show us how the “world” affects human beings with faces and flaws in a very specific, individual way.
Now yes– some romance is escapism, and gloriously done, may it live forever. But even in the most glorious escapist romance there is a noble and important subtext:
The family unit is important. Two individuals falling in love in spite of the obstacles the world has set before them is important. The belief that redemptive love can save the individual is important.
Yes, men dismiss this idea– particularly literary men who point to the artists I’ve listed above–and say, “But a simple 60-120K work of pulp fiction will never recreate the social impact of a Dickens or a Wright or a Cisneros.”
They don’t understand that it already has.
When I was teaching, my readers, often girls but not always, would devour romance by the bucketload. And when we ate lunch together or talked during lulls in class, they would repeatedly ask me questions about what they read:
Why do some authors make the women act so silly? Why do the male authors always kill somebody off at the end, do they think that makes them literary? Are there really relationships where women can claim equality? Don’t the men leave when the women make more money? Why would this character go back to school in her thirties? How come the character is always a loner? How come the girls don’t put out immediately, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? The men never hit the women in these books even when they’re mouthy– is that realistic? Did they really have sex before marriage back then? But those people are our parents’ age! Do men really marry girls when they have other men’s children?
The questions went on and on and on. Some of them are disturbing– many of them are disturbing–and some of them should be a warning to some authors to take their craft more seriously, but all of them pointed to one thing.
These girls, living in a depressed socio-economic area, with often confusing (at best!) choices of gender and family expectations to choose from, were looking at these romance books as a blueprint for their own behavior as they entered into adulthood. They wanted to know if they could be strong, independent, educated women like the ones they read about. They wanted to know if those relationships are real.
What could possibly be more important to a successful economy and an educated populace than women–and men–who believe that one half of our population should have the same rights as human beings as the other half? Yes, the school curriculum suggested all of those other canonical writers, and we the teachers taught those books as we taught critical thinking and language skills. And our growing citizens took those critical thinking and language skills and applied them to a topic of personal interest to them: What kind of person can I be, and what kind of personal future can I have when I reach maturity.
And the romantic relationship is one of the key pivotal relationships.
They wanted a blueprint. And the romances they read– the ones with strong, educated, powerful and equal partners who weren’t too stupid to live (a fortunately dying trope)– were that blueprint. And the adults who read those same books– the divorced teachers (there was a terrifying number of them)– were reading those books for hope. They hoped that the jungian choice of companionship vs. loneliness had not yet passed them by, and that they, too, could find a relationship in which they could be the strong, educated, powerful and equal romantic partner, who could find someone who would love them for exactly that.
This is our youth. This is our adult citizenry. These are the educated and the self-educating. And they are turning to romance to see if society has a place for personal happiness.
They are turning to romantic fiction for hope.
There is nothing trivial in that. That concept is not subservient in the the arena of human rights. The people being imprisoned and tortured in Egypt want nothing more than to walk down the street with the people they care about, and to be allowed to be strong, educated, and equal. The LGBTQ community wants nothing more than to have equal civil rights with their heterosexual friends and family, and to walk down the street with the people they care about, and to be allowed to be strong, educated, and equal. The people crusading for the environment or against gun laws or for a change in government fear that these issues will affect the health of their loved ones, or their partners, or children, and when they speak against their government they have faith that they are strong, educated, and equal, and that their families will be respected.
God(ess) may have created Adam and Steve– and more power to her if she did–but she did not create a parent and a child, or a president and an advisee, or a pair of platonic friends. God(ess) created romantic partners who were equals, and who made mistakes and forged a life together. That is (whether we’re Christian or not) one of our society’s first stories, one of our touchstone mythologies as humans.
And, ultimately, it is a romance.
And romance is important.
So I appreciated the writer of the article. I appreciate that she used my comment and tried to address the thing I said in there. But I will stand by my literature, and I will stand by my genre. There is more going on here than the mating rituals of the 21st American denizens, and more going on in the genre than guilt free fantasy escapism.
You just need the eyes of a world citizen to see it.