The overall vision behind Garden Enclave is to present a complex and nuanced view of the external and internal struggle with empire.

An evil empire doesn’t just come into being as an external force; over time, people’s exhaustion, desires and emotional states allow empire to arise.

People look for saviors in state systems of social management instead of in their families, friends and communities.

Or we’re so isolated and disconnected that we don’t even know what a community of support means.

Oftentimes, empire offers greater efficiency, more money or better resources for mobilizing groups to recreate society from the top down – vision coming first, execution second.

By contrast, a community of support begins with the question, “what can we do?” – questions of execution come first.

In my book, the things that the evil empire offers (reversing runaway climate change, free food/housing/utilities for all, play computer games for work, a party every night, a sense of relief after the insane 24/7 anxieties of present-day globalized capitalism) really do seem worth it.

Fears that we won’t be able to provide, hope that it’s just a temporary stepping stone, desires to be a part of changing the entire world, or simple exhaustion from the constant rat race might make people willing to accept the ultimate compromise of the soul in exchange for guaranteed providence.

Empire’s greatest weapons are neither its drones nor its chemicals; they are dreams and hope for a better, brighter future, if only sacrifices are made today.

How do you resist empire without succumbing to bitterness and resentment?

How do you keep your soul without losing your spirit of joyous vision?

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Here in the Meld, we’re getting wifi in the trees. Geneticists figured out a way for plants to produce conductive strands like a second set of nerves for data transmission, then planted the trees on every block. They network together like an electronic Gaia. Like many things, it was a large up-front capital investment, and in the interim standard wireless access points have been placed throughout. The work of genetic optimization is, thankfully, relatively easy to game, and thousands of genetic gamers have spent their unpaid time working it out, so the capital investment is much reduced, according to the blog analysts.

Now that the genetic code is finalized, the wifi trees are being placed throughout the hundreds of Meld cities across the world. The benefits are twofold – they are genetically optimized for spreading their seed far afield as quickly as possible, letting nature do the work of establishing worldwide network connectivity, and they contribute to the efforts to reduce climate change.

The Meld manages human ecology as well as natural ecology. Getting places around the city such as work, shopping centers, clubs and bars, is handled by gamed computer projections far more sophisticated and intelligent than we are. Work and play schedules are staggered according to optimal logistic efficiency. Computer-driven automatic public transit solar powered vans and buses pick us up from homes along grids constantly shifting, gamed for getting everyone where and when we need to be. It removes the stress of decision-making, pathfinding and trying to force our way through the streets, and it frees up our minds for more fun and efficient pursuits like making our world a better place.

This gaming goes beyond making it easy to get to the clubs and into survival. I give my work-time at the gardens and block kitchens, and after every harvest, I input the items from the day into a tablet. Some items are taken to our local pantry, while others are taken back to the regional factory for canning and re-shipping.

At the kitchen, the automated stock loader backs up and gives us the pallet of our community’s nutrient harvest, conveniently diced, chopped, dried or canned for easy meal preparation. Our harvest is supplemented with flavored spiced starch as needed to ensure necessary calorie counts as well as to improve flavor profiles. My job at the kitchen consists of assisting a robot in mixing together, heating up, and setting meals out on plates for my neighbors.

According to the blogs, they tried it just with robots back when the Meld was first starting up, but they found that malnutrition was approaching unpredictable levels. When a live person was added to the workflow and no other factors changed, malnutrition went down by nearly 80 percent. Our spindly bodies lived just on the edge of what we needed, which was good, but every bit of efficient nutrient processing was highly important, so the Shepherds started putting people on kitchen duty. Something about a human touch – human community around food, it was theorized – could literally improve digestion in a way that the Meld chemists hadn’t yet devised.

Something that the resistance doesn’t realize about the Meld – I didn’t realize it, myself, at first – is that it is essentially a solutions-based system. For all its appearance as a happy-go-lucky drug-addled space, it is hyper rational in its approach to managing humanity. We aren’t running from our problems, which is how it appears to outsiders. Rather, we’re mitigating our own personal problems using the beauty of the space we create, sublimating our hyperactive, spiraling energy to the business of solving pressing globally systemic problems like waste, greed and climate change. It’s amazing how much consumption we can cut when people don’t feel the need to be in control of every little piece of their lives. It’s not like it was 50 years ago, when you could just watch a movie, buy CFLs and recycle to feel like you were saving the world. Behind all this happiness, the future earth totters on the brink. These days, every extraneous ton of greenhouse gas reduces survival chances by .01 percent.

The Meld is a solutions-based enterprise, like all lasting civilizations before it. Because food production can’t be completely automated without significant reduction in nutrient absorption, the Meld stopped trying. However, with constant information analysis, the Meld’s computer systems can identify best practices, implement them, and be constantly on the watch for new ways to protect us while reducing our society’s carbon footprint.

Human beings are simple creatures, I am coming to realize. We want to be happy. We want to feel good. We want to feel loved. We want to trust and be held. Why, then, did we once nearly destroy the world attempting to achieve these simple desires? Stupid. Foolish. The Meld mitigates that self-destructive tendency by giving us exactly what we want – connection, food, culture, peace – for free, and it has my support.

When I tell you the Meld amazes me every day, it is not a lie. Whenever I start to question my decision to fight for the Meld, to give myself over to what, historically, would be considered a totalitarian collectivist state, I think of all that we’ve accomplished – all that we continue to accomplish – in the name of the human race and in the name of global health – and I realize that my heart is set. Totalitarian collectivist or not, I will fight for this until we’ve won or until it destroys me completely.

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Right before the Collapse, everyone had free electricity, free Internet and free cable TV, and we all thought it was going to get better forever. Except for the headaches and barrage of advertising for the Meld clubs in Center City, things felt fantastic. I was in love, I had a job selling art at a gallery, and I had a garden.

Then inexplicably, it started getting worse. We’d had a mortgage on a place in an up-and-coming area of the city, and the bank started sending us foreclosure notices after they dropped our automatic payment, which caused us to pay late one month. The bank took ownership of the property within the year, and they put it up for sale while we still lived there. It got gobbled up by an investor from the Global South, we were kicked out like errant rental tenants by private bank security, and that was that. The courts were swamped, and it was no secret that the municipal and state governments subsisted on grants from the multinational finance-military-biotech-energy conglomerates, and we didn’t have a lot of faith that they would rule in our favor. More likely the case would be backlogged forever.

Our gallery’s lease owner faced a similar situation, which put me and my husband out of a job that same year. We heard rumors of civil wars all across the country. That was when the spate of headaches, nausea and depression began in earnest, and the TV provided a constant counterpoint. “Just come to the Meld. Things will be better. Get your medications, free!” On paper, everything worked with what they were offering. Positive reviews, good press coverage, that last puzzle piece. Everything you needed, wouldn’t cost you a penny, just the standard 10-hour workday. My husband wanted us to go, but my irrational distrust kept me from fully buying in, and he didn’t want to go without me.

I pulled us from couch to couch in the hard neighborhoods, picked up odd jobs, grew all my food, and helped out around random houses, living from the open hearts of strangers. Everybody knew something unknown and terrifying was on the horizon and that we needed to stick together or we would fall apart. In that year of rapid social transition, the humanity on the edge was heartbreakingly beautiful.

Then the welfare and unemployment checks stopped coming. A mass mailing with official letterhead stated, “in the Meld, it’s not just a check – the general welfare is a way of life! We’ve got a spot ready for you. Join us today!”

Government offices and civil services out on the edges shuttered. We all assumed that they’d retreated with business into the Meld. Once the government offices were gone, the police soon followed. “Regional enforcer bodies” cropped up, which was a polite way of saying armed gangs, some of whom included ex-cops with anti-terrorist gear and no semblance of law and order to hold them in check. That’s not to say that none of them had our best interests at heart; but there were so many different crews that it was hard to tell who was really for community protection and who just wanted to push up their egos and be the big men in charge. We kept to our gardens and didn’t stay out after dark.

The TVs and computers still worked, but we turned them off because the details of survival were more pressing than the endless drama in the media, and our health issues largely went away, which confirmed my suspicions that they had been beaming some sort of signal through our screens to make us all miserable. After the gas and the police disappeared, the gas and water shut off. The free electricity, TV and Internet were the last to go.

When the lights finally went out, a primal fear of the dark howled through my neighborhood. Hundreds of thousands of rounds of stockpiled ammunition were let loose throughout the city, resulting in a year of blood and broken glass, battles for control. I learned from an old gang head how to fight with a knife and how to shoot a gun. My pacifist artist comrades thought I was crazy, but then I shot a couple of ex-pigs trying to push my friend’s kid up against a wall, pants down, and they stopped talking trash about my shoulder holster.

We met in secret and formed garden collectives to work during the day in order to eat, to survive. Up to twenty of us showed up at a time during those horrific months. We laughed, cried, hugged each other and shared moments of silent terror in basements through dozens of explosions, gun fights and screams just outside our doors.

As the years went by, the daily violence quieted down and peace settled in. People gradually stopped coming to collective meetings. They got caught up in other things or succumbed to the Meld. We endured separately. I lost more of my friends to peace than to war.

Some days the Meld looked really attractive. The overheated climate brought new pests up from the south every summer. When my entire potato harvest was eaten by weevils the season after my husband left me for the Meld, it took a whole bottle of stiff drink I could barely afford to keep me from walking down the street and getting happy, mindless and caged for good. I passed out at the bar, woke up alone, and allowed my strong thighs to carry my anxious, exhausted mind home under the hot moonlight. “No, I can’t keep on,” I murmured as I walked. “No, I gotta. No, I can’t. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t, I will go on.”

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(The book is taking longer than expected to reach the publication stage, so in order to stay hyped and focused, to keep energy on my creative efforts,  I am commencing an 11-week blog series beginning now. The subject of my blog series is worldbuilding.

I made changes to my book to make it more character-driven and plot-driven, and in the process I took out a lot of details about the history and culture of my world. But social/political/ecological struggle is something that I want to explore through my fiction writing, and for me, worldbuilding is a huge part of it. The history and culture of my made-up milieu is a labor of love and passion, so thank you for following along with me!)

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the meld

Chameleon vampire squid

There is a chameleon vampire squid intertwined with your soul. With yours, with mine, and with the souls of everybody you know. As a writer, I do constant battle with it. It speaks to me in the language of my desires, but it is not me. In my book, Garden Enclave and the whole Meld Resistance series, this is characterized by the Meld.

On your television and in your internal monologue, this is characterized by the vision you think you ought to see in the mirror or that which you dream for your own life, the dream, not the reality.

It will give you everything you want, in exchange for everything you are.

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What is the Meld: Just the Facts

The Meld is a physical space suffused with psychotropic chemicals in order to keep people docile and happy. The term is also used to describe the chemical mixture as well as the global civilization that uses it. In my series, it is the antagonist culture against which my characters are fighting.

The Meld reduces people’s metabolism and gives them a sense of peace to counteract their unsustainable cravings and desires. It draws people in by convincing them they can have everything they want. Once people are there, it mitigates those original desires but meets the underlying desire for satisfaction at a much lower resource cost than the original desires would otherwise demand.

From a population planning standpoint, it drastically reduces the “resources used per person.” The purpose of the Meld is to ensure that the world remains habitable for human beings.

It is a population control initiative from a globalized government as part of a broader attempt to reverse climate change. You know the climate change death spiral that we all talk about, worry about? In the world of my novels, it’s passed. It’s hit. This is the global government’s response to the crisis.

they're trying really hard

Chemtrails – Trying to reverse climate change.

The Meld pinpoints the root of human-caused climate change as human discontent, spurred on by greed, consumerism and violence. Seeing us as incapable of quickly addressing those problems in ourselves in any real sort of way in the timeframe that needs to happen, it puts a pause on human ambition — a several-hundred-year pause while the climate gets back in order according to artificially intelligent computerized projections.

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Battle Lines

The Meld is the sentinel at the end of the line of human history. By keeping people from doing stupid things like shooting each other, abusing fossil fuels and using more than they need, by reducing their consumption, by making them happily subservient to centralized technological solutions, it is able to take a serious shot at reversing global climate change when everyone thought that human civilization was not going to survive – and this is why the battle against the Meld is not as easy as a simple statement of intent. Resistance to the forces of mind control is crucial, but how, and where, and how much, are critical questions to answer.

This is important to me, because my “I” is colonized, temporarily and unpredictably, by these Meld-like forces that by almost all objective measures are positive. I want a nice, pretty life, I don’t want too much conflict, but I have these radical ideas that I believe to be true, by which I want to live, that will invariably cause conflict to enter in. My psyche is a battleground, and in my novels I write the inner conflicts, advances and fields of engagement as I see them from above or as I wander through, examining the details and detritus of the aftermath. This is what I write from when I write the struggle with the Meld. If it were an easy, linear struggle for me, I wouldn’t write entire books.

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Identity (is the crisis can’t you see)

did you do it for fame / did you do it in a fit / did you do it before you read about it

When you look in the mirror / do you see yourself / do you see yourself on the tv screen / do you see yourself in the magazine / when you see yourself does it make you scream

So I’m more than a little bit insane, like anyone with anything to say, but I think I’m right about this. The chameleon vampire squid is within most of us, but it has so thoroughly colonized our minds that each of us speaks with a single voice – an “identity” – and makes singular statements about who “I am,” what “I want,” wrapped up in this thing. Perhaps “colonized” is too petty a word. I, and you, and everyone, are not without agency; any internal colonization happens because of our own strategic retreat behind ironclad boundaries we draw within our minds: identity.

Because it mimics your heart’s deepest desire, there’s no killing the chameleon vampire squid known as the Meld. It just takes a different form. It speaks to you in the language of your dreams, but it is not you. It desires through you – through us all. Think of it as a consumerist collective unconscious, in the sense that we consume brands and identities, not products and services. It is the elder god of our times. Only the most accomplished mystics might be able to pinpoint and keep it from affecting their minds, and that’s not the conversation I’d like to have. In my past lives I was some kind of mystic. South Node in the 12th. This life, I want to live in the world with everyone, in the impure muck and mess.

Each person has drawn and accepted a particular relationship to the Meld attached to their mind in return for a sense of internal unity when thinking and speaking. Saying, “what I want.” Saying, “who I am.”

We tell ourselves that the Meld doesn’t exist or that it’s irrelevant or even that we’ve vanquished its hold on us – that we’re the captains of our own ships – in order to feel strong. Or we accept certain borders and boundaries with the consumerist social order – we consciously sacrifice certain parts of our human wildness for a sense of self-satisfaction, pride or comfort. These things build a shell of identity that can so, so easily be co-opted by the Meld and its chameleon-esque branding. The Meld looks like what you desire most to be, what you think you are or should be, as opposed to what you are.

Maybe this is what some people call “growing up.” I think that’s an interesting definition for growing up, to stop questioning where you stand and just accept the grip of a dream-mimic that grows and changes as you do, like it’s a normal, okay thing to be partially colonized in the same way for your whole adult life and not to resist – but I acknowledge its possibility.

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Why I Write

It is my own madness, my obsessive problematic, that I can’t just draw and stick to clear boundaries with the Meld, being as pretty as it is. I fall under its spell, back up, and push it away, then fall and push, again and again.

Answering the question, “who are you?” would be so easy if I could just be clear, but I need to be true to my own fractured, broken, internally fighting self that feels strongly and desires with the strength of belief something that isn’t myself, like this pretty vision of off-grid community or marriage or constantly-flowing-love-all-the-time. I don’t know where to draw the line against that mimic of my own dreams that promises me happiness and the power to make any of them real, at the expense of…everything that I am, everything I believe in. My locus of agency moved to a visionary dreamland where I do not live – the Meld. Something in my head making my decisions for me, building toward a sweet, cool, safe life of static peace. I don’t know where to draw the line, because this may not be a bad thing. But how do I delineate. The world is heating up; we could all use sanctuaries of coolness and safety. To be the consummate survivor is not a 100 percent bad way to be.

And thinking socially again, do we honestly think that we will all pull our heads out of our asses en masse and stop behaving and desiring in a way that exacerbates climate change – or will it have to be foisted upon us forcefully, by a chameleon vampire squid? Shit, I still eat at McDonalds sometimes, even as I tell myself, “I’ll do it differently tomorrow. I’ll get my life together, tomorrow, but right now I’m so tired, and I’m so hungry and so broke, I’ve been doing so much, and it’s so easy, so let me just go today.” The internal is social-political-ecological metaphor.

Yet, I believe in the fiercely wild human spirit, believe in it to my gut, believe in the struggle and the fight against corporate branding and mind control and oppression of all sorts, soft and hard, no matter what the reason. I am intelligent and adaptable and I could have had any life I wanted, yet I chose to be an artist — to refuse a life of comfort and instead stand and scream to the world, “This is who I am! This is what I believe!” No. This is also a brand, something for consumption, a tool of the Meld. This is also something I fight against. I am not an “artist.” But I have made decisions that look that way. I also sell out, all the time. All the time, for money, for love, for comfort, for peace, decidedly non-”artist.”

To be a fiercely wild human is actually to be a mess, to define yourself and break those carefully crafted definitions, time and again. Self-destructive? Self-liberating. How can humans live in this world with both integrity and peace? Again: this is why I write. This is the series that will consume me for many years to come.

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Philly Eco City

Simple & Green

Check it out! And check out the rest of Philly EcoCity! It’s a great example of hyper-local journalism telling stories that actually matter to people rooted in a place, and I hope to be submitting more articles to them in the future.

It’s a reprint of a blog post, but it shows that my stuff is getting read beyond the borders of this here blog. Which is good. From a business perspective, it is very good.

On a slightly unrelated tangent, I’ve been praying to the Moon for my book to be published, praying and visualizing as a sort of ritual. My prayers are like air kisses and salutes whenever I see that rabbit-child in the sky.

Manifestation = prayer + intention + openness + action. So here’s to more and more of my writing being published all over the Web. Gotta expand that footprint, so I can get that traction, so I can capture that interest, so I can get that deal and that first advance check, so I can truly begin on more solid ground.

I’ve dreamt so hard of being a novelist that I’ve become it in all but name. In my head, I’ve already arrived. The name (and the cash) is the hardest to schlep over the line. That’s where business comes in. Sending out those cold queries, trying to nail an opening. The hustle. Writing is a damn hustle all the time. They don’t teach you that in creative school. The strange disconnect between waking up and knowing that you’re someone, but then looking at your wallet and thinking, “wait…something doesn’t add up.”

For all of you reading here, this is my dream: to be a published author, to survive on my novel writing.  Thank you for your support!

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lego movie video game

It’s like they’re just stringing nouns together…

I saw a little bit on “Talking Movies,” a BBC show about modern cinema, that began, “Is American capitalism under fire from a whole raft of Hollywood studio movies which detractors claim possess an anti-business or anti-corporate agenda?” He then talks about “one of the most successful movies this year” that has “made over $400 million around the world.” He’s talking, of course, about the Lego Movie.

In case you don’t know, the movie and game rights to Lego are owned by Warner Brothers, a subsidiary of Time Warner, one of the Big Six media companies that control 90 percent of all media pumped into American minds.

So when someone says is American capitalism is under fire by the Lego movie, I’m already skeptical. But the branding fascinates me.

While shills like Fox (also owned by a Big Six, News Corp) bemoan the changing culture for the benefit of the more closed-minded, WB celebrates it in commercials and movies about proletarian uprisings. They’re geared toward the more open-minded rest of us. We are fast becoming the majority culture, the vaguely liberal, open-minded bunch. Most of us know something’s wrong with society but can’t articulate it in a holistic sense, then a movie like “The Lego Movie” explains the problems with corporations in solid, if simplistic terms (corporations / machines = bad; creativity / human spirit = good!), then you leave like, “that was fun.” Then when someone talks about how corporations are destroying the world, you’re like, “oh, you mean like the Lego Movie.”

that-was-fun

And again, and again, and again…

It’s not like you leave thinking revolution and self-governance and taking the power of your own mind back from the corporate colonizers – you leave in a peculiar post-modern state of malaise: “That was fun.” Object – “that over there”; past tense – “it’s over now”; “fun.”

My favorite line in Garden Enclave is in the first chapter. Katrine says it, and I say it to myself all the time when I’m feeling crotchety about advertising, “Fun. The problem is just that. Remember, how did they get us in the first place? Fun. It was with fun.”

gangnam style

“Human society is so hollow, and even while filming I felt pathetic. Each frame by frame was hollow.” – Psy

Orwell got it right when he coined  ”doublethink.” We know that “Everything is Awesome,” the theme song to “Lego Movie,” is a tongue-in-cheek song satirizing corporate culture, but ultimately it’s catchy and we like it. Like how “Gangnam Style” was written to mock the uber-consumerist culture of Gangnam, South Korea, yet it became a global sensation and lost its satirical edge, and for months we had people flaunting their hollowness, singing it completely un-ironically. “I’m an idiot, I know. Isn’t it hilarious? So fun.”

DC-subway

Unlike dystopic-porn, the real dystopia isn’t sepia-toned.

A culture that speaks its demise and its celebration in the same voice encapsulates our psyches, protecting them against any singular voice. This is how “Empire becomes all.” It’s not blocky 1980s dystopic forbidding architecture, not DC subway stations and square government buildings. It’s a consumer-driven empire with lots of choices. People eat the poison that’s given to them and want its antidote,  and lo and behold, a cardboard image of that antidote is available in the same big box store / theater / culture.

That’s the brilliance of a movie like WB’s “Lego Movie” – it co-opts the revolutionary impulse by making it fun, by making it a brand. It’s a different sort of poison.

How do they get you? It’s not with a police state; that comes later, when you already have everything you want. Effective propaganda doesn’t beat you over the head with what you don’t want to believe; it knows what you want better than you do and gives it to you for free. It can do this because it created the desire in the first place. If it didn’t, it perceived your own desires before you did and shaped them away from the revolutionary destabilizing action they could have had, toward the safely postmodern image that you can enjoy from your couch. It refined your desires before you even had a say. It’s not your money they want, stupid. Capitalism is dying, and the corporations are leading the charge. It’s your damn heart that’s the next frontier for colonization. The only solution is to know what you want to hear, and say no, I don’t want to hear that from you. I don’t want what I want, if you’re giving it. That heart of irrational negativity can’t be s0ld; it is the anti-corporatist.

We know this…it’s why we drink…

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My writing published in Adbusters!

Check it out! I’m really psyched, even if they did change it a bit. The strong core remains.

It was originally titled “What If We’ve Already Won the Culture Wars?”

~ They want us for their commercials and TV ~

We’ve already won.

My writing should speak for itself; its main premise is that things aren’t always what they appear, and it breaks my heart when I see the struggle in all its sincerity co-opted to sell cars, soda and tech products.

It breaks my heart because of two reasons: one, it’s an intellectual greenwash (& blackwash & bluewash – the phrases call to mind another article in Adbusters), sickeningly defanging and co-opting the resistance, and two, it’s a sign that we’ve won. We forced our way into the culture: they’re listening to us, finally. We’ve won, and this is all we’re gonna get??

We were chasing Empire, now it’s chasing us, it wants to make us cool so it can make us uncool, but if we resist its cool and become the conservatives – the established, the sincere, the anti-cool – we might just stay relevant and stay ahead of that toxic and dying has-been once-was culture long enough to disable and dismantle its influence on the next generation.

Eyes always on the horizon. We stand where we are but our eyes aren’t on where we are; we avoid that twisted mirror image that branding seeks to make of us. The Meld works because it gets into “who you think you are.” Who am I? The trick is not to think you’re anybody. “think you are” is a brand. Throw up barriers to easy commodification, and maybe we can press this advantage toward something that lasts.

Why do we want this? So we can feel good about ourselves? The Meld can give us that, but it won’t be enough. It’s something else, this struggle. Something that neither fast Internet nor fast cars will address. Something else entirely. It’s part of the roots that we we conserve.

http://www.adbusters.org/blogs/culture-wars.html

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Wren Logo

Wren Logo

By now, everyone knows that the video of 20 couples kissing for the first time was a clothing advertisement. Reactions ranged from cynical to distraught to head-in-the-sand. “I’m just going to choose to believe it’s real.”

The filmmakers said that they strove to make it as real as possible. It’s not a stretch to say that they put people in the right situation and that’s why the emotions felt real. It’s not a stretch to believe in beautiful first kisses between strangers. Courage and an open heart are all you need to get there.

But, on the other hand, an “unlikely uniformity” was on display in the montage of kisses, according to one snarky article, which castigated the video for “[presenting] itself as an exemplar of genuine human emotion.”

“Never trust the Internet,” another one says.

“Just a cynical plot to extract your money…actual strangers would be a more interesting social experiment but infinitely less shareable,” notes another.

My theory is that as a culture, we’re not quite sure what “genuine” means.  That’s why we’re so obsessed with science to the point of it being a pop phenomenon, why we love Youtube / social media / reality TV (because it’s just normal people, being real), and why we had an emotional reaction when we found out that the first kiss video was just an /advertisement/. We want genuine and when people imply that something’s real and it isn’t, it brings out the major cynical snark.

First Kiss Video

Disingenuous Kiss??

I don’t believe the video presented itself as an exemplar of genuine human emotion. I think our eyes and our desire did at least 50 percent of the work of framing it as such, because we associate “genuine” with “true.” But symbolic truth doesn’t have to be genuine.

First of all, most of the stupid headline links had the three elements of “we are trying to get you to click”: started with a number (“20 strangers”), had a hook (“share a first kiss”) and had the word “strange” or “weird” (“and it was strangely beautiful.”). If there’s a frame, somebody’s producing it, and then some content aggregator is marketing it, and you’re clicking because they know how to get us to do that. Give up the pretense of free will; they’ve got our number. Once we collectively realize this, we can turn our genius to more interesting questions.

Like what is this video, exactly? And what does it have to do with genuine?

a window in the dark / every girl who falls / for worse. It’s like that / (if) You Want It To Be Good, / (sometimes) being bad can feel

Shangri-Las 1964 / always putting him / side of town. They / that’s why I fell / is also often drawn / bring out the (virtue)

(irresistible), mysterious / tries to infuriate her / in love with him / series of violent, tragic / unfolds like a dream, / together various elements / Gothic storytelling – (religious)

These are the words in the Wren branding. Maybe I’m just susceptible to writing, but why do I suddenly want to buy cute, expensive clothes, be 10 years younger and female, cool and hot as shit out clubbing at places for which I’m way too interesting and different? This is how a brand feels. I hope Wren can keep up production with the thousands of teenage girls across America using their parents’ credit cards to buy cute dresses after watching the video and feeling alone and lovely.

But the branding provoked by the video is about more than just teenage girls. It tapped into a symbol, the shared belief in which is more genuine than a video emphasizing “actual strangers” would have been.

I’m not quite sure what that symbol is – something about how everyone is basically good, something about how people can come together, something about how love really is possible, something about the beauty of a random romantic encounter, and then there are the invisible facets of the symbol, the yearning face behind the computer screen, memories of falling for someone, “unfolding like a dream.” The name of the song was “we might be dead tomorrow.” As in, give me all your love now, cause for all we know…” There are other symbolic details; I’m not expert enough to point them out.

That widespread postmodern legacy of weary cynicism when faced with media manipulation is important as a defense, but we need a theory to move beyond it or risk falling into fundamentalist practice. You don’t choose to believe based on whether or not it’s genuine, but whether or not it speaks to you. If it speaks to you but you know it isn’t “true,” then the mind worm is still in your head, only it makes you miserable instead of making you feel lovely. When the mind worm is in your head, you’re susceptible to the Meld – to the invisible voices of control pervading our society.

The only way out is to decide that it doesn’t speak to you, and the way out of that is to do the sorts of things and live the sort of life that the mind worm does not speak to.

It’s manipulative because it speaks to something invisible yet compelling – some shifting cultural symbol – and even whether or not we choose to believe in that symbol, it will affect us. It’s the Meld, and it creeps up around us. Social control is achieved not through bullets or tanks but through symbols and psychology. This romantic video is relatively harmless, but it’s also the sort of thing that’s playing on TV screens everywhere in the Meld, making people feel happy and good despite other historical factors. Choosing to believe isn’t a bad thing, but it is a choice, made not because we think something is genuine but because we feel it to be true, or we empower it with our feelings.

Intent is not necessary to make a choice. A feeling is a belief is a choice. Know the choices you make!

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UPDATE: While I am normally loathe to delete things I have written, in this case I felt it was just the right thing to do. I made some untrue statements about a group that is ultimately just trying its best to do positive things with limited resources in the world. Not only were they not true, they were patently false and more than a little offensive.

That being said, my concerns about the playground and the trees still stands. I just removed all mention of things that, upon meeting the Friends of Penn Treaty Park, I realized were not true about them or their aims. My interest is in a) having civil discourse, b) having honest discourse and c) expressing how I feel. I am not always aware of the truth when I initially write to express my feelings, but I am always willing to learn where others are coming from and adjust in order to keep the conversation going.

 

Coming from a mindset outside of nature, people believe that the way things get done is to draw a map, then cut out everything that doesn’t conform to the map. At Penn Treaty Park, a beautiful, historically sacred location on the banks of the Delaware in my city, they want to build a new playground.

What Is the New Penn Treaty Park Playground Plan Really About?

Penn Treaty Park Playground

Penn Treaty Park Playground

The playground in question currently looks like a park you’d find in a working class neighborhood. It’s got a swingset, dirt/mulch ground, a slide, stairs and stuff to climb on. Kids have fun running around while their parents watch and chat. It is low-key and approachable by all. Family reunions, weddings and other large gatherings with kids happen at Penn Treaty all the time, and kids don’t complain. It’s a park. There’s fun stuff.

The Penn Treaty Park Playground as it stands now looks too Joe Schmoe, too working-class for such a “waterfront treasure.” So what is there to do?

If that means cutting down hundred-year-old trees and replacing them with plastic tree stumps in the name of supposed beautification, then so be it for them. To me, the symbolism is terrifying.

In my forthcoming novel Garden Enclave, when the Meld invaded the free neighborhoods, it didn’t do so under threat of war; it did so with gifts and promises of plastic happiness, and so the people were confused. “Do we really need to fight this?” “It’s an upgrade.” “It’ll be better.” “It’ll be cleaner.” By the time they lost their freedom and communities, it was already too late.

Penn's Treaty

Penn’s Treaty

I am a novelist and writer, and I know the power of symbols. The sycamore trees in Penn Treaty Park are representative of the Treaty Elm under which the “only treaty never sworn to and never broken” was signed between the Quakers and the Lenape Turtle Clan. Without this symbolic environmental legacy, Penn Treaty becomes just another waterfront park. They will replace the living symbols of this historic moment with a plastic “turtle structure” to “serve as welcoming agent.”

But the blessings of nature belong to us all. The legacy is ours, as is the city. We need to fight back and make our voices heard.

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Before the haters start to hate, I want to preface this by saying that I know it’s filled with over-generalizations. There are writers at every time period that don’t fit the standards I’ve written here, even popular ones. I’m not a scholar; I’m a writer trying to figure out where my book fits in the broader scheme of publishing and subgenres of science fiction. I wrote a book to say something from my soul, and now I’m trying to define and find my market. The business of getting a book into print doesn’t come easily to me, and I’m trying to define my vision in terms that editors and publishers might find useful. My efforts helped me to think about the history of science fiction, so I’m sharing it on my blog.

Beginnings

A major dipole in modern published science fiction was established in the late 1800s between the science-friendly adventure-oriented visions of Jules Verne and the science-critical social-commentary-oriented imaginings of H.G. Wells. This was when anything was possible, and trends weren’t really established yet, though this dipole paved the way for future writers to explore. Science fiction was largely a place where tech geeks could fantasize about what the world could be like if such and such technology were more fully developed.

The early 1900s were science fiction’s growth spurt, with authors trying to find a place for themselves. Hugo Gernsback started the first science fiction pulp magazine in 1926, Amazing Stories. It published stories that were largely based on views of how the future might look and was notable for popularizing what was seen as an eccentric hobby enough to be placed in the newsstands of the time. The work continued to straddle the optimistic/pessimistic line established by Verne and Wells, and the style was that of the pulp page-turner story, suited to more light-hearted, escapist reading.

The Golden Age

The 1930s were a period of growth spurt for science fiction as it attempted inroads into the more “literary” establishment of the time. Writing became more serious and less page-turnery, which led to the so-called Golden Age of Science Fiction typified by the writing published in the 1940s and 1950s. While the magazines still featured the same pulpy covers as in the 1920s and 30s (bug-eyed aliens, damsels in distress, space jets and zeppelins, etc.), the stories tended to be more serious and focused more on characters and themes that would appeal to an older, more educated reader. Hard science fiction was in vogue, and wartime technologies were major components. Stories generally celebrated the possibilities that technology could provide in the future, and though there were always critiques within the books, they were generally pro-future, toward a better tomorrow. Writers like Heinlein, Clarke and Asimov are considered to be leading writers of this time period.

The New Wave

Then the 60s hit, and the so-called New Wave scifi trend became prevalent. Soft science fiction came into vogue as social movements and upheavals were the backdrop for people’s lives. It was a repudiation of both the adolescent pulp escapism, the stodgy hard-science materialism and a perceived lack of real social critique in the popular science fiction of the 30s-50s. Writers like Frank Herbert, Roger Zelazny, Ursula LeGuin, J.G. Ballard, Harlan Ellison, Samuel Delaney and Philip K. Dick, among others, made their mark in the 60s and 70s “New Wave” period of science fiction. Their work was characterized by experimentation with structure, a laser focus on present-day social issues, a sense of altered consciousness and portrayals of characters as irrational (rather than the stand-up heroes of Golden-Age and earlier scifi). Its proponents said that the New Wave helped to bring a depth of feeling, social consciousness and poetry to the genre that up until then it had been lacking. Stream of consciousness narration, unreliable narrators and other literary techniques were employed. Sex and drugs, racial issues and a focus on the character’s interior experience were all brought to the table. Critics said that stories lacked proper narrative structure and relied on unrealistic depictions of technology to describe implausible futures. Responses to those critiques said that none of that was even the point.

The New Wave helped science fiction gain more mainstream acceptance as it was mirrored by similar experimental/radical trends in art, lifestyle and politics. However, as the experimentalism of the 60s faded during the economic woes of the 70s and 80s, New Wave also faded from scifi consciousness, and hard SF came back into vogue briefly, though new life had been breathed into it because authors felt freer to use more radical literary techniques to get their points across.

Post-Wave

In the mid-70s was when science fiction came into its own as a major publishing market. Science fiction had hit such critical consciousness that there were far more flourishings of science fiction sub-genres. Enough people were doing it that there were many groups going in different directions. For instance, the social justice sprout from New Wave hit through writers like Octavia Butler in the late 70s and 80s, while the hard-sf renaissance became established in writers like David Brin and Larry Niven.

The post-New Wave period also saw an influx of writers who just wrote stories, stuff uncategorizable even in the scifi community because they were inspired by so many disparate sources and movements within and outside of scifi. Many terms have been used over the years including slipstream, speculative fiction, New Weird and other such non-names. As science fiction became a genre in the vein of the mystery, the romance, the horror story, or the swords and sorcery fantasy genre, writers sampled tropes and ideas from all to create cross-genre works. Writers like M. John Harrison and Iain M. Banks are among my favorites in this non-group or collection of non-groups that morphed into what I’d consider to be mass market genre science fiction (more on that later). Later writers inspired by the speculative fiction non-movement include Neil Gaiman and China Mieville, two more of my favorites.

Cyberpunk

And, of course, there’s cyberpunk, about which I’ve written. Cyberpunk has been described as perhaps the clearest successor in the social-critique scifi literary sense to New Wave – essentially it’s New Wave meets the Internet. During the 80s and 90s, it achieved critical awareness and popularity with its focus on setting, surface detail and mood rather than plot or even character development. Notable writers include the inimitable William Gibson as well as Bruce Sterling, Neal Stephenson and others. It looked at emerging technologies and tried to extrapolate the experiences (rather than the physical realities) of the futures they might create. A deep sense of social isolation emerged. Whereas New Wave fiction often looked at the possibility that we MIGHT destroy the world via nuclear war unless we came to our senses, cyberpunk took as its basis that we WERE, actively, making the world a worse place rather than a better one. It took a bleak, acerbic tone that continues in work published today, though its heyday was in the 80s and early 90s. There were other “movements” in the Post-Wave era of scifi, but this is one of the chief influences on my style and is definitely one of the most successful.

Mass Market Genre Science Fiction

Around the time of the early 80s was when science fiction came into its own, major shakeups were happening in American culture as a whole. The rise of the big national store chain was in full swing, and bookstores were no exception. Borders and Barnes & Noble got their start in the mid-70s and rose to massive national prominence in the 80s and early 90s. An explosion of literacy created demand for books among kids and adults alike, and chain bookstores scrambled to meet those demands, creating many of the mass market genres we now consider second nature. With all the books shelved next to one another, readers became more savvy to all the different possibilities for books and writing; this also contributed to the explosion of cross-genre and sub-genre growth within science fiction. A greater diversity of readers became aware of science fiction as well as other genres, making for the rich period of growth in Post-Wave writing.

This contributed to the development of the mass-market science fiction book through the 80s and into the 90s. This coincided with movements in other scifi subgenres and didn’t really reach its peak until the late 90s and through the 00s, I think, as science fiction/fantasy started to get “cool” with movies like The Matrix and book series like Harry Potter. The mass market scifi book was characterized by a strong page-turner plot, sympathetic characters, romantic elements, imaginative settings and a well-defined goal. It took the most addictive elements from several genres – the well-plotted mystery, the page-turner thriller quality, the romance relationships, the creative scifi/fantasy setting – and combined them to serve as broad a readership demographic as possible. In my mind, it developed partially as a business decision to take advantage of the growth of American literacy and partially among writers as a push-back against the bleak, serious, critical and generally not-fun tone of many of the New Wave and Post-Wave movements. Scifi writers just took themselves so damn seriously, lighten up and just tell a good story with cool stuff happening.

YA Dystopias

The 00s and early 10s also coincided with the cultivation of the young adult scifi market, which I think is a fascinating direction for the dystopic envisioning that finds lineage from H.G. Wells through the New Wave and cyberpunk movements. Now, post-apocalyptic dystopias are popular among the novels marketed at young adults in series like The Hunger Games, the Divergent series by Veronica Roth, the Uglies series by Scott Westerfield, and the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, among many others.

I haven’t read all of these, but from what I’ve heard they and others like them take the dystopic vision as a setting but rather than dwelling in the mood or spending a lot of time drawing parallels to the present day, they focus on the character development of young people, making them sort of coming-of-age stories. They make use of a clear good-vs-evil plot rather than the everything-in-shades-of-gray common to cyberpunk. A common critique of cyberpunk these days is that it’s not edgy anymore because everything it described kind of came to pass. In a sense, its purpose was completed – the mass market of readers knows the world is bad, hard,unequal, has this amoral tech-centric underbelly. These YA novels take dystopia as a given and don’t even need to spend time explaining its relevance.

And Beyond…

Science fiction became popular as a result of the New Wave in the 60s and 70s that brought poetry, experimentation, and present-day social themes  into the discourse, elevating the writing into its own art form and making it relevant to readers on a deeper level through thematic exploration and character development instead of the tropes created in the 30s and made serious and expanded upon in the Golden Age. It exploded into many different sub-genres and non-genres, and out of this rich, roiling mass of weird writing emerged the Mass Market Scifi Bestseller, currently reigning supreme for publishers.

As a writer, this is the historical field into which I place my work. I think that the Mass Market Scifi Bestseller has had a good run and will likely remain relevant for many years to come in its present form and whatever future form it might take. It has a strong lineage through science fiction back to the early Gernsback pulp magazines, the “Amazing Stories” sold at newsstands. But I think that science fiction is beginning to yearn again for writing that deliberately and self-consciously sacrifices mass market appeal, if only a little bit at first, in favor of advancing the social discourse. The wide success of books like Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, with its slow build and complex plot involving cyborgs with multiple bodies that don’t know what the other bodies are doing, set against the backdrop of galactic colonialism and empire (see my review), furthers this belief.

My own style owes a lot to the cyberpunk moodiness that I fell in love with as a kid first reading science fiction, but the hopeful, page-turner qualities of mass market scifi and YA dystopia coming-of-age stories also bleed into it. It is a conscious reaching into the past and into my own life experience to combine with the present-day market to create a new reader experience. The story is not just about criticizing or depicting the status quo, it’s about struggling with reality, coming to a decision and building something new.

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