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is it dystopian if it’s happening now?

stencil graffiti of woman's symbol with a fist in the circle, beneath the words (cw: discussion of rape and current events)
 
This weekend I finished reading Marge Piercy’s “Woman on the Edge of Time,” a speculative novel about a poor Chicana, Consuelo, in the 1970s who is involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution when she beats up her niece’s pimp — labelled crazy because she doesn’t accept the way things are, struggles against her lot in life, isn’t playing the role of happy woman. She is contacted by a woman from the future, and, over the course of the book, is able to see and experience two possible futures: one in which the people have taken power back from white supremacy and corporations, work cooperatively and live communally, share resources, and use technology for the betterment of all; and one in which society has been even further fragmented into layers of have and have-not than our is now — Consuelo meets a woman in this latter reality who is kept in an apartment for sexual companionship, her body so modified to exaggerate her breasts and ass that she can barely walk. This woman tells Consuelo about the television programs now available (for the cost of organs, apparently harvested from the very poor), available in what we would call high-definition virtual reality: full-stim, they say — the viewer is able to experience every action. She gives Consuelo a program guide, and we see that the programs are intensely violent, with rape and gore emphasized as enticements for the viewers.
 
Of course, I read this with dismay, understanding that it’s a not-altogether-unlikely dystopian future for our power-and-violence obsessed culture. But a future, surely – who is tuning in for “full-stim” experience of another person’s violation?
 
Then I turned on the radio. Teenage boys rape a young woman and live-stream it on facebook. Forty people tune in to watch, and none of them contact authorities. Forty people. Forty.
 
That’s the part that keeps ringing in my head. Forty people tuned in to watch.
 
Is there such a thing as dystopian fiction anymore? Don’t we just call it realism now?
 
(Because I don’t want to just link to a news story about the crime, I just tried to look up a site with info about how to help this young woman, and discovered that you have to be specific about WHICH woman whose rape was live-streamed on fb you want to learn about. And so now I’d like to know what the hell FB is doing to help with investigations and shut this shit down.)
 
Be easy with yourselves and your beloveds today. Remind your sons not to rape anyone as they go out into the world. Remind everyone to please call the fucking police if they find that a friend of theirs is being raped on a live-stream somewhere.
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you can do whatever you want to do with words

Good morning good morning. It’s been quiet around here, partly because so many other parts of my life have gotten a bit noisier recently. It’s good noise, though, and I’m grateful for that. How is morning breaking outside your window today? What does the sky sound like already?

This week I’ve attended three performances in which Writing Ourselves Whole writers shared their work. Nomy Lamm, a member of our current Dive Deep cohort, read from her book 515 Clues and put together a gorgeous and elucidatory Kaballistic Collaboret last Sunday evening — as soon as this book comes out, you’re going to want to get your hands on it. And then on Monday night, I attended Breaking Code, a reading curated by Blyth Barnow and Oscar Maynard, a powerfully beautiful event which offered pieces that tangled with the lived realities of queerness and madness. Breaking Code featured, among other former Writing Ourselves Whole writers, our very own former Deep Diver Renee Garcia. We had current Deep Divers in the audience at both events (and supporting from afar, too), adoring our sibling Divers who took the stage and shared the work we already love with the world.

Then last night I went to a Why There Are Words reading in Sausalito, which featured a literary venue called The Fabulist. Most of our Dive Deep group made a pilgrimage up to Marin in support of one of our own, John Zic, whose work will be featured in/on The Fabulist soon, and who read to the assembled listeners from the novel with which we in Dive Deep have been getting to spend so much good time. The Fabulist publishes, as they say, yarns, fables and tales — they focus on the fantastic: science fiction, otherworldly work, fantasy, and other odd and wonderful writing that reaches outside the realms of those particular genre labels. I loved being at this reading — it reminded me how much I adored reading science fiction and fantasy as a teenager, and how much possibility I felt in those stories. I felt that same possibility open up in me last night: you can do whatever you want to do with words — there is a place, an audience, for anything you can imagine. You can let the words (or your readers!) fly off the page; you can follow them into other realms of knowing or reality; you can study with a scrub of language what otherwise could never be known; you can make wild associative leaps; you can let your human protagonist grow a tail and wings; you can write into a world or a happening that doesn’t make logical sense (at least in our known world, in this particular consensual reality we inhabit most of the time); you can let the monsters under the bed have their say; you can experiment and play with time, form, and the laws of physics — and there’s someone (many someones, actually) out there who will want to read what you come up with.

In my workshops, I invite us, over and over, to follow the writing wherever it seems to want you to go. Even so, these days, for me, the writing stays in a pretty “safe” place – I want my words to be met and understood, and I get caught in the fantasy of being able to tell it “straight.” But didn’t Emily Dickenson tell us to “Tell all the truth but tell it slant”? When I really let  writing go, I often drift into a realm of the fantastic: often, that feels like the best place in which to illuminate and unravel into the lived reality of trauma aftermath, the magic and wonder of having a body that loves and feels anyway, even after all the loss and pain and scars.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s Writing the Flood, where I might bring some prompts to try and encourage the gathered writers out of the realm of straight narrative and into something more experimental and fantastical. We’ll see what happens — whenever the words are flowing, though, I know good stuff is emergent. There are still a few spaces open in tomorrow’s Flood, if you’d like to join us and write into your own fabulous imagnings.