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Category: Artdog Quote of the Week Page 1 of 30

“The Future is not something we enter. The Future is something we create.” – Unattributed.

Looking for Hope

By Jan S. Gephardt

Sometimes it seems that looking for hope in an era of climate change can seem like a fool’s errand.

Climate change is already upon us. This is not news to anyone who’s been paying attention. Remember those horrifying outcomes the climate scientists warned us about in the 1990s? They’re here. Happening now. The mega-storms, the super-wildfires, the changing weather patterns. Rising sea levels? Mass extinctions? Melting polar ice caps? Yup. All happening now.

Congratulations, climate-deniers! You, um “won”? The oil companies’ disinformation campaigns, combined with ghastly leadership deficits and rich nations’ widespread unwillingness to inconvenience themselves, have wrought the predicted result. So, now what? Is it “Game Over” for us now?

Weather disruptions these days come from ever-more intense tornadoes, hurricanes and typhoons, intense snowstorms, drought and wildfire.
Looking for hope seems hopeless sometimes. Clockwise from top left, the aftermath of a tornado in New Jersey, Hurricane Irma in the Bahamas, wildfire in California, and the aftermath of Typhoon Rai in the Philippines. At center, a heavy snow in Scotland. (See Credits below).

What Have We Done?

Well, we’re not dead yet (not if you can read this post), so we can keep looking for hope. If the goal was to avoid catastrophes, though, we can kiss that one goodbye, We screwed that up bad. Catastrophes are everywhere.

The United States offers a global microcosm. The deep south is the New Tornado Alley. Kansas wishes you all the best of luck, and advises you to build storm shelters. California is a near-year-round Burn Zone. Miami Beach and the Florida Keys are barely treading water (at least until the next King Tide), and the Pacific Northwest is still recovering from Death-Valley-like heat last summer. Oh, and . . . how many bomb cyclones have you Northeasterners weathered, in recent years?

If the goal is to avoid making it even worse, well, that, we still can do. But we need the will, the urgency, and the vision. Looking for hope in an era of climate change is hard, but it’s not impossible.

"People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! You are failing us." - Greta Thunberg, to the United Nations Climate Action Summit, 2019
Greta Thunberg at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in 2019. (See Credits below).

What Can We Do?

First of all, we can stop kidding ourselves. Politicians and pundits who consider climate to be “one of many issues,” and mostly important to a small group of “green nuts,” are deluded. Anyone who doesn’t care about climate change at this point hasn’t been hit hard enough yet. Give it enough time and apathy, and it’ll be their turn soon enough.

Thanks all the same, I’d rather take a different path. And I know I’m not alone. I’m still looking for hope in an era of climate change. I fully realize that I could never in three lifetimes of stringent measures offset the deleterious effects of one poorly-managed feedlot or gas pipeline. But what a defeatist attitude, to decide that if I can’t solve it all, I won’t even bother. Get real!

No, I’ll do what I can – and one thing I can do is educate myself and then speak up. I can demand that polluters and outsized greenhouse gas-emitters be forced to change their ways. That wasteful habits be shunned and more eco-appropriate methods be rewarded.

And I can collaborate on a more hopeful vision. Looking for hope in an era of climate change only seems stupid and pointless to people who can’t see any way forward. How do I know this? Because I’ve already seen something like it before.

Photos from earlier decades show many drawbacks to pollution.
On a background of Bavarian trees killed by acid rain, the images include one of the many fires on the Cuyahoga River, this one in 1952; warning signs on roads in Times Beach, MO; shattered, thin-shelled duck and osprey eggs due to DDT; a lake killed by acid rain, and metal barrels strewn across Love Canal, back when it was a hazardous waste dumping site. (See Credits below).

Looking for Hope – Again

I think it’s important to consider what negative views of the future do to people – especially to young people. I remember growing up during the Cold War, and the heavy certainty that nuclear Armageddon wasn’t a matter of if, but when. That makes looking for hope harder. It skews a person’s view of the future and what’s possible, believe me. It was only after I’d been an adult for while that I truly started believing we might not blow ourselves up after all.

Instead, it seemed we would choke ourselves to death on pollution. Do you remember the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire? How about the “dead” lakes of Europe, the Adirondacks, and Ontario, killed by acid rain in the 1960s through the 1980s? The fish kills, the lakes too dirty to swim in or eat fish from? The years when we thought bald eagles, ospreys, falcons, and other bird species were doomed to extinction? Do you remember Love Canal and Times Beach? I do (especially Times Beach, MO, which was near my in-laws’ home).

I remember living in a Kansas City where after a few years of residence doctors routinely expected our lung X-rays to show clouding. Where we could park our car outside overnight and the next day it would be covered in a fine layer of tacky, oily pollution. Where, when the wind came in from a certain direction the whole area would stink. All this, even though I lived in a “good” neighborhood, by the redliners standards. How bad must it have been in poorer neighborhoods of color?

Organizational logos for many global climate action agencies and groups.
Many organizations and agencies have been formed to address climate change around the globe since the 1970s. Here are just a few. (See Credits Below).

What Changed?

People started to notice, be outraged, and speak up. The Environmental Protection Agency and other, more global initiatives came into being because people saw a need, not because the government had something against Big Business. We also should recall that the EPA was created during the Nixon Administration. By Republicans. And although Nixon vetoed the Clean Water Act, a bipartisan vote overrode it. Yes, it was a very different world.

The EPA has always been vilified by some groups. But, backed by strong legislation such as the clean water and clean air acts and the endangered species act, it staved off many disasters. It created some unintended consequences, granted. But Love Canal-style cleanup sites come around far less often now. My neighborhood doesn’t ever stink, my lungs are clear, and the primary everyday hazards to my car come from birds and tree sap, not oily, nasty pollution.

Anyone who tries to claim that pollution standards aren’t necessary, or that we’ve learned better now so we can ease up on restrictions ignores reality. They’re either lying, or don’t choose to remember history. Self-interested humans and profit-driven companies will cut corners and costs, unless some greater power forces them to clean up their act and keep it clean.

“We are the first generation to be able to end poverty, and the last generation that can take steps to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Future generations will judge us harshly if we fail to uphold our moral and historical responsibilities.” – Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations.
What he said. (World Economic Forum).

Looking for Hope in an Era of Climate Change

Remember that point I made above, “consider what negative views of the future do to people – especially to young people”? It’s equally true in reverse. What if enough of us around the world could come together and throw our whole-hearted efforts into combatting climate change? We could still mitigate some aspects, and perhaps reach a new balance. But crucial to any such effort is a powerful vision of the positive outcomes we still can create.

Powerful, big-money-driven lobbying groups, twisted ideologies of denial, and short-term political concerns remain. They’ll keep short-circuiting the ever-more-more pervasive ongoing threats from continued climate change, if we don’t push back. And we can, we must push back.

But we won’t, if we don’t believe that positive change can still happen. That’s why we desperately need stories and popular media that offer visions of positive outcomes after appropriate effort.

"The job of speculative and science fiction is to envision future outcomes in accessible ways. It’s what we sf writers do: we create engaging thought-experiments about how things might be." – Jan S. Gephardt.
Consider this a pull-quote. (Nebula 2 background artwork ©2021 by Chaz Kemp).

Can Science Fiction Save the Planet?

No literary genre can create the changes that are needed. But the job of speculative and science fiction is to envision future outcomes in accessible ways. It’s what we sf writers do: we create engaging thought-experiments about how things might be.

And it is historical fact that science fiction has shaped, and continues to shape, the world we live in today. I’ve already written about environmentally-focused science fiction on the “Artdog Adventures” blog, as well as sf writers’ perhaps-lamentable tendency to envision ways we might destroy the Earth.

Dystopian stories envision how things can go terribly wrong, before their protagonists win their way to freedom and security (or tragically fail to do so). And Lord knows, we’re currently living in an environmental dystopia. But how about more hopeful future-environment stories? They’re available, too! Forbes recently published an excellent list, but it’s not exhaustive. And there’s definitely room for more.

“The Future is not something we enter. The Future is something we create.” – Unattributed.
Consider your actions and attitudes carefully. You’re creating tomorrow, right now. (See Credits below).

A Vision of Hope for the Future We Want

We can envision the future we want, if we have the will and the imagination. We can take a proactive approach to finding better visions, as well. If we readers seek out more science fiction that ends well for the environment, we’ll get it. We need to ask for such books at bookstores of all kinds. Run online searches for them, ask for them in author forums. If we seek them persistently, publishers large and small will answer a perceived market need.

As a society, many of us are looking for hope in an era of climate change. We need fresh and positive visions to guide us. And we who write science fiction can offer a historically-proven place to start looking.

IMAGE CREDITS

The first montage was composed from many sources. Sincerest thanks to NY1 and the uncredited AP photographer for the New Jersey tornado damage photo, to ABC News for the photo of Hurricane Irma, and to ABC 7, for the uncredited wildfire photo. Thanks also to the San Diego Union Tribune and photographer Jay Labra, AP, for the photo of destruction left in Talisay, Cebu, Philippines after Typhoon Rai, and to The Guardian for the photo of snow in Tomintoul, Moray, Scotland, by photographer Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images. The stormy background is “Storm at Sea,” by plus69 via 123rf. Jan S. Gephardt assembled and designed the montage.

Deepest appreciation to Greta Thunberg for her iconic and straight-to the-heart words, to Wikipedia for making them available, and to the AP via the Los Angeles Times for the photo of Greta at the UN. Jan S. Gephardt assembled the quote-image for her blog post “It’s Okay to Feel What We Feel.”

Environmental Destruction of Yore

Many thanks to the sources of the photos used in the montage of climate destruction from the mid-20th Century. They include Wikimedia and an unidentified German photographer, for the background photo of acid-ran-killed trees in Bavaria, and to Ohio History Central for the photo of a 1952 fire on the Cuyahoga River, from the Cleveland Press Collection at Cleveland State Library. The photo of the DDT-damaged mallard duck eggs in the upper left of the montage is courtesy of the “Rachel Carson” blog from the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore, while the photos of similarly-damaged osprey eggs at bottom center and far right came from the “Osprey Tales” blog.

The photo of the gross-looking acid-rain-killed lake at the top is the header for Interesting Engineering’s article, “What Acid Rain is, and Ways to Restore the Damage it Causes.” (photographer unattributed). IDR Environmental Services provided the photo of Love Canal in the early days, when it was openly used as a hazardous waste dump by Hooker Chemical Company. It illustrates Part Two of a series on “America’s Hazardous Waste History,” by Dawn DeVroom.

The color photo of the Times Beach “Dioxin” road was taken by legendary St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer and Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Famer Robert LaRouche. The black-and-white photo is a 1982 photo by James A. Finley/AP, provided by Legends of America in their article “Ill-Fated Times Beach, Missouri.” Jan S. Gephardt assembled and designed the montage.

Environmental Agencies of the Globe

This montage shows logos and headers from a small fraction of the many governmental and non-governmental agencies and organizations from around the world that have developed since the 1970s to combat climate change. They include the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (courtesy of EurOcean), United Nations Climate Change Global Climate Action, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Others whose logos are represented are the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (courtesy of PAHO, the Pan American Health Organization), The African Climate Foundation, and the Climate Action Network of Southeast Asia (CANSEA). Many thanks to all, and good luck with your varied missions! Montage by Jan S. Gephardt.

A Collection of Quote-Images

Deepest thanks to the World Economic Forum, which provided the Ban Ki-moon quote-image as part of an excellent collection. This image also was featured in an earlier Artdog Adventures post as an Artdog Quote of the Week (contrasted with one from the disgraced, twice-impeached 45th US President, in 2017), but I thought it fit so well I’d use it again.

The background artwork for my pull-quote on the job of speculative and science fiction is Nebula 2, © 2021 by Chaz Kemp.

I’m sorry to say that QuotesHunter (my original source for the “Something We Create” quote-image) doesn’t seem to be around anymore, but you can still find this image on my Artdog Adventures posts “Creating Well” and “The Future we Want, and How to Get There.” It’s something of an emblem for this “The Future We Want” series.

The Future is not something we enter. The Future is something we create. –unattributed.

The Future we Want

By Jan S. Gephardt

The header quote-image has been a consistent favorite (among my most-clicked-on images) since I first published it in January 2018. For a science fiction writer, “the future is something we create” has a double meaning, of course (I’ll get back to that in a bit). But if we’re creating our future through our collective choices and actions, what kind of future are we making? Consider the view from where you stand today. Is it truly the future we want?

Wait! Doesn’t COVID prove we’re not in control? That we’re at the mercy of random events? Certainly, out-of-the-blue events lurch into our lives. It’s inevitable. Everyone’s future comes packed with forces and events beyond our control.

Throughout time (and probably space, too), unexpected adversity has popped up to complicate things. We’re not responsible for what happens to us or how we feel about it. But we are responsible for what we do in reaction. Therein lies the test of our character.

The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do. –John W. Holt, Jr.
Our reactions to adversity define the quality of our character. (See credits below).

The Future we Want for Ourselves

It helps to have a clear vision of what you want. As most dancers, martial artists, and other athletes will agree, if you envision doing something – and how you will do it – it helps you perform difficult plays or moves.

But when we apply that principle to life, we need to be careful what we wish for. I’ve known people who envisioned success in the form of tangible items. In my experience, that rarely ends well. You can envision driving a luxurious car or living in a gorgeous house, but how will that help you get there? As a result of that vision, will you do anything to get money?

My sister did an excellent job of explaining a better way to follow a guiding vision in the last two posts. Here are links to her How Did I Get Here? and What do You Want to be When You Grow Up? In her case, the guiding vision was “I want to work in the arts!” and she gave great illustrations of how that worked for her. I don’t need to cover that ground again.

Do something today that your future self will thank you for. – Sean Patrick Flanery
It took a while to find this quote properly attributed to its originator. (See credits below).

The Future we Want for Our World

Today, I’m more concerned with our collective view of the future. It’s a question that has popped up in my life, in one form or another, rather persistently in the last few days. Recent polling seems clear: if you asked a random collection of Americans if we’re headed in a good direction they’d say “NO!”

But are we, to paraphrase the common paraphrase of Mahatma Gandhi, being the change we want to see? What needs to change, and what can we do, individually and collectively, to make that change happen? Ideas vary. But if you’re into New Year’s resolutions, how about resolving to think of people who disagree with us not as morons or buffoons, but as generally not that different from us. Maybe with some peculiar ideas, but not horrible people. Where are the points of commonality? Only from a place of connection can people begin to listen to each other.

Heck, if everyone made a New Year’s resolution (and then stuck to it) to only leave comments online that they’d be willing to say to the other person’s face in real life, we’d be well ahead.

If we all do one random act of kindness daily, we just might set the world in the right direction. -Martin Kornfeld
Here’s a good way to start “being the change.” (See credits below).

Envisioning The Future We Want Through Science Fiction

I’ve written before on this blog about ways that science fiction and speculative fiction has occasionally shaped public understanding. When authors explore complex or unusual ideas in compelling stories, they make them more relatable. The “Robot” novels of Isaac Asimov offer just one example.

Many of the most famous and influential science fiction novels or movies are thought experiments about how a new idea or trend or invention might change things if taken to a certain extrapolated level. Often, as in The Handmaid’s Tale, things are taken to an extreme that makes the point hard to overlook.

Unfortunately, all too often the impulse to explore an idea in an extreme version distorts things. The author must downplay or ignore safeguards in the real world, many times without much (or any) explanation of why that safeguard failed in their story’s universe.

Book covers for Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the “Robot Trilogy” of Isaac Asimov, “The Caves of Steel,” “The Naked Sun,” and “The Robots of Dawn.”
Visionary science fiction books from earlier decades. (See credits below).

The Two Novels That Inspired this Post

I normally have several books going at once, but rarely two novels at the same time. More often it’s one novel or anthology (for both pleasure and to keep up with the field) at a time. There usually are at least two nonfiction books for research on different topics. And there also is normally at least one book on the craft of writing.

However, this time (for complex reasons) I’m reading two different science fiction novels in parallel. I’ve only just begun them, so I can’t in fairness say anything yet about my sense of the stories. One is the military sf novel Ninefox Gambit, by Yoon Ha Lee. The other is more “general sf”: The Sol Majestic, by Ferrett Steinmetz.

Neither is a newly-published book. Ninefox Gambit is Book One of a trilogy. It’s set in a larger universe of stories that range from novels to short fiction to games, and more. As far as I can tell, The Sol Majestic is a standalone. Both were published by established publishers. But wow! Are they ever different.

Book covers for “Ninefox Gambit” and “The Sol Majestic.”
Jan started these novels at roughly the same time. The comparison inspired this post. (See credits below).

Worldview and Approach

Neither universe seems like a very good place to live, but the tone of each world is quite different. We’ll see where they go from here, but the two setups lead me to believe they’ll open out into very different experiences.

My point in mentioning them is to say that opening oneself to new views and ideas can change how we look at the world we live in now. The stories we choose to consume shape our worldview in ways that range from subtle to profound. When we read wildly different books, set in wildly different places and worldviews, we grow more mentally flexible.

The opposite is also true, however. If we only ever tell ourselves one kind of story, over and over and over, it distorts us. What kind of stories should we not get too comfortable with? I’d suggest that too total a diet of conspiracy theories, myths about the Lost Cause, or even science fiction stories that are always predicated on “we destroyed Earth, so we have to find someplace new” might become a problem.

Does it help us create the future we want? That’s a question we probably should ask, especially if we get really, thoroughly dialed-in on any particular worldview or philosophy, to the exclusion of everything else.

Whenever you read a book or have a conversation, the experience causes physical changes in your brain. --George Johnson
What you read and what you discuss really does make a difference. (See credits below).

IMAGE CREDITS:

I’m sorry to say that QuotesHunter (my original source) doesn’t seem to be around anymore, but you can still find the header image on my Artdog Adventures post “Creating Well.” I found the words for the quote from John W. Holt, Jr. on Quote Master, but the quote-image format wasn’t right for this blog. So I made my own, using a stormy background by plus69 on 123rf.

Many, many thanks to Quotespedia, for the often-unattributed Sean Patrick Flanery quote and the nice image to go with it. We also want to thank “Sheila Pennies of Time” on Pinterest for the “random act of kindness” quote-image with the quote by the mysterious Martin Kornfeld (I can find his quote many places, but nothing about the man himself). I can’t find a source beyond that Pinterest page. I first posted it as an “Artdog Quote of the Week” in 2017. For this post, I have adjusted the format to take up less vertical space without losing any of the picture.

I took the photo of my three copies of the Isaac Asimov “Robot” books (The cover art for The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun are both by Stephen Youll. Cover design for The Robots of Dawn is by Kiyoshi Kanai.) The cover image for The Handmaid’s Tale is courtesy of Bookshop. We’re grateful for the cover images for Ninefox Gambit and The Sol Majestic, both from Goodreads. And finally, Quotefancy came through for us with the George Johnson quote about changes to our brains (check out his appearance on The Colbert Report). Many thanks to all!

This quote from the Dalai Lama says, “If we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster!”

After disaster, now what?

This New Year’s season feels to me a bit like climbing out of the rubble after disaster has struck. I don’t think I’ll get much pushback about whether 2020 qualifies as a disaster. The worst part is that the disaster’s not finished with us.

Those certainly are not the jolliest New Year’s reflections ever shared, but here we are. The painful joke about hitting bottom and then starting to dig definitely applies to 2021, so far.

This quote from author Chuck Palahniuk says, “Only after disaster can we be resurrected. It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything. Nothing is static, everything is evolving, everything is falling apart.”
Quotefancy

Already starting to dig

COVID-19 just added two frightening, virulent mutations to the mix. Vaccine distribution hasn’t gone smoothly. The predicted spike in infections from Christmas travel has only begun to hit, but many hospitals are already overwhelmed.

Although the countdown on homicides resets at the turn of the year, here in the Kansas City metro area we had two homicide deaths on New Year’s Day alone, after a record high in 2020. Just as bad, two persons experiencing homelessness were found dead from exposure during the holiday weekend. My home metro area is not alone. Homicides are up all over the country. So is homelessness, which has been extra-dangerous during the pandemic, even before winter started.

And speaking of the weather, if you think 2020 had a high number of natural disasters (it did), climate scientists warn that things will only get worse. Gosh, have I cheered you up yet?

This quote from Mandy Hale says, “Change can be scary, but you know what’s scarier? Allowing fear to stop you from growing, evolving, and progressing.”
Everyday Power

Are we “growing, evolving, and progressing”?

I think that’s actually on us to decide. It’s easy to let the gloom and doom suck us down. After the pandemic hit, depression in the US tripled. COVID-19 disrupted mental health services all over the globe, so you know that misery had company worldwide. And goodness knows after disaster upon disaster, we had things to be depressed about.

But some of us were able to find opportunities despite all the disruption. Some of my artist friends found they had more time to focus on larger, more ambitious projects, or on building new relationships with companies that wanted to license their images for hot new trends such as jigsaw puzzles.

People became more focused on locally-owned small businesses. Websites such as Independent We Stand, with a robust local business search function, helped us reconnoiter.

It became kind of a civic duty among some of my friends to buy local, order carry-out from their favorite restaurants more often, or order from their favorite local bookstore (and incidentally save the cost of shipping), then swing by in person to pick up their purchases. IndieBound and Bookshop bolstered those efforts online.

This quote from John D. Rockefeller says, “I always tried to turn every disaster into and opportunity.”
BrainyQuote

Some of us got newly active; let’s never be complacent again

Famously, 2020 was the year when millions of white people could no longer ignore the crippling racial disparities in our country, and when millions of people from all backgrounds took to the streets about it. Income inequality and health care disparities were part of it, but police violence riveted our attention more.

The George Floyd murder—8 full minutes and 48 seconds of despair and agony playing out on video under the knee of an uncaring white cop—provided the catalyst for protests against police brutality and racism, not just in the United States but all over the world.

This quote from Catherine the Great says, “I beg you take courage; the brave soul can mend even disaster.”
BrainyQuote

We in the US are far from the only country with a race problem, but our history means in many ways we’re still fighting the Civil War. And we’re woefully far from being “post-racial.”

No honest person could deny that fact, after the summer of 2020. How do we fix it? It won’t be a quick fix, that’s for sure. Despite record sales of books about anti-racism, there are still plenty of bigots walking around (whether they realize it or not).

And it’s not up to white people to step in and take over the “fixing.” That may surprise some of us who are not as “woke” as we think we are. It is up to us to extend a hand of friendship. To listen—really listen—to Black and brown people. And then to work in partnership with POC leaders who’ve been doing this for a long time already. They already know lots more than any latecomers have even thought of, yet.

This quote from the Dalai Lama says, “If we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster!”
Picture Quotes

Traditions in a time of turmoil

My sister wrote a great post for The Weird Blog this week, about New Year’s traditions and her unique spin on them. I think she has a good philosophy, about taking what works for you or adapting familiar ideas to new situations.

I’ve heard that a lot of people are adjusting their new year’s resolutions in response to recent events, opting for wiser, less stereotypical choices.

With this post, I’m reviving a tradition that I allowed to lapse in 2020, but I’m bringing it back in a new form. After my schedule grew too busy to continue my old practice of writing 2-3 blog posts each week, I reluctantly dropped the “Quote of the Week” and “Image of Interest” features. I simply didn’t have time. Alert followers of Artdog Adventures likely saw it coming, but I made it official in April.

Those posts got a lot of love over the years, though. And I missed them too! So I’m going to try a “Quotes of the Month” approach in 2021. That starts with this “After disaster” post you’re just finishing here. I plan, as much as possible, to make the first post of each month an essay-with-quote-images (and hope that effort won’t be a disaster). Please let me know what you think of them!

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks for the illustrated quote from author Chuck Palahniuk, to Quotefancy. I’m grateful to Everyday Power for the quote from author Mandy Hale. Many thanks to BrainyQuote for the wisdom from industrialist John D. Rockefeller, and also for the quote from Russian empress Catherine the Great. Finally, many thanks to Picture Quotes, for the words of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.

Representation Matters

Representation and social transformation

The Artdog Quotes of the Week

How does representation play a role in social transformation? Last week’s Monday post explored stereotypes and the power of portrayal. Now let’s tackle social transformation.

Make no mistake. Society is always transforming. Social change happens, whether we want it to or not. And individually we can’t control how it changes. 

This quote from Ellen DeGeneres says, "Whenever people act like gay image in the media will influence kids to be gay, I want to remind them that gay children grew up with only straight people on television."
No, the creators of content can’t change basic facts of human existence. But we can affect how people think about those facts, for well or ill. (This quote-image featuring Ellen DeGeneres is courtesy of FCKH8 on Twitter).

One person’s efforts rarely provide a huge pivot point, unless that one person speaks for thousands, and society was ripe for the change. Case in point: #MeTooThat one was way overdue!

What kind of future do you want?

We can’t control the changes. But we can affect how things change. 

What kind of future do you want? As creative people, we make art that comments on how things are and how things could be. If you think a more broadly representative world would be more fair and interesting, reflect that in your art.

Subverting the stereotypes

If you think harmful stereotypes should be questioned, treat them like the clichés they are. Turn them inside out. Subvert them. Transform them into something fresh and unexpected and better

This quote from Rosie Perez reads, "I started calling people on their stuff. I'd say, 'listen, things have to change. How come I keep getting 50 million offers to play the crack ho?' And I challenged them on it, and initially, oh my God, the negative response was horrific."
It can take guts to “call people on their stuff” and challenge stereotypes. But artistic integrity demands it. (This quote-image from Rosie Perez is courtesy of The Huffington Post).

That’s just basic sound practice–but you’re also making a statement by the way you make the transformation. 

Please note that this approach requires awareness. Creative people fall into tropesclichés and stereotyped thinking when they don’t recognize them for what they are. We all have unconscious biases. But we owe it to ourselves, our work, and our fans to learn about them and challenge them.

Representation and social transformation

Wider and more diverse representation is essential to the social transformations that I would love to see come about. I have my own ways to portray that, particularly in the stories I write. 

This quote from Gina Rodriguez says, "I became an actor to change the way I grew up. The way I grew up, I never saw myself on the screen. I have two older sisters. One's an investment banker. The other one is a doctor, and I never saw us being played as investment bankers. And I realized how limiting that was for me. I would look at the screen and think, 'Well, there's no way I can do it, because I'm not there.'"
Artists need to seize the power of portrayal. (This quote-image from Gina Rodriguez is courtesy of The Huffington Post).

There are as many possible approaches as there are artists. Some, such as those in the Solarpunk movement, seek to portray the benefits of positive future change. 

Writers, artists, filmmakers and others with a more dystopic bent often dramatize how badly things can go wrong. Perhaps as a cautionary tale. Or because they’re pessimists. Or because conflict is inherent in a dystopic plotline.

Everyone takes an individual path, because each of us has our own unique voice. We must let the world hear our visions, presented from our own perspectives, in our own voices.

What values do you seek to embrace? What negative outcomes do you hope we avoid? 

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to  FCKH8 on Twitter and The Huffington Post for the quote-images in this post.

Representation Matters

Who gets represented?

The Artdog Quotes of the Week

Who gets represented? In my opinion, that’s one of the most important questions any writer, visual artist, actor, or other creative individual can ask.

So who gets represented in your creative work?

Who wins the final battles? Which character earns their true love’s heart in the end? And how does that true love look? Who plays the villain’s role? Which characters die horribly and get cast into the outer darkness?

The stories we tell and the pictures we create matter. Because who gets represented is a vital question for all of us.

The quote from Amandla Stenberg reads, "Projects that feature black actors and are created by black people are so important because what we see in the media dictates how we think about the world. Representation is so important for black kids growing up."
Amandla Stenberg quote-image courtesy of the Huffington Post.

Art is essential to our understanding 

There’s an essential reason why art matters, in whatever of its many forms and media. It matters because the stories and the visuals that surround us help us define ourselves and our world

I have blogged before about art creating bridges of understanding between cultures, but it’s broader and deeper and far, far more important than simply reaching out between cultures, important as that is.

This quote from Sonia Manzano reads, "When I was a kid I didn't see any Latinas on television--not just television but in magazines, in books, in anything . . . There were no Latin people who existed in the world that I grew up in, and I wondered how I was going to contribute to a society that didn't see me. I was invisible."
Sonia Manzano quote-image courtesy of The Huffington Post.

Representation is important

Representation helps people answer the question, “where do I fit in?” This is especially important for children. They understand the world in the way they see it explained to them, both verbally and visually. They respond to the representations they see.

But it really is a question for all of us throughout our lives. Just look at the assorted reactions to the recent “OK Boomer” fad. If people hadn’t cared how they were being represented, would they have reacted the same way?

Representation represents power

Now we’re getting to the base-level reason why representation is important. Why the question “Who gets represented?” is so urgent. Representation signals and is an outcome of power

The power dynamics of representation are too big and important a topic to address in the final paragraphs of this blog post, so look for more on this topic in blog posts to come!

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to The Huffington Post, which published two features that provided all of these posts. They are “18 Times Black Actors Nailed Why We Need Representation in Film,” and its sidebar slide show (scroll to the bottom), “16 Times Latinos Were Brutally Honest about Hollywood’s Lack of Diversity.” 

I also thank Green Biz for the background image of my “Representation Matters” header.

This quote image from Thomas Kinkade says, "Balance, peace and joy are the fruit of a successful life. It starts with recognizing your talents and finding ways to serve others by using them."

Struggling to balance

The Artdog Quote(s) of the Week

If you’ve been following my blog this month, you know I’ve been struggling to balance a range of unusually urgent demands on my time. As January draws to an end, I can close the book on several of those tasks, but the underlying challenge persists. always have a lot to do.

This quote image by an anonymous writer says, "The key to keeping your balance is knowing when you've lost it."
(Image courtesy of EnkiQuotes)

Don’t get me wrong. like it that way. But it makes me vulnerable to overload, if I need to take on extra stuff. Whenever I can, I try to anticipate when I’ll be most busy. Then I’ll either work ahead so I’m prepared, or cut back some obligations so I don’t drop any balls.

This quote image from Gary Keller says, "Work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. The other four balls--family, health, friends, integrity--are made of glass. If you drop one of these, it will be irrevocably scuffed, nicked, perhaps even shattered."
(Image and quote from Gary Keller courtesy of EnkiQuotes)

Working ahead is great in theory, but in practice it doesn’t always go as I hoped. Rescheduling till later isn’t always an option, either. Then I end up struggling to balance all the stuff I need to do.

(Image and quote from Betsy Jacobson courtesy of EnkiQuotes)

There are lots of demands to balance

Balancing the demands of family, friends, and health needs with work is especially difficult when you’re doing work you’re passionate about. Or even work that’s necessary to support the work that you’re passionate about. Support work includes things like running Amazon ads to sell my book, or supporting my platform by blogging.

When you’re struggling to balance everything, even doing the research that will enable you to outsource some of it may take time you don’t feel you have!

This quote image from Jessye Norman says, "Problems arise in that one has to find a balance between what people need from you and what you need for yourself."
(Image and quote from Jessye Norman courtesy of EnkiQuotes)

Thing is, nobody can “do it all.” Many of my friends have begun to retire. They don’t always understand why I can’t just spontaneously drop everything to do something fun, even though I’m “home all the time.” 

Do you get enough sleep? Eat nutritious, healthy food? Exercise enough? All of those things take time. All are essential to health. How does a person on deadline after deadline prioritize?

When I was younger, in the season of my life when I was rearing small children, I couldn’t write or make artwork as much as I do now. Anyone who thinks it’s easy to keep up the creative work when you’re also the primary on-site caregiver for a small child either has never actually done that, was guilty of child endangerment through neglect, or didn’t get as much creative work done as they claim.

A seasonal balancing act 

No matter what season you’ve come to, in my experience you’ll still find yourself struggling to balance the load from time to time. But the struggle is worth it. For a person who does creative work, the creative work can be the thing that keeps you going in tough times.

This quote image from Thomas Kinkade says, "Balance, peace and joy are the fruit of a successful life. It starts with recognizing your talents and finding ways to serve others by using them."
(Image and quote from Thomas Kinkade courtesy of EnkiQuotes)

The creative work keeps our juices flowing. But the ultimate creative challenge is how we meet the challenge when we’re struggling to balance the demands.

How do you meet that challenge? How do you manage the balance? Please share thoughts, tips, or questions in the comments, if you’re so inclined.

IMAGE CREDITS: All of these quote-images came from the same source, for once! I am deeply indebted to EnkiQuotes’ page of quotes about work-life balance. I literally couldn’t have created this post without them! Many thanks!

This quote from Sharon Daloz Parks says, "The stories we live and tell provide coherence and meaning and orient our sense of purpose."

Making sense of things

The Artdog Quotes of the Week

Life doesn’t make sense. At least, not until we make sense of it. On this blog I‘ve often written about art as a means of building bridges of understanding. I see “story” as a basic human need, because it’s essential to our making sense of things.

This quote from Dr. Pamela Rutledge says: "Stories are how we think. They are how we make meaning of life. Call them schemas, scripts, cognitive maps, mental models, metaphors, or narratives. Stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we justify our decisions, how we persuade others, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values."

An example from the Sunday paper

I recently saw an example of this. Kathleen Parker used The Wizard of Oz as a frame of reference for interpreting recent political events. This is story-as-meaning-making in its most elemental form. 

Could she have done the same basic thing using a less-well-known story? Maybe. But not if she wanted her readers to instantly know what she meant when she referenced characters such as the WizardDorothy, or others (identifying Conan the Hero Dog with Toto gave me a laugh. But I’m sorry–the Scarecrow was much smarter than Devin Nunes!). 

The Wizard of Oz is a widely-understood cultural element in the United States. If Parker had tried to make a point using a less famous story, she would’ve needed to take precious column-inches to sketch the basics of the story. But it still could’ve been effective. Using a story to comment on contemporary events is simply humans making sense of things.

This quote from Tom's Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie reads: "Facts are neutral until human beings add their own meaning to those facts. People make their decisions based on what the facts mean to them, not on the facts themselves. The meaning thay add to facts depends on their current story . . . Facts are not terribly useful to influencing others. People don't need new facts--they need a new story."

Using story as a framework for understanding

A few years ago someone told me that only if you “wrap an idea in a person” can you truly communicate the idea. I accepted this for consideration at the time, but I think it’s off the mark. The way you communicate an idea is by wrapping it in a story. This is very much to Mycoski’s point. Making sense of things depends on the story we use as a framework.

As you might imagine, this is inconvenient when we’re trying to persuade someone, and the argument is grounded in facts (such as research about climate change or the safety of vaccinations, for instance), but the person we’re trying to persuade sees things very differently.

It can be maddening when one person looks at a given set of facts and interprets them one way (“I want you to do us a favor, though” equals bribery and abuse of power), but another person looks at the same set of facts and sees something entirely else (“We do that all the time. Get over it!“). Clearly, they aren’t using the same stories to form their frames of reference when they’re making sense of things.

This quote from Sharon Daloz Parks says, "The stories we live and tell provide coherence and meaning and orient our sense of purpose."

Our stories about ourselves

Stories are even more important to us personally, when we’re making sense of things in our own lives. Our stories–our frames of reference–profoundly affect our interactions with the world and our understandings of ourselves.

I am a female. When I was growing up in the late-middle of the 20th Century, that meant I had certain commonly-assumed limitations. Girls “couldn’t” be athletes (not and remain “ladylike”). Girls “didn’t” do well at math (my own dear mother, who was usually all about encouraging my dreams, told me this as a straight-out). As girls, we had only three “respectable” career paths: secretary, nurse, or teacher (you’ll note which one I chose). 

Even more ominously, men had a right to leer at us, to touch us, to demand that we looked a certain way, and and to claim us as being “under their protection.” 

That’s just the way it was, we were told. By everyone in the society around us.

Recovering from destructive stories

Not everyone in my generation has managed to shake off those oppressive, omnipresent stories. Not all of us are even yet free of patriarchal frames of reference. And all of us most certainly were marked by them. In many of us they persist, even when we repeatedly stomp them down if they rise to the level of conscious thought.

This idea is probably top-of-mind for me right now because I’ve been working on a novelette whose theme addresses this. The stories that have always framed the POV character’s understanding  of herself and her place in the world are challenged. Making sense of new facts and ideas forces her to change some of her frames of reference. And that makes a huge difference to her outcomes.

The stories we tell ourselves are powerful. Life-changing. They can be anything from life-threatening to empowering, but one thing is certain. 

We need to be very careful what stories we accept, when we’re making sense of things.

IMAGE CREDITS: 

Many thanks to Images and Voices of Hope (ivoh) via their “Storytelling Quotes” Pinterest Board, for the quote from Dr. Pamela Rutledge. Thanks also to Libquotes for the quote from Blake Mycoski, and to Self Narrate, again via Pinterest, on their “Quotes about the power of story” board, for the quote from Sharon Daloz Parks

This is the title quotation.

The best part of writing

The Artdog Quote(s) of the Week

Last week’s quote(s) addressed my need (parallel with those who participated in NaNoWriMo) to revise the manuscript for A Bone to Pickthe second book (still very much in progress) of the XK9 “Bones” Trilogy. And I’m trying to cultivate Mabel Wetherbee’s attitude that “the best part of writing is editing.”

This quote-image from Mabel E. Wetherbee via Authors Publish reads: "Goig back and editing is the best part of writing; it's like reading an interactive novel. 'Oh I wish the author used this word here or had this dramatic reveal there . . . oh that's right! I am the author!'"

The beta-reading review

I’ve been reading through comments from my beta-readers who’ve read my first “finished” draft. I’m preparing notes and girding up my loins, because clearly, “finished” badly needed those quote-marks. I get it. No first draft is perfect (EVER). Every writer knows that, going in. And while writing a first draft is exciting and interesting and it definitely has its thrilling moments, I’m not sure I’d call it “the best part.”

Reviewing betas’ comments about where they connected and where it fell flat is both helpful and a little daunting. More helpful than daunting, because I’m an optimist with a high opinion of myself, and I like a writing challenge. But I would definitely say reading a critique is not “the best part of writing,” either.

This quote from  Marian Dane Bauer reads: "Never think of revising as fixing something that is wrong. That starts you off in a negative frame of mind. Rather think of it as an opportunity to improve something you already love."

The best part of writing

No, the best part of writing, for me, is the feeling that “okay, this time I really nailed it” in the finished draft. This is the one that passes muster with the editor, and comes out on the other end of the long process of rewrites, reviews, corrections, and more rewrites. The refining process can be tedious and humbling, but it’s worth it.

I’m still a fair stretch down the road from that goal, at present. There are still a lot of dead-wrongs, ho-hums, near-misses, and partial hits to work through. But I must go through all of them, no matter how challenging they are, to get to the best part of writing.

This unattributed quote says, "Don't get stuck in your past, use it to fuel your future."

Fuel for the future 

As with any creative project, there are parallels between this editing project with how we live our lives. Unlike writing a story, it’s not possible to go back and change the things we’ve done in real life. They’re in the past. They’re done. But we can learn from them. We can look back and think, “if I had done this one thing differently, what would have changed? How could I have inspired a better outcome?”

I think if we are self-reflective, we (a) are prepared to confront life “ahead of the game,” and (b) are in a better position to learn from the past. It’s not exactly “editing the past to suit ourselves,” but more like interrogating the past to learn as much as possible from it.

In life, as in writing, the best part is how we mine the past for the materials with which to build a new and better future.

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to Authors Publish, for the quote from Mabel E. Wetherbee (whom I can’t track down online! She’s allegedly the author of Whisper of the Hare and The Illusionist’s Pinbut I can’t find a primary source); to AZ Quotes, for the quote from Marion Dane Bauer, and to QuotesGram, via Pinterest (note QuotesWarehouse no longer seems to exist), for the unattributed quote about not getting stuck in the past, for the unattributed quote about not getting stuck in the past.

The quote from author C. J. Cherryh reads, "It is perfectly okay to write garbage--as long as you edit brilliantly."

Editing brilliantly

The Artdog Quote(s) of the Week

Yes, it’s been that kind of week, I’m afraid. We all have them from time to time, when “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” First of the month is always awash in reports and analysis. It’s my bad that I didn’t manage to write enough blog posts ahead of time to carry me through this predictably busy week. But the quote I really need to live out most fully this week and month is this one about editing brilliantly.

The quote from author C. J. Cherryh reads, "It is perfectly okay to write garbage--as long as you edit brilliantly."

Part of the reason I didn’t get more blog posts written ahead is because I was working on two different fiction projects. Blog posts and fiction-writing use a lot of the same brain functions, and although I’ve often dreamed of it, I’ve so far never found a way to do both simultaneously.

Writing is not editing

I have a friend who’s been known to show up at science fiction conventions in a T-shirt emblazoned “Write Drunk Edit Sober.” This quote is often misattributed to Ernest Hemingway (he neither said it nor did it, as far as I can tell). And I don’t think my friend actually does this either–he writes too many books, too well. Chrissy Van Meter’s fun essay about an experiment with it strikes an appropriate cautionary note.

I bring it up because the two functions are radically differentWhether you’re pantsing or writing from an outline (I’m a bit of a hybrid) writing original material is a hard slog sometimes (although other times you’ll get into a flow and that’s delightful). I can understand the “write drunk” impulse, if you think it loosens you up and lowers your inhibitions (It might, but not in a helpful way!)

This Louis L'Amour quote reads, "Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on."

But the one thing that is absolutely guaranteed is that no matter how well you write your first draft, it can always be improved. It should always be improved. As a craftsperson, you owe it to yourself. Even if it’s not total garbage.

I did not participate in NaNoWriMo (because, November! Terrible timing in my household!), but I know many people did. And by happenstance, here I am at the start of December with a new draft, just as they are.

Editing is also an art

Lots of writers loathe editing. I’ve never been completely sure why. Editing brilliantly takes skill, but it’s a skill a writer can learn, improve, hone, and then improve some more. It’s a lifelong challenge, but the reward is a satisfaction-level that’s well worth it.

Granted, it’s no fun to go to your writers’ group, your trusted circle of betas, or your editor and learn that they didn’t get the point, didn’t get the joke, or didn’t become engaged. But writing is a communications project, and it’s really valuable to know if your communication is actually communicating

This quote from George Bernard Shaw reads, "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place."

The only way to know that is to find someone else to look at what you wrotePreferably a group of somebody elses, whose opinions you respect. Then stuff your ego into a stout bag, cinch it up tight, and sit on it. And listen

NaNoWriMo writers and I are at that crossover point. Every experienced writer who finishes a first draft (or an interim draft) knows that editing brilliantly Is our only hope to take that mess of marvelous potential and turn it into a deeply satisfying reader experience.

So if you have a draft to edit (or any creative project to complete) going into December, take heart. Review your notes, clarify your vision, brush up on your techniques, or whatever you need to do. Then gird up your loins and wade into that next essential step.

May we all find our own paths to the goal of editing brilliantly.

IMAGE CREDITS

Many thanks to author Felicia Denise for the illustrated quote by C. J. Cherryh. To Trina Frederick via Pinterest for the illustrated quote from Louis L’Amour.  And to QuoteFancy for the illustrated quote from George Bernard Shaw.

A book can seem all-consuming in the homestretch for NaNoWriMo.

Into the homestretch for NaNoWriMo

The Artdog Quote(s) of the Week

We’re closing in on the end of November, and also the end of NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month)All month I’ve posted things to encourage writers, whether or not they’re specifically participating. But for all who are participating, this week you go into the homestretch

The toll that project fatigue exacts

Against a background photo of steep mountains, this Dale Carnegie quote says, "Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry, frustration, and resentment."

You’re so close! But sometimes, as we near the end of a long project, exhaustion sets in. Especially if you’ve been extending yourself to make your goals, you may be short of sleep or creaky from bending over your keyboard too long (Take time to stretch!).

Remember, the most important thing you’ll get out of NaNoWriMo or any sustained effort is not necessarily the draft you write (although acclaimed published works have originated from NaNoWriMo first-drafts). 

The most important thing

This quote from Octavia Butler reads, "First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won't. Habit is persistence in practice."

No, the most important thing is developing the habit of persistence. And here in the homestretch is where it comes most fully into play.

More important than talent. More essential than a genius idea. More crucial than the classiest styleThe secret to writing success is persistence. Keep trying. You’ve come into the homestretch for NaNoWriMo. Last-minute brain glitch, and can’t think what to write? Write anyway.

This Philip Pullman quote says, "If you can't think what to write, tough luck; write anyway."

Formula for success

Create the habits that put your butt in the chair (or wherever you write) and your hands on the keyboard (or however you interface with your word processor) and the words being written.

Create and sustain those habits. Eventually, you’ll succeed. Going into the homestretch and beyond, you’ll have developed the most essential requirement for any successful writer. Simply don’t let anything stop you.

This quote from Timothy Zahn reads, "A lot of brilliant writing minds out there will never be heard from because they quit. Persistence is a major part of all of this."

IMAGE CREDITS: Many thanks to BrainyQuotes, for the illustrated Dale Carnegie quote on fatigue. And my deepest gratitude to Early Bird Books and their feature “15 Inspiring Writing Quotes for NaNoWriMo.” Their article is my source for the quotes by Octavia Butler, Philip Pullman, and Timothy Zahn. Finally, many thanks to 123RF and “Bowie 15 for the featured image.

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