Sand and Ash 29, Flight of the Scions 11, suicide, and racism

Okay, this is a bit of downer of a blog post. If you want cheerful, skip to the Flight of the Scions bit at the bottom.

Sand and Ash 29: His Memorial

This chapter is a bit of a wish-fulfillment among other things. As I mentioned last week, there were some parallels to the suicidal period in my past.

I still remember when I decided to go through with it. There was… a lot going on in my head. For some reason, I decided to give myself a week to find a reason not to; I believe that was the subconscious part of me that knew that I couldn't. I'm just not very good at understanding my own emotions.

For a week, I wallowed in this horrible despair. I ran through so many what-if scenarios: what would it feel like, could I do it, should I do it? And then into other questions that made me even more uncomfortable: how would others take it? I spent hours going over those scenarios, working out what I thought were the responses and putting myself into their shoes.

At one point, I remember saying “if someone just said hi, I'd stop”. They didn't. I was told to go away more times than I remember. Plus the school, in their infinite wisdom, decided to put me in class with the guy who was suspected for attacking me. But that wanting to hear the words was that irrational desire, that belief that any affection would be enough. In that week, actually the days leading up to it also, I was a nobody in the world.

I also couldn't ask for help. Depending on the person, they would mock me or dismiss my struggles. I'd hear about “you are just having a bad time” or “suck it up” or “life happens” and then I'd be shoved aside. Or, in different cases, it would be the dramatic “OMG!” that would have just made things worse. Neither situation was what I was looking for.

You know what stopped me? Compassion. I couldn't do it because I couldn't hurt others. That pacifistic nature of mine, that desire not to harm anyone, extends to emotions. Yeah, I make mistakes a hurt people (like the girl in high school who stopped talking to me because “you know the reason”; over twenty years later, I still don't know what I said that pissed her off and but it still stings when I remember it) but I couldn't intentionally harm others. Killing myself would just be one last attack, I couldn't do that to anyone.

As a side note, Hyperbole and a Half has a beautiful discussion about the same topic. I would highly recommend you read it and part two.

I think this chapter ended up being a way of talking about it. Rutejìmo got the one thing that I was looking for in that week: to know someone loved him. Not to assume it but to explicitly say it and make it so obvious it can be seen through the dark haze of depression.

Yes, Rutejìmo wasn't planning on killing himself but the parallels are there to the events when I was seventeen.

What I consider interesting is that Pidòhu saw Rutejìmo throw his voting stones away. As a protector of the valley, he knew that no adult would ever do such a thing, it was the measure of importance in the clan which meant Rutejìmo felt he no longer needed to have worth. Pidòhu's first thought was that Rutejìmo was going to kill himself. He also know that Rutejìmo wouldn't do it while Mapábyo was home, which meant the first night alone was going to be the most dangerous for someone who was ostracized among his own family and unable to speak. It was that moment, watching the rocks bounce off rocks that Pidòhu realized he had to do more than just be with Rutejìmo, he had to show it. Even if it meant breaking some rules. He was willing to do that because he loved Rutejìmo as a brother.

Chimípu, on the other hand, doesn't understand what Rutejìmo is going through. As she worked it out in Sand and Blood, she already knows she is going to die for her clan. The only way she was going to leave the world was with someone killing her. It is part of being a warrior of the clan, but the last book was her working through it and accepting it. She has faith, if you will, so suicide is something that would never occur to her.

Despite not understanding how far Rutejìmo had fallen, Chimípu still came to cave to stop Rutejìmo from leaving. She did it because she loves everyone in the clan, but there is a special place in her heart for Rutejìmo. He is her spiritual brother but she is also driven to protect him from harm, including himself. So, there was no hesitation when Pidòhu asked her to violate Tejíko's command and spend time with Rutejìmo.

Love is a powerful thing.

I know that what I'm writing about isn't the One True Answer™ for depression and suicidal thoughts. It was what I wanted when I was going through, but not what pulled me out.

Now, I realized that when I got to this point, it was probably too late. I didn't trust the people around me to ask for help. That is something that takes months and years to establish, that mistrust. Something to consider for those who suffered like I did.

Flight of the Scions 11: Stonewait's Gallery

Racism is awesome.

Actually, it's a terrible thing that I honestly don't understand. I'm not conscious of when I'm racist (or sexist or anything else -ist). I try to view each person individually and then to deal with them on an individual level.

Needless to say, I don't work well in very large groups because I can't personally know them.

It was at WisCon that I was watching a panel on racism that I realized that I was making the wrong assumptions with writing. My world was too perfect, where gender and race didn't matter in the slightest bit. I've always leaned more toward “females are awesome” but I didn't really consider race in my writing. My characters were neutral, which readers assumed to be white.

The problem is that I didn't want to have a bit character that was non-white just to show that “racism is evil”. That would be worse than just ignoring race entirely.

This world, and this story, isn't as perfect at the last one. There are little points of friction, such as this chapter where Kanéko's race is put into question, but they aren't major overarching themes. She deals with her own struggles, not having magic, with this being more of an aspect of her life.

One advantage of having the story start out in the middle of nowhere is that I can teach myself how to be explicitly racist gradually. I hate it, but it fits the world. It fits how people work together and the general attitudes people have of different races; it is realistic and, more importantly, a part of the culture I think is important.

Garèo is used to far worse slurs. In his story, Kin-Killer, he fights with a group of white supremacists and encounters a lot of friction. He is in charge of the students because he yells the hardest, but he also knows that they are going to see him as less than human because of his skin color.

The others are more interesting to me.

Maris doesn't care. People are people, she has dog ears and Kanéko has darker skin. Her father has dark ears. There isn't anything special about either. As far as she concerned, she loves everyone equally and forgives almost instantly. She's simply doesn't hang on to anything to be really racist, plus in her environment, everyone is different.

Ruben, on the other hand, is painfully aware of every tiny little detail about her. But, in the greater details involved, her skin color is nothing more than a set of values that he has collected about her. Her weight, her history, even her accent is constantly analyzed every moment he is awake. He could probably tell her how much she weighs to the gram.

Pahim… well, Pahim is the hardest to portray. He's a teenage boy, so as far as I'm concerned, he is the one who is struggling to be polite because he really wants to get into her pants. Not to mention, she's the baron's daughter, so he thinks he has a chance of getting into her pants and worming his way into her life so when she inherits her father's title, he could be a baron. (Well, not really, this culture would call Kanéko a baroness and Pahim would be the “husband of the baron”, but that's close enough for him.) So, Pahim cares and didn't like Kanéko's skin, but he is willing to push it aside for the greater goal (of getting into her pants).

My personal view of race is closer to Ruben's. We are all human, a species as a whole. Mostly the result of evolutionary forces that shapes us into a mobile ball of fat, bone, and muscle with some gray jello in our heads. Race is simply a survival trait (darker skins survive sun better, lighter handle cold and sunless areas) or an evolutionary trait to ensure the propagation of the species as a whole. There is no such thing as lesser or greater, just different values.

I hate double-standards. I don't like that someone won't treat everyone equally and I've strive to do that myself (I'm incapable of telling if I succeed though). So, that means I'm inclined to create utopias, places where these things don't matter. In Sand and Blood and the desert culture, women are treated equal across the board (so far). That equality is closer to my natural inclination, but it also removes conflict.

Happy stories don't make always make good stories.

It actually takes effort to think about racism, which is a good thing. Instead of being content to enjoy my happy world of “mostly white people,” I'm pushing to do more. Not enough according to some, but I'm still doing it.

I just don't like it.

Now, as much as I see it that way, the reality is much different than I want the world to be. Non-white and non-males (and non-cis-gendered too) are pretty much shoved down in this country. Color blindness only works if everyone does it (much like communism only works if everyone participates) but they don't.

That truth is the frustrating part. As a white male, I can't really see the true story behind racism (or most other -isms). Maybe I'll get a hint of that, but not the living it day-to-day. But, I don't want to write with that assumption that the struggles are minor things appropriate for a 45 minute episode on some TV, but at the same time, I honestly don't think I could write the full depth.

But, I feel the need to try and fail. I'm sure I'll get racism wrong. I'm confident I will get everything wrong. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to try writing it. The very fact I dislike writing it means I need write it.