Why I go to WisCon to be uncomfortable

Yesterday, I posted about trigger warnings in my book. I had some short conversations on both Ello and Facebook. The Ello ones were typically against what I was doing, much in the same vein that Jim C. Hines' post brought up there were people against it. The Facebook ones were more personal (e.g., direct friends). Shannon Ryan pointed out that an author writing a warning was more of a courtesy than censorship because I'm choosing to do it instead of someone warning a reader off. It was an interesting observation and one I agreed with.

The Ello conversation triggered some thoughts, though. This one line in specific called to me:

[...] in our generation we think being alive is an invitation to being uncomfortable with ideas that we find disturbing.

I do think literature (and whatever I write) should be uncomfortable. I think what I write in Sand and Blood and its sequels are probably uncomfortable for a number of people. There is bigotry, abuse, and personal struggles. They aren't stories of glorious heroes running around saving the world (I break some of that with Sand and Bone). Some of the other stories I want to write will also be uncomfortable for some readers.

I think that is great.

I also don't think that giving a warning in the front of a book diminishes from that. There are readers who will have triggers toward a specific scene, but they can handle it if they are mentally prepared for it. I'll use miscarriage for example. It still haunts the women in my life who had lost unborn children. Some of them will never read Sand and Ash because of it. Others will know it is there, prepare mentally, and read it anyways. Knowing that it is there doesn't mean I'm censoring any more than anyone who struggle with those things will not read it just because they are there. I know at least one rape survivor who read Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, they just skipped chapters.

Side note, I haven't found a good way of identifying themes on a chapter basis that wouldn't ruin the plot. That would be the equivalent of “skipping the scene” in a movie, but I don't know a way of doing it smoothly. Plus some of the themes cover many chapters. In Ash, the miscarriage is spread out across three chapters but it influences the character until the end of the book, nine chapters later.

I realized that I seek being uncomfortable in more than a few instances in my life. The most recent is my attendance at WisCon. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am frequently depressed on the last day of WisCon but I keep coming back.

This discomfort is important. I honestly don't think you can really look into yourself without a mirror. And no physical mirror can really reveal the heart. Instead, the mirror has to be others around you.

Take for example, cultural appropriation. I thought about doing a post about it, mainly because I didn't see why it was a bad thing or even that it was an issue. But in the process of planning that post, I realized the fact I couldn't see “why” was actually a problem with my thinking. It was an issue but my blindness toward it was the problem.

As an apparently cis white male, I'm in the majority for this country. Even though I don't really see myself as having a specific culture, I do. But I couldn't see it any more than most people don't realize that every aisle in the grocery store that isn't “ethic” is the majority culture. We don't label the aisles as “non-ethic” or “everyone else”, but that is there.

Needless to say, I didn't write that post. Instead, I have this uncomfortable spot in my head with a sign that says “you are missing something” but no real answers. I don't have them, I don't know how to fill in that gap. Events like WisCon that at least let me know they exist. Years later, I might figure it out, but it takes a while to first find the hole and then to fill it up.

One way of filling in that gap is simple, listen. For the most part, I go to WisCon to listen to others. To see the world in a different way than I see every other day of the year. To hear things that haven't intruded in my reality for over four decades simply because I wasn't in a position to experience them.

When I hear something that makes me uncomfortable, I fight that initial urge to ask questions or argue against it. It is there, I hate that it is there because there is so much in me that wants to say its wrong, but I know it isn't. I don't want to minimize the experiences and observations of others simply because they are just as true as my own. When someone is aggressively ranting against whites or males, they have have something to say and it is just as important for me to hear without responding as it is for others to listen also. I know it is personal but not at the same time.

When that happens, I focus on remembering what caused me to disagree and set it aside to look at it later. To plan but never write a post about it, to use it as inspiration for a story to help me understand something I have a blank spot for, or simply to learn how to fill in those gaps in my thinking.

The reason I get depressed coming home from WisCon is not because it wasn't fun or because no one loves me, but a simple side effect of listening to others and integrating their views into my own. These are things that aren't figured out in an hour or a day, it takes a long time. Sometimes it takes years to fill in the gaps and see the world outside of my own senses.

Another reason for depression is that I realize I'm doing something wrong. Either one of my unintended microaggressions is revealed or my reasons for doing something may be well-meaning but ultimately insulting. I'm sure including Kanéko in my story will probably insult someone as will the Japanese/French/First Nations influences I used to create the desert culture.

Some of those revelations change my life. I used to greet almost everyone while walking on the sidewalk. I don't because someone showed that some women suffer from being greeted simply because they are female. Since I don't have the ability to say “I like everyone”, they just see yet another guy trying to talk them up. And that's an honest problem, I only did it because I hated the anonymous work crowds in Chicago where everyone desperately pretended not to be surrounded by others. It is a minor thing to me, but it could ruin someone's day.

I honestly would say I'm not an ally, a feminist, or anything else. I'm just fumbling through life, trying to be as open and welcoming as I can be. As such, that requires me to go into the uncomfortable places to learn where I have failed.

I love WisCon because it makes me uncomfortable. I like listening to people talk about their lives and reveal something I can't ever understand. I love when I feel the passion and fire, not only because it scorches my own basis of understanding but because it is a story I haven't heard. I because it makes me uncomfortable, it changes me, and it helps me fill in the gaps to (hopefully) grow into a better person.