Last month I talked about how I often take the issues that are troubling me and work them out in a fictional medium, but the reverse is also true. Sometimes I write things, and then those things seem to manifest in the real world. At the time that I began writing Absinthe Moon, there were the hintings and murmurings (at least amongst the Conservative crowd that then surrounded me) of political controversies and conspiracies. When have there not been, right? But I feel like much of what was proposed as possible during the Obama administration actually displayed itself as a real possibility during the administration that followed. Add to that a pandemic and climate change, and the world feels very much like a dystopian end-times novel about now. Except maybe more boring.
Foremost to my mind, and frankly the one that gives me the most internal disquiet, is the theme of vaccinations. Of course the controversies surrounding the issue are not new, but never has it been so forefront in world events. First let me say that I am not a anti-vaxxer. I firmly believe in the benefits of preventing avoidable death and illness from common diseases. What concerns me is the for-profit nature of the medical healthcare industry. But even that is not why I wrote vaccinations into the story. Really it was just a convenient way of saying that this culture of New Londinium and the patriarchal and elitist/ablest way in which it is run and maintained, is impregnated into the psyches of everyone who lives there. Even for those in the know, even for the most self-aware, prejudism, ableism, misogyny, racism are truly engrained into our paradigms. We can we are not any of those things, but until we have stood in the shoes of someone who has been injured by these things, we really can’t understand in what ways our mindsets are unnecessarily or unequally biased towards our own best interests. Simply saying you don’t agree with these things isn’t quite enough. It’s necessary to really examine them and consider in what ways we can do better.
But really the theme of vaccinations is multi-layered. There is also the idea of being forced to inject or ingest or metabolize something we didn’t intend to and would not have chosen to do on our own. I think of the “mickeys” slipped to unsuspecting women in bars, or the “one last drink” method of liberating a woman’s mind, quite against her better judgment and interest, even if it isn’t absolutely against her will, with any mentally lubricating substance so that, if she isn’t more likely to say “yes” at the end of the night, she is at least less likely to say “no”. Only what happens if this is not just the norm within a dating scenario, but the government and society as a whole is implementing such a device on the unsuspecting? I mean, if a power has the opportunity to control everything that is put into you for the sake of their own profit, then why wouldn’t they? Right? And it’s not that I totally believe this is happening, I just think it could. And what if?
Are these inoculations, in the way that they are set up in Absinthe Moon, a metaphor for rape? Possibly. Are they a metaphor for power and domination and control? Definitely.
On a different topic, I had to laugh when I wrote about the Warehouse Conservatory as a means of ensuring that the Resistance has uncontaminated food, and then just weeks later, the city where I live announced the construction of a state-of-the art indoor farming facility. That, to my mind, is really cool. Now when will be see the waste-to fuel plants implemented? Of all the things I invented in this book, the Great Forge and its technology was not one of them.
The discoloration worn by the citizens of New Londinium was intended to be a metaphor, of course, for the issues of prejudice surrounding race, which topic has certainly been thrust into the spotlight in the last year or so. It’s also a statement about cultural attitudes toward beauty and the intersectionality between ableism and elitism. It’s also, in a way, a revisitation of themes Oscar Wilde addressed in the Picture of Dorian Grey (which book I love, by the way.)
There are many other themes that either seem to have risen to the forefront of the cultural stage since I wrote this book, or which, perhaps, I have only become more aware of, and I’ll add to the list as I think of further examples.
In my most recent read-through, during the final proofing process of the paperback for Odessa Moon, it struck me as significant that the topic of “male likeability” is as prominent in the book as it is, when the topic seems recently to have been introduced, at least on social media, into the dialogue of those presently reassessing our cultural paradigms (a really valuable thing, I think). And I’d just like to add here that if you are one who doesn’t like the tone of these self-reflective cultural reassessment that is going on, (though if you do feel that way, I doubt very much you’ve read this far) then let me just say that the reason I think the conversation is important is, in part because it teaches us in real time how to adjust the way we think about our culture and our times and how we communicate about them. Nothing has been decided except to say that we know we can do better. What that better will look like is, as yet, undecided. Hence the need for conversation.
I had never actually given it a lot of thought before, how history and the advancement of women’s rights has changed the dynamic between men and women so that we no longer marry because we “need” men in the traditional sense. When I was born, women had to have a husband’s permission to own a credit card, to make medical decisions about herself, to engage in a legal transaction, to have enough money to live. So many women married simply to survive and to have their material needs provided for. Now we don’t even need men to legitimize sex and childbirth. That need negated a lot of the character traits that women now required to be tempted into a commitment. If I have to marry to survive, probably I’m dreaming of true love, but, failing that, I’ll accept someone I don’t hate. It also means that the possibility of being alone for the rest of my life is very real because I’m quite happy doing for myself. What I need in a partner is kindness and affection and forthrightness and a good sense of ethics and fairness. Men now have to work to be likeable. And truly, I don’t mean to say that men generally are not, but there is a lot of that mentality out there still that men can do as they like, they can be shitty and and unkind and throw their privilege around, and women just have to take it. I know, I’ve been in the dating world these last six years and I’ve seen what’s out there. There’s a lot not to like. But I’ve also met some really wonderful men who are taking these dialogues seriously, who are examining themselves and their place in the world and adjusting accordingly. And of course there are, and have always been men, who have championed more equity in our societal constructs, in our systems, and even in relationships. Those are the men I write about, after all.
Can I manifest one of those, please?