Monday, August 30, 2010
The Changeling Child
That being said, here comes today's blog:
First off, thanks to my cousin Gabriel for talking people into reading this; it makes me feel all warm and squishy. Or that could also be the face it's way too hot in Tennessee in August and that warm, squishy feeling is me starting to melt. All things are possible.
One thing about having chicken pox is that the antihistamine I've been taking three times a day to stop itching is making me dream like crazy. I'm not normally a person who dreams a whole lot, but I've noticed before when I take antihistamines I have some pretty wild dreams. (Now that I think about it, probably the only good thing about being too sick to work the last several months is that my skin allergies haven't bothered me, since I haven't been around cardboard and metal polish, and I don't have to worry about people brushing against me with weird soaps, detergents, or lotions. It's so weird being allergic to cardboard.) So, tangent over and back on track, the other night I had a really great dream that inspired me to work on a new story, which in and of its self is rather inconvenient considering how many other stories I have to work on at the moment, especially my "baby" which is languishing mid-chapter page 160-something on my flash drive because I can't figure out how three people cross a tundra (it's more complicated than that, but said subject is a whole blog on its own).
Most authors whose work I enjoy usually say something about doing all your research and massive outlines before starting to write the "meat" of a book, but I've always hated outlining, and I'm more of a research-as-I-go type person (exception being character names... but that's something else that requires it's own blog). More important than any of that, I think, is deciding what questions you want to address in a story. "Good" books ask one question, usually a what-if (i.e. what if animals rode in a dump truck - don't laugh, that was my favorite book when I was two), which tends to be simplistic and easily answered by the text with no outside though processes required. "Better" books have the what-if, some moral / religious / ethical questions, and a what-you-should-think explanation on the second set of questions, usually the author's opinion, though "mediocre" and "better" books are often decided by whether said author is going to try and beat their opinion home with a baseball bat. Religious fiction - pick your religion, I like Wiccan / Pagan fantasy and certain Christian sci-fi - tends to be the worst; there are times when I feel like shouting at the author "okay, point made, your religion is perfect and you're wonderful because you believe in it, I'm slime because I don't. Can we get back to the story now?"
The best books, however, are those that not only present questions, but also present the questions in such a way that the reader afterward is questioning them self. When finished reading, you look at the world with new eyes, wondering about your own life, about the person next to you, about justice, about faith, about eternity...
The best books change us from the inside out.
Now, I'm not the great American novelist, but I know what I like, and I know what moves me, so usually the stories I'm working on are inspired by the questions which are bothering me the most when working on said story. My "baby" has many questions fueling it - does memory determine reality? What is fate; does it exist or is it shaped by choice? Is it better to do evil honestly or to cloak it in the name of religion? Should a person live with the ones they love always in danger, or die so those they love are safe - and thus have no time to be loved at all? I'm still sorting out my newest story, but one question that I know I have to include in it hit me rather hard: what does it mean to be human, and how is one determined to be human?
My muse / best friend / non-biological twin (we're not related but our birthdays are so close together we might as well be twins) Chris and I had this discussion last night (pity him greatly, he's the one who usually gets to listen to me rant and rage when what I'm writing is not going the way I want it to), and his opinion is that it is choice and the availability of choice that determines whether or not someone is human. Let me explain this better, the premise I am moving from is that one of the characters is a "changeling", or non-human who replaced a human infant. Their DNA is identical to human, they were raised as human, they don't remember ever being anything but human. Said character is decidedly, however, not human. Chris believes that as said character has the option at any point to choose to no longer be human, but rather revert to their non-human state, they are not human. At the same time, he also considers that any human who as the ability to change forms (his example was a man with a ring of invisibility) is also no longer human, as a regular human has no ability to choose what form they take.
While he makes a good point, I'm just not sure how much I agree with it. Anyone who has ever seen someone who has undergone far too much plastic surgery knows that just because you are born looking one way doesn't mean you will die in the same form. So since people who undergo plastic surgery choose to change their appearance, are they no longer human? What about people with tattoos, or piercings, or ritual scars as used by some tribes in various countries. Humans are not born with tattoos, piercings, or ritual scars, but am I less human because I have pierced ears, or because I had to have a tendon in my knee removed because of a birth defect? I chose both things, the knee surgery especially not something that most humans have to choose to do, but I don't feel it makes me any less human.
So, then, what is it that makes me human? It's not an ability to think, any animal that decides to chase after prey instead of staying inside when it rains can think. Language? Apes (most notably Koko the gorilla) are fully capable of communicating with humans when taught sign language that humans can understand (which leads me to the conclusion that it is incorrect to think of animals as being unable to speak, but better to think of humans as being unable to hear). Koko has also been recorded mourning for another gorilla after it died, even putting flowers on the corpse, so feeling emotion is not a purely human ability either. One of my mom's dogs is so loyal that at times she is neurotic; when my mom and her husband went to Hawaii for two weeks last year, Breeze became so upset that she almost chewed her foot off, and the vet was threatening to give her Prozac unless she calmed down. After my dog Norlis died, Breeze became so afraid that anyone who left would never come back that when she could tell someone was leaving, she would shake so badly that the chair she was in moved. Loyalty, connection, a sense of family; watching the dogs that I've been around for the last 14 years, I'm fairly certain at times they love deeper and longer than most people I know. Insects can build, and orangutans use tools, so it isn't either of those.
This brings me to an even bigger question, one that I think is more important out of a book than in it: if it's this hard to decide what it is to be human, why is it to easy to say one human is not as good as another? Why is on religion better than the next, why is one race superior, why is one sexual preference preferable? I am human, but I don't know what it is that makes me human. All I know is that I am no better a human than anyone else. But then again maybe I'm not human, maybe my choices have just made me a changeling child.