I've been talking with publishers recently about a book I've just finished writing. I have heard some remarkable things from publishers regarding the kinds of stories they are looking for. Many are looking for the 'edgy' stories; some are looking for more conservative old-school adventure tales. However, no-one, NO-ONE, is looking for dystopian novels anymore.
For those who don't know what Dystopian means, it's mostly the opposite of Utopian; they are stories of a very, very broken world, and they were hugely popular just a few years ago. Stories like The Hunger Games, Divergent and Maze Runner, filled bookshelves (and movies theatres!).
I wonder what it does to a person who grows up reading books like this? How does it shape their worldview? I didn't read these books as a youngster. And though I have read many of them in recent years, none have inspired me like the stories of my youth. I grew up with Hitchcock's 3 Investigators, the Famous Five and Rogue Squadron and watching a lot of Adam West's Batman. These are just a few stories in a huge list.
I can bore you with what I was reading and watching in my developmental years because those stories formed me immensely. And though I'm going to out myself as a mega-nerd here (you knew from my previous list!) one of the formative things for me was STAR TREK. Many of you want to switch off here but bear with me for just another paragraph or two.
Star Trek is one of my favourite universes for two reasons. One, because it is a full, vibrant and creative universe and it's freaking cool! Two, because it deals with the aftermath of Unity, not division. It is about alliances between races, exploration, and guiding principles of redemption, not destruction.
We need to tell more stories like this, of how things worked well when we came together, worked in alignment and sought innovation (whether we like Star Trek or not.) Whether you're a writer or not; you need to be 'righter'; someone who is about fixing things, seeing potential and opportunity, and striving towards it in community.
We need more 'righters.' And our writers will help inform them.
In case you missed it, we are suffering from an epidemic here in New Zealand, and if we are honest, it's a pandemic striking the Western world. It's called Suicide. We hate to talk about it until it happens, then we try to avoid using the word - in case it's contagious (and maybe it is) while celebrating the person who died in ways we regretfully didn't while they were with us.
We live in the age of celebrity, where the attention you can draw to yourself depends on the wealth you can attain or the price you can charge. Partner this with the entitlement that we all feel and the prominence of Social media, we've created the climate for a perfect storm.
I remember it said to me, 'people all desire to be celebrated, they become frustrated when instead they are simply tolerated.'
It seems to me that articles published around the Suicide of a young person or celebrity, contain the same language so as not to glorify the act, lest it becomes contagious; '[this] death was not considered suspicious', however, at least here in New Zealand, the bottom portion of the news article is littered suicide support hotlines and help that, unfortunately, is forced to passively wait until you and your need, to come to them. If it is contagious, where do we find a vaccine - how do we develop healthy ways to address, nay, combat suicide. Our heartbreak can't help but glorify the act in some way, to mourn death is to celebrate life. Especially when the life lost is of someone with so much potential, someone we'd praised in our head - but not appreciated aloud enough. Suddenly with their devastating passing, all the things we should have said come bursting to the surface, and arrive on a Facebook wall, Instagram story or on flowers and cards left at makeshift memorials.
The suicide statistics break me, but I fear that the society we've built created the climate for them.
We've celebrated celebrities, while everyday heroes go unrewarded or un-congratulated because they've not stopped to update their Facebook or LinkedIn with their newest achievement. We give advertising dollars to people who attract attention to our product, not those who use them. We value the words of people reading scripts over those reading research. We believe everything we read 'published' on the internet. We believe the hype of hyperactivity.
but this hyperactivity doesn't excuse our lack of activity. Does it?
Stop to sing louder about our unsung heroes!
Stop to look for those who don't naturally draw notice and thank them for being in your world.
Especially if you are on the other side of this, maybe you're not a singer; you're the unsung. You notice the unnoticed because you are.
But you will not always be.
If you're struggling with suicidal thoughts, hear me: You matter, regardless of who tells you, or how people celebrate you. You are loved. Whether the people around you say it to you or not, it's true. The world is a better place with you in it. If you don't hear these words, find new friends, find a new community. Find hope among new allies. We're all in this strange new world together.
The alternative is lonely; it's our life without yours. It's you missing out; never sees the reconciliation of people celebrating your existence, because we never get to see your potential reached together.
You are loved; I love you. I can say this because, it's not usually the mean people that think about taking their own lives; they're people who have built up walls and hardened themselves, hurting others in the process. It's tender, compassionate people that are in danger; creative people who have so much to offer that they don't think will be recognised. I want to see what you can do; create; be! And I'm not alone.
Neither are you.
I'm sure I remember it nostalgically because there is always a twilight, lens-flare-filled filter attached to the memory. We're riding pushbikes around the culdesac, or collection of streets that made up our suburb hemmed in by Australian bush. We're building 'treecubbies' and secret clubhouse's in the trees. This bush was epic too; carved out with fire trails for easy access by fire engines during summer, and 'mean jumps' for punk kids during winter. They were just nice walking trails for old men and their German shepherds, but to me, they held all the secrets of my childhood.
All of them, like the time I thought I killed my friend Alan. (We'll get to that in a later blog.)
I haven't had memories like these in a long time, in fact, I've had moments like this rarely in adulthood. Our recent three years in Nashville stand out to me. And I wonder what is the common thing that applies the twilight Instagram filter to these memories?
I believe its the idea of 'neighbourhood' or even local community. In the last few months, I have realised I may be addicted to it because its loss has left me craving, daydreaming and if you ask Amy, rambling about it like a crazed, addled maniac. I miss living in a hood. I miss knowing neighbours. I miss the community you hardly have to leave home for.
I miss the neighbours who would borrow my kids, feed them and bring them back exhausted but incredibly happy. I miss the adventures to the swimming pool and synchronising visits with the friends, the family bike rides, the trails, the sunsets with a sizzling bbq grill and a cold beverage.
Life in a city like Auckland, New Zealand (where we now live) isn't like that. I guess we don't have the suburbs like we had in Australia and the United States? We don't know our neighbours, and our kids don't live near their friends (we, 'the parentals', don't live near ours either.) How do you fight for community and fellowship in an environment like this? How do you keep your house alive with the noise of friends and family laughing at all hours?
I wonder if the next great disruption won't be technological but communal, a return from social media to actually being social? A way to bring true community back to cities - and to modernity? I want to find that! It's a conversation I want to be a part of.
I don't know what it looks like yet, but when I find it - I want it to be more real than an Instagram filter.
My son came to me last night. It was just after he’d gone to bed. "Daddy, I’m afraid." He doesn’t use the word 'afraid' when he’s stalling. Sparrow also doesn’t normally have the intensity of looks he had in his eye; I knew something was up.
"Momo is going to get me."
Here’s the thing. I banned YouTube. In fact, I’m curating the kid’s screen time hard! Momo shouldn’t be able to get him, Teen Titans barely can - I made damn sure of it!
"The kids at school told me about it...him. Her. Which is it?"
I told him it is a sculpture, it’s art, and art should never hurt maliciously.
Despite the fact he didn't know what maliciously meant, he nodded, cuddled me close (sure to rub his warm cheek against mine) and remained in my arms for a long time.
Madness! I explained to Sparrow all I knew about Momo, a sculpture that has gone viral with murderous intent but is not nearly as cool as Chucky, and is a perversion of what it’s sculptor intended it to be. He’s still afraid, in spite of my promise of swords and ceramics and of prayers and angels with AK47’s guarding his room.
I’ve had anxiety all my life, from mild to fetal-on-the-kitchen-floor-in-a-puddle-of-my-own-salty-tears. I’ve been there. Stress is fear of the unknown. But it’s more than that; it’s fear of what I perceive to be in the unknown, in the dark caverns of a reality that hasn't and may not ever happen.
What I have realised is my imagination is my best (imaginary) friend and my worst enemy. It goes to places beyond reality when trying to predict the future or think about what is ahead. I naturally go to the most horrific, sci-fi, blockbuster, Shakespearean tragedy scenario, and plan for it.
What you think about matters. The places you travel in your mind matter. I have to train myself, not to be prepared for the worst-case scenario because it doesn’t bear dwelling on - but to expect the best case scenario and live in the faith and hope of it. It’s tricky - but it's far more friendly to my mind (and my wife's').
My imagination, your imagination, our imaginations, are a gift. They're truly remarkable and just one of the things that separate us from 'the beast'. But we have to wrangle them as if they themselves were beasts. Tame your imagination, and it will create wondrous things, places and things with you - teach your kids to do the same.
But gosh darn it! Don't let your imagination take the lead. I've been to those caverns. They're dark and full of frightening things...