This post is ostensibly about a short story anthology I have the honor of having work accepted into, but it’s also about how important I think this anthology is and what it means to me to have been accepted.
I have this recurring thought about my own stories. I worry a lot of the time that they’re not relevant enough, that nothing I have to say is important in the scheme of things. Why should my words be important when I am mostly a frivolity of a person—a scared little girl who grew into an anxious woman who mostly feels helpless in the face of the oncoming future? Why should I even write these things? I ask myself. Why do I furiously jot down poetry that no one will ever read or build convoluted histories for main characters in novels that I may or may not write? Why, when the words won’t come, do I collage instead?
Why do I find such comfort in manifesting my small, awkward beauties when so often they’re only for me? If I was the last person on the planet, would I continue to leave my words splattered all over every surface? Would I feel the need to prove that I was here if there was never anyone else to see it? I think I would. Writing has always been a mechanism of hope for me and I learned long ago that even if I’m not Writing I’m writing. The words will out whether I want them to or not.
Lately, I am made of helplessness. I wake up every morning singing a little song I made up about it in my head, because singing my frustrations to myself is a thing I started doing a while ago so I didn’t shout them at others. This is not the romantic young Elizabeth Schuyler in Hamilton helplessness. This is not beautiful or desirous or even in tune. This is the overwhelming sensation of fear that is not creeping, but that is already here.
I wake up feeling helpless and I check my phone to see what new fresh horrors were perpetrated while I slept: what gag order has been signed, which environmental agency has been targeted, which group of people have been beaten or incarcerated for displaying the rebellious unrest that was to be lauded when it shook up status quo two hundred years ago, but demonized when it tries to shake up the status quo now. I don’t have to tell any of you that the current status quo is dangerous for the majority of people living not only in the US, but in the world. It needs to be shaken. I should do more shaking.
So I wake up feeling helpless. Helpless for myself and my friends and for strangers who are stronger and braver than I am and who are being vilified for it. My friends, who are from different places and made up of different ethnicities, who are mostly female or non-binary or transgendered and mostly queer, who are mostly millennials, who are mostly no stranger to being told that everything about them needs to be cleaned up and trimmed down and beaten into submission. My friends who are entirely, bravely, proudly non-compliant in the face of all of it.
I should stop singing quietly and go back to shouting loudly. I should do it for myself and for everyone I love and everyone I admire. There’s power to be had in making yourself seen and the words you use to do it. There always has been and always will be power in stories. That sounds trite, but honestly, when the day is being ruled by “alternative facts” that are little more than falsehoods spun into pyrite, what else can you do but counter with fictions that show actual truths more deftly and completely than their news sound bites ever could?
Fiction has always been a vehicle for truths and a way for those who have a hard time shouting—or who have already shouted until their throats gave out-to be heard. It’s a tradition I’ve always wanted to be a part of and it’s for that reason that I find telling stories to be a mechanism of hope. In fiction I can sing for myself and for others. In fiction I can see myself reflected and subsumed and reborn. In fiction I can find the tools I’ll need to move past this helplessness and into strength.
The main character in the short story I submitted to Undercities exists in my head because she was someone who didn’t exist outside of my head when I would have needed her most. She is made of my fears and doubts about being a bisexual woman and also being a woman with no real connection to her family’s history. At this point you can just imagine me as Molly Grue and my main character as the unicorn in The Last Unicorn. Where were you when I was new? I shout. I’m here now, she says.
No person should live in a vacuum. No person should be told by their family that they don’t exist or that they need to hide themselves. No person should have to accept a false narrative that overwrites their own lived existence, and yet, so many of us do. Anthologies like this are one small step toward reclaiming our voices and our visibility. Being encouraged to share my stories and allowed to write things that reflect my hopes and fears is one small step toward working past the helplessness.
I am very proud to have a story included in the Undercities anthology, and proud of the hard work the editors and other authors have done in promoting the voices of people who aren’t often allowed the breath they need to sing. We need each other and we need each other’s stories. Please support them when you can.
As of this posting there are 21 days left for funding in the Undercities Kickstarter. You can check it out here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dirtybirdspress/undercities-a-short-story-anthology