Trash & Treasure is a miscellany of monthly opinions on SFF, fandom and general geekness from Foz Meadows. This month’s entry takes a slightly different approach…
I’ve struggled this month with feelings of total inadequacy. It’s easy to be afraid right now – of the world; of the future; of politics – and I’ve let those fears take root in me, until there’s hardly anything left untouched. I don’t blame myself for being afraid, but I want to take ownership of it. As Carrie Fisher famously said, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway,” and for me, right now, the it in question is writing.
Last year, something happened in my professional life that utterly shook my confidence. It wasn’t that I no longer felt I had stories to tell; it’s that I lost faith in my ability to succeed in the industry. That sense of failure festered and grew, and as my anxiety about the political state of the world increased, the two became intertwined. What was the point in striving for professional acceptance if the profession in question might not survive the next decade? Written out so baldly, it sounds absurd, but irrationality thrives in dark places; in the quiet thoughts we shrink from acknowledging openly, but which nonetheless cling to us. The two fears became intertwined in me, a terrible loop of illogic: I was afraid of the industry because I was inadequate; I was inadequate because I couldn’t belong to the industry; I couldn’t belong to the industry because it was doomed; and because it was doomed, I was afraid of trying.
None of this self-deprecation happened in a vacuum. Politically, the world is an on-fire garbage can, and the last few years have been personally difficult across a number of axes. Though the latter sphere has improved dramatically in recent months, it’s had the paradoxical effect of making me feel even worse about the former: how dare my life get better when so many people are suffering? How dare I feel happy in any way when other people can’t? Never mind that the world has never and will never exist in a state of total emotional parity, or that there’s no connection between the things that are making me happy and the things that are hurting others. Brains are tricky and hearts are worse, and the fact that we manage to wrangle any sense from their electrochemical bickering is the singular human miracle on which all others are founded.
Here’s the truth: I loved stories before I understood that their cultivation was largely managed by industries; I love them now on days when I cannot love myself; and even if the worst sort of future happens and we have to rebuild from rubble and sweat, if I’m here, I’ll love them still. Stories are the axis on which my world has spun since before I had the words for it, and if I can fight for nothing else on a given day, I can sure as hell fight for that.
I say this now as much for myself as for anyone else who needs to hear it: loving stories isn’t selfish, not even when life is hard. It’s a cliché to say that SFF is the genre of escapism, but even when we vanish into other worlds, the real one still remains, and we still have to live in it. If stories make that living even a fraction easier – if they give us even a tiny pinch of imagination or strength or joy, especially at times when those things feel scarce – then we ought to consider them worth it.
I don’t know what the world will look like a year from now, or five years, or ten, but neither does anyone else, and that’s not unique to this moment. It’s only that we fool ourselves into thinking the present is permanent; that there’s nothing we can really do to render it unfamiliar. And yet that’s the premise of SFF, the single draw that pulls us into countless books and films and shows: what if a world existed, and we didn’t recognise it? What if things were different?
Stories are save points. Use them to heal, to mark your progress, to take a break from the monsters outside – and then, as ever, keep going.