The heat is unrelenting. Yesterday, we were essentially confined to the middle parlour and bedroom, as the temperature in my office exceeded 90F. In the "cool part of the house" the temperature reached 86F. Somehow, in the haze of heat and being too addled to get work done, we stupidly managed not to flee for to a library or some other AC-protected place. We stayed here. All day. And around 7:30 p.m., my body temp went up to 100F, and I stopped sweating, and I started slurring, and...yeah. So, I spent the whole evening cooling my body down as best I could. The fever broke quickly. The meds that make me sensitive to heat were likely responsible. At least we head out to Readercon 22**** tomorrow and get three nights of AC. Also, if you are owed an eBay package, we apologize, but it won't go out until after the convention. Monday or Tuesday. It's just been too hot to pack books and get them to the p.o.
A terrible, strange dream just before I woke. I lived in a house at the end of a small lagoon or inlet. I was younger, maybe a teenager. There was a thin and frightening man outside our screened-in porch (side of the house, an old house) speaking Yiddish. I called to my mother, and when he spoke to her, he spoke English with a Russian accent. There were great trees, like pecans and oaks, all around the house. Later, we went somewhere, and when we returned home, and I saw that there were men in the water "walking" dolphins, the way one does with sharks or dolphins, trying to revive them. There was a sort of turn around, and as my mother used it to point the car towards the driveway, I saw more dolphins far up above the shoreline. They were tangled in a fence, though the fence was really fishing net, and the dolphins there were actually ichthyosaurs. Thick underbrush grew all around the netting. I wanted desperately to help. I got out of the car, and, looking back at the inlet, saw that the water had become violent, a great frothing, sloshing mass, churned by the trawling nets of gigantic factory-fishing ships that hardly even fit into the tiny body of water. The snap-on heads of yellow rubber ducks were washing up onto the shore. There was a child greedily gathering them. An orca had stranded itself, and I tried to help it, but was afraid, and never went very near. In the foaming white water, orcas and sharks and dolphins and ichthyosaurs all struggled to stay clear of the nets that were pulling up great mountains of fish. And this is all I can remember.
My thanks to everyone who left comments yesterday regarding "triggery." Some were quite good. I was especially amused by lady_theadora's:
I first saw these trigger warnings when Coilhouse began to use them all the time, as you've previously mentioned, and I think they're pretty damned redundant. I mean, really, you're on the fucking internet people. You're always one click away from porn, snuff, and/or Nigerian royalty. If you haven't figured that out yet, maybe it is time you learned.
Indeed. And the thing with Coilhouse posting those warnings, it was almost enough to make me stop reading the zine; Coilhouse posting "triggering" warnings is like the Sex Pistols apologizing for...well, anything. Absurd. Anyway, yes. I have a story, which I've never told publicly, and which might be too personal and TMI and all that, but I think I need to tell it, as partial explanation, and in response to lm. Unfortunately, there's not room here to post lm's entire comment (this is going to be long, as it is), but you can see her/his full comment appended to yesterday's entry. I'm also dropping paragraphs from the quote, to save space (and I apologize for that). There are slash marks where graphs end and begin. In part, lm writes:
...I have definitely been in a situation where it would have been incredibly helpful to be warned about potentially "triggery" things./Namely, when my mother hanged herself several years ago, I frequently found myself watching films with unexpected scenes of someone being hanged or committing suicide. This was something I was working very hard NOT to picture or think about, and as a result, I basically stopped watching new visual media for about a year - and because my primary social outlet was a film night, this turned me into a hermit, which also really wasn't great for me at the time./I did actually search online to see if there was an online database of non-friendly-to-suicide-survivor films, but there was none./I really didn't expect any handholding through this problem, and the only time I was genuinely annoyed was when people who knew my recent history recommended movies/shows to me that ended up containing said "triggery" material...but on the other hand, I wouldn't have complained one bit if the media had contained a disclaimer!
Okay. Now, that said, here's my story:
On Christmas Eve 1995, five months after the suicide of Elizabeth, the person whom I loved most in all the world, I was alone in the carriage house (where I was living) in Athens, Georgia. I'd spent the evening writing one of the last scenes in Silk. It was an especially graphic and disturbing scene, and I finally said fuck it, I can't do this, not that night, not alone. I drove to a nearby theatre (I was still able to drive back then), and bought a ticket to the first movie on the marquee, which was the vapid Jumangi. When it was over, I still didn't want to return to that empty house, and so I bought a ticket to see the midnight screening of Heat, with Al Pacino, which turned out to be a halfway decent movie. Anyway...
Near the end of Heat, Pacino's character's daughter, played by Natalie Portman, attempts suicide by slitting her wrists in a hotel bathtub. This is precisely the way that Elizabeth had committed suicide (the big difference was that the Natalie Portman character lived). The scene was graphic and well-played and emotionally sort of devastating. Maybe not to everyone, but to me. I watched it. I didn't look away. I cried through the rest of the film. When the movie ended, I went home and went to bed.
Now, was the film "triggery"? Well, yeah. Certainly, in that it put me right there at the moment of Elizabeth's suicide and elicited an intense reaction from me. But was that something I should have avoided? Should I have been furious or resentful (or whatever) that no one warned me? Should I have complained to the theatre management and demanded my money back? Should I have posted to Usenet, warning everyone? To all these questions, my response is an unqualified "no."
Seeing the scene, being forced unexpectedly to confront it, making it real for me in a way it had not been, was the true beginning to my road to learning how to live with a pain that I knew would never, ever go away. Oh, it would dull with age, and with other relationships (though it was almost a decade afterwards before I found myself in a meaningful relationship), but I will always, always be haunted by the event. And, by the way, I'm not a suicide "survivor," because I didn't attempt suicide. I'm a bystander. I'm someone who dealt with the consequences. Maybe that's just a matter of semantics, but I feel it's an important distinction.
In the years to come, I would spend a lot of time in therapy dealing with her suicide. I would spend almost all my writing time writing about it (and I still do); suicide is a primary theme in my fiction, especially the novels. And it was by these means, by persistently and directly confronting the greatest horror in a life that had had no shortage of horrors, that I reached a place where, usually, finally, I no longer wanted to follow her. Not by flinching or avoiding or staying away. By facing the truth head-on. And I'm not an especially strong person. At least, I don't see myself that way. I did what my therapists advised, and what felt right to me, and by happenstance, beginning with accidentally seeing that scene in Heat. Oh, it fucking hurt, yeah, sure. But it was also my path to recovery.
So, my point is simple. I do not - will not - accept that we recover from the tragedies of our lives by avoiding the fact of them. We do it by confronting the fact of them, and art - in all its forms - is one path by which we can do that. I don't see this as a "your mileage may vary" thing, either. You look into the abyss, and the abyss looks into you, and you keep looking and don't dare turn away. You tell the abyss, "You can't have me yet." (to murder and bend the words of Friedrich Nietzsche) You learn to understand and cope. But you don't flinch. You don't look for warning labels so you'll be protected from the truth. You develop calluses, scars, and this changes you forever, and it makes you stronger.
Oh, and my thanks to kaz_mahoney for this quote from Akira Kurosawa: To be an artist means never to avert your eyes.
And this is long. And that's enough.
Not Ever Flinching,
Note: I have requested NOT to participate in an official signing at Readercon this year, so if you want stuff signed (and I'll sign as many books as you bring), I'll be signing after my reading and my How I Wrote Two Worlds and In Between solo talk. And, if you catch me in the hall, that's usually okay, too. Common sense dictates when it's not okay to ask me to sign (restroom, when I'm eating, when I'm having a conversation, when I'm rushing to get to or leave a panel, etc. - yes, all those scenarios have actually been played out).