We live in a cynical world. By some metrics, it becomes more cynical as time goes on–about people, institutions, even science. If it doesn’t hammer a nail literally into wood, or figuratively into the crushing weight of the Protestant Work Ethic, it’s a waste of resources, time, energy and attention.
Late stage capitalism, folks.
It didn’t take a pandemic to gut the arts. That is just, sadly, helping it to stick. Or on the other side of that coin, it merely highlights the decreasing societal esteem for the arts.
Even the term “arts” itself has become, for some, code for “lazy hippies” who scribble in chalk on the sidewalk, or children who have their “head in the clouds” because they want to dance instead of study algebra to the point of headache.
Do something useful with your life.
That’s the refrain from voices that grow louder, and coarser in this increasingly cynical time.
As a writer and actor, I naturally want to defend the arts as an institution(s). Much of what I try to do, and have always tried to do in life ties into some aspect of the arts.
Yet, defending such huge mechanisms is not in everyone’s purview. We may not have the funds to donate to the opera, or we may not have the skill to volunteer or the stomach for straight-up activism.
That’s fine, because I have good news; worry less about defending nebulous concepts like THE ARTS. You can dedicate you time, effort and opinion to defending the DNA of all the arts, imagination.
You have an imagination. You’ve known sense Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers, and probably before that. You create things in your mind. Sometimes they end up on paper, or in clay, or on stage, and sometimes they do not. Sometimes creations are only in your mind. But it takes imagination. When you acknowledge this, and acknowledge that these creations internal and external are worth brainpower, (and heart power), you are defending imagination.
When you opt not to laugh out loud at a child’s “silly” game or rudimentary drawing, you are defending imagination.
When you read fiction, to yourself or to others willing to listen, you are defending imagination.
When, instead of mocking a toy, or cartoon show, or other “goofy” medium designed to enhance imagination in the world, you applaud it, or share it with those who will benefit, you are defending imagination.
When you would rather take a kick in the gut than throw a blanket on someone’s pursuit of healthy fantasy, you are defending imagination.
When you ask colleagues to talk about their flashy clothes or “wild” hair color, instead of labeling same, you are defending imagination.
You don’t have to be an artist of any kind to recognize the importance of defending imagination, because as I said earlier, you have one. Maybe you have forgotten, or perhaps you lived through the tragedy of family and/or friends that strangled, quashed or numbed your imagination because it “served no purpose,” or “it was time to grow up.” If you’re reading this now you have my permission to no longer give a shit about that. Get your imagination back.
And if you happen to be an artist? Yeah, I am pretty sure it’s your duty to stand up for imagination in all of its forms. A photographer should be the first to defend writing. The painter should take a keen interest in making sure less-fortunate people have access to musical instruments. Actors should not be able to stomach a deliberate thwarting of someone’s dreams of being an illustrator. We must be willing to defend all of it, and more, in order to keep alive the seed it all springs from: imagination.
We live is cynical times, and, for the time being, a crumbling American society in the very least. Your son’s poem or your nieces impromptu dance will not fix it. But the message you emblazon into those souls by allowing them the freedom to pursue such things will eventually lead to the type of people, type of society, that will fix things.
Defend the imagination.
So, J.K. Rowling has pissed off a lot of people lately. If you have somehow not heard about her recent unfortunate comments regarding transgender people, (as well as her equally unfortunate attempts to “clarify” them a day later) clink on the above link. Suffice to say, people in and allied with the transgender community are offended by this insensitivity.
Adding an element to the sadness sf how many people in those communities have drawn inspiration from the Harry Potter series. In many cases a transgender person has lived their whole life with the characters of Hermione, Harry, and the adventures they and others had in and around Hogwarts. The particular affinity is due in large part to the overarching thread of tolerance for the outcast and protection of the weak and the willingness to stand up to aggression and evil, even at the cost of one’s own life that runs throughout the seven volumes of the original series.
Truth be told, I have never been so convinced that the Harry Potter books, (which after years I finally finished reading) represent so wholesome and powerful a set of ideals as I have described. But My personal assesement of a bunch of novels is not the issue. The issue is that a generation, nearly two generations now of children and young(ish) adults has vocally, enthusiastically attached themselves to and sought refuge within the so called “Potterverse.” And now, understandably, many are just as vocal about how betrayed they feel about Rowlings less-than-supportive comments in regards to the transgender experience.
I’ve heard more than a few such people decry Rowling, but declare that “Harry Potter” himself, or “Dumbledore”, or any number of characters within the books are actually responsible for writing them. In so doing, they can preserve the magic (literal and figurative) that the books have brought into their lives, without having to support transphobic tweets and commentary from Rowling.
It’s all presented a situation that is almost as fascinating as it is depressing.
As I said, I’m not a Potter superfan. Nor am I a member of the transgender community. (Though I am an ally.) I therefore cannot experience first hand the nature of such a potential betrayal as this. Nor do I have any authority by which to advise how anyone in that situation should proceed. But as an author, I had some thoughts I couldn’t ignore about all of this.
To begin with, I say, more power to you if you can still embrace the work and despise the author. I don’t think I would be able to do so. There are already movies I enjoy but have not watched in years because of revelations about the actors that appear in them. There are chain restaurants I no longer eat at, despite the quality of their food because of statements by their owners on such issues. I do not claim to be an activist, and I realize almost any company probably has a dark shadow lurking in its structure somewhere. Nonetheless, these are steps I have taken, and probably will again at some point.
Novels are such deeply rooted emotional projections of an author, believe me. No matter the voice or POV or genre or context, if an author owes their success to anything other than dumb luck, a large portion of who they are is within the pages. In the setting, the hero, the villain. It doesn’t mean they agree with the villain of course, but when they themselves start to act like a type of villain in real life against your type of person, how can that be ignored?
I understand the theory behind it; it’s a theory with some positive, powerful implications for all writers. It is this: we can create something from the depths of our hearts and minds that people can fall in love with to such a degree that it becomes almost alive independent of us. Once a book is out there, the author’s job is in essence finished; it no longer belongs to only the author. It may, by some view, not belong to them at all anymore.
Multiply that concept by a skillion, and you have the Harry Potter phenomenon. It is a compelling comfort to think that as authors, we could give so much life to something that our own striking of the match leads to a world-changing blaze that doesn’t even require our presence.
And knowing more about our real-life heroes isn’t always such a great idea. Stars we look up to might be rude to us, dismissive, just plain unpleasant to be around if ever we somehow meet them. Which is why I tend, in most cases, not to inquire much into the life of an artist whose work I love. There’s just too much of a chance of disappointment. I could almost recent someone so lousy creating something that meant so much to me.
Sometimes however, such as with Rowling, the stain is so large, the behavior so public, we cannot help but catch wind of what they have done or said. When that happens, no matter how much we wish a fictional character, or a fairy of some kind created the art we love ex nihilio, we cannot escape the fact that a human, with unpleasant views to us, has actually done so. Our love of what they created has in fact contributed to them becoming famous and powerful enough to make offensive statements on Twitter that millions of people dissect.
I can’t lie to you, I couldn’t stand it. I mean we’re not talking about an artist who may bathe rarely, or belch loudly in the next booth at the fancy restaurant we happen into. We are talking about a dismissal of an entire type of life, with roots in some even more unsavory opinions and perspectives.
At that point, does the work truly live beyond its shameful author? Can we actually separate creation from creator? Furthermore, should we even try? (Several torn down statues all over the world would suggest to a large degree that we cannot.)
Again, I don’t know. I reassert that I find no fault with anyone who despises the author, loves the work in the face of all of this. But I’d love to hear more from someone who is in fact doing this, because it all seems like fruit of a poisonous vine now. Comment if you are successfully engaging in this kind of separation.
I won’t explain either the George Lloyd situation or the overall huge systemic rot in the United States as regards racial injustice and bigotry. If you’ve bothered to read this, you already know, but if not it’s easy to learn more about via simple reading of the news.
I will say that we all must actively fight racism. That’s not a bromide or a bumper sticker, but an imperative that calls for action.
The nature of this action will vary, from person to person, family to family, community to community. Some may be more comfortable with marching than giving a speech or writing an article. Others may find their platform in the digital sphere alone. Still others may volunteer their clerical services for an organization that does heavy lifting in this war. A few super-folks may have the power of all-of-the-above.
But, you cannot do nothing. And at this point in our history, the goal posts of “nothing,” have changed. Doing nothing is no longer merely a lack of doing a specific thing. Doing nothing now also includes “tut-tutting” our way through the news, shaking our heads in the car on the way to work as we hear the news briefs, or my personal favorite, “I don’t do politics.”
In other words, more is required now from those of us less directly effected by race issues than at any point since at least the Civil Rights Movement.
I am obviously writing this today. I will without doubt write more in the future, on this subject as well as my usual topics. But I need to do more, or at least find a way to do this writing thing on a greater scale than I currently do. I have no idea how the hell I am supposed to do that at this time. I only know, that one way or another, I must force myself to find a way.
And so do you, whoever you are, especially if you are white. (Not, “even if you are white. Note the difference.)
It’s natural to be frightened of the possibilities of joining a fight. But it is in fact your fight, mine, his and theirs. Ours. We can’t let that stop what we can do.
And we can all do something, if we admit something needs to be done.
But know that justice, rightness must be the prime reward, not thanks. That doesn’t mean we cannot make a difference, though.
True, the pages, tweets and viral videos may not stamp your particular actions into the annals of recorded history. When these momentous times are studied by what I hope is a more enlightened age in our future, our name may not be listed anywhere. Our faces, our signs, our words, our chants, our conversations, our arguments and lost friendships, and rubber-bullet-pierced flesh, and our chemical-burned lungs and our bloody noses won’t be recalled in vivid detail.
Yet, as we live through these things, and brave these things and incorporate these things into who and what we are and what we want to be as people and as a society, let us be comforted and ignited by this truth; what our hearts put forth from deep within us as we seek to right these ancient wrongs will cast a ripple, invisible to the naked eye but of lasting significance to the whole of the universe.
Our personal identities may dry up along the long arch of time, but may the the echoes that we send into the cosmos be a testament to our battle today for justice, for dignity, for safety and liberty in the face of enormous resistance from all angles of today.
Let the radiation of our humanity that we send into the ether never record that we did but sleep through these times. Insist that those unseen galactic waves of your soul contain the epic of your fight for those who most needed it while you walked the earth.
The road stretches much past our personal horizons, and the obstacles are plentiful and powerful. But choose your weapon, begin the journey and know that it will, it must, matter in the end.
I have major changes to announce pertaining to the business side of my author life.
Until further notice, all of my books, current, and any I will publish in the foreseeable future, will be free in e-book form, outside of Amazon. As my blog has often mentioned, Amazon will not allow an author to give away his own books on Kindle, as often as not. So if you want to download any of my books, I advise you to take a non-Kindle approach for the time being. If you want to contribute the 99 cents, however, (how they will all by force be priced on Amazon), go for it. Thanks.
I will continue to charge for paperback versions of the book, though as previously, the price will be modest, considering that as of yet, I cannot transfer the true covers to a paper template.
As my sales numbers over the years have shown me, I am, despite my best efforts, poor at marketing and at business in general. (At least with my current resources.) Yet despite my obvious shortcomings in the business side of indie-publishing, even I know going into the aforementioned change that it is very much against common business sense.
Yet the creative, actual writing side of being an indie-author has begun to suffer over the last year or so in ways I am still coming to terms with. Therefore, a degree of symbolic triage is in order. If I am to be an author, I must tend to the persistent, significant creative difficulties I have been experiencing. The results of that tending are as yet uncertain, but there is one aspect of all of it that is certain; I cannot attempt to fix that while also worrying about making some semblance of business success. So I will, in essence, no longer utilize the all important business-man alter ego that is so crucial to conventional indie-pub success.
I have little to lose if the business side of my author career continues to be what it is; quasi-anemic. But I have quite a bit to lose if I can no longer rely on my craft and power of writing and storytelling. The choice, in the end, is an obvious one to me.
Books, novels, short stories all may, in fact probably will emerge from this time of examination and experimentation. When and if they do, they will be made available to you, as I said, for free download. But my normal publishing schedule of roughly one novel every summer is for the time being suspended. It will now occur when it occurs, and I will talk it up when the time comes.
I intend to continue writing here on the website, as what i think is useful of thought provoking material presents itself.
I have never been ashamed of mentioning my place on the Autism Spectrum. I don’t usually have much to say about it, but not due to embarrassment. Only because I do not define myself based upon it.
Yet it doesn’t make it less true; I am in fact on the Autism Spectrum. What has been known as “high functioning,” though that term is falling out of favor. I am also in what once upon a time would have been referred to as Asperger’s Syndrome, though that designation has been dispensed with by professionals.
Until such time as a better set of terms comes along that can be understand by the generally public, I am sometimes forced to make use of the archaic “high functioning” in order to make a point. In context of this post, “high functioning” will refer to those who are closest to appearing fully adjusted, (or at least adaptable) to their society’s norms, and able to communicate, via written or spoken word, to the extent that someone lacking a specific training in ASD reality can understand.
Or, to put it more bluntly, those who do not seem Autistic to most casual observers.
Which, in effect is the purpose of my post today, the middle of what is Autism Awareness Week.
We HF’s ( a term I will use here as a sort of replacement for “high functioning,”) are often dismissed as not needed assistance or consideration. Sure, we may say the odd thing here and there, have an intense interest or hobby, even act eccentric at times, but developmental disorder? Couldn’t be so. After all we walk, talk, bath, often times drives cars. I am a writer and an actor. I experience obvious emotion, and have rare if ever been seen to have anything remotely describable as a “meltdown.” Surely, if all of this is true, I can’t possibly require any special accommodations on a job. I just need to work a little harder.
After all, there are those who cannot speak to anyone, even their parents. There are those who barely acknowledge outward stimulation, even pain. They would never be safe left to their own devices for any length of time beyond a moment or two. They are the ones in true need of help. What business do the HF’s have in claiming a deficit in face of that?
Well, consider Major League Baseball, which every season have approximately 700 active players. Mike Trout, of Los Angeles is widely considered the greatest in the game right now. Possibly the greatest in a generation. He plays major league baseball.
So does Chance Sisco.
Who is Chance Cisco? He is the backup catcher for the Baltimore Orioles. He may not be in the same caliber of Trout. But he is in fact in the same league, literally. He is somewhere else on the spectrum, if you will, of MLB talent.
I, Ty Unglebower, am not on the lower end of the MLB spectrum. I am nowhere on it. I do not, have not and will never play MLB level ball. Chance Sisco, not even currently the top catcher on a single team, is hundreds of times the baseball player I will ever be because he is Major Leaguer.
Back to Autism. I am on the Spectrum. Those more “profoundly” Autistic, (such as my own niece) are on a different part of the Spectrum. Her needs differ from my needs, but we are both in that “league” if you will.
None of my friends are on the Spectrum at all. That isn’t to say they have no problems, but it is to say their problems are not oriented toward any aspect of Autism. They are not in the “league” if you will. Or, I am not in theirs. Try as either of us might, we cannot compare ourselves to the other. Which is to say, just being on the Autism Spectrum at all means I have specific handicaps that, though not readily visible are nonetheless significant in context.
Yet, it is easy to dismiss my needs, and those of other HF’s, because we do no look the part. To extend the metaphor further, it would be like expecting me to play just on the bench of the Orioles, just because I can hold a bat, and identify all nine of the field positions. But if I were placed in an MLB game, not only would I perform poorly, I would likely get killed, or at least severely injured in the process because I am not at all qualified to be ANY of those 700 players.
Sadly, even certain people and public institutions, specifically designed to help people like me cope with my situations have assumed quite a bit about me and my abilities based on what I appear to do, not on what I explain are my difficulties; as though my place on the Spectrum is less worthy of advocacy because it is not as obvious to the general public. The result? I am sometimes expected to go to bat in an MLB game; and I have to hope I don’t get myself killed, never mind find a way to get on base.
One of my biggest struggles is the public’s notion that I in fact do not struggle, or should not have to, at least. But remember folks like myself as well as those who are in a more clearly defined “league.” As with Major League baseball teams, none of it is as easy as it looks.