(Originally appeared on Patreon on the 6th of December, 10 days ago)
The election of Trump — literally a caricature of stereotypical US flaws of arrogance, greed, vanity, and privileged brattiness — to the presidency has added notes of fear and worry to my vision of the future.
Well, I’ve long been a bit of a cynic. Maybe I should say more and louder notes of fear and worry.
Maybe you have similar feelings.
But also maybe I have a little extra insight into what that fear can mean, what damage it can inflict on us. If we allow it. And assuming the damage isn’t involuntary and external like a trade war wrecking the economy or World War 3 doing more literal wrecking.
I have the insight of having been paralyzed by fear of the future.
In my boyhood, my family moved frequently. Some people deal with that well.
I, an emotionally sensitive boy with an unstable home life — poverty, parents who argued frequently and loudly and worryingly — did not deal with it well. At all.
I cycled through ten schools (that I can remember — I won’t swear that there wasn’t an 11th) from kindergarten through ninth grade.
I stopped remembering peoples’ names, even their faces. Because they were transient. Because the world was unstable. Because I felt I couldn’t count on anything. Not anything at all, especially people.
To this day I have great difficulty remembering names and faces. Or what people do for a living, what their hobbies are, what they like and dislike.
I had become afraid of the future, and so I began to behave as if the future did not exist. As if I did not have a future at all.
The future only existed for me when I read science fiction. The future of science fiction was an abstraction. It was conjectural, imaginary, of the mind. And if it was in my mind, it was something I could count on.
It was safe in a way the future of my own life was not. Science fiction was my refuge, along with fantasy and history.
Maybe some of you feel the same.
As I progressed through high school — a relatively stable time, perhaps ironically; I stayed in the same school all four years but avoided engaging, waiting for it, too, to change — my fear stayed by my side. My grades declined. My teachers were a faceless blur, along with most of my peers. When it was time to consider college or a trade I avoided taking control. I avoided making any decisions.
I’d already decided, down deep in my marrow, that choosing was for suckers. That the fearful future was a negative thing that inflicted itself upon me. Beyond my control, a force of nature, like a tornado.
The only thing I could control, in my mind, was science fiction. There, I could wish for a future and see it happen. There I could hope.
I wrote a bit back then. Poetry and the occasional short story.
I had no ambitions for those stories. Imagining the futures that other people wrote was safe. But if I wrote them, let others read them, sent them out into the world to be considered for publication, tried to actually be a writer — that would be entering the real future and having real hope and I wasn’t ready for that at all.
That would require setting aside that fear of the future. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, think about it, even dream a little about it.
I wasn’t ready, then, to face a hope outside of fiction, a hope that would carry with it the responsibility of work and the responsibility of change and the responsibility of failing and having to try again and again and maybe look foolish in a way others might see.
Fear is like that. It grows. It expands its roots and extends its grasp from one part of your life to another. Like pernicious weeds engulfing field after field if left unplucked.
It took time and pain and effort and support and even lucky circumstance to overcome those deep-rooted and broad-branched fears of the future in my own life.
And overcoming does not mean they are gone, does not mean that I no longer have to fight them. I do. Nothing rooted so deep is uprooted without leaving scars. The fear left many buried seeds. I will always be weeding, every day I live.
Maybe this sounds familiar to you in some way.
You know, it’s good to have a refuge like reading science fiction. It is also good to realize that you cannot live in a refuge.
I cannot live in a refuge. Whether it’s from my own writing or the uncertainties of the rest of the world or from the damage that Donald Trump, President can do to our society and the rest of the world.
Having rediscovered hope, I must hope. And real hope means doing what you can to make the future a little better.
For me, that means writing about the future and trying to get paid for doing so. It means making myself plan and strive for a future of my own even when the fears and the doom that comes with them are upon me yet again.
It means advocating for a better future for us all. Taking up what tiny corner of that enormous task I might be able to grasp, even if it’s as puny as raising my voice in a blog or on social media.
It means trying to remember names and faces even though I have come to realize that I will never really be good at it, not after spending so much time hopeless and disconnected.
It means writing things like this even though it is painful and I worry that I will look like a fool (of course I will, to someone — someone always sneers).
Because maybe this will seem familiar to you, and maybe reading things like this readied me to have hope again, many years ago.
Here’s a little bit of microfiction for you to enjoy. As happens often in fiction, it’s based on a real place and a real experience. I’ll leave you to decide which parts are fiction and which are not.
Copyright 2015 S.A. Barton
The eighteen-wheelers roar by above; the bridge over the creek is shorter than they are long.
Below, in the creek, cool water parting for thin boy shins, sun beating his back darker, darker, the boy crouches, peering down.
His hands part the toy cataract above a stone wearing a sleek skirt of algae filaments.
Backwards, the greeny-brown crayfish flees into the shadow gathered under the stone.
Another eighteen-wheeler approaches; low diesel thunder.
Little fingers chase after the crayfish, darting through the dark under the stone. Above, thunder, thunder, thunder, closer.
The boy grunts, smiles, flips the stone, algae skirt flaring wild.
The crayfish squirts backwards all in a burst.
THUNDER the truck mounts the bridge.
Long, long, bony arms streak out of the dark under the little bridge, faster than crayfish and boys, stretching out of a lank green shadowed crouchy shape.
Overhead the truck thunder recedes and dissipates into the distance.
The shallow creek waters fill, then pass over smooth a lost shoe mired fast in the mud.
The crayfish climbs inside, taking refuge.