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Otherness

BadPower
Hal Duncan says:

So ... Saturday. Had a few beers then headed off to my first panel item -- about whether the centre of SF is at the margins, chaired by Zara Baxter, with Geoff Ryman, Johanna Sinisalo, Elizabeth Bear and meself mostly gabbing about *not* being the Other. Geoff made a particularly fascinating comment about "Queer Time" which really wowed everyone, the theory being that queer writers often do this fragmented discontinuous thing with chronology, making weird non-linear (transtemporal?) connections that maybe(?) reflect a sort of dissociation from the linearity of familial living. Apparently it came from a thesis which used his work as an example and after an initial "nah" reaction he found it really intriguing. I was sitting there with jaw open, thinking "man, I do *exactly* that!" Is it a solid theory? It was certainly intriguing.

(Emphasis mine.)

If I'm understanding this correctly, it's not so much the writer's queerness that would affect their appreciation/use of linearity, as their marriagelessness & childlessness, yes? People, then (including me), without the predictable markers of 'wedding', 'birth', 'rearing/schooling of children', 'children's weddings', etc. People like us are also not so linear. We are, potentially, all over the place, if we want.

It's not the first time I've wondered: what kind of grounding can so-called family life give? Me, I can barely plan a meal let alone a life, let alone someone else's life. Sometimes I think I have come so far adrift of the regular moorings of regular life that I can't possibly have anything relevant to say about humanity & humankind. Pregnant people mark out time, you know, they understand by Christmas how old their unborn, unknown child will be. They talk about 'July' & 'October' as if these things have meaning. By then, they will be on leave from work, their baby will be about so big, they will be thinking about moving house. I am fascinated by this kind of talk. I do not understand what life will be like next week, even. What if something happens? What if everything changes by then? I might be hit by a bus. I might be *on* a bus and a stranger might say something to me that might explain everything -- I mean, everything! -- I have been looking to have explained.

Something remarkable might be cusping right now and, without pattern or mooring, I remain open but always, it must be admitted, in a kind of half-exhausted anticipation. Whatever happens next, I might not have the energy for it. The world has changed, spun out of control, enough times that I don't assume I will recognise its next incarnation. I am, therefore, fascinated by my own life, too. I want to know what's coming up. Order and timing mean nothing to me. I have survived with and without them. For those concepts to make sense, I would need some kind of faith or trust in the universe & its tropes, & I don't have that. But I don't necessarily mind.

Actually, I do mind, a little, but not about me. I mind about the universe, unable to stick to its regular growth & spin. Zigging when it should zag. No wonder mundane life seems such an exercise in *enforcing* design and regular repetition. How reassuring it must be to believe the enforcement will stick.

But at some point you become addicted, instead, to the colour & chaos, the unpredictability, the ability to say yes to any offer that interests you and -- by far, the headiest rush -- the ability to say no. No, I'm a hair's breadth from saying, I am not interested in your offer, your friends, your ideas (you bore me), some event you feel duty-bound to attend & want me along for. I am not, in fact, very interested in 'duty' as you fashion it. Your rules are all quite fascinating in their irrelevant way, but the Other in me cannot care for them.

My life, rolling like a storm, roiling like a tea cup at Disneyland, has its own minor, overwhelming, mundane, untethered unpredictability.

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( 27 comments — Leave a comment )
jonathanstrahan
Apr. 23rd, 2006 11:10 am (UTC)
The linearity of family living? They've never raised children, obviously, if they believe that family living is linear. It's anything but. The theory strikes me as horse puckey. Elegant, tempting horse puckey, sure. But, horse puckey.
deborahb
Apr. 23rd, 2006 11:18 am (UTC)
Oooh, a real, live, captive parent.

I know someone plotting out the early years of her child's life, & it sure *sounds* linear. There's the whole pregnancy thing, than the feeding, then the introduction of solid foods, then the teeth, then whatever happens next, school, learning to drive... I dunno, Jonathan, it sounds so simple. Maybe you left out a step? ;)
rachelholkner
Apr. 23rd, 2006 12:23 pm (UTC)
I'm with you, Jonathan. Familial life (whatever _that_ means) is only as linear as any other kind of life. Sun rises at the start of the day and sets at the end. You are born at the beginning of your life and die at the end. What happens inbetween is anyone's guess.
Good luck to anyone plotting out someone else's life (child or wayward partner or...) No matter how small, they're going to have some input into the process. Strikes me as like flying to the moon. You're only on course 3% of the time.
deborahb
Apr. 23rd, 2006 12:28 pm (UTC)
This is very reassuring. I was thinking people involved with regular family lives must've discovered some kinda secret universe in which stuff made sense...
doctor_k_
Apr. 23rd, 2006 01:31 pm (UTC)
I am constantly bemused by the idea that some people experience life as having any regularity.
For me, even the above mentioned idea of the sun rising at the start of the day and setting at the end is alien.

I know understand that this may have a little something to do with how my mother and I understand each other so little. Her life is so regulated by day/night, work, regular meal times....and I can't remember the last time I had regular meal times.
I mark the solstices and equinoxes almost as a way to remind myself of the passage of time.
deborahb
Apr. 24th, 2006 12:18 am (UTC)
Marking time is an important point. I have a fair amount of envy for countries where seasons are dramatically different one from another.
buymeaclue
Apr. 27th, 2006 02:49 pm (UTC)
I was going to comment, actually, that I think part of the reason that I love seasons is because they give me some sort of framework. Something to look forward to.

On the other hand, what I love best about seasons are the violent, weathery parts. So. Y'know.
deborahb
Apr. 28th, 2006 12:15 am (UTC)
>I was going to comment, actually, that I think part of the reason that I love seasons is because they give me some sort of framework. <

Yeah, I imagine there's a kind of pause attached to them: a moment where you look about & say 'oh, look, the leaves have all changed colour'. In fact, autumn (fall) is what I envy most about where you are.

But violent weather is good, too. (If you mean storms, I *love* storms!)
buymeaclue
Apr. 28th, 2006 12:18 am (UTC)
I mean storms. Rain, thunder, or snow. ::bliss::

Fall is my favorite, for sure, all crisp and blustery. Though spring on the East Coast is turning out quite nice, too.
deborahb
Apr. 28th, 2006 12:20 am (UTC)
In Australia, spring is my favourite time of year. There's a kind of lazy anticipation to it. You know, like when you're lying in bed & you're hungry, but you don't want to get up yet.
buymeaclue
Apr. 28th, 2006 12:21 am (UTC)
Like every day, you mean?
deborahb
Apr. 28th, 2006 02:05 am (UTC)
Well, sure. ;)
hal_duncan
Apr. 24th, 2006 11:21 am (UTC)
I'm not sure of the "family" thing as an explanation, to be honest. Hell, it's a second-hand theory I picked up from a panel when I was already at least two sheets to the wind, after all. And Ryman himself said he thought it was, as you call it, horse puckey. Except... It was only the fit with his own writing, he said, that made him wonder if there really was something going on, possibly maybe. My reaction's the same: Hmmm. Really not sure about this. Except...

The whole family thing? I dunno. I don't think it's about day-to-day linearity so much as generation-to-generation lineage. I'm acutely aware that my Mum is not likely to ever be a grandmother, that this line of Duncans probably dies out with me, that while my Dad is a role model for me in many respects, the pattern doesn't repeat, so to speak; I'm not gonna marry & have kids (Yeah, I know gay marriage and adoption are out there; I'm not moaning here just talking mindset). I'm not gonna be a Dad. I'm not gonna be a Grandad. The circle of life sorta gets a stick through the spokes here, you know? And for a lot of queers there's a severing from the past as well, in that break from small towns and unsupportive families, which is even more absolute. The old identity is left hanging in the closet back in Shitsville, Nowhere.

Anyhoo, more to the point, for all the daily chaos of raising children, don't you look at them and think about your past, their future, the fact that someday they will probably have kids of their own? That's the sense of linearity that the theory is (I think) pivoting on. As I say, I haven't read the thesis, but even from a cursory summary I can see, in my own writing, links between non-linear achronological narrative form and themes of queer identity. So I find the whole idea intriguing at the very least.
deborahb
Apr. 24th, 2006 01:34 pm (UTC)
> I don't think it's about day-to-day linearity so much as generation-to-generation lineage.<

Ok, now that's interesting. I relate.

I have vivid memories of standing in the kitchen as a fifteen year old, with my mother & grandmother, preparing a meal, & feeling this deep sense of grounding, this -- indeed -- continuity. A link to the past that made *me* make sense.

And some years later, discovering I didn't possess a desire to have children, it was really creating that break with my past that I regretted most. Indeed, I think the reason that memory of the kitchen at age 15 has stuck with me so strongly is because a few years later I felt that link to the past fracture, & going through the same motions didn't give me the same feeling.

I didn't wish I *wanted* children, I didn't worry about missing out on the day-to-day of child-rearing. But the parenting thing was something I wouldn't have in common with all the parents who'd gone before me. There was a curious touch of 'orphan' to the feeling.
ex_benpayne119
Apr. 23rd, 2006 08:01 pm (UTC)
It's a cool notion, although I suspect the family part is really incidental... that it's less to do with circumstances and more to do with how you conceive the world... although children are useful in conceiving linearity because they helpfully change size in order:)

deborahb
Apr. 24th, 2006 12:20 am (UTC)
>because they helpfully change size in order:)

Heh. That's so cute. Surely watching a child develop gives a sense of linearity. They crawl, they walk, they learn a word or two, they learn more words, they learn concepts, they learn to lie, they go to school ... ?

Or so I suppose.
seanwilliams
Apr. 24th, 2006 05:06 am (UTC)
Maybe that's why it's such a wrench when kids die. It tramples all over our sense of order--which is really only a sense, after all. Sometimes it has nothing whatsoever to do with reality.

Taking comfort from watching the certainty of a child's growth sounds like desperation to me. You certainly couldn't set a clock by it, or even a calendar; if your child was a late developer you'd be late for everything! It's a little like taking solace from the fact that the universe is expanding. (Wasn't there a Monty Python song about just that? That should be a clue to its absurdity.) It all seems a little bit Stonehengey to me.
ex_benpayne119
Apr. 24th, 2006 08:54 am (UTC)
Yeah, people cling to anything that offers continuity, I think. And while I'm cynical about children and such as markers, I guess I still cling to that desire for movement in terms of wanting to be able to witness personal growth, or growth as a writer etc, which I suppose are kinds of longing for sense/linearity....

deborahb
Apr. 24th, 2006 01:24 pm (UTC)
It seems you link continuity directly to growth in that argument. Which is interesting. I mean, a piece of string has continuity, but it doesn't change or grow.

So, if you could send into the future either a clone of yourself, or your child -- which would offer most continuity, in your mind?
deborahb
Apr. 24th, 2006 01:20 pm (UTC)
>Taking comfort from watching the certainty of a child's growth sounds like desperation to me.<

Heh. Ouch. Is it Mark Twain who said, "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation"? (Which he meant non-gender-specifically, of course, crazy old sod.)

And yet, it seems to me that parents do take comfort from exactly that. I mean, I'm an outsider to the process, but in your broad experiences of parenting or surrogate-parenting, have you not found comfort from a child's development?

>Maybe that's why it's such a wrench when kids die.

I think Hal's comments (below) feed into this, too. That it's not just the day-to-day order that is destroyed, but it's the loss of the prospective generations, the grandparent-parent-child, the past-present-future order.

And probably, it's the raw wrench of guilt that you weren't there to protect someone vulnerable who was counting on you. (I am, naturally, extrapolating from the death of pets! My sister hates when I compare children to pets, but I find it a perfectly valid comparison. :))
deborahb
Apr. 24th, 2006 01:21 pm (UTC)
(Actually, Hal's comments are above...)
seanwilliams
Apr. 25th, 2006 02:44 am (UTC)
...in your broad experiences of parenting or surrogate-parenting, have you not found comfort from a child's development?

I find it saddening, in a way. Just when you get used to them being a certain way, the baby or toddler or teenager is gone and a new person is in their place. Not a whole new person, but someone who looks different and behaves differently, sometimes in profound new ways. It's challenging, too, to one's own sense of self. Children are visible changing in ways that highlight the changes happening in our own bodies as we age. The sagging and greying isn't often regarded as aesthetic in a positive sense, but then neither are pimples and body hair.

I find the thought of my kids having kids terrifying, not reassuring at all. Natural order my arse. We are all too young to be parents. :-)


deborahb
Apr. 25th, 2006 04:01 am (UTC)
>I find it saddening, in a way.<

I admit I've always believed that parenting would be a saddening experience for me. Though in my case I figured it had something to do with the bittersweetness of my own childhood. It would break my heart to send a child off to a new school, for example, because I can vividly recall having to do that myself as a child, & finding it devastating, & somehow worse each time I had to do it. (Occasionally I wonder what a very different adult I might have been if I hadn't had to face the nausea of a new school those last couple of times.)

And yeah, I think the aging thing sucks. Watching a child get stronger as I myself weaken, & all that gothic good stuff -- how awful. I still remember the final summer I spent with my sick grandfather, & how guilty I felt for my own good health, & frightened to see how health can give way at last.

Not that these are my *reasons* for not having kids. I don't have reasons. One of those things, really.
seanwilliams
Apr. 25th, 2006 10:13 am (UTC)
I still remember the final summer I spent with my sick grandfather, & how guilty I felt for my own good health, & frightened to see how health can give way at last.

I had a similar experience when I was a teenager. It sucks.

How cool it would be to belong to the first generation (which may consist of people being born right now) to grow up with parents that seem old at first, because parents always seem *ancient* to their kids, but don't actually get any older thanks to increased longevity and rejuvenation treatments? When those kids become adults they'll be contemporaries, physically at least, of their parents. No getting to 40 and thinking, "Holy crap! I remember my Dad at this age and he was an old fart. And...holy crap! So am I now!" Everyone will look the age they want to look--and there, maybe, will go the generation gap. If you can no longer tell simply by looking who belongs to what generation, it's going to get a whole lot harder to dis anyone without getting to know them first.

I'm planning on being a grumpy old codger and dissing everyone, just to be sure.
ex_benpayne119
Apr. 24th, 2006 08:52 am (UTC)
Or some such.
sararyan
May. 17th, 2006 05:22 am (UTC)
You don't know me, but I found this post via Justine's blog. (She doesn't know me either, but we have friends in common.) Anyway, the combination of subjects in this post really resonated for me -- thanks. I hope you don't mind that I linked to it in a post of my own.
deborahb
May. 17th, 2006 05:54 am (UTC)
Of course not. I don't mind at all. ;)
( 27 comments — Leave a comment )

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