First of all – forgive me for this rambling post: it started off about one thing and went into a rant, and I don’t have the energy to fix it. Like most people, I suspect I’m in shock this week – heartsick, scared and sad at the state of the world, and worried about the future. I’ve been struggling to write at all this week (in part due to losing so much sleep having stayed up and followed the election, in increasing disbelief). I’m still struggling to process it, and don’t have anything particularly clever or insightful to say (there are more urgent and eloquent voices out there, anyway). But I do still believe that art and storytelling has a tremendous role to play in the world, now more than ever: in connecting people, in sharing perspectives, in helping us see ourselves as more the same than different – while also acknowledging and honouring those differences, and how important they can be, how core they may be to someone’s being, history, community and sense of self.
So I was pleased to see this post from blogger Gaele pop up on my dash, talking about Armchair BEA but focused on expanding your perspectives through reading diverse authors – which is something a lot of us could benefit from. (I admit I actually missed it in all the election chaos, and only discovered it as the Dark Dates series was one she mentioned as being a current fave so it got flagged up in my comments – so thanks, Gaele, much appreciated!)
So why not check out the post, take part in the armchair BEA, and support diverse voices – read more writers who are women, disabled, working class, POC, LGBT*, non-Western. Support them by buying their books, reviewing their books on Amazon and Goodreads, sharing with your friends, telling people, buying them as gifts this holiday season. (Remember, women are less likely to be reviewed in the mainstream or literary press, less likely to be considered for prizes, less likely to be included in ‘books you must read’ lists – and the chances are that any problems straight, cis, white, able bodied women face, women who don’t fit into that narrow category will face multiplied). Outside of books, support independent investigative journalism (for example, organisations like Mother Jones and Bitch Media) by buying their publications or subscribing to them. (Needless to say, if you can afford it, support other organisations committed to justice, civil rights and fairness – Amnesty International, ACLU, or whatever supports the causes most close to your heart – but my focus here is on the arts).
People say times like this create good art, which is easy to say if you have a platform for your voice already and the time and money to express your anger and fear through creativity. But art isn’t created in a vacuum. And it’s incredibly hard to spend time on your art when you’re working two jobs to support it, when you’re exhausted from all of the cut backs and compromises you have to make to carve out time and energy to create it or when you are genuinely terrified about – or spending your energy fighting for – your more basic rights. Not everyone has a supportive partner or parents, or a lucrative side job, or the health or energy to balance so many demands. It’s easy to point out the examples of people who make that look easy – who get up at 5am to write a few chapters before looking after their kids and doing a full day’s work – but not everyone is capable of that. I know from my own experience: my desire to go freelance stemmed in no small part from the fact that after my first novel came out, I didn’t write for 2 years, floored by a combination of a demanding job, a long commute and health issues that meant I could barely cope with my day job, never mind spare any energy on anything else.
A young creative I know and follow on Twitter yesterday really struck a chord when she tweeted that the hours she worked and the level of her income bore no relation, and that she was simply exhausted from all the cut backs she was having to make even just to have a chance to keep doing what she wanted to do. I know many people think that a creative career is an easy one – visions of Carrie Bradshaw lounging on a bed, maintaining a New York apartment and a dazzling wardrobe by seemingly writing a couple of good sentences a month – but for most creatives, it’s actually a slog, and one with no guarantee of reward. You can spend months of work and hundreds of pounds of your own money on producing a play that gets staged to 20 people in a cold room above a pub. You can spend a year writing a book that someone pirates for free rather than buying for less than the price of a cup of coffee. And you know that, going in, and yet you still do it.
I’m not saying abandon your favourite authors or your blockbuster movies or your West End shows (if you are lucky enough to be able to afford West End shows…!): just that if we want diverse voices, we have to seek them out, and support them. Buy a book by an author you’ve never heard of. Chuck a couple of quid into some indie filmmaker’s Kickstarter. Pay a fiver to see a bit of Fringe theatre. If you can’t support financially, share on social media. Help them get their message to people who can support them. Anything can help – even, sometimes, just the feeling that other people are willing to help, to listen, to connect.
Because we’ve seen what the world looks like when it’s run by the old boys club of the pale and male and entitled to whom our lives are just a game: when the agenda is set by whiny white boys whose reaction to anything they see as encroaching their supremacy (whether it’s a woman candidate or a gay superhero or a Ghostbusters remake or a coffee cup that isn’t Christian enough) is threats of rape and violence. I’m not fond of how that world looks, and I want to play my part in changing it. I hope you do too.