Five Things: June 8, 2020

Well. Quiet weekend, huh? 

Here’s today’s five:

Defunding the police: It’s a catchy phrase, all right, and one designed to provoke outsized responses on the right and the left, and at least mild consternation for the people who don’t think they’re either on the right or the left. It’s a lot catchier than “Don’t make cops the people who have to handle every damn thing because we’ve defunded social programs and the experts who would do a better job with those issues and also don’t have guns to shoot people, let’s fund those programs with some of the money that we’ve given to the cops because we made them do all that stuff,” which as I understand it is closer to the generally accepted understanding of what “Defund the Police” means. There are other parts to it as well, so before you come into the comments to let me know that, please be aware that I do, but I’m trying to keep things short, here.

Interestingly and anecdotally, the little rural village I live in, Bradford, defunded the police a long time ago — when I moved here, Bradford had its own police force, and then several years ago the village decided to cut the force and contract with the county sheriff’s department for law enforcement, presumably to save money and/or reapportion that money to other village services. And what happened? Not much of anything, really. Crime didn’t go up, or if it did, not enough that I noticed. Mind you, I don’t imagine anyone here would call that “defunding the police,” even if that’s literally what it was. Whatever you call it, we did it, and it was… fine. Possibly this solution from the heartland could apply elsewhere.

Trump poll numbers are down: Which made my brain offer two contradictory thoughts, the first being well yeah, after that last week of his where else could they go, and the second being, who was left to support him but his base? But apparently there were some people left? Bless their hearts. It’s June and not November, so Trump loathers (of which, you should know by now, I am one) should not get in the least bit cocky. But yes, it’s not looking good at the moment. There’s a rumor that Trump is planning to speak this week on race and national unity. Well, that will do something for his poll numbers, I expect.

Local protests: In case you were curious if my own rural county had any protests this weekend, why yes, it did: Roughly 150 people in Greenville, the county seat. It went… pretty peacefully, apparently. 150 people doesn’t seem like a lot, but per capita, it would be like 30,000 people protesting in Los Angeles county, so when you put it in those terms, it’s a decent enough showing. And honestly, for a rural county that’s 98% white and went 78% for Trump in 2016, 150 people showing up for a Black Lives Matter protest is not insignificant. Good for them. Hopefully it was done in a responsibly socially distant manner.

Yes, Scalzi, but what did you do? Well:

I put some money down, on top of some money I had previously put down for other charitable organizations related to the protests, and the money I put into the GoFundMes for Uncle Hugo’s and DreamHaven. I have the money to give, so out it goes. Someone on Twitter was talking about lanes and protesting, as in, some people are in the “show up at a protest” lane, some people are in the “be loud with your words” lane, some other people are in the “get out your checkbook” lane and so on. All lanes are valid and you don’t have to be in every lane. I like that sentiment, and I’m good with the lanes I’ve chosen to be in.

Stop “Help”ing: Apparently in the wake of the current protests, The Help has become one of the most watched films on Netflix, as (presumably) white folks try to walk a mile in their African-American betheren’s shoes by watching a film about a white person, made by mostly white people, mostly for white people. Fortunately, The Help star Bryce Dallas Howard is here to be of assistance, with some film/tv suggestions centering on and by black people, to watch instead of The Help, or, at least, after one is done watching The Help. See, that’s actually being helpful.

The Big Idea: Tim Major

When you have kids, it can really mess with your focus and ability to do things. But can it also be an inspiration? Ask Tim Major, who in this Big Idea for his novel Hope Island, has some thoughts on this very subject.

TIM MAJOR:

Probably, all new parents are entirely preoccupied with the act of parenting. Probably, it’s for the best. Becoming a parent rewires the brain, and the act of parenting distracts you constantly. Again, totally fair. You’ve taken charge of a lifeform singularly incapable of fending for itself. You’ve split your brain right down the middle. Half for you, half for something that has only just begun to exist.

I became a parent in 2013, the same year I began to take writing seriously. My first novella was written during my wife’s pregnancy and I began writing my first novel when my son was a few months old. Almost all of my writing has been grounded in this new status of parenthood, and my new novel, Hope Island, is the most explicitly connected to it yet.

It was a literary editor, Cyril Connolly, who commented: “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall”. I don’t know his circumstances. Perhaps he had a really narrow hall, and kept his pens in one room and his paper in another, with the pram blocking access between them. And his statement isn’t true, anyway. I tell myself often that it’s not true. The pram in the hall is significant, obviously. Children are wild and cruel and they care little about their parents’ ambitions – but becoming a parent can provide motivation rather than sap it. It can force you to channel your available time.

When I became a parent it was soon clear that carving out time to write would be harder. So I dropped other activities, and carved out the time. I conjured new ideas on the commute to work and wrote them up in the half-hour before my colleagues arrived. I didn’t get around to writing. Instead, I just wrote. I allowed my writing to be shitty. I would tidy it up later. I told myself there would be a ‘later’, when my presence of mind would return, and eventually there was. When my second son was born, I resigned from my job and started a freelance editorial business, and so then all four of us were almost always in the house, often laughing together, often clawing at the walls. I still wrote but I don’t know how or when I did so. Everything of that period remains a blur. My wife and I divided our days right down the middle, tagging in and out of childcare and work, passing each other in the corridor, sidestepping the pram in the hall.

These are all practicalities, but something else happens to your mind when you become a parent. I can’t tell you what. I write stories to figure it out. Becoming a parent scrunches up your identity and when it’s finally unscrunched, it’s different. There are holes in it, and crayon doodles on it.

Whenever I sit at my attic desk to write, temporarily free of my responsibilities towards my children, they are still on my mind. I love being a father, but I worry about that not being the case. What if one day I found myself resenting my children? What if things had been different, and I had resented them from the beginning?

When I was planning Hope Island, the thought of writing about creepy children in a remote community seemed just one of those ideas, those tropes with which everyone is allowed to play. I relished its heritage, from John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos onwards. Now it seems ridiculous to imagine that I chose the subject arbitrarily. In my novel, a British mother and her teen daughter, who are already out on a limb on a tiny island off the coast of Maine, struggle due to the tensions between them as much as the terrifying circumstances they face. Hope Island is about my newest fear, now that my children have survived infancy – the fear of a failure to communicate with them as they grow older. In the novel, Nina only reluctantly became a mother to begin with, and she has no support from her absent partner, and the visit to the island represents her last-ditch attempt to reconnect with her daughter.

Hope Island has its fair share of speculative elements, and its fair share of scares. There are ethereal cave songs and uncanny archaeological finds and silent, murderous children. But as far as I’m concerned, the most horrific element is the straining and breaking of the relationship between a parent and child, a daughter drifting away to join an impenetrable group – and, worst of all, a mother who fears losing her child but, equally, fears keeping her, uncertain of her own parental love.

I’ve tested my attitude to parenthood by writing about differing ones, but I’m still afraid about not being the right kind of father to my two sons. It’ll take more years of parenthood, and more years of writing about parenthood, to figure it out.

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Hope Island: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.