The Big Idea: Izzy Wasserstein
When events are on a precipice, where can we look for the support we need to help pull them back? Izzy Wasserstein has an idea, and in this Big Idea for All the Hometowns You Can’t Stay Away From, she’s ready to share with you what she thinks it might be.
It all began with punching fascists.
I don’t want to give you the wrong impression. I’m not a violent person. Outside of wrestling with my siblings as a kid, I’ve never punched anyone. But fascist-punching is an obvious moral necessity.
What’s less obvious is what we do when punching fascists isn’t enough. When fascists or other authoritarians hold power, when they’ve co-opted institutions and are counting on anticipatory obedience: what do we do then?
That’s the question that I’m obsessed with in my debut short story collection All the Hometowns You Can’t Stay Away From. It’s also compounded by other problems, like the existential threat of climate change. So I find myself asking: how we might survive, even (someday) thrive?
If you’re hoping I’m about to give you the answer to those questions, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I don’t have the answer. But I’m pretty sure I know where to find the various answers we’re going to need: in our communities.
That’s the idea at the heart of my work: that we need each other, we need our communities, our loved ones, our chosen families. Politicians and leaders can’t save us. We can’t even save ourselves. But maybe we can save each other.
That’s not to say communities are uncomplicated or without flaws. Like lots of queer folks, I know first-hand that the communities of our birth don’t always welcome our differences. Chosen communities can fail us, too. Communities of all kinds can shelter predators, can be undermined by power, by hierarchies, by outside influences. We can fail each other in so many ways. But that doesn’t change the fact that all we have is each other. I write stories about desperate people facing hard times.
They’re not always happy stories, but they’re not nihilistic, either. I think a better world is worth fighting for, and so I keep asking myself: what might that world look like, and how might we get there?
In my work, it looks like
- two women working on saving the ocean with people they’ll never meet
- a princess and an assassin finding what they need in each other and in a bigger cause
- students at a boarding school deciding which monsters are preferable: those within or those without
- a diviner of the future who joins the attempt to kill a tyrannical god, knowing it will mean her death
- runaways with chimeric bodies finding ways to keep each other safe in the face of a world that wants them dead
As I’m writing this, our rights are under sustained attacks by courts, politicians, thugs with guns, fascists, and fascist enablers. The rich are getting richer while everyone else struggles to get by. A pandemic is still raging, climate change threatens to shatter human civilization, and our self-proclaimed leaders aren’t doing enough about either problem.
I don’t have the answer to these problems, and don’t believe there is an answer. I do believe we can find answers, but we’ll need to listen to, protect, and support one another. We’ll need to lean on each other’s expertise, and on each other.
I’m still working to understand what that will look like. I expect I’ll spend the rest of my life working on it. I hope you’re thinking about it too, because we desperately need your answers.