Can You Respect the Work of People You Don’t Respect

The other day, I read something that essentially said that modern writers shouldn’t try to emulate H.P. Lovecraft (or, for those who aren’t familiar with his work, the guy who invented Cthulhu), because in real life, the dude was a massive racist.

Now, I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of Lovecraft, but I respect his work. I find that his greatest writing weakness (from a contemporary standpoint) is also his greatest writing strength, which is that he has inspired so many later writers, such as Stephen King and Robert Bloch. At this point, his work feels a little bit predictable, but that’s only because he created so many of the conventions that we see in modern horror and fantasy. In fact, it’s almost a little difficult to write in those genres without drawing a little bit of influence from Lovecraft.

So perhaps that’s part of the reason why I find this statement interesting (after all, how do you contribute to a genre that has roots that you might have a genuine reason to disagree with). But, more than that, this just seems to be part of a larger discussion that we have been having lately.

In 2017, a librarian at Cambridgeport School refused to accept Melania Trump’s gift of Dr. Seuss books, stating that Dr. Seuss was a racist and that his illustrations are “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes”. This response drew both support and criticism, the latter coming from people who called Dr. Seuss a “product of his time” and claimed that his racism does not necessarily come across in the texts themselves.

And, personally, I have read countless stories from authors that were incredibly racist. Sometimes this came across in the texts themselves (Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” is literally about evil black people) and sometimes they didn’t (if you only read L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz”, you might not even know that he wrote anti-Native editorials as well).

Even today, problematic people still produce highly respected works. Orson Scott Card’s “Enders Game” is considered a modern sci-fi classic, even spawning a movie adaption in 2013, and yet his homophobia and political views have been a subject of great debate amongst confused readers for years now.

So, what do we do with this information? Can we continue to respect the works of people who might not necessarily deserve respect themselves?

Now, keep in mind, from hereon out, I am merely going to be stating my personal opinion. This is not a definitive answer; all I am trying to do is facilitate discussion.

And, personally, I believe that it is possible to respect the work, even if you don’t respect the artist.

Now, obviously, there are circumstances that make this issue a little bit more complicated. For example, I will go out and spend money on a work from H.P. Lovecraft, but I won’t do the same for Orson Scott Card, primarily because as a consumer, I do not want my money going toward someone who I know is still alive and still actively spreading a message that I do not agree with. Lovecraft, Poe, Baum, Dr. Seuss – all of these men are dead and of a different time period, which doesn’t excuse their beliefs and doesn’t make it okay, but it does put a little bit of distance between me and their political views.

The works that I have mentioned here are all highly influential, and I don’t necessarily think that that should be ignored. Many of these are artists who changed the genre they were working in – that changed storytelling, to a certain extent. I think that that is something that is worthy of respect, even if their political views weren’t.

But even as I say this, there is another layer that needs to be added – their political views shouldn’t be erased or ignored either.

These writers are not heroes. They did not transcend humanity, and they were not above hatred. We need to remember that. We need to respect the people that they hurt with their hate speech. And if we don’t talk about the ways that they failed, just as much as we talk about the ways that they succeeded, then we run the risk of forgetting it. We privilege the good that they did over the bad that they did.

As a result, I don’t think that this is an all-or-nothing scenario. We can’t forget the impact that these writers had on literature, so I disagree when their books are banned from spaces on principal. But we also can’t forget the impact that these writers on society, so I disagree when people take a very “get over it” attitude to the matter.

End of day, I think that the choice to read these works or emulate these writers should come down to the informed individual. It is possible to respect the writing that they produced, but not the person themselves. But if the writer and their political views turns the reader off too much, then that is totally understandable.

What It Takes To Be A Great Artist

An artist is an interesting breed of person.

An artist needs to be confident. As in, it’s a requirement for the job.

If you’re going to be an artist, you need to be convinced that you have something important to add to the world. Whether that be some sort of message, some sort of insight, some sort of style. Maybe it’s something that existed before, but the world hasn’t seen it done by you yet. You need to be convinced that that matters. That somewhere out there, someone is going to be affected by what you do.

And you need to be convinced of this, because how can you be an artist if you aren’t? How can you stand by your work and assert that it needs to be seen if you don’t think anyone needs to see it?

If you’re going to be an artist, you need to be so confident that you can withstand being told that you’re awful. You need to accept that you will be publicly ripped to pieces, that anyone, at any moment, can look at the thing that means the most to you in the entire world, and they might say that it’s the worst thing they’ve ever seen. You’re going to have to accept that you’re going to receive criticism, and so much criticism that it almost sounds like they’re telling you to stop doing what you’re doing, even if the words never legitimately leave their lips. And you need to be prepared to hear all of this, and still keep doing what you’re doing. You need to hear all of this, and you need to remain firm in your belief that you still have something important to say, that this is still something that you need to do.

And I mean it when I say that: need to do. Not want. Want isn’t strong enough, if you’re going to be an artist. Nobody endures this for a simple want.

Because, if you’re going to be an artist, then you can’t just be confident. You need to be humble as well.

Because you can withstand all the criticism that you need. You can laugh it off, let it roll off your back like the proverbial water off a duck’s back. But that won’t help you improve. And you can only go so far without improving.

The greatest artists listen to the criticism that they receive, and they think about it. They accept that there might be some truth in it. Because the greatest artists accept that, while they have something important to say, they are not perfect. And they never will be perfect. The greatest artists are human, and they know that they will always have room to grow and improve and create.

And maybe they don’t take every criticism to heart. They just think about it. Consider it. Decide if they agree with it, and if they do, then they apply it to their work. And this, ideally, will make their work better.

An artist’s growth comes from their ability to apply criticism. An artist’s longevity comes from their ability to insist on their importance. And, overall, an artist’s very existence is dependant on a balance between these two.

But the problem with being dependant on these two opposing forces is that they will battle one another, and sometimes in the most inconvenient ways.

Sometimes, your confidence might overpower, and you will refuse to listen to anyone’s advice. Anyone who tries to tell you what to do will immediately be dismissed as stupid, or wrong. And that’s okay – just as long as you remember, at the end of the day, that other people might have valid points as well.

Sometimes, your humbleness might overpower to the point that it becomes self-consciousness, and you internalize all of the criticisms that you have heard. You find yourself thinking them as your own thoughts – you wonder if you actually do have anything worthwhile to say. You wonder if there’s any point to trying. You wonder if you should stop.

Trust me, this has happened to me many, many times over. And when it does, I always return to that idea of need. This is what I need to do, I can’t give up. If I did, who would I be?

This is the thought that keeps pushing me through the moments of self-consciousness, just long enough for me to become convinced again that I have something important to say.

These things come in waves, you see? Sometimes one thought. Sometimes the other. Sometimes, perfect balance. And different artists will experience these thoughts in different ways, in different amounts. And that’s okay. So long as you insist on maintaining both. Because it’s in that place of balance that a great artist can be borne.

Three Lessons I’ve Learned By Maintaing An Online Blog

So today is a somewhat exciting day for me.

Today is the first year anniversary of maintaining my blog online.

(Woot woot!)

It’s sort of a strange thing to think. Maintaining this blog has been such a huge part of my daily life that it feels a little bit like it’s always been there, while simultaneously feeling like something incredibly new, something that I’m still getting the hang of and still has a long way to grow from here.

But end of day, this blog has been an incredibly rewarding experience, one that I’m very happy that I took up and will continue doing for a long time to come. And although I’ve only been at it for a year (which, while I’m celebrating the impressiveness of that, I’m perfectly aware isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things), there are quite a few things that I’ve learned in the course of this year. Lessons that have become ingrained in who I am as a person, and how I view the world. Lessons that I wouldn’t trade for anything, because I needed to learn them, and for me, this was the best way to learn them.

So, without further ado, here they are: the top three lessons that I have learned by maintaining an online blog.

1) Whatever you’re going through, no matter what it is, you are not alone

Before starting my blog, I had been dealing with a lot of mental health issues, primarily involving depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. I talked about these issues a little bit – mostly with my mom – but I never really branched out and spoke to anyone else about it (besides one drunken announcement that I made to a friend that we shall not speak about). Mostly, this was because I was incredibly embarrassed. I didn’t necessarily feel like dealing with mental health problems made me any lesser of a person, but I didn’t depend on anyone else to feel this way. I thought that talking about how I felt would make me look weak, or like I was a burden on others. I thought that being honest about how I felt would chase people away from me, because they wouldn’t want to deal with the truth of who I was.

When I started my blog, however, I went in with one rule that I told myself I could not break: everything that I wrote needed to be honest. It didn’t matter if that honesty hurt other people. It didn’t matter if that honesty made me look bad. When it came to writing, there were so many writers that I admired because they didn’t care how they looked, they just wanted to reflect their honest experience, and I wanted to be that.

So, for the first time in my life, I was honest.

I wrote a piece on suicidal thoughts, and I had a grown man send me a private message about how he had considered killing himself after he got out of an abusive relationship.

I wrote a piece on depression, and I had another grown man thank me, because he had spent his whole life feeling a certain way and afraid to tell anyone about it, thinking that he had to go his whole life alone because of it.

And, to branch outside of issues of mental health for a moment, I wrote another piece on feeling confused about my sexual orientation, and I had a grown and married woman confess to me that she really saw herself in what I wrote, and that she was happy to see it put into words.

And you know what this made me realize? I’m not alone. None of us are alone. We are all messy, confused, broken human beings, and we think we need to shoulder this burden ourselves, but we don’t. We are all struggling, and once you speak out about that struggle, you really find that out.

And maybe it doesn’t take away the hurt. Maybe it doesn’t fix the problem, but I know for damn sure that it at least makes you feel a little less weak and a little less lonely because of it.

2) Everyone has a story to tell

This lesson sort of branches off of what I was talking about with lesson number one.

Because you know those people who I talked about, the ones who reached out to me and told me that I wasn’t alone? Some of those people were complete strangers to me beforehand. And I’m not even talking general acquaintances, I’m talking never-met-them-before, not-even-sure-we-live-in-the-same-country strangers. You know, the sort that you meet on the internet all the time.

And I suppose that, because they felt that they knew something about me, they felt more comfortable coming forward and telling me more about themselves than I’ve even learned after years of friendship with some people.

I heard a story about a man who attempted suicide, and although everyone knew he had tried, nobody spoke to him about it, forcing him to live years in secrecy and shame.

I heard a story about a man who was trying his best to keep going despite his recent divorce, but he was getting tired and beginning to accept that maybe the best thing he could do for himself now was admit that he wasn’t okay.

And hearing these stories, allowing people to open up to you so much, really makes you realize that we are all so much more complex than we give other people credit for. We are so quick to dismiss someone as ‘stupid’ if they do something that annoys us, ‘wrong’ if they say something that offends us, but every single person in this world has a story to tell and a life that they’ve lived.

“If you knew everyone’s story, you would love them” – Emma Stone

3) Sometimes, you’ve just got to do the thing that scares you, especially if it’s your dream

So, I’m not gonna lie, as much as I’ve spoken very highly about this whole maintaining-a-blog on the internet business, I didn’t always feel that way. In fact, when I first started, I was downright petrified to do it.

And why?

Well, because it’s scary, that’s why! Look – I’d been writing for a long time before this. I’d decided that I wanted a career as a writer when I was about ten years old, and even before that, I’d been writing. It’s just part of me. It’s what I do, as natural as the sun rising.

And putting my writing out there to be judged and critiqued by everybody is a goddamn worry, okay?

And I know what you’re thinking: but Ciara, you marvellous creature you, to have a career as a writer, don’t you have to let other people read your work? And the answer to that is, yes, of course, and even at the time I knew that. And truth be told, as much as this experience has been rewarding for many reasons, knowing that was what initially made me decide to start this blog: to get my writing read and my name out there a little bit.

So I did it. Like ripping off a band-aid, I just did it.

And… it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

You might be expecting me to say that there was a period of time where it was hard for me, where I had to get used to having my writing read by actual people who weren’t just me and my mom, but there wasn’t really. Not everyone liked everything that I wrote, no, but I always found comfort in one of three thoughts, depending on what the post in question was: 1) that I stood up for what I believed in, and not everyone is going to agree with everything I believe in, 2) that I reflected my honest experience, and so long as that is so, I did my best, and 3) that, end of day, if this post really, really sucked and there was nothing redeemable about it, I can just write another one tomorrow and everything will be better.

Despite my fears, misgivings, and worries, this experience has honestly been nothing but rewarding for me.

So if there is something that you want to do, whatever that might be, something that you’ve really been dreaming of but too afraid to try – start an Etsy store, apply for that job, take that program – I say do it. The worst thing that you can do is fail, and then you try again tomorrow. And the hardest part of all that will, of course, be your persistence – it can be difficult to find resilience when people put you down, sure, and I get that. But just do what I do whenever I seriously fail at something: cry for a bit, stuff some junk food in your face (we’re all allowed our cheat meals from time to time), wipe away the tears and the smeared make-up, and then get right back up and do it again.

Because this is just the beginning.

I Am Not Just A Pussy

I’m a writer. You might have guessed that by the fact that you are currently in the process of reading my writing.

And as a writer, I really like words. I think that words have power. I think that the specific words that you choose to use have influence over the ways in which the idea that you are trying to convey is interpreted. Different words have different meanings to different people, even if, end of day, these words essentially mean the same thing. That is why I think that words are very important.

For example, let’s say that someone walks into a room and says, “look at all these women in here!” Hearing this sentence, my assumption would be that there are a lot of adult females occupying space within this room, and for one reason or another, I am supposed to gaze upon them. Maybe they’re attractive. Maybe they’re breaking a world record. Maybe they’re in the middle of a gruesome murder. I don’t know, but I’m supposed to look at them.

Now, let’s change this sentence, only slightly: “look at all these girls in here!” Hearing this sentence, my assumption changes mostly in the way that I view the people occupying this space. No longer are they adult females, but juvenile females, or at least youthful, and so my reasoning for looking at them changes slightly as well. Chances are, they aren’t breaking a world record or committing a gruesome murder. They’re probably playing, or chattering, or maybe they’re just being cute. I don’t know, these people don’t actually exist, I’m just painting a picture with words here.

Now, let’s change this sentence once more, so that it essentially means the same thing, but it’s slightly more slangy, a little bit less polite: “look at all this pussy in here!” Once again, my assumption on what I’m supposed to be imagining changes. No longer do I see people occupying this space, adult or juvenile; I see vaginas. I see a great, big group of vaginas with legs, sitting on couches, talking with other vaginas, sharing the most recent vagina-gossip. Just, you know, doing their vagina thing, whatever that might be.

Now, why am I talking about this? What does any of this matter? Well, the reason why I’m saying this is because I have actually heard people use the word ‘pussy’ as a synonym for ‘woman’, and this pisses me off. I hate it. It makes me picture great, big, walking vaginas instead of people, and maybe this wouldn’t bug me so much if the objectification of women wasn’t quite so common as it is.

There is a brand of objectification that is used frequently in advertising called dismemberment, which is pretty similar to what it sounds like: focusing solely upon a single body part of a woman, especially with the intention of making that specific body part look alluring. For example, we might be able to see a close-up of a woman’s ass, but we don’t see her face or any identifying features, essentially reducing her to nothing more than an ass. A great ass, maybe, but definitely nothing more than that, and definitely not a person. And the obvious problem with that is that it forces the brain to not even really think of that as a person. It’s just an ass. It doesn’t have a family. It doesn’t think or dream or want anything. It’s an ass. It looks nice, and if you’re into female asses, then it’s alluring, and that’s about it.

The same thing happens when you refer to women as ‘pussy’: you reduce them to nothing more than genitals, albeit you do it through a different medium. The picture dehumanizes women because it doesn’t visually show you any more of the woman in question, whereas the phrase dehumanizes women because it doesn’t make any mention of the woman in question.

And just to be clear here, I am not referring to times when a person is referring explicitly to a vagina, and I am not referring to times when a person is intentionally insulting someone by calling them a pussy. I am referring to sentences like “there’s plenty of pussy in the world” (technically accurate, but I believe those vaginas are attached to cis-women) and “man, you got to get you some pussy” (I’m not sure that either relationships or one-night-stands, whichever you’re going for here, are quite as simple going to the store and buying a box of pussy).

Language holds a lot of power. The words that we use toward women influences the way that we think about women. And if our language reduces them to nothing more than vaginas, then we begin to think of women as nothing more than vaginas. Which is, very obviously, not okay, because women are, very obviously, people. They do things. They want things. They aspire and dream and work and feel and cry and laugh and so on.

And if you want evidence that some people have begun to think of women as nothing more than vaginas, then look no further than the fact that one of the responses to the creation of female sex robots (yes, this is becoming a thing) is that these robots will “replace women” – despite the fact that they don’t reason or think or have emotions or do anything more than have sex with you. But, really, what else do women do, am I right?

So let’s stop using the word ‘pussy’ as a synonym for ‘woman’, because it isn’t. Pussy is a synonym for vagina, a biological organ that cis-women and some trans-men have. Real women are much more than that, and it is objectifying and belittling to refer to them as any less. I mean, really, think about it: wouldn’t it be really odd to enter into a room full of men and say, “look at all these testicles in here!”