When Brian Hades and I were discussing themes for Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-one) one of the possibilities he suggested was optimistic speculative fiction. I pounced on that idea for two reasons. First, because I’d just recently become aware of solarpunk (largely through Sarena Ulibarri) and was excited to work on an anthology that might include some and second because I’d become convinced that we were living in the darkest timeline.
That was in 2016. I had no idea how much darker it could become.
Still, despite a very difficult couple of years, I manage to find reasons for optimism. Lights in the darkness. And I’m not alone in that.
In the coming weeks I will be hosting a series of blog posts I’m calling “Bright Spots in the Darkest Timeline”. Each will be written by a Nevertheless (Tesseracts Twenty-one) contributor and I think they will serve the dual purpose of giving me an excuse to talk about the anthology, and shining a bit of light into people’s lives.
This post, by Kate Heartfield, is one I can relate two on several levels. I kind of want to talk about them, but that could diminish the impact of what she has to say, so we’re just going to dive right in 🙂
Optimism blog post
By Kate Heartfield
Soon after Anne arrives at Green Gables, Marilla Cuthbert chides her for not eating.
“I can’t. I’m in the depths of despair. Can you eat when you are in the depths of despair?”
“I’ve never been in the depths of despair, so I can’t say,” responded Marilla.
“Weren’t you? Well, did you ever try to imagine you were in the depths of despair?”
“No, I didn’t.”
The first few times I read L.M. Montgomery’s novel, I was very young, and I saw Marilla’s curt responses merely as a failure of empathy, a sign that she has a lot to learn about raising a child. And indeed, all of that is true. But now that I’m closer to Marilla’s age than Anne’s, I understand Marilla’s perspective more.
We talk about “youthful optimism”, as though it’s a quality that fades with time. But I don’t think that’s quite right. Youthful optimism is ephemeral, and it turns into despair all too easily. The optimism of old women is steady. It hardens under pressure, like carbon turning into diamond. The optimism of old women is quiet but stern. It doesn’t demand to be catered to, but it doesn’t back down, either.
The optimism of my grandmothers was Marilla’s brand of optimism. Both of them had been through hardships I could barely imagine when I was young, even the ones I knew about. They were, above all, practical. They woke up every morning and did the work that needed to be done, because someone had to do it.
There’s a strength that comes from carrying on not because you hope everything will be OK, but because you know that nothing will be OK unless someone does the hard and unending work to make it OK. A strength from knowing that you have it in you to do your share of that work. From refusing to give in to cynicism despite knowing all too well that humanity falters, that life is sad and unfair, that easy answers are lies. From knowing that you and joy have both survived, and some things can get better, when people make them get better.
Old women are too tired to give a damn about the things that don’t matter, and too fierce to stop giving a damn about the people who do.
Those are the women who people most of my stories, these days.
Kate Heartfield is a former journalist in Ottawa, Canada. Her novel Armed in Her Fashion was published in spring 2018 by ChiZine Publications, and she has a time-travel novella, Alice Payne Arrives, coming in November 2018 from Tor.com Publishing.