Writing in the margins

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Image of an open book with annotations in the margins, lying on top of a notebook with a pencil.

This blog is about power.

We’re going to assume that why we’re writing about power right now is pretty obvious so let’s just… ohhh look Mini Eggs!

So this blog is about power and writing, and about how stories — the writing of stories, the telling of stories, the dissemination of stories, the sharing and togetherness and humanness of stories — is not a frivolous act in the face of multiple global crises. Also, it’s Easter which is, of course, Mini Egg season.

So! This blog is about the real story of stories and how the power of stories isn’t in the plot, it’s in the margins. How ‘bout that? Mmmm Mini Eggs.

Gif of Snoopy frolicking in a garden throwing chocolate eggs out of an Easter basket

Early segue: I went to uni with a guy called Daniel who spent the whole time getting high and doodling on his lecture notes and he kinda drifted and never got a job and just carried on doodling forever and I was reminded of him the other day because I swear I saw him in Hobbycraft in Durrington, so I looked him up and it turns out that after 20 years of doing nothing but doodling he’s now a highly sought after award-winning artist in his field.

Main thread: I’m currently obsessed with 1998 action sci fi Bruce Willis in yet another dirty vest nonsense-fest Armageddon and 2022 Disney immediate-classic Encanto as two films to watch side by side (I know these are films and not books and we’re all high falutin’ literary types but what is a film if not a book made out of moving pictures? Good. I’m glad we’re all agreed) because they’re both so very much about climate change. Look, I even did a drunk Twitter thread about the Colombian flower trade as depicted in Encanto so it must be true.

But, right. So. In Armageddon, the story is to save the world by carrying on doing the same stupid shit we’ve always done: fly higher and faster, blow up more crap but bigger, shout at each other more loudly, and generally be more execrable, whereas in Encanto we save the world by stopping, by listening, by not overextending our powers, by, ahem, not exploiting our workers, and by supporting each other in healing and growth.

Here’s the important thing though. In Armageddon no one asks why Bruce Willis is such an asshole. In fact, we celebrate it, because that’s how we fixed things in the 90s – the biggest douche-canoes could get through a story barely redeemed and still believably expect the hot girl to fall at their manly feet.

Gif of Liv Tyler saying "everything good that I have inside of me, I have from you."
No, Liv, you are your own person and you are perfect.

In 2022, we know none of these things are true. Bigger-better-faster-more simply means a quicker collapse of (delete as appropriate) society/the biosphere/mental health/my tenuous grip on reality. And we no longer tolerate assholery for the sake of assholery or as a celebration of allegedly desirable masculinity. Contemporary fiction simply has to be more nuanced and sophisticated because we are more nuanced and sophisticated — even our escapist, fantastical romps in glorious music and colour. Which is why Encanto necessarily has to ask: ‘’what has to happen to someone to make them an asshole? And then what has to happen to heal those pains? How do we move away from being awful to each other?’

Back to Daniel: the thing with people like Daniel — the artists, the writers, the creators, the makers – is that when the world gets loud, they don’t necessarily get loud with it. They focus on their doodling in the margins, on the thing that makes their soul tick, on the thing that holds them together which, by extension, holds the rest of us together.

The trajectory of fiction over the last several-many-some years is very strongly away from violence as the solution to problems and very strongly towards solving problems by actually understanding them, by understanding that the antagonist is also often the protagonist, who is always always always just us. Just humans. Humaning about the place humanly.

Stories influence us in ways we don’t see coming.

It’s not the plot of Armageddon that matters but the idea that all problems can be solved by more violence, more explosions, by being an utterly contemptible human being. The idea that these are our stories, that this is how we see ourselves, that this is who we are.

It’s not the plot of Encanto that matters so much as the way it shows us that we can start naming and exploring the real solutions, like love and healing and connection and tenderness and flowers and regenerating nature.

Gif from Encanto with Mirabel and a bunch of kids looking up at flowers blooming

It’s not the degree that mattered to Daniel, but the doodling in the margins.

It’s not the text that always matters, but the bits around the outside.

The people who write the stories have power, but you don’t have to be shouting as loud as you can. You can just be quietly keeping on, exploring your reality, showing how things could be, how they should be, showing people are they are and what they could do. Checking out the fertile edges, the liminal plains, the parts where fiction meets reality and visa versa.

Author and historian Howard Zinn said in his essay Artists In The Time Of War, that the job of an artist is “to think outside the boundaries of permissible thought and dare to say things that no one else will say.”

Go find the marginal things. Go say the things that no one else will say.

Wait, was this entire blog just a giant subtweet about, ahem, current affairs? NEVER NO WAY LOOK OVER THERE — MINI EGGS, WOO!

Okay love you bye. Go write.

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SarahWHQ

SarahWHQ

A happy woman sitting on a green sofa with a laptop. Lovely kitchen in the background. I'd be happy too tbh

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