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Empires

Hello, unfairly neglected blog readers. I went to America. I came back to China. I turned 37, which isn’t one of those milestone ages, but for some reason has made me feel transformed. With my partner I visited the seaside town where the Communist Party has its summer policy meetings, and worked on a five-year plan. We looked at birds. I wrote some fiction and some non-fiction and studied some language. The latter is much more satisfying than the former, at the moment, because it’s so immediately useful (and fun). I thought about the future a lot. I took more nourishment from Ursula Le Guin than is probably fair when I read her recent speech:

“I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom.”

Like many writers, I owe that woman a great deal.

Speaking of women to whom I owe a great deal, let me share a couple of new publications with you. One is a short essay on re-reading Virginia Woolf in the internet age, which is in the new Island – which is a very fine magazine from Tasmania.

The second is a long short story in the upstart journal Stilts, put together in Melbourne by some fantastic humans and being launched there and in Brisbane over the next couple weeks (details are on their website). The story’s called Flock, and it deals with the future and nature and the ways that we have of imposing our belief systems on animals. And how to get our heads around unexplained mass death events.

I’ve been reading This Changes Everything and thinking about what has to change, and how this is going to affect what I do for a living (if you can call it that). Often as artists or writers we see ourselves as doing something decorative, a little fey. Certainly the market has not been kind to creative people lately and the dominant ideology puts us a fair way down its list of valuable things. But there’s work, and then there’s Work. Books are more than a job to me. They are the business of life and death. Books are just what make hard times survivable. It’s worth noticing that the old structures of genre and form are collapsing just as the old economic structures are going to have to be taken down or break under their own impossible weight. It’s not easy to sustain a career right now, but it’s a hell of a privilege to be around to watch this, let alone take notes.

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