By: Shannon Kirk and Political Animal
Shannon Kirk is a novelist, a practicing attorney and law professor in Massachusetts, and also an avid follower of politics. She, like many of us, finds Trumpian politics incredibly distracting. In a world where the President-elect is constantly saying new and outrageous things on Twitter, how are news junkies supposed to get anything done?
In a great column on The Thrill Begins, Kirk addresses this problem, and outlines the system she’s using to try to stay focused. We highly recommend reading the whole thing.
One particularly interesting point is her observation that our current political climate encourages people to sort ourselves into two hostile camps based on our political identity. From a novelist’s perspective, this is maddening. Depth and contradiction make characters believable–because human life is complex. So why are we so attractive to binary extremism in our political life?
The following Is an excerpt from The article originally published in The Thrill Begins:
A good friend has a great response to try to chill me out every time I get spun up about the current political environment: “Is this going to impact the happiness of your cats?” Meaning, is this really going to lead to something that will change your life in a catastrophic way? I wish I could have this outlook on politics. I used to. I used to be able to tune most of it out and concentrate.
I confess. I have a problem. I’m addicted. I am distractified by Trump. But since I acknowledge this serious weakness, I’m hoping to fight my way back to my old ways and not let him win. I have devised a system, which I include at the end. No idea if this will work.
The distractification of Trump has impacted my writing in three ways: To lose time. To wallow in the quagmire of arguing about the fallacy of binary extremism. To resist bullying.
Distractified by Binary Extremism (frustrating my notion of character development)
Let’s first set the table and acknowledge the objective fact that we are living in La La Land right now. Nothing is normal, and, yes, nothing is logical. If your objective is to disagree and say that things are logical, then you are trolling this article; please move on.
The reason it’s easy for me to get distractified by all this is actually nothing new; it’s something that’s always been a gripe of mine, even before Trump—just now more acute and in my face every single damn day, and in alarming ways. It is indeed a core issue I try to battle in my writing: the pushing of people into simplistic, binary camps. Example: Your character is a scientist, so she must be an atheist. I battle this notion, I reject it.
Here’s where we are, I liken it to the Fruit Loops vs. Cheerios Political System. Each Fruit Loop represents a position on an issue, and each Cheerio its “opposite.” If you are on Team Fruit Loop, you MUST accept and agree and support all Fruit Loops, likewise with Team Cheerio. Never may a Fruit Loop cross-pollinate the Cheerio world, and NEVER EVER may a Cheerio contaminate a Fruit-Loop-protected zone.
This is a binary system.
This is bullshit.
We would never allow such simple sorting for fictional characters, so why is it being pushed in reality?
You are on one of two teams, and that is all. You are either “Conservative” or “Liberal” (or the derogatory team names of “Fascist” or “Libtard”). You either “won” or “lost,” just like your football team either won or lost the Super Bowl. If negative or contrary news is presented about a Froot Loop or Cheerios Team Leader or an issue within one of the Team’s bowls, the opposing Team must ignore it or discount it immediately as fake news. But this is fantasy land living, and if you’re someone who already came to the conclusion that political positions, faith and religion and spirituality, and everyday life beliefs can’t be sorted so neatly, the craziness of claiming these things can be easily sorted, sort of drives you crazy. When your challenge as a writer is to create characters with depth and contradictions, backstories that conflict with present action and yet still “paint” a true character to provide believability, yeah, binary extremism in the real world frustrates what you’re trying to achieve as a writer: believable, conflicted human characters. You feel like you’re in the Upside Down (credit: Stranger Things; side note: season two can’t come soon enough).
My political, spiritual, and everyday life positions cannot be sorted into one of two bowls. And I’m hoping to create characters who also cannot be sorted into one of two bowls. I strive and practice and challenge myself to be a writer who can someday create complex human characters, whose beliefs and positions might be mapped out in a diagram like below. Not a neat circle of Fruit Loops or Cheerios:
The irony is that this messy diagram seems, to me, way less crazy than the neat Fruit Loops and Cheerios bowls. That’s because binary extremism leads to HypoCRAZY. Just like the perfect, curated lawns in Edward Scissorhands really foretold a horror in the manicured neighborhood, whereas Scissorhands’ untamed property held the real beauty. And it’s true of writing. The best stories, settings, and characters are eclectic, complicated, messy.
Binary extremism seriously messes with what I require of myself as a writer.
As a writer, I feel it’s part of my job to observe an endless stream of input, sort, identify something to focus on, analyze, and try to translate that chosen, focused observation into a coherent, logical part of a character or plot, narrative, dialog, or prose, that—and here’s the double-twist-triple-helix backbend—incorporates contradictions to that observation, but still, somehow, makes sense. When things are not making sense in the world, when certain media and politicians oversimplify complex issues, my writer mind remains stuck on the input, input, input, analyze and sort and analyze and sort. Like a robot banging into a corner who can’t reverse. I am distractified into arguments with myself, with nameless people on the internet, with the news, the meta-meta news, family, politicians in a one-sided fight, all trying to get who? to acknowledge that Fruit Loops can live in the same bowl as Cheerios, along with certain conditions and exceptions, etc., etc., etc.
Read the whole piece at The Thrill Begins
Shannon Kirk is the award-winning author of the psychological thriller, METHOD 15/33 (THE METHOD in UK, NZ, and OZ), which has garnered three starred reviews, won the National Indie Excellence Award for best suspense, was selected by the School Library Journal as one of the best 17 adult fiction books for teens, and was the Gold winner of the Benjamin Franklin IBPA award. METHOD 15/33 has been optioned for a major motion film and has sold into sixteen foreign territories. Ms. Kirk’s second novel (not a thriller), THE EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF VIVIENNE MARSHALL, was published in September 2016. Read more about Shannon Kirk, her books, and short stories at www.shannonkirkbooks.com and www.thegoatmancometh.com.