Language and Dialect

In my book, language and dialect are very important. Not in a Tolkien way–I did not invent languages for the purpose of the book–but in a contextual way. Language and dialect matter to the characters and influence actions in meaningful ways. They are geography to be navigated–well or poorly, depending on the character–and they are signs and symbols of how close or far one is from home.
There’s an old story in the Bible, from which we get the idiom “shibboleth.” We use this as sort of a synonym for “password” or “things-we-all-say-in-this-context.” In that story, two tribes are at war and one side stops everyone at the river and asks them to pronounce the word “shibboleth.” If they pronounce it one way, they are permitted to pass: they belong. If they pronounce it another way, they are killed, because they do not belong.
Life or death by pronunciation. Acceptance or exclusion by the turn of a phrase. Joy or despair by way of mere lilt.
I did not set out to make this a theme or predominant feature of my story–though it became one–and I did not do it because I thought it would be cool or simply to add some “flair.” It was instinctive, and based on personal experience.
A quick story: Spanish is by no means my first language, but I love it, and learned it from two friends at my old church–one from Mexico, the other from Colombia. I proceeded to work at a clinic in Chiapas, Mexico for two months when I was 15, gaining a little extra fluency during that time. Not long after that, I lived on a Moshav in Israel (age 17) and my first two roommates were from Colombia. I was placed with them because they did not speak much English, and I spoke just enough Spanish to get by.
They chastised me (lovingly) for my accent. My American accent (and those pirate-like “R”s)? No. My Mexican accent. It was too strong, they said. They advised me to “soften” to a Colombian accent, if you please. As an American, I could expect to be told I sounded too American, but to be told I sounded too Mexican was amusing to me. Frankly, I felt complimented. Perhaps I felt a little proud of having gained at least some of the proper lilt of our southern neighbor, though I don’t doubt that in those months of volunteering, my Spanish did Colombianize somewhat.
Speakers of different varieties of Spanish are usually quite mutually intelligible, but those unique Puerto Rican or Colombian or Mexican idioms and accents can be marked from a mile off which is a beautiful and fascinating thing.
Another quick story: When I studied Arabic, I also did brief courses in some of the major dialects. Since I deployed to Iraq twice as a linguist, Iraqi dialect became the most familiar and comfortable to me, though they are all wonderful.
The thing is, Arabic dialects are a whole different ball game. Some of these are NOT mutually intelligible. Iraqi dialect has Persian and Turkish influences and ranges from region to region; Levantine has remnant French, and all the silkiness thereof; Egyptians have one letter they straight-up pronounce differently than everyone else. And because Arabic is such a vast language, each country can have a whole set of vocabulary that scarcely touches the vocabulary of another country even though both are fully and historically Arabic!
And as for my book? Well I can never get over how powerful language is, both as art, but also as a vital tool. If you have ever been in a country where you do not know the language, and few people know your native language, you know how crippling that can be. It limits the ability to appreciate the people around you, while putting you entirely at the mercy of whichever person DOES speak both languages. We have to trust translators to communicate the news, art, literature, conversation etc. in a rich and full-throated way. We have to trust that we’re getting the truth.
And usually we are. But the phrase “lost in translation” exists for a reason.
Having stood as the go-between for one language and another, I felt how strange and curious it is to be that middle person who isn’t even part of the conversation and yet ensures that it happens well and truthfully, and how frustrating it must be (perhaps far more so in a military context) to be on either end, hoping you really understand what’s going on around you, hoping you really understand each other.
These thoughts and these experiences bled into my writing–as most things do–and became a series of wide-open doors and almost insurmountable barriers for different characters. It isn’t the point of the whole story, it isn’t the plot, but it is a pervasive climate, so to speak. When people say “write what you know” I think this is part of what they mean.

 

The Olympics

I was going to write about dialect (still will) but decided that a few thoughts on the Olympics would be more timely.
The Olympics are so weird and cool. If you just say “Oh, it’s an international athletics competition,” it doesn’t fully capture the compelling strangeness that is the Olympics. For decades, almost the entire WORLD gets together to pitch their trained athletes (and, in some ways, their respective philosophies of how to do things…see USA vs. China) at one another. It almost has that ancient ring to it of “I’ll send my best swordsman, and you send your best and we’ll see who wins.”
What fascinates me about the Olympics, in no particular order:
Sports, Suddenly
The truth is I don’t watch a lot of sports. My chief “sport” has always been running, with a little bit of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu thrown in, and whenever I encountered organized sports as a child I balked at the organization bit. Rules and regulations befuddled me. What do you mean you can’t tackle people in soccer? Basketball? Why can’t you tackle in ALL the sports? (In retrospect, I probably would have liked Rugby…) Why do we have to do it like that?
My favorite game was this nonsense one we used to play in the Marine Corps that employed every ball the gym would lend us (football, soccer ball, tennis ball), had almost no rules, and ALL the tackling. It was briefly abolished for creating too many injured Marines.
The point? I still don’t follow sports so much. I can truly enjoy the spirit of a game if I care about a particular team or player, and every now and then I’ll appreciate an event, but it’s usually not my thing.
So, yes, I’m one of those. When the Olympics are on, it’s this awesome opportunity to look in on a world of incredible talent and athleticism…a world I know very little about. I love being astonished by the athletes strength, capacity, calmness, and resilience. I’m just stunned looking at some young woman ten years my junior and thinking, “wow, you are the best in the WORLD at what you do, and you are tough as nails.” I just love that.
Politics, Subtly
Ostensibly we put politics aside for the Olympics. It’s part of the spirit of the games, of coming together despite our conflicts and differences. And that is pretty astonishing, considering how many conflicts are ALWAYS ongoing and actually influencing daily lives. If you or I or someone else are somewhat personally insulated from the effects of these conflicts, do not for one moment imagine that is the case for everyone. What outrages you via twitter is actually a live and painful reality for a lot of people.
It is a strange and wonderful thing that all of this can be set aside to come together and honor one another’s athletes. It is also not totally accurate.
What do I mean by this? Here are some examples of how politics and conflict are ever-present in the Olympics, in ways both good and bad:
-The first ever refugee contingent present at the Olympics this year. The Olympians in this contingent are getting to compete under a unique status–neither for their country of residence, nor for their home country–but are also bringing attention to the plight of refugees in different parts of the world.
-The host country, whoever that happens to be, usually wants to send a message to the world about who they are–about their status in the global community, and about what they believe.
-The Beijing Olympics had one of the most praised opening ceremonies in a long time–they were also controversial because of the intense disagreements regarding human rights concerns in China. At least in America, there was as much discussion about the political state of things as there was about the grandeur of the ceremonies.
-The 1972 Munich games, wherein the games were used by a terrorist group as an opportunity to kill Israeli athletes on what would inevitably be a world stage, impossible for anyone to ignore.
-Jesse Owens in the 1936 Olympics. This is one of the most powerful examples, I believe. Though America struggled (and often still struggles) with race and injustice, it had a chance to show what it stood for–what we aspire to–in the very face of the racial animosity and discrimination already being advocated by the Nazi regime at the time. No, Jesse Owens could not stop WWII or the Holocaust by his mere presence, but who knows what impression he made on young minds not yet in thrall to Nazi ideology? The US had its own extremely dangerous and damaging eugenicist movement in the 20’s and 30’s, and we could have joined in the death parade. Instead, we chose to stand against and in contrast to that.
The list goes on. The Olympics can be an opportunity to put on a certain face, to take a certain stand. To do good or ill, both actually or symbolically.
National Pride, Healthily
You can both enjoy your own nation’s athletes, and rejoice whole-heartedly with others. If a country that has never received a medal before receives one, this fills us with joy. We enjoy their pride. We are affected by their tears. We are truly glad for them. It’s the kind of wholesome pride that leaves ample room to enjoy the successes of those who do not represent you.
Humility, Constantly
May seem like a contradiction to the previous point, but isn’t. A strong, happy, lovely nineteen year old woman is the best in the whole wide world at something. Something very difficult. Something I could never do. That is truly awesome. And humbling. In a good way.
It is also encouraging. Have you seen all those athletes that finish on track or in gymnastics with a limp? Some (Kerri Strug) still had hope to medal. Others had lost all chance of it–and yet they continued. They wanted to finish, no matter what, because that is what they had set out to do.
And what about Kerri Walsh Jennings? This one was particularly inspirational to me as a mom. When she won in the 2012 London Olympics, she was 5 weeks pregnant with her third child. Yes, she is a brilliant athlete–the best–but also a loving mother. I know a lot of people look down on motherhood as not being influential or important or deserving of any accolades, and they loathe when motherhood is brought up regarding a woman with a popular profession. I do not think this is very fair to moms. To see a mom–who is proud of being a mom!–doing something so awesome gives me great joy and encouragement.
So for all the strangeness, and all the conflicts, the Olympics can be pretty amazing, and I think I have enjoyed them more this year than I have in a while.

 

 

Refurbishment

I am trying to do nice things to this website, but I am not good at this at all. My idea had been that, once I reached a certain point in this whole submission/publishing process, I would maybe upgrade to a paid website and the I would pretty it all up and what-not. I have heretofore avoided doing anything else, because–to tell the truth–I just don’t know how.
But I did something new yesterday! I added a contact form! Despite my sense of dread and discomfort while approaching the task, it took all of five minutes to accomplish. This gives me confidence to attempt new, low skill-level things such as: Making a better “About” page. Actually doing a “book” page that gives some information about the book, rather than about why I wrote the book. (This was an accident. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time, and somehow linked my “Books” page to a previous blog rather than creating a fresh page and populating it with the correct information. I think I can fix this.)
Anyone who has even one drop of internet savvy would probably laugh at how bad I am at all this, and how daunted I am by these simple tasks. But I’m figuring it out, and I will be trying to fix these little things over the next few days so that when/if I redo the website completely, I’ll have a better idea of how to go about it.
In Other News:
There really isn’t much other news. I am currently reading Grace of Kings by Ken Liu (I’m about 2/3 of the way through) and I am still re-reading GK Chesterton’s In Defense of Sanity as well as his omnibus of Father Brown stories. I WAS reading Blaise Pascal’s Pensees (very, very slowly, with lots of underlining) but I cannot find the book. It has gone missing in my travels. I hope I find it, because of all the UNDERLINING.
I also finally picked up a book I’d read about 60 pages of and then neglected, partly because my language skills are a little rusty, and the book is pretty academic and therefore not a breezy read in any language: It’s المجتمع العراقية: تحليل سيكوسوسيولوجي لما حدث ويحدث. (My translation: Iraqi Society: A Psychosociological Analysis of What Has Happened and What is Happening. It’s by Qasim Husayn Saleh). It was published in 2007, so there are a lot of new developments in Iraq not addressed, but the angle in most of the essays is historical anyway–the history of how Iraqi society works. My goal is to finish it this summer, both because I am deeply interested in the history and present of Iraqi society, and because my language skills need some refurbishment as well. It is too beautiful and rich a language to fall in disuse, thence to be lost.
After that, however, I’m going to re-read a novel called Girls in Riyadh, which will be easier and more fun since I’ve read it before and it’s written in a blog-post style, and the dialogue is in dialect…it’s all much more informal and cozy.
By the way, I have a whole blog post I want to write about dialects (100% related to my books, I promise!) and I think that is the one I will write next. So: to be continued in our next…

 

 

 

Adventures and Consequence

So I wrote two weeks ago about viewing inconveniences as adventures and how that can be difficult even when the inconveniences are minor and very silly. I hold to this.
But that’s not to say there aren’t consequences to “adventures”–either those of choice or those of inconvenience. The whole point of adventure is consequence. When you embrace something difficult or uncomfortable, it will affect you. If it has no impact whatsoever, then I’m not entirely sure it qualifies for the term.
Not all of those impacts are immediately pleasant, and some aren’t even pleasant in the long run. Regardless, I have found that the things I look back on with joy and gratitude were often kinda miserable in the moment, particularly those that were physically or mentally rigorous.
Example 1: Ask anyone who has ever been to Marine Corps boot camp. It’s a stupid, mostly miserable, exhausting, ridiculous, obnoxious, weird little world, all wrapped up tightly with a thread of dark comedy (and a concentrated little hint of what military life can be like in general). But then, afterwards, everybody talks about it with a sort of fondness and a (slightly inordinate) love and pride. (Boot camp stories are told so often that everybody gets tired of them after a while, until they’re older, then they’re funny again).
But you have to get through sleeping straight as a board in a squad baby full of fifty other recruits while feeling like you’re about to cough your lungs out of your throat. You have to get through all the nonsense, the tiredness, and feeling like it’s never going to end. You have to sit dry-firing with numb fingers on the rifle range in the middle of winter. And yeah, you do all the fun stuff too–the shooting, rappelling, obstacle courses, martial arts and so on.
Then, when it’s all over, you get to laugh about it and talk about how fun/stupid/hard/outrageous it all was and the experience becomes a piece of who you are, regardless of how small a piece. Little failures and little successes become cemented in your mind and you carry them.
Or maybe, like some other young women I went to boot camp with, you get injured and have to do it all over again–two or three times, till you’re so worn down and much too acclimated to being treated like crap. Or it messes with your head and you start to think suicidal thoughts–maybe even plan suicidal actions. Maybe something bad happened at home, and you weren’t there for it, and it’s eating you up.
All this is to say that–as a mere example–the miniature adventure of boot camp can be something you learn from and laugh off, or something that injures you and sends you home for a “failure to adapt.” (That is a real thing, and a necessary thing, and not a condemnation. It just means that a given person and the Marine Corps were never going to work out together, they’re not healthy for one another, so it’s best to part ways).
Example 2: Two weeks ago I went on a hike with my family. It was a hike none of us had done in a really long time, but which we all remembered fondly. Sure, we knew it was going to be a bit trickier with seven kids in tow (ages 1-12) and with some wonderful (patient, enduring) in-laws who had been promised a slow leisurely hike and were not quite prepared for anything rigorous.
Fun, fun for everyone, right?
Turns out this hike hasn’t been done by anyone in a long time, it was terribly overgrown and rough, and most of the “trail” isn’t a trail at all, but just making your way up a rocky, log-and-brush strewn riverbed as the canyon grows tall on either side, which makes turning back or veering off pretty much impossible. There was no chance for “this is hard, maybe I should just go back and wait at the car,” because going back was just as slippery and rugged as going up, and we had to help each other over obstacles, and up rocks.
Now my family LOVES this stuff, but with the wide assortment of ages and conditions we had, it was pretty rough (i.e. I’m closer to my third trimester of pregnancy than my first and I was carrying my toddler on my back for half of the hike; he was not too happy with the ride at first. Also, my brother-in-law’s mom has some equilibrium issues, and though she was impressively dogged, she usually needed a steadying arm to grip on the rougher terrain. Also…a three year old, a five year old and…you get the idea).
It took us fully twice as long as we had anticipated, all of us came home aching, sore, exhausted, and covered in scrapes and bruises. I bashed my finger against a rock (it’s still swollen and stiff now) and the youngest ones went all the way past “I’m-so-tired-I-need-a-nap” to “I’m-giddy-tired-and-I’ll-never-nap-again!” My youngest brother also got altitude sickness, because he didn’t have time to acclimate before we started the hike.
For the most part, I think everyone was eventually glad they did it. Now, my finger does still hurt–a minor injury for a minor adventure–but it was good to persevere and challenge ourselves.
It isn’t always fun in the moment, or at each moment. If you have ever taught a kid to ride a bike, you know this. How many tears, tantrums, bruises, and blood does it take for them to figure it out? How worth it is it when they do?
Yet even the littlest adventures are not free from consequences. Real injuries, real dangers, real pain, real frustration, real disaster can result from the smallest risks. But that’s just how it is, and it should not deter us.
Is this at all related to writing? Well yes, though it requires very little explanation, and admittedly wasn’t my original point.
Actions, adventures, emotions, decisions all have consequences. If a character gets punched in the face, that bruise should last a while. If they are tired, it will hit them eventually, and not when it is convenient to the plot. Emotional wounds and physical wounds do not usually heal in a day or a week, and some of them cause real long-term scars or internal change.
I can forget this sometimes–both in life and in stories–but even a tiny little adventure has the capacity remind me of this truth.

 

Adventures and Hardship

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.”
-G.K. Chesterton
I didn’t think much about this quote the first time I read it. I thought “well…yeah…I suppose that’s true” but I also rather thought the author was oversimplifying. There seems to be a real distinction between the inconvenient adventure of one’s tire busting on the road, and the more palatable adventure of setting out with a pack on your back to hike a beautiful mountain.
But Chesterton makes a further point in his essay on the importance of the family–for it is a decidedly unchosen adventure and often a very great inconvenience–which drives this point much further home.
“A man has control over many things in his life; he has control over enough things to be the hero of his novel. But if he had control over everything, there would be so much hero that there would be no novel. And the reason why the lives of the rich are at bottom so tame and uneventful is simply that they can choose the events. They are dull because they are omnipotent. They fail to feel adventures because they can make the adventures. The thing which keeps life romantic and full of fiery possibilities is the existence of these great plain limitations which force all of us to meet the things we do not like or do not expect.”
(emphasis added)
These quotes came to mind from a very mundane source. I am spending time with my family and have been traveling a lot lately with my 1 year old and my 24 week pregnant belly, always having to adjust to different environments and then back to home, then to the road, then to a boisterous, crowded house, then to an empty one again. It’s all good stuff, but daunting, because doing things under these circumstances–even the theoretically fun things–is often hard.
What is fun when you’re a singleton, or even married but without children, becomes challenging and even wearisome when you have other lives dependent upon you. It is as if once you were rich in time and freedom of movement and now you are poor in said things, but the poverty of circumstance forces resilience, creativity, and endurance. I learn that I can do what I did not think I could do. I learn that I can make good on inconvenience and discomfort. And THAT, believe it or not, is a real adventure. Not one you would seek, but one that is worth coming through.
The second circumstance that brought this idea to the fore was watching my dad work on some big projects. My dad has worked with his hands for most of his life. His first education was to be a mechanic, but he ended up doing construction for the majority of my childhood. When I was very little he worked two jobs–at a construction company following a 3 am paper route to supplement income (that’s something you have to do when you have six kids!). He is a creative problem-solver type.
So this week he had some new flooring to lay down, as well as a broken dishwasher and a failing oven to replace. While this is his field, there’s always some new aspect to each project. Certain things had to be done to wire/connect the stove for propane instead of gas, as well as doing a tip-preventer thing to keep the oven from being pulled over by a wayward child (say, an exploratory 1 year old…)
All that to say, I always get the impression that my dad views a new and complicated construction or installation project as an adventure, rather than a wearisome prospect. I don’t think he would put it that way, but he attacks it that way, circling the problem for possibilities, and getting right to it. And each time he overcomes the problem, it is a new tool in his belt (sometimes literally and figuratively).
My husband is this way too. He will start a project from scratch, knowing next to nothing about it, and he will work and study and research and figure it out.
Sometimes, on my better days, I can see this clearly and enjoy a daunting project or endeavor, rather than dread it (which is what I all too often do). Once, when my car’s starter went out, I simply refused (as the daughter of a mechanic) to take it to a repair shop. So I bought the part, went to the hobby shop on the Marine Corps base where I lived, and spent my lunch hour(s) fixing my starter with help from my dad and a youtube video. What was a frustrating inconvenience became an adventure, a skill-acquirer, and a point of pride for me.
In the context of fiction, the adventures are always obvious to us and we like to watch them unfold and envision ourselves in such situations. But were the stereotypical adventures of fantasy novels to present themselves to us in real life, they would be viewed as frustrations and inconveniences at the very least. Just think of how you feel when you are stuck in traffic–a very minor inconvenience, but one which often makes us grip our steering wheels and feel like shouting at random strangers. Just think how we feel when weather keeps us from doing an activity we had planned, or slows down progress on a project. Think of how we feel when we crave a certain food, but the takeout place is closed. Think of how we feel when our phone is on the fritz and we cant call people or access e-mail or navigation or whatever it is (I’m still relatively new to smartphones, and I don’t use more than few of the extra million and a half features available).
These are very minor things, and rarely do we take them as adventures (at least, I rarely do). Normally we just get aggravated and wonder why all these little motes of dust are getting in our eyes when we just wanted our day to go along without any interferences!
Interferences are the adventures, if we will rightly consider them. This is what I want to do in life. When things aren’t working out the way I want them to, I want to think of this–think of great characters in stories and great heroes in real life–and attack it like an adventure.

 

Updates

Long overdue updates, that is.
I just spent the last month solid working on what looks to be the final round of revisions for my agent, which means submission is on the horizon!!!
I pretty much buried myself in the revisions, which were comparatively light, but I wanted them to be VERY GOOD so that this could truly be the final round, so it took that full month of consistent work. This happened to coincide with my husband being out of town a lot, as well as some traveling by myself with pregnant belly, 15 month old, and wolf-dog all in tow. Obviously all that factored in.
Now the work is submitted, I can go back to ye good old checking-my-email-with-absurd-and-unnecessary-frequency-because-I-literally-just-sent-it-yesterday. All good fun.
I have more traveling up ahead–spending time with family–but will have time to jot here much more often, and keep it better updated. My other goal, now that I finished that revision, is to get back to all the half-finished books. I also have a few fun-looking military sci-fi’s that I’m interested in (The Red: First Light by Linda Nagata and Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja) and hope to get to sometime this summer.
One of the lovely things about this revision was that I still really enjoy my story. I sort of did the revision a wonky way. I took the old document, track-changed the revisions there, so I could do with unchanged, unmarked, clean space. Then I did a readthrough of each individual chapter after it was revised. Then, I painstakingly transferred those changes into the main document which had my agent’s changes/comments in it, to combine the two. THEN I did a final, thorough readthrough from start to finish. This means that I read my own book multiple times in a very short period.
(I had my reasons for doing it this way, but it was very inefficient.)
And, yes, sometimes when I was tired I had a hard time focusing on lines/scenes I’d read again and again, and my eyes would begin to glaze…but then, after a minute, I’d get into it. I’d get excited. I’d enjoy my story, or that scene, or that line ALL OVER AGAIN. I’m always a little worried I’ll be so oversaturated with my own story that I won’t enjoy it. But I really, really do. And that is such a blessing and an encouragement. I take it as a good sign (although, clearly, I’m biased).
For me, this is the real crux of it anyway. I wrote this story because I craved it. I wanted it to exist. To be published and read, sure that’s good too, but mostly to exist, so that I could read it and enjoy it. Pretty selfish motivation, but hopefully it will turn out with good results, and hopefully others will someday be able to enjoy it in their own way, coming to it with their own perspective.
I also had to go through books 2 and 3 so I could write synopses for them and that was fun too! I was a little worried that after the last year of revisions, I might come back to them (because they have not been updated since I revised them for the querying stage) and be disappointed. But I kept looking up at my sister (whom I was visiting) and saying “I REALLY like this scene. This is good!”
Again, biased : ) But it’s nice to come back to something and be proud of it rather than embarrassed.
So. Revision, done. Submission, not far off. It’s pretty exciting.

The Rebels Three

If I were to describe snippets of my childhood to you, you might conclude that I was kind of a rebel or something. I got in trouble and got disciplined more than most of my siblings. I was suspended once, and got detention another time, and have absolutely no excuse for either incident (meaning I was completely in the wrong both times). I got in a show-down with my Pre-Calc teacher once, made one of my all-time favorite teachers cry and leave the room, set off an alarm at Mount Vernon for sneaking through barred-off areas, got in trouble more times than I can count for refusing to wear shoes, and warred (and won) with my Master Gunnery Sergeant over my pre-deployment training schedule.
This list is in no way exhaustive. I often brought others down in my apparent waywardness, like my cousin who got detention because she did what I did. Or any other friend who joined me in some scheme that ended up with alarms and searches, five-year-olds trying to climb on the roof, or broken ankles.
But here’s the thing. I wasn’t a rebel. Not the kind you’re thinking of, anyway, which is the Classic Rebel, or the Type 1 Rebel. If anything, I was what I am now going to call (I am making these categories up) a Type 2 Rebel, aka the Accidental Rebel, or the Ignorant Rebel. There is also the Type 3 Rebel (the best one, in my humble opinion), the Principled Rebel.
I’m going to go through what I know of these three types and how functional I think each is in the act of actually rebelling against something that deserves to be rebelled against.
The Classic Rebel (Type 1): 
This is the one we think of first when we hear the word “rebel.” It’s the person who, by nature, has to go against the grain. And, yes, I do mean “by nature.” Some of us just have inherently rebellious personalities that have nothing to do with what we are rebelling against and everything to do with the fact that we like to kick against the goads.
This is the one who doesn’t disobey their parents because they forgot, or because they disagreed, or because they came up with a better idea, but just because the idea of having a restriction (even a good one) placed upon them makes their skin crawl.
The thing about the Classic Rebel is that they are like a driving current that can be thrown in any direction simply by telling them to go in the opposite one. Their rebellion is often far more reactive than it is substantive. It can be channeled into acting on values, but that isn’t why it exists. It exists because the Classic Rebel has a vendetta against society, and the sins of society aren’t even the source of the vendetta, just the excuse for it.
I think people often say this proudly–“well I’m a rebel. I don’t listen to anyone“–but I don’t think that’s very helpful in the long run. Besides, it’s like someone taking pride in the color of their hair; it’s just plain nature and if you don’t hone it towards something valuable, it’s not going to do anyone any good.
Let’s use the example of WWII–an extreme one, I know, but it clarifies: Say you have a Classic Rebel living in Vichy France. Their instinct to rebel may well lead them to become a maquisard and fight against the Germans. Germans=authority. Authority=restrictions. The restrictions have got to go. But since the instinct is to rebel against authority, they are just as likely to find the original French government to have been repressive and side with the Germans against them, rebelling against that. Or perhaps, in rebelling against societal norms to which they are accustomed, they adopt the new societal norms that the Germans offered. Or, even beyond that, they may join the resistance, but refuse to listen to their maquis leaders, and may have botched life-saving missions because they have to go against the grain.
Most of us who have this streak in us learn to temper it over time, discerning when to let that rebellious spirit die in the face of good advice or better aims, and when to let it fight for a good cause. But some don’t, and they go on fighting agains the grain, even when the grain is very good.
Look, I am as excited as anyone about the new Star Wars: Rogue One movie but my LEAST FAVORITE part of of the preview is where our tough heroine hears a litany of her past actions recited to her as a sort of chastisement and she simply responds:
“Well, this is a rebellion isn’t it? That’s what I do. I rebel.”
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I rolled my eyes, honestly. I know it’s a preview, and they wanted her to say something punchy and catchy…I get it. But rebelling for the sake of rebelling doesn’t mean much. If the Empire starts calling themselves rebels, you gonna join them too? Because that could happen.
The Accidental/Ignorant Rebel (type 2):
The Accidental Rebel neither feels the need to conform to society, nor to rebel against it, because the Accidental Rebel is usually oblivious or indifferent to what is going on around them. They just don’t care what people think. They don’t need to be liked.
A lot of people SAY this about themselves, but it is rarely true, and this is evidenced by the fact that we are usually a lot kinder in person than we are on the internet. In person we cultivate community and friendships, and sometimes this involves a low level of conformity (like watching a movie that’s not your thing just to spend time with people you enjoy and admire).
The accidental rebel has a droplet of the sociopath in them, and I DON’T say that to be mean (I’m talking about myself here). The social protocols and interactions that make sense to everyone else elude them.
Are they dressed in that outrageous fashion because they are making a statement? No. They are dressed that way because they don’t understand or care about fashion (at all) and they get dressed like most people handle playing cards: shuffle, deal, and play with whatever lands in your hand.
[Since I claim myself predominantly type 2, I’ll explain: My husband is not a fashion guy at all, but I have to ask him if things match or look good or are in any way appropriate to the occasion.]
There is good and bad to the accidental rebel. They certainly think for themselves, and are usually obnoxiously independent, but they can lack empathy and hospitality and general awareness of those around them. It’s the trade-off. The part of them that is free from any obligation to conform, is also sometimes free from the humility and compassion associated with learning from others and listening to others and (VERY IMPORTANT) understanding others, especially when their situation ‘doesn’t interest you.’
I was rarely embarrassed or uncomfortable as a child, even when I perhaps should have been. I was always 100% confident in my opinions, even the most absurdly wrong ones. I did not disobey because I felt rebellious, but because I was certain of my course of action, and because I felt conviction. I did what I thought was right–and I desperately wanted to do what was right–and ate the consequences if I turned out to be wrong. My mind was not easily changed and, with rare exception, “what everyone else was doing” had no bearing on my decision, either to either go along or fight against.
The good of this is that I avoided falling into a lot of stupid trends and dangerous traps because I didn’t care what people thought of me (in retrospect I think they thought I was odd and obnoxious but maybe sometimes a bit interesting?). The bad of this is that I wasn’t always very caring or kind as a child…because, again, I didn’t care what people thought.
[Empathy is certainly something I do have, sometimes to a painful degree, but it was not always properly connected to the way I interacted with people. I was SO oblivious to social interaction/protocols/etc.]
This type of rebel is kind of a chaotic neutral. They are not often lowered by societies negative pressures, but neither can they be improved by its positive ones.
In the Vichy France example, what the type 2 rebel does depends almost entirely upon whatever core convictions they have come to hold at the outset, and any basic observation and analysis that follows. If the type 2 reveres power and force, and finds it philosophically potent, they may go to the Germans. If they have convictions towards kindness and justice and freedom or the sovereignty of nations, well, to the resistance instantly. But you won’t be able to convince them of anything with peer pressure, or even threat of death or ostracization. Whether they are dead right or dead wrong, they are going to have to figure that out almost entirely on their own. They can listen to rational arguments, but it may take them a long time (months, years) to process, parse, and internalize it.
The Principled Rebel, AKA the Non-Rebel Rebel (Type 3):
This is the one I would hope to be regardless of personality. I say this because the above two types are about explicitly one’s nature, and this is entirely about one’s choice.
Type 3 might even be just the normal John or Jane Doe. They experience peer pressure, and are sometimes compelled by it. They want to live a normal life, maybe even the most stereotypical domestic life, and they usually want their friends and neighbors to like them. They don’t feel the need to stand out or make a statement, and they are quite aware of their social surroundings and sensitive to them.
They are not sheep or anything, but they do not see themselves as (type 1) fighting against society or (type 2) outside society. It may even be 100% against their nature to make a fuss, or rock the boat. They may be the most acquiescing person you ever meet as regards normal, day-to-day things.
But when it comes to something really, really valuable, they are able to go COMPLETELY against their nature and against their desire for peace or ease or comfort, and rebel against something that’s decidedly wrong but very powerful.
The Classic Rebel may fight against Vichy France because they instinctively like fighting.
The Accidental Rebel may fight against Vichy France because they do not fear death, isolation, or slander.
But the Principled Rebel has nothing in their nature to inspire them to rebel except…principle. Their conviction has to grab their own nature by the shirt collar and force it to do what it doesn’t want to do, just because it’s right.
I like that. That’s a kind of rebellion I admire.