Unbuilding the World
Stories build worlds, not the other way around.
A few reasons I dislike the phrase “world-building”:
It states that a world is something that can be built. No. Structures can be built; legos can be built. A world is something more happenstance and coincidental, the process by which it comes into being is not fully understood.
A world that can be built can also be torn down. This goes for anything so self-contained that it relies on walls. The frenzy for world building has bled over into our world, for which there is now an overwhelming delicacy and tenderness that is unwarranted. When we think we built our world, we tend to think of it as a fragile ‘this side up’ container not to be jostled.
Worlds layer and overlap one another. They exist in one place simultaneously. The crow’s world and my world are both here and now; there is no separating them, but there is also very little crossing over into the other — it’s an unsettled coexistence that frequently involves no small amount of violence. (See China Miéville’s novel The City & the City & journey back to 2009 when book trailers were a thing!)
The notion that one can build a world flattens the scale of a world into something universal viewed from the top down. It involves blueprints.
But most of all, world building implies that worlds exist before stories do. That worlds exist independently of stories; that worlds provide stories with a container, as opposed to the truth, which is that stories breathe life into worlds. Stories create worlds, not the other way around.
I confess, I’ve been thinking this way because I’m trying to start a new novel. Sometimes, in the floaty days before starting a new story, I get bogged down in details, what the world will be like, thinking it’s important to know how the world wills work before writing into it. But I always, always end up reminding myself that I still don’t know how this world works, and yet, I’m telling stories inside of it. The important part is to just start.
What I’m Reading
Ruth Ozeki’s new one, The Book of Form and Emptiness, finally came from the library! I won’t spoil anything (I’m even resisting a refresh on the flap copy while reading), but so far it’s a particularly good example of how stories build worlds.
There was supposed to be a better segue here, but I can’t think of one! I’m so excited to be teaching a class this spring, and for one of the ‘higher ed’ innovators I’m most in awe of:
science class // *sigh*ence class (Sundays, virtual, March 20 - April 7, for Warman School)
In this class we'll experiment with experience, play with what we can take from biology, geology, -ologies in general, and approach our own investigations in prose, in syntax, with as much (or more) curiosity as scientists do a cell or taxonomy. I see science, in its Western configuration, as a failed endeavor-- a commitment to fact and data that left feeling behind in an attempt to conquer and colonize with Knowledge. We'll try to reclaim and embody feeling in our work and in the way we move through the world. In *sigh*ence, we're not interested in peer review or critique, nor in the writer as data collector; this will be a generative workshop built around communal inquiry. I will provide a reading list, prompts & 'homework', a mix of writing assignments and exercises such as: 'go outside and find a piece of lichen. how many worlds can you find inside of it?'
I have always wanted to teach a science class, but I’m not remotely qualified. Fortunately, in the eyes of Warman School, this is a positive :) Let me know if you sign up!
And this Sunday, Jan 23, there are still a few spots left for the intimate talk with me via The Seventh Wave magazine if you just can’t wait to talk more about story and publishing.
Orion Magazine is hiring a Digital Strategist. $52k salary. Northampton, MA, but remote for now.
The Center for the Art of Translation in San Francisco is hiring for two positions: Operations Assistant (not remote), and Communications Assistant (remote possible). Both pay $55k.
Fonograf Editions & De-Canon are taking submissions from BIPOC writers for a hybrid lit anthology. Deadline Jan 31.
smoke and mold is open for submissions for Issue 6 until Jan 31. Send us your work!