A Tricoastal Woman: Nostalgia for the Future

Starfarers OmnibusI am rarely nostalgic for events in my own past. There are periods I remember loving — being at Clarion West, for example — but I don’t want to go back there now. I’ve changed and the world has changed and the sheer joy of an experience is rarely something that can be replicated.

I feel much the same way about the late 1960s or many of my years training in Aikido in morning class at the D.C. dojo. It was a special time, but it isn’t possible to hold onto it.

But as a lifelong reader, I have sometimes fallen into a state something like nostalgia for places and settings I’ve read about. Some of those places were real.

I suspect I’ve spent much of my life wanting to live in Paris in comfortable rooms so I can meet my friends for serious intellectual discussions in cafes over chocolate (in the mornings) and wine (at night). You know, the world of de Beauvoir and Sartre, with perhaps some of the various groups or artists or other writers thrown in.

Or else the beatniks in New York City in the 1950s — again, hanging out in coffee houses, this time with poetry and drumming. Or even the Algonquin Round Table of the Dorothy Parker years.

I don’t think it occurred to me when reading of most of these eras that only a few select women got taken seriously in those worlds. The rest were just girls to sleep with. I always assumed I’d get taken seriously by the men because after all I was smart.

(How many women have been screwed by that fantasy? How many women who wrote better than the men, painted better than the men, opined better than the men are still unknown, while lightweights among the men are considered “canon.”)

Other semi-nostalgias never appealed to me much. My family heritage is the real truth of the mythology built out of the Anglo settlement of the American west. I know too much about it — and keep learning more — to want to live in those times.

And as for those people who go to gatherings where they pretend to live in Jane Austen’s time (or novels): I am appalled. I love Austen’s work, but I can imagine few Hells worse than being stuck in that era, especially as a bright woman. There are many misogynist problems in our era, but at least I didn’t have to marry Mr. Collins or become a governess.

All those worlds are fictional, of course — even the ones that come from memoirs. So I see no reason why I can’t develop a similar passion for worlds I’ve read about in science fiction — worlds that not only don’t exist, but that are after my time. Let’s call it nostalgia for the future.

I’d love to be on the Starfarers expedition that Vonda N. McIntyre created. What a community of interesting people to live with! And then the adventures that they have and the not-us intelligent beings they meet!

Some years back I got obsessed with the world Gwyneth Jones created in the five-novel series that begins with Bold as Love. I wanted to live there with the rockstars and other creatives and people trying to make a world in the collapse of the one we’re living in now. I re-read them incessantly, even paid a lot of money for a mass-market paperback shipped from the UK so I could read the next one. All that despite the fact that in many ways, it’s a dystopia.

Our passions for fictional places are very odd.

One of the joys of fiction as both a reader and a writer is the chance to “live” in a world that isn’t yours, that you’ll never get to be part of. The books and stories that trigger that feeling in me are very special.

As a writer, I’m finding more and more that I want to create worlds where I’d like to live. They aren’t always happy worlds, but they are interesting ones. This may be why I usually write stories in which women get to have adventures without it being either something they had to do without permission or something that they came into due to trauma. I started out wanting adventure stories where I got to be part of the story and that shows up in my fiction a lot.

Lately, though, I’ve been inclined to write about communities of people where I’d like to live. Maybe that’s full circle back to the urge to live in Paris in the 1950s with all the intellectuals around me.

So what fictional futures do you want to live in?



A Tricoastal Woman: Nostalgia for the Future — 6 Comments

  1. Aw. Thank you. I usually write about places I’d like to live in. They may be dystopic and the characters might be in a lot of trouble, but at least they aren’t based on misogyny.


    • I’d like to live in most of mine, too — though there are a couple that came from nightmares or dark recesses of my mind that I needed to put down, but are not where I want to be.

      I think it’s the combination of the community and the adventure that so delights me about Starfarers.

  2. I shuddered at the idea of attending the Algonquin Round Table, which was mostly male, deadly cruel, performance art as controlled by Alexander Woollcott, who was almost pathologically superficial in his drive to Be More Clever Than You. I don’t think that crowd did Dorothy Parker any good, but then she had a lot of other issues. Alcohol being one, shared by most of that crowd.

    George Sand’s Paris, yes–smart women could be smart there.

    Hildegard von Bingen’s monastery, which was all women, and so alive with creative and intellectual energy that everyone wanted to be there, but men could only write to them. Only women allowed.

    I think I’d like to spend a year or two in Heian Japan’s court, but not longer than that as the complicated social constraints would probably wear on me. I’d love the beauty and poetry.

    I, too, all my life have written about places I wish I could be.

    • Hildegard von Bingen’s monastery does have its appeal.

      I don’t think I’ll join you in Japan, though. I love many things Japanese — poetry, art, swords, philosophy — but dealing with the rules of social behavior would keep me too off balance to have a good time.

  3. A dear friend, who has traveled with us to Cuba more than once, currently lives in Chicago. Her father was french and she went to school there and live there part of the year. She’s planning to move back to NYC and start a salon of the sort her parents had weekly when she was growing up, with authors, film-makers, politicians (including Koch, who became mayor) and anyone her parents found interesting. This is going to add a great deal to our lives, I think — especially as her place here is very well set up for such a thing — and best of all, is so close to where we live too.

    I miss this kind of regular art, lit, political etc. kind of free-wheeling talk that took place all the time when in university, and now, even among faculty, doesn’t happen that much outside of formal panels and seminars and so on. Everybody is too busy, travel is too difficult and the pressures are just so great. That’s what I get nostalgic for — that sense of space and time from when I was a kid as an undergraduate, with all the privileges of faculty because reason.