I Believe in America (also, The Truth about America)

First, one universal truth and one national truth.

The universal truth is that every human being is an unwavering, perfect band of light. That light is truth.

More specifically, that light is an encoded message. Each band of it, each individual human being, contains the sum of everything the universe knows about itself: every experience, every chemical structure, every physical law, everything.

The universe sends out these bands of light (which exist also in animals and stones and everything else) so that it can learn of itself. What we often call “God” or “the Divine” or “the Mystery” is simply everything, the total sum, finding ever more sophisticated ways to share itself with itself.

This leads us into the national truth.

The national truth is that the United States of America is a country put together by human beings which has the potential to carry out something perfectly aligned with the universe’s mission.

Specifically, it has the potential to become a project where the black human beings, the brown human beings, the pale human beings, the many nations of human beings who were here before the pale human beings came, the albino human beings, the deaf human beings, the blind human beings, the human beings with disabilities, the human beings who are not neurotypical, the human beings who are chronically ill, the human beings who are lesbian, the human beings who are gay, the human beings who are asexual, the human beings who are queer, the human beings who are trans, the human beings who are secular, and the human beings who practice any religious faith whatsoever, and every other kind of human being all participate in the same crucial task.

That task: for each of them to share their unwavering band of light with the world. To look into each other, through the eyes, ears, touch, or any other means, and say this:

“Yes, I am the infinite too. It’s good to see you again.”

America, through its splendid variety, has the chance to say so in a thunderously loud voice. Yet, there are some who hope it won’t.

The “hope it won’t” camp includes Nazis, White Supremacists, Fundamentalists, Fascists, the Alt Right, and all their supporters, loud or quiet.

They do not want the universe to share itself with itself. They want to shutter out those bands of light because it is too painful to look into them. When the infinite looks into them, they fear the honesty it asks for in return, so they cower and turn away.

Instead they obsess over the body, which is a vessel for that perfect band of light (and part of what it means to teach) but not the light itself.

They claim that the shape of the body’s skull leaves it more or less predisposed to violence, as does the color of its skin, the dialect with which it speaks, the sexual partners it chooses, and so many other disconnected details.

They point to the mistakes of America’s past and say, “Those weren’t mistakes. We should keep those brutalities going.”

All the while they deny that they themselves are perfect bands of light too, and that they commit an act of real suicide by shuttering out the other bands of light.

In the most secret depths of their hearts, they recognize their own actions as suicide. That is what they want. They want to die in such a profound way that everything dies.

They think the universe is a hateful, stupid child that must be disciplined into better behavior or, failing that, beaten until it dies.

Still, that America that can and should be, the America of Light, is growing. It will cover the whole land mass one day. It is the America I believe in.

It is not necessarily the America the Founding Fathers planned for, because it’s something even better: it is an America that generations and generations of Americans decided upon, that generations of Americans will continue to build.

And for the America of Light to keep growing, it might become necessary for the human beings who believe in it to destroy the human beings that don’t. A civil war, in the worst case scenario, and at the very least, violent resistance on the streets.

Do not look at the universe’s infinite love for itself and mistake it for pacifism. It is not. The universe has fought ferociously to stop itself from destroying itself, and it will do so again.

Nonetheless, the warriors of the America of Light should calm their hearts with the knowledge that they can destroy certain vessels of the perfect light without harming the light itself.

They need not burden themselves with hatred or even anger for those human beings that oppose them. They need only do what is right and necessary to keep the light shining, to keep open the possibility of an America that loves itself and shares with itself the same way the universe does.

In the America of Light, there won’t be much left of the old kind of patriotism, the kind that says, “America has an image, and you will reflect that image or die. This image, this country, is the only one that matters.”

No, the America of Light will have a new kind of patriotism, one that says, “We are proud of this place because there are many human beings here who care enough to make it better, who share their perfect bands of light with each other and with the world beyond. There are other countries who do this too. We admit to the mistakes we made before and work to do better.”

I know that this America will come, because in shimmering little corners, in the clear eyes and open palms of awakened human beings, it’s already here.

This the America I believe in. This is the America I serve.

One nation, out of many, playing its part in the dance.

How I Killed my First Novel (and How Structure Could’ve Saved it)

Club Classic was the tentative title, after the main character, and the story could’ve worked. It was a story of self-discovery set in a near-future “dystopia lite” where mega corporations have officially replaced the United States government and split the country into newer, smaller states.

The titular Club Classic was a professional dancer trying to find a sense of self in a world where everything from the walls of people’s homes to the surface of the ocean was covered in advertisements, and where the aforementioned mega corporations seemed to know everything about everybody.

I stuffed a lot of strange, risky ideas into the story, but the core of it could’ve worked. The only problem was, I had no idea what the core was. The story had too many darlings, and I had no framework at all for what I should cut and what I should keep when it came time to revise.

Indeed, I spent quite a lot of my own money hiring a respectable New York editor to look over the manuscript. He did exactly what he was meant to do: he gave me an honest assessment. He never said, but rather, implied that the manuscript was a complete mess.

With hindsight, I can tell he was being enormously patient and generous with me, but at the time it stung. He even wrote me a detailed synopsis of how he envisioned the final version of the story. It had a lot of the same elements of my story but it didn’t feel like mine.

I thanked him and payed him. I told him I would keep him in mind for any next steps, and he said he would be happy to work with me again whenever I was ready.

Then I went through, to date, my most painful and embarrassing writing experience.

I was sitting in a Starbucks with my laptop open, switching between my manuscript and the editor’s notes. I can’t tell you how long I sat there, although it felt like days.

I’ve had writing moments before when my hands felt paralyzed, because I was so confused about what to write next. This time, my entire body felt paralyzed.

No, not even paralyzed: chained. I remember squirming on that couch, trying to escape. I wanted to escape writing. I wanted to escape my first and truest love. I wanted to escape the very thing that makes me who I am.

The only thing that pulled me back to myself was remembering the time I had quit writing, which had lead to darker and scarier moments than even this.

So I did the only thing I could to keep myself together and keep writing: I killed my first novel. I closed the manuscript, closed the notes, and I haven’t looked at either of them since.

To prevent a similar disaster with my next book, I spent the next few weeks absorbing books on story structure (funny how they never taught me that while I was getting my Creative Writing degree—a story for another time).

I found two different story structure systems that I liked, so I smashed them together to create my own multi-layered, purposefully redundant story outlining system.

The result: a complete first draft of a full-length manuscript in about six months, while still working a full-time day job. I’ve made plenty of tweaks to the manuscript since then, but the magical thing is that every time I go back to tweak it I know exactly what I need to change and where.

Often, I find I can make the fix I need just by replacing a single conversation, or by moving a plot detail forwards or backwards in the story. No matter what tweaks I make, the structure still holds.

I used to fear structure because I thought it would make my stories feel formulaic. Not true. If anything, my novel manuscript by now feels a lot more natural than some of my short stories, which I mostly pants my way through.

This is the same manuscript, by the way, which got at least one agent interested in seeing more, and which has gotten rave reviews from my brilliant and merciless test reader, Gabby.

I’m extremely happy with where my writing is now, but the one thing that pains me is when I think back to Club Classic and realize how it could’ve survived if I’d only planned ahead, and how much pain and anguish I could’ve skipped on a personal level if I’d only embraced story structure.

This is all to say that, if you are a writer, you should make a point to study story structure and outline in advance at least one of your projects. Yes, even if you, like the old me, think you are a pantser.

Structure: it won’t kill you, but the lack of it might.