First, an announcement! I’ll be the Author Guest of Honor at CoastCon in Biloxi, Mississippi next month from March 4-6. Hope to see some of you there!
So I had an encounter recently that got me thinking about the merits of subversiveness. While giving my Rotary club an update, the superintendent of our local public school described the surveillance system that’s in place and noted with satisfaction that the students couldn’t get away with anything. When I said, “That sounds like a challenge!” he shot me a withering look and replied in no uncertain terms, “It’s not.” I related this exchange to my mom, who laughed and said, “He’s lucky he wasn’t around when you were in school!”
It’s true. Even as a kid, I had a subversive streak. Not malicious, not even rebellious (okay, maybe a little), just… subversive. I filled the bathtub with flowers when my parents were having a dinner party. I snuck onto the roof and wailed down the chimney to convince my sister that the house was haunted. And if you told me I couldn’t do a thing, by God, I would do my damnedest to do it.
I spent 9th and 10th grade at a boarding school. It probably wasn’t all that strict as such things go – I remember having a fair amount of unsupervised time – but it was regimented enough. We had to be in our rooms by lights out, and there were alarms on the dormitory exits so no one could leave after hours. One night, a friend of mine discovered that one of the alarms was disabled. I don’t remember why or how; I don’t even remember who it was that made the discovery.
What I do remember is the sheer exhilaration of sneaking out in the dead of night. There were four of us, I think. We didn’t have a reason to do it and we didn’t have anywhere to go once we did, but by God, we were doing it anyway. It was so dark we could barely see, but we stumbled our way across the wooded campus to the Lake Michigan shore, hands outstretched in the pitch black, repressing hysterical giggles. It was early spring, and we sat on the cold, damp sand, shivering and whispering, all of us feeling gloriously daring and alive.
For me, there’s a definite link between subversion and creativity. Whether it be turning a masochistic courtesan into an epic heroine, retelling Tolkienesque fantasy as a sweeping tragedy, examining the effects of an inability to feel fear, or poking fun at the conventions of paranormal fantasy, I’m at my best when there’s a subversive element involved.
There’s a lot of formulaic work out there… and that’s okay. There will always be a place for work in any medium that delivers exactly what it promises. Sometimes that’s exactly what you want as a reader, a viewer, a listener. You watch a romantic comedy in the knowledge that the meet cute will lead to a happy ever after, not turn into a melancholy dissertation on the randomness of human encounters. But that’s not the work that challenges us, that up-ends our expectations, that causes us to rethink our assumptions about what art can be. That’s not the work with the potential to shake us to our core, and make us rejoice in the fact that we’re alive to experience it.
So here’s to all the subversive artists out there! Keep redefining the rules of what’s possible by breaking them.
In the spirit of subversiveness, here on the homepage is a photo of me tricking my poor neurotic dog into taking a selfie with me. And if you’ve ever wondered what “Love As Thou Wilt” would look like in the Star Wars Imperial Font, stop by the Tattoo Gallery!