Monday, April 26, 2004

The Freedom of Strangers

Yesterday, I went to a dinner party at a friend's house. We didn't know most of the people there, including two families from Great Britain, one English, one half Welsh. At first, we trolled our way through the common topics, asking about their holiday, discussing the weather and other small talk. Then, the discussion gradually migrated to topics not usually raised in these sort of settings. Religion seemed a relatively obvious one seeing as two of the visitors were Anglican priests, but we also delved into politics and terrorism.

While these might not be traditionally acceptable topics and are ones most people veer away from in horror, the discussion fascinated me. We all seemed to be enjoying ourselves. Our hostess commented at one point that she was very impressed. We'd managed to discussion both politics and religion, the two taboo subjects, while remaining civil.

We were aided by our similar positions on both US and British politics, but still, there were moments when one or more stood out in opposition to the group. Despite some differences, the discussion never became aggressive.

Honestly, I'm rather awkward in social situations where dating, clubbing, shopping and the like are traditionally discussed because I have not had much experience with these things. Give me a good political or philosophical discussion though, and I fit right in.

What struck me later is the freedom we all had. Only our hosts knew everyone, and even then didn't know them for long. There was little need to ensure we could face each other over a desk in the morning or at the playground while our kids ran wild. We could say what we believed with no real repercussions. Oddly, this may have allowed us to explore each other's character in a way we normally cannot except with our true intimates. I walked away with a good sense of who people were and the understanding that they knew a bit of how I think. I may have made some true friends, though long distance ones, all because I didn't have to shield my words or thoughts for fear of consequences.

Have we reached a point where we can only be open with strangers? Has the kindness of strangers changed from physical to emotional care? We all wear masks because it is how we're trained to deal with different social situations. I'm an introvert and yet have held roles in life that require me to be very extroverted. The extroversion is a mask I don to handle situations, rarely revealing more than a caricature of myself because of the consequences an ill-favored opinion might have. So, I ask you, with who can you just be yourself? And how many of those strong friendships were forged because, at the beginning when meeting as strangers, you had nothing to lose?

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Rock Golems or Robots?

Sorry for the long delay, folks, but I hope you'll enjoy my latest offering.

What draws us to either science fiction or fantasy? I have an interesting take on this question because I'm observing its development in my own home. I grew up fascinated with Heinlein and Arthur C. Clark as well as Marion Zimmer Bradley and Anne McCaffrey. Despite my sister's efforts, I kept steady for years until MZB wrote a series of books with a talented author, Mercedes Lackey. I then went to find her books and they were fantasy. This started my slip into becoming the generalist I am today.

Fast forward to my maturing children. I have one who loves all things fantasy. He enjoys creating fantasy stories, is absorbed by Dungeons and Dragons, and cheerfully edits anything I write with a fantasy theme. My other wants science fiction and little else. He grudgingly read Harry Potter and prefers Animorphs, though the science there is questionable at best. He rarely reads my fantasy and begs me to write more science fiction stories, preferably with heavy, deadly machinery.

While it's obvious they made their choices, for now at least, I find it interesting how these choices show up in other areas. My sf son confronted me about the Tooth Fairy, asking not if she exists but why we pretend she does. He finally agreed to go along with the tradition to get his quarters but made sure I know he knows it's all bunk. In comparison, his brother never questioned the Tooth Fairy. Whatever he might believe, he's willing to accept a world imbued with mystical forces beyond our comprehension that make the mundane world a little more fascinating.

So then, is the preference of science fiction over fantasy a sign of grounding in the physical reality where things are defined by what you see and touch? Does a leaning toward fantasy show up in those more open to an indefinable world overlaying the physical one? And what about those like myself who enjoy both paths?