De-fence…

I was driving along suburban roads yesterday with my husband, on our usual trip to our Saturday morning breakfast out, and I was suddenly struck… by fences.

There’s a little house on a corner, older and less than perfectly cared for, with a short picket fence more decoration than any kind of impediment to anything at all, once white but now a cheerfully peeling grayish motley revealing the weathered wood underneath. Around and through it nod flowers – daisies, and poppies, and things that might be lupins or something of that sort. There’s a rose bush in there somewhere. The lawn beyond is a child’s dream of dandelion grass. I don’t think that the occupants of that house have a great deal of money – but it FEELS like they are rich in other ways.

There’s another house, a little further on the same street. This house has a high wooden fence all around it, the kind that’s too dense and too tall to see through or over. The fence has a closed (and probably locked) gate in it.  Its message is, “This is MY SPACE. Keep out. Stay out. I don’t want you here.” Sure, the security value is probably higher than the little white peeling picket fence you can step over. But if nobody can see inside… neither can they see out, and the world and the people who live behind that fence are somehow sundered from one another.

Writing can be like that. Writing can give you a glimpse into someone else’s garden, and take you by the hand and lead you inside, and offer you tea and cakes and laughter on the dandelion lawn. Or it can leave you shivering outside the locked gates of a garden that does not want you, that looks on you with suspicion or disdain, that disparages all that YOU know or all that YOU can do in favour of the things that those already inside the fence believe is their sole domain, and although it’s entirely possible that you can hear and understand the music which drifts out over the top of the high fence you will NEVER be invited to the dance.

Shouldn’t the best writing be about breaking down the fences…? Not raising them up?

I was thinking about this when the classic story popped up – Oscar Wilde’s “Selfish Giant”. Not, perhaps, one my favourite Wilde stories – he could do so much better than this kind of rather heavy-handed allegory – but it serves as illustration. Put up a high wall around your house and your mind, exclude the children (or – metaphorically – new ideas, new imagination, a new way of looking at the world which someone else, someone from outside, might bring to you), and watch the eternal winter take hold over everything. We are all a part of the world. We are – to quote another sage, G’kar of Babylon 5 – we are one.

Put up fences that divide us, and we are all the weaker for it.

Oh, I’m far from in advising that we should not mind if some uncouth stranger tramples our flowers or comes into our garden and then makes off with the garden gnomes. I’m all for keeping your boundaries, and definitely for requiring other people, visitors to your garden, to show proper respect for its culture and its contents. But if the stranger steps on a flower by accident, or trips over the gnomes without realising that they were there, don’t build a higher wall. Share the story of the garden instead. You’ll both go away the richer for it.

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There are 5 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Andy

    Use a razor wire fence. Great security and you can still see out. Ideas can flow easily through the fence in both directions.

    Besides, you can’t electrify a wooden fence.

  2. 2. Harry Markov

    Very, very well said. The greatest ideas are produced through contacts and communication, never in isolation.

  3. 3. Elias McClellan

    Ms. Alexander, as always, a very thoughtful post. As one who has stepped on a few… uh, flowers (usually after tripping over my own rash statements and/or ego) I truly appreciate your suggestion of patience and consideration.

    I’m aspiring author and I believe comments (good, bad, or ugly) demonstrate that someone read and thought about my work/your work/whomever’s. This site has been hugely instructive and endeavor to read everything posted here BUT, I comment less and less, due largely to fences erected or elevated. Often I’ve found myself at odds with others here determined to raise an iron gate with a pass word and secret hand shake. So I post fewer comments.

    Rather than gripe, I’m comment here to encourage your idea as I ardently believe your words of inclusion apply to the larger SF&F community. A community that at times seems determined to build a fortress gate, (with a drawbridge and mote) as opposed to a privacy fence. As a result– If you’ll excuse my poor alligator– I read fewer authors/buy few books.

    I don’t know that enough authors realize, (Jim Hines’s excellent post on the topic of arrogant authors aside) that you can poison the well. Or to stay in line with your original alligator, fence out a curious/interested/devoted reader. Again, thank you for your thoughtful post.

  4. 4. Alma Alexander

    Elias – I’ve always found that the SF&F community has been largely MORE inclusive than many other forums – and I’m sincerely sorry to hear that your experience has been different! Let me just say that your comments on any post I make are more than welcome, and I do hope that you will continue to offer them.

    Welcome to MY garden, at least.

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Author Information

Alma Alexander

Alma Alexander is a novelist, short story writer and anthologist whose books include High Fantasy ("Hidden Quen""Changer of Days"), historical fantasy ("Secrets of Jin Shei", "Embers of Heaven"), contemporary fantasy ("Midnight at Spanish gardens") and YA (the Worldweavers series, the Were Chronicles). She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two cats. Visit site.

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