Naturalism

People are sending little satellites into the atmosphere for over fifty years. Basically these things are the size of a pack of cigarettes, with a black balloon fastened to it. Imagine if this package of cigarettes sends a wi-fi signal over a 100 miles and connects via Skype or VoIP. It could connect into people’s cell phones wifi and connect to people on the other side of the planet. Imagine that suddenly everyone is able to speak to each other in English.

Reminds me of the online teaching I do. This idea would put them out of business. 21ST century pen-pals.

I teach English as a foreign language online through an organization based in Shanghai. I connect with a group or individual students through software called Adobe Classroom which is basically just a chat box and a powerpoint presentation. Every day, I talk to someone in Sao Paolo, Brazil, or Shanghai. Occasionally Europe. The likelihood that I would ever meet these people is slim to none. That’s the power of the Internet these days—I can talk to someone and hear their story from thousands of miles. We become a more connected, story-driven world through language.

The satellite idea is pure Warren Ellis. He came up with it for his graphic novel anthology series, Global Frequency. His work is about outbreaks of the future, and how humanity can be affected by future technology. What’s your work about?

Mine is about empathy. Characters creating their story in anyway they want despite being challenged at every turn, suppressed from being able to tell their story. From their parents to their environment. Most especially, most of my characters refuse to accept how others define them and mold them into what they want you to be. 

I realized I was a naturalist when I read The Red Badge of Courage in ninth grade. Except I’m a hopeful naturalist.

A naturalist story is literary criticism for characters shaped by parents and environment—where we live, who our friends are, etc.—and usually these two sides come into direct conflict with each other and most of the time the story ends badly for for the main character. It’s a subset of realism. Stephen Crane, Frank Norris, Faulkner, Emile Zola. Most especially Hemingway. All of them use naturalism.

Naturalism means we live in a bubble. Usually, naturalist writers sacrifice their main characters and people who can climb out of their naturalist-make-up become wholly and uniquely themselves. But that never happens in a naturalist novel. That’s why I teach, because I think we are formed by our naturalist upbringing, but when we go to college, or travel, or speak to other cultures we are given the opportunity to break out of that bubble. It’s what Anthony Bourdain believed. You become informed. You learn how to respond to people, cultures, others in ways that are way out of your context. A lack of desire to be informed or change is the outcome off a naturalist novel and that–well–that usually doesn’t end well.

We can break out of our bubbles—to not do so is to fail at life in general. We’re better than that. And that’s what I’m here for. That’s why I write and teach and advise.

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