Fantasy and Politics

Lately, I’ve been thinking of Policy as a woman.

She has to have her feet on the political ground (or in the mud, depending on the state), her practical brown skirt thick enough to bear the winds of criticism, her blouse cut low enough to enjoy the occasional grace of sun, and her head in the cumulonimbi, eyes peaking just above, looking to far away mountains. She has to be a giant, because believing her idea is the best way to fix things requires an ego. Because the distance is longer than any one woman can walk, she has to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and hand-in-hand with other practical-skirted women on the walk, and perhaps some thick-trousered men.

Those qualities–practicality, enough independence not to shatter in creative cross-fire, an opportunistic approach to finding joy, and ability to imagine a better future–are ones I strive for in myself and hope for in the fellows I’m trying to hire for Spring 2013. Since I’m the hiring manager and in the midst of the application season, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to make social change your day job. Thinking, as I do, that we can grow a “world without slavery” in our lifetimes takes more than a suspension of disbelief: it requires an active choice to see the world differently than it is.

This willful re-envisioning of the world is a trait of fantasy-writers and readers–the willingness to see Lothlórien, to hear the thin leaves tinkle-cracking on the pure white bark and see flashes of elfin hair between the branches. It is also a skill of transformative policy-makers. Yes, it can all get a little silly.

The choice to build a fantasy world seems no more ridiculous to me than the notion that imagining and then working for a world where equality, like gravity, allows men and women to stand on their own two feet and walk towards that distant mountain together.

Inspirational Quote:

“The best fantasy is written in the language of dreams. It is alive as dreams are alive, more real than real … for a moment at least … that long magic moment before we wake.

Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab. Fantasy tastes of habaneros and honey, cinnamon and cloves, rare red meat and wines as sweet as summer. Reality is beans and tofu, and ashes at the end. Reality is the strip malls of Burbank, the smokestacks of Cleveland, a parking garage in Newark. Fantasy is the towers of Minas Tirith, the ancient stones of Gormenghast, the halls of Camelot. Fantasy flies on the wings of Icarus, reality on Southwest Airlines. Why do our dreams become so much smaller when they finally come true?

We read fantasy to find the colors again, I think. To taste strong spices and hear the songs the sirens sang. There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.

They can keep their heaven. When I die, I’d sooner go to middle Earth.”–George R.R. Martin

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