Sunday, 23 September 2007

The meaning of good news?

Jyskyjärvi Meteorology Station, Russian Karelia, Summer 2007

Good news is the umbrella we keep in our bags on a sunny day - it eliminates the possibility of rain. The bearer of good news is a non-character, her fate is to be invisible because goodness is something one is not supposed to reveal in today's society. Nobody is interested in those who don't cheat, lie or manipulate others; no-one wants to hear the story of a near-perfect, lifelong marriage.

I'm interested in the theme of good news, both philosophically and from the perspective of writing fiction. I want to know what happens to people who despite societal pressures to participate in the reality tv-type collective embarrassment insist on finding good news from their everyday surroundings. What could "good news" mean, if we divorce the concept from pure naïveté? Can good news consist irony, parody, even black humour? Can we laugh at ourselves and others while telling the good tale?

As someone whose mind is pretty bipolar, I'm allergic to positive thinking fans, who think goodness is a package one can purchase on a weekend course. I'm allergic to all kinds of born-again movements, in which healing happens in a moment's thunder and lightning. I love my moments of darkness afterwards, if they don't lead me doing things I will later regret. And I think arguing is necessary in all relationships, one just has to learn the arts.

Good news for me consist of surprises. They are moments that make us see the world in fresh eyes. Instead of giving the usual body count in Iraqi bombings, I would truly enjoy reading the news: "No-one died violently in the city of Baghdad today." This doesn't mean that we should avoid knowledge about human misery, but we should keep our perspective in balance. To be distantly upset about the state of the world is always a fake position, if it doesn't lead to concrete action. To not only think about misery means that we should always try to find the loopholes to laughter, even in the midst of civil wars, oppression and hand- to-mouth poverty.

So I'm writing a story about the bearer and receiver of unusual good news in a community in which such communication is not really tolerated. The setting could be 21st century Finland or 15th century Istanbul, it could be Mao's China or a refugee camp in Darfur. I'm studying what it means to tell good news to someone who is not used to hearing anything positive about him or herself; when good news about a friendship or a blooming love affair is easily interpreted as manipulation, a cunning effort to ask something bigger in return. And what has happened to us if we automatically expect someone else's good news to be something else in disguise?

I'm starting my journey from the premise that holding good news inside as a secret is like poison, it is near-criminal in a world that is dominated by catastrophes, emergencies and emotional neglect. The main character in the story is teaching herself to tell her positive feelings about people she truly feels for, and this journey is full of unexpected pain. She believes that she'll grow up as a happy old woman this way, but there are serious obstacles to her belief when people start treating her as a creepy opportunist. Many people cut ties with her after she's showered them verbally with compliments, and her love life becomes a terrible mess after she stops acting distant and hard-to-get. Good news often leads to a public loss of face, and public courage always has a price-tag hidden somewhere. It is a story of existential loneliness and an extension in our thinking about minorities.

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