Thursday, 6 October 2011

Morals And Stories

Of all the high thoughts and morals I have spouted in my life, only one is something I truly believe in.

“Don’t do that,” he said.
“What?” I asked, shaking the glass so the ice spun around fast.
“Don’t spit out your drink.”
I had already taken another gulp, so had to spit it out the window.  “But I don’t drink.”
“Then why did your pour yourself a whisky?”
“When I was little, I wanted to be a whisky-swilling, cigar-chewing, card sharp loan shark.”
He stared at me.  “But you don’t drink or smoke.”
“Vices lead to weakness.”
“Isn’t gambling a weakness?”
I put my feet on the dashboard and crossed them.  “I don’t gamble.  I cheat.”
Scene from Working Title: The Shovel PI ms, by The Hill.

I don’t have much meaning in The Life.  As a child, I dreamed I would grow up to be a thieving, hard drinking, smoking con artist card sharp loan shark PI (which is odd, because I gave other people the impression that I was a puritanical… puritan).  But if there is any meaning in The Life, I suppose it is the vegetarianism. 

I became an official vegetarian, I am told, on The Sixth Birthday, although I believe I had been phasing meat out for a while. 

I loved animals.  No one told me that I had been eating HACKED UP DEAD ANIMALS.  If they had, I wouldn’t have the touched the stuff.  Soon I learnt what was in the beloved sausages and meatballs. 

And that was pretty much that.

I have never touched meat since, and avoid any other animal products that involve killing the animal, though I have not gone full vegan. (2016 EDIT: I went vegan some time in 2012, after educating myself further and learning that the dairy and egg industry kill plenty of animals, especially babies.)

What is on The Mind right now is should the vegetarian agenda be in The Work?  I couldn’t, I think, in good conscience write a scene in which a protagonist sits down and eats some meat, but, food not terribly fascinating me, I might say ‘he ate some sausages’.  I did not specify whether those were pork or soya.  But should I?  Should I set the example?  Or will it get distracting that every single book I write is populated with vegetarians; hardly realistic, terribly repetitive, and it would look like I am incapable of writing characters who aren’t me. 

Of course I regularly write characters doing things I never have or never would, because it’s a story.  And I find myself admitting that there is a perverse joy in writing a character frying up some bacon or sporting a leather jacket, because it is so removed from me.  But then, this is The One Moral in life.  It’s the one thing I have chosen to live The Life by and it is terribly, terribly important.  Is it more important than The Stories?

Perhaps it is safer to stay on the fence and continue not entirely describing what they’re eating.  But sometimes it is necessary.  I’ve have almost completed the redraft of the World War II ms, Working Title: The Road To Confidence (now with more blitz), and I do often describe what they’re eating with rationing and all, so various fish and offal and others are swallowed.  If I wrote a character in a historical novel as vegetarian, that would be a bigger deal than nowadays and since it isn’t important to the story, it would be an irrelevant plotline to follow.  And nothing should ever be irrelevant in a story.

But then, a tiny part of The Mind is whispering, am I betraying the cause?  What if someone reads a scene in which the character eats some meat, feels peckish and eats what I have described?  Then that death is on my head.  Or can I kid myself that I have counterbalanced it by having the protagonist rescue a pet rabbit from the chop?  I know I put that in to assuage The Horror that during the war people cooked and ate their pets. 

I don’t know what is the right path.  And being a vegetarian isn’t something I tend to discuss.  Meat-eaters don’t seem to understand that vegetarianism isn’t just a quirk or a dietary preference, but a moral belief system and lifestyle choice and that even a flippant mention of meat is deeply upsetting.  The most difficult part of becoming a vegetarian isn’t the change of diet, the lack of places to eat out or the guilt, but the stupid comments people will make.  When I go out to eat, inadvertently acquaintances discover I’m a vegetarian, and will say one of the following without fail, and may even squeeze in all three.

The stubbornly argumentative:

The bafflingly hostile:

The terrifyingly jolly:

I hate going out to eat.

And I still don’t know what’s more important, the story, or promoting the one thing in The Life that has any meaning.  I just can’t turn my back on either. 

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