The following are some thoughts which I will be sharing at Anime North on May 27/17 at the World Building for Authors panel.
Recently I was looking up some ideas on what to talk about at this world building when it suddenly occurred to me that I have been doing it every day for almost a year now. Last June, after my father died, I got into a huge fight with my family.
Elderly relatives (especially one over 100) was not allowed to know that he died. People believed that they would die from shock from hearing the news. I was the outlier and eventually caved because of a group vote.
In Asian culture, one is not supposed to share bad news. I am the one banana (yellow on outside, white on inside) who feels that bringing out the truth is the best so solutions can be discussed. Well, in case of death, there is a stigma against any discussion, usually people just don’t talk about it. When an aunt died of cancer last year, I wasn’t allowed to attend the funeral either because I was on maternity leave and weak, therefore, spirits from beyond could harm me. During her time of illness, no one in the extended family knew. She wanted to die in secret and didn’t even want a funeral. When I fought to let people know my father died, I was fighting not just family, but the Asian culture as well.
Anyhow, my father was a devoted family man and visited these elderly relatives every day. After work he would drop by to cut up grapes or prepare other snacks for the ones in nursing homes. For immobile relatives in wheelchairs, he would take the time to drive them out for dim sum and groceries every weekend. Now that he has gone I haven’t been able to fulfill even half of what he did for these people while he was alive.
Since he disappeared, I have been asked questions everyday:
Where is your father? they would ask. Sick, not feeling well, I would say. Why isn’t he visiting? He hurt his leg. What is he eating? I’m cooking and freezing meals (technically true as I was dropping them off at the house to feed mom). Why didn’t he come to my birthday party? He was busy.
Indeed, the road to hell is paved with good intentions!
In the beginning I felt a lot of pain whenever I spoke to them because I felt guilty about lying. I had many breakdowns during the first few months and would start crying after I left the nursing home. None of these elderly people have dementia and their memories are better than mine.
Over time I started to construct a world for them and me in which dad was still alive, but just sick and in bed. We do have relatives that get sick and disappear for twenty years, so this was the most plausible explanation. No one talks about it, pretending that it’s normal, but I suspect it must be due to chronic depression. After I explained that dad is probably experiencing the same thing as the “other relatives” there were less questions.
When an author builds a world for their readers, they have to think about many things. There are physical rules, society structures, the characteristics of their environments, food, clothing, relationships, etc. All the things which we adhere by and use on a daily basis. I have written fantasy and science fiction with such worlds I built for readers. I have edited stories and criticized other authors for breaking their own rules or writing nonsensical science.
Nothing however, compares to the world building I have to do now. It is a fragile world I have constructed because I am not the only author. I have siblings, aunts, cousins and other relatives that have the ability to destroy this world if they say the wrong thing. They usually run from questions asked about my dad and I told them that this is unacceptable. If you all agreed to keep the truth from her, at least keep your end of the bargain with me on speaking about dad as if he was alive.
I can speak all I want, but I know I can not control other people and can only do my part as best as I can. Many people have stopped visiting the nursing home for fear they will say the wrong thing, which is very sad. The only thing I can do is keep up with this mirage the best I can until it breaks.