Writing Prompt: 365 Days of Utopia/ by Shel Graves

One day I woke up and realized I had solved most of the world's problems — imagine my dismay!

I've been working on a writing prompt project, 365 Days of Utopia. Every morning I think of something wrong with the world. Then I write the utopia that would solve it.

It's an extremely satisfying five minutes. For a short burst, I have the power to do anything I can imagine.

My rules are:

·      Each utopia has a defining animal (it's not a utopia without animals).

·      Each utopia has a defining monster (it's not a utopia without conflict).

·      It must be a utopia, a path to a better future. The utopia works well for its citizens and does not slide into dystopia/oppression.

·      It must be a unique utopia. No repeats!

I began this writing prompt project in July 2017. After about six months, I was having difficulty thinking of new problems and utopias. I kept breaking my "No repeats!" rule.

So, I asked my Facebook friends for some problems — and it worked! Writing with friends in mind, even when their problems were similar, I envisioned new utopias. And their ideas renewed my creativity. Now, I have no concern about finishing my year of utopias.

What's the point of this project? I'm writing for myself. My utopias are impractical. They are fantasies filled with mermaids, fairies, sprites and impossible technologies. They wave magic wands over problems uncomplicated by the work of actual social change.

There's no point, really. It's a writing exercise. Yet, I believe imagining a better future to be a powerful and necessary act.

While writing my utopias, I began slow reading Dr. Alan Marshall's gorgeous book, Ecotopia 2121: A Vision for Our Future Green Utopia — in 100 Cities (see my blog post: Hope and Desire: Slow Reading Ecotopia 2121). Every day, I read one or two of Marshall's utopias.

In Ecotopia 2121, Marshall looks at 100 cities' current problems and imagines solutions. The book is science fiction. However, with ingenuity and engagement, some of Marshall's utopias are possible. 

This is why I love science fiction (see my blog post: Why I Only Read Science Fiction!). In it, people imagine wild futures and sometimes those stories inspire inventions — science fiction becomes fact. We create our future.

I get frustrated with dystopias and their prevalence. If we only imagine the worst, is that what we'll get? Recently, I've read some wonderfully well-written dystopias (see my blog post: Thoughts on Feminist Dystopias and the Book of the Unnamed Midwife).

But I believe we need to imagine more utopias. As part of my MFA in Creative Writing, I studied feminist literary utopias and realized I was not alone. There's a wonderful community of writers doing this work.

Right now, there are many exciting conversations about possible futures happening in optimistic science fiction — call it afrofuturism, ecofeminism or solarpunk.

This summer, my story "Watch Out, Red Crusher!" will be included in the anthology Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers edited by Sarena Ulibarri of World Weaver Press.

1Glass and Gardens Summer Front.jpg

It's a collection of 17 optimistic science fiction stories that imagine a future founded on renewable energies.

It's so satisfying to be a part of this book. This is why I write! To engage in a conversation about better futures.

Why does it matter? From a historical perspective, a long series of events may slowly shift systems and cultures from undesirable to desirable patterns. When envisioning the future, the difference between dystopia and utopia becomes a cataclysmic and dramatic chasm.

However, in our present, the line between utopia and dystopia strikes quick and thin as a paper cut.

One event — an illness, accident or loss — takes life from better to worse. One law, one election tilts the moment toward utopia or dystopia.

Suddenly, our perception shifts. We are OK. We are not. We are free. We are oppressed. We are mindless. We are mindful.

Of course, it is not enough to imagine the future. We must engage, take steps. As one of my favorite organizations says, "Stand up. Speak out. Get involved." 

However, imagination sparks that needed action.

Ecotopia.jpg

As Marshall says in Ecotopia 2121, "Hope and desire, mixed with a rich social imagination, can work together as potent antidotes to the complacency of accepting the status quo."

We must see possibilities, solutions and ways forward, which offer life, community and alternatives to despair.

To many of us, this feels urgent.

As I write my daily utopias I feel expansiveness, creativity and freedom. My land of utopias grows. Beings apply to the Council of Utopias to create the worlds they imagine. A Union of Utopias builds them. Citizens immigrate and emigrate between utopias. Animals and monsters roam. Each utopia has its own leaders, rules and priorities.

One day, I could set a traveler loose in the 365 Utopias to explore them. Then, there would be stories...

Fellow writers, are you imagining the future you want to see?

Are you putting it down in rich detail? Are you making maps?

Imagine waking up every day in a world with one less problem and one better way forward. Imagine what we might do.

  Shel Graves is a reader, writer, and utopian thinker who lives by the Salish Sea. She works as a caregiver at Pasado's Safe Haven, a non-profit on a mission to end animal cruelty.  She earned her MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College. She keeps her writer's journal at  shelgraves.blogspot.com . Talk to her @Utopianista on Twitter and see pictures of her furry companions @Sheltopia on Instagram.

Shel Graves is a reader, writer, and utopian thinker who lives by the Salish Sea. She works as a caregiver at Pasado's Safe Haven, a non-profit on a mission to end animal cruelty.  She earned her MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College. She keeps her writer's journal at shelgraves.blogspot.com. Talk to her @Utopianista on Twitter and see pictures of her furry companions @Sheltopia on Instagram.