Category: Writing


The problem is follow through.  So, about a day ago (22 hours, for those of you counting), I had what struck me as a beautiful, stunning set of stories.  I am never short for ideas about stories, but this was a framework built for me, that I could just people with people and love the exploration of finding out what they think and why.

The lack of ideas is never the problem – so this is my own attempt at accountability.  I forgot to borrow the book that gave me the amazing vision, but I remember that book.  I will remember to borrow it, or find a copy of my own so that I can deface it and make something new and fascinating (at least to me) out of it.  Probably both.  Hopefully both.

A book, a knife, a dream.   These things have come in threes, and as the moon waxes gibbous and prepares to achieve her fulfillment, to begin a new cycle.  What that cycle is is up to me, and me alone.  I am determined to make it one that tells stories that have voices and will sing to the people who listen when I talk.

 

The dance of the cosmos is whirling and singing in my brain.  This is my statement of accountability that I am too determined to let it go.  Let there be voices heard, mine and everyone else’s, and let stars become people who become stars again.  Round and round we go – bell, book, candle: knife, book, dream.  We will see.  It is a good thought, looking forward to sleeping soundly and waking up to stories that deserve to be heard.

 

They are all my voice, in one way or another.  But they are also not my voice, and not myself, or only prisms of facets of myself.  And I want to meet them, ask them questions, and learn who they are, what they want, who they love.  So, tomorrow, we begin.  Wish me luck.

(Much of this is recognizable to me, minimal prismatic action.  It is, essentially, the narrative thread that life “ought” to have, but so often doesn’t.  It’s the story I’m starting to tell myself, in a lot of ways, about who and what I am and what I want and what I am willing to do.  Assume some things have been scrambled, and also that I made up most of the actual events, because many things are easier to process if they are posed as fiction.)

 

Singing for Myself

 

“It’s like being hit by a truck,” I told her, pulling a drag of smoke deep into my lungs and exhaling, feeling melodramatic just putting it that way, even though it was the only simile I could find.  “I mean, that sounds stupid, but it’s true.  It’s just this noise, that doesn’t even process as sound, and then a flash of impact, and then you’re lying there on the ground, trying to move, trying to get up.  And it’s this horrible feeling of helplessness, because there’s something wrong, and you can’t make everything work quite right anymore.

You know, in a minute, it’s going to hurt like nothing else ever has, and the pain is going to be a wave that rolls you under it if you don’t hang on tight.  But you also know that if you could just get UP, make everything MOVE, that you’d be back in control, and that no pain would stop you.  But because there are whole sections of you not answering the call anymore, the pain rolls you under, drags you into it, leaves you washed up on the shoals of your own mind gasping for breath and praying not to get hit with another wave.  But the whole time, even under and inside the pain, the voice in your head is telling you just how MAD you’re going to be, when you can just. Get. UP.”

She had her head cocked on one side at me, smiling a little bit.  She waited for me to hit the end of the picture I was trying to paint for her, and took another drag off her own cigarette.  Slowly, slowly, she nodded.  “I know what you mean,” she said.  And she did.

 

So, here’s the thing about being me: I’m stubborn, and I cannot let something stand once I know it is standing dead in my way, if I have control over it.  The picture I was making was about a song, that hurt in a way I couldn’t even begin to process.  So, like all the other stories I tell myself about myself, this story is about love, and about getting the job done.

 

There was fire in the sky, and I chased it.  I ran gladly to meet it, knowing it had no thought or opinion of me, no thought or opinion at all, but I wanted to meet it, to see it at its strongest and most glorious, to stand in the middle of it and be alive.  So I chased the fire in the sky, and caught up to it, for a little while.

There’s a thing that I can never really decide whether I believe: that everything happens for a reason.  I know that my life is too full of coincidences for them to be just coincidences, but I also know that I’m a pattern-identifying primate working under a load of genetic sample distortion that’s pretty fucking epic.  But one thing in the last couple of weeks definitely happened for a reason, and it makes me happy that it did.

A few days ago, I was engaged in a series of conversations by text message that were surreal, sleep deprived, and quite entertaining about the oddnesses that one encounters in this or that county, as I was driving.  It was between 5 and 10 A.M., and I was on small roads, with almost no one else on them.  One of those conversations was lamenting that I had been all over a particular piece of parkland, hunting for the entrance, and could find everything, apparently, but the main gate.

I found out, last night, why I spent a few hours muttering in frustration to myself.  It was so I could chase fire in the sky, and know where I was going and about how to get there.

Because, see, here’s the thing: if there are roads, then I will drive on them.  Your polite sign about permits makes my problem with authority itch.  I will politely close gates behind me, and I will not damage the terrain I explore.  I will not litter.  I will not start uncontrolled fires.  I am a safe, intelligent person.  And so I have decided I am permitted to drive on your roads, because you have made them fit for my car.

And, frankly, because I care enough to do it and you don’t care enough to stop me.  Not really.  So I win, because I give more of a fuck about whether I do it than you do.

So I saw the storm, in all its rolling, lightning-lit and multi-splendored glory, from below the epicenter, listening to the wave of silence that rolled in before the wave of rain.  I sat on top of my car and laughed to myself, gleefully, watching the sky open up and rain hell down on the forest around me.

And somewhere in all that, I remembered being hit by a truck, and feeling parts of myself go weak and numb, refusing to respond to my commands and calls.  I remembered singing in their kitchen, cooking, happy.  I remembered singing because it meant I was happy, and so they’d know.

And I remembered when the only times I sang were because I was so happy it needed somewhere to go, some way out of me so I wouldn’t have to try to contain my joy at just being fiercely and amazingly alive.

There in the rain, sopping wet in the wind and dark, I sang because I remembered what it was like to overflow with joy, to have my self run over without fear or worry that it would be damaging, somehow, to anyone else.  I found how to sing for myself again, and I sang to the storm because it was sing or explode.

So I wandered because I was lost, but wandering lost would show me the way when I needed it.  And I found the self that overflows again, and is not afraid.  It’s probably just coincidence that I found that particular piece of myself again just in time for Pride weekend, right?

Mythology of self

We tell ourselves stories all the time, every day.  You’ve heard me talk about this before, and it’s a theme I come back to a lot, primarily because I spend a fair portion of my time asking myself what story someone is telling themselves about a particular set of facts, events, circumstances, whatever.  There are lots of stories to tell about any particular event, and the story that you tell yourself will materially and significantly change the way you look at the event, how you feel about it, how you feel about yourself and other people in relation to it.  The facts form a very, very low percentage of the actual opinion and emotional resonance that a human forms around any important event: most of what goes on in our heads is the story we are telling ourselves about what happened, what is happening, what will happen, what might happen.

That becomes even more pertinent, even more common, even more influential when we think about people instead of facts.  People are mutable and interpretable in a way that facts are not.  Though we spend a lot of brain power excusing or ignoring internal motivations, on some level we (as humans) are basically incapable of ignoring the fact that other humans’ internal motivations DO exist, in a theoretical sense.  So, based on the fact that it can only ever be a theoretical sense, we create theories of who they are, what they are thinking, how they are feeling, what they might or might not think or feel or do in regards to us and what we feel and think and do or do not do or think or feel.

How, then, do we reinterpret and recreate ourselves?  We are, from an internal perspective, a complex mix of both fact and perception, of concrete certainties and guesses.  When you ask someone why they did a very important, very emotionally loaded thing, they will often have a logical, rational, prepared explanation.  They have a story.  They will tell you their story about why they acted the way they did, what they were thinking, what they were feeling, and why all of that makes sense in the context of what was going on.

The problem with that (or at least, this is my theory today – ask me again tomorrow, it’ll probably be different) is that it’s bullshit.  It’s a story they’ve devised to explain to themselves why what they did was right, or why it made sense, or just why it was okay to do at the time.  It’s a construct, a fabrication, a creation designed to uphold their certainty that they do have reasons for doing things, and that they understand why they do things.  People, in general, devise their sense of self and identity from identifying common characteristics in the stories they tell themselves and other people about themselves, and then basing their future stories and behaviors on those characteristics.  It’s a self-perpetuating cycle of identity reinforcement.

Here’s the chink in that armor: ask someone why they engaged in an action that has no real resonance, that wasn’t important, that didn’t have any real meaning to them at the time.  Preferably, ask them about it both right after they do it, and then again some time later (best if you ask after they have forgotten the first conversation about the action).  At first, usually they will not know why they did that thing.  It was a small action, an unimportant thing, that didn’t need a story.  But when questioned, they will create a story, no matter how small, no matter how poorly constructed, to uphold their self-identity.  They will seek a story that holds a reason that somehow jells with the way they see themselves, through the lens of years or decades of stories repeating the same themes.

After they have forgotten the first conversation, ask again.  The story will probably have changed, although in many cases not by much.  It will hold together better, and small details will be altered to make it flow more freely and coherently.  It will be more according to the standards they expect of themselves, positive and negative, and it will be a better brick in the wall of self-identity.  The story gains stability the further away from the action the person is – because memory is a strange and mutable thing, and we color it in with details that make it easier for us to make sense of it in context of our world.

So, the thing I am going round and round trying to get at is this: we create our own set of stories, our own mythology of self.  My mythology of self is complex and at times incoherent, and interacts with others’ mythology of me in interesting and sometimes very surprising ways.  Everyone I know has a mythology of self – a series of stories that they have told to themselves and others that is part truth, part fiction, told and retold, honed and refined so that it supports and reinforces the person that they have convinced themselves they are.

The mythology of self is a critical part of human experience, I think.  It is utterly inseparable from the way people self-identify in a more scientific and psychological sense, and it is crucial to creating a bridge between separate people, so that they (like fractious deities in totally unrelated pantheons, forced to overlap and interact) can mingle their mythologies to help form a society that we can all thrive and find wonder in.

There is something in this idea, I think, that I will find really useful for exploring the concept of deity as self, and self as deity.  I will have to chase it down one day soon.  For now, I am having great fun poking holes in my own mythology, squinting skeptically at what ego and mis-memory created to convince me that I am me, and there is no other way to be.  We are humans and gods, children and crones who have a fascination with the other and the self, and we are inherently mutable and adaptable.  The mythology of self may well be one of the most powerful tools we have in reinventing our selves and our worlds to be people and places that we are invested in, joyful about, and in love with.

Where do you get your ideas?

It’s a question that I’ve heard at pretty much every writer’s panel I’ve ever been to, ever.  (And, all bullshit aside, I’ve been to a lot of them.  I get a *lot* of writer crushes. Don’t judge me.)  Every time someone who has managed to get together the combination of talent, intelligence, drive, dedication, and circumstance that allows them to become famous (or semi-famous, or somewhat popular, or well-known in their field) comes before an audience that is invited to ask them questions, inevitably that one question comes up.  (Well, okay, I’ve never heard it asked of a non-fiction author, so assume I’m speaking only of fiction authors, here.)

Where do you get your ideas?

And it’s been answered a billion billion different times in a billion billion different ways – everything from angry, sarcastic non-answers to joking, sarcastic non-answers to genuine attempts to explain the answer in metaphor to attempts to explain the answer by example to any number of other things.  All these men, women, and other humans do their best (or their best at the time) to answer that one topologically simple question: where do you get your ideas?

Now, I’m not famous.  I’m not popular, except for a *very* limited definition of the word.  I’m not well-known in my field.  But I do write, and over half what I write is fiction, and most of the things I write end up baffling the reader(s) as to their genesis.  So I am going to engage in that ultimate egomaniacal exercise, answering a question I have not been asked, that no one has cared to ask me.  (Telling me that my brain works in very strange and unpredictable ways doesn’t count as asking even by a very generous standard, I think.)

I think the reason that it’s so hard to answer is this: the answer is different for every idea.  Beyond that, it’s different for every facet and every flavor of every idea, and sometimes it goes on to become different again as the idea grows and morphs and develops ideas of its own about what it should be.  So the concept of it having some brilliant moment of genesis is a little fundamentally flawed .

Most really creative ideas, at least in my experience, are a little like a mad scientist kitchen with fifty different experiments going at once.  Imagine having each different experiment in a separate container, and not making any notes on what goes into any of them – just having confidence that you’ll be able to remember it, or figure it out again, when you get back around to really working on that one.  So you’re working on fifty different experiments at once, throwing a little of this and a little of that into each pot.  And every so often, one of them will explode – either in a cloud of noxious gas, sending you fleeing from the kitchen, or in a brilliant ball of flame and light that makes you go “How in the HELL did I do that, how can I do it again, and now how do I make that work for me so I can put it in something useful?”

Then add in the fact that all of the containers leak, most of the countertops are crooked, none of your measuring implements are quite accurate, and there are gremlins who change around what’s in your ingredient jars while you aren’t looking.  So eventually you can figure out how you got the noxious gas or the beautiful flame, but usually it takes a lot of back-analyzing and chipping off residue from the counter and occasionally licking it to see what’s in it, and then ending up in the hospital because you had the terrible, terrible idea of licking the burnt-on shit that came off your countertop.

So, when you get back out of the hospital, you can sort of remember what you were doing, and then probably recreate something like what you had the first time, but mostly you’re working on memory and instinct, and hoping for a lot of luck.  And asbestos underpants.  That’s what having ideas is like, for me.

Here’s the reason that the question is inherently unanswerable, though: that’s just me.  And that only explains the genesis of about half my ideas, at most.  Don’t get me started on the Bai Ling-turns-into-a-zombie-who’s-really-a-rocker-dyke-who-just-wants-to-be-loved-but-probably-we’re-talking-about-an-accidental-apocalypse-thing-here, which, as of last night, doesn’t actually contain Bai Ling at all anymore.  There is no answer, because the answer is always different.  Even for one idea, there’s no one answer, because there are so many things that go into the synthesizing process of creativity that there is really no point in trying to give a technical explanation of the process.

And, at the same time, it is possible to distill the answer into a couple of pithy phrases, if you really really want to.  Where do writers get our ideas?  Life.  We get them from living.  We get them from tilting our heads funny and asking the wrong questions that turn out to be the right questions.  Where do we get our ideas?  From not being afraid to lick the countertops.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go refinish the kitchen in my brain with an all-new activated-charcoal chic.  It’s the new thing this season for the cerebral experimental gastronomer.

Remember monsters.

(Author’s note: Usually, with stories, even with little moments in time that have a flavor that wants to be written, I have context.  I know who the people are, what they want, where they are coming from, where they are going.  I have some kind of an idea what the larger story would be, if I wrote the things before the beginning and after the ending.  For this, I have nothing.  I have no idea.  I know that both of them are pieces of me and people I have known, shot through prisms that are both harsh and just.  So I present it to you as it is in my head: out of joint, out of whatever world it belongs in, the players wandering in to live through something in front of our eyes, then disappearing again without ever explaining why.  In a lot of ways, I like it better without the why.  So remember monsters.)

“Live like any minute now, they’re going to figure out why no one else wanted you, either,” she said quietly, staring down the steps at the sidewalk, not meeting his eyes.  She huddled around the coffee he’d bought her, as if trying to save every bit of warmth and life it could provide.  She sipped it slowly, savoring it as they talked, and took drags off a cigarette she’d pulled from somewhere in the depths of her giant hooded sweatshirt.
“Why wouldn’t they want you?”  His question was innocent, caring, hopeful.  He wanted her; she could tell that.  He wanted, partly, to fuck her.  Mostly, though, he wanted to save her.  He wanted to be the man who saved her, and feel like he was worth more because he’d saved someone pretty who needed saving.  It was an old, old story, and he wanted to be an important part of a pretty story with a pretty girl who needed him.  She knew the look.
“Because I’m not someone people want, because I don’t want people.  You don’t know me, and I don’t care.  I don’t want to be understood.  I don’t want to be cared about.  The important word in that sentence is live, not want.  Live, so that when they figure it out, you can keep living.  Survive, so you can keep surviving.”  She looked up at him then, straight in the eyes, demanding.  He saw something in her that frightened him badly – something hard and reptilian, something that had no warmth or softness or prettiness in it.  The only beauty in the survivor’s eyes is the beauty of function, and he was not equipped to see it or appreciate it, not in someone he wanted to save.
“Look,” she said, standing up and dropping the butt of the cigarette, grinding it on the concrete stair beneath her boot.  Her voice was the same flat, quiet, pragmatic tone it had been since he’d first spoken to her.  “You’re a nice guy.  You want to find a nice girl down on her luck.  You want to be someone good to her, good for her, good with her.  Take it from me – don’t do it.  People who need saving once need it all the time, and nobody you save is ever going to love you for it.  All they’re ever going to do is need, need, need.  Eventually, they’re going to hate you for making them need you.  You don’t want a pretty girl to hate you, so find one who doesn’t need you but loves you anyhow.  Don’t pick up strays.  You don’t have to be a hero to be important.  And get a fucking haircut.”
He was confused, hurt, beginning to be angry.  He stood up to match her, topping her height by inches, trying to be intimidating, trying to look aggressive.  She laughed merrily, throwing her head back and howling with mirth.  It was the first time she’d been loud at all, or drawn attention to herself, and she was obviously beside herself with glee.
“Don’t posture with me, nice boy.  You are nice, and you’ll make a nice girl a nice boy sometime.  Now go back to your nice apartment and your nice things, and leave the monsters to our street corners and our steam grates.  Don’t try to save us.  We don’t need you, we don’t want you, and we’ll eat you if you try.”
Then she kicked him.  Not hard, not to injure, just knocked his knees out from under him.  He went rolling down the concrete steps, screaming as joints and head bounced off the unforgiving corners, skidding to a stop on the sidewalk, just shy of traffic.  She walked calmly down after him, and looked down at his form, sprawled ungainly against the black of the gutter.
“Remember monsters, nice boy.  Remember strays.  Stick to your nice life, and stop trying to save things that are surviving just fine on their own.”

No, really.

There’s a copy of William Gibson’s idoru on my coffee table, half-read – and it has been half-read for over a week, because I can’t sit still with it for long enough to get lost in it.

There is a Charles de Lint anthology on the floor beside my bathtub, that I’ve read four pages of.

There are two whole bags of books, full of fabulous things (some of them research for this very project!) like Camille Paglia and gender theory and fetish research and sex theory and queer personal history and the way cities affect our thinking and urban culture and fiction that chews my brain up and turns it into new shapes – these are a few of my favorite things, and I cannot. Sit. Still. To read them.

I’m not faking it.  It’s not ADD.  Every time I try to get lost in a book or a movie, try to just turn my brain off, the front turns off just fine – and the writer-brain takes all those spare clock cycles, grabs them with greedy hands, and starts om-nom-noming them into more things.  It hit critical point last weekend, when I sat on my porch and gritted through my teeth at two very patient friends about how I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t slow down, couldn’t think past all of my right brain trying to eat my face in every possible direction.

Lesson learned: I am not faking it.  I am not pretending I have something important to say to get attention.  I am not making up things that sound interesting but really have no substance in order to attract the interest of an adoring public, to feed my own ego.

My words mean things, because they mean things to me.  I am a writer, because I write with intent.

Bright side: I have made more progress on this juggernaut of a world in a month than I did in six, before, because I am dedicating real time to it, real energy, and a genuine desire to see things.  No blindfolds, no gags, no earplugs – I want to know where it comes from, how it works, why it works.  And so it is working, because I am bringing curiosity and a willingness to bleed to find out to the table.

I’m not faking it, and so I’m earning knowledge I didn’t have before.  It’s a good fucking day.

Prismatic art

I had a picture in my head that I wanted to share, because it makes a whole lot of sense to me about the way that I create art, and the way that I see the world.

Imagine first that every person, event, concept, experience, and everything that is a noun is a light source.
Imagine next that every person’s viewpoint is a prism.
Imagine then that every time a person intentionally adopts a different view or creates a piece of art even partially based in reality, that makes a new prism.

Now imagine what kind of light pattern that makes, and how all those prisms refract new types and shades of light into other prisms, throwing light and shade and color onto each other and their surroundings and making this amazing field of experience that would otherwise never be possible, if all we had were just the original light sources.

I’ve finally figured out why art is so damned important to me – because a world without prisms would be a boring world, and I hate being bored.

Navel-gazing metaphor time:
We start as babies, lying in our cribs staring up at a mobile of beautiful prisms made by other people, admiring them and watching the pretty lights play on the ceiling. We cannot touch or understand them, but we stare at them for hours on end, fascinated.
We grow to where we can stand, grasping the edges of our cribs, reaching for the prisms, trying to catch the pretty lights, to hold them in our hand. Eventually we will be tall enough to reach what we grab for – and then we learn a hard, nasty lesson, because prisms can cut. And we bleed, and cry, and do not understand why so beautiful a thing that fascinates us would hurt us so. And for a little while, we hate the prisms, and curse them, and we hate the light they throw, even while we are fascinated by it.
Eventually, we learn that only if we grab them can they cut us – if we merely touch them, and if we are careful and responsible, we can make our prism mobiles swing and dance in the light without being hurt. When we are adults, with skills and motor control, we can even make our own prisms, to hang on our mobiles and make our own pretty lights, in the colors we love the best. Whether they are new colors or more of the same is up to us – how bright, how faceted, how intertwined with the others, we get to choose it all!
It is hard work to make your own prism, but you get to make it your very own. If you are careless, it will cut you, and that will hurt like a son of a bitch. But having your very own prism is worth it – and having something so delicate, so beautiful, so amazing, is worth all the risk and pain and work. No store-bought mobile can compare.

I spent a couple of hours writing tonight, and that was the picture I had in my head behind the story. I like making my own prisms, even when the work is sharp enough to make me bleed and cry. This story hurts, and hurts a lot, but the prism it is making is worth it. A mobile of my very own, with pieces of myself and my world broken apart and put back together differently, faceted and casting new and different light and making a whole new world in a different shape, that tells a story all together different from my own. It is a genuinely fascinating process, because it is an exercise in paradox. I am writing about things that I know very, very intimately – and creating people who are strangers to me, who are refractions. “Write what you know” becomes a very different thing, in that context. There is nothing new under the sun, but sunlight looks very different through a differently angled facet.

Now I must only make sure my jeweler’s loupe does not go out of focus.

Yep, I’m feeling archaic and overwrought tonight. Writing emotional things does that. Tomorrow, more fighting-writing, and probably I’ll blog lots of obscenities and about living fiercely. It’s a phase.

Or you are going to feel a hell of a lot fucking worse.” – From Dusk ‘Til Dawn

And, lo and behold, my best got a hell of a lot fucking better, and I don’t feel a hell of a lot fucking worse.

I’ve gotten down a little under 3,000 good words of actual story content today.  No dialogue, nothing that will go verbatim into anything, but everything is Split City, and everything is something that will either fuel the plot or make the world tick over behind the plot, so it’s all directly useful.  I haven’t done anything nearly that productive on something that was my own project in over a year.

My best just got better, and the bar just went up.  Way up.  I’m pretty sure I’m happy about that – happy and terrified.  It’s a little daunting to look at what you can really do, when you focus and give it your best damn shot, as opposed to giving yourself reasons not to have to do the real fucking work.  This is the sharpest my brain has felt in a long damn time, and it feels really, REALLY good.  It’s the same feeling above the neck as a good sweaty workout followed by a hard spar gives me below the neck.  It’s exhausting and satisfying and makes me want to do it again tomorrow – and I have way more than enough bubbling in my brain to do it.

And because I did it today, there is less of a pressure cooker on the inside.  The city is starting to tick better because I am not hobbling myself, and I might get some decent non-chemical sleep.  Genuine joy in creation makes me feel more peaceful than I have in a long time, and more fulfilled than I have with anything I have created in more years than I care to count.  I am starting to have hope that this may be the first big art that I can actually bring to completion, instead of petering out partway through, and sighing and saying “someday…” and never getting around to it.  I want it to live, and I will see it through.  I am determined, and my best just got a hell of a lot fucking better.

And the phrase of the day is: squid saddle.  When you develop brain squids, buy squid tack and squid saddles.  It’s the only reasonable response.

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