Tag Archive: discovery


Companion

The power of the companion is this: they walk beside you, for a little while.  It is an immense and awe-inspiring power, and one that is hard both to quantify and to notice, except in its absence.  Companions are the people who understand, even in pieces, the pitfalls and joys in the path you are traveling.  They have turned their ankles on the same rocks, and seen the same vistas of wonder and grace.  They empathize, in the most intimate possible sense, with your experience.

Companions are the company you keep.  Companions are the strong hand in the dark.  Companions are the laugh that harmonizes with yours.  Companions are the reason to keep to the path, or the landmark to indicate where the path doesn’t fit anymore, or both.  Companions are the descant to the melody of your life.

Cherish your companions, because they are all irreplaceable.  Tell them they are beautiful, because they bring out the beauty in your self, and let you see it from the outside.  Do not fear the love of companions, given or received, because it is living art.  Do not mourn overlong when they pass away from your path, because the beauty and love and art is impossible to steal, impossible to lose in any permanent way.

Companionship is one of the greatest gifts of being a thinking, social, empathic creature.  Companions are angels and demons in a human skin, flexible and fallible and fixed and fickle, just as you are.  Their lessons are indelible, and their faults are lessons too.  Learn what they have to teach, hear what they have to say, learn their song and add the parts of it that fit to your own.  Create and engage with them, taste the colors of their hearts.  The beauty you will gain from them, and they from you, is worth every risk.

And remember, in all of that, that you are a companion, too.  Companionship is your gift to offer, to anyone who resonates with it.  Do not forget the power of the companion, in yourself as much as anyone else.

We cannot follow the steps of your dance, Lady.  Our hearts tremble at the pattern of your making and unmaking.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

We trust in the shadows of your song, knowing its melody is beyond us.  Our days are metered by the clack and hiss of your loom.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

Be gentle with us, your children.  Hold us warmly in your hands.  We beg you for light, for shelter, for understanding.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

Be kind with us, your acolytes.  Teach us when we err, guide us when we stumble, show us how to follow your world-shaking steps writ small.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

Be fierce with us, your disciples.  Bring us order in chaos in order, demand that we burn with you in the dark places, expect no less of us than we expect of ourselves.  Grant us discipline.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

To each of us, your children, grant the blessed, burning love we plead for.  We are yours.  We see you, and we ask only to be seen by you.

Burning Mother, hear our prayer.

Bare your teeth.

It’s Friday the 13th, O Best Beloved.  So today is homework day.

 

Go expose yourself to something that drives the beat under your skin.  Go listen to music, watch something, read something, taste something, smell something that raises your pulse and reminds you that you are a creature who can touch and change the world, in ways so big you never could have imagined them.  Remember that you are a deity living in a flexible skin, and find something that pushes and calls to the places in your brain that are certain of that fact.

 

Go find something that draws you out, so that you can be you, just as hard as you can go.  Saturate yourself with it.  Bathe and drown in it until the feeling of being invincible overtakes you, and then take that out into the world.

 

Go change something.  Go be the person you would never otherwise be, but wish you had grown into.  Go DO.  Bare your teeth and dare the world to stop you.

 

I will look forward to seeing what happens.  Godspeed, in the most literal sense of the word.  I am with you, and the you that you are afraid to be is loved.  Someone needs you to be that person.  Go be it.

Which means, naturally, that I am quite likely to be wrong.

 

It’s not about fear.  It’s not about fear at all – fear is just the elephant’s tail that feels like a snake.

 

It’s about trucks.  It’s about everything sudden, significant, and unexpected being a bit like being hit by a truck.

If you’re not used to it, you don’t expect it, it means something, and you don’t have time to brace for it, you’re going to react a bit like you’ve been hit by a truck.  And by you I mean we, of course.  Jumped-up monkeys of so many flavors you can never possibly taste them all.  And we’re all bad at sudden, significant, unexpected things.

 

We gape, and stammer, and it takes a tick or two for us to gather ourselves together and respond in anything like a way that makes any damn sense.  Ticks can be shorter or longer – the more often you’ve been hit by a truck, the better you’ll be at dealing with the fallout.  Some people even practice at being hit by trucks so they’ll always have the effective equivalent of expecting a truck.

But that requires being hit by a lot of trucks, on purpose.  Opportunity cost.  Some people get hit by a lot of trucks just because, which probably is quite an irritating thing.  They’re probably better at trucks than most, too.

 

The thing is, though, it’s still a truck.  And the truck makes all the smart bits up in the front run around in a panic, throw their hands up, run into each other, and squeal like five year old girls.  Oh, certainly, the lizards in the basement may well give them A Significant Look and get on with things.  But those smart bits, it will take them just a moment before they’re back at post and back on form, running along like they’d never screamed in their lives, coughing significantly and avoiding eye contact with one another.

 

So now the question is, why do they have to scream and run?  Or scream and freeze?  Or freeze and run, which is quite hard to do?  Why do we have to be trained to be good at being hit by trucks?  We can manage having sex pretty well on the first try (nobody said competently, but there’s usually comparatively little screaming and running around (for most people)), and that’s orders of magnitude more complicated!  Why are we so damn bad at it?  We see trucks every day.  Some of us drive or ride in trucks quite frequently.  So – why are we so very bad at trucks?

 

I’ll get back with you on that one when my metaphor machine isn’t quite so focused on trucks, thanks.  Because right now I’ve run into a double roundabout that seems to end up in Italy, and I don’t know how to get off.

In the initial impact (and the landing of a significant fear upon one’s person is, indeed, an impact in every possible sense of the word), the symptoms run as follows.

Physical: tightening of the pores and follicles, increased respiration and heartbeat (often following a short but notable pause of said facilities), significant tremors in fine motor control, sometimes loss of some or all aspects of gross motor control.

Mental: chemical dump in the sympathetic nervous system, and a tendency to think in circles with an order of magnitude more profanity and less sense than usual.

Spiritual: variable.

 

Like pretty much everything else significant in life, it’s a bit like being hit by a truck.  Sooner or later, all descriptions and analogies come back to being hit by a truck.  Because, sooner or later, all significant events have an immediate, short-term reaction of complete helplessness followed by frantic action at the fastest available capacity, usually in a stupid direction.  We’re monkeys.  We’re bad at significant.

 

I like trucks.

 

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.

Deep fried roses.

So, I tried something today, and failed miserably.  It was pretty goddamned epic – I took about three pieces of logic and hammered them together in a bastardization of rationale, and made up a Brilliant Idea of Genius ™, which would undoubtedly result in a Revolution in the Field (also tm) due to my Unparalleled Creativity and Amazingness (did I mention tm?)!

 

Naturally, I created a hideous mess and a stench of deep fried roses.  The house is still pretty damned rank.  It’s nearly unlivable, and I’m actually kind of lucky I didn’t murder us all with the fumes of my egotistical stupidity.  On the bright side, at least this time I wasn’t doing anything that involved gasoline.

 

Yet.

 

So, I’m sitting here, stoned on flowers, and trying to come up with some great moral, some silver lining, some reason that this enormous clusterfuck needed to happen, so that I can feel better about having made said hideous mess and stunk up the house.  And the moral of the story, O Best Beloved, is this:

 

Even when you fuck up royally, you end up with a recipe for deep fried roses.  Which, if you don’t burn the fuck out of them, could probably be pretty tasty, if very strange.  Next time I may batter them, and declare myself the ultimate Redneck Hippie.  And the other moral, the one I like better, is this: not everything has to have a moral.  Sometimes you just fuck up, because you didn’t think things through well enough, and you end up with a house that stinks and a day that irritates you, and you learn and move on.  There is no greater reason or purpose; you salvage what you can out of the mess (see: deep fried roses) to make yourself feel better, and then you try it again once you can stand the smell of flowers.

 

I write a lot here about big sweeping ideals and grand philosophies, but the ones that matter the most, I think, are the ones that do not have grand ideals and do not make good sound bytes or good rallying cries.  “Stop bitching and get on with it” is not a good slogan.  “So you screwed up; so what?” is not a great motivational speech hook.  But, realistically, they are the things that lead me through the day to day life that makes room for the big sweeping philosophies and adrenaline-pumping rallying cries, and so they are, metaphorically, the day job that pays for the interesting hobbies.  It’s a tradeoff – do the boring everyday work of getting on with it, and you’ll have the room to spout off about ideals and should-bes.

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