Tag Archive: experiences


Trigger.

They’re things I haven’t exposed myself to in months, maybe a year or more.  They hurt, every time.  It’s a cleaner wound now than it was, but just because the cut is cleaner doesn’t mean it doesn’t bleed.  But still.  It is, as I heard myself saying “The best art I have ever been ashamed to inspire.”  That’s probably overstating the case, because none of it is really about me.  I’m a bit player, a walk-on, walk-off, walk-on who affected outcomes at the time but was not a first cause of anything really much.

But do I know that?  I don’t know.  I’ll take that humility, that I am only the littlest finger of a muse, over being the muse entire for things that make the air around them cringe and bleed and sway.  Because she cut out my heart, and what if that’s something that only I have the blame for?

Everything is about a lot of other things.  These things are, at least a little bit, about me.  And as any good art does, they bring back sense memories and evoke a shadow-summoned grin at the remembrance of things that would never have happened, if I had been a little smarter, a little faster, a little better prepared to defend the things that mattered.

 

Transgress.

My brain is leaving me, a piece at a time.  I know it is.  I will not miss it as it goes, because I won’t remember what it is I’m missing.  Things just… fade, and don’t come back, until I can find a trigger to bring them to the surface.  The silver thread that ran through my life, birth to present, is gone, and will never be back.  It won’t kill me, but it is making me very different.  I live, not for the memories I will create, but for the experiences I can have in the present, because the memories may not ever be there.  It’s a roll of the dice.  And it’s a transgression to tell you this, because it shows weakness, and fear.  I am weak, and I am afraid, and I wish very much that I could have lost a leg, or an arm, or anything else.  But it will be what it must, and I accommodate.  I will not be frightened of the loss.  I am only frightened of hurting others by not being able to find the memories that mean to much to them.  I am frightened of the mayfly creature I may become.

So I tell stories, now more than ever before.  Story after story, to entertain and to leave behind a memory of me when my memory of my own life fades.  I tell them to anyone who will listen, who wants to hear, who will have a moment’s joy and beauty out of the things I have done with my life.  I do not want the things I have been, the things I have done, to die with my memory of them.

There was a woman, married to a man.  “Everyone involved deserved better out of me than they got.”  It’s the thing I say about that time, and it is still true.  Triggers fire bullets, and bullets ricochet.  Trigger a strong enough emotion, a strong enough physiological response, and you’ll remember the story.  If you can remember the story, you can tell it, at least as much as you can remember.

“It’s about falling asleep on someone’s breast when you’re too paranoid to sleep with anyone, and not knowing you’re asleep.  It’s about mourning armor that has spikes on the inside and on the outside.  It’s about her cutting my heart out of my chest, and sewing the space together with barbed wire.  It’s about having some piece of your heard sawed out and sewn over, so it won’t get burnt up with the rest of you.”

 

Transcribe.

These things are painful to remember, and beautiful, and irreplaceable.  I would not trade them for anything.  I gather them, frame by frame, and make a sparkling mirror mobile to help me remember the good, and how not to cut myself on the bad.  I would not wish forgetting on anyone.

And I will find out what happens in Split City before it becomes a memory lost in dust and dark places on the scans.

I will never forget love.  Even in the myriad forms it takes, as much as it stretches and deforms and makes a place inside you that begs to be filled and strikes out with venom and blades at the slightest touch, I will never forget love.  It is never quite what it seems, and it always seems both a little better and a little worse than it really is.

Walking with a bowl

Once upon a time, O Best Beloved, there was a woman with a bowl.  It was a wide, round stone bowl, and it was her dearest possession.  This was a very once upon a time indeed, and she lived in a hard and rocky part of the land, where nothing would grow but gnarled little weeds and hard and twisted trees that gave no fruit.

There was, though, a small and lively stream beside the little shady building where she lived.  It had the clearest water you could dream of, and she carried that water out to the road every day in her beautiful, wide bowl.  It was a long walk to the road, but once she got there, she could trade the water for food and news and clothes.  The road always had traders, headed to the larger city, and she could trade her water to them, without having to go into the loud and dangerous city herself.

But of course, walking with a beautiful, wide stone bowl is difficult, day after day, many times a day.  The path was neither smooth nor flat.  And of course, you know what is going to happen, O Best Beloved, because it is such a beautiful bowl, and because her whole life depends upon it.

One day she falls, and the bowl breaks.  Her foot turns on a stone she cannot see, past the bowl full of clear water in her arms.  She and the bowl both go tumbling into the path.  She fares better than the bowl does, and is only scraped up a little.  The bowl, the beautiful stone bowl, is shattered beyond all hope of repair.

She has walked this path every day, many times a day, her whole life.  She has worked hard, her whole life.  She will not give up easily.  So she returns to her little house, and gathers up everything she has that might be worth something to a trader.  Then she goes and sits by the side of the road, and waits.

It takes two days, but eventually she meets a man who has what she wants to trade.  He has a waterskin.  He has never needed her bowl, but he has traded for a drink from it anyway, and always been kind.  He trades her for a waterskin, so that he can still stop for a conversation with her (for he thinks her pleasing) and a drink (for the water is cool, and always a blessing).

The skin doesn’t work.  She doesn’t understand why, until she drinks from it, and then she has a fight with the man who traded it to her, and he beats her badly for the words she screams at him.  She believes he has traded her a rotten skin, something poisonous and foul.

The skin is fine.  The water is different.  It doesn’t feel the sun on its skin for hours walking to the road.  It doesn’t hear her voice singing as she walks.  It doesn’t lap against the sides of a beautiful stone bowl in the breeze and taste the air of a thousand miles around as it makes the journey from spring to road to throat.

Instead, it is trapped in the waxed hide of a dead animal, bound up in the dark, blind and deaf and dumb.  It is neither the living spirit of the spring nor the soothing medicine of the bowl, and it tastes of darkness and binding.  It is no wonder the traders will pay nothing for it.

With nothing to trade, the woman is starving.  She is alone, she has nothing left to bargain with, no trade left to ply.  So she begins to walk to the city, hoping to find an answer from the king there.  They say he is very wise.

She goes into the very center of the city, and asks an audience to see the king in his temple.  She is told that he is not seeing anyone today, and that she must go away and wait.  But she is starving, and she cannot wait, so she does a thing that is not good at: she lies.

She tells the guards that she had a dream.  She was a water-seller, and that she had a dream that her bowl broke, but that the king could fix it, and the next day her bowl broke.  She tells them she has walked to the city to see the king, to tell him this dream, because she is afraid.  She tells herself that it is mostly true, and that she is only trying to survive.

It is very, very frightening when the guards grab her by both arms and drag her inside, straight into the center of the temple to see the king and his priests.  Except there are no priests.  There is only the king, a man standing in front of his throne, staring at nothing.

The guards push her to her knees before the king, and walk from the room without looking back.  It is not quite a run, but the difference is very fine.

“Are you a dreamer?  I told them I needed another dreamer.”  His voice is a cracked drum, a whispering echo.

“No, lord.  I am not a dreamer.  I only told them I had a dream.  What happened?”

“I killed them.  They dreamed terrible things, and I killed them all, because I could not bear the madness of what is coming.  And now there are no dreams at all.  I do not know if that is better.”  He drops, boneless, to the beautiful stone floor.  It sounds like a bowl breaking.  He begins to sob, ragged and rhythmic, as if it is something he has done so much that it has worn a rut into him.

“I broke my bowl, lord, and now I am starving.”  The sound of him falling has reminded her.

“Good.  Starving is better than what is coming.  Go home.  Stay away from here.  Starve.  It is better than what is coming.”

The guards beat her, partly because she lied, but mostly because they were afraid of what was happening to their king and their world.  She did not make it home before she died.  Many of the people who lived to see what happened to their lands in the years to come wished they had not.

Once upon a time, a woman was walking with a bowl, and broke it.  A king could not bear the voice of his dreamers, and had them silenced.  But remember, O Best Beloved, that stories are music.

In the same land, where there was so much madness and pain that a king ordered a woman to go home and starve rather than see a dream come to pass, there was a voice from a hillside.  It waited, that voice.  It waited for a man named Diego, and it waited almost 500 years, but the blood of every dreamer in the land could not wash it away.

“Have you forgotten?  I am your mother.  You are under my protection.”

 

And now let me remind you, O Best Beloved, that all storytellers are liars.  No voice waits.  All voices want to be heard.  When the altars are broken, when the dreamers are killed, we do not gather at altars, and we do not speak our dreams to kings.  We drink from unlabeled bottles around fires in the wilderness, and we do not wait for the altars to be rebuilt.

Last words

(Author’s note: y’all know I’m not a verse kind of person, but this challenge spoke to me, so I will speak back to it.)

 

Last words

razor keys
revolving keys

You wrapped my fingers
around them
tight, so tight

Keeper of shadows
the last shadows
of words
ever spoken

I will keep the faith
I will keep the faith
I will keep the faith

by blood and bone
and pain and shadow

I will keep the faith

I will hide the shadows
your words cast

and protect the light
your life has left

you are missed
your faith is kept

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.

 

Truly, a funny and fascinating thing, when looked at from the outside.  Watch:

 

The eyes glisten bright, sitting at the bar, ears open and brain doing its best to absorb information beyond the gibbering of memories so old and oft-polished that they have burnished down to a single, hard silver spike of fear.  This is the barrel, this the chamber, this the magazine.  Here are the catches and releases that will move slide and magazine.  These are the mechanics behind the physics – here’s how to project your intent out beyond the range of your arms and legs.

A constant, running commentary of terror, buried and ignored, but insistent on having enough of a voice to “give warning,” whatever that means.  It is a voice that doesn’t understand what is going on: it is reacting to events in the now as if they were the events of the then, and the actors the same as those who flicker around and around on the memory loop of the past.

“You’re getting in the wrong side of the car.  You can let him ride with you if you have to but why does he get to drive because what if you can’t get back to your car then what will you do.  Why is he paying don’t let him pay he’ll expect something.  Stop gaping someone will see that you don’t know what the hell to do.  Figure it out, stop letting him tell you, stop being dependent on him.  Why did you look away he has the weapons and you need to know what he’s doing all the time in case he surprises you so why are you wasting eyeball time reading the walls and the other people.  What is that thing that you are putting your hands on, that is a Bad Thing and we don’t like it and nothing good will come of you touching it, stop putting your hands on it no no stop no stop no no Bad stop!”

And then just one long wail, lost long ago to any kind of reason, just a formless howl of aversion and remembered pain.

So, for the first three squeezes, everything hurts.  It costs, ignoring that kind of voice.  If it didn’t cost people something to ignore it, they’d fail to learn from their past experiences. So it hurts, all the way down to feet planted in entirely the wrong stance for shooting.  After that, the wail is deafened in the controlled explosion of new experience, new ability, fresh tape to spool in place of at least one of the old ones.  Projectile intelligence, self-loaded and thrown into an acceleration of forced evolution and adaptation.

 

Fear is a funny thing.  A bit like fire.  Leave it to run, feed it whatever is handy, and it will eat everything it can before it runs into a boundaries made of things tough enough not to be eaten.  Corral it, control it, compress it, direct it – and throw yourself into the future with it, to see what’s on the other side.

Get up.

There are some stories, O Best Beloved, from which even the moon turns her face.  So tonight, as we sit here huddled around a fire that gives no warmth and no comfort, she hides herself from us in the clouds, because she knows that I will tell you a story that she does not want to hear.  She will not stop me, though, O my Best Beloved.  Even the moon knows that all stories must be told in the end, because every story has a name, and all names are true in some turning.

But remember: all storytellers are liars at heart.  There are three lies in this story, and this is one of them.

This is a story that is not mine, but one that I was told by the one who lived it, who whispered it in my ear when no one else would hear it, when the moon was dark and all was quiet in her hiddenness.  I was told so that it would be told to you, when she was hidden again, so that you could sift the truth from the lies and learn from the sifting.

This is the story I heard:

“The concrete was cold and hard on my face, but warm against my hip, where I was bleeding on it.  I liked the places where it was warm, because I couldn’t remember the last time I had been warm all over.  I was so hungry, and so tired, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had slept more than a couple of hours.  I just wanted to sleep.  I wanted to be warm, and I wanted to sleep.  That was all.  I wanted it so so so badly.

“She was laughing at me, purring her laugh, like a great cat that’s just heard a good joke.  ‘Get up,’ she says to me, laughing.  ‘You’re fine.  Get up.’

“I can’t, I tell her.  I’m so tired, and I’m so cold.  Please, can’t I just lay here for a minute and have a little sleep, and maybe a little something to eat?  I’ve tried to be so good for so long.  I’ve almost got it perfect.  Please, please, can’t I just go to sleep?  I promise I’ll do better when I wake up.

“She’s not laughing anymore.  She’s slapping that stupid stick against her boot, tapping it to make noise, looking at me, making her mad face.  ‘Get up,’ she says again.  ‘You’re not hurt.  You’re just lazy.  Get up.  If you want to rest, you have to work first.  So get up.  Now.’

“I can’t help it.  I start to cry.  Not out loud, because then she’ll be really mad, but the wet just wells up and leaks out of my eyes and onto the floor.  I try to push myself up on my strong arm, and it just shakes and drops me back down again.  I try pushing with my legs, and they just won’t work at all.  Nothing’s answering right anymore.  It’s so scary.  I’m trying so hard to be good, to do right, but it’s not working.  Nothing will work, and now she’s so mad.

“‘Well.  I see how it is then.’  She’s walking around me, tapping the stick on her boot some more, making that whap-whap-whap sound in the quiet.  ‘You told me you would do as I asked.  You told me you were worth the work.  I should have known you were lying.  I should have known you were just a girl all along.  We both know girls are too weak to be of any use.  When you can be bothered to get up, then get out.  I have no use for girls.’

“She put so much hate in that last word, so much contempt.  And she was wrong! I got so mad.  I’m not a girl.  I’m not weak.  I can do it.  I can do anything.  I. Am. NOT. A. Stupid. Weak. GIRL.

“It hurt, when the chain around my ankle tore into the skin, pulled on the bone.  I don’t remember getting up.  I don’t remember running at her, yelling.  But there I was, on my feet.  I am not a GIRL.  I am USEFUL.  I can WORK.  And I can GET UP, see? I am UP!

“Then she laughed again.  She was happy.  I was useful.  My blood was dripping down my leg from my hip, where she’d hit me before I’d fallen down, and it was going faster now, and I was out of breath.  But I got up.  That was what was important.  I had proved it.  I was not a girl.

“I got up.

“I got up.

“And so she loved me another day, and I got to stay another day, because I got up.

“That was a long time ago now.  I can’t change what happened.  There are a lot of days where I think it would have been better if I’d never met her.  A lot of days where I think it would have been better if I’d stayed down, or never been sent away.  But those days aren’t today.  And as long as those days aren’t today, I’m getting up for me, instead of her.  So that’s all right then, I guess.”

This is a story I wept to hear, and I weep to tell it to you, and the moon hides her face from us to hide her tears.  Put another log on the fire, O my Best Beloved.  All of us could use a little light, a little warmth, and a little comfort against the stories the moon hides her face from.

So join me in weeping, and help me lend a hand to those who would get up for themselves.  Even liars have hands, and every hand is useful.

(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.

Scream.

Every day when you walk through the world, there are people around you screaming.  They scream all day long, every day, and then scream into the night, and wake up or just stumble out of bed without ever having slept to do it all again.  They are screaming for you, at you, with you.  They are people like you, and they are screaming to try to be heard.

 

Every person walking the face of this planet has a voice.  Some are simple, some complex, some restrained and some impassioned and out of control.  All of them are worth listening to, because every single one of them is unique in some way.  Experience is never repeated, only refracted and reiterated into a new shape, a new time, a new person or circumstance.  When you lose track of the idea that all voices deserve to be heard, you become deaf to the beautiful complexity of living.

 

Every moment you breathe, there is something in your mind that is trying to be heard.  We are island creatures, made of flesh that cannot mingle with itself, and so we reach out to each other and ourselves to try and make the minds do what the flesh cannot.  We scream.  We chatter and stammer and beg, to try and be reaffirmed that we are people, that we have voices that other people can hear, that our voices deserve to be heard.

 

Do not lose track of the beauty in screaming.  Every scream has a meaning, a feeling, a thought, a moment of connection that will never happen again.  Miss it to your own detriment.

 

I scream to myself, to others, to nothing, to everything.  Like every other jumped-up monkey on our tilt-a-whirl rock, I scream all the time.  Often it is silent, and often it is unheard or misunderstood.  That doesn’t stop me, and cannot stop me, because to stop trying to be heard is to start trying to die.

 

Scream.  You have a voice, and it is a voice that has value, that deserves to be heard.  Scream.  Other people will be better for hearing it, because it reminds them that they are people, and that they can understand you a little, and so you can understand them a little.  Scream, and remind yourself and the people around you that you are all people, who have things in common, fears in common, loves in common, being in common.  Scream, and be whole.

 

And when other people scream, remember that they are like you, burning to be heard and understood.  To silence another person’s voice is the closest you can come to the Platonic ideal of sin – it excises and burns up something that is precious in its rarity, its complete immunity to recreation.  We are all fumbling in the dark of sentience, trying to find a way to touch someone else that we can never really see or be one with.  The closest we can come is to scream, to create a voice for ourselves that has something of all of us in it, that creates a bridge between the islands of ourselves, that provides for us the vital sense of connection, of being a creature who is not alone in the dark of its own mind.

 

Scream.  You will be heard, and someone is equipped to understand, and to care.  You are not alone in the dark.

 

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