Sunday, 11 December 2011

Anybody In There?

One of the great things about talking to other writers has been the realization that my ‘oddness’ may not be so odd after all. Or, if I am odd, then I suffer from a common oddness, an oddness shared by many other writers. Of course, as individuals our quirks will vary from person to person, but I think there are many we have in common. One in particular is shared by most, if not all of us.  

No, I'm not talking about neurosis, although that is common. I'm not talking about depression, alcoholism, OCD, or a penchant for the darker things of life. Some writers have these traits, others do not. No, the trait I’m talking about has probably struck most writers before they finished reading this paragraph: 


I’m sure this is a trait shared by musicians and painters, but writers in particular have a terrific time staying ‘here’. I spend most of my life in ‘Birchland’ talking to various fictional characters. Days and weeks and months can pass by without me realizing it. I look out the window and there are leaves on the trees. I look again, and the leaves are gone.

Sometimes, when we are children, we are told to PAY ATTENTION. We don’t. Mystics talk about living in the moment. We try and fail. Our spouses snap their fingers and say, “Were you even listening to me?”

Sadly, the answer is often no, and this can get us in trouble with our significant others/employers/muggers. They don’t understand that we don’t mean to slip off, it just happens. Because of this, we are often tagged with the following labels:  

1. Apathetic

“Look at him, he doesn’t care what I’m saying.”

This certainly could be true. About 99% of what we babble in a particular day can be disregarded without any great threat to mankind. But in the case of a writer, it’s not rudeness. We rather like you; it’s just that paying attention is a little like trying to circumnavigate an event horizon. Whether we like it or not, we’re going to tumble into that black hole. Why? Because the fate of Sir Percival the Dragonslayer trumps your trip to the grocery store. Sure, you found a 10% discount on toilet paper, but Sir Percival just lost the Sword of Truth, and he has only one turn of the hourglass to save the princess from transforming into an ogre!

Now, I know what a non-writer would say in this situation, because I’ve (and probably you’ve) heard it before. “But dude, I’m talking about reality. That stuff in your head is fake--don’t you get that?”

Yes, Sir Percival and the princess do not exist. They have never existed, and they will never exist. I understand that. I’m not psychotic. But do you understand that it doesn’t matter? The characters may be fake, but the urgency is real. These are real dilemmas that must be solved. Toilet paper be damned!     

2. Dull, simple, or slow

“Did you order the pizza?”
“Huh?” the writer says. “Wha?”
“Never mind, I’ll order it.”

“You didn’t pay the bills?”
“Huh?” the writer says. “Wha?”
“Never mind, we’ll pay them tomorrow.”

Sometimes, a clever person who daydreams can give the impression that he or she is dull, simple, or slow. Of course, this is far from the truth. Distracted does not mean dumb. Sadly, many writers do not believe this about themselves. Luckily, I'm here to tell you the truth. Are you ready? YOU ARE NOT DUMB!!! It doesn’t matter if your teachers, parents, best friend or any other person diagnosed you as stupid. You are not.

Think about this for a moment: you create worlds out of nothing. You create people out of nothing. On Monday, you stared at a blank screen. On Tuesday, the tribal elders of Gath prepared for war. On Wednesday, little Hal’teth killed the chief and now must rule his people. You’ve just created an entire race in less than a week, and you think you’re stupid? Don’t be an idiot!

Far from blank, a writer’s mind is a hurricane of thoughts, ideas, and emotions. This is why we tune out so often. There’s only so much mental energy to go around, and reality often loses. But still, the perception of us as stupid continues to rear its ugly head. A co-worker might see Bob staring out the window at a blue jay and think, “Wow, he’s doing it again--not the sharpest tool in the shed, is he?” Meanwhile, Bob is trying to figure out how the genetic sequencing of dinosaurs can be achieved on Mars Station Alpha. At lunch, Jane from accounting isn’t touching her sandwich, again, but that’s because she just saw six warships sunk by the Spanish Armada. She has no idea where Madam Clarissa is, but she could be dead. Unless, unless…

3. Immature

“There he goes again, his head in the clouds. When will he finally grow up?”

This last one makes me laugh. For some reason, there are a handful of memes that continue to be shared about the mythical creature known as ‘an adult’. I’m not sure who started this, but if you are above the age of twenty-five and you spend your days dreaming about wizards, aliens, and werewolves? Well then, you must be some kind of stunted man-child. Why don’t you start thinking about the important things in life, like trade policy and oil prices? Peterson was just discussing how a 6% tax increase will affect foreign bond markets, and you’re wondering if the dwarf’s axe should be single or double headed? What's wrong with you, grow up!

One of the blessings of being a writer is that we get to hold a little golden thread in our hands. And that thread stretches all the way back to childhood. What are now words on a computer screen was once “play time” with our favourite toys. Because we write, the child survives. It’s a special gift, one most ‘adults’ lose because a.) they believe they must, or b.) the world beats them till they let go. Quietly and slowly, their imaginations recede until there’s barely enough for a smirk at the Sunday funnies.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be responsible adults. Of course we should. But what’s wrong with a head in the clouds? Life is a strange sort of daydream anyway. We live on a spinning blue ball in the middle of nowhere. We meet our loved ones, spend a few moments with them, and then they are gone forever. Our own lives are tragically short. Is there a ‘right’ way to live? How will discussing the fiscal budget keep me alive longer than thinking about unicorns? Dull seems like a dreadful way to spend my time here. 

“He is such an odd man.”
“She is a tad offish, don’t you think?”
“There you go again--hello? Anybody in there?”

I think that we, as writers, have to embrace our oddness--this includes daydreaming. If you want to spend your mental life with the elves of the Ember Forest, I say great. It may not get you more dates, and your co-workers may shout themselves hoarse trying to get your attention, but so what? Stop apologizing for yourself. I have. I gave up the fight to stay ‘here’ a long time ago. Is it 2011? Is it 2005? Does it really matter? 

Does it? Whether I PAY ATTENTION or not, politicians will continue to abuse their power, businessmen will continue to choke on their own greed, and Hollywood’s hotties will continue to be arrested for huffing glue and committing “lewd acts” with traffic signs. Mumbling to myself about dragon scales hardly seems like I’m missing out on anything important.  

“You need a reality check!”

Oh yeah? Why?