Writing is a Sacred Act

As counterpoint to tomorrow’s post about the absurdity of writing, I wanted to post today about how writing is a sacred, vitally important act for me.

When you compare human beings to our closest living relatives -the other great ape species- you notice several interesting and base physical characteristics: we have smaller jaws, we maintain our juvenile features longer, we are able to live and coordinate as part of larger groups, and so on. All of these are hallmarks of domesticated species. And so, one way to understand what a human being is is to consider them as a domesticated great ape.

If you accept this framework, you immediately ask well what domesticated us? We did, or dogs, or wheat are all compelling answers. But I think the most accurate way to consider us is that we were domesticated by story. And just as dogs have been selectively bred to better manipulate us (and we have been bred to better function as part of dog-human teams), so too have we co-developed with stories, our abilities to tell and shape them growing in tandem with their ability to guide and shape us.

To be a writer is to commune, argue, shape, fight, love, remake, and be remade by story. You don’t have to invent any fictional entities to understand that writers & storytellers of all stripes have always been doing the same sort of work; communing with stories to guide their communities and (if they are skillful and good) reshape their social world for the better or (if they are unskilled or bad) lead their people to ruin.

The use of word, the use of story is the prerequisite for everything not determined by biology and it is a fundamental tribute to the success of past writers that the most successful stories have been rendered invisible, are -for most everyone- indistinguishable from our biological imperatives. Long term, the stories we tell about ourselves lead us to heaven or hell, thriving or extinction.

Words are our escape from atemporality, like the ‘words’ of our DNA they allow communion over vast gulfs of time; the chance to preserve something worthy, transcend the limitation of our present moment. As writing/story weaving can be used to help or harm, reveal truth by inducing a sideways glance at it or lie; there is no greater sacred trust: Writing is a sacred act.

In My Friend’s Story, I’m the NPC to Their High Level Bard

Note: ‘NPC’ means ‘non-player character’ in a video or tabletop game which is contrasted with PC or ‘Player Character’ the avatar of a real person in a game world.

 

I have a friend, let’s call them the bard. The bard is kind, enthusiastic, and playful. They talk a lot about how much our friendship means to them, have given some wonderful gifts, and we’ve had some great times together. And yet, there’s a something there that frustrates me… a way in which this friendship feels unsatisfying that is difficult to wrap in word and explain.

And I think I’ve finally realized what it is: to my friend the bard, I’m an NPC. An NPC they’re fond of certainly, but like all NPCs there is a way in which I’m not truly real. Oh, certainly, the bard will act like I’m real; when they’re interested we’ll go on adventures together or fight monsters. But the moment the bard isn’t interested, they’re fully not interested. We only hang when I’m relevant to the adventure or crisis de jour for the bard; they’re fundamentally bored by the details of my life (as a Player Character in an RPG would be uninterested in the mundanity of an NPC’s farming unless therein lay adventure to be had there).

The bard’s problems are always the bigger issues, the ones that are more pressing and need to get worked on first. There is also the assumption on the part of the bard that I will be interested in whatever the bard is working on/that I’ll be along for the ride; but this never works both ways.

I’ve begun to suspect that, moreso than my other friends, the bard doesn’t quite see me; they see (and interact with) a simplified version of me.

Is this bad? No. Am I being mistreated? No. But it takes work to remind myself that when I’m shiny, when I actually have their attention it can feel amazing; it can feel like we have this amazing depth of connection but that it will always shift off of me when they find something more compelling to focus on. We’ll still go on adventures together now and again, but ultimately I’m increasingly interested in all the work I do tending my shop, practicing my craft, and thus I end up spending my time with people who want to share in all my life; whether we’re adventuring or not.

Happy New Year

I’ve been playing with the idea that where you are in the New Year’s Day, is where you are for the year to come.

On New Year’s day 2017, I was… nervous. I’d just had massive monetary success but I didn’t know if I’d be able to accomplish it in time. Everything was great, better than it had ever been; and yet I was afraid. And honestly, this was how I experienced most of 2017.

One of the things I suffered most from was what I can best call optimization sickness. Getting all the pieces of my life to ‘fit’ together (and zealously amputating the parts that don’t seem to have an obvious purpose) is a good way to become miserable in a hurry. I thought I could edit my way to happiness, I thought I could do more by being less. I thought that -if I wasn’t achieving the deadlines I’d set for myself- I should just keep pruning back ‘inessentials’ in order to work harder. Except, of course, my creativity and my essential meness is something of a mystery and in order to best honor it I need to be my most joyful, most whole state.

Ultimately, I realized I couldn’t ‘give’ anymore, had to ask for time and support of my family and loved ones just to enjoy myself. This was incredibly hard for me.

I kept going, even when I was just going through the motions. But in the last month, I feel like I’m ‘back.’ I feel inspired again, ready to work.

On New Years Day 2018, I feel inspired. I have just enough money in the bank. The house is clean (or clean enough) I’m writing, I’m spending time partying and then time with my wife, daughter, and parents.

In 2018, there’s a bunch of new (and old) communities and activities I need to (re)engage with. There’s a bunch of writing to do (not least of which is not publishing via facebook but instead putting a little more emphasis here, on this blog). I have people to love, games to play, adventures to have. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On Problems

When I was much less mature, I was fond of bandying about with the phrase, ‘The reward for a job well done is a harder job.’ I used the cliché to signal that I wasn’t a sucker; that all the ways I ‘didn’t try’ were indicative of me ‘sticking it to the man/refusing to play his game’ as opposed to the more honest conclusion that I (often) didn’t give my all to ensure that I could dismiss any failure as not ‘real.’ Nowadays, I’m fond of reframing of the phrase. ‘The consequence of a problem well solved is a better/harder/more interesting problem.’ And that’s an outcome I’m actively working towards.

While I’m alive, there will never be an end to ‘problems’ and, most of the problems I/we have now are due to the solutions of the past. Trying to finish a book is a *much* better problem than figuring out how ingest enough calories so as not to starve (which had been largely ‘solved’ by my ancestors). Trying to figure out how to use my limited financial, political, and emotional resources to nudge my society towards being more just and humane is a *much* better problem than trying to figure out how to keep a larger animal from eating me and –again- my ancestors pretty much took care of that. But even though these are better problems… these are still problems.

Likewise, it’s helpful to remind myself that, as I raise my daughter, I can’t actually protect her from challenge; the *best* I can do is to suitably equip her to solve the problems of her life and (hopefully) give her better and more interesting problems than I myself had to deal with. I’ll give my all, and in so doing I’ll solve so many of problems (some with such completion that I’ll risk being able to even recall that the issue was once a problem for me) but the reward is *never* the cessation of growth and change and hardship – it is only the transmutation of these forces into a different form, possibly even one that would be unrecognizable by the standards of the past.