I’m a self-proclaimed misanthrope. I covet solitude for the most part and I can go weeks without really getting the urge to have one-on-one time with another human being. This is partly because I live with a person and I get enough time there, partly because as the years have gone past most of the things that I sought after in other human beings I mostly found in myself, and partly because I have been hurt so many times and so frequently by others that on a base level it’s generally not an enjoyable experience for me. This isn’t something that should engender pity in anyone – it’s just the way it is.
I haven’t written anything in nearly two weeks. I needed to take a break, but sometimes even when I feel like I don’t have the energy to write the engines keep burning. It makes it difficult to accomplish the goal of relaxation when you’re ready to spring at any time. I could sit down with a beer and a pizza and watch “Rich Kids of Instagram” on youtube to try to relax, but my shoulders would feel the tension of work unfinished and when I pressed my thighs together I’d feel the roughness of a match ready to ignite. Then I’d dream of upheaval, the hours would go by as I “relaxed” and then I’d haul my body as it smoked to my computer, to feel I was even more tired than I was before.
For one of my essays I wrote for my UT admissions (I did get accepted, by the way, but California called to me instead) I wrote about how important it was to have playtime, not just in a philosophical sense, or that it’s “nice to take care of yourself”, but because of mental processes that are taking place when the brain is disengaged from its task. Something called the default mode network, which is only active when you’re not focused, solidifies memory and enhances creativity. It’s not noble to work yourself to death, it’s inherently foolish. Think of the brain as bicameral, bifurcated. It needs dreams and waking, night and day, elation and sadness, stress and relaxation.
It’s easy to forget, that every process is purposeful.
Even the ones we don’t want.
Sometimes I wake and cling to a cup of coffee because I feel like if I don’t have something to hold onto, I’ll be thrown off the Earth.
Some days there is no center to me.
I drink gin and brush my hair and I try to force the Californian sunlight to make me into something better than myself.
Donald Rumsfeld, former secretary of state, coined the phrase “Unknown unknowns.” There are known unknowns, things we don’t know, and unknown unknowns, things we don’t even know that we don’t know.
I know that I could improve upon my Spanish, I know that I write too much about crazy mothers and small-town prophets, I know that I panic and freeze in moments of crisis, I can snap at people I love when I feel irritable, I don’t take enough time to appreciate consciousness.
I can work on these things, because I know that they’re there.
But I also know there’s a dark side I can’t yet comprehend just behind me, something mysterious, a void glinting in the shape of my shadow.
And that -thing- whatever it is, might be crucial to the years coming forward.
Except, I don’t know what it is.
That’s where the default mode network becomes crucial. It fills in blank gaps, makes connections that you cannot while you’re stuck staring intensely at a problem.
I know that once I started actually searching for the answers then I found them – epiphany upon epiphany unearthed themselves, like a shower of rainbows that came bursting from my dirty clawing fingernails. Even when I’m not working, the subconsciousness is set upon the answers. There are things I know now that a year ago would have been incomprehensible to me, that if someone had explained them to me I wouldn’t have understood, not until I felt their shape.
I think one of the most difficult things to write about is a character experiencing epiphany. Knowing something you didn’t know before, because all the pieces that you’ve acquired throughout the time before have suddenly converged into a full understanding. Written poorly, it can seem like magic, like the writer trying to force a plot point forward, shoving the character through a hole in the pages. That’s because epiphany isn’t really a conscious process. It’s something underwater and deep, but still, crucial to our understanding.
But oftentimes, it’s really the only way to learn – great effort yielding nothing but dirt and more dirt, and then suddenly-
Jewels and blood, showering you with resplendence, gnosis.
I want to learn how to write about that moment. I think it’s one of the most beautiful human experiences.
And I want more of it for myself.
To turn the unknown unknowns at least into known unknowns. That’s all I’m asking for now.
Tomorrow I go back to write, back to the page with all its mysterious terrors, turning over stones. The perpetual questing machine. Maybe it will yield nothing – but searching always has a way of turning up more answers than inertia – doesn’t it?i
The act of writing day to day is such an isolating experience. I rarely leave my little den except to take my puppies to the park, or maybe go to the grocery store to pick up more chicken jerky and k-cups. Mostly I enjoy my quiet. It gives me the focus to take the everyday deep-dives into the snarled web of my consciousness, and occasionally bring back something useful. But it can also be derealizing – you can lose touch with reality, with the idea that what you’re doing has any use or value. Live too long in a dream, and the dream begins to warp you.
The moments when you can actually see the effect that your writing has on the outside world are rare. Going into a reading and meeting with other writers often seems to give me shellshock. Everything is actualized and real. You get to see the writers themselves, projecting forth the creations they made inside their isolated neurological soup. This past Friday I was asked to participate in Laura Lee Bahr’s “Bahr Crawl,” in which she travels across the country taking part in readings with other bizarro authors.
I read an except from my short story, Skin Suits, which will be out this year in A Breath from The Sky from Martian Migraine Press. You can see my transformation – from the protagonist in black, to the suit of “Sara” in the blue fur. I hadn’t really practiced my transition – so I think there were a few seconds where everyone thought I was stripping in the middle of my reading. Gabino Iglesias said he thought I’d finally snapped.
Laura read from her short story collection Angel Meat, out from Fungasm Press this year. Everytime I step into a room with Laura, she seems to make the air brighter. She’s radiant and vulnerable and open. I think the cover of her new collection manages to accurately capture her likeness
You can find Laura’s new book, Angel Meat, on Amazon.
I crawled out of my cavern the other day to talk to J David Osborne on his podcast, The JDO Show. We talk about working on videogames, different game narratives, horror movies, my time with a group of vindictive witches, near-death experiences, gnosticism, Philip K. Dick, augmented reality, and why life isn’t as bad as we seem to think it is.
I write a lot about transformations – women turning into butterflies, into glorious skin-filleted vampires, into robots that carry their memories through hollow unconscious wastelands. I don’t think I’ve written a single narrator in a novel that hasn’t carried a wound that begins to warp them, or travels on a journey that fills their mouth with the blood that begins to redefine them.
And now I’m transforming too – not in the way that I always imagined I would, abruptly, immediately, with the tearing of skin, like a howl ripping through the center of a tornado, or some kind of eucharist machine. My transformation is deliberate. It’s purposeful. I change with a heaviness that feels like everyday I roll out of bed so that I can walk miles across a windswept desert.
But there are things happening in this transformation that I’m not aware of. The human brain has a processing power of about 30 quadrillion calculations per second. For reference, in 2011, the K computer built by German and Japanese scientists to attempt to mimic the human brain, with over 83,000 processors, was only able to mimic one percent of one second of the human brain’s capability – and that took 40 minutes.
It’s easy to forget how extraordinary complex we are, how even the most simple of actions is a glorious culmination of millions of years of synaptic music. There is a lot going on under the surface that we’re unaware of. Subconsciousness, underwater processes, that shift and move the pieces of us around to accommodate a whole shape.
When the werewolf transforms, it does not deliberately and with conscious effort control the new homeostasis of its body, or its newfound hunger for human flesh. Its brain and body shift to eaccommodate its new skin in ways that it’ll never really understand.
Every deliberate action has an unquantifiable amount of data and pathways that was made to get to that action, and the ways in which it transforms the entire system may never be completely known.
I was talking about shame today. Specifically, shame that is used as a motivation to compel action. For years I’d get myself out of bed by calling myself lazy and useless. I’d whip myself mentally to write. And if I did something, but didn’t find it to my satisfaction. I’d castigate myself, say that I was worthless. I thought it was fine. I was getting the results I wanted, or so I thought, so I surmised it didn’t matter how I achieved them. I worked on the video games, I wrote the books, I got the money, the boy, the job offer, the contract, the invite, another motion, another circle, another check-box, another day in which I survived hurtling around the sun without falling off the side of the planet.
I even shamed myself out of not killing myself – calling myself weak and worthless for even thinking that it was an option. So I’d hunch over my laptop in a cafe, drinking an americano, trying to force myself to keep working on my novel, to keep going, clinging to my coffee like it was the only thing keeping me grounded to reality.
To this day sometimes when I smell an americano I’ll get this bitter sharp Pavlovian thought of suicide.
In today’s culture, self-hatred is an acceptable vehicle of growth. Just yesterday on Facebook someone deridedly made fun of women who “loved themselves,” and took duck-faced selfies, indicating that self-love was some kind of character flaw. And it does often seem a little self-indulgent, a little unaware, for people to take pride in themselves. We’re still under the Puritanical influence of our ancestors, and it’s sinful to be prideful in our bodies that are the objects of such sloth and indignities. So we often look down on self-love, without even really understanding why, and so perpetuate this cycle of self-flagellation.
So result of those years of shame-induced movement was that when I achieved something, I never got the satisfied feeling that I was expecting. I feel dull, empty, hollowed-out, looking onward to my next goal with glazed-over eyes. No matter how much I achieved, the internal voice was still whipping me as it screamed into my ear.
Because I’d used shame to try to achieve growth, I was operating under the idea that whenever I achieved something, I shouldn’t be proud of myself, I should be ashamed for not achieving it faster. I was working on the karmic balance of my evil birth – no tabula rasa for me – and every achievement, every good thing I ever did, was only trying to tip the scales toward achieving balance.
Everything we do is important. Not just what we do, but why we do it, and the processes that we use to motivate ourselves. Because everything in the machine is constantly working to achieve internal balance. The consequences of what we do today, may not be seen until years later.
But if you think those things are not reverberating through you right now – building the frequency of dreams – you’re wrong.
In my transformation, I begin to shed the body that hate itself. I can’t quite conceive what the thing underneath looks like, but it’s building itself toward achieving a new kind of efficacy.
Slime, and werewolf blood, and something coiled that glitters. I’ve been writing about this moment for years.
Sometimes I sit for hours inside myself- listening to Chopin or Dvorak or Massive Attack. I look at the trees outside, or the pretty girls on Youtube, and in the spaces between the notes, I begin to hear something. It’s difficult to describe what I hear, because, it’s not a sound, not exactly.
It’s a new way to live. My mind, learning a new rhythm, shifting synaptic waves to build an ocean of gold blood inside of me. An ocean that will carry me through worlds yet unknown.
Because everything we do is transforming us, in every moment, in every space. How we think, feel, breathe cascades into every future moment. Every motion we take, is building us a scaffold down into hell.
Or maybe a rocket to the moon.
In order to be a writer, one must build a life that is conducive to writing.
For most of my life I found scraps of time to write, moments of soft isolation inbetween work, relationships, the everyday minutiae. I wrote pieces of The Crooked God Machine on the bathroom floor of an apartment, parts of We are Wormwood when I was a video game tester at Zynga. But as time went on, writing kept getting pushed further and further back in priority, and I stopped submitting, stopped promoting myself. Everything I wrote felt muted, flat, like I was forcing each word through a little keyhole.
I arrived back in Austin in 2014 feeling broken. I never thought I could reach a point where I felt drained of all creative energy – it seemed impossible to me to feel burn out, so I never treated the possibility with the respect that I deserved. Here I was, coming off of my antidepressants, feeling zapped, bewildered. I was angry, and I wanted to murder people for existing in my space on planet Earth. And all of that directed energy was not going into writing. So when I came to the page, nothing felt genuine. It was like I was a sleepwalker, going through familiar motions.
I wondered for a long time if I just didn’t want to write anymore.
But it’s easy to ignore all the work I put in, throughout my life, to prime my brain to be productive. And how such a machine may run for quite a long time, but without maintenance or proper care, would eventually break down.
Writing is a full time job. The work doesn’t happen once you arrive at the page – it starts from the moment you wake up, and has to carry itself with you throughout the day. The brain has to be working on these problems constantly. You have to synthesize your experiences, test creative problems. Writing is a record of sensory data, distilled into stories. If you don’t do the prerequisite work, to understand and analyze your experiences and what you want to convey – you may have nothing
I think a lot these days about how to create for myself a life that would best enable me to accomplish my goals. For the last several years, I’ve struggled to find a cadence with my writing, and I’ve tried to understand how I want it to define me, and how I want to approach it.
Now I have the time and the freedom to build something wonderful, but building something takes time.
I want to taste books like big meals, and make big meals to taste the universe. And I want to refine, test, and experience more of the world so I can bring that knowledge back to my quiet room. Not to get back to where I was post burnout, but to make something even more wonderful. A beautiful infrastructure, in which I can live, and write. I’m already seeing flowers growing along the back of my spine