by ZZ Claybourne
The key word is “still”, not “me”—because intelligence is being rooted to extinction like truffles to panicked pigs. Dug from the ground and consumed without the taste of it, without pleasure, relish, or satisfaction but merely for excretion and subsequent disregard. Life presents one challenge: to grow.
I remember reading one of those “assignment” books, 1984, way back when, and it made me wonder what I would miss in a world such as that. Here are the things no one should ever die without doing: tasting another person; listening to music with eyes closed; reading something so good it obliterates identity in fell swoops; being happily alone; gulping ice water in a field under a noonday sun; most importantly to an aging populace, remembering without altering, because the older we get the more pressing the need for truth. Young people have the advantage of having miles to go before they sleep and in that time the lies they’re buried under fall off from time to time. Young people have time to become old. Older folks only have time to… ellipse. To follow three dots down a long dark corridor, hands out for guidance along the walls. Older people have the advantage over the young of knowing there’s a destination waiting that can’t be seen but we are drawn down that corridor whether we’re afraid or not.
George Orwell never intended 1984 to be an instruction manual for the greed that drives a corporate government. Fascism is not solely a military thing. 1984 wasn’t meant to sell Nike shoes or be publicly debased as a reality show. But those he pointed the warning finger against were smarter than so many of us, so smart that they took Orwell’s masterful work of howling truth any sane person would be damned before they let happen, and openly, indelicately, clumsily made it real. Being dumb is just a matter of ignorance. Being stupid is a matter of craft, and we are inundated with stupid everyday. It makes me sad.
"The best thing for being sad…is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake listening to the disorder in your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting." – T.H. White, The Once and Future King
The words make love to me. The words are pure, the thoughts pristine. The only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting…is to learn. Consciousness that asks “Is this all that I am, is there nothing more?” instantly transports the mind to a higher state. T.H. White was immeasurably smarter than me when he wrote that passage. Smarter not like disingenuous companies or political machinery, but smart in a way it’s easy to imagine god quietly approves of. Here’s what stupid does: it convinces that reason is overrated and that analysis belongs to the thrice-damned (the elite, redundant, and counter productive). The general public makes the perilous mistake thinking stupid is dumb. A good piece of stupid is, but the larger portion creates marketing campaigns that propel industries that manufacture wildly inane products that nobody needs but millions rush out to buy. Stupid fashions political campaigns that attack opposing candidates for doing exactly what their own candidate did yesterday, but no one's supposed to hold that against them. Stupid does this because they know they can get so many to believe there’s value to it.
They will not get us, because, like Forrest Gump, I may not be a very smart man but I know what love is, and I love you. You’re riding this world with me, and you’re here in my mind. I invite you in to share meals. I will not harm you in any way if you are strong and true to yourself and have no plans to harm me. I offer the words of T.H. White. I offer the thoughts of James Baldwin. I present the genius of Toni Morrison. I laugh at the hilarity of Sparkle Hayter and Douglas Adams. I beg you to listen to Baaba Maal. And if you have never read Minister Faust, what's wrong with you? There are people fighting on your behalf. This is a notion that is meant to be savored as though it is the last bite of a long day. I’m glad there are people smarter than me because they remind me to be smart too. At least make the attempt. They show me they care about me. They love me.
They really really love me.
Or at the very least like the notion of me. Which is fine and acceptable.
prefers fried cod over sushi, garlic shrimp over scallops, and smelt only if there's a huge plate of cheese grits, in case meals are to be prepared prior to goodbyes. Thank you.
by Michelle Patricia Browne
With recovery on the way and good changes starting to happen in my life, I managed to finish a draft of The Meaning Wars today (42 note: epic book is epic). I'm sure major time will elapse before its final draft and the publication of the book, but it feels good to make forward momentum.
In my personal life, I recently finished a skirt pattern that's taken years - inspired by Katniss Everdeen's fire dress in The Hunger Games, making the triangular tiered fringe work was tricky as hell.
Of the Dungeons and Dragons and roleplay campaigns I'm currently playing, one is coming to a close, one is nearly done a major plot arc, with a character's death being very imminent, and yet another is about to begin.
In the world of pop culture, the seventh season of Game of Thrones also started recently. I read spoilers, because George R.R. Martin seems to have no intention of finishing the books and I am curious about what happens to the characters. Meanwhile, The Doctor's 13th incarnation has been revealed as a Time Lady, and the trailer for Ava DuVernay's vision of A Wrinkle in Time swept me off my feet. Just as importantly, The Adventure Zone podcast's final arc is in progress.
All of this is to say that I'm in a mood to finish things. With Instagram and fashion shoots putting me in a mood for summer adventures, I've been crafting and uploading beadwork for the first time in months and years.
With that momentum, I am thinking about new stories and new characters - which have only been alluded to in passing, and in private, with friends. Stories I have in my backburner files. My beadwork put me in a salvager mood, and made me want to work on my long-abandoned Nightmare Cycle.
The Old is becoming The New is becoming The Thing.
Now, I suppose there is a whole cycle of life thing one could go into here, but I'm still hoping that transhumanism will help me avoid having to die at all, so I'm going to dodge that particular topic. Regardless, a life has to be marked by periods of change and renewal, and it's impossible to get something new started without ending something else.
Maybe that means you, as a theoretical writer, gotta let go and write something inspired by a story rather than focused on the main characters of an arc. Maybe that means moving onto a new world and storyline altogether. But it's deeply important to let things end rather than sucking the joy and goodness out of them.
Even the deservedly maligned Supernatural is setting up a spin-off; the show is a living cautionary tale of how to ruin a story. While it can be scary to let go of characters, it's better than holding onto them forever, sucking out every drop of joy from them like a food dehydrator making meat into jerky, and wondering why the story is nothing but a dry, leathery husk of what it used to be.
So give yourself permission to finish that draft, writers. Give yourself permission to change something or re-schedule it if necessary, too. Don't worry about Making The Thing Good Enough. There are only so many revisions that can happen before a story goes from juicy grape to raisin of sadness. And the more you finish, the more you can do, and make, and be.
Michelle Patricia Browne
is (1) an author/editor of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books, (2) currently working on the next books in her series, (3) editing other people's manuscripts, (4) drinking as much tea as humanly possible, while finding the time to (5) make All The Things.
by Robyn Bennis
If condescension can be measured as the ratio of assumed superiority to actual accomplishment, then the fellowship I have recently joined is perhaps the most condescending class of creatures the Earth has ever known. I am speaking, of course, of debut authors.
My debut novel, The Guns Above, went on sale May 2, which makes me infinitely better than you. That is, unless you're also a published author, in which case I grudgingly admit that we're roughly equal. Don’t bother appealing to your years of incredible sales, your shelf full of bestsellers, or your prestigious awards. Currently, I may have none of these things, but that's just another way of saying that my upward potential is limitless.
If you also happen to be a debut author, you know exactly what I'm talking about. You may deny it all you like, but deep in your heart, you love the fruit of your newfound condescension. Your first taste came when you crushed the hearts of your critique group by announcing your book deal. Oh, of course your group was all smiles and congratulations on the outside, but inside they were a seething mass of bitterness and envy, held together with hot tears. Especially that one who called you on one of your writing tics the week before. I mean, if she's such an expert on active voice, where's her book deal?
I'm happy to report that it doesn't have to end there. With the proper practice, your condescension can reach the sky. You'll never be as condescending as I am, of course. You don't have the knack for it, and your book is all wrong for the contemporary market. However, if you follow these helpful tips, perhaps you can become the second most condescending debut author, which is all someone of your limited talent can really expect.
The first thing you'll have to remember is that your writing style is the only correct writing style. It naturally follows that any style which deviates from yours is wrong, or at least on its way out. The finer logic of this proof is unimportant, because you're a published author, and that should be quite enough proof for anyone.
For your second lesson, repeat after me, "Oh yeah, I came up with that years ago." In the literary universe, every fresh idea, every engaging new premise, every creative genre mashup, and even every scrap of witty dialogue is something you thought of first. You just didn't bother using it, because it wasn't up to your high standards. If anyone doubts you, just remind them that you're a published author, and that ought to shut them up.
At this point, you may be wondering whether this advice applies only to traditionally published debut authors. Well, of course it doesn't! Notwithstanding the snobbery that self-published authors still have to put up with, going it on your own is often the smartest choice for someone with the talent to oversee their own marketing and production efforts. The condescending author readily acknowledges this fact, whether her debut is self- or traditional-published.
This may come as a surprise, for shouldn't the condescending author, if traditionally published, take this opportunity to join in the snobbery? Or, if self-published, shouldn't she be equally eager to mock the overconfident dinosaurs still clinging to the sinking ship of "legacy" publishing? Of course she should! But why would she settle for only looking down her nose at some of her fellow authors, when, with a little care, she can look down her nose at all of them?
You see, because the choice between traditional- and self-publishing is a highly personal one, the condescending debut knows that everyone but her has made the wrong decision for their individual circumstance. In this way, she can condescend to traditional- and self-published authors at the same time, and often in the same sentence.
And now, finally, we arrive at the hardest lesson. The most difficult part of achieving your maximum condescension potential is to master the art of appearing just magnanimous enough to drive your condescension home. That is to say, you have to make an effort to lower yourself to the level of the dregs around you, then fail just enough for them to see how vastly superior you are. This is trickier than you think. If you don't fail enough, they'll start to believe in egalitarianism among writers, which would be a disaster. If you fail too much, you'll give up the game. But if you get it just right, your magnanimity will not only add to your natural condescension, but magnify it several-fold. Then, when you laugh and say, "Oh please, I'm just one of you, really I am," they'll feel like the pond scum they truly are, and look at you as if gazing upon the face of a god.
And if they don't, it's just because they're jealous.
*actual debut novel
*for you to look upon
*stop it now, don't be that way
lives in Mountain View, California, where she works in biotech but dreams of airships. This is a work of satire, and does not reflect her actual views. She's just one of you. Really, she is.
by MK Martin
You are born, and cannot choose to be so. And then, you begin.
You grow, kid, having been told here and there what a brilliant bit of potential you are. You look at your reflection and wonder what part of your expression shows it, before running off to scrape a knee. You wonder if this potential will kick in, or what? Your body is angles, or overflow, your dimples no longer cute, but something to squat away. Your intelligence needs to find a use, not just be there. Your head does most of the talking for you, before you can intervene. You begin to write things down, just to get the words out of your head. The world around you is thrilled: you have produced.
You wander, youth, looking for whatever parts of you that might have been scattered to the ends of the earth, when the star-stuff you were exploded upon impact. Being in one place with yourself all the time has become intolerable. Shiny bits of glistening gases, forlorn wishes and songs alight your path, but which is a shard of your golden heart, and which is the fool's gold strewn about to confuse you? A pack strapped to your back splits, the sky opens and halcyon hail pelts you in the head, knocking you to the sand. Heart, how can you do this to us? You did not choose this adventure, but then, you always did do things the hard way.
Cry, rattle, ruin, rail. React, reflect, release, wail.
You arrive, 'adult', at the time you are allowed to be respected. What choices you've brought along with you, in your bag, settle comfortably in the cobwebbed corner and repetition comes to call. At first, its notions are breathy, easy. Then louder, longer, sweeping sobs of echoing motion: the moaning ourobouros of maintaining life. Outside, the calming strum of nature mentions your name, and suddenly you take up walking. Each step pounds out a thought into the dirt, lightening your layered cranium; freeing it of sound and sinew and sorrow which were slowly burying the fossils of your motivation.
The days cease to scream for their lives, and a figure you never expected to see casts a slight shadow against your endless horizon. She is shorter, somewhat bent and frailer than you. But the steel of her eye catches the waning light, and its reflection sears its beam into your own retina: three more crow's feet to mark the occasion. She is smiling readily, and you wonder what it's like to do that. Her hands are busy At Work, and the deep creases in her forehead move with her, their geometric design belying her thoughts: which are at rest. At rest.
writes from the hip, the heart, the tree and the old fashioned pen. She resides somewhere on a hill in Canada, while belonging to three other humans, two cats and one thousand plants. As for the rest: who knows?
Life, the universe, and everything creative
Towel Photo credit: EvelynGiggles via Foter.com / CC BY