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Tonight, I am sequestered in my writing space. This is a quick tour…
(Warning: may contain supernatural cat.)
An excerpt listing one of those motives:
(i) Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death, to get your own back on the grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood, etc., etc. It is humbug to pretend this is not a motive, and a strong one. Writers share this characteristic with scientists, artists, politicians, lawyers, soldiers, successful businessmen—in short, with the whole top crust of humanity. The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After the age of about thirty they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all—and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, willful people who are determined to live their own lives to the end, and writers belong in this class. Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money.
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So I got bored. I fiddled with technology and my pizza cutter until I stumbled upon a device that cuts holes between worlds. I sliced a shinning trapezohedron into the air and entered a parallel dimension where Herman Melville wrote Alien. Here’s the first chapter…
A L I E N
by Herman Melville
“In the vacuum, no one can detect your exclamations.”
Call me Ripley. Some years ago—never mind how long exactly, cryo-sleep and genetic cloning memories fuck that up—having little or no money in my account, and less and less holding my toes to the earth, I thought I would take off again and see the Outer Rim. It’s a tic of mine, to feel gravity squeeze my spleen, cutting off the circulation. Whenever I find myself grinding teeth in my mouth; whenever unease hatches in the damp, dripping nest of my soul; whenever I find myself pausing in the warehouse, suddenly trapped in the exo-coffin of my Caterpillar P-5000 Power Loader, and it is all I can do not to hurl a four-ton crate through the wall and rampage through the streets in my steel skin—then, it’s high time to get off world as soon as I can. This is my substitute for a noose and a drop. With a flourish, the melodramatic throw themselves off cliffs; I quietly take to the ship. No surprise there. If they’re honest with themselves, then most everyone has felt, at one time or another, the way I feel when looking up at the stars.
Weyland-Yutani Corporation is a city unto itself, or a great coral reef—commerce surrounds it with her surf. It’s an ecosystem. Like coral, it looks passive enough at a glance, but look closer and see the different species of coral colonies going to war, spitting up their stomachs on each other, digesting each other in time-lapse combat. All these star-gazers.
Circumambulate the hypnotic spiral. Offices, board rooms, cubicles—repeat. What do you see?—Posted like gargoyles in every available space, thousands upon thousands of company men slow-choking on their ties. Some chat, some type, some crane their necks, on lunch breaks, for the tiniest skyward peek. They are all star-starved, pent up in windowless rooms—smothered in suits, shackled to desks, nailed to the planet.
Listen. Engineers complaining to HR about their shares and the bonus situation in the contracts they already signed, for the runs they already made. They always do. No content for the mal. You’ll get whatever’s coming to you. Up above, the super-suits take higher and higher offices, getting as close to the vacuum as they can without spinning away. They reach for the stars the way needles reach for north, never touching.
You could leave the Company. You could head into the country, find some wilderness—barely spoiled. There might be magic in it. But it’s not outer space. All meditation heads into the stratosphere. I want to go where prayers go, mingling with ancient radio broadcasts for ever. I want to kiss all this bullshit goodbye.
But here is an android. He desires to give you the most courteous, capable, and efficient assistance—to carry out any tasks you find distressing or unethical. I avoided them—these synth-mucoused, milk-blooded mannequins. You wouldn’t find me on a crew with one. But you would find me on a crew—up and away—away from these offices—sky—there is not a drop of sky here! Why is almost every healthy child with a healthy soul, at some point crazy to get on a spaceship? Why on your first voyage as a passenger, did you feel such a mystical vibration when breaking atmosphere—like being born—or when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of your planet? Why do we throw all our gods up there? It has to mean something. People used to feel the same pull towards water, gazing into rivers and oceans, but I think it’s because they saw the sky there—a phantom within graspable distance.
Now, I say I go into space whenever I get the shakes, but I never go as a passenger. Vacations are expensive. They make me moody, feeling like a fifth wheel, and I don’t sleep well. I don’t go as a Captain or a Cook. Never needed the honor; never liked the kitchen. The food up there is shit anyway.
No, when I go off world, I go as a lieutenant warrant officer. True, I have to take orders. But when the damn Company runs everything, who ain’t a slave? Tell me that. Even space-captains have to answer to Mother. Passengers don’t get paid. I do. Take little satisfactions where you can get them.
I go for the solar winds, the motes of meteor dust, the smell of sulfur and fire and time that draws me down the tube of a billion miles of terrific acceleration. I thought of the hug of centrifugal force as I punched in my particulars. The program called Providence collated and drew up possible assignments. On my way home, I kept glancing down at the printout:
commercial towing vehicle ‘The Nostromo’
course: Earth to Thedus (round trip)
I can’t say why the Fates—the computers and company men—put me on that course, when you consider all the possibilities of the cosmos spread out—a trillion comedies and tragedies—but when I think back on it all, and the part I played, free will feels like the delusion of autonomy in the middle of an event horizon.
At home, I faced the last overwhelming weight holding my last little toe—my daughter Amanda. I didn’t know how to tell her about all the marvels out there, about my everlasting itch for things remote. I did not know how to explain the effect the stars had on me—how when I’m out there, I want to be here, and when I’m here, I want to be out there. So instead, I kissed her forehead and promised to be back for her eleventh birthday. Tucking her in, I sang, “You are my lucky star. You…lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky, lucky.”
Then I picked up the case containing Jones, my cat, and the tears fell before I even closed the door. Back then, I used to cry over such things. These days, my blood is a bit more corrosive.
Last post, I type-jabbered about twitter fiction as a writing exercise. Tonight, before bed, let’s you and me lay the lowdown on another goody-goody habit I’m getting back into.
First, set up a writing station—the closer to your bed the better—could be your computer, laptop, a pen n’ notebook, or the Etch A Sketch you stole from that orphan (I prefer a keyboard because my typing fingers can still go click-clack when the rest of my mind/body isn’t functioning).
I’ll wait while you set up. Never mind the silhouette at the window.
But keep this thought in the back of your lizard brain: when you wake up, you will go straight to that writing station. Do not hesitate. Do not wait to wake up. Do not stretch. Do not crawl out of bed—LEAP—do not pass GO, do not go to the bathroom—do not grab breakfast—go to your station as quickly as you can while still half asleep.
This takes practice. You might have to do it for a week or more before you get conditioned into stumbling to that writing station without realizing it. You might forget a time or to—hit the bathroom—wait too long in bed—wake up too much. Don’t worry. Go through the motion anyway. Program yourself.
Once at your station, WRITE. Scribble or type as fast as you can. No thinking. Leave your editing brain off. You are literally on a race, seeing how long you can outrun your waking mind. You might get a sentence or two. You might get a paragraph. Eventually you will stop. You will be awake. You will really-really-really need to pee. The exercise is over.
So why are we doing this?
Your subconscious is bigger and smarter than you. Give it your lunch money.
We are trying to access your sleeping mind. That sucker is powerful. It is bigger than the rest of you. It is a glowing, cosmic, comic book MacGuffin, and you are a super villain excavating the forbidden tomb of your skull, and once you get a hold of that thing, you are going to work some nefarious hullabaloo!
I’m starting the exercise up again because my inner-editor has gotten too pushy during first drafts. I need to let that go and let spontaneous things happen on the early draft page.
Save those scribblings—in a file or in that notebook. Come back to them a week later, months later—it’s like looking at something a stranger wrote. A lot of them won’t make sense. That’s ok. The idea is to be in better touch with your sleeping mind. You may find the occasional gem, a story idea or weird turn of phrase or metaphor you might not have otherwise achieved.
Keep practicing. You’ll get more conditioned. You’ll get to that computer while closer and closer to sleep, and curiouser and curiouser things will come tumbling out.
Here are some examples of mine. I’ve only edited for spelling and punctuation (which tend to fly out the door during this).
Fred never had the thing that all Fred’s should have. Its absence in his life was a loud cicada whining for that mating that will never happen, not before his wings shriveled up.
The tunnel did funnel and the tunnel did chunnel all the way to Rome. The bats never dream of the moon beams that scream, and the teaming shadows seam to wither hither go!
That is the way she goes. Down and up but never in. That is the way she flows. Smooth and clear, but always running, rushing, smoothing the stones of her soul. And what she chases or what chases her, none of us may ever know.
There’s a moon over the town. But that’s a lie because the one in the sound is the real one. The sky’s a fake. Conmen come in all sorts of revenue brackets. But the seagulls chant incompressible ear porn on salt winds and I can’t help but think back to the time that the peg-legged girl gave me that bit of advice during the pillow talk.
Eat a pie and watch my eye as I tell you a tale of how you will die. It ‘s not true. Don’t worry. I’m just a fibber who makes very, very good pie. And it’s made from magpies. I catch them with a spoon. A wicked, wicked spoon, brings them to their doom, and then I make magpie pie. And that is all I care to say on death…but let us talk more on the subject of pie. Pies are round. No beginning and no end…and yet…they run out. This proves that immortality is not infinite. It can be eaten. It can spoil and go bad.
I’m guest-blogging over at the lovely Martine’s digital house–on horror and the question:
“How can you write this stuff and not get screwed up?”