There’s that ancient writing advice, “Write what you know.” I’ve always taken that to mean you should write about the things in your life, the things that have happened to you, the things you’re familiar with. As someone who’s always primarily written imaginative, fantastic fiction and surreal poetry, that advice never seemed particularly useful to me.
But it just occurred to me that the advice is really telling you to steal from the sources you love the most, to let your writing be infused with the things that you’ve read, watched, listened to, etc over and over again to the point where they’re permanently camped in your subconscious. While it’s important to expose yourself to a wide variety of art and culture, you shouldn’t have to read new things just to be a writer. Write what you know.
Superhero comics, Doctor Who, the Star Wars movies, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Casablanca, The Hobbit, Babylon 5, Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sports Night, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Worm Ouroboros, The Gormenghast Trilogy, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, The Scarlet Pimpernel, A Princess of Mars…these things are indelibly inked into my brain, dancing in my mind like drunk, happy goblins. If I write what I know, what I know is this.
That makes the advice extremely useful. And a hell of a lot of fun.
Inspired by Ellie Di and Jonathan Taylor, as well as Richard Wiseman’s 59 Seconds, I’m going to start making weekly posts listing three things I’m grateful for. So here goes…
1. I’m grateful for my friend Gareth, who gives me a lot of positive encouragement and feedback in my fiction writing, frequently giving me the kicks in the ass that I need.
2. I’m grateful for my friend Maggie, who helped me dye my hair blue. It’s funny, but I feel more like myself with dyed hair.
3. I’m grateful for my job at the Lackman Library. I work with a terrific group of smart, passionate, witty, creative people who are supportive of my wacky brain chemistry and who encourage my outgoing, curious, mischievous streaks.
This is Dicken:
He’s generally a pretty lazy mutt, happy to sleep the day away. But if he doesn’t get outside and run around at least a little bit every day, he quickly turns into a cranky, snappish little asshole.
I think Dicken and I have some things in common.
We actually call him “the ADD dog” because he is so easily distracted (not just by squirrels) and because he has these terrier outbursts of extreme energy when he’ll tear through the house, racing from one end to the other, over and over, for 5-10 minutes, before collapsing into a ball of scruffy fur on the sofa.
Basically, I need to remind myself on a daily basis that I need to get outside and I need to get some kind of exercise for better mind and body health. It’s really easy for me to forget and spend my day in physical lethargy…and then turn into a cranky, snappish little asshole. And that can be rough on myself and the people around me.
I’ve been giving some specific issues some serious thought lately. I’m usually giving some issues (both specific and general) some thought (serious and comical, drunk and sober). But right now, I want to address my not-faults.
See, I know I have some faults. We all do, right? Nobody’s perfect (and thank goodness for that!). I have my anxieties, my insecurities, my neuroses, my obsessions, my blind spots, and I’m working on those. But I also have qualities that I’ve gotten a fair amount of flak for over the course of my life, and frankly, I’m done apologizing for these. I don’t think they’re faults. In fact, I’m proud of some of them (and the rest are simply things I live with, not bad, not good).
- I talk a lot. Telling me that I talk a lot is also a waste of breath and time. I know I talk a lot. It’s because I have a lot of things in my head that I want to share with the people around me. If you have interesting things in your head, you should share them, too. (Unless you don’t want to share them, but that’s your deal, not mine.)
- I get very enthusiastic about the things I like. Which means I’ll talk about them a lot. Moving my hands around wildly while I talk. I have a lot of energy, folks. I’ve got to do something with it. I won’t be offended if you don’t want to hear about my favorite books, comics, movies, TV shows, etc, but I’m also not ashamed to talk about them a lot.
- I’m an extrovert. I need external validation. Which means–again–that I talk a lot, including about some pretty personal things. I won’t be offended if you don’t want to hear personal details of my life. Just walk away. It’s cool.
- When I meet someone who seems to understand me, who I have a lot in common with, I charge into friendship like a rhino. I’ll want to talk to you and hang out with you A LOT. If you need time away from me, that’s fine. Just let me down gently, OK?
- I’m very sensitive and emotional. I cry watching movies and TV shows, reading books and comics, listening to music. If friends are hurting, I’m hurting. I don’t take criticism lightly. (That doesn’t mean I don’t need to hear it, just that my immediate reaction might be to get hurt and cry.) Thanks to Free to Be…You and Me, I know that it’s all right to cry.
- I crave touch. I haven’t always been comfortable with this (worrying that touching other people would be misinterpreted or unwanted), but I really like to touch people and to be touched. Hugging, hand-holding, cuddling are all very important to me.
- I get crushes on people easily. That doesn’t mean I want to be their boyfriend, it just means I really like their personality, I think we have good chemistry, and want to interact with them a lot.
- I like to flirt. I’m not saying I’m all that good at it, but I enjoy it. Again, it doesn’t mean I want to shag someone. It’s a form of playful intimacy, a way to express that I think someone is attractive. The point is to make us feel good about ourselves, not to make someone feel threatened or creeped out. (But I do want people to think I’m attractive. I can have my vain, shallow moments.)
- I’m not punctual. If we’re meeting at a certain time, I will probably be late, or possibly be early. But the odds are good that I won’t be on time. I think punctuality is a weird thing to stress over and I’m tired of worrying about it.
- I don’t usually like routines. Routines feel oppressive, robotic. If I feel I’m getting too much into a groove, I’ll push myself to break out of it. I don’t like doing the same thing every day. I like variety and spontaneity.
- I like sleeping, but I don’t like going to bed. I like being up late, when it’s dark and quiet, and I only go to sleep at all because I have to sleep at night to fit into the schedule of my job. Sometimes, I’d rather just crash on the couch in my clothes than go through the ritual of getting into my pajamas and getting into bed.
There are a number of things I struggle with on a daily basis. The things above? I’m done struggling with them, trying to defend them, explain them, apologize for them. In the war against depression and anxiety, I claim these as my territory, and I’m not going to retreat.
ADDENDUM: Over on Twitter, my step-brother Adam suggested, “maybe one of your not-faults is your tendancy to enumerate your not-faults?” I love that! Add that to the list!
If you haven’t watched Amanda Fucking Palmer‘s TED talk, watch it right the hell now:
OK? Good. Now.
I have a whole lot of thoughts about this, not all of them potentially coherent, but I’ll try and be as sensical (you know, the opposite of nonsensical) as I can be.
I love Amanda’s talk, I find it incredibly inspirational, but I don’t think it’s all that revolutionary or new. (And I suspect she’d agree with me on this.) People have been giving their art and craft away–or exchanging it for things other than money, or just asking for handouts for support–for a long, long time. Charging money for art and craft, based on that art and craft being labor, isn’t something inherent to art and craft. It might be inherent to capitalism, but capitalism is really fucking weird, and I’m not really capitalism’s biggest fan. As Hank Green said in response to Amanda’s talk, “Why is it weird to get rich off of gifts, but normal to get rich off of exploitation of need?” Although I’ve wrestled with my own embarrassment over asking people for money, I don’t think there’s anything shameful in asking for money. There’s nothing shameful in begging. Hell, every advertisement you see on TV, every tweet an author posts that links to their book on Amazon, is a form of begging. Why is one form of begging better than another? Why is one more shameful?
Personally, I’d rather give my art and craft away, even if it means I can’t make a living solely from doing it. I’d rather find ways to let people give me money rather than find ways to make them give me money. Or as Cory Doctorow put it, I’d rather think like a dandelion. But then, the idea that my art and craft were labor that needed to be valued by money has never really appealed to me.
But of course, we live in a huge, complicated society, and if you want to go the commercial route, there’s nothing stopping you from doing that (and plenty of ways in which that path is supported and encouraged). And happily, as Amanda says in her talk, the ways in which we can exchange art and craft differently are expanding. Change is good. Variety is good.
That’s all, folks!
After reading “Who Do You Call On When The Plane Shakes?“, I gave some serious thought to the question of who I call on/pray to when I’m faced with moments of terror and anguish. When I’ve been on a plane and thought I was in mortal danger, when people I loved went into the hospital with life-threatening problems, that time I was driving on the interstate in heavy traffic and one of my tires blew out…who did I call on? Who did I ask for help from?
And I realized the answer is: no one. In moments of crisis and panic, I feel alone on a spiritual, cosmic level. I might ask “the Universe” for help or relief, but I don’t really feel there’s anyone or anything actually listening to my prayers. In those moments, I hope my desperate wish for a good outcome will somehow influence the cold, uncaring universe, but there’s also a small voice in my head that speaks at those moments, saying, “Things will unfold as they will, and you’ll have to do your best to deal with them.”
Which explains why the only religions that have ever really spoken to me are Taoism (at least, by way of The Tao of Pooh) and Discordianism. It’s why I feel completely comfortable telling people I’m an atheist, not agnostic. When faced with the stark terror of death (my own or someone I love’s), I don’t see or feel any kind of sentient, divine presence in the universe. When I look into the abyss, I don’t see anyone looking back.
And you know, I’m quite fine with that.