Reality is not an emotional state. Facts don’t care if you like them. Objective truth persists even after you stop defending it.
a mash-up of public (communication) & books
…or, are all books a kind of balance between public communication rewrapped as a story?
A friend of mine recent published a post on her blog wherein she detailed her efforts in the coalescing of some of her scattered writings into something resembling a novel, a novel she suggested that with a little work was arguably publishable.
She was hesitant to do that particular step, and thus was the topic of her post. The reason, simply, was that she felt as if perhaps too much of herself and the inspired-by-real-people personal details were left still scattered upon the pages. But moreso, she added “I’m telling a story that is not wholly mine.”
I suggested, in a comment, that perhaps it is the fate of every author to leave something of themselves upon the page… and then wandered off while my brain quietly reprocessed that sentiment into an even grander maxim.
That idea: Is it not wholly necessary for any author to not only scatter themselves into the construct that is their story, but also –barring a life or subject of raw and uninterrupted solitude and isolation, bereft of any meaningful experience– scatter the reconstructed flavors of all those past pieces of themselves, too, including long lost lives, loves, and places lived?
Admittedly, the more scattering and shuffling and re-scattering that is done with these collected experiences, the less the fiction they seed blossoms into a product resembling reality.
And perhaps this is the concern of my friend: that her scattering was a little less than thorough, her final product a lot less than fiction. Her ache was erring on the side too close to public communication and too far from entertainment.
Mostly, I don’t. But working in an IT-related field, I tend to think any software “running reality” would have a lot more bugs.
“Why was mommy shouting last night?” She blurts from the back seat of the car. Her voice has that tone I’ve learned to recognize as the one which emerges in her truth-seeking moments.
We had been arguing… as couples sometimes do. A misunderstanding lead to a sideways comment which lead to a baited remark which in turn overflowed into raised voices. The specifics are personal… and irrelevant here. Couples argue. Couples disagree. They state their position, often emotionally, and in functional relationships the full boil that started it all tends to reduce to a simmer of productive discussion.
Unfortunately it boiled much too soon after her bedtime.
“Were we talking too loudly?” I probe, wincing at the conversation I know is about to follow.
“Yeah.” She says cautiously. “I couldn’t sleep when you were both yelling.”
“Well…” I tread carefully forward. “Sometimes mom and I don’t agree about, y’know… something… and when we’re both really tired… and… sometimes it’s important stuff and sometimes…”
“Are you mad at mom?” She interrupts.
“It’s not about being mad.” I reply. “Do you remember those times when sometimes mom wants you to do something and you don’t want to do it… like practising your piano?”
“Uh-huh.” She mumbles.
“It’s not exactly that you’re mad at each other when you argue about that, are you?” I offer citing my recollections of arm-twisting practice sessions that so often ended in tears and time-outs, but eventually a few good moments of tickling the ivories. “It’s more like you disagree about something, right?”
“I guess so.” She says. “But why were you fighting?”
“Sometimes people just fight.” I shrug. “Sometimes they need to.”
fostering independence, rule 008
arguments happen: acknowledge the reality of relationships
It was about here that I broke into carefully-treading lecture on the fine line of difference between a good-and-balanced, old-fashioned heated argument with a bit of mud slinging –which, on occasion, can help vent steam in relationship with the inevitable build-up of friction– and the darker sides of domestic violence. I won’t veer into that particular territory in this small space. Needless to say, that’s the important bit and every parent will broach that subject in their own course.
People disagree… and then they fight, argue, banter, debate, and scream-and-shout about it. Where the grey area emerges is in the perception of what constitutes a balanced fight and what constitutes a darker arena where we should all fear to tread: I won’t answer that part here… though her and I discussed it. Either way, arguments happen, and understanding that all relationships will have conflict from time-to-time, but that there is this murky pool where at one end swims the good-fighting and at the other bad-fighting… getting that… perceiving that… acknowledging the reality of that is not a trivial skill for any independent adult.
A gray November afternoon in Alberta is punctuated by the creep of an inevitable idea. I consulted with the echos of my experience dabbling in the technological wellspring that feeds us here and I found that there was hope for a second chance at contributing. I\’ve merely planted the seed of this little project. Now, will it grow?
Ã¢â‚¬Å“An idea?Ã¢â‚¬Â asks Zombie Wren. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Elaborate.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Gladly.Ã¢â‚¬Â I reply. Ã¢â‚¬Å“See, the problem begins with qualifications. All these skills I\’ve gathered have become the metaphorical albatross of my ongoing career development. At some point each of us sits down to write up our resume and finds that we are good at many things, but experts at few. It is the curse of the thirty-something. I\’m old enough that employers expect both refined ability and balanced experience — but too young to be truly highly skilled at anything.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Are you admitting inability, then?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Hardly.Ã¢â‚¬Â I contest. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I\’ve been in the workforce for a decade now. I\’ve earned my share of letters behind my name. And I\’ve endured multiple cycles of corporate oddity. I\’ve seen a lot. True, I\’ve never been a lead actor in any of those, but I\’ve kept my eyes open from the supporting role.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Zombie is quiet — contemplative — for a moment before she finally asks, Ã¢â‚¬Å“The idea? What is it?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Not so fast.Ã¢â‚¬Â I grin wryly and reply. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is more to this story.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Go on then.Ã¢â‚¬Â
I clear my throat and continue. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Consider the owl. Though really nothing more than a fashionable bird, our culture has endowed him with a collective anthropomorphism. By way of branding him with human characteristics, we consider the owl wise and philosophical. We think him to be thoughtful, intelligent, and knowing. In reality, his nature is simply that of a balanced hunter with highly evolved instincts and inherent talents.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is a powerful symbol, though.Ã¢â‚¬Â adds Zombie.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Of course. But what is a symbol, really?Ã¢â‚¬Â I reply. Ã¢â‚¬Å“To you a symbol has power and meaning, but to the owl… well, he is still just an owl playing his role in the world.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Alright, but your idea? Do tell me.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Patience, my friend. Patience.Ã¢â‚¬Â I pull a piece of paper from my notebook and with a felt-tipped pen I trace a small circle in the center of the blank sheet. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Now,Ã¢â‚¬Â I say. Ã¢â‚¬Å“What is the difference between this image that I\’ve drawn and a circle?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Zombie twists around to get a better look at the sketch, quirking her head to the side and puzzling over the question for a few minutes. Finally she shrugs and acknowledges she does not know. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is a trick question. You\’ve drawn a circle. It is a circle.Ã¢â‚¬Â
I smile. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Alright.Ã¢â‚¬Â And onto the same sketch I add a few squiggly lines radiating from the perimeter of the circle all about the circumference. Ã¢â‚¬Å“So then, now tell me what is the difference between this sketch and the sun?Ã¢â‚¬Â
This time her answer is immediate. Ã¢â‚¬Å“That there is a picture of the sun, while the actual sun is a ball of burning gasses. In space. And it\’s much, much bigger than your drawing.Ã¢â‚¬Â
I nod my head. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Exactly.Ã¢â‚¬Â I reply. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Exactly. And you can safely say that because I\’ve asked you — simply and rather abstractly, I might add — to tell me the difference between a sketched representation of a symbol and a sketched representation of a real object. Are you following?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Not really.Ã¢â‚¬Â Zombie frowns. Ã¢â‚¬Å“And I still don\’t know what this has to do with your idea.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Well, look at it this way.Ã¢â‚¬Â I say. Ã¢â‚¬Å“The circle, the owl, and the whole concept of the power of symbolism in our minds all boils down to the truth of basic human perception. That is to say, our minds and our culture play little tricks on our brain and those tricks can have a very deep impact on how we perceive and process reality. Some might call it the power of suggestion or something similar, but for our purposes lets just think of it as symbolic misconception. That is to say, lets look at the problem of how we wrongly match what is real and what we perceive.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“As if our minds are playing tricks on us, you mean?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Sort of. But it\’s not so much a trick as it is a general failing to see the underlying reality of a concept because of how that concept has been clouded by both our perception and experience of that object.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Alright then,Ã¢â‚¬Â Zombie shrugs impatiently. Ã¢â‚¬Å“What is this great idea you have?Ã¢â‚¬Â
I nod. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Sure. And you will remember how I said this goes back to the problem of qualifications — you know, specifically those so-called job skills and work experience qualifications — that would make it easy to find a job were there not a particular sort of roadblock in the way. Do you remember?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“So here I am.Ã¢â‚¬Â I continue. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I\’m in my thirties and I\’ve contributed to a variety of professional positions in the span of short but significant career. From my perspective I\’ve got a wealth of skills and experience, even though if pressed I\’d be forced to admit I am truly expert at very little.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Does that matter?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You tell me.Ã¢â‚¬Â I shrug. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Anyone would tell you it is an asset, but they are failing to consider one very important factor. That is, they are ignoring what we\’ve decided to call symbolic misconception. They are ignoring the possibility that what I represent, if only by virtue of the fog of culture and experiences to an observer, is caught in the trap of mistaking the symbol for reality. In other words symbolically I appear to be worth far less than reality would otherwise prove.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“You\’re blaming society for what? Misunderstanding you?Ã¢â‚¬Â Zombie frowns.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It could appear that way, but no.Ã¢â‚¬Â I correct her. Ã¢â‚¬Å“There is no blame. There is simply a statement of how my experience of the world has suggested I might be perceived and thus implying the grand idea for which you\’ve been eagerly waiting for me to explain.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I\’m starting to regret it.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is this; if we are little more than symbols and concepts to others, then there must be a way to grasp onto that symbol and reshape it.Ã¢â‚¬Â I, admittedly was getting quite animated as I spoke. Ã¢â‚¬Å“In other words — and, frankly, through words — would it not be possible to construct an identity that clears away that fog and gives me a second chance to present my prospects for contribution to the world?Ã¢â‚¬Â
Zombie nods, but slowly. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It wouldn\’t be easy. And you would need a plan of where your wanted to end up — who you wanted to be at the end of it.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Nothing more than the truth, right?Ã¢â‚¬Â I smiled and patted her on the back. Ã¢â‚¬Å“And I\’d like to think I\’m better than merely good a that, at least.Ã¢â‚¬Â
I’ve been picking my way through Perdido Street Station by China Miéville this past month. (Yes, I’m a
slow meticulous reader. So, sue me.) The read comes on the heels of one of my classic pluck-it-from-thin-air cut-of-the-jib selections, this one tailing through a random literature search upon the throes of wikipedia and a side-swiped fascination with neo-victorian gothica slash steampunk. Miéville, as far as I can tell, is a demographic tiptoe away from where I would occasionally like to find myself (if it were not for an equally weighty family obligation and realism based in modern, central Canadian suburbia) an early-thirties-ish, literate-genius with an urban grit exploring the rough underbelly of the vasting metropolis he has created.
As always, I pick away a review before I’ve actually finished reading, half of this is due to the reality that I’ll move on to something else within moments of completing this book, and it will seem less relevant to my current existence to write a pandering review, but also because my interest (regardless of the the quality of the piece) often requires that one last hashing focus as we approach the metaphorical finish line — and I’d like to polish this read off before the weekend is out.
Miéville’s world is one of a complex urban freak show that takes place a step out of reality, mashing the existential woes of a dozen-odd cross-species, sub-species, super-species, demons, sprites, machines, remade species, and (of course) every dreg of human imaginable. As I have been pondering and practicing the various meditations on writing as of late, there is an appreciation that flows from this tangle of threads. It is as if I am witnessing raw experience form from some focused slake of creativity as a (perhaps) contemporary seeks to drive his will upon the pages.
And the story pushes through, egging the reader to feast upon the rich, lush patterns of evoked emotions a step beyond reality and reeking of the urban grunge that we so love to feel below our feet but no deeper than a scuff.
True, it is not for everyone: dark, gritty, surreal. But for those who choose to indulge, it is like mental oatmeal: it will stick to the rib cage of your mind for a long time. And you will be left satisfied and maybe longing for more.