Taking the Centipede for a Walk in the Dreamtime

Yes, I’m still stuck with Through Fire. These things are sent to try us. Actually the book is turning unholy complex and no, don’t worry about it, it’s not complex on the surface.

Lately I’ve been writing these short stories – and I think the same is happening to this book – where there is layer upon layer of build, done so subtly that until the end upends everything you thought you knew about the world and the people, you don’t realize it’s all there.

This is not on purpose. In fact, most of it seems to be coming from the deep subconscious and surprise me. Maybe it’s the direction in which my writing is going, in which case it’s worrisome, because I could starve this way. My normal rate for a short story is two hours but the last one took me three days of work.

Or perhaps it’s just because this – I don’t know what to call it. It’s not a technique because I’m not consciously building it. So what is it? A…frame of mind, would be the easiest way to put it.

Even those of you who are not writers might have gone through this in real life. In real life it’s usually traumatic and severing of all you were to the point people wonder if you had a change of personality.

I’ve observed it in people following the death of the person they live with: parent, child or spouse, all alike; after the birth of a child; after the loss of a child; after falling in love; after moving to another country or even another city; after accomplishing something or failing to accomplish something that they’ve been working for a long time.

If Tedd Roberts comes by, he might be able to explain this better but the way I always understood it is this “In reply to unbearable emotional and cognitive disjointing, the brain rewires itself.” Piaget used a form of this to explain how children become adollescents and adollescents adults. (There’s more than that, in his case, since he’s talking about a brain that’s changing anyway, but the rewiring occurs in response to extreme and unbearable pressures, I remember that.)

Some of these re-wirings take years and you don’t see it on the surface, not unless these are people you are in the habit of having long philosophical discussions with and sometimes not even then. But when they emerge, it’s like you’re talking to a whole new person. (Sometimes worse.)

This is because you’re talking to a whole new person. Their brain is not wired the way it was supposed to be, the way you knew.

This is one of the reasons, btw, that I am against psychological mollycoddling of young people. Yeah, okay, some people had genuinely horrible experiences that happened to THEM personally, not to someone else and they have PTSD (you don’t have PTSD on another’s behalf) and that means that you shouldn’t be cruel to them by bringing up things that will hurt them to no purpose. BUT what we’re seeing is people demanding accommodation for what I’d call “preemptive trauma.” People who demand someone be removed from a con because he MIGHT say something. Or people who demand you give them notice before mentioning small holes or spiders. People who call you a hater because you disagree on them in some fine point, like the person who branded me homophobic and transphobic when I said humans come in two differently wired brain forms (with a lot of variation and cross over, but basically two distinct forms) created by hormone baths in-utero and beyond our volition or our will.

We’ll take that last person as to why people shouldn’t be mollycoddled. Of course I was not implying the non-existence of homosexuals or trans people. In fact, when I was growing up the theory was that they’d got the “wrong” baths in utero. Now it is that certain trigger genes got flipped or not according to factors we don’t quite get, because it seems to be a complex of genes rather than a single one. Epigenetics. Don’t get my older son talking about it, he will talk for hours.

Anyway, what I mean by this, to bring it back to point, is that I think that last person has cognitive dissonance between her chosen narrative “Men and women’s brains are exactly alike” AND her acceptance of gay and transsexual people because after all if the difference is all in the plumbing, what’s the big fuss about? And it could be trained out of it, right? So, my post send her over the edge, and maybe at some point she’ll have an epistemological breakthrough and be a “whole other person” and maybe a better one (though there’s no guarantee of this.)

This is the only way I know of that people grow – unbearable pressure, forcing them to reexamine the way they’ve been doing things.

This ties into writing because writing is supposed to engineer a lot of these cathartic breaks.

I’ve said before it is stupid for a writer to think he or she works in language. The medium we actually work in is emotion.

And it seems to be the way writers grow, too. The inherent pressures between our subconscious trying to express itself through our sane and rational (shuddup you) brain, eventually causes a break: a break with old style, a break with who you were.

You can see this in almost every notable writer.

Early Terry Pratchett is not the same as medium Terry Pratchett and certainly not late Terry Pratchett. It’s all incremental and slow, but there is a break there. With Heinlein it’s more notable. Reading his work in order once I could (once I came to the US) I noticed the glimmers of “real Heinlein” around Double Star. That again evolved into Late Heinlein (and yes, I know ya’ll’s opinions. Don’t want them. Other than some odd linguistic sources I like Late Heinlein. Note I’m not saying I agree with a lot of it – don’t agree with a bunch of details in early, or middle, either – but that’s not required to admire someone or enjoy his/her writing.

There are mini ones of these, what I call the “learning to walk again” or “another step on the ladder” that are attributable to learning craft. You look back, everything you ever wrote seems like crap and you want to write it better now you know better.

The thing is that this feels more like a huge, seismic one. It’s not craft. In fact, it’s like I’m relearning the craft to express the new mind set. It’s more like I’m… in a different frame of mind.

My opinions didn’t change, or my sense of self, just the feeling of what I am and how to express it in writing.

I’ve already been told by Kate that Through Fire is full of deep-laid high-depth bombs. Of course, being Kate, she expressed this as “I hope you can tie it all at the end.”. That doesn’t worry me. I know I can. Or rather, if the short stories are any indication, it will tie itself.

It’s more the feeling that I’m learning the craft to express something that is coming from the deep subconscious and that won’t let me know what it is till I write it.

The d*mn centipede is learning to walk. Again.

51 responses to “Taking the Centipede for a Walk in the Dreamtime

  1. Just so long as you don’t have to buy the centipede shoes, you’ll be alright.

    • Discount store. Important to be sure your centipede understands the importance of sartorial variety, but — thrift shops.

  2. I like late Heinlein. Occasionally feel like I’m reading a different author (your point) but it’s interesting to see the — um — essential Heinlein voice pop back in.

    I think it would depress me to read the breadth of work of an author like Heinlein and not see shifts and chasms.

    At various times in my life, particularly while young, it was discomfiting but still very engaging to read works from different periods in an author’s life. In youth, it’s hard to imagine how much your self can change over decades. It’s a little unsettling to know this, too, will come to you.

    But it’s also very exciting!

    So, while as a fellow human I commiserate with the struggles and torture of Through Fire, I’m really very damn excited to read the new stuff!

    Did you know when you picked the name that this book was going to take you through the crucible?

    • NO. But maybe the subconscious knew?

      • Eamon J. Cole

        Sneaky subconscious. A few more hints and maybe you could have been prepared. But, no. We’ll just foreshadow and let the author figure it out after the fact…

      • Maybe it goes both ways. Your subconscious chose the name so this would come to the surface, the name is pushing the change to happen faster now that your waking consciousness is realizing there is a change going on. 🙂

  3. Re early, middle, and late Heinlein, I’ve enjoyed everything he wrote, shorts and novels, save the very first novel (For Us, the Living). That was a slog.

    • I didn’t have too much trouble with it, mostly because what I was seeing in it was all the early prototypes of the ideas that would run through his later work.

      But on the other hand, the style of the writing was so… pre-war. But since it was, written then, it was not so hard to take. One just has to recognize the difference. It’s kinda like reading the original Buck Rogers.

  4. Your sons are about to leave the nest. That is a huge change for a parent. Perhaps you are getting ready for that.

    • Yes, it is.

    • I wish! The older maybe/probably since he’s either entering medschool or a chem engineering program and at any rate will be out of there by early summer (though he might be within driving distance.) The younger is likely with us another two/three years, because he’s taking a double engineering degree and also math and physics, which is going to take him a total of six years. So he’s technically a Junior, but…
      At any rate, I’m looking forward to empty next whenever it comes because I’d like time to write (I’m an awful parent.) The thing is um…. psychologically not near yet. It’s still at least three of us.

      • Even so, they are no longer kids so there is a big change even if it’s less obvious than it would be if they were leaving in person right now rather than metaphorically. Your responsibilities have shifted and are shifting anyway, you can no longer go and disembowel a lousy teacher – or employer – if they encounter one, they have to deal with those and other similar problems themselves now. 🙂

        • I was going to say that it’s not so much about if they’re *gone* or not, yet. And that the change doesn’t have to be one of anticipation, it can be a big time lag over something that got worked out last year.

        • One of the most difficult challenges for a parent is shifting parenting style to recognize changes in the offspring. It is especially hard on both sides of this equation (particularly in our present rite of passageless culture) to rework the types of interaction from parent=>child and child=>parent to adultadult mode.

  5. I definitely understand the mental change. I stopped writing for over ten years, right when I was about to break in (why don’t you get a real job?) and am now struggling to regain some of the voice I had before. But what I write now sounds different than 15-20 years ago. And I’m not sure I recognize this new person.

  6. I read the title and,well, I couldn’t help this… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9tC1D-jrFA

  7. Hm, I wonder if this is part of why may close families tease so much?

    If a big hit will break and require mending, then a small break might cause a type of stress that allows improvement– it would also explain why it’s so intimate, because that kind of forming from someone that doesn’t love you is dangerous and probably won’t be good.

    • It is the reason behind military initiation practices. If a new guy can’t handle getting taped into the overhead or being victim to the vise game, what do you think he’ll do when there’s live steam or the ocean in the people tank?

      • It might be the original reason, but the psychopaths have been multiplying.

        Too many folks who just see the “doing violence,” not the loyalty it’s supposed to come with.

        One of the more hard core members of the SEAL support teams is that I know is still recovering from his shock– HE gave his heart and soul with all of that. Then one of their guys was killed, and most of the folks who swore they were “brothers” turned out to be little more than co-workers that liked to have the liberties of a brother.

        Too many folks that think “duty” is “that day when you don’t go on liberty,” and it doesn’t take many to ruin stuff.

        • William O. B'Livion


          There is a difference between the hazing that is stress testing and the hazing that is cruelty. At one point NCOs knew the difference, now not so much.

    • Yes. Not just families, but that is why other relationships that are that close tend to be described as, “closer than family.”

  8. Our December theme is 19th century authors.

    Nominate a work here:

  9. On the other hand, I have a character who _needs_ to be broken and reassembled. Hmmm . . .

  10. Bujold is somebody whose style changes can be tracked from book to book. There for a while, she was doing “training books” followed by “cut loose the awesome new skills,” followed by more training books and skills books. It’s not as clear now, but it still seems to be happening.

  11. You never know when the asteroid is going to come out of the blackness unannounced and hit your home. You can’t see it coming; nobody else can, either. Kinda like a tornado, but worse. The main thing is, not being where it hits when it hits.

  12. Life is about rushing to meet the future you to find out if you are going to like them.

  13. Well, Hoyt, I find this to be an extremely exciting development. I am eager to read how it plays out in your writing, can hardly wait, in fact. I’ll pray that it flows more swiftly so you don’t starve.

  14. Comment for comments.

  15. Totally unrelated, but…


    Programming job, good salary (best I’ve ever made), cool people, start Wednesday. Thank you to everyone for your encouragement, and especially to Sabrina and snelson for your feedback on my resume. We’re incredibly excited. We can go down to Ramen every other night now! 😀