There are voices in my head. This is a good thing. It’s a good thing in two ways:
First, as I found out when I became a grownup writer and got to meet others of my species, I’m very lucky the voices are in my head and not outside, as full on, vivid hallucinations. The number of my colleagues who get that or outright visions is perhaps the most disturbing thing I’ve learned about this profession. Sure, it sounds cool like something out of movies or stories, but if you’ve ever lived so close inside your own head (like when I was a teen. More on that later) that something a character says startles you, and you send a tray of beverages flying all over several people at the pool, you are grateful you’re not also dodging people who are invisible to other people, and/or having their arguments interfere with your enjoyment of music.
After a con in which he listened to some of my colleagues older son was convinced this type of writing that we call “gateway writing” where you get the characters and much of the story for free was a form of schizophrenia. He was relieved when I told him no, it’s just a seductive narrative strain of thoughts in my head, I’m fairly sure it’s part of being ADHD and my brain trying to entertain me. So he says clinically speaking my case of writing isn’t as bad as many of my colleagues cases. I’m still — he says — a graphomaniac. You can’t get away from that. He’s young. I have so many ways of getting away from that.
Second: It’s much easier to remember who you are, to remain grounded in reality, to know which voices aren’t yours when they don’t also show you things or shout at you.
All of which is important because — I don’t know if this is a temptation to everyone else or just writer larvae — it was really easy to go inside and live in the stories in my head as a kid.
Does everyone do this? Or is it something that only hits those of us who are story-creative (there are other forms of creative) AND peculiarly broken?
I don’t know. I know from age oh, five or six till eighteen I lived inside my head in a series of stories. Sure, I also went to school and did the things that humans do. But the amazing thing is that I learned anything and did anything, since maybe 75% of my attention was inside.
At almost eighteen I made a conscious decision to give it up and start living in the world outside. It was difficult. It hurt like hell. It broke me places. And then it healed and made me stronger. I also started to actually grow and understand things, because I was no longer beguiled by the world within and using the world without only as a sort of inspiration mine.
Sure, I know, people who aren’t tempted by the words find other means of escape. A lot of compulsive behavior, like counting or washing seems to be dulling the contact with the real world. So are other things which is why we have an “opiate crisis.”
Now it’s possible some of us are peculiarly more in danger of this. When we had younger son IQ tested (for reasons having nothing to do with wanting to brag, or whatever, but because he had sensory issues which apparently are organically linked to IQ one of two ways, either very high or very low and each of them calls for different handling) the psychologist surprised me by telling me some of us FEEL more than others. I.e. some kids feel things that happen to them more strongly than others, which in turn means … they’re probably more susceptible to find ways to escape it.
But the thing is our society provides so many ways to escape it. Sure, I probably had ancestors and ancestresses who had the same temptation I did (I suspect story telling runs in dad’s family) and some of them might even have managed to be as involved with the inner narrative as I was as a kid, but the truth is, probably not many. It would require a certain level of comfort and “not having to handle dangerous things” that would probably be impossible until my generation unless of course very wealthy.
What do I mean? Well, when you cook mostly with wood or charcoal or — argh — spirit lamps, or you have to use sharp implements in your work, or wash clothes in a place where you can fall in and die and furthermore when your day is packed with hard work, it’s hard to go fully inside. Or if you manage it, you’ll probably die. And if you don’t die you won’t get everything accomplished you need to and you and your family might die.
For instance yesterday as I was ripping up carpet in the dining room and killzeeing the floor, a task both grosser and more violent than you can imagine, my mind kept trying to tempt me away with a really strong narrative voice that goes to a story that’s been waiting maybe 30 years.
Which is why I listen to audio books while doing that stuff. Particularly audio books I’ve listened to before. They’re just enough distraction not to allow the inner voice to take hold, and not to bring me to a stand still in the middle of the room, daydreaming and not doing what needed to be done.
It’s worse, of course, for other forms of addiction and escape. I understand in many countries its always been normal, as far as we know to go through the world half-stoned. Leaves and hashish and stuff. And most of those parts of the world pay the price of such addiction and dulling in that they’ve stagnated for a long time. (Yeah, I am for drug legalization. Doesn’t mean I approve of drug use, particularly society wide.)
It is fashionable right now to talk about the opiate crisis, and also how it’s the result of several societal ills.
That’s Marxism talking.
No, seriously. I don’t care who you are, that’s Marxism talking. The belief that some “societal ills” cause you to mitigate it with drugs, the belief that the “opiate of the masses” be it physical or mental is necessary to deal with the inequities of the capitalist system is a Marxist thought.
It is no such thing. Drugs or escape fantasies (I don’t think religion has anything to do with it, not for seriously religious people, though it’s possible that people of a narrative frame of mind who don’t have the concept of being storytellers might use religion as a framework for their escape.) or the myriad ways humans find to escape real life aren’t a result of the capitalist system (which is a way of saying Free Market which is a way of saying a byproduct of being human.) They are a result of being human.
As the movie says: “Life is pain highness, anyone telling you different is trying to sell you something”
Even those people who are coddled and surrounded by everything they need — perhaps particularly those — live in pain. Because to the extent that the world is not inside our heads and we don’t order it, things don’t always go according to what we want. And weirdly for those who never have been denied being told no on very minor things is as much pain as oh, actual physical torture. Which, yes, is why a particular brand of largely very privileged and coddled human beings think that you disagreeing with them is “actual aggression. Like violence.” And we need to stop disagreeing with them, or they’ll make us. With physical attacks.
There is hope though. If instead of going inside, or taking drugs or trying to silence those whose thoughts/words/denial hurts you and feels like violence, you come out and engage with it, think about it, analyze it, eventually it gets better.
Oh, it hurts like hell, don’t get me wrong. In a way you have to die. You have to move out of your current, comfortable state and break, and then rebuild again.
Imagine you had an exoskeleton (go with it.) It keeps you safe. It’s comfortable inside. But what you don’t know is that it inhibits your growth and if you stay inside you will die early and unformed. If you choose to break it, to grow past its limits, it hurts like hell. I mean, it’s part of you. But then it heals on the fractures and is stronger than before. And you’re bigger.
Does life stop being pain? Oh, hell no. Life is pain. Big pain, small pain, or just the pain of sheer boredom.
And the temptations will always be there. Opiates, coddling ideologies or even just vivid dreams. And sometimes you can indulge, if you can control it. (No clue about the opiates. I don’t even like taking ibuprofen. But the day dreams? Well… I channel them into writing which is not the same at all as the vivid dream immersion, but sort of is. Or at least hits a bit of that spark.) But you always have to fight to control it.
And life is going to throw things that you that make you want to run and hide.
The escape is sweet and nice and easy. But outside in the harsh world of reality is the only way to grow and change and to truly experience life. Accept no substitutes.
Oh, and that strong narrative voice that attacked me while cleaning? I probably should get the first two pages in so it doesn’t escape again. So I can finally write that novel that’s been waiting.
And then the house needs cleaning (the carpet thing took much longer than I expected so THAT didn’t happen) and … and I need to give another coat of KILLZ to the dining room floor (it’s not even our cats. It’s the people who lived here before and their cats.) And then…. and then I can indulge in some narrative and writing.
Go forth. Live in the real world. It’s the breaking and the scars that lead to… bigger breaking and scars. But without them you won’t actually live. You’ll leave no mark in the world. It will be as though you’d never existed.
And what’s the point of that?