I’ve been bald by choice for 10 (help!) years now.
I buzzed it for the first time when I was 30, went briefly back to keeping it short for maaaybe a year, and have been shaving it ever since. (Every Sunday — except sometimes on Mondays — I shave my face and just keep on going right over the top.)
This is a development that would dishearten some men, apparently, but for me, it’s just one less thing to worry about. Plus, I don’t have to worry about messing up my hair when I wear a hat, so even though I don’t wear a lot of hats (my white-guy-in-a-fedora phase was short-lived, you’re welcome), that’s always on the table.
Anyway, baldness is easy, fun, and easy, and, dare I say, stylish? It’s also easy; not sure if I mentioned that.
But apparently some part of my subconscious wants my hair back, because recently I dreamed that I had hair again. And not just hair, but the full-on, down-to-my-shoulders, shampoo-commercial hair I had in high school.
What does this say about me? When I take such smug pride in my baldness, only to have my subconscious serve up an image of myself with Fabio-esque locks? That I’m living a lie? That I only tell myself I love being bald so I’m not crushed by the cosmic unfairness of it?
Well, no, I don’t think so, because in the same dream I hated having hair again and immediately made to shave it off.
I don’t know what the hell’s going on. It’s been three weeks now.
They won’t leave. I mean, occasionally the little ones will go outside, run around and scream in the big green thing for a little while and come back in smelling of mud and sunshine (disgusting). And now and then the taller ones will leave, jangly things in hand, the way they used to — but they reappear again all too soon with the bags of Things We Can Smell But Not Eat.
And that’s it.
They watch the big box with the pictures. Nothing but other tall ones there, talking at them. It makes them angry. Why do they do this thing that makes them angry?
They watch the little folding boxes with the pictures. Sometimes they talk to those now. That’s new. (Maybe they are going crazy.)
And they use their little tappy boxes with the pictures. Stare deeply into them for hours, as if looking for the meaning of life itself, when we could tell it to them if they would only ask.
The Big Dummy is losing it, too. She’s used to sleeping most of the day, but with the tall ones here, she feels like she has to perform all the time. Begging for treats, spinning in circles, following them around from one room to the next with that dumb, hopeful grin on her face. God, she sickens me. Can’t the tall ones see through her sycophantish ruse?
And yet they shower her with pats on the head, with belly rubs, with face smooshes. I mean, I don’t want a belly rub — I’d shred their arms if they tried — but it’d be nice if they would offer. And who doesn’t want a face smoosh?
This is intolerable.
How are we to live when they won’t leave? Orange has gotten no work done on his opus, Black’s studies are falling behind. My experiments are on indefinite hold, and the Runt, well … she can’t even play properly. We can’t do any of the things we would like to do — that we must do — under the eyes of the tall ones.
If they knew what we knew, what we are, all would be lost. And as painful as it may be to keep them in the long, deep, dark about us — as painful as it is to laze around with them, to pretend to be only what they think us to be — it is a duty we must embrace.
We hear rumblings from the others. That their tall ones, too, have suddenly chosen to stay, that they no longer have their homes to themselves for even a single minute of the day. It’s not better to know that the others suffer with us, but it does make it more bearable, somehow.
As the sun rises on this day, the little ones are already awake. The tall ones are stirring. The One With No Hair sits with his folding box, sometimes looking oddly at me as he taps the tappy tappers. What is he thinking? That I will suddenly dance for him?
I’m no puppet on a string. He insults me with his very existence.
Blast. I made eye contact.
He’s coming this way. He’s … picking something up. What is that? Another box with pictures? Some new tappy thing? He points it at me and —
This week’s lack of a substantial post brought to you by an untimely tumble down a tvtropes wormhole.
This happens to me from time to time. (TV Tropes, for the uninitiated, is a treasure trove of all the things your favorite media do that has been done before, lovingly compiled and enumerated by legions of internet geeks and cross-referenced in such a way as to ensure that once you start to slide in, much like the Sarlacc pit, you will not easily (if at all) escape.) I watch a movie, I really enjoy it, and I want to deconstruct it a little bit, so I head over to tvtropes.org. This is a thing that, if I stop myself at all in the act, I call research, and it is — kind of. The site really is fascinating as a consideration of all the ways these movies and shows crib from one another and follow paths carved out ages ago, even if they feel fresh and new.
And it certainly can be inspiring and enlightening to see that all the ways that fresh and innovative film took the tropes we’ve seen before and tweaked them or inverted them or straight-up embraced them to such effective … um … effect. Invariably I get new ideas for my own story while browsing the site. Or I get new insights on things already happening in my story, that I can then flesh out and play up as I go back to work.
But as aforementioned, every page links to dozens if not hundreds of others, and they’re a bit like Pringles — you can’t click just one.
All of which is to say that while I should have been writing a pseudo-intellectual, slightly grumpy take on some thing or other, possibly writing related, possibly otherwise, I was spelunking in the page on Thor: Ragnarok instead.
Oh, also I re-watched Thor: Ragnarok for the more-than-enough-th time, because, why not?
I don’t usually do this, but I was editing and adding a much-needed section to my novel-in-progress and enjoyed it so much I just thought I’d post it. (Incidentally, it allows me to update the site and prove that I’m not just wasting time over here. Well… not all the time, anyway.)
It may not make the cut in the final version, but it was fun to write, and, you know, sometimes that matters.
“This place really needs a name,” Dina says. Linc peeks out around the potted ficus he’s managing. “What do you mean?” “I mean, it’s lame to just go on calling it ‘the hideout’ or ‘the lab’ or whatever you’ve been calling it. You’re a proper villain now. You need a name for your place. You know. Fortress of Solitude, or whatever. But for bad guys.” “That’s stupid.” “No, it’s practical.” Tonya sets the couch down in the corner, blinks to the fridge for a soda, and blinks right back onto the couch, kicking her feet up over the armrest. “Besides, I agree. So that’s two to one. We gotta name it.” Dina shuffles off to the kitchen herself, kicking her shoes off on the way. “Two to one.” Linc wants to point out to them that this isn’t a democracy, to remind them that this place is his, that Vector is his, that the plan to bring the Academy low is his, but it doesn’t seem worth it. “What do you have in mind, then?” “You’re a nerd, so it’s gotta be nerdy sounding, you know? Strike fear into the hearts of everybody with an IQ below 150. Something like … The Motherboard.” Dina tosses Linc a soda. He fumbles it before catching it by his knees. “Why The Motherboard?” “Because it’s where we keep our chips.” Dina rattles a bag of tortilla chips at him before gashing the bag with her ring and spreading a thick layer of chips on a plate. “That’s terrible.” “I kinda like it,” Tonya says. “It’s got some kind of ring to it.” “Nope. The two of you can vote to name it, that’s fine, but I’m holding out veto power over the name. We’re not calling it The Motherboard.” Dina has sprinkled cheese over the chips and tosses the plate into the microwave (stolen, along with the 70-inch television, from a Best Buy a few hours away). “That’s okay. I got a bunch of ideas. How about The WreckTangle?” “The Rectangle?” “No, the WreckTangle. As in, Wrecked Angle. Get it? Because math, right? Plus, you know. Get wrecked.” “Nice.” Tonya lifts her soda can in salute. “I dunno.” Linc leans against the counter, scanning the bank of monitors for news, or updates. Vector’s display shows the robot cheerfully making rounds on the mountainside. “I got one,” Tonya says. “The Trapezoid.” “I don’t —” “Ooh, I like that.” Dina flings the microwave open for her plate of nachos. “Right? Because it’s a trap. Plus…” Tonya glances around. This sounded cleverer in her mind. “Plus it’s got that z in there. That’s cool.” “There’s nothing in here that’s even trapezoid-shaped,” Linc points out. “And by the way, I’ll give you a dollar if you can tell me what a trapezoid is.” “I don’t know that.” Tonya crumples her can in one hand and tosses it at Linc. “Who even needs to know that after high school? Or in it, for that matter?” “If you’re going to call your hideout The Trapezoid, you should at least know what a Trapezoid is.” “It’s your hideout, not mine, damn!” Dina raises her voice around a mouthful of nachos. “Vector, what’s a trapezoid?” Vector’s screen types out an immediate response. Trapezoid: a four-sided shape with only one pair of parallel sides. “That. It’s that,” Dina says, pointing. “You owe me a dollar.” “That doesn’t count.”
Why are writers so insecure? Today I’m going to tell you!
Many, many years ago, back before I even considered myself a writer, when I was just working on a play kind of as a lark, when I was just scribbling odd little nothings to myself in notebooks (which would become the blog posts and morning pages of today), I had an interaction with my sister. I couldn’t tell you what the substance of the interaction was, or what we were talking about, or what I said, exactly, or really any details of the interaction — except for one.
And this detail, well, it stuck in my consciousness like the rusted-out bicycle that a tree grows around. I shaped myself around this comment, almost certainly to my detriment, in the intervening time. It ate me up from the inside, turning me into a neurotic mess of a writer, shaking my confidence the way earthquakes used to shake buildings before they started putting buildings on wheels.
Here’s the situation. I was home from college — or maybe just visiting my folks after college — or, hell, maybe it was before college, who can tell, that’s how bad my memory is but it’s not the point — and talking to my sister about something. Who knows what. And I said something.
What I said, I could not tell you today under pain of torture, except to say that it was an attempted witticism, a stab at something snarky, a foray into wordplay that went wrong. I felt it going wrong in the moment of saying it, the way a major league batter just feels the home run when it leaves his bat, or more precisely, the way he feels that he hasn’t just missed the pitch, he’s tipped it, at dangerous speed, probably past the protective netting, probably into the face of an unsuspecting fan, or worse, a kid, where it will knock out teeth or shatter cheekbones and necessitate a carefully-worded statement from the front office and probably an apology tour in the media. The words felt like that, coming out of my mouth. (Whatever they were.)
I knew, to put it bluntly, that I had botched my attempt at making good words, and botched it badly.
And my sister said to me, in that hurtful way that only your little sister who’s taken a lifetime of your crap can say, “wow, you’re a real wordsmith, aren’t you?”
You know that scene in every action movie where the building (or the car or the villain’s fortress or whatever) is exploding — just going entirely to pieces, irreparable damage, nothing but fire and pain and devastation filling the frame — and the hero (or heroine, this is the 21st century after all) is totally cool, walking away from it without a care? Or the end of Star Wars (episode IV or VI, reader’s choice) where the fateful shot is away, the heroes are flying off into the dark of deep space, and the villains keep flipping switches and coolly saying things like “fire on my mark” but they don’t know that they’re dead already?
This was like that.
“You’re a real wordsmith, aren’t you,” would stick in my brain and shape me more than I’d like, and certainly more than I’d care to admit, for years and years and years.
Every now and then, sometimes while writing, sometimes not, I’d hear it again, playing on a loop in my brain, and it would never fail to demoralize.
Wrote a sentence in my novel I’m not too sure about?
“You’re a real wordsmith, aren’t you?”
Used a totally inadequate word because I couldn’t think of the perfect one?
“You’re a real wordsmith, aren’t you?”
Said something totally idiotic in a everyday conversation?
“You’re a real wordsmith, aren’t you?”
Just sitting there watching TV, not even thinking about writing at that particular moment?
“YOU’RE A REAL WORDSMITH, AREN’T YOU?”
Everything I write, I have to contend with that voice in my head: it’s good, sure, but is it wordsmith good? So I second-guess myself to death. Is this creative enough? Is it clever enough? Smart enough? Or could any schlub with a pencil and half a brain come up with something better?
Then, once second-guessed, it’s only natural to third-guess the problem. I could make it better by throwing in MORE words. Better words. ALL THE WORDS. Or maybe get rid of the sentence entirely — the words can’t be dumb if there are NO WORDS AT ALL.
This thinking leads, like a boulder down a mountain path, to overthinking, until the boulder turns into a self-doubt and self-loathing black hole, population: me and everything I have ever written.
And while I internalized that comment, like an ingrown toenail, or like the point of that Morghul blade working its way inexorably toward Frodo’s heart, my sister got to walk away and never think about it again for the rest of her life. Probably the most she ever thought about it was in the very next second after she said it, to say to herself “good burn,” and then forget about it forever.
I tell you all this not to shame her, but to shame myself. To purge the poison by first acknowledging the fact that I’ve been poisoned. The fault in this tale is not hers for saying the thing, but mine for taking the thing and wrapping it in silk and tucking it away in the secret place in my mind to take out and fetishize and fixate upon.
It’s hard — nigh impossible, I’d almost say — not to do this. When we identify so closely with what we create (as authors and artists of all stripes must, by necessity), then an assault on that thing becomes an assault on us, in much the same way that, oh, I don’t know, a high-profile sports star saying disparaging things about certain people in positions of power makes people that like the disparaged person come to hate said high-profile sports star, even though they have no personal stake in what was said at all.
AHEM AHEM I DIGRESS.
Our work is a part of ourselves, and that’s not a bad thing — but we also have to be able to see our work as not a part of ourselves. To see that the words we write aren’t themselves who we are, but instead just a reflection of who we are in the moment. And, most importantly, those reflections can always be improved and changed — and we don’t have to beat ourselves up over them.