Tag Archives: stream of consciousness

A Whiff of Distraction


You probably already know that the sense of smell is the sense most closely tied to memory. You catch a whiff of something that smells like it might have been the perfume your grandmother used to not so much dab as douse herself in, and all of a sudden you’re five years old again, playing trains in the basement while she watches The Price is Right upstairs.

But did you know why?

It turns out that as the human brain evolved (and yes, I know, the “human” brain wasn’t a human brain until we were humans and categorizing evolutionary changes can be arbitrary, just roll with me), more and more layers were added on to the pre-existing brain tissue. In other words, as we grew “smarter,” we had to keep growing more and more brain to support it. This makes sense. But as we grew bigger brains, the sensory inputs grew with them. Each sense developed its own area of the brain, and like a sulky teenager moving into the basement room, claimed that space as its own.

But not the sense of smell. Your sense of smell stayed put right where it was, in the primordial lizard brain that handles things like breathing and balance and whether to run from that weird sound in the bushes or attack it with an axe. This has kept the sense of smell in relatively close contact with other brain functions — especially base functions — which is, incidentally, why we still use smelling salts, of all things, to rouse an unconscious person: the sense of smell continues to function even while you’re asleep. (This is also why your significant other can sometimes wake you up in the middle of the night with their, uh, emissions. Not that I would know anything about that.)

I know all this courtesy of an article I read (or rather, that I am in the process of reading) on Wait But Why, which is my latest internet diversionary tactic. Tim Urban, the proprietor, does these deep dives (and I mean, drilling through the bottom of the Marianas Trench) on all kinds of topics, from science to futurism to philosophy, and it makes for fascinating reading.

Which is a great way to keep yourself away from a project that’s giving you the screaming willies — just pretend that, you know, everything is probably fine in that particular Scrivener file; certainly the problems in the draft aren’t compounding and spiraling out of control, or coalescing into an insuperable plot monster while you’re keeping your head down and trying to finish out the school year, probably I’m not losing all the momentum I spent the year spinning up, almost definitely my neglected characters aren’t concocting my comeuppance. Nope. Definitely none of those things are happening.

Of course, the problem with spending time on a site like Wait But Why is that it fills your head with all kinds of crazy ideas for other stories you’d like to write, which is also great for your current project, and not distracting from it in any way. You’re trying to puzzle through your current set of #writerproblems and you keep thinking about that awesome idea about two police officers sharing a brain, or a terrorist group weaponizing mosquitoes with Crispr technology,  or or or…

You know, because you don’t already have two first drafts in desperate need of editing right now.

*looks around*

*tries not to think about the current edit*

*sets the computer on fire*

Two more days of school, y’all.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Who Ever Wanted More Deadlines?


Nothing motivates like a deadline. You put the thing off, put the thing off, park it in the backyard, let it grow a few weeds. A family of squirrels takes up residence. Winter comes, the squirrels leave. Then the deadline looms and, hey, holy crap, it’s time to clean that thing up. Pull the weeds out. Excise the dead squirrels. Somehow this work gets managed in the relative blink of an eye, not because you want it to be done, but because it has to get done.

Or else, what? Or else, there are consequences.

Getting the house ready to sell was a perfect example of this. We had a leaky toilet. A dripping faucet. Tons of little dings in the drywall. Junk in the garage. Sagging gutters. All of these, things which I wanted to get done someday, but which I was not interested in actually doing. For years. Then, we have to get the house ready to sell, and I manage to do them all in about a week.

I was motivated from without by a deadline of sorts: you can’t sell the house until you fix the broken things.

This is the problem with my writing, of late: I’m a hobbyist at this point, and as a hobbyist, there are no deadlines. If I finish a thing? Great; I get my dopamine hit, but that’s about it. If I don’t finish a thing? I haven’t lost anything besides my time. I may feel bad about myself, but there are no tangible, concrete consequences.

Which is why it feels like my projects are stretching out and piling up like rusted-out cars in the backyard. Like a house full of honey-do’s.

Of course, I do have deadlines in my actual job, so it’s easier and easier to let those narrative toilets keep leaking. With writing, it’s all-or-nothing — I’m either thinking about it all the time, consumed with it virtually every waking minute, or I can’t keep my mind on it at all. With the deadlines flying around like a swarm of angry bees, it’s more of a nothing writing phase.

What I need, then, is obvious: I need some good, external, consequence-riddled deadlines for my projects.

I hear there are apps and services that will provide this motivation for you. Like, if you haven’t done what you said you’d do — lose fifteen pounds by the summer, finish that first draft — they donate to a political cause you hate with money you staked on yourself back when you were full of piss and vinegar about doing the thing in the first place. But that feels gimmicky and cheeky and disingenuous. I need the carrot, man. I need the stick.

Actually, what I need is to be finished with this school year — the transition has wreaked havoc on my writing habit — and get on with getting moved into the new house. (Upshot: we have accepted an offer on our current house, so we can start looking for a new place in earnest, now.) Maybe when I can silence those deadlines, I can start imposing some weird and crazy deadlines on myself.

Like, I dunno. If I don’t finish the first edit by x date, I’ll have to eat a live spider, or something.

Oh god.

I’d better get to work.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Faking It


Here’s the funny thing about language: though we speak the same one, it’s so rare that we actually understand one another. We spend our days in constant contact with people who we very rarely get to choose: coworkers, supervisors. And nice though they may be, and well as you may work together, how often do you feel really in sync with them?

We muddle through our days making the best of our circumstances and putting on the niceties that society calls for. But for some of us – and here I’ll single myself out as one of those socially retarded individuals who never quite know what to say and who live in perpetual fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, and ends up as a result standing around looking at people long after a conversation has reached its natural terminus or awkwardly exiting early – those trifles are exhausting. Others, it seems, glide through the world as effortlessly as figure skaters, joking and laughing and shaking hands and hugging, but every time I’m in a social situation I stress out and lock up, hitting the ice less like a figure skater and more like a newborn goat.

I don’t do well with people, generally (well, outwardly I guess I do okay, but in my head is another story). I pretend it’s because I hate everything, and by extension, most people. But the truth is that it’s because I’m cripplingly shy and overwhelmingly insecure.

How did a guy like that end up teaching the next generation to be actors, to get up on stage in front of crowds of people? Easy. It’s an act. On stage, or in front of a classroom, or here on a webpage, I get to play a character who’s like me but who isn’t exactly me. I get to manufacture a guy who isn’t a social mess, who isn’t a walking train wreck when it comes to human interaction. Turns out I’m pretty good at faking it. But at the end of the day? I’m speaking a second language. That air of confidence and easy interaction is not my native tongue — it’s a hacked-together pastiche thinly layered over a perpetually vulnerable underbelly.

But I started this post today by thinking about the way we talk with people, and the way I manufacture speech with most of the people in my life, trying to say the “normal” things or the “right” things. And the reason I’m thinking about that is that recently I’ve had a few encounters where I haven’t had to manufacture anything.

There are a very few people on this planet that I don’t have to speak that second language with — with whom I can speak my native tongue and get along just fine, be understood just fine. I’m married to one of them; unfortunately, the others pretty much all live in different states, so interaction is limited. But when that interaction does come, it’s refreshing. Invigorating. I come away energized, recharged, like I’ve slept for a weekend after a long bout of insomnia.

But I guess that’s why you learn that second language.

Then again, I wonder. I can’t be the only one speaking it. There have to be other fakers out there. I wonder how many times I’ve been fooled the way (I think) I’ve fooled others?

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


Scrub Up and Slice In


The revision process for a novel has a series of steps associated with it, much like the stages of grief.

First, you’re kind of enchanted with this thing you wrote, and you spend a lot of time patting yourself on the back: hey look at that neat character I wrote back then, boy that twist was kind of clever, and wow this might not actually be that bad to edit. (See also: my posts from about six weeks ago when I started the current edit.)

Then you begin to hate the thing you wrote, because the more flaws you come across, the more glaring they become and the more likely you are to see more flaws. A snowball rolling downhill, collecting more snow and branches and dead moose until it flattens a town.

Then, resignation: the thing is what it is, and no amount of unicorn-chasing denial or grizzly-bear-wrestling self-hate is going to change it, so with steely resolve, you go to work on it. Narrative Surgery. With no training, no qualifications, and no idea what you’re even supposed to be doing, you scrub up and dive in.

The problem is, like an insane spider’s web, every part of the thing is interconnected. There is no such thing as a “minor correction.” The hip-bone is connected to the leg-bone, but in this metaphor, it’s also connected to the patellar tendon, the lower intestines, one and a half lungs and the eye on the non-heart side (which — surprise! — is not the side you thought it was).

You go to make your incision, to correct that one little nagging issue in the third chapter, and blood starts leaking out of the character resolution in chapter eighteen. You try to tamp that down with a little narrative pressure, but that causes a backup in the side conflict while also necessitating the introduction of brand-new tissue in the opening chapters. You set to work rectifying all this, but because you also have a full-time job and for god’s sake you’re only human, your rectifications themselves are flawed and not as focused as they maybe should be because oh my god there’s inkblood everywhere.

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Did I drop my keys in there? I think I dropped my keys in there.

Now you’ve got internal bleeding and contusions popping up under the skin all over the place, and you’re not actually any closer to fixing the problem you set out to fix in the first place, you’re just playing Whack-a-Mole with the fallout from your “fixes.” Worse still, you’re starting to see that the big problem you ignored in the first draft — the one you just stuck a post-it note to your future self on that read YOU DEAL WITH THIS ONE, GOOD LUCK (an actual comment I left for myself around the 1/3 mark of this particular draft) — has metastasized out of control. A broken bone repaired by interweaving itself with all the surrounding tissue. The hive in Aliens that has swollen and spilled over, and now threatens to consume the entire ship. Every blood vessel, every nerve ending, every plot line, every narrative thread seems to run through this one spot, this one tangle of viscera and scar tissue.

And you don’t want to do it. To go to work on this thing will throw the entire project into limbo. The bleeding will be massive, the repair work intensive, the recovery extensive. But that angry little knot, interspersing its evil tentacles through the heart and every extremity of your story, pulses defiantly. Taunting you. And that’s when you realize that you do want to do it, that despite the trauma and triage, despite the emotional and psychological fallout that will surely result, this thing can be saved. It can be made clean again.

So you slice into it.

And as the first gout of narrative blood stain your scrubs, you glance just a little bit further down the chest cavity… and you see another tumor.

Ahem.

So, you know. The edit’s going fine … just fine.

*screams internally*

*dies inside*

*animates self with a straight shot of caffeine to the pleasure center and sheer force of will*

*zombie self continues writing*

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


A Day of Shoeburyness and Lawn-Care Mutterings


If you have ever wanted to cut off your own piece of the bleeding edge of American literary greatness, this is your chance.

My house is for sale. The culmination of what feels like (and, by now, I guess actually is) months of cleaning and fixing and tearing down walls and repairing pipes and hauling off trash and more than once considering simply setting fire to the whole thing. But of course, the work isn’t over. Now that we have it clean and “show ready”, we have to keep it that way, which has us doing all sorts of things we would never do ordinarily, though my wife insists that normal people do these things all the time.

Taking the trash out once a day. Keeping the sink clear of dishes. Vacuuming the floors every day. Keeping laundry out of the floor. Mowing the yard at 8pm on a Friday because it’s literally the only chance we’ll have to do it.

Madness. My wife, somehow, has a reservoir of patience and sense for this sort of thing. I do not. While circling my yard with the mower last night, thoughts of murder circled in my head like swarming crows. What the hell am I doing out here? It’s getting dark, for crissakes. Primeval man survived for tens of thousands of years without mowing the damned grass. It’s all gonna grow back when global warming wipes us all out, and the kudzu will consume the country. Why fight it?

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I may have mentioned, here or there, that yard work is a dirty word with me. I’m not exaggerating. My mind goes to some dark places when I’m holding garden tools.

But it has to be done to keep the house show-ready, so mow I did. Just part of the deal of trying to sell the place.

Also part of selling the place? A sensation that I don’t have a word for: The vaguely disconcerting , slightly unsettling feeling of knowing there have been total strangers tromping through your house, peeking in your closets, judging your choices in counter-toppery.

Douglas Adams once wrote a book full of words like this, and I’m sorry to say that I have not yet read this book — The Meaning of Liff. But from the liner notes and offhanded comments found in The Salmon of Doubt, I know that within that text is a word that comes close: Shoeburyness, the uncomfortable feeling you get when sitting on a seat that is still warm from somebody else’s bottom.

This is stronger than that, but less extreme than the real discomfort and terror that, for example, my sister-in-law is experiencing, having been the recent victim of a break-in that did not apparently result in any theft — somebody just broke in and skulked around.

It’s somewhere in between those two extremes. Odd. Definitely not pleasant. But not actually disruptive or traumatic in any way.

Again: nothing to be done about it. Just part of the process. And, hopefully, the beginning of the end of the all-consuming task that selling our house has become. I don’t quite see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, but I can’t see the light from where we entered either at this point. There’s a comfort in that — in seeing how far we’ve come — even though this mushy middle part is bleak.

At least I’m writing again. Words on the page. The concrete evidence of progress.

The light at the end of the tunnel has to be up there, somewhere.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.


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