No Time Like the Present

We live in the past.


Not just in the retrospective, nostalgic, times-were-better-when sense of the past. Literally, we can’t escape the past. Because information can only travel as fast as the speed of light, less the resistance of our crude organic matter, what we perceive as the present is a moment that is already a dim memory of the cosmos.

Of course, we’re not that far in the past. Only milliseconds, really. But the phenomenon stretches out into infinity the farther away the observed thing is from the observer. In fact, astronomers have recently concluded that their telescopes are looking at some objects so distant that the light from those objects was literally born in the same instant that our universe was. Which baffles the mind, really. Because here we are, the result of billions of years of senseless collisions of quarks and particles hurtling through the void, and we can simultaneously perceive the (almost) present and the beginning of knowable time.

Knowable for now, anyway.

The cool thing about science (and, incidentally, why I long ago decided that I much prefer science to religion) is that science can change its mind about things. Can, and does, actually. The scientific community is willing to reverse any number of preconceived notions the moment they learn a thing that disagrees with those notions. Which is just one reason among many that nerds around the world were (and still are) so excited about the work going on with the Large Hadron Collider. Every day, scientists are pushing the boundaries of the things we know. Sometimes, they learn what they expect to learn. Sometimes, their discoveries force them to virtually rewrite history. But what science doesn’t do is disagree with what’s staring it in the face. Science doesn’t sit there–as humans are wont to do–and say, “no, we don’t like what we’ve discovered here, that doesn’t jive with what we believe… let’s ignore it until it goes away.”

But I got off topic. Most animals are creatures that live in the present. They act on instinct. A wolf in the wild doesn’t ponder what its dad was thinking when it chomped him in the neck that one time as a child. The wolf goes for the kill because the kill is there, NOW. Humans, on the other hand, reach ceaselessly for the past. We romanticize. Reminisce. But the fact is, we don’t know what now looks like.

Not only can we not process information that fast–literally barring us from ever existing in the real, crackling cutting edge of the now–but everything we see and learn and experience gets filtered through the lens of the past, because we can’t help remembering it.

I feel like I’m drifting again. I’ve got a wicked cold setting in and it’s clouding what’s already a pretty murky train of thought. I think my point is this:

What would our world be like if we could experience the present? The wicked, razor-sharp edge of perception, the collisions of all the being and nothingness that drives everything in the universe? All thought takes time. Reacting takes time. Speaking to a friend takes time. If we could make perception and communication truly instantaneous, where would that put us?

I was going to try to answer my own question, but I don’t know if my disease-addled brain can manage it, so I’m going to leave it there. Maybe I’ll read this in the morning and realize that this entire ramble was just a tailspin down a condemned rabbit hole.

Or maybe it’s one I’ve fallen down before.

oooOOOOOOooo no, probably not.

See, this is what happens when pressure on my brain from an accumulation of mucus mixes with a cocktail of pseudoephedrine and wine. The safeguards shut down and the Id-Writer breaks loose and trashes the place.

Sigh. The prompt was “present.” Christmas is coming. Presents are awesome. The end.

This post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday.

Launching the Edit Express

It’s underway.

I’ve read about three hundred blog posts and articles and comments on editing your novel and come to the conclusion that it’s just time to jump in the deep end and get on with it.  No sense in beleaguering the issue and putting it off — I had a secret goal to complete this novel within the span of a year, and if that’s going to happen, it’s time to get on the stick.  Leading up to it, I was terrified.  Sure I’d be unable to identify the errors or that I would wrongly let the crappy stuff slide through or worse, that I’d stomp out the good bits.

Well, I’m three days in.  The water was a shock at first, but I’m acclimating fast.  I’ve no idea if I’m doing it properly or not.  Basically I’m reading the first draft, jotting notes on a to-do list, and trying to track the major developments to make sure they make sense.  I’m also tidying up the copy as I go, fixing the finicky bits and cleaning up obvious errors and boring prose.

Some of the stuff that needs attention jumps out at me.  I overused the HELL out of the “sigh”, be it the exasperated sigh, the relieved sigh, the boy-that-turned-out-exactly-the-way-I-expected sigh.  So a lot of those sighs are in serious need of makeovers.  If there’s a better, cleaner, more interesting solution that comes ready to mind, I fix it.  If not, I highlight it for attention on the next pass.  There’s also some occasional redundancy that I wouldn’t have necessarily expected from myself — hey, everybody thinks he writes pretty decently and clearly the first time through, right? — which is easy enough to fix.  Like, I encountered a sentence today that said something along the lines of, “He picked up the glass and took a sip as he picked up the glass.”  Past me, in full-on Id-Writer mode, wrote that, thinking it was, you know, not total nonsense.  I guess the flow of the first draft isn’t always so clear and collected.

Then there’s other stuff that hides in the weeds, hoping I’ll glide past without noticing it.  I parsed a sentence wherein my hero “sat down at his desk, clutching her note in his hand,” and was about to keep on reading when I realized there had been no mention of a note in previous pages.  I asked the Id-Writer about it and he produced some vague snarls and growls that might have communicated something about a note and how it ended up in the hero’s possession, but it was about as easy to decipher as a bunch of feathers and teeth cast on a scrying table.  There are portions of the draft where Past Me left a trail of breadcrumbs for Future Me (now, I guess, Present Me) to follow: “go back and write in a scene where he cuts off the finger of his greatest rival,” for instance.  This was not one of those times.  So I’m in the dark about whatever brilliant idea I thought I had at the moment I was having it, and now I get to go prowling through the woods after it with the dim flashlight of my dubious memory.

The upshot of the process so far (and I know, I know, I’m a whopping three days in, what do I know yet about upshots — the sharknado hasn’t even speculated about the eventuality of getting real yet) is that I feel like I’m doing a pretty solid job of stomping out the charred, overcooked bits of prose where I was obviously buzzing the tower.  There haven’t been a lot of them — yet — but there are passages that stick out like a thumb that was hit with a hammer, treated with salve, became infected when the salve entered the bloodstream through a papercut, and then got hit with a hammer again.  Obviously out of character for the story or even for me.  There have literally been moments when I sat at the desk wondering if it was really possible that I wrote the words on the page in front of me, even though to think otherwise is ludicrous.  But then I think about that Id-Writer on his chain in the unlit basement and I recall those days when I’d churn out a thousand, or twelve hundred, or sixteen hundred words without even realizing the passage of time…

Not to make light of a serious mental condition, but I am starting to wonder, are writers in general as schizophrenic as I feel?  I honestly feel that the first draft of this novel was a conglomeration whacked together by not just me, but by three or four different versions of me, each with a different sense of humor, sense of timing, sense of language.  Then I wonder if that fragmented perception is a strike against the novel intrinsically (the story itself is fraught with problems that make it feel fragmented) or against the Me that wrote it in the first place (I’m fragmented as a writer because I don’t know myself or my voice or how to even tell a fargoing story yet).  Then I wonder if I’m not overthinking the whole thing (not that I’d ever be guilty of that) or even using parentheses too much (as if that were even possible).

All this, and I’m all of, oh, about six thousand words into the draft.  It feels like the start of a long road trip in a car with a gaggle of mildly psychotic socially inept know-it-alls.  Except in this metaphor, the radio is busted so we’ve got nothing to do but listen to each other kvell about the various problems with the blah blah blah and what each of us would do to fix the yada yada yada and what we really like about the et cetera.  And it’s a long fargoing way to Vegas.

Not sure why we’re headed to Vegas in this metaphor, but it felt right.  What happens in the editing mobile stays in the editing mobile, unless somebody dies or vomits.  Then we stop for air fresheners.

The Night Writes

Sometimes I start with a title, other times I write the entire post first and choose my title based on what I wrote.  Tonight I start with the title.  Immediately upon writing it, I realize that the title is misleading, because it implies that the Night is the subject and that Writes is the thing that it’s doing.  Which is nonsense.  I do the writing around here.  No, in my head it was the Night (adjective) Writes (noun), like the DTs or the heebie-jeebies.  In other words, the title is a problem.  I could change it BUT I WON’T because problems are what make the world turn.  Just ask that guy who sang about the problems and the b-words.  I feel like things worked out for him pretty well.Read More »

The Id-Writer (There Are No Space Unicorns Here… or Are There?)

I know, I know.  Last time I promised Space Unicorns, and here you are, end of a long day perhaps, or settling in for the start of another one, or perhaps sat on the toilet for a bit of reading, looking for the Space Unicorns.

But I just couldn’t.  I wanted to.  I thought about it.  I muddled and marinated for a couple of days, but Space just wouldn’t give me Unicorns.  Today presented me with the first day yet, in almost two full months (is it that long now?  Jesus) when I wasn’t going to make my writing goal.

Wrote about 400 words.  Not feeling the flow.  Squeezed out 100 more like an old man at a urinal.  Painful.  Forced.  Scratched and clawed for 100 more, a dessicated husk of a man dragging himself on his stomach across scorching sands toward a fanciful oasis shimmering in the impossible distance.  Some days, 900 words isn’t nearly enough for me to write what wants to be written.  Today, it was Everest.  So I gave up.

I was kind to myself.  I reminded myself that I’ve been writing extra above and beyond my goal consistently on an almost daily basis, and that I’ve therefore banked enough words to have a day off and still be plenty ahead of schedule.  I let myself remember that it’s been another rough week of testing at school and I’m thoroughly mentally fried to excuse an off day.  I told myself it wouldn’t be that big a deal.  I fooled myself into feeling almost pleased at letting myself off the hook.

But the Id-Writer was not satisfied.Read More »

Falling Pianos and Frozen Bananas (and other things to avoid during your week)

(I’m just kidding.  The title of this post is a lie.  If I were any sort of an authority on Things to Avoid or How to Avoid Them, I wouldn’t have impaled my foot on a porch in January.)

It’s only right that I should make a post about routines and how good they are and how much they contribute to the flow of all of my creative juices (especially the tasty ones) at the outset of a week which has effectively shattered my routine into itty-bitty pieces, stomped on the pieces, dug the pieces out of its grubby shoes, and fed them through a wood chipper.  The resultant dust could be used, I’m told, to craft a glitter-bomb which might then be fired at the idiot who put my lunch in the freezer the other day at work, ruining my fruit and by extension my afternoon writing session.  Wait, that idiot was me.  DONDRAPER YOU, PAST ME.

/Sidenote:  I’ve heard of frozen bananas being a delightful treat.  Where did I hear this, and what lamebrain banana salesperson perpetrated this myth?  The banana I pulled from the freezer went from a dong-shaped brick to a soggy, mushy turdlet in about three minutes flat.  It was in no way appetizing, let alone delightful.  /Sidenote over.

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