I struggle a lot with the Meaning of Life.
This is a luxury. In much of the world—most of it, throughout time—basic survival takes precedence: food, shelter, safety. How do I get these today? How do I get these tomorrow? How do I live my life so I don’t have to worry about these for the foreseeable future? Existential Angst is privilege, really; but I think most of us want something more substantive from our lives than a guaranteed next meal. I don’t think I’m especially unusual in this regard.
I’m not religious. I don’t believe in an afterlife. I don’t know what I believe about the nature of the soul; I suppose, if pressed, I’d say yes, I think we’re just complex chemical reactions that eventually stop. In a way, the answer to What Happens After isn’t relevant; I can’t not go, and I can’t come back and tell you what happens. It’s the ultimate in lack of control.
I can only control what happens here and now, and not even much of that.
I’ve had a bad few days, OCD-wise. It doesn’t feel obsessive when I’m in it. It feels entirely reasonable to spin endlessly on things I can’t control. More than that, it seems sensible. Necessary. I suppose that’s part of what makes it OCD: in the middle of it, it doesn’t seem strange or wrong, just incredibly painful. Unavoidably painful. It’s like having something wrapped tightly around my chest: every breath hurts. Every one. But I still need to breathe.
And then I come out of it. It’s slow, usually; but eventually other, more reality-based thoughts nose in, and they pry me out of the cycle. And then, for a while, I’m all right again.
I went for take-out food yesterday. We do this at least once a week. We have a small set of restaurants we patronize; they were all ones we knew in the Before Times, all ones we’d like to see survive. Yesterday was a short drive to the local pizza place, owned and run by a neighborhood family. They know me; I know them, a little. We talk about our parents (her parents are about the same age as mine), and the logistics of getting vaccinations for the vulnerable people in our lives. We express hope for the end of All This. We are kind to each other, as much as strangers can be.
While I was driving there, I asked myself a question: what do I really want? If I picture myself in the future, imagine myself the same age as my parents—what do I want my life to look like?
I think sometimes that the Cult of Youth, which seems to transcend cultures and eras, is about opportunity. Fuck up your life when you’re 20, and you have a lot of years to put that right. Go wrong when you’re (for example) 56, and your options are a little more narrow. We’re so fond of telling young people about all the opportunities before them, and we don’t spend a lot of time talking about what kind of life we want for ourselves—and each other—when we’re old.
What do I want from All This?
That was the only answer I could come up with, outside of my family. But my family has their own lives to live. They all have their own paths, and they may share with me for a while, or even for the rest of my time; but their lives are their own.
So second only to the happiness of the people I love: I want stories. If people speak of me, I’d like them to be able to say “She told stories. Some of them were good.”
Today, at least, that feels like it would be enough.
I’ve been chasing, I think, a thing I can’t have, and that’s never healthy. I’ve been chasing this thing in part to show people who were unkind to me that they were wrong about me. There’s two things about that: 1) maybe they weren’t wrong; and 2) even if they were, they don’t care what happens to me one way or another. It’s not that they think badly of me, it’s that they don’t think of me at all.
That’s made me angry at times. Two people in particular did deliberate, malicious damage to me. I want them to regret it. I want them to see they haven’t beaten me. Don’t we all want that? To prove our bullies wrong? To show them we’re stronger than they are, that they can’t dictate our futures?
They don’t matter. At all. They’re both part of a different world, that thing I’ve been futilely chasing. And they have no more control over me than I give them.
They are not important.
Stories are important.
I like reading my own work. Maybe that’s odd; I don’t know. But I write the stories I write because I like them. Because they gnaw at the inside of my head until I get them down. I like BREACH OF CONTAINMENT best of my novels in part, I think, because I had the least external feedback on that one. It is the most “me” of those three books, including the stringy, disorganized bits at the end of Part 2. When I read it, it’s like curling up with a warm blanket. It’s comforting. They’re all comforting, one way or another.
There’s a decent possibility I’ll end up like my parents, growing disoriented and confused as I age. It’s impossible, really, to predict how I’ll cope with that. I see the things that comfort them, and the things that throw them off-stride; they have very different strengths and weaknesses. But some things remain the same for them: my father still loves to tell stories, and my mother still loves to fuss over her cat. My dad likes to be hovered over; my mom likes having her nails done. They like familiar movies and friendly food. They like seeing the people they love—whom they still, for now, recognize. They haven’t really changed so much as narrowed.
And maybe that’ll be me someday, and if it is, I want my stories around me. I don’t much care how they get there. To me, a book I was paid for and one of the shorts I tossed up on my web site feel the same. They provide the same warmth and comfort. Even if I get to the point where can’t understand the words anymore—I want them around me. They are pieces of me I’ve sculpted and shaped and made whole as separate objects.
Sometimes? I think that will be enough.
It probably sounds weird, saying I felt better thinking about what I’d want when I was old and suffering from dementia. But there’s real clarity there. If it does happen, I’m hoping it’ll be far into the future. I may not be 20, but I do have a little time. I’m a slow writer, but I write. I can tell as many stories as I want. All of those pieces of me, built and shaped and loved: I’m in control of them all.
Book 4, as is its nature, is being a bastard, and the degree to which it’s pissing me off suggests I haven’t quite found the key yet. I’m at the stage where I feel very strongly about parts of the story, but I’m not sure why. I never figure out what’s behind a book until I’ve finished it, which means I don’t quite know what I’ve got here yet. I keep writing bits of it, and some days I feel I’m getting close.
How long will it take me? I don’t know. I’m inclined, though, to want to publish it on the anniversary of the publication of BREACH. Why not commemorate something I love? I’m not sure October is realistic, though—at least not October of 2021. I am still writing, but I am slow, and this book has been extremely slow.
I am writing it for me. I hope other people read it, too; but I’m writing it for me.
OCD comes and goes. Every time it leaves me, I think this is the time I’ll keep control. This is the time it won’t come back. And it does, of course, and it’s the same ride, circle after circle, until something breaks the pattern and I can climb off again. I’ve done this to varying degrees my whole life, even though I didn’t have a name for it. I know it’s survivable. I know it’ll pass. That doesn’t make it any more fun, but I can intellect myself through it most of the time. The worst of it is it’s hard to write in the middle of it, and I have a lot I want to do. If will power could fix it, I’d be a whole lot healthier. But there are times, now and then, when I’m okay. Mostly. At least okay enough. Today, for now, I’m okay enough.
4 thoughts on “Acceptance. Maybe. A little.”
This is beautiful and so familiar, not in the specifics but in the feelings. I am struggling to write that first book, the one that keeps shape shifting on me. I just recently discovered your books and binge read all 3 in the last week. I gonna reread them more slowly now, as I’ve done with the series of Leckie and Wells and Wagers. Discovering writers, like you, who suck me into their worlds give me hope. Thank you for that. And for sharing your worlds with me.
Thank you, Elaine. FWIW, I find books absolutely shape shift, and sometimes turn into not at all what I thought they’d be! I hope yours gives you joy.
For what it’s worth, I’ve read and enjoyed your fiction quite a bit, and I look forward to reading whatever you next publish. In some ways, your work and life story reminds me of another of my favorite authors, Martha Wells. I’ve never met her, but over the years I’ve sent her probably 4 or 5 fan letters, because her work means that much to me. And she’s had lots of ups and downs in her career, to the point that about 10 or 15 years ago she was just about to quit writing altogether. And over the last 3 years she’s won multiple Hugos and Locus awards, won the Nebula, and is nominated for another Nebula this year as well.
It’s a simple thing for me to say that you should keep writing. But I hope you do, for the sake of the stories, and the readers of the same, and yourself as well. For what it’s worth, I promise to buy the next book you publish. Good luck.
Thank you so much! I love Martha Wells’ work, and it’s been so nice to see her Murderbot series taking off. Sometimes the right things happen in this business.