Finding Yourself Somewhere Else

Word tracker installed.  Normally, I take Saturdays off and write my short story of the week on Sundays.  This Sunday…I’m on to something, but I don’t have a clue what the end is.  I dreamed about it all last night and didn’t come to any real conclusions.  So 3100-ish words done yesterday.

Terry Pratchett has some pretty great quips on the reasons that people try to find themselves somewhere else.  In The Thief of Time, he talks a lot about the History Monks.  One of the wisest of the monks is a humble sweeper named Lu-Tze who follows not the Way of the History Monks, but the Way of Mrs. Cosmopolite of Ankh-Morpork, the fictional equivalent of London (or “Big-Ass Cities in General,” really).

She says things like, “It never rains but it pours,” and “Because,” and “Do unto otters as you would have them do unto you.”  (Yes, otters.)

I’ve had that in the back of my head since I read it.  Even the wisest of all monks from a tradition holding a lot of wisdom (they can change time, after all) went somewhere else to find himself.  Why is that?

Okay.  I have a theory.  You can’t judge something while you’re a part of it.

I first noticed this when I moved to Iowa.  I could, after six months or so, start to conceive of stories set in South Dakota, which I had just left.  I didn’t write any.  But I started to be able to think about them.

And then after I moved to Colorado, I could, again after a waiting period, start to conceive of stories set in Iowa.

I suppose I could force myself to write a Colorado-based story, but it would have to be about some period of my stays here that I’ve finished.  Before I had a kid.  Living in one of the rental places.  Working at a previous job.  But writing about what it means to me to live in Colorado, what Colorado, as a place aside from all other possible places, is like–I’m not ready for it yet.

So if it’s hard to really get a grasp of where you are until you leave (how can you explain to an outsider what it’s like…until you’ve been outside?), logically, it should be really hard to judge yourself when you’re part of the landscape.

What parts of you are you, individually, and what parts of you are the way you were raised or your reaction to people you’ve known your whole life?  Hard to tell, when you’re still in the same place.

I think this is something that’s so deeply buried in the human psyche that it provides a template for all our stories:  someone who is not wise must go on a journey in order to accomplish a goal, gaining wisdom in the process.  Human beings, on the whole, are programmed on some deep level to leave home and set out on their own.  It’s probably a good thing, species-wise, allowing for exposure to a) new ideas and b) new genetic material.

When I wrote this last story, “Monsoon,” I started out thinking of it as a brief diary about a woman who’s in India (based on Julie Andrijeski’s amazing blogs from there) trying to find herself.  Then, to amuse myself and give the character some way to support herself, I made her a translator of pulp fiction for a second-rate Tibetan publisher, because she could be doing it on the road, and it would let me set up some funny lines.  Cheap reasons.  Then she said something that caught my attention:  she had used to be a writer, but abandoned it due to some of the stupid crap she ran into, at grad school.

Now, I’ve never been to grad school.  After I graduated from college with an English degree and moved to Iowa City, however, one of the things that crossed my mind was attending the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  In the end, I moved before I got really serious about it, and by then I was sick of reading the kind of stuff that the writers there were producing.

If you weren’t writing serious fiction about foreign people, nevermind.  I think Jane Smiley was the big exception, with A Thousand Acres, but that had come out while I was still in college, and I was sick of that kind of thing, too, after four years of reading literature.  They bragged about having Kurt Vonnegut as an instructor but looked at you funny if you wrote SF or genre fiction in general.  Joe Haldeman was probably the big exception as a graduate.

Just being around that took me a long time to get over.  I wasn’t writing what the most famous writer’s program in the country was saying was good writing.  –It was important because I was talking to other writers and instructors there, listening to their opinions.

It wasn’t until I left for Colorado (and started hanging around with gaming folk who happened to be writers, rather than Serious Writers), that I started to get back into writing.  Sure, I’d been going through the motions, but I don’t have memories of a single thing that I wrote in Iowa City.  Stuff that I wrote in college.  Stuff that I wrote afterwards.  But Iowa City?  Maybe some poems, but I suspect those were before I left college in South Dakota.

I had no way to judge them, even to say, “It’s not for me, eh?”

…And that ended up in “Monsoon,” too.  There are all kinds of things you need to be able to find, and going somewhere else is a good way to do it.

 

 

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