Friday, March 7, 2014

Two Years (Anniversary Post and Poem)

That's how long it's been since I moved Shaping Clay to this domain and transferred my handful of old posts from my (now defunct) personal site to a "real" blog. Today marks 731 days since that move.

The move didn't just mark the beginning of my attempts to write blog posts with serious regularity, either. It also marked the beginning of my attempts to be a novelist in earnest. During the years leading up to the beginning of Shaping Clay, I started and dropped about ten novels. Some of them had some good scenes. Some might still get written. Probably not, but they might.

These trunk novels were very necessary to my growth as a writer, and they lie beneath the surface of everything I do like substrate or drowned bodies under driftwood. They might never gain an audience, but they are still part of the ecosystem that is my creative process. I'm happy to have done them.

March seventh is when they ended, though. March seventh is the birthdate of my sitting down with four loosely related short stories and saying to myself: "Really, if I can just write five more like this, with this average length, then that's a book."

If you've been wondering what kind of magic it took for me to stop writing trunk novels and start writing work that holds together across 200 pages, that readers unilaterally appreciate (even if it makes them uncomfortable), that finally lives up to "final draft quality", then that's it. I had four short stories. I was less than a year from my thirty-first birthday, and I decided that I was going to take the plunge and put a novel out before I got any older than thirty.

Sometimes, the real trick to professionalization isn't building skill or talent, it's building the conviction that a project is worth finishing.

Since I started working in earnest on writing Nothing is Right as a novel, I've posted over 100 essays, poems, and chapters from other works here on Shaping Clay. I've finished two more novels. I've traveled to speak to people who have read my book, and I've met many, many more Autistic adults than I even knew existed when I started this.

I've also grown and changed a lot. This blog, at its inception, was a platform for me to talk about myself. I'd never truly done that out in public before, and I pushed myself to do it as part of my writing because I knew that unless I worked on that skill, I would not be able to promote my own work adequately once my book was done. Since the book I was working on was about a lack of access and help when I was a child, I wrote about what I had felt as a child. After the book was done, and once I started meeting more people like myself, the conversation grew.

Now, I am active enough within my community that I no longer need this platform to talk about myself. It's something I've become quite comfortable doing, and I don't think that I need to labor for weeks to make a single long-winded point about what it was like to grow up in my skin. I'll still probably do it from time to time, because there are more reasons to talk about the past than just the urge to talk about oneself, but as I move forward with Defiant, I find myself far more interested in talking about Clay. About how he is situated within a larger culture that places certain expectations on him. About his... unwillingness? Inability?...

...Inherent goodness?...

...rendering him unable to meet those expectations.

I want to talk about culture. I want to show you more art.

I want to revisit the world of Clay's childhood, but this time, I'm not doing it to rail against the institutions that failed to help him, but to use him as a way into institutions that fail everyone.

I am putting all of this out there because I'm starting work on Imaginary Friends in earnest today. The new book will cover the year of Clay's catechism and first communion, but it won't stop there. Outside of the obligatory clashes with an authoritarian (yet volunteer) local church hierarchy and the quiet, nearly invisible bullying that happens moment to moment within its programs, Imaginary Friends will also explore larger themes surrounding denial, delusion, and the lies that we tell ourselves when we're seeking comfort.

The book itself opens on a Clay Dillon who is not much older than he was in Nothing is Right. He's just finished his promise to his mother that he will read the Bible, and now that he has done it, he feels that he has the right to read whatever else he wants, because that was the deal they made at the end of the last book, right?

Wrong.

His mother doesn't even attempt to reason with him or to justify breaking her promise. She just makes him read C.S. Lewis instead.

As a result, Clay is left alienated from the worlds that make the most sense to him. He tries to find his imaginary castle again, only to reach within himself and pull out handfuls of memories he can't live inside any more.

Lucky for him, he does at least have Patrick.  Aaron is still there too, but it's Patrick who truly understands what Clay is looking for, and it's Patrick who has a parent who nourishes that appetite. Yet, when Clay is with Patrick, he can't help feeling like the other boy would barely notice if he left.

This is what makes Clay decide to try to mimic his favorite comic, Calvin and Hobbes. As he's about to find out though, you can't just decide to have an imaginary friend. He won't be real if you force it. You need a scaffolding, a structure that allows you to believe in something you know full well isn't there, otherwise your brain will revolt against your attempt to live as if the lies you tell yourself are real.

It's only after this realization that Clay finds himself pushed into catechism, and it is the juxtaposition of his failure to create a new illusion for himself and his encounter with a mass cultural tradition of it that sets the stage for his next journey.

That's all you get to know for now. I think I might be putting this one out as a web serial again, but I'm not sure. Four months ago, I intended to do it for sure, but now I am thinking that I might need to wait and to write this fully as a novel. We'll see what happens in May, though. By then I will have a large enough chunk of text to make my decision.

In the meantime, watch this space. I'm not necessarily done with essays, but I will be making more art, and I think that from here on out, my essays will be more concerned with that than with the explicit ins and outs of my activism.

That's not to say that the two won't intersect, from time to time. It's just to say that right here and right now, I am far more interested in the larger culture that creates the situation I'm in than I am in talking about my situation. I'm finding that talking about the problems I see is literal or rhetorical terms is simply exhausting, though.

Instead, I will make things that show you.

Anniversary Poem On Culture

Your words make spells
that dispel
the hell
that is other people's dreams,
it must have taken a powerful lineage
to give birth to a creature
that speaks such words of power.

Onlookers might know,
but never usurp
your vitriolic,
hyperbolic nonsense,
but the world conspires
to keep force
firmly in hands like yours.

My way is not logic,
but to unlock
the tragic truth
that you are a ridiculous fool,
and that the sounds you make
to scare us
are animal warnings
without sacrament.

I paint your ridiculousness
in red and yellow objects that
grant the listener a concrete
memory of color,
spin circles of 
echolalaic fascination 
that turn syllables 
into notes 
not sources of historical meaning

and find you
in a corner, 
keening, 
unable to see 
the seeming beauty 
of a hundred hallowed examples of
humanity dreaming,
seeing in each other 
a cooperative cure 
to your desire.

Run far, and hide
deep in holes 
where dead things 
you buried 
have basted in earth smells;
we can smell them too.
What you don't realize
is that this isn't new, 
death has always smelled like you.

The magic words
are mine now, 
and their enchantments 
have snapped 
loose 
under the weight of my
identification. 
I'm coming,
and I am not alone. 
My people are coming too.