The Bizarre Life of Fiction

I have a rather unusual personality – so I am told, continually. A close colleague of mine says it’s all about context. Drop me into most standardized social settings and I stand out quite a bit or quietly observe from a dark corner. Standard social situations do not readily accommodate intense personalities. Put me in a restrictive one, like a corporate office, and I’m really out of place – I’m not a team player, by any stretch. Unleash me in an open, continually out-of-the-box environment with piles of legos and unrestricted freedom to go all Montessori on my surroundings (think TED rather than Walmart), and I tend to thrive and deliver keen insights and a lot of value. This is why I’m a decent entrepreneur and suck at being a cubicle jockey.

asher-black-looking-at-youFor all those friends and family members who ever wanted to know – why is Asher like this (and believe me they do ask) – I’m going, at last, to spell it out for you, courtesy of Chuck Wendig, and a few other people I admire:

Story telling is a shamanistic art, and shamanistic personalities are unusual – even bizarre – often otherworldly, deeply emotional, and tend to operate below the surface – in the layers of perception underlying superficiality. This is exactly how those who get close to me describe it – it’s not even my own words. Wendig says that being vocationally designed to create fiction, as some of us are (some say ‘naturally born’ or ‘destined’ to do this) virtually demands an emotionally intense if not extreme personality. Fiction creators – not all, but quite a lot of us – necessarily:

  • tend to be loners much of the time – who withdraw to think and create (writing is a solitary discipline) – we can be social too, but only in doses – solitude is essential, which is the catch for those of us who try to avoid being alone – we can be awkwardly torn between the two.
  • tend to be nerdy, because fiction creators are generalists who must absorb all kinds of diverse information – we flesh out whole worlds and tell stories involving wide-ranging experiences in lots of contexts – likewise, we tend to accumulate lots of diverse experiences, which is how we can manage to write these things – we can often talk at length about off-the-wall topics like how fingernails grow or the mating habits of a rare species of insect.
  • tend to be plagued by ideas – are sometimes out and out driven by them – often rushing off to think, ponder, or write things down, or needing to talk them out or e-mail friends about random or off the cuff topics.
  • tend to be fastidious about *storing* information and ideas – we can be quite protective of our files, data, computers, whatever – we have to be, because we’re building things that take time, devotion, and hard work – a workman takes pains to keep care of his tools – don’t touch our piles (even if they’re in the cloud) – we store our emotions in those piles, and a good deal of our identities.
  • tend toward narcissism (being a penmonkey puts one in the egotistical position of taking one’s own words seriously enough to put them in front of everyone) – we tend to be performance divas – you’ll find us expressing the narrative of our lives and various events in sometimes epic terms. If we are each the star of our own drama – the fiction creator is what happens if Simon Cowell went dancing with the stars.
  • tend to be especially gifted liars (story tellers are confabulists – the simplest description of what we do is make up things) – we continually dream and treat the dreams as real – we continually speculate about things that don’t yet exist and we create them, often on the fly, during conversation – it should be no wonder that we have deeply imaginative personalities, bordering on Walter Mitty – we can be excellent con men, because that’s our job – to perform the magic trick of conning an audience into suspending belief by presenting something that feels like reality but isn’t – we may use our powers mostly for good, but we can usually concoct a convincing story or explanation for anything on the spot. which lends itself to a bit of social engineering if we’re of a mind to be mischievous. If we’re particularly good, we can even convince ourselves, and then the confabulism is virtually indetectable and serves as truth ever after – we can create our reality, in that way.
  • have a penchant for control (we must build whole worlds after all, or at least write the scripts for a myriad of interwoven lives/lies, seeing and managing all the parts) – like DMs / GMs in the gaming world who not only dictate natural laws and the conditions for events but manage a slew of non-player character personas so players (like readers) can operate in a fully functioning environment that feels real – control is the sine qua non of the creator of fiction – for this same reason, we tend to be a virtual Kentucky Fried basket of multiple personas and excellent at multi-tasking.
  • tend toward the morbid, diabolical, or conspiratorial – we have to specialize in creative ways to inflict horrible things on people (albeit fictional ones), or at least sad, heartbreaking, or sometimes morbid things – because all plots require frustration and conflict – *all* – or else the story isn’t a story (“and they achieved all they wanted, and everything went as planned” is not a story) – therefore we can have a rather pessimistic (frustration-aware) and cynical (conflict-based) outlook on life.
  • tend toward sadness or at least have a penchant for the bittersweet – the quintessential plot involves a heavy dose of sadness – that is the distinct possibility and sometimes reality of characters’ downfall – Wendig says, ”One might wonder if sadness is the secret impulsion that fuels good narrative conflict. Nothing is more powerful to us than grief and loss — we then look to the storyteller to answer a fundamental question of, can we overcome it, or will it overcome us?” This is actually our job. As I render it in Asher’s 334th MaximThere’s a method to my sadness.There’s another diva / performer / narcissist example: you can spot us when we quote ourselves.
  • tend toward mania or manic bouts of excess – sometimes including excess consumption – some fiction creators get by on relatively zen use of tea, incense and candles (the lucky ones) – while others require periodic copious amounts of coffee, alcohol, or pipe tobacco – or even sex – it’s often directly tied to insomnia and inconsistency – creativity sessions can be fixed and disciplined at times – at others, we’ll stay up for 3 days in a hotel room belting out draft after draft. If Fox Mulder were not an obsessed FBI agent trailing UFOs and conspiracy, he’d have to be an author – or an assassin, international con man, serial killer, or something equally intense, dogged, and obsessed. Obsession is really the only way to get this stuff done – hence the popularity of NANOWRIMO (National Novel Writing Month) in which participants shell out 50K words in 30 days.

It would be easy to say a self-congratulatory “don’t judge me – I’m a writer” (I’m not a writer – writer’s talk about writing – I either do it or I don’t. I am a storyteller – that’s something I do continually, in almost every venue in some form or another – just ask anyone who has spent an hour in discussion with me). I’m not asking not to be judged. Go ahead, draw your own conclusions. What I will say is that I don’t apologize for this stuff, and never have. It’s like asking a lion to make a good pet – we’re just not cut out for it. We’re built to do other things quite well, though. I have an ad running to babysit sheep for very low rates. Lions (or particular kinds of artists) require special care and feeding and a heavy dose of awareness of what we’re about.

Put a lion in a cage (the traditional environment of bookless, artless malaise) – force us to just go through the motions of an ‘ordinary’ life, and we tend to get depressed looking out through the bars. Fiction creators are extraordinary beasts – we have to make a lifelong observation of all the other phyla of personalities, but can never really settle into being one of them. We prefer the company of other creators, when we run in a pride at all. Some of us are rogues who roam about, prowling through the cities of men, looking for a”kill” – an inspiration or the next topic for our work. In short, expect strangeness, if you think it strange, but don’t expect us to be banal.

So there’s your answer “mom”, “dad”, and others. If comedians were the ones who cracked jokes in class all the time and couldn’t sit still, some of us are the ones who were just plain weirder than that. And the weird has become our raison d’etre. It’s one of the reasons I like magic realism, as a genre – it gets closest to the variance I experience between my own life and other peoples’ expectations. On the other hand, this could all just be a story, and a cover for my exotic other life.  Check out Confessions of a Dangerous Mind – one of the best confabulizing pieces of fabulism on film, ever. Watch it back to back with A Beautiful Mind, and now you’re onto something.

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