Over Flow

Although it’s not an especially rigorous representation, I find it helpful to describe hypnosis as a flow state. Most folk will nod along at that explanation, and the pleasurable recollection of being in the zone comes with plenty of positive associations a hypnotist can capitalize on. Because suggestibility hinges on the desire and intentions of the hypnotee, an invitation to enter into a flow state of one’s own volition is terribly enticing.

I also like to think of work in terms of rhythms and patterns, which is why I’m a little off this morning. For the past couple of weeks I’ve been chipping away at a writing project I took on to transition out of novel writing, knowing full well that I’d turn back to writing short stories and poems before long. Each morning I’d tuck in to the project, an eight-part sequence, with a rough count of 1000-1500 words in mind. I’d be pleasantly absorbed in an individual entry for an hour or two, drafting uncritically before subjecting whatever I produced to a rough-and-ready edit, and then I’d set it aside. Yesterday I polished off the last draft of the sequence, however, so today I’m in The Lurch. I need to identify the next project and devise the right rhythm for it, then fit it into the big-picture pattern of my work-day, -week, and -month.

The challenge of doing so, I think, is one of the byproducts of These Uncertain Times that we might not be paying enough attention to. While it’s decidedly not the whole of it, I think it’s one of the reasons that the shifting landscape of COVID-19 is so unsettling and disruptive to so many folks. Our plans–especially our longer-term plans–become more fragile, more contingent and it’s hard to establish larger daily or weekly patterns that make flow at the level of minutes or hours possible. Even a normal day like today will involve for me an unwelcome expenditure of mental energy that will keep me from being pleasantly generative. I’d normally be writing right now, but because I have errands on tap my brainspace is churning with pragmatics. In the past few minutes I had to settle the question of shaving (as a smidge of stubble helps to hold my masks in place), the order of operations (which will likely involve going to two stores on the opposite side of town as soon as they open to limit my exposure to humanoids), and the impact on the remainder of my day (which will now involve submissions rather than the drafting of something new). It all seems small, almost trivial, but even a bit of modest jostling early on can keep me from settling into the right frame of mind to get work done over the course of the day. And arrangements I make today will affect the rest of the week in small but substantive ways.

To me it often feels like the difference between Living With and Living Around someone or something. One involves a kind of simple acceptance and welcome, a concession to the way things have become (which is, incidentally, 1000% different from ugly variations on fatalistic “It is what it is” thinking), while the other involves active accommodation, like tiptoeing around a crime scene in a desert, trying to retrace our own footsteps in shifting sands, reluctant to touch anything. The former can take some getting used to, but once we’re done we can add it to the pattern; the latter requires mindfulness each time, and that can be exhausting.

For that reason it’s not a bad idea to be sensibly gentle with ourselves these days, gentle as far as we are able. And to enjoy those moments of flow when they come, even if we can’t easily fit them into the larger rhythms and patterns of our days and ways.

Desserts

(Kerry Noonan as Paula, center, from Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives)

If you’re like me–and my apologies if you are–you’ll remember where you were when Paula died.

I came late to Friday the 13th as a franchise, but even as a whelp I understood a few basic truths about the context of Camp Crystal Lake. Foremost among them was the catalyst offered to the viewer in the very beginning, way back when Mrs. Voorhees was our antagonist: negligent counseling will not be tolerated. That premise gets folded in to a wide variety of transgressions, sex and drug use foremost among them, but we are asked again and again to remember that wee Jason Voorhees died because those entrusted with his welfare were not paying attention.

It’s perhaps for that reason that Part VI felt like such a strange departure–though of course the fact that Jason had been reanimated Frankenstyle might have at least a little to do with it. For at this iteration of the camp we actually had perhaps the most responsible counselor the place would ever see: Paula, pictured above. And what becomes of her? She is murdered, and while most of the murdering occurs offscreen (save for a moment when her mostly- or wholly-dead self is chucked through a window and hauled back in), the aftermath suggests that Jason went a little wild with the killing, even for him. Most of the other deaths in the film are forthright affairs–efficient stabbings, skewerings, beheadings–but I remember seeing the entire interior of Paula’s cabin painted with her blood and wondering what was up. What made Jason single her out for the bonus round? The answer, I believe, is a bucket of nothing: it simply makes for a more spectacular reveal than just another dead body in a film that would see a dozen.

Murder–and I hope it goes without saying–is not a top-shelf problem-solving strategy. But in horror it often gets doled out in ethical proportion: those who deserve the worst fates typically get them, often in an ironic way that lays bare their awfulness. Part VI, however, seems to set aside that ethos, indulging in murder without much reference to that artificial–and I would say artful–standard. A little while after Paula is killed a kindly police officer dies right after trying to comfort an actual camper. So it seems pretty clear that we’re moving toward a new ethos, one that’s meant to offer the audience a different kind of satisfaction. And I’m not sure I’ll ever find it satisfying.

I still watch horror movies when I can (my partner isn’t a fan, so I sneak them in when she’s otherwise engaged), but I find that more and more films lean on a more elusive ethical vision of death that, while perhaps more realistic, seems far less poignant and meaningful. And there are some I find downright nihilistic; those I simply won’t watch. As a viewer I still need something of an ethical vision, even if it’s not a positive or redemptive one. If the point is that people die because people die–and if the writer and director seem to reserve especially cruel punishment for those who try to be good, or caring, or helpful–then I feel I might have better served by a book or a movie with something more substantive to say.

The Only Way Round

Like most humans/humanoids, I go through fertile and fallow periods. For long stretches my head is intensely generative and creative, snatching up stuff from the aether and turning it into something substantive. Like most humans/humanoids, I’ve also found it challenging to navigate These Uncertain Times™. Some days I’m grateful for the distraction of a pending obligation or project, but on others I struggle to muster the requisite energy to get even a little bit accomplished. Because I’m a high-functioning weirdo, however, I often have enough oomph to wake up and get what needs doing done.

One consequence of These Uncertain Times™, however, has caught me by surprise: for the past three months or so I haven’t really daydreamed, haven’t really fantasized, haven’t really flexed any imaginative muscles in a conscious, purposeful way. I should probably qualify that a bit for clarity: I’ve planned and schemed and executed a few designs, but not much is happening on the ideational front. When I stare at the proverbial stucco, not much is going on. Nothing new intrudes and asks for my attention.

That might seem like a strange claim to make, but it’s one I’m confronting today. In sifting through my Big Folder of Percolating Projects I realized the latest new entry is dated September 24th. I spent much of the time between then and now chipping away at the novel, of course, but in the early part of the writing process my mind was routinely coming up with oddities that got stuck in my cognitive craw and that I jotted down for later use. These days, that’s not often true. It might be that I don’t see much on the horizon to look forward to in the near term, and it might be that my brain has exhausted most of its usual objects. Without a little challenge, change, or provocation, even the spiciest fodder can seem a little stale.

Because this is a writerly blog, however, I think it’s worthwhile to squint hard enough at those clouds to spot the silver lining: The Big Folder of Percolating Projects is a real thing, and at present I’ve got about sixteen fresh-ish ideas to work with and build on. I’ve got older notions foldered away here and there to tide me over as well, enough to ride out several months in the bunker. As a takeaway life lesson, then, my avuncular advice is to keep on hoarding and storing–to sock away plenty of stuff to work on when the Idea Fairies aren’t visiting quite as often as you like. The writing life involves more than a little patience as we see things through from start to finish, and if we find a few stray seeds when we’re tending to the old growth, it’s not a bad idea to pot them up, stow them in the hothouse, and see what’s sprouted when better weather comes around.