Finding The Otherness: Or, Lies We Tell Ourselves

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It is my job to tell a story.

Sometimes, I think I am able to find that elusive otherness in the world that allows me to tell a story well. Writers call this otherness their Muse when they are being modest or cliched. Or, they might refer to themselves as The Vessel. As in, the vessel by which genius is dumped as if writing were a passive endeavor. In this, we take little responsibility.

Why would we? it isn’t us. It is the otherness – that cranky, passive aggressive deity by which art is created.

Sometimes, when I attempt to tell a story, I fail miserably. It isn’t always in the reactions of readers that I feel the failure. I usually know well before I get to the point of sharing if something isn’t working. But, the worst is when I don’t notice and I send it out and it screams from the sky like Icarus.

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“Dummy,” that otherness whispers. “That is what you get for flying too close to the…”

But, you know what? Screw you, buddy. Because, I sat at my desk and I wrote for hours and you never showed. I wrote and revised. I edited. I let the music play – I made playlists to honor you. I tempted you with coffee, with wine. On one really memorable occasion, I took four beers into the woods alone and I sat on a fallen log and I didn’t come back to the house until all the beer was gone. I let the story sit there, out in the open, hoping you might see it and come do whatever it is that you do to make it lovely.

Do you spit on it?

Do you rub up against it seductively?

Do you run your hand down my hair like a mother?

How many times have you walked into the room and I was just, like, watching the Real Housewives? Did you stamp your feet to get my attention? Were your arms crossed over your chest, scowl on your face while you yelled at me to get back to work?

I don’t think so. Because, I was at my desk, working and you weren’t there.

So, maybe…wait.

Maybe the otherness doesn’t exist. Maybe, it never did.

Wouldn’t that be a relief? I don’t like the idea of some mythical being running its hand down my hair. I mean, what if its hand is really a hoof or crab claw? It might be slimy, I don’t know. Where would this deity even live? Obviously, there is a commute because I’m here pretty early in the morning and I haven’t seen that bitch once today.

Maybe the otherness is really just the story. Sitting there, this whole time, helpless. My job is to tell you a story. No one assigned this task to me: I wanted it. So, my job is to take a phrase or a word, a plot, a character – some little germ of a thing and make it more. To add layers and themes. To revise and cut out cancers. To put sweaters on my people to keep them from getting cold. Give those characters meaning and jobs and tie them down to a world the reader knows. To tear that world apart so that the reader can feel that, too.

To stop lying to myself about how difficult my job is. To stop complaining about all this hard work I’m doing only to be ignored by an otherness that never existed. To stop procrastinating with all the little rituals I use to build my Vessel.

And, the real muse? That is the moment the story first takes breath and cries out. Because, once it does, other words or phrases or characters catch wind of it. And, they want to be stories, too.

But, I’m sitting here, looking out my window into the forest and I’m searching for a woman in a white toga to come and bless me. I want to be a Vessel for something more than myself so I don’t have to accept the responsibility of my own work. I don’t want to believe that the muse is really just electricity pulsing through my brain.

No more mysterious or elusive than the electrical outlet I plug my laptop into when the battery gets low.

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