Now seems like a good enough time to share some of the vaguest details with people. First, I have no delusions about becoming popular off my work. Even if it were otherwise successful, my social anxiety will sabotage that. So, my anxieties about someone stealing the idea are somewhat less than in the past. Second, as you will understand more when I share the details, I am kind of over everything and this is what I have left.
You know the story, but people can’t get enough of them, like little children. Because, well, they connect the stories to themselves, I suppose, and we all love hearing about ourselves, so long as the people in the stories are us, but not us. Not us in the end, especially.Jonjo O’Neill as The Englishman in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018), segment “The Mortal Remains”
My taste in books has typically been classic literature – the stories that seem to hold up over time. Within these, my favourites possess a distinctly autobiographical quality: Little Women, Pride & Prejudice. Something about the fact that the protagonist is the author but not the author seems to open a particular door, perhaps in a pretentious way, where I feel more connected to the piece. Sorry to bombard you with quotes so early, but this one also comes to mind:
Utter nonsense. If you hear a marching band, is your soul exalted? No, you march. If you hear a waltz, you dance. If you hear a mass, you take communion. It is the power of music to carry one directly into the mental state of the composer. The listener has no choice. It is like hypnotism. So, now… What was in my mind when I wrote this? Hmm? A man is trying to reach his lover. His carriage has broken down in the rain. The wheels stuck in the mud. She will only wait so long. This… is the sound of his agitation. “This is how it is…,” the music is saying. “Not how you are used to being. Not how you are used to thinking. But like this.”Gary Oldman as Ludwig van Beethoven in Immortal Beloved (1994)
On the one hand it feels emotionally manipulative to put a facade of fiction over real events and call it art, but on the other hand it means that the inherent imperfection of the work better captures the human condition. Talented writers may be able to accomplish this in a short time with completely fictional characters, but I find having a tenuous connection with reality at key points elevates my writing (those familiar with me know my penchant for analogy and metaphor).
In a similar sense that Jo March is Louisa May Alcott and Elizabeth Bennet is Jane Austen, my protagonist does share many biographical similarities with me without being a true avatar. I see this as an extension of the old axiom, “Write what you know.” My personal opinion is that a writer should guard against bias as much as possible to save the work from becoming propaganda for its theme, but if a writer divorces themselves too much from the writing, then it becomes cold and clinical. The goal, I think, is an acceptable amount of bias in the right places that the reader acknowledges as imperfect and relatable.
The heart of the concept is a “happy place” – or, more clinically, a paracosm. As a socially anxious introvert with an active mind, all of the media I consumed from an early age went into my head and became new stories that grew through the years into its own imaginary world. It’s a place where I would retreat to calm myself, populated with whatever and whomever I wished. It began as something highly adaptable but took a more concrete form as I grew older, developing rules and an internal logic that limited what even I could or could not do.
One of the prominent features was my “estate.” Imagine a more colonial, ski-lodge version of Fallingwater as a reference – the sort of home one might find in the Mid-Atlantic or New England, nearer to a major city but still isolated and very much engrossed with the nature surrounding it. There was only one other residence barely visible from there, that of an imagined neighbour who, like the March family, had several daughters who played in and around the house.
I have covered in other posts my Teddy obsession – among several other Little Women-inspired posts. Part of what appealed to me about Little Women, apart from Alcott’s general talent and a love for Jo, was how much I identified with Laurie’s character as sort of the lone boy in a girls’ world. It makes sense that the influence found its way into my paracosm in such a literal way. It represents a world within a world, one which I adore but in which I can never belong.
This is but one element. The other is the reality of my mental state. For all of my anxiety and OCPD, the paracosm is where I would retreat for some peace. Of course, that requires a degree of actual peace to achieve. Having other people interrupt, even with positive reasons, prevents the meditative benefits of my trips. Pair that with the general state of the world and things start to get dark.
While I try to conceal the catastrophising aspect of my mind, the truth is that it exists. Rising international tensions and heightened civil disagreements are the tip of a rapidly melting iceberg. Concern about the economy (specifically, the damage done by greedy capitalists) are also relatively pale next to concerns about civil rights for many, and even that feels moderate beside the existential concern I have about the environment.
Just as the paracosm formed in my mind through years of meditative imagination, the constant media barrage of existential threats began to pervade my fictional world. Even when I could find a few moments peace to imagine myself in my happy place, it became assailed by thoughts of real-world threats finding their way into the paracosm. The environment became a mess, the politics of the wider world became violent, and my neighbours began to express more and more concern about threats to their rights. The paracosm needed as much repair as the real world, though the former was entirely within my control.
The story that my mind has tried to tell for over a decade is one of a reluctant hero (with the question, “Even if I wanted to do something about any of this, what could I do?”) forced to confront the realities of his world. The framework remains consistent, but there are a lot of options within it. For one, there is a traditional hero’s journey with a good versus evil arc, but I find those boring and tedious. The most likely candidate seems to be that it’s a story about finding meaning and purpose in life, what with all of the existential and Existential elements that appear. I have encountered several false starts with that though. The idea of a character attempting to find reason only to have the cards massively reshuffled again and again feels like a winning strategy if I can just find the right avenue.