The other night at dinner, my wife and I were talking about doomsday prepping, and I joked that, if caught unprepared and possibly alone, my end of the world plan would be to go befriend the nearest preppers, go full Scheherazade, and become the group storyteller. They can’t just steal my supplies, they can’t really have me teach them my One Useful Skill and then kill me; I can’t be replaced by technology. I need to be alive and coherent, and the apocalypse is actually rather boring. And I have an endless well of material. Gonna go have a minor psychotic break. Be right back with new plotlines.
Really, I think that is my grand backup plan in a lot of ways. No matter what happens in the real world, I have that endless well in my head to retreat to. I spent a decent amount of the height of quarantine staring into space while off in those worlds (and then books got published about them—after I went back on meds). Nothing can destroy that. Too much Seroquel can definitely diminish the extent to which it can replace reality, turn dissociative and maladaptive into creative and publishable, but a decent portion is just the writer in me, not psychosis.
And let’s be real, where am I getting all this Seroquel after doomsday?
A few days later, I was scrolling the app store. I’m a digital minimalist (and a minimalist, period), but I was pondering what to use the iPad I perpetually struggle to use or get rid of for, and I got it set up again. Then, I ended up browsing the app store after downloading my small handful of go tos, seeing what was new for iPads. I was reminded of Minecraft (which I played briefly in 2016 or so) and The Sims 4 (I was big into The Sims 2 and 3 as a kid; I downloaded The Sims 4 on sale several months back, but other than playing around with making a few characters and checking out changes, didn’t do much and uninstalled it before it became a distraction). I’m trying to remain a minimalist but be a little less neurotic, and considered giving one game or the other or both another go in my downtime.
And I might. But at that moment, I remembered the limitations of the games I’d been not so much frustrated by, but bored with. By nature of being an app, there are limitations. It is an incredible amount of work if not impossible to recreate the detail of settings or characters in my head pixel by pixel, not to mention limited choices of actions, little real dialogue, and how many things are narration or feelings or inner monologue. It also lacks the touch, taste, smell, other sensory elements that I experience off in my head. Sometimes the limitations are a good creative challenge, a way to have to mix things up a little, get out of exactly the script I’m thinking of to see what might happen if something I’d taken for granted had to be tweaked. At other times, all I can think is: why would I use an app for something I can do better with my eyes closed?
As a kid, I liked The Sims, as mentioned. I usually filled in the rest of the details in my head, though, going for simple in the game. I also didn’t recreate my writing as much as you’d expect, choosing new characters, settings, and plotlines to play out that were better suited to the game’s strengths and weaknesses.
I looked back at my notebook. I thought of drawing, or writing. I can’t really draw much—I’ve spent time each day this year trying to learn, but it’s slow learning, and slow to create, for me. I do believe that anyone can learn to draw if they really set their mind to it, but I just don’t have the passion for it to do so, and I do have some serious spatial reasoning issues. And I still ultimately get stills that are limited by the tools I’m using.
Writing, of course, my true creative love, is my medium of choice. But I thought more, and, really, that has its limits, too. It’s just the set of limits I’m most okay with. That I must use words to describe everything—I don’t have visuals or audio, powers of scent or taste or touch. That I only speak English fluently, that there isn’t a word for every incredibly specific thing, no matter what those fascinating words lists might have you think. I push at the limits of punctuation and grammar and word usage. There’s the fact that, in my head, my characters have specific voices, and I’m not going to redescribe—or manage to describe—exactly what they sound like every time they speak, nor exactly what they look like or are wearing, or that their skin is exactly this level of dry, or that they use exactly this imagined fruity scent of bath products, or that their favorite shirt has that soft texture of having gone through the wash a thousand times.
There are also a lot of things that happen in my head that I can’t describe because it doesn’t actually work that way—my daydreams work more like dreams at times, not to mention being slightly beyond my control, and might not make sense according to laws of physics or reason. What shirt they’re wearing might flip flop in my mental vision based on the tone of the scene, but it’s unrealistic that they’re running in and out of the room to change their shirt based on the tone of conversation. A sequence might be perfect in my head, but when I try to write it out, I realize it might require someone to have their hands in three places at once, whether it’s combat or erotica.
And I can’t capture everything perfectly every time, so I need to figure out what is important, what is good enough, this time. A literal bomb could be going off in the story, but the important detail might be that a character’s eyes flicked to the site of the explosion right before it happened, an implication that they knew it was coming. I need to pick that out from the mental vision, not a description of the explosion. It might be worthwhile to give an idea of a character’s general fashion sense or even what they’re wearing in a particular scene, but not to mention every time they change their socks, unless that’s something that really says something about them, because they’re always changing their socks, or they never change their socks, or they have a very distinct taste in socks. Even writing a novel still feels like creating an outline, in a way.
But, I find it a worthy challenge.
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