Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Possibility and Impossibility

So I've snuck Soft Places just under the wire for Open Door Month at Angry Robot Books. I had a month to perfect it but, true to form, I just put it off instead until there was no other choice.

The thing I've come to understand about my tendency to procrastinate such things is that in a weird sort of way the part of me that puts things off is trying to protect me from the disappointment of failure. The imaginary victory of contemplating what you could have done can be pleasurable in its way, while the pain of genuine defeat is not one that anybody I know rushes to embrace.

I came across a rather odd insight that has changed my perspective on a lot of things--what I can imagine will inevitably surpass what reality can provide. This seems a bit obvious when attempting to become a writer of fiction, particularly fantasy-type fiction but it hit me that this doesn't just apply to stories but also to the imaginary conversations I have with people I'm on my way to meet, the well-spun plans for What I Will Do When The Novel Sells and, honestly, any such vision in my head of things that have not yet come to be.

Motivational hucksters spout pithy statements like "If you can imagine it, you can achieve it!" Devotees of the so-called Law of Attraction picture their dream mansions in Beverly Hills, cut out pictures of their perfect homes, focus on visualizing and feeling it into being and wonder what's wrong with them when it hasn't shown up yet. Even if we haven't fallen into that particular mental trap, it's not uncommon to still have blueprints in our heads for dream homes and dream jobs and feel that our lives are somehow lacking because we didn't grow up to become the rock star we'd hoped to be when we were ten.

But here's the thing--my imagination is broad and wide enough to encompass things that are physically impossible. I can visualize a mansion of pure crystal suspended on a cloud over a waterfall of molten gold. I can picture a teahouse where the tea is poured by a waiter in a red brocade jacket with the head of a black lynx. I can walk through a desert in my head where the sand is green and the dunes punctuated by jagged blood-red stones. From childhood onward, I've always had a tactile, visual and absurdly extreme imagination. (This is one of the reasons I write in the first place, I suppose. So the impossible things in my head have a place to live outside of my skull and can even be transmitted, however imperfectly, to other people's imaginations.)

In the same way, every possibility I could have in this life for fame and fortune will always fall short of what my mind can conjure up. Should I blame my imagination for being too large? The world for being too small? Or should I blame the strange expectation that the latter can somehow be made to live up to the former and that my life isn't complete until and unless it does? If there's nothing wrong with me because I don't have that crystal mansion, why should I feel there's something wrong with me for not having a stack of bestselling novels by now? While a bestselling novel is indeed physically possible, my dreams of what could happen are still going to skip a few steps ahead of what reality can provide at every point in the process.

I don't think the solution is to rein in the possibilities in my head. I think instead I choose to let them gallop as far ahead of me as they are inclined, note the tracks left behind and focus on where I am and what the next step is along that path. I may never catch up all the way, but I'll certainly be farther ahead than if I'd just stood still.