Art

The Word

ping198/Shutterstock.com

This post was originally published through Patreon on May 29, 2018

Once, I was a writer. Still am, though now I keep my work to myself. In my youth I wasn’t so reticent. I submitted my stories all over, even got some published in prestigious magazines. I was on my way up, ready to storm the gates of the literary world.

Then the words stopped flowing.

The channel through which their magic once surged slowed to a trickle, and a thousand nascent worlds inside my head withered and died. Oh, how I mourned their untimely loss. I sat for hours in silence, trying to pick apart the dam that held the words back. But it was no use. They were gone, and they were never coming back.

Then a miracle: a missive from the gods.

One word.

It burst to life inside my head in the middle of the night like an atomic bomb, waking me from a dreamless sleep.

One word.

It filled my vision like the blinding glare of the noonday sun. It was so beautiful. I had to capture it; I had to contain it for future study. So I sat down at my desk, something I hadn’t done since the magic died, and I prepared to write.

Nothing happened.

The word was so vibrant, so full of life, yet my pen wouldn’t move, couldn’t. There seemed no way to express it in writing. How to record such transcendent beauty, such otherworldly clarity?

This was no natural language, I soon realized, but something more, something beyond symbols and sounds. I kept my interior gaze fixed upon its wondrous contours, and in the course of my examination, I became aware of more: an undercurrent, a river of words just as elemental as the first, throbbing beneath the surface of the world like an artery.

Pumping, flowing.

This was true language. Not the names assigned to things by creatures incapable of understanding the world any other way, but true names, the purest essence of all that ever existed and all that ever would.

I had to examine this other language more closely, had to divine its innermost secrets. So I turned inward, focused on its constant flow, churning now, like a river, pulsing, spouting…

Too close, the current pulled me in.

Flying.

Flailing.

Struggling to hold my head above the water.

Power crackled all around me, and I knew in that moment that if I didn’t pull back, if I let it draw me in much further, I would burn before the searing heat of realities too profound for any mortal mind to comprehend.

Pushing against the flow, I forced my way upriver. But the words had hold of me now, and they didn’t want to let go. The current grew faster, stronger. After a time, I could feel the gravity of another world in the distance, tugging at me from the other side of time.

For a moment, I actually wanted to go, wanted to let the words sweep me away. This was a journey, I thought, that all of us must take sooner or later, a truth the river spoke to me as it charged through the cosmos. But it wasn’t my time. There was more left for me to do in my mortal life, and I couldn’t yet move on.

So I pushed. I pushed and pushed and pushed. All the while, those words sang to me, cajoled me, urged me to follow after them.

I will, I promised. In the fullness of time, I will.

It seemed they understood because, at last, they offered me a way out. A light appeared in the distance, pointing the way home, and all I had to do was trudge against the current and follow after it.

The light grew.

Grew.

It enveloped me, reached down to pull me out, placed me back once more in—

My room. Once more, I was in my room. I was at my desk, pen still in hand, my notebook stretched before me, ready to receive my vision.

Those words were gone now, along with the one that had first revealed itself to me. But I could still feel that otherworldly current beneath me, thrumming, rumbling. The dam inside my head exploded, and a flash flood of new words surged through an opened mind. Only ordinary words this time—human words—yet I embraced them as a long lost love.

I could have found unrivaled success with words like these. I could have made a lot of money, built a towering career as a celebrity author. But it seemed profane to put them to such use, and at any rate, I was no longer interested in making a name for myself. All I wanted was to study that living, thriving river, and to ponder the journey that I promised I would make in the fullness of time.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

The Voice

Image licensed by Shutterstock.

“You can’t do this,” whispered a malevolent voice in the dark, a sound Amanda hadn’t heard in years.

She gritted her teeth, dug in her heels and tried to stand her ground. But it was persuasive, and Amanda didn’t know if she was strong enough to defy it.

The voice had been with her from birth, a dry hollow rattle that only she could hear. Its jealous strains had always tempted her to doubt, but the successes of her youth had made her confident, perhaps overly so, and for decades, the voice was little more than a nuisance, a background static in a constellation of accomplishments and accolades.

She’d conjured whole worlds ex nihilo, populated an entire cosmos in the realm where reality and conscious thought were one. Still, the voice was persistent, pointing out the flaws, the imperfections in her work.

“That world over there,” it would say, “Look how it wobbles and tilts on its axis.”

And Amanda would see it as if for the first time and realize the voice was right.

“And that world over there,” the voice would continue, “Look at its bulbous, oblong shape. How can you call yourself a professional?”

And Amanda would look again and once more realize the voice was right.

On and on the voice argued, and no matter how long Amanda honed the finer details, no matter how long she strove to satisfy the exacting requirements of perfection, she always fell short, and the voice was always there to remind her.

Amanda’s final attempt had been almost ten years ago, a tiny desert world that had come to her in a dream. In her eyes, it was a possibility for redemption, an opportunity to reduce that awful voice to silence at last, and she labored for the better part of a year, drawing on every resource left at her disposal.

When at last she was finished, sweaty and short of breath, the voice offered a terse appraisal.

“A good idea that suffers from a lackluster implementation.”

Amanda withered. A few weeks later, she retired.

But the urge to create had proved too strong to ignore. She’d tried, of course. For years she’d tried. She’d worked other jobs, and when she got home she would occupy her off hours with various unrelated hobbies, all in the vain hope of drowning a desire that had only ever lead to heartbreak and frustration. But the old dreams refused to die, and though Amanda had found some temporary respite from the voice, she knew it wouldn’t be long before she would have to try again.

When that time finally came, when the need to create grew into an all-consuming fire that threatened to scour her soul to the bone, she locked herself in her basement, where she’d covered over her old workshop with a faded dusty tarp. Now, taking a deep breath, she swept the tarp aside.

“What are you doing?” asked a familiar voice. “You’ve been out of practice for years. What makes you think you’ll succeed now?”

Amanda trembled. She knew it spoke the truth. Even during her peak, the voice had found plenty of flaws in her work. What made her think she could do better now?

Still, the desire to create overwhelmed her. It was an ocean of power held back by only a single floodgate, a force of nature that would destroy her if she didn’t channel it properly. So she ignored the voice. She picked up her old tools, dusted them off beneath the dim illumination of a nearby desk lamp, and after a shuddering, rattling breath, she got to work.

“Didn’t you hear me?” asked the voice, incredulous at her determination. “You’re going to fail. You’re going to fuck this up just like you fuck up everything.”

Amanda hesitated. She tried to focus on the nascent world in front of her, tried to shut out the voice’s spiteful remarks, but it was hard, it was so hard. The tools slipped in her fingers, and she wondered, not for the first time, if she was making a mistake.

But that urge, that need to create, it burned, it burned so much, and every moment she spent second guessing instead of working was a moment of torture and almost unbearable agony. So in spite of the voice’s constant rebukes, in spite of her own crippling doubts, she kept at it.

On and on she toiled, for hours or days, she couldn’t say, and as the rusty hinges and squealing iron gears began to turn as they once had so many years ago, the pent up magic burst inside her like a grenade, a shower of bright, coruscating sparks that filled Amanda with almost euphoric joy.

When at last she’d finished, the voice offered a scathing critique.

“That world,” it mocked, “Look how crude and simple it is. Hardly your best.”

Amanda considered its remarks. “You’re right,” she said, but after having released a decade of frustration, after having poured her soul into the project, she discovered that was okay. She’d learned that through the lens of imperfection, beauty could only be magnified.

The voice sputtered and could offer no reply. For so long, it had used the truth as a weapon. Now, that weapon was useless. Deflated, it fled into the darkness and was silent at last.

Amanda knew it would return, that in the fullness of time it would make her doubt again. But instead of shrinking away from the inevitability, instead of hanging up her tools for another ten years, she decided she would face it head on.

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.

Illustration #1 for “Rite of Passage”

I have great news! The artist I’ve been working with to illustrate my soon-to-be-published short story, Rite of Passage, is nearly done with the first picture. Above is a partial reveal to whet your appetite.

Want to see the whole thing? Join my mailing list by submitting your email address directly below this blog post. I’ll be sending it out in the monthly newsletter the first week of June. I’m really excited about this project and can’t wait to share it with you! 🙂

Enter your email address and click "Submit" to subscribe and receive The Sign.