Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Scratching at the Door Beyond Light

It starts like an itch in the back of your skull, or maybe not even there.  Like a scratching at the door in a part of your basement you don't usually go into, distant, quiet and intrusive.  You start to wonder what it is, what this odd sensation is that's coming from somewhere you don't visit.  Sometimes you try to ignore it.  Sometimes, it'll end up going away.  Scritch scritch scritch, pause... scritch, scritch, scritch.

But sometimes it doesn't go away.  Sometimes no matter what you do, that scritching will continue.  Tiny little claws of some unknown beast across the raw brick of your basement.  Unrefined, unknown, and completely without direction.  Scratching, clicking, ticking as it strides to and fro outside of your notice, but still somehow starting to consume your reality.  You ignore it at your breastfast nook, trying to overcome the sound with the crunching of your Fruity Pebbles or the burbling of your coffee maker.  You ignore it as you take a shower, throwing your head madly underneath the thundering water, trying to wash it away.  As you zip up your pants, as you vacuum, or as you watch TV.  But in those slow, creeping silences that are so completely inevitable, the sound returns.  Scritch.  Scritch.  SCRITCH.

Sometimes the moment you hear it, you know, and you go open that creaky door to your basement and look down that dark stairwell.  Or you manage to ignore it for a couple hours before you break, sometimes a day, sometimes a week, a month.  Sometimes years, but it's always there.  Scritching.  Eventually, you go and you look.  Your bare feet grinding down the steps resolutely, the gritty grime coating the bottoms of your feet, the uneven and untreated wood of the stairs feeling like it might splinter at any time.

And that feeling just gets stronger, that now you're not alone in the basement, that there's something lurking underneath those stairs, or just around the side of the water heater, or behind your old stacks of comic books.  Swallowing the angst, you pass all those minor horrors towards that dark and distant doorway marked not by a frame, not by a knob, but by a single line of colored light on the floor.  That single line of colored light that lays at the other end of so many other doors which have gone silent, lines of fading light below doors never opened.

And you see those scritching feet walking back and forth in that line of light, small and savage shadows marking the passage of something tiny, something inevitable, something ready to change things.  Sometimes you can hear the claws.  Other times, it's not even feet, but something far more squamous, gibbering, or even floating.  The floaters are the worse, marked more by a dimming of the light than an actual shadow.

You may start to reconsider, but you can't.  You've already looked into the basement, you've already passed the Thing Under The Stairs, the WaterHeater Beast, and the Boxed Lurker.

You have, as the cliche goes, come too far.  You can't turn back.  Running would solve nothing, the thing behind the door already knows you know of it, and has already shown that it will not stop.  It will keep itching, and scritching.  Scratching, clawing, and biting until it chews through that door, walks past the minor horrors of your basement with all the regal intent of a visiting Head of State, and marches straight into your mind with a thousand lockstep tubas at its back.  So taking one last breath before you to the deed, you reach out and grab the knob, shoving the door open.  Your eyes dilate, your mind widens, and you look full force into the face of the idea that simply will not leave you alone.

This is what it's all about.  This little thing on the floor.  This tiny little idea staring up at you with perhaps two, or perhaps thousands, of little tiny eyes all blinking innocently.  Or maybe there aren't eyes, maybe it waves antennae at you, or pseudopods, or a small radar dish tracks slowly across your face as it reads your features.  The point is it recognizes you as its savior, its parent, its owner and also its slave, and it could not be happier that you've come to recognize it.  That you've come to focus on it.  It lets out a mew, or a bleat, or a yip, or a servo whine as your hands bring it up on high to be carried back up out of the basement of your mind.

You bring your idea up out of the basement, out of the darkness and into the bright shining brilliance of your breakfast nook.  Your fingers run across its fur, scales, skin, solar panels and you preen it.  You check it for ticks, burrs, parasites that might harm it and you as it laps from a bowl of milk or oil, and you sit there getting to know it, this wild and untamed thing.  Perhaps you touch it in a way it doesn't like, and that idea shows you displeasure by drawing a line of anger through your heart in the form of blood beading on your hand.  You look it over from every angle, checking it every way you can, wondering what it would become, what it can become, and how best you can care for this marvelous beast that has, for some reason, chosen you to raise it.

Maybe you doubt, for a moment, your skill as a parent to this creature.  You've seen the glory that others have raised their private beasts to.  Could you do that job?  Do you dare?  The Kings, the Martins, the Gibsons and the Dicks.  Those great beasts that march across the minds of the young and old, sometimes even breeding in strange climes and creating varied and amazing young of their own.  Or maybe you wonder if it's even within your skill to raise such an odd beast... that maybe you've gotten an unlucky draw.  Maybe your beast is too weird for you, and you just can't comfortably wrap your mind around it.  Maybe you think that your beast would be better raised by a DeVille, or a Vandermeer, or maybe even a Lovecraft.  But once it's out, it's out, you can't take it back into that basement, it won't let you.  And you can't box it up and send it to someone else.  It wouldn't survive the journey.  Someone else's mind doesn't have the right fruits to raise it, to nurture it, to guide it towards being all it can be.

So it's up to you to raise your beast, for good or ill.  Or let it die, starving for attention, slowly wasting away as you ignore it, the pain of its struggle to remind you that It Is Still Here sometimes causing an ache that lasts for days, or weeks, or years.

This is how it is.  This is how I feel being a writer.  Sometimes I don't want to hear that scritching at the far door Beyond Light.  It hurts inside, feeling that I can't possibly raise all these wonderful ideas.  I have to pick and choose which doors I open, and once I do, it wounds me when I can't do it justice.

There are always things that invade my life, take my time away from the beautiful young creatures I so dearly desire to raise.  There are jobs, and phone calls, and bills, and rampaging neighbors.  There are visitors, storms, and worries.  Illnesses, concerns, old rivalries and small victories.  All these things take attention away from my little menagerie.  And they're always there.  Once you free them from the basement, once you judge them worthy to risk opening that door, there's no getting rid of them.  They're always there staring out from behind your eyes, sometimes quiet, sometimes clamoring for attention at the most absurd times.

I'll be at a party, or at a bar, and all of a sudden one of my half-raised beasties will grab me by the heartstrings and shake my like a two person tent in a hurricane, screaming into my face that it needs attention and food.  The whole scene around me fades out as my imagination kicks into overdrive and I zone out on whatever I'm doing.  Words untended fall stale from my mouth as I babble, my mind anywhere but the conversation I was literally -just- having.  Instead, my mind races through unseen vistas and across uncharted worlds as I try in vain to keep up with this marvelous creature that I've half-raised to life.  I have no control over it.  It takes me, I'm taken, and I can only to my best to take notes.

Sometimes those notes get lost along the way, sometimes they're so soaked in alcohol when I write them down that the ink instantly blurs and fades.  Sometimes the notes suck, and I wad them up, using them for a cook fire to stew up something different.  And sometimes that note is the raw brick of unobtanium I fucking need to make something truly brilliant.

An old friend, now passed, once asked me what it's like to be a writer.  This is the only answer I've come up with after years of thought.  I can't put it any other way.  I can only imagine it is much the same for artists.  A million designs a minute, and each one whining for your attention.  It's the saddest thing, to walk through the Dog Pound of your mind and look down at each wagging tail, each pair of soulful eyes, each set of floppy ears begging you to Please, Please Pick Me, Pick Me Before I Die.  And you just can't take them all.  You can't, there's no way.  So you have to be choosy.  You have to reach down for the ones that you think you can truly bond with.

The ones you can raise up, the ones you can train to be Good Little Beasts.  The ones who, after you put all the effort in to it, can make you happy to sit back and be proud of what you've created.  And you can't think about the ones you've left behind, you can only hope that they somehow escaped the Pound to go frolic across whatever aetheric depths lay between the  minds of mankind to find someone else's basement to lurk and scratch in until that door gets opened, and the cycle begins anew.

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