Big sisters are experts on consequences. Watching our younger siblings from the perspective of old age, we observe at three, four, five, exactly what the consequence of our little brother jumping up and down on one’s bed with a plastic sword is. Our favorite fairy painting, bent and lying under broken glass on the carpet, that’s what.
My consequential thinking is like a jackhammer. “I could go for walk- but then I might get low blood sugar because I haven’t eaten in hours- or I might waste time I should use to work on illustrations instead- or it might not really be as nice outside as it looks- or- or- or.” One of my English teachers introduced a phrase during a lecture on Emerson and Thoreau and threw it at us for the rest of the year whenever we looked particularly dumbstruck by his assignment or question. “Paralysis by analysis! Parallysis by anallysis.”
I could go for a walk, but it might break my fairy painting and Mommy will yell at me and my stoopid little brother will cackle with delight and start playing with an even bigger plastic sword.
This insanity cripples my creativity. I’ve spent years writing within existing genres and models- the Sandra Bullock romantic comedy, the comic anthropomorphic young adult novel- because I knew the consequences others had experienced following those forms. Success! Publication! Production! Names in print! Money!
But I don’t wear the boots Lindsay Lohan’s sporting on the cover of People, I don’t hit the theaters to ooo and awe over Spielberg’s latest blockbuster, I don’t do yoga because it’s trendy. Not only do I not want to fit within existing genres in my ordinary life, I can’t- I couldn’t “pair casual pieces with touches of luxe,” or understand Oprah’s latest book club offering if my life depended on it. It’s much easier, and safer for the world at large, if I stick to what I can do, and usually, that’s dress like Gonzo, watch bad sci-fi, and fling myself into the downward facing dog even when everyone else has moved onto pilates.
I get dressed in the morning calmly accepting the possibility I may be cold, overdressed, or discover myself the only person in the room wearing black with brown. If I approached my closet the way I approach my laptop, I’d spend my days naked.
Considering that I’ve written little besides blogs since returning from England, it may surprise you to learn that ideas for short stories, nonfiction and novels flit through my head all day long, every single day. Sure, probably very few warrant much attention, but I never give them any attention. I don’t sit down to write them because I immediately, and up until very recently, subconsciously, followed every concept with consequential thinking.
Curled up in bed one night, I think how fun it would be to write PDF zines about the silly little things I love: dollhouses, fonts, comics, small furry animals. “But what good would that do?” I think immediately after. “No one will read it.”
“A spiral bound journal full of exercises to explore your possible past lives!” Inspiration says. Consequences says, “Then I’d have to write nonfiction and SARK-y books forever!”
“Turn your shared experience with your mom all winter into an article to submit to a magazine!” Inspiration cries. Consequences: “I couldn’t make it funny enough.”
I unwittingly shoot ideas down so fast I hardly have time to notice they exist. Uke and I have joked about the most hilarious one: fearing that if you write a novel about deer, it’s naturally going to be published, hit the bestseller lists, and people will expect you to write about deer for the rest of your life. This from two women most of the world has never heard of. I’d put that one at the top of a “10 Greatest Hits of Consequential Thinking” playlist. Here are the other nine:
- No one will ever publish a novel about deer.
- If you had a doctorate in deerology, maybe…
- You can’t write dialogue well enough to capture a deer’s “voice.”
- In a world of mass murders, terrorism and rampant SUV-usage, do deer matter?
- No one’s ever written a free-association novel from a doe’s first-person semi-omniscient perspective before.
- People will laugh at you for writing about deer.
- Deer will be offended or hurt by your descriptions of them.
- What can you say Bambi didn’t fifty years ago?
- If that laundry doesn’t get washed tonight, you’ll have absolutely nothing to wear tomorrow.
I do have one advantage over Consequences; I know its Achilles heel. Consequences survives not only because we agree that people might laugh at our deer novel, but also because we assume we would die if people laughed at our deer novel. We assume we can’t survive the consequences, so we can’t afford to take the risk.
I’m pretty sure I’d rather be laughed at, stick one more unpublished manuscript under my bed, or fight the public’s demand for more deer novels, than live one more goddamn day as a writer who doesn’t write. Consequences doesn’t know this, but that is my worst fear… and I’m already living it.