Wednesday, December 2, 2015

GUEST POST: Amy Sterling Casil on "We Can Write Our Lives; We Can Write The World"

Toni Morrison did. She healed vast trauma through her books and is the embodiment of a different way of living. She is her own miracle and that of all of ours, the entire world.

She told The Guardian. “So much contemporary fiction, even when it’s well written is sort of … self-referential. I used to teach creative writing at Princeton and I would say ‘Don’t do that. Don’t write about your little life.”

Toni’s life, Toni’s job has been to be this and she has done it so brilliantly, so perfectly, so magnificently. She wrote others and in doing so she created her incredible self. An impossible person. People who do not see, who are not aware, don’t realize the extraordinary thing she is; more extraordinary than our black President. A Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning black woman writer who was a major editor at a major publishing house, an Ivy League professor and mother of two, with more than a dozen bestselling novels of her own. All about black women. Yes, how they were traumatized and brutalized, but also how they transcended. And look at how magnificently she lives, how magnificent she IS.

I hear things. I feel things. I see things. The more aware I am, the more I see and feel and hear. I’ve been tentatively telling people the concept that came into my mind a few weeks ago. What if, I thought — what if when people thought the world was flat, it really was? The time when that was, was in reality — much longer ago than we, today, likely think.

No one saw the globe from space until 1945 when the first hazy image showing a curved horizon appeared. No one had a clear picture of Earth’s true appearance from space until the 1972 “Blue Marble” photo taken from Apollo 17.

Greek people knew that the Earth was round and even accurately calculated its circumference. A thousand years later, this had been largely forgotten. It’s part of our general theoretical concept that we somehow have “progressed” since ancient Greek days.


Here in the U.S. in recent times, schoolchildren, including me, were taught that in 1492 Columbus somehow miraculously intuited that the Earth was round, not flat. I hear the ringing tones of my second grade teacher#: “Wasn’t Columbus brave? He could have sailed off the end of the Earth — but he was right. Instead, he discovered America!”




(#I didn’t have a second grade teacher. I lied the same way most people do most of the time and just about 100% of the time on the main screen of Medium. But I did have some idea that Columbus was responsible for figuring the globe was round. He wasn’t — not any more than he “discovered” the already-known North American continent.)

I don’t know why these narratives were created, or what purpose the flat earth and Columbus stories served. I include the story simply because it will be familiar to Medium readers, and because neither were true. The Earth was never flat in this universe, and Columbus made his voyage, but did not “discover” America. From what I can see, the group is familiar with and accepting of narratives that say The Bible is dumb and written by dummies because people thought the Earth was flat when Genesis was written. The group knows about heroic Apollo 17 and the “Blue Marble” picture.

So I am going to tell you something I know. I have at least 50 examples from my own writing. It’s never 100% perfect and it’s never perfectly clear because it’s *me*. But close enough. I would also like to make it clear that I am not talking about how sci-fi writers of the past have sometimes “predicted the future”.

I am talking about how any person can open their eyes, see, and help to make what they see an actuality, a reality, by writing down what they see, feel, hear, experience. I am not talking about “extra sensory perception.”

I’m talking about perception and creation.

In 2000, I published a story called “To Kiss the Star.” It was inspired by my real-life friend Julie M. Jones. Mel, the protagonist, was severely disabled; blind, confined to a wheelchair, spastic. She wins a lottery to receive a cybernetic body and go to the stars in a hyper-hardened spaceship as a virtually immortal explorer. I envisioned this in a way different from that described by many writers (but NOT Toni Morrison; I envisioned it EXACTLY as she describes). One of the steps in the process of adapting Mel to the ship was cybernetic vision. This is 2015. I read things I wrote in the late 90s and early 2000s as news stories of today all the time.
“But in late July, Fulton was outfitted with a system called the Argus II. A pair of camera-equipped glasses are hooked up to electrodes implanted in her eyeball, which feed her brain visual information. Using the system, she can now see the world again. What’s the experience like?
“When they ‘turned me on’ so to speak it was absolutely the most breathtaking experience,” she says. “I was just so overwhelmed and so excited, my heart started beating so fast I had to put my hand on my chest because I thought it was going to pop.”
So what do people using Argus II actually see? Greenberg says it’s best imagined as looking like a pixelated image, or staring at a digital scoreboard held just in front of your eyes.
- Rose Eveleth BBC Future 23 September 2014 “I Was Blind . . . Now I Have Cybernetic Eyes.”

And from “To Kiss the Star,” first written May or June 1999. I know exactly where I was at the time I wrote it. I was at the same simple desk I am typing at right now, my grandfather’s desk, facing the window of the small apartment I’d moved to in Yucaipa, California. I lived in Mel’s head for two weeks.

This is what I saw. Mel, unlike Fran Fulton, who has regained her sight thanks to the real-world Argus II system, was traumatized by her disabilities, abandoned by her family, and deeply in love with a young man she has never seen, John, her “Friendly Visitor.” So she didn’t have quite the awesome reaction Fran did upon receiving the ability to see.
Mel’s old doctor had said, brutally, Mel remembered, that she’d really gotten the short end of the genetic stick. Cerebral palsy — a spastic — with a heart defect, and retinitis pigmentosa. It didn’t get much worse than that, he’d said.
The ISA counselor arrived, just as the technicians were fitting the visor. He spoke to her, holding her hand while they fitted the metallic piece over her temples and eyes. “I know it hurts. Just stay with us. It’s going straight into your optic nerve, which ain’t damaged. You oughta see something, but we can’t guarantee technicolor.”
Mel closed her eyes. It was as if she had opened them, but she hadn’t. A long, mournful-looking face appeared, grainy and hazy, like an antique telly when it was turned on. Big nose, and a wild head of bushy hair. The face smiled, crookedly, showing a mouth full of even, pale teeth. He must be the counselor, Mel thought. Her head was throbbing viciously, but she managed to smile in return. Somebody thrust the voiceboard in her lap. — “To Kiss the Star,” 1998 (draft).

This is not the only example. This is the example that means the most to me, because it was the first time I did what Toni Morrison said, “Don’t do that. Don’t write about your little life.” There is nothing I have written that is based in what I’ve truly listened to or observed among others that has not, later, turned out to be true in some regard in the real world, often in major or large regard. Yes, I’ve written “b.s.” that I was simply churning out. I can say I have only written that type of thing on assignment or for money.

The reason I wrote “To Kiss the Star” is that I was sitting in Oscar Wilde class next to my classmate Julie Jones, who was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and turning the pages of her book along with her. In-between times I was prattling full-on Medium “Entrepreneur Lemme Tell Ya Sumthin’” style. Julie would come to school with her mother in their van and her mother would often escort her to our classroom. She used a motorized chair and had a ventilator to aid her breathing. She weighed approximately 45 pounds. Her legs and arms were so thin I was terrified if I touched her, I would break the bones.

“I sold this story to bleh bleh,” I said. “I’m going to sell another one to whaz-be-whoo. I bought a new suit last week. I’m going to a big conference next week.”

I AM SUCH HOT SHIT ALL THAT AND SUCH A BAG OF CHIPS I AM THE BIGTIME PRO WRITER HERE ON THIS CAMPUS! LOOKY ME! ME! ME!

I-I-I-I-I . . . . I-I-I-I-I

Myron couldn’t even get two words in edgewise about Oscar Wilde, much less Julie. I turned the page. I heard her breathe. The ventilator.

“That’s great, Amy,” she said.

Perhaps it was the sound of her voice, and the ventilator. Perhaps it was her smile. I snapped out of my mind’s false world into the real one, and I looked at her. Really looked at her. Saw her just as if I were a blind woman receiving an Argus II for the first time. I remembered the story she had turned in to another of our workshops the week before. I thought of how effortless it was for me to write. I thought she had to work with accommodations, assistance — surely it would take her much longer to write even one sentence than me. I thought about what it took for her to get up each day, go to school, do her work, learn and write and —

She is so infinitely a better person than me, I thought. She has courage I cannot even begin to conceive.

I still thought about her as I drove home, a long drive. Why? I asked. Why would God give a wonderful person like Julie so many barriers, so many burdens? For what reason would He do this when a rotten, self-centered, self-entitled individual such as me would get a strong body able to take ridiculous amounts of punishment and self-abuse, decent-looking, everything goes easy, popular, I can generally do whatever I want …

I thought about this for a few weeks and then I went into that other place where I saw these people, where I was these people. I was Mel for two weeks and when she/I saw her face in the mirror I almost died. It was that shock to me. To see my face as it had become after being blind and in a care home for years, abandoned by my family. They say there are infinite universes. And they say that something, once observed, is forever changed. Physicists call it “the observer effect.”

The original title of “To Kiss the Star” was “What Would Jesus Do?” It was changed by the editor; I do agree with his rationale and reasoning. But a “WWJD” bracelet figures prominently in the story (these were very popular at the time and are still common). Before Mel can see it, she thinks it’s one thing; after, of course she sees it and the truth comes out — it is not a love token from her “Friendly Visitor.”



So here is another miracle, that perhaps some people will see or relate to more.
I am in love and I am loved and this is something I thought I would never have. I thought I’d have a lot of things but true love was not one of them. In 2013, for whatever reason, I crossed a bridge or a boundary that enabled me to turn back and see these things, what I am writing about right now. Before voice actors performed one of my books and talked to me about it, I did not even understand that female characters such as Gyla the wolf girl, former exotic dancer and prostitute, were some type of funhouse mirror version of me. This realization blew me away. So I wrote a book (not published, it may never be) and based every character on someone I actually knew. In other words, I purposely did what I did with Julie, above, only a much different type of story. In this book, the character I wrote purposely inspired by me fell in love with a man I was getting to know — I wrote him, not knowing the real him well. In the book, we fell in love. And so in the book — in real life. That really happened. I am willing to bet on a very simple level, writing a story with yourself as the protagonist and the person you think you could love or could love you — could work better as a pathway to true love than 1–800-PSYCHIC. That is all the clickbait you will get out of this writer.

But what I’m talking about can be, and probably most often is, something out of our subconscious or unconscious mind and perception.

When I wrote “Chromosome Circus” — before “To Kiss the Star,” I was seeing people exploited for others’ entertainment, barely able to scrape by. They were forming their own families. I saw this as if in a funhouse mirror — and literally, a circus. I’m not original. I told someone, “I’m wholly a nonfiction writer.” I literally just write down what I hear, feel or see.
As she walked by, Joshie reached out, with his awful clown glove, and grabbed her waist.
She gave a little cry, then said, “Joshie, don’t play me that way. I like you too much.”
He pushed her from him. “You don’t like me,” he said.
She ran her hands over her hips, then turned toward the window. “No,” she said. “Maybe I don’t. But I like your face.”
Late afternoon light streamed in through the lace curtains and fell across her slender shoulders. She turned and straightened her g-string.
“Tell me that again,” Joshie said. His voice sounded strange and rough.
She turned back and she was smiling. “I’ve always liked your face, Joshie.”

This is true love in the story. They are “freaks.” She’s a fur-covered wolf girl and Joshie’s a clown with big, clumsy clown hands and a clown’s face. Not like Pennywise the clown or serial Clown Killer.

I met my love via online dating and the first thing I typed to him was, “Ordinarily I’d never respond to someone so far from my area but …

I like your face.

When I first met him at the pole at LAX, he was ambling toward me, a lopsided grin on his face. The exact face Gyla had seen at the end of “Chromosome Circus.” She had seen/I had seen through her eyes/my eyes.

This article is not being written so you can debunk it.

This article is being written so some may understand and see, as this was experienced by me, so too, may it be experienced by you.

YOU CAN WRITE YOUR OWN LIFE

YOU CAN WRITE THE WORLD

The real world. It may not “come true” right away and it may not ever be exactly as you see it or hear it or feel it.

But it has so much greater chance of being reality if you do not keep it prisoner in your head. If all you do is try to force others to think, be and do as you — well, that is the way of the past. That is why we are barely sentient killer apes trapped on an isolated planet (not my words — that one said to me too!). If all you do is gaze inward — open your eyes and look outward.

Open your heart, and feel. Open your mind.

“Free your mind.”

None of the things I say or communicate are mine. Someone said, yelled, really — “Free your mind!” in my ear while I was cleaning the living room some time in 1997 or 1998. I have no clue who these people are who say these things. They just do. Another notable one, while taking a shower in Woodland Hills maybe in 2003–2004, was “Nothing good, true, right or lasting ever happened at the end of the barrel of gun.”

What I am writing here right now, it has been said to me over the past few weeks.

Real fiction is not really fiction. Not as we in the past, have understood “fiction” to be, although much of what is sold as fiction and also “non-fiction” — is also fiction! That one twisted my brain all around.

This article is to what Toni Morrison has done, lived, understood and knows, as Taco Bell is to my own rice, beans and carnitas. She has been saying and living this her whole life.

As I wrote yesterday, “It doesn’t matter if not one person reads what you write.” It only matters that you have gotten outside of yourself, and outside others to truly perceive, think, feel and be.

And give these things the breath of life: write them down!

There is only one lie in this story written by me and it is that I heard the Columbus story in second grade. I did not go to second grade.
If there is something you want to live but it hasn’t happened yet, you must write it. — Amy Sterling Casil

*****

Amy Sterling Casil is a 2002 Nebula Award nominee and recipient of other awards and recognition for her short science fiction and fantasy, which has appeared in publications ranging from The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction to Zoetrope. She is the author of 26 nonfiction books, over a hundred short stories, two fiction and poetry collections, and three novels. Amy is the founder of Pacific Human Capital, a founding member and treasurer of Book View Café and former treasurer of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, and teaches writing and composition at Saddleback College. She is the founder of a new publishing company for the 21st century, Chameleon Publishing.

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