San Francisco, California
June 1, 2013
Please forgive my tardiness with posts, but I’ve been busy. I tend to make my projects complicated. It all started way back when I first used to decorate white shoeboxes with felt tip pens… every inch of space on the box HAD to be covered… and not just in a color, but with drawings, and each one detailed. When I was 12 I set out to color in the entire D&D monster manual, one monster at a time. I made it up to the letter D. I still have it…. maybe someday I will finish it. So this project, to write postcards to all 15 of my creative influences***… well it might have gone the way of many of my projects and about 6/8 ths of the way in I would have lost interest and moved on to something else… all the while thinking I’d come back to the thing I’d started and finish it. But today I sat down and completed all 15 so that I can, with a clear conscience, move on.
A couple of things happened during the last few days that have made this project really worthwhile: the first is that I discovered that there is a difference between an idea and its execution, and that difference is the work. It’s easy to have ideas, and it takes another kind of energy to carry them through. The interesting part to me is that when I sat down to write each of these postcards, I had no idea really what I was going to say. I also had a restrictive space in which to write it. For those people on my list who are dead, I found my mind freed up in a certain way to write what I wanted, without fear of presumption or judgment, which made those cards easier to write, and of course more about myself than about the person I was writing to. In a way, most communication is like that… since you can’t get inside another person’s head, you have to take an educated guess at what makes them tick. Those parallels you draw between yourself and another person’s experience is the heart of empathy… and empathy is a tool a lot like bats using echolocation… you blindly bounce your own voice off what’s around you and try to get an idea of what’s there by listening to what comes back. What you receive is your own perceptions rearranged by the other person’s shape. It’s sometimes uncannily accurate, and sometimes misses the target entirely.
When you get writers and musicians in your echolocative beam, something even stranger happens: you can, in a way, get inside their heads. But you get into the part of their heads that they broadcast, that they set free into the world. And we all know that the things we put out into the world are both deep expressions of ourselves, and shallow ones… they represent only fractions of the whole human being, and ephemeral moments. This is why the written word, or the recorded word, is so powerful… unlike the ephemeral nature of me whispering to you in person, where my thoughts are free to bloom and dissipate, and my mind is allowed to change and grow and reconsider, we treat things that are written down as authoritative, as unchanging, as evidence of our emotional triumphs and crimes.
What people forget about what is written down, and what is recorded and duplicated again and again, is that it is dead. Like a person who has passed away, it is no longer a viable, unstable thing in and of itself… its self has been abdicated for interpretation. Things that are written/recorded belong to everyone, whether the person responsible likes it or not, because whatever happens to it, once it becomes static, once it cannot shift with the shifting nature of reality, it becomes subject to debate, theft, reinterpretation, repurposing, recycling, mimicry, defamation, censorship… the property of everyone and the possession of no one.
So in writing these postcards, I thought about the person on the other end and fought through the desire to censor myself almost before I even began… because I know that the person I am writing to, whom I’ve never met, is not “knowable” through their work alone. What I am writing to, really, is myself… even though in my heart of hearts I am reaching out to make contact with the facet of the person on the other end that brought some part of myself to the surface. All I could really do was keep in my mind the ultimate purpose… to send a brief note of thanks to a person I felt deeply affected by… to let them know that I, too, am a blind bat chasing moths by the sound of their fluttering.
I think I might keep going with this… not here on the blog, but on my own. There is something about sending these things out into the world, without the need for anything in return, that feels right… it is so unlike what we’re trained to do all day every day, which is to do things just to get something we need to have in order to survive.
And that leads me to the second thing that happened this week: one of my influential strangers (#5) wrote back! Marvin Kaye, now the editor of Weird Tales, sent me two free copies of the magazine, and a thank you note of his own. This was an unexpected kindness, and a kind of ping back from the void, which turns out to still be able to deliver illegible postcards! (Scroll to the bottom to see Mr. Kaye’s answer.)
And here are the rest of the postcards from the project:
***and I just realized that I can’t count. There are 19 .
10. Neil Gaiman:
11. Susanna Clarke:
12. Virtual Boy:
13. Camille Flammarion:
14. Robert Smith:
15. Charles Fort:
16. Rod Serling:
17. Tim Burton:
18. Peter Murphy:
19. William Butler Yeats:
And to me from Marvin Kaye….