Thursday, February 21, 2013

Still Banffing After All These Days...

I came to the Banff Centre In(ter)ventions program very certain about my project: I knew exactly what I was going to do and how I was going to do it. Within two days I was completely back to square one. This felt awful, of course, but it is a good thing in the long run. If I'd done what I'd planned I would have created something sorta neat and not terrible. But now I have a much better chance of creating something that really does what I want it to do. It's just going to take a lot longer. I've spent the last week so deep in the throes of this creative trauma, and so diligently re-writing away, that I haven't been able to articulate what's going on with my story in a big picture way. But this morning I bumped into one of my fellow artists while getting a coffee, and in the course of chatting, the whole problem just came out of my mouth in the form of a simple sentence that I hadn't known was true until I said it:
The new medium didn't make any sense until I exposed the hidden themes.
There it is. And that's what I've been doing for the past week-plus: exposing the hidden themes.

Which raises the questions, what where the themes, and why were they hidden?

When I was about four years old, I was attacked by a dog. It was a doberman, and it was as tall on all fours as I was on two. The man sicked the dog on us and it came right for me. I remember trying to run and get away, I remember the dog knocking me on the ground, pinning me down, barking over and over again in my face. I could see all its teeth and down its throat. By some miracle, this dog didn't bite me.

[To answer your questions: we were Jehovah's Witnesses, the man was a sick fuck, the dog went after the smallest target, and I can only imagine he didn't bite me because that dog, even though he was abused and trained to attack, had a measure of decency in him that his owner did not -- or, more likely, it was just luck.]

But none of this is where the story comes from. The story comes from the fact that I've always felt a little disfigured. My internal image of myself is a girl with a scar on her face. Like if I went into the Matrix, I'd be scar-face girl (with awesome leather duster and kung-fu skills). Or you could call it a mild body dysmorphia, mild because I've never felt the need to act on it; I'm just mildly surprised when I look in the mirror and see myself.

And because I've been exposed (through both science and sci-fi) to M-theory and p-Branes, the concept in string theory of alternate timelines a.k.a. higher dimensions (#6 does it, apparently) where all possible things (but contrary to popular delusion no impossible things) are true, I started to wonder if it's possible for echoes to resonate on the branes and get through -- sending suggestions to other realities that might creep into your subconscious and influence you.

What if it was more likely the dog would bite me than not? Then I'm living in a minority world. What if that information could be sensed? Then that might screw with my head a little.

Not that I believe this is necessarily true. It's just a compelling idea. I write fiction. My favorite things aren't true. :)

Anyway, I invented this character named Penelope, who can hear all her alternate selves. She can't hear any/all alternate worlds, just the infinite set (within that infinite set) predicated on other hers, whom I defined genetically, because genes/molecules are a concrete physical reality. So this egg, this sperm, this zygote -- and from that moment of beginning, the branching and breaking infinite possible worlds, which she hears.

So I decided to write this into a story. But I felt weird putting all the science stuff in there, so I left it all out. In the story as I wrote it, Penelope hears these things and there's no real explanation -- perhaps she's got a chemical imbalance, who knows? She and her husband, a wealthy music producer, receive an mp3 in an email with a song on it, which is very sad and poorly produced but super-compelling, and the song leads to a series of supernatural-seeming events. Also, there's a lot of stuff in there about wanting to have a baby.

As a narrative, the story holds together. What's missing is everything that inspired it -- the meaning of it -- everything I hid. Which is why, I think, I wanted the story to become electronic and interactive in the first place: information was missing, and I wanted the medium to stand in for the missing message.

What I realized when I got here and started to talking to people is that the medium can't stand in for the message -- I realized, in fact, that the medium seems random and unnecessary unless I expose those underlying themes.

So I went back to the drawing board. Literally. I set the story aside and pulled out my sketchpad and started drawing. Then I got back to writing: way back, back to the source of the story, the reason I wrote it in the first place. I re-imagined the characters from that point in the past. I cut most of what happened and let new events fall on a brand new timeline. I worked through why I used the images and events I had in the first version. Once I understood, I used those reasons to develop new, better images and new more communicative scenes -- images and scenes truer to my intent. I found new language for the things I needed to say. And I was able to explain to myself why this character is interested in a baby, and genetics.

It was a lot of work -- but it didn't result in anything presentable. In fact, I came to Banff with a finished story ready to be transformed into an interactive experience. What I have now isn't even a finished story. It's an amorphous blob of half-finished story, written in fragments, many of which have no place. It definitely feels like I've taken a big step backwards.

And it's a new story, at least to anyone else. To me it's the same story with it's armor plating removed, so you can see its flesh. But I recognize that to anyone else, this would seem like a completely different story, in no small part because it means something completely different now.

Which is, above all, what I needed.

I've worked my butt off for the last week-plus, and it would be really great to be able to come home the (in my head, anyway) conquering hero with a pretty prize to display for my triumph. Instead all my work has been to dig myself a whole new batch of work -- but with better prospects in the end.

Hard cheese to swallow, but I like it.

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