You haven't heard of me

On pandemic paranoia, self-eradication and a taxonomy of writers

Portal to 2019…

The situation continues. More time, less space. 

The book, the work in progress, seems absurd now. A folly, irrelevant. I began the year with hopes of finishing the work. The work is an attempt at science fiction, a new direction, but science fiction can’t compete with virus-lab conspiracies, with drive-through strippers in hazmat lingerie and saucy N95s, with Travis-Bickle-style anti-lockdown militia storming the government (even Paul Schrader wants to decommission his infamous cultural monster).

I am always late to the party.

The gatekeepers are swarming. Another consequence of time dilation. Everyone, eventually, finds turf to defend.

You can’t be properly concerned about climate change unless you know exactly how and why methane clathrate is melting. Anything less, you’re just a passenger. You want the world to die. You can’t start a plague podcast or write a plague novel because no one wants to hear your whiny musings. Don’t you know your place? You’re not allowed to cite dystopian fiction to comment on the times because only clap-happy futures are allowed. You’re just like the clueless clathrate people. Burn the world down. You’re not allowed to mention your quarantine productivity because you must remember those paralysed with fear. Have some consideration. You’re not allowed to say the world has become ‘Ballardian’ because you’ll never be as arch as the thoughtlords who sneer at neologisms (and you) on sight. You can’t write science fiction because science fiction is dead.

Publishing is dead. Books (even bookshelves) are cancelled, the arts defunded. Do anything else. Be direct. Be active. Say what you mean.

Propped inside the plague’s dimensions, Twitter is a sinkhole. Nothing escapes. Under isolation pressure, the mirror is polished and archetypes revealed. Older writers with ailing, vulnerable bodies set fire to their life’s work in the service of staring at death. Younger writers lament their ages (not even 30). ‘We’re too old to break into the industry.’ Do they realise there’s no industry to break? Superstar speculative novelists feel the savage sting of redundancy. Unsure what to write about anymore, they tell us to remember to die.

Genre writers regret decades of toil. They’ve built a loyal following, but they’re invisible to those whose attention they crave (the 1%, the superstars). Visionary writers are furious. They foresaw the crisis but their books don’t sell. They neglect to blame the carrier, attacking the signal and receivers instead. Mid-list writers are achingly lonely. Neither here nor there, the career that consumed them is now secondary to the need for fuzzy human love. Anti-literature types spit acid at everything and everyone, all fads and trends, but even they break down and confess when the void swallows them whole.

Some writers wear armour. They are warm baths, a barrage of positivity, kind tweets, concern for readers and colleagues. Others are electric shocks. Smart, angry, hilarious, death to trolls.

Went for a walk. Found this…

I am between books. ‪Nowhere, no place. The last one has been forgotten. Publicity has dried up. The new one must be written and sold to resurrect any semblance of a career, but the new one has lost its pulse. It’s been too long between drinks. The audience has lost interest. I’m writing in a different genre. The authorial voice is an experiment. I can’t even tell if it works. I’m back to zero. Add another archetype to the confessionals: the dilettante writer rolling the stone uphill, every time, too stupid to catch its fall.

Someone told me to stop worrying about audiences and let the freaks tune in, but I did that and now I’m being ghosted. The calls aren’t returned. The purpose was served, the stereotype forged, but I kicked against it so the alliance was severed. I must begin again but I’m hardly blameless.

Pandemic paranoia. Every action scrutinised. Every ambiguous comment obsessed over. Keep checking the feed. They’re online, I know they are. Why haven’t they responded? What does it mean? Are they angry with me? What did I do? Scroll backwards in time. What did I say? Was it this or that? Lost a follower. Suffered a pile-on. Went away, licked my wounds. Can’t stay away, back again. What did I do? What did I say? Prolepsis shrinking the brain. You can’t say that. You’ll lose followers, and if you lose followers, you’ll wither and die.

They say writers often hear their characters speak inside their heads. I hear them, too, some more than others, and because they draw from my life, they disgust me.

I am so desperate to be rid of myself that I accepted the ten-albums-in-ten-days challenge on Facebook. Then I realised that was the old me, an ancient version. Even the mirror is wrong.

I changed my Twitter bio. It used to list my books. Now it says this: ‘you haven’t heard of me’. 

Unrest in Michigan. I went to sleep in a timezone 14 hours into the future. When I awoke, civil war was 14 hours in the past. 

Always late to the party.

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