In recognition of strangeness

To be strange is to have secrets.

I’m not talking about strangeness in its current application, which is mostly a cynical kind of market-segmentation. You’re not strange because you really love a particular show, or hate another. Strangeness does not flow from your affiliation with a name brand. Nor is it a product of your adherence to political beliefs that other people find distasteful, particularly if you’re just recapitulating the same oppressive bullshit that gives you the luxury to spout off your nonsense without repercussions. Strangeness exists at the margins where it would attract unwelcome attention. It belongs only to you and to the few people you know who accept it, because they love you more than they’re troubled by the strangeness.

I’m not advocating for secrecy, or saying strangeness should be hidden. I’m acknowledging that this is how we generally deal with it, through concealment and camouflage. Being strange means knowing that if your neighbors knew about the real you, they wouldn’t be so nice on the stairs, or worse. Much, much worse.

If I were you, at this point, I’d be asking “Who the fuck are you, the Strange Police?” So, before we go any further, the Strange Police is a hell of a premise for a book, and I’ve got dibs on it, so back off. But also, good question. Who am I to call out strangeness if I don’t have some practical experience in it? Am I strange? In some way liminal? The packaging doesn’t say much. In answer I could say yes, or no, or none of your fucking business. Figure it out, or don’t.

The problem with strangeness is that it isn’t going to fit in. No matter what the marketing machine tells you about wacky alternatives, no matter how your Twitter friends embrace life options that are comfortably odd and palatably unconventional, strangeness is Strange. If you’re strange, your passage through society depends on your ability to keep a secret.

Some of those secrets are pretty fucked up. I’m not endorsing or romanticizing them. Some of you need help. But some of you are living meaningfully outside our collective comfort zones, keeping your strangeness quiet with those who will never get it, while embracing the ones who offer understanding in subterranean spaces. It might be tough to figure out which group you’re part of - the damaged strange or the resolute strange, the wrong or the hidden righteous. I can’t help you. But I recognize you. I hope you find each other, and I hope that in some immeasurable way, the meeting makes the world better.

In the woods

“Meet Me in the Woods” by Lord Huron is like a musical work of speculative fiction. It evokes images of cosmic horror, but could just as easily be describing the real-world struggles of someone dealing with the transformative power of trauma.

I took a little journey to the unknown
And I come back changed, I can feel it in my bones.
I fucked with the forces that our eyes can't see
Now the darkness got a hold on me …

How long, baby, have I been away?
Oh, it feels like ages though you say it's only days.
There ain't language for the things I've seen…
And the truth is stranger than my own worst dreams.

Two Worlds and Eighteen Words

I was at work when the news hit. Specifically, I was in a third-floor walkup apartment with a patient who was taking a significant turn for the worse. A lot of blue-uniformed colleagues were in the room, along with very concerned family members, and we still had to get the patient down the stairs, loaded on to the ambulance, and transported to the hospital. I was growing concerned he wasn’t going to survive the trip.

Bink,” went my back pocket. It’s a very subtle notification, almost inaudible. I had no idea at the time, but some of the most exciting news of my writing career had just been made public.

We carried the patient down the stairs. Bink. Bink, the phone beeped. I looked at the EKG on the portable monitor being carried by one of my colleagues. I didn’t like what it showed. At all.

Bink. Bink. More notifications.

Now we are in the ambulance, and I’m calling for my colleague to prep an IV medication, and I’m doing about three things at once, and telling the driver to start driving, because I think this patient might die in front of us. I’m still standing when the driver pulls a U turn in the parking lot, holding on to a ceiling rail because I grabbed more crew members in case the patient went into cardiac arrest, and now there’s nowhere to sit. Bink, bink, bink. Someone is blowing me up. A family emergency? I’m not going to take out my phone in the middle of a call. It has to wait.

We get the patient to the ER. Things look extremely dicey for a little while, but he stabilizes. I’m cleaning up the ambulance, which is trashed with discarded bits of packaging and equipment, when I check my phone. The 2019 finalists for the Sturgeon Award are out, and one of my stories is among them. I have more Twitter notifications than I’ve ever had before. It feels amazing, and yet I have to restock medications and put fresh linen on the stretcher and get the ambulance ready for the next call, because I’m at work, and two calls have already gone out nearby while we were on the last one.

We’re dispatched for a seizure minutes later. Bink, says my pocket as I climb back into the ambulance. Bink. Like transmissions from a distant outpost, plaintive chirps from a place I once lived. I silence the phone and quiet my mind, because I have ten more hours to go in this shift.

By the time I dragged my ass home in the morning, I was beat. Our last call was for a patient in cardiac arrest, and despite our best efforts, we were unable to resuscitate them. I opened up the laptop to my current project, which I hope will someday be a book.

I managed to add eighteen words before my brain shut down.

I used to call myself an aspiring writer. There was no discrete moment when I dropped the “aspiring” qualifier - not my first publication, not my acceptance into the Clarion West workshop, not my first pro sale. Not the party at which a real author smiled at my self-deprecation and told me it was okay to call myself a writer. Not the day of the Sturgeon nomination. It just happened along the way.

The reality is that I’m still an aspiring writer. If you write, you probably are, as well. You’re always somewhere on a continuum between the first line you ever write and what you hope you might someday be capable of. Like me, you might be writing while an entire planet full of demands and concerns competes for your attention.

On this scale, eighteen words doesn’t look like much. But it’s progress.