November Newsletter: Facts are Bones

So there I was, done.

I could feel it. The out-breath as I saved the file and shut down my laptop on Friday, yes, but more than that, the lack of the in-breath on the following Tuesday. Theoretically, there was more I could do with Fellow Tetrapod. The climax-ish scene I’d written on Friday was not perfect. It might not even be any good. But still, I’m done with the alpha draft. For the first time, I can feel it. Or rather, for the first time, my anxiety about the future isn’t occluding my understanding of the present.

The final manuscript might not contain anything like that scene I wrote on Friday. It might not contain anything of all the other scenes I wrote between the middle of September and the middle of November, either. That’s okay. That’s the point. This entire project is a leap of faith; an experiment to determine how, when you fling yourself at the world, it catches you.

…huh. I didn’t set out to write this newsletter about faith. I was going to write about listening to your feelings. I had all these other examples…but I’m having a feeling a now. I’m scared. So let’s push against that and see where we end up.

I was in the hospital, walking down the hall. Imagine me with tubes everywhere. Legs as skinny as my arms used to be. My guts sloshing like a sack of sausages. I’d been cut open in a hurry and stitched back together twice now. And I was exhausted.

They hadn’t gotten that day’s shipment of the banana-fish slurry that was all I could digest, and I’d missed a meal. Maybe 250ml, but I could feel it. That pull of my demand, and my body’s inability to supply anything. It was familiar. I’d felt that way for a year, pressed up against the ceiling as my body sank into the cold water.

But they’d cut the tumor out, right? I should be fine. Yeah, that’s what they’d said that before. They’d sent me home, from this very hospital, and less than a week later, I was back. “Complications.” I spent four days comatose on an operating table, my intestines too inflamed to fit back into my abdomen. The surgeon started talking to Pavlina about “what to do next.”

That’s how she found her faith. The balance of evidence at the time pointed in the direction of my death. That was the most reasonable prediction, and yet, I woke up. A miracle.

I didn’t buy it, though. There was no need to invoke miracles; I knew my statistics. If my chances of recovery were 4%, and 400 people in the world were in medically induced comas with their guts hanging out…

My mind crashed. I stood there in the corridor, supported by that 40-pound wobble-wheeled IV hat-rack, unable to go on. What were the chances of internal adhesions after the successful removal of a tumor? What were the chances that I’d develop this tumor in the first place? And that after four years of surgeries for my daughter? Well, I told myself, statistically, there had to be somebody with such a run of medically-themed bad luck.

Why not me?

I didn’t smoke. I hadn’t been exposed to industrial chemicals. I couldn’t reasonably blame anybody, which was a problem because blame would give meaning to the surgeries. I’d have a cause, which would suggest steps to take next time. If I could blame someone, even myself, I could make sure that this would never happen again.

And yet I knew there, in that corridor, that it would happen again. Why not me? It would be me, at least once more. Because death does come. That is the fact of the matter.

I realized there that facts are bones. Alone, they cannot move. Evidence and logic pointed in only one direction, and I would not follow. Animal that I am, I cannot walk toward death.

So, then what? At first, I could do nothing but avoid thinking about it. I edged around the pit that had opened in the center of my mind. I pressed myself to the walls.

I actually listened to The Book of Joy in the hospital, but this particular message didn’t hit me until months later, when I happened to walk in on Pavlina while she was listening to it: “Hope is the antidote to despair. Yet hope requires faith…”

Hope requires faith. Not “faith” as a synonym for Christianity, or even for religion. Faith as a belief in something despite lack of evidence for it.

When death is the most reasonable prediction, how do we go on living? By convincing ourselves, somehow, that we will.

That’s what Fellow Tetrapod is about, and also what it is. The story keeps surprising me. This newsletter surprised me. I’m glad it came to me. Thank you for reading it.

Whew! After all that, how could I tell you to go out and buy my books? Good news is, I don’t have a new book out.

Fellow Tetrapod alpha is done, Interchange is waiting for its editor’s notes, and The Sultan’s Enchanter is still spiraling around in some publisher’s slush pile. If all goes according to plan, The Centuries Unlimited should be ready for my agent to send out in January. Then, I have plans, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Otherwise…here’s some books I liked in November!

Confucianism and Taoism by Julia Ching – a very straightforward and no-nonsense introduction to Confucianism and Taoism. The audiobook was narrated by Ben Kingsly, too, which was nice.

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury – a collection of essays about writing, focusing on the author’s process and the cultivation of muse and career. It was a good fit for me; Bradbury was a joyful and experimental writer, which is how I want to be too. I tried his stream of consciousness method, too! It was interesting.

Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese – a good job of work. This satire of Star Wars often pretty funny, and occasionally very funny. “A secret military facility working on cloaking technology? We’ve surveyed the entire planet and found no sign of any facility. – Exactly!”

The Politics of Diplomacy by James A. Baker III – an interesting perspective on the fall of the Soviet Union and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

The Long Result by John Brunner – Rather cozy as books on interstellar politics go. Recommended.

Trojan Gold by Elizabeth Peters – VERY cozy. The characters literally drink hot cocoa while wearing fuzzy sweaters and petting cats after a day of skiing while snow falls in the Bavarian mountains outside the window. I enjoyed it but I really wanted to know more about that damn Thracian gold!

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams – whoof! Adams did not want to write that book. This book (and an interview I recently heard about him) made me not want to write like Adams. I’ll write like Bradbury and enjoy my life, thank you.

The Book of Forgiving: by Desmond and Mpho Tutu – very healing. I still haven’t done all the exercises in the book, but the text and stories helped me a lot. It’s interesting that I finished this book the month before I wrote this newsletter about my cancer. I didn’t have anyone to blame for that, but I certainly do have people to blame for other problems in my life. Nice to think I can get to those problems now.

Talk to you in January!

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