Wednesday, June 22, 2005

22 June 2005: Inspiration

Inspiration. Some people find it on quiet strolls through the country. Some people find it through seeing enormous furniture on Hampstead Heath. Baseball players, apparently, find it through putting cabbage leaves under their hats, although that practice was today banned in South Korea. Me, I prefer coffee and doughnuts.

Having not taken the development of the Mousehole/Frog Monster universe seriously since scribing the conclusion to the Frog Monster story on the beach in New Zealand a couple of years ago, focusing instead on the curry-travel-write-up-thing, I decided this was to be the week of returning to the world of AZCC, netside connections and the spiralling inevitability of global consciousness. A week of genuine I'm-not-doing-any-work holiday. A week of no commitments to be Doing Things. A week of sitting down with the notebooks (both paper- and silicon-based) and hacking out the next story in the series. And for this, I need inspiration.

The overall story arc has been there for some time, although it's more a fractal than an arc. The plan was to zoom in Mandelbrot-style and focus on particular subsections of the story, which would in turn become stories in their own right. If I hadn't been so distracted with 'Six Months' and this AKTing lark, maybe I'd have written more than two by this point. But the world I created while sitting on the roof all those years ago refuses to go away, the characters refuse to leave me alone, often returning on sleepless nights around 2am when the baseball isn't sufficient to put me to sleep.

Among these characters is one I've come to regard as a friend, albeit at a distance. Wounded One has a depth not so obvious in her contemporaries, although I'm sure they have their levels too. Wounded One has a story of hurt and betrayal more corporate than personal. While a lot of her past can be traced in my own experience at more than one company, her response to these wounds is utterly different to my own: she still believes in the core of what her job was and she continues to perform it, day by day, in her own way and in her own settings. There's a fear in letting go as much as a flat-out belief in what she does, but mainly she continues because it would be too difficult to change. Not yet, not yet. She has to finish the work. So every day, she dresses the part (usually dirty denims and non-descript light-coloured sweater) and commutes to the West End. Her playground, where she spends all her days.

Wounded One is twenty-seven, maybe twenty-eight, and sees her science as art, or at least as elegant mathematics. She takes the problems of the human brain and the interface to it so expertly created by her predecessors, looking to break through the beyond the most basic understanding of the subconscious. Jung's Sea, as William Gibson once called it, and instead of just noting what happens when you throw something in this sea, Wounded One is obsessively interested in noting its tidal patterns, the nature of its waves, the strange monsters that lurk within. At night she sleeps alone, haunted by these same waves that may at once be hers and someone else’s.

As I sit under the apple tree this hot June afternoon, smelling the sneeze-inducing grass from next door's garden, I watch the breeze blowing the leaves a couple of feet above my head and see an apple fall down, the same action that inspired Newton centuries ago to figure out it was gravity (rather than, say, love) that made things fall. I wonder about the route he took to reach that conclusion, the thought processes that had to take place even to open up the possibility of the inspiration hitting at the moment. As my own research heads increasingly towards the study of scientific development and Kuhnian analyses of such turning points, it becomes increasingly clear that there are no formulae for development and prediction. Things happen stop-start, breakthroughs occur on a non-regular basis and stagnation is as likely as steady development in any scientific discipline. When breakthroughs do come, the catalysts are usually unrelated to the work itself: wars and paradigm crises seem to be the mother of invention. Plucking the fish from Jung’s Sea may require both a crisis context and an apple moment.

Wounded One scoffs at me. She is happier with her research than I could ever be with mine. She already has many of the answers, she just can’t tell anyone. She doesn’t care about the big picture and scientific revolutions, she just wants one more answer, one final response to the big question of her day: if I connect my mind to your mind via the netside connection, and you are afraid of spiders, will I also become afraid of spiders?

The battle between the rational and the irrational, the ego and id, the conscious and the subconscious rages, in all generations. And as soon as we think we have the answer, our dreams jump out and surprise us again. For all our measurement, the twin agents of irrationality – pride and neuroses – come out time and again to remind us: ‘no, you don’t know it all.’

Fuelled by scars and driven by a desire deeper than she herself can understand, Wounded One at least has the guts to stand up and say ‘maybe not, but I’m certainly going to try.’ And thereby points to an inspiration deeper than I’ve experienced myself.

That said, the cabbage thing might be just as good.

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