There are moments in my life when I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to do. I pay attention to them. They’re my cosmic landmarks, letting me know I’m on the right path. Now that I’m older and can look back and see where I missed a turn here and there, and know the price I paid for those oversights, I try to look sharper at the present.
Sometimes I can feel my darkness, like a fragment of nerves inside of me somewhere, sparking my hate. I picture it moving throughout my body, the other cells letting it pass by, yielding to its master. It moves to my tongue when it wants me to spew beautiful, damaging words, it moves to my hands when it wants me to feel all it can take away, and it moves to my eyes to blind me from truly seeing the destruction I’ve done.
When I think about the past and how blind I was in that life, I compare it to being a god and losing everything when being cast out. I had the unlimited power to destroy myself and everything around me. It’s like having been in a cave for years and I’m finally out of the cave. The sun burns my eyes and skin. I don’t recognize my surroundings. No one looks authentic, and now I’m on the hunt for people that have the pieces to my puzzle that will help me on my quest. I have no cave to hide in, and I’m just left with the sediment of a previous life and my own mortality.
I feel to that the gap between my new life in New York and the situation at home in Africa is stretching into a gulf, as Zimbabwe spirals downwards into a violent dictatorship. My head bulges with the effort to contain both worlds. When I am back in New York, Africa immediately seems fantastical – a wildly plumaged bird, as exotic as it is unlikely.Most of us struggle in life to maintain the illusion of control, but in Africa that illusion is almost impossible to maintain. I always have the sense there that there is no equilibrium, that everything perpetually teeters on the brink of some dramatic change, that society constantly stands poised for some spasm, some tsunami in which you can do nothing but hope to bob up to the surface and not be sucked out into a dark and hungry sea. The origin of my permanent sense of unease, my general foreboding, is probably the fact that I have lived through just such change, such a sudden and violent upending of value systems.In my part of Africa, death is never far away. With more Zimbabweans dying in their early thirties now, mortality has a seat at every table. The urgent, tugging winds themselves seem to whisper the message, memento mori, you too shall die. In Africa, you do not view death from the auditorium of life, as a spectator, but from the edge of the stage, waiting only for your cue. You feel perishable, temporary, transient. You feel mortal. Maybe that is why you seem to live more vividly in Africa. The drama of life there is amplified by its constant proximity to death. That’s what infuses it with tension. It is the essence of its tragedy too. People love harder there. Love is the way that life forgets that it is terminal. Love is life’s alibi in the face of death. For me, the illusion of control is much easier to maintain in England or America. In this temperate world, I feel more secure, as if change will only happen incrementally, in manageable, finely calibrated, bite-sized portions. There is a sense of continuity threaded through it all: the anchor of history, the tangible presence of antiquity, of buildings, of institutions. You live in the expectation of reaching old age.At least you used to.But on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, those two states of mind converge. Suddenly it feels like I am back in Africa, where things can be taken away from you at random, in a single violent stroke, as quick as the whip of a snake’s head. Where tumult is raised with an abruptness that is as breathtaking as the violence itself.
The unknown is scary the Unknown can also be exciting. Your life could change in an instant anytime. But sometimes, that change is the best thing that will ever happen to you.Maybe I don’t have to know what my fate is to know that everything will be okay. Maybe the not knowing is how we move forward. Wherever I’m headed, I know it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be.
When I make love to you,’ he said in a low whisper right by my ear, ‘I want to be able to give you one hundred percent of my attention. Right now, with the Unit on our tail, I’m going to be giving you less than fifty percent. I’ve got one eye on the door and one on you, not to mention a gun under the pillow. Not exactly the accessory I imagined.
Three miles from my adopted city lies a village where I came to peace.The world there was a calm place, even the great Danube no more than a pale ribbon tossed onto the landscapeby a girl’s careless hand. Into this stillness I had been ordered to recover. The hills were gold with late summer;my rooms were two, plus a small kitchen, situated upstairs in the back of a cottage at the end of the Herrengasse. From my window I could see onto the courtyard where a linden tree twined skyward — leafy umbilicus canted toward light, warped in the very act of yearning —and I would feed on the sun as if that alone would dismantle the silence around me.At first I raged. Then music raged in me, rising so swiftly I could not write quickly enough to ease the roiling. I would stop to light a lamp, and whatever I’d missed — larks flying to nest, church bells, the shepherd’s home-toward-evening song — rushed in, and Iwould rage again. I am by nature a conflagration; I would rather leap than sit and be looked at.So when my proud city spread her gypsy skirts, I reentered, burning towards her greater, constant light.Call me rough, ill-tempered, slovenly— I tell you, every tenderness I have ever known has been nothing but thwarted violence, an ache so permanent and deep, the lightest touch awakens it. . . . It is impossible to care enough. I have returned with a second Symphony and 15 Piano Variationswhich I’ve named Prometheus,after the rogue Titan, the half-a-god who knew the worst sin is to take what cannot be given back.I smile and bow, and the world is loud. And though I dare not lean in to shout Can’t you see that I’m deaf? —I also cannot stop listening.
I wish I wasn't an imperial highness or an ex-grand duchess. I'm sick of people doing things to me because of what I am. Girl-in-white-dress. Short-one-with-fringe. Daughter-of-the-tsar. Child-of-the-ex-tyrant. I want people to look and see me, Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova, not the caboose on a train of grand duchesses. Someday, I promise myself, no one will be able to hear my name or look at my picture and suppose they know all about me. Someday I will do something bigger than what I am.
I hold the hands of people I never touch.I provide comfort to people I never embrace.I watch people walk into brick walls, the same ones over and over again, and I coax them to turn around and try to walk in a different direction.People rarely see me gladly. As a rule, I catch the residue of their despair. I see people who are broken, and people who only think they are broken. I see people who have had their faces rubbed in their failures. I see weak people wanting anesthesia and strong people who wonder what they have done to make such an enemy of fate. I am often the final pit stop people take before they crawl across the finish line that is marked: I give up.Some people beg me to help.Some people dare me to help.Sometimes the beggars and the dare-ers look the same. Absolutely the same. I'm supposed to know how to tell them apart.Some people who visit me need scar tissue to cover their wounds.Some people who visit me need their wounds opened further, explored for signs of infection and contamination. I make those calls, too.Some days I'm invigorated by it all. Some days I'm numbed.Always, I'm humbled by the role of helper.And, occasionally, I'm ambushed.~ Stephen White "Critical Conditions
Sometimes when you get older — and I’m not talking about you, I’m talking generally, because everyone ages differently — things you think on and wish on start to seem real. And then you believe them, and before you know it they’re part of your history, and if someone challenges you on them and says they’re not true — why, then you get offended because you can’t remember the first part. All you know is that you’ve been called a liar.
I turn sentences around. That’s my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning. And if I knock off from this routine for as long as a day, I’m frantic with boredom and a sense of waste.
There are times in my life when I have been medicine for some while poison for others. I used to think I was a victim of my story until I realized the truth; that I am the creator of my story. I choose what type of person I will be and what type of impact I will leave on others. I will never choose the destructive path of self and outward victimization again.
Thomas More: Will, I'd trust you with my life. But not your principles. You see, we speak of being anchored to our principles. But if the weather turns nasty you up with an anchor and let it down where there's less wind, and the fishing's better. And "Look," we say, "look, I'm anchored! To my principles!
My father and I used to watch a ton of old horror movies when I was growing up. ’The Creature from the Black Lagoon‘ was one of my father’s favorites and he was very excited for me to see the film. But after the movie was over, I told him that I was kind of bored. I said to him, ‘I’m sorry, Daddy, but I saw the zipper in the back of the monster’s costume. From that point on, I was really never scared at all. The point I’m trying to make is that I don’t believe someone intentionally tipped off the target. And I maintain that no one made some horrendous mistake, which I’m now trying to cover up. I believe what really happened with the operation was that our target ended up seeing the zipper. Orlo Kharms realized something around him wasn’t… real. And he was able to avoid the trap we had laid out for him.
I suddenly remembered that Murray Gell-Mann and I were supposed to give talks at that conference on the present situation of high-energy physics. My talk was set for the plenary session, so I asked the guide, "Sir, where would the talks for the plenary session of the conference be?""Back in that room that we just came through.""Oh!" I said in delight. "Then I'm gonna give a speech in that room!"The guide looked down at my dirty pants and my sloppy shirt. I realized how dumb that remark must have sounded to him, but it was genuine surprise and delight on my part. We went along a little bit farther, and the guide said, "This is a lounge for the various delegates, where they often hold informal discussions." They were some small, square windows in the doors to the lounge that you could look through, so people looked in. There were a few men sitting there talking. I looked through the windows and saw Igor Tamm, a physicist from Russia that I know. "Oh!" I said. "I know that guy!" and I started through the door.The guide screamed, "No, no! Don't go in there!" By this time he was sure he had a maniac on his hands, but he couldn't chase me because he wasn't allowed to go through the door himself!
When people dis fantasy—mainstream readers and SF readers alike—they are almost always talking about one sub-genre of fantastic literature. They are talking about Tolkien, and Tolkien's innumerable heirs. Call it 'epic', or 'high', or 'genre' fantasy, this is what fantasy has come to mean. Which is misleading as well as unfortunate.Tolkien is the wen on the arse of fantasy literature. His oeuvre is massive and contagious—you can't ignore it, so don't even try. The best you can do is consciously try to lance the boil. And there's a lot to dislike—his cod-Wagnerian pomposity, his boys-own-adventure glorying in war, his small-minded and reactionary love for hierarchical status-quos, his belief in absolute morality that blurs moral and political complexity. Tolkien's clichés—elves 'n' dwarfs 'n' magic rings—have spread like viruses. He wrote that the function of fantasy was 'consolation', thereby making it an article of policy that a fantasy writer should mollycoddle the reader.That is a revolting idea, and one, thankfully, that plenty of fantasists have ignored. From the Surrealists through the pulps—via Mervyn Peake and Mikhael Bulgakov and Stefan Grabiński and Bruno Schulz and Michael Moorcock and M. John Harrison and I could go on—the best writers have used the fantastic aesthetic precisely to challenge, to alienate, to subvert and undermine expectations.Of course I'm not saying that any fan of Tolkien is no friend of mine—that would cut my social circle considerably. Nor would I claim that it's impossible to write a good fantasy book with elves and dwarfs in it—Michael Swanwick's superb Iron Dragon's Daughter gives the lie to that. But given that the pleasure of fantasy is supposed to be in its limitless creativity, why not try to come up with some different themes, as well as unconventional monsters? Why not use fantasy to challenge social and aesthetic lies?Thankfully, the alternative tradition of fantasy has never died. And it's getting stronger. Chris Wooding, Michael Swanwick, Mary Gentle, Paul di Filippo, Jeff VanderMeer, and many others, are all producing works based on fantasy's radicalism. Where traditional fantasy has been rural and bucolic, this is often urban, and frequently brutal. Characters are more than cardboard cutouts, and they're not defined by race or sex. Things are gritty and tricky, just as in real life. This is fantasy not as comfort-food, but as challenge.The critic Gabe Chouinard has said that we're entering a new period, a renaissance in the creative radicalism of fantasy that hasn't been seen since the New Wave of the sixties and seventies, and in echo of which he has christened the Next Wave. I don't know if he's right, but I'm excited. This is a radical literature. It's the literature we most deserve.