The Problem of the Woman Locked in the Basement

A NEW APPRECIATION

You know who I never gave full credit to before now?

Actually, it’s worse than just not giving credit.*

Let me be brutally honest:

In the past, whenever these people would complain, I would internally roll my eyes and just think “You would die after one hour on an oil rig if you think this is hard work!” or “Have you ever put asphalt shingles on a house in the middle of summer!” or “Have you ever tried to do an Epsilon-Delta proof for four hours to try to prove the value of a limit that doesn’t even exist?!?**” and end all these thoughts with “Because what you’re complaining about is NOTHING compared to that!”

I’m speaking, of course, about editors.

Editors, I’m sorry.

I had NO idea.

The Family of Fang and Claw is the single longest, continuous story I have ever written. In paperback it’s about 420 pages. It had so much back-story, I couldn’t figure out what to put in or what to leave out or what to allude to, or even what would make sense to someone who didn’t have the entire story up in their head versus what made sense to me. It was all a tangled mess of different colored string, and trying to untangle it on my own was impossible, as in this analogy I’m colorblind and have no fingers.

I hadn’t considered the observer problems of trying to fix your own work. The longer the work, the harder it is. And not just linearly harder. EXPONENTIALLY harder.

Sometimes, I couldn’t remember what I HAD changed versus what I just THOUGHT I had changed, and trying to read it over myself was like trying to contemplate the space-time geometry of three proximate black-holes without a shared center of gravity. Yes, I DECIDED later her hair was smooth and black as paint, but once upon a time it was white-blonde like the glimmer of moonlight on the night sea. I kept seeing what I MEANT to put down, versus what I ACTUALLY put down. Worse, I could sometimes see all the things I had THOUGHT about putting down.

There are still some typos in Family of Fang and Claw that I need to go in and weed out, but just be thankful to long-time reader, friend, and editor Jennifer that there aren’t glaring plot-holes. I think most of these errors stand out to me because I wrote the book and know I pulled a few all-nighters with a pretty bad ear-infection (that is still on-going) to get it out of the door. I wasn’t exactly in tip-top condition. It’s not terrible and it’s certainly readable, but it’s still bad enough it ruins my self-image. If you want to buy something in hopes I one day end up famous enough for copy-errors to be worth something,*** you should probably buy the paperback version immediately.

If you see the name of Ricardo or Lisbeth change, those are not actually errors (except once, where I legitimately fucked it up that I’ve found so far), but my attempt to change the names of the Family to their locale. I tried to make this quite subtle, but the way the Family looks has a lot more to do with the person looking at them than what they actually look like.

Next week, I’m going through with a pencil and high-lighter and bringing death to my mistakes. I’d do it right now but I still can’t stand to look at it. Hopefully this will be easier after the doctor shoves a tube through my eardrum and gets some air flowing through that part of my head again. It would be nice to be able to focus without intense pain.

Even with two good ears, I will still not be as good as a real editor, whose noble shining pen of Justice could have saved me from all of my errors.

If only I had not spurned thee, quietly and to myself!

Which brings me to my next point.

HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL (ME EDITION)

Maturation is all about figuring out how to defeat your strongest enemy: Yourself.

I think I may have figured out how to hack me.

In a state of nature, I will sit down and recline back ever so gradually until I am more or less laying down. Then I will watch videos on YouTube until I forget whatever it was that I was supposed to be doing before reclining. It might occur to me to try to sit upright again. Then I’ll start asking myself questions like “What does this all mean, really? When you think about it?” or “Am I a good person? What does it mean to be a good person? Really?”

While sometimes this brings interesting ideas to my brain (like visualizing the leveraging position of a financial institution as something I call the Idealized Debt Fish, which is a mathematical object I created where one axis is the Normal distribution of the balances of debt owed to a company, another axis is the Normal distribution of a debtor’s ability to pay on that debt as a percentage of the total balance of the debt, and the last axis is… I forget, but it looks a bit like a String Ray if everything is working right and it looks like a Sting Ray with one squished arm if it’s not) I mostly just find excuses not to do anything.

When I went to the coffee shop, I had determined what was making me productive was the forced social environment. I’ll do anything not to talk to someone! Or so I thought.

Alas, not so! What was truly making me productive was merely the act of being forced to sit up straight! What my grade-school teachers had been trying to teach me all along! Posture is power!

So, I’ve got a new chair. It was $16 at the local secondhand store. It’s a nice chair, solid and wooden although Amanda said it looks like it belongs in a kitchen. It does. I broke up the set to bring this one specifically because it happened to be the most comfortable. Which made me feel like I was ripping the lady off. I kept asking “Are you sure?” and she actually tried to lower the price because that’s how negotiations are usually supposed to go. Except I’m not one of those people who believes you should never ever pay for things and try to fuck everyone over until they go out of business, so I tried to explain that without profanity and she still didn’t understand. You have to treat other people like you understand they need to live, too. Still not connecting.

I was already feeling pretty awkward at that point, so I just paid $16 for the chair. I’m typing this right now while sitting up straight.

What else am I going to do to defeat myself, you ask?

I have a little day planner thing and I have a bunch of note cards with little scenes written on them so I can keep myself working on a single story. I’m putting down some novel ideas I’ve had forever. Each note card is equal to one scene. I think it will be easier to write longer projects if I look at it like “I need to write 62 scenes” rather than “I need to write one amazing novel.” That way when I get bored of writing one scene I can skip ahead without losing track and still get the damn thing done. I can also write a check mark next to scenes I’ve completed and know “Yep, I’m 23% done.”

I did something similar with the Family of Fang and Claw and it kept me honest and on track.

SUBMITTING STUFF

I’m going to make a promise to myself to actually submit story stuff as well. That’s something that historically also gets lost when I decide I really need to lay down and learn more about the interactions between Fermions and Bosons. I’ll pull up the submission guideline information and just think “Eh, no one will care. Who am I compared to Ed Witten? People should learn more about that guy instead of reading my stupid story. I mean, hardly anybody knows who he is and he should probably fuck all of our mothers to pass on his genes to the next generation. He’s like the best guy who nobody knows about, which is probably good because then he’d need security all the time. People should know more about that guy and I shouldn’t be taking up space in people’s heads to prevent that. Who am I? I’m just some fucking guy who was too damn lazy and chickenshit to try and do something truly great because he was afraid of looking stupid and finding out he wasn’t as smart as people told him he was. I’m gutless and unaccomplished. I could probably work for SpaceX if I really applied myself and I’d be so happy there, but I won’t. I won’t even try even though that’s the most beautiful thing I can imagine myself doing. I’ll just keep pushing it off. I’ll tell myself it’s a fear of happiness or success, but the truth is I’m a coward who can’t face the emptiness in himself,” and filling out some forms seems too difficult.

For the last few years, I’ve told people the only reason you should write is if you can’t do something else. If you can stop writing, you SHOULD stop. Go be active. Get out of the house. Meet people. See new sights. Learn about commodities trading. Invest in real estate. I’ve never not been able to write no matter how hard I’ve tried. It just keeps happening, like some kind of goddamn curse.

Anyway, I’m going to submit things because of that. Since I can’t not write, I need to man-up and accept the pain of truly attempting success. You hear that internal emptiness? I’m coming to gaze into you and be humbled and learn from my shortcomings and return to my tribe a man.

This is really rambling, isn’t it?

Listen, people, I just got home from the gym. You know how I get when my blood sugar is low.

THE PROBLEM OF THE WOMAN LOCKED IN THE BASEMENT

Lots of terrible things in the news. I’m talking mostly about Harvey Weinstein, but this applies to other things. This is two things, actually. One about vigilance and one about feeling okay even when terrible stuff is going on.

The way people who do really, awful systemic shit get away with is by making you feel complicit. They equivocate until they make you feel like you’re the same. It’s even a little bit true, since we’re all human. The banality of evil and all of that. Except a lot of that is a magic show meant to distract you from making a stand. I kind of hate the way the media portrays rapists and abusers because it makes it seem like they’re these super ugly people who nobody likes. That’s not true at all. It certainly wasn’t true in my experience.

If I could add one phrase to the shared consciousness of humanity, it would be “As charming as a rapist.” It wouldn’t mean “Not at all charming.” That’s such a dangerous and tempting thought, to believe that people who do awful things are people you don’t like. Rather, it would mean “Extremely charming, like a magician, to the point I didn’t even realize I was being manipulated until I was removed from the situation.”

Predators are brazen. Predators are also charming because they have to be. Whenever I meet someone who is extremely charming, I get suspicious as hell, because no one is that charming without a reason. How else could they get away with it? Predators will do shit right in front of you and count on you being too surprised to act, and then feeling too ashamed later for not acting in the moment to act after the fact. Then they’ll build on that guilt. Then they’ll remind you about your own imperfections and how it really makes you the same.

Predators will say, “We’ve all been young and dumb. We’ve all hit on people we probably ought not to have hit on. We’ve all made awkward advances when we misread a situation. We’ve all stumbled.” And that’s true. We all have. We all, rightly, feel ashamed and embarrassed of those things and hopefully we’ve grown out of them. We probably ought even to have been punished for those things so we could figure it out and learn faster. Predators will use all of that to dissuade you.

You know what, though? None of that makes what a monster does okay. The first thing a monster comes for is your sense of proportion. Jay-walking isn’t the same as murder. Murder isn’t the same as genocide. There’s a scale, and the defense of that scale is vital. You’ve got to keep up your boundaries and your sense of proportion if you’re going to preserve the autonomy to act. It’s not right to nuke someone for jaywalking, but it’s goddamn right to nuke people for nuking people.

If you see a Harvey Weinstein corner some woman and jerk off in front of her and it takes you three days to work up the courage to tell him off and call the police, go ahead and do it then. Keep your sense of proportion. 99% did the right thing is better than 0% did the right thing. It’s not all or nothing.

Don’t let the fact that you didn’t snap into action like Batman shame you into continued silence. Silence happens moment by moment. But you know what? Nobody in real life is Batman. Don’t try to be Batman, that’s a childish desire. Be the person who understood they were human, forgave themselves and got over it, and ended shit after three days instead of three decades.

That’s an important story to tell people, because it’s the one that will actually help you later in life. That’s the only story that’s real. And if it was a story we told to people and a story we all understood, much less of this shit would happen.

Now, here’s a thing about living with all this shit. I call it “The Problem of the Woman Locked in the Basement.”

Awful shit is happening all the time. What you can see of it is terrible. What you CAN’T see is probably even worse.

Take basements, for instance. Probably since the existence of basements, there has somewhere in the world been at least one woman locked up in a basement. Every few years we find some poor soul who has been locked up by some terrible man for ten years. Then we all have to go inside our heads and reset a big baseball score type thing of numbers back to “0 Days Since a Woman was Locked in a Basement.”

This is the most disturbing statistic I’ve ever come up with. Stack all those incidents end to end, and ask yourself “When is the last time we had a gap year where a woman WASN’T locked up in a basement?”

Probably never.

That means right now, somewhere in the world, there’s a woman locked up in a basement.

You don’t know about the specific predicament of the woman locked up in the basement.

You don’t even know her name, specifically.

You have no clues how to find her.

You just know that somewhere in the world, in somebody’s basement, there’s probably a woman who went missing after work five years ago. Hell, I can actually give you a name in this case. I just realized it.

Google “Shelly Miscavige.”

Right now, a woman whose name is known to the American people and law enforcement, is locked up somewhere that’s basically a basement.

And you have to go live your whole life while knowing she’s down there. You have to go to Disneyland and the doctor and the grocery store while she’s down there carving hash marks on the wall with a rock to mark the days. We know she’s trapped, or brainwashed, or whatever. We know it’s fucked up and that she’s suffering for certain. And we still have to go about our days like it’s not happening or that it doesn’t bother us.

So how can we justify this?

Why aren’t we kicking down the door to every basement, trying to find this woman?

Here’s how: Imagine YOU are the woman pulled out of that basement. It just happens one day that the door swings open and the way out is there. You’re Shelly Miscavige and the Church of Scientology just collapsed and you’ve been brought into a therapist’s care and told it’s not your fault. You finally start to believe it. You’re free now.

Should your whole life now have to be about finding other women trapped in a basement? Women whose names you don’t even know? Women you have no leads on? That can’t be right. Otherwise no one’s life has any positive value, and all we can do is eliminate negative value. For the Woman Locked in the basement to matter, her life has to have positive value. She deserves to be free. She deserves to have a life apart from thinking about other women trapped in basements.

We should all just keep a little reminder in the back of our heads that if any red flags go up that “Hey! I think that guy might have a woman chained up in his basement” to act on that as soon as possible.

Seriously, though, we should find Shelly Miscavige.

That’s fucked up.

 

*Not really. I always tend to give SOME credit. It’s just that in this case I didn’t give enough credit and it was funnier to exaggerate for comedic effect. I believe most editors would agree with this style choice.

**I have a lot of range as a human being.

***May I also recommend some Ocean Front Property in Arizona?

2 thoughts on “The Problem of the Woman Locked in the Basement

  1. Very well written Andrew! You are a very interesting writer and I loved hearing your thoughts verbalized. Your writing is like a vocabulary roller coaster carrying your reader up and down and back and forth and then inward to your own dimension. It really holds a reader’s attention.
    I am still trying to work up the nerve to read your other works.
    Writing can be like getting therapy that you don’t have to pay for!
    So proud of you stepping out in faith to share your experiences with readers who then get validated for their own similar experiences, that they have not been able to speak about.

    1. Thank you so much for all you do, Jane. I appreciate your support in the face of what I’m sure are my pretty odd hobbies.

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