Sheer Exhaustion

I asked Sarah what I should write about today, offering a few tongue-in-cheek suggestions and ending with the title of this post. That one, she replied. She knows where I’m at in life, because both of us are staring the abyss of exhaustion in the face and daring it to come closer.

As a writer, operating under a certain level of fatigue is challenging. In order to be creative, you need to be able to think, or at any rate, organize thoughts coherently on paper (the screen, you know what I mean). And there are days where I sit here at my desk thinking “I can’t brain now. Don’t make me brain.”

Library Dragon
I just want to find a sunbeam and nap with a book nearby.

Necessarily, on days I can’t think, I can’t write. I can, usually, manage to do homework, but that’s not creativity. Art, in a visual sense, is creativity but not as challenging to the tired brain as writing is. I think because of the scope: my art isn’t terribly complicated stuff that will take weeks to complete. A novel is. Maybe that’s what it is. It’s just so overwhelming to try and contain a world in your brain when there is all this other stuff demanding space and telling you that it’s more important.

Even reading becomes a challenge. I mean, look at this. It looks like perfect gobbledygook to me right now: “Whether vertical conduct by a disruptive market entrant, aimed at securing suppliers for a new retail platform, should be condemned as per se illegal under Section 1 of the Sherman Act, rather than analyzed under the rule of reason,” the brief states, with Apple asking the court to “confirm that vertical activity, undertaken for bona fide, potentially pro-competitive purposes, is not transformed into per se illegal conduct merely because it also has been found to facilitate horizontal collusion.”

Oh, wait. That’s not just me. That is gibberish. That’s a company trying to persuade a court that it’s okay for them to fix prices, because they are a NEWB. A newb, they say! And we’re supposed to get mental fatigue from parsing that sentence and give them a pass.

Maybe it’s just my tired brain, but this one hurts to read: an editor telling people why a massively selling book-made-movie is crap. She’s talking about the Martian and assessing why editors would reject it, and… and I got nothing. The gatekeepers are tilting at the giants and calling them windmills now. I mean really, who wants that nasty science cluttering up your story when you couple have more emotional depth? Who wants to read about a cast of characters who share a mission and yet have them be similarly-minded? And above all, who wants to read an exciting story with a competent hero who keeps a stiff upper lip and never gives up? No, editors want navel gazing. The problem is… my brain hurts. Ow.

It could be worse. It could be a book starring… gasp… a bureaucrat. Which can actually work. Sabrina Chase’s Bureau of Substandards makes it work in a very funny fashion. But she breaks all the rules and has competent characters. But in an article which I can’t find, so I’m linking instead to a fisking – and a very good one, better than I have the mental power for – there’s a literary critic who seems to be agitating for a book about an auditor. And no, he doesn’t mean Miles Vorkosigan (there’s a new book out in that series! Squee! Ok, brain, back on track. Seriously, it’s so easy to derail when you’re sleep-deprived. Shiny!), nor does he mean the Gray men of Pratchett’s books. ”

“Recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our brain is hardwired to respond to story; the pleasure we derive from a tale well told is nature’s way of seducing us into paying attention to it.”

Tale. Well. Told.

Not a mirror. Not message fiction. Tale well gold.

Do we want to see more trans-women secretaries… sorry… executive assistants taking down the bad guys?

Damien, of course, twists this concept into tossing the old muscle-bound hero stereotypes in favor of less traditional heroes, such as… well… you guessed it – minorities, women, bureaucrats, homosexuals, transgendered individuals, logistics officers, and others that aren’t generally portrayed as heroic. Because muscly, violent men are out, and dull, tax auditor-types are in (and it would be great if they were women and gay too!)

Hercules is out. Here comes Pajama Boy!

Forget Superman. Let’s see more HR specialists.

Red Sonja the tax auditor.


No thanks.

Here, read it all… 

I could drivel on, but that last broke my brain, which wants a cookie and a blankie and a nice hot cuppa… something. Oh, and a book. I recommend you check out the Halloween Sale going on this weekend, a lot of good authors and cheap books. Evidently, our brain is hardwired to respond to story. So reading, it’s for science! 

Or because it helps me sleep better.

25 thoughts on “Sheer Exhaustion

  1. “We don’t see the depths of [Watney’s} fear or loneliness,” the editor says.

    Really? Really? She wants to know more about his emotional journey? Its been a few years since I read the book, but I remember him being afraid and lonely, terrified that he’d be stuck there forever (ok, at least until he died). It was perfectly clear.

    Perhaps what she really wanted was despair? Because, after all, who doesn’t like a good dose of despair?

    Struggling through your fear and loneliness and putting a good face on it, first, to yourself, and, then, to history, is certainly an emotional journey. One may need to have a certain sophistication to read between the lines, but it would have to be a sophistication that saw the value of life, recognized the horrible hardships that the universe can throw at us, and that struggling to overcome them with teeth-gritted cheer, is an emotional journey. One might, however, have to be able to imagine that life is more difficult than office politics, bad relationships with one’s relatives, and whether those shoes are too expensive. One might need imagination. One might need to have the ability to admire someone else. One might need to feel awe in the face of the heroic.

    But, you know, if you don’t despair you’re just not very interesting emotionally.

    (Oh,and all that boring science? That’s part of life, too. And in storytelling it’s called world building. Again, the reader must be able to see outside his regular surroundings.)

  2. It’s very condescending, what she thinks of us as readers. She can enjoy the story, sure. But the rest of us?

  3. As I recall, Watney’s will to live was nearly broken when he discovers the vast majority of the music he has to listen to in his Mars shelter is…the mission commander’s ABBA collection. Which is both poignant and hilarious. So yeah, there were moments of despair 😀

  4. Disagree about the Martian one.

    She enjoyed the book.

    She’s not trying to explain why it’s crap (she doesn’t think it’s crap) — she’s trying to explain why Traditional Publishers screwed up and didn’t buy the book immediately. Her criticisms end with bold-faced “Where I fail” tl;dr’s.

    She ends with reminding authors that just because their books aren’t getting picked up by Traditional Publishers doesn’t meant they aren’t good books. Heck, throw on a sentence about the Indy route to publishing, and switch the PoV to “Where a Traditional Publishers would fail:” and it could have been an article here.

    (That said, I agree with Laura’s criticism above. I definitely felt Watney’s emotional journey. It’s just that he doesn’t wallow in it or express it directly to us — he’s a guy. And an astronaut at that. He acknowledges how shitty his situation is and then gets busy problem-solving. I don’t need him to keep reminding me how lonely and dangerous his situation is — somehow the plot keeps conspiring to do that for him. 🙂 Show don’t Tell.)

    1. That’s the sense I got too. As a reader, she liked the book. If she puts on her NYC-type editor hat, she sees why it got rejected like the Ugly Duckling (before it became a best selling swan). The blog-writer has a lot bigger grasp of what the readers want when she’s reading as a reader than when she’s reading as an editor. Which is sad and telling.

      1. And even though she ackowledges that she would be wrong, I have to wonder how well that lesson will sink in. Will she take this back to her day job? Likely not. Peer pressure and job security demand that she continue as she was before.

        1. She is not an editor. She does not work for a publishing company. She did not think the book was crap. (“Fun and funny and loved how it embraced science.”) She speculates as to why an editor might have passed on the work to make the point that writers should not be discouraged by rejection.

    2. Yes this. Sheesh. What that piece had to say about The Martian was
      1)This was why she would have rejected it
      2)And this is her analysis of why she would have been wrong to do so
      3) Lather, rinse, repeat
      4) Ending with encouraging people who are getting rejections to remember their story might be great but might just not have found the right reader yet, and they should keep trying including remembering that self-publishing is an option.
      The whole piece might have been written by an MGC member, on a good day.

  5. One Turtledove story had a bureaucrat who was cheating soldiers out of their pay/support.

    Then the Centurion pays him a visit and chews him out.

    Oh, the bureaucrat’s boss, who knows the Centurion, warns the bureaucrat that he doesn’t want to see the Centurion angry. [Evil Grin]

      1. One of my favorite heroes. Every month when I went through the news stand to see which SF magazine first {as I could afford them, this being ’67 and I was a soph in high school}, Keith Laumer and his Retief stories were amongst those I looked for first. If I had a choice to make in those days, only Zelazny and Poul Anderson came out ahead.

    1. Maybe Earl and Heather can have kids. Maybe they have a little red headed girl. Maybe Owen inspires a love of accounting in her. Maybe she joins the IRS because of the werewolf drive to evil.

  6. I think, you know, that the cognitive disconnect going on here is that when a good story well told features a non-heroic figure (ie., Miles Vokosigan) that figure is transformed into an heroic figure in the course of the story well told and no matter that the “hero” is an auditor, an accountant, a cripple or a whiny brat, is gay or is an oppressed alien minority… they by virtue of their heroics begin to *look like* a traditional hero and thus No Longer Count. As in… they don’t get *counted* as being a representative of this new an glorious inclusive future of non-traditional heroes.

    Because with only a moment’s thought any one of us can pull dozens of examples of “not a traditional muscle bound hero” out of the air. Anyone can say, well, none of those are a trans lesbian secretary are they, and anyone can say, well, why don’t we have a book with a hero who is a trans lesbian secretary then? And what is missed entirely there is the word HERO at which point this “mirror” protagonist becomes an honorary muscle bound white Cimmarian.

    1. A Hero is one who risks his/her all for others, a cause, etc.

      Miles can’t be a Conan but still risks his all.

      Miles’ weapons are different than Conan’s but he’s still a Hero.

      I was about to say that it would be harder to show a bureaucrat as a hero but then I remembered Poul Anderson’s “Sam Hall”.

      The hero was a government bureaucrat who used his access to the Master Computer to assist in bringing down a fascist US government that he worked for. [Smile]

      1. I don’t think that it would be difficult to show a bureaucrat as a hero at all. Take any spy novel, for example. Or story from History about some fellow hiding Jews from the Nazi’s. Or stories of martyrs and saints. It doesn’t rely at all on their occupation but on their risk… as you pointed out.

        I’d go so far as to say that the “Conan” trope has been subverted often enough and well enough that writing a muscle bound warrior might even be the subversive choice.

        1. PTerry did Cohen the really, really, really old barbarian how long ago- 1986? Even the “Illiad” poked holes in the heroic fantasy narritive- witness Achilles initial rejection of lasting fame and glory in favor of a long, ordinary life.
          That’s the thing when the young literati think they are being all clever and rebellious and transgressive and stuff.
          First, the trope deconstruction has already been done before, and usually better.
          Second, it just reveals the literati’s ignorance of the genre they think they’re going to turn upside down.
          Third, the kind of check box, politicized, politically correct SJW story tends to come across as New Coke or Crystal Pepsi. It’s the kind of trendy crap literati snobs read to impress other literati snobs, but pretty much discarded and forgotten within 5 years or so.

  7. The Unpleasant Profession of Johnathan Hoag.
    Harold Shea: Psychologist.
    Bilbo: Professional couch potato.
    E.C “Scar” Gordon: Grifter.
    Luke Skywalker: Nerf herder.
    The list of “poor orphan/adopted child” heroes would boggle anyone.

    Do they even read actual works in the field? If the character starts the story as “I am a badass”, then … character growth is necessarily affected.

  8. Watney doesn’t drone on and on about how doomed he is, but if you read between the lines of his log entries, he is worried. Jokes are how he copes.

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