In the event you were concerned, The Machine is not dead. I picked it up again a few weeks ago when I started a writing class that focuses on how the heck to put a story together. Story is my challenge, which I defined in mid-August while taking a creative essay class. Story is what happens between A and B. It’s the PB&J slathered between slices of warm, chewy bread. It’s the journey between Earth and Mars. The how the heck did we get here?
Maybe you already knew this—it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it—but, sometimes, I need a flashing billboard and dancing cats before something clicks into place.
Several months ago I started TM with a narrative voice, but not much else. That voice took me through a few pages, then stopped. Some writers can just create a character who then wanders around, creating adventure, and voilà! a story is born. I’ve never been able to do this. My characters are usually some sliver of me, so they generally find a nice corner and beat their heads against the wall, because that is how you discover the meaning of life.
The class I’m taking has opened the story enormously so far, just through the writing of What if? questions. What if I wake up one morning as a gigantic bug? What if my family finds me repulsive and locks me in my room? What if my fairy godmother observes my distress and beams down a handsome prince to save me? What if that prince refuses to kiss my pincher lips and now we’re both locked in this room together? What if my sister, who has always loved me and is distraught at my transformation, peeks through the keyhole to check if I’m alive, sees the prince, falls in love, steals him away, and they are married that evening?
It’s kinda fun. Not that I had fun creating my own list—it was a little frustrating at this stage when I don’t know my character or the world well enough, but the list-making did bring a lot of great questions to mind, and I have a loose idea now of where the story will go, so my character can stop beating their head against the wall now.
This is a draft, and feel free to tell me your thoughts: likes, false moments, where I should add unicorns.
What if TM has always been an oddball, on the outside of the circle, because they didn’t get the unspoken social rules or fit into any groups, because of their overly analytical nature?
What if this lead to intense loneliness, which TM ameliorated through books?
What if this caused huge conflicts with their mother, growing up, because she didn’t understand their behaviors and related conflicts (bullying)?
What if this led TM to disconnect even more from their emotions, further preventing them from relating to others, at times? Though this doesn’t mean they completely lack sympathy or empathy; it just takes a lot to get them to feel.
What if TM moves out as soon as they turn 18 and get their housing allotment, further straining the mother-child relationship?
What if TM’s affect prevents them from getting a job, since most available require intensive personal contact and TM always fails the culture interviews, even for the few computer-based jobs?
What if TM practices “normal” human behavior at home then uses this at interviews?
What if it doesn’t help but catches the attention of Sara, who is intrigued?
What if Sara contacts TM and manages to get TM a job in one of the few non-interpersonal areas, namely link clicking?
What if Sara and TM become best friends, possibly lovers?
What if Sara is someone TM can relax with, emote more with?
What if an antibiotic-resistant plague (The Loss) begins sweeping across the world?
What if Sara gets sick, but TM doesn’t notice?
What if Sara convinces TM to see a psychic with her?
What if the psychic tells TM to go to the water?
What if this doesn’t make sense to TM, especially given the water restrictions, including access to the ocean?
What if Sara dies a few days later?
What if TM locks themself into their apartment, numb, waiting for the plague to stop spreading?
What if TM loses their capacity to escape into books?
What if TM survives because of the way their building is designed—ea. apt. is its own unit, nothing connects, an experimental unit?
What if once the All Clear sounds, 50% (or some horrific number) of the population has died?
What if this includes TM’s mother?
What if TM inherits their mother’s cat, which, btw, their mother could have left to any number of friends, and let’s not go into what the cat did to their mother’s corpse.
What if TM doesn’t understand keeping pets, including cats?
What if TM considers killing the cat or somehow getting rid of it?
What if TM changes their mind and keeps the cat? [maybe Sara loved cats]
What if the inability to read, the cat in that tiny apartment, and loneliness drive TM into the world?
What if they respond to Marcos’s (work overseer-type) attempts at friendship/relationship?
What if Marcos is very popular, wealthy, and introduces TM to a different class of people?
What if TM, again, acts normal in order to fit in?
What if TM succeeds (perhaps the complete lack of emotion, due to grief, is the ticket) and becomes popular among these friends?
What if this popularity spills into professional life and TM skyrockets up the ladder, an odd combination of faking it ’til you make it with totally rational decision making, plus the world’s a thinner place.
What if Marcos, initially attracted by the depth he saw in TM, is confused by this changed and obviously fake behavior? [Why does he wait so long to confront?]
What if he confronts TM about the change?
What if this confrontation triggers the grief over Sara’s death that TM has been refusing to feel, like the pebble holding up the mountain until the elephant sneezes?
What if the shame, guilt, and anger causes TM to lash out at Marcos in a pretty unforgivable way?
What if everything else comes tumbling down as a well, the faking it no longer an option?
What if TM finally takes the psychic’s advice and goes to the ocean (now they can afford it, too)?
What if this is the beginning of a transformation?
What if TM decides to escape into the world of their favorite book (must have some sort of water theme)?
What if TM decides to build a boat, which is illegal?
What if TM finds someone who will sell them wood and hide it in a certain place near the ocean?
What if TM works on the boat in secret?
What if Marcos finds out (something about keeping tabs on them, huge sums of money moving around)?
What if Marcos threatens to report TM?
What if TM goes into hiding (with the cat), in a cave near the ocean, working on the boat?
What if TM swims daily, and the transformation continues, something about the grief and loneliness healing?
What if TM’s sudden fall from popularity and financial activity (boat materials bribe) catches the attention of the media?
What if the media finds TM on the beach, probably because some people saw TM when they visited the shore?
What if the media tries to get TM talking?
Again, what if TM escapes, this time to the ocean, with no plan?
What if the aborted interview and the escape are broadcast?
What if TM isn’t arrested, even though their activities are illegal, because, well, entertainment, also, 50% of the world just died, priorities are different?
What if at some point during this journey out to sea TM simply accepts Sara’s death, their difference…maybe some other stuff, and this opens the emotion barrier that opened with Sara, that had been closed in childhood.
What if that leads them to turn the boat around and go back?
What if Marcos is there to greet them, whisk them through the throng and back to safety (his apology for the role he played in this)?
What if TM resettles, this time in a slightly larger microapartment, with more space for the cat?
What if someone reaches out to them, another oddball, one who watched the escape story?
What if they become friends?
What if TM finds a community?
This is a story about someone trying to connect with others.
This is a story about social contradictions: valuation of the emotional over the rational while automating the workforce, life; valuation of individuality over conformity while being increasingly able to avoid introspection and interaction with difference; possessing increasing amounts of personal information about each other while knowing less and less.
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And please enjoy this Medusa sculpture from Habana. Unlike The Machine, she bristles with emotion.