…Synthesis is a weird thing; in my brain, it's either working or it isn't. And I'm realizing that writing fiction is the thing that makes it work, that greases those cogs and applies the force to move that particular machine. I'm actually possessed of a different mind when I'm writing than when I'm not. And writing breeds writing; when I'm doing it every day, the machine is turning, and everything I encounter gets churned up in it.
Rainer Maria Rilke said, in his awesome "Letters to a Young Poet", that the question you must ask yourself, deep in the blank silent place where we are all totally alone, is "Must I write?" –And it's just true, and always has been, that for me that answer is Yes. I go slowly crazy without it; I harden; I dry out; and I lose the ability to synthesize.
Unfortunately when I am writing, I'm also crazy (just in a more fluid and happier way), and I produce a lot of strangeness that really has no place in this world that I know of…so congratulations, blogland; you win the garage-sale potluck treasure-hunt giveaway of my mind. ;)
This one's called "Grandpa Bill's Time Travel Advice". There's a story behind it, but maybe it's more fun without that. (Knowing the backstory is sometimes like knowing what that tasty dumpling is made of, innit?) I will mention, though, that I love Time as a subject, simply because it lets you have so much subtle fun with the language, just by changing tenses, or messing with things people say but don't usually mean literally. This piece is littered with little crap I did on purpose just to be snarky about the fact that it's written by a time-traveler.
Oh well. Here you go!
Grandpa Bill's Time Travel Advice
at whatever age this reaches you—perhaps
hello to your lovely wife, perhaps
condolences on your poor friend, perhaps
congratulations on your graduation—there are always
a thousand perhapses, and perhaps that is lesson one: you must always
remember them all, if you are to Travel.
I realize this letter may not be the fanciest of presents,
but it will arrive at precisely the right time, and that,
you will learn, is worth something.
Wherever you are about to go when you receive this–
the attic, the garage, the boat-house, the antiques shop–
there is where you will find it, and after that nothing will be
anything like you expected. You will know, or figure out by accident,
how to use it; that is always true. Everything else you must learn.
And you will learn things
that it feels like no man should know, but you must trust me on this,
that you, if no-one else, at least you, were meant to know.
For that is who we are.
Take a moment, then, now, to gather yourself – I've made sure
that you should have a moment, so please use it. The shock can be
and it's essential that you keep your wits about you.
Take stock of all the physical things you carry: Your hat, your watch,
the frog in your pocket, anything. Anything you take with you,
you must keep the utmost careful track of, for a physical object
is like a depth-charge in the streams of time; for as long as it exists,
which admittedly is not usually long in the grand scheme,
it can push and pull the currents around it so far,
so scarily far. Next, find a mirror and memorize your own face.
Tell yourself its features: High forehead, flattened nose,
perhaps that chiseled dent in the upper-lip that I have myself.
If you can, study family pictures and stories as well, and know their traits,
see them in yourself and learn how to hide them;
for you'll be shocked how easy it is to encounter your kin,
and I don't think I need to tell you how horrible the consequences
of doing so unwittingly can be. You exist,
and I exist, because all of us have either taken the utmost care,
or given our utmost – sometimes our lives – to correct some mistake.
This is just one of the many occupational hazards.
Have a care for your health: Neither food, nor drug, nor disease
in other places is necessarily compatible with your own. Bring your own
victuals and medicine; keep your skin covered; do not have sex.
Learn to carry valuables, but not money; non-local currency is useless and a giveaway,
but your spoons, or some other silly thing, may keep you comfortably quite a while.
And speaking of whiles: Beware staying too long. At first,
your aim should be to stay only seconds, minutes; learn
what you can from a single scene, and then leave immediately. As you get better
with researching and preparing, it will be safer to stay longer,
but don't look for immortality too soon:
Life is more complex than you could ever possibly understand.
Remember this fact and give it the respect it is due.
For a beginner trip: Go to the past first. Distant enough that you aren't there twice,
but near enough that you can speak the language and work the
technology. Get used to moving around in at least one long-gone era.
Be wary of witnessing major historical events – they will cause images
of you to proliferate, which can cause many problems
in the future.
As to the future: Save it for emergencies or when you are
very advanced. Start by going a bit ahead of where you aim to be,
and stealing the equivalent of a history encyclopedia. That way
you can at least do some research. Without research,
nowhere is safe. But the future is extra-unsafe, because there you may be
Learn mathematics – lots of mathematics, and physics. All the most impressive
things of which you are now capable, hinge on your understanding of
numbered time, and the laws of the Universe.
Fortunately, the gift for calculation runs in our family; I hope you have it.
That's about all the practical advice I can probably give you,
dear grandson (and, truth be told, we are related other ways as well;
but those are mysteries you must untangle yourself or remain ignorant, as you choose).
But I have a piece of philosophical advice as well, after all my decades
and centuries of experience: We are not here by accident.
The thing which you are about to find is more than a miracle of science;
it is a miracle, period.
It exists for a reason, even more so than you or I or any other thing:
It is here to serve a purpose. You are part of that purpose.
It is up to you to find which part, and to be that thing as hard and pure
and for as long as you can.
I wish you a large beautiful sphere of love and life and pain and reality.