Her name is Rae. Rae for Rachel, I think. Her last name is Oestreich, I think. At least that's what she goes by. Her twitter handle says @Rae_Slater, so there's another name in that story. I don't think Oestreich is short for Slater. Perhaps someday that mystery will be revealed.
I met her on twitter. Met is a big word for twitter. I've never met her in the familiar sense of the word.
It started, oh, sometime in June of 2014. I was on the Internet, bouncing between videos, watching this or that, looking for something interesting. I ended up watching Amanda Palmer's video on TED. I clicked on to follow Amanda on twitter. Amanda's a big word there. It implies a level of relationship that isn't there. No, I just followed Mrs. Palmer on twitter.
Then of course, I read twitter. The people of the people I follow came in glimpses. One such was Ksenia Anske. I clicked follow. Of course then then the people of the people I follow came in glimpses. There were so many.
I don't like following un-interesting, un-smart people, and I certainly don't want to give the creep vibe by following all the pretty ladies.
I continued engaging Ksenia, in conversation, banter, and witty repartee. Occasionally, others joined in, forming three, four-way conversations.
Somehow, I ended up following and being followed by a dozen in Ksenia's followership.
One of these was Rae.
Now, she was but one among many, as it should be, yet she fell squarely, categorically-speaking, into the beautiful group.
At first, I saw her photo and thought, ooooh, she's pretty. For this reason I chose not to follow her. I know, it sounds counter-intuitive. The end-result of me following all the pretty ladies would be an endless stream of OMG, makeup, dresses, hot TV actors, and this would render my twitter stream completely useless for my purpose: discovering and interacting with smart and interesting people.
Within a week or two, however, having first followed Coryl o'Reilly, Lara Meone Savine, Madeline Courtney, and Briana Morgan, I began encountering Rae's tweets with increasing regularity. Having bantered, read her blog, I followed her.
And so began the slow rapprochement.
She read my stories, commented, pronoun-pruned Jillian, a short story of mine. I read her blog, commented. Throught each other's writings, we glimpsed the humans.
Her blog post on January 22nd, 2015, titled Interactions that have an impact, is about the value of relashionships. Her very last sentence reads: "In my experience, the information you get from actively interacting with other people (and writers) can be the most valuable knowledge you ever get."
Ah! Relationships! Another great big word. What we have, at best, is correspondence. I go about my life, drive my red Mercedes-Benz to work, where I struggle within technical boundaries and even more formidable managerial boundaries to try to tease instants of speed improvements out of hopelessly overwhelmed data processing systems. Then I drive home the way I came, along the 101 freeway, exiting at Reseda, proceeding North to reach my house near California State University at Northridge. Then I greet my wife with a hug, my son with a hug. We cook, we eat, we go to sleep after a bit of playing, of TV (not me, them) or of yelling. Sometimes I write. Often I computer, reaching out over the electrified wires to trade banter and smileys with like-minded wordsmiths across land and sea, in states far away, countries in snow or sweltering heat, up, it seems, at all hours of the day and night. On Fridays, Friday Phrases keeps me entertained with trying to release yearnings, sadness, longings, and desires in 140 characters, and I feel happy when one clicks favorite.
In New Mexico, Rae is watching what movie for the Nth time out of the corner of eye, driving her rommate crazy. Beyond that, thought, her life is a mystery. How tall she is, the true shade of her eyes, of her hair, remain hidden. The colors on twitter are faded by bad light and the pixelated laptop camera picture.
She is beautiful, and I told her so. Yet this is not what draws me to her.
She is smart, exhudes innocence and joie de vivre tinged with passion for violence that forever shall remain suppressed, and a self-determination that betrays a fear of disappointing. Yes, Rae tries to please.
Ah, how easy it is to fall into that glove, to banter and reward oneself with the rapt attention of one so promising!
So pleasing yet so treacherous.
Beneath her easy smile and sparkling eyes, past the kind words, the tender disposition, lies a fierce woman, a dreadful fighter, a terrific writer.
How do I know? Her written words betray her. The veneer of friendliness and agreeableness cannot hide the vermillion and black scales of the beast, the flexing of the muscles of the mind that methodically tear down book after book, extracting their elixir for her blog, squeezing with impossibly tight fists the flowery phrases until their essential oils seep between her white-knuckled fingers.
But that's not all! She's carrying a full load at New Mexico State University, pursuing a BA in creative writing. I'm sure her fingertips are permanently flat from all the writing her teachers require. Somehow, though, she still finds the time to work, write for herself (The Hollow Men), and entertain us all on twitter. The woman is a machine! If she's not careful, the Google Robotics Division will buy her and dissect her to extract the AI for their next trillion-dollar venture.
Oh, and then she manages to read, write posts, and take showers in the dark. That last bit may be a slight exaggeration but there is some evidence she has contemplated the prospect.
And she's only 20. Ah, to be young and full of energy, fire, and wit. Color me impressed.
Yet I do not know Rae. I leave comments on her blog, I track her every move on twitter, I guiltily reviewed her facebook pictures without clicking the add friend button. What if she thinks I'm a creep if I do that? What if she already thinks I'm a creep?
No, I do not know Rae. We have not sat across or next to each other at a restaurant, nor driven to the coast to watch the sun brilliantly pink and orange the clouds above the Malibu cliffs during evening sunsets. We have not hugged on Sunday morning at church. We have not sat together at Starbucks, drinking tea (me) and coffee (her) out of wax-lined cardboard cups and discussed turns of phrases from books, characters and their flaws, themes, flow, pacing, vocabulary. We have not heartily laughed at our own jokes, blushed at awkward wordings, nor spoken excitedly about work-in-progress.
Nor, in fact, does she know me. She too reads my tweets, my fiction, and some poetry. She perhaps reviewed my facebook photos. She and I speak with words, on twitter, twitter DM, via email, via her blog... But the persona I project is not the real me, and I imagine the persona she projects is not the real her.
She does not see me angry, frustrated, burned-out, overhelmed, sad, depressed, and self-destructive. She does not see the things I do alone, the thoughts I think alone, the fears I fear, the doubts I entertain, the beliefs I reconsider, when faced with the darkness of man, in such prominent display on twitter streams from Syria, Egypt, Burma, Libya, et caetera.
She does not know, and I am glad. She may have read Heart of Darkness, and held it in literary horror. She did not read King Leopold's Ghost and that is good, because it turn Conrad's Heart of Darkness into a lovely faery tale. (Rae, if you feel tempted, wait 25 years before reading that.)
As I delve deeper in the darkness within, exploring the unlit caverns of my self, I take only a torch and pen, and the biggest gun I can carry, for the beasts within are fearsome and wily, ready to consume the fragile me. I would not take Rae on such journey, nor she me.
My wife, my partner of twenty years, the mother of my child, the healer of my sadness, gave me the courage to face the inward beasts and slay them over repeated excursions into the imaginary. Yet I do not take her with me. She has her own to take care of.
Likewise Rae. While some seek companionship of the mind for the arduous journey of self-discovery, of inner-identity, they often burden them with crushing pain and unresolvable quandaries.
We must face these forbidding cliffs, shrouded in dark, damp mists, alone. The scary scrags, slick with treachery, are ours to scale, and to require that another bear our burden is unkind at best.
When, later, at rest, I lie prone in the meadow below, and dictate the dread-filled flights and fights to the dutiful scribe, I think of the reader. For every fall, I describe the rope that saved me. In each fight with a frightful monster, whether a fanged hairy beast or a deceitful shaved beauty, I write of the final blow that slew the fell foe. For every turn in a narrow cave that led my weary step to the same place, again, and again, hopelessly lost in a maze of masks and shifting memories, I do not fail to end it all with emergence into bright light, into radiant sunlight.
The scribe, later, turns the scribbled manuscript to the professional computer programmer for speedy formatting and delivery worldwide over the Internet, there to sit until unsuspecting eyeballs wander too far and fall, ensnared, to be forever changed.
Am I speaking of selfishness, of a desire to be read for accolades and attaboys? Am I speaking of building a veritable empire of social-media cashflowness? Am I speaking of producing the 2015 Pulitzer, the next Great American Novel, the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list?
Mine is a loftier goal. I seek to build relationships across time and space, to bring the lone reader in leather chair or on dirt floor a shining torch, a glowing sword, a cloak of invincibility, so that they too may turn inward along the dark ward corridors and stride confidently down memories and confront all the crazy, scary, and unforgiven treason within.
Will they pay me for my effort? Some may, but I care not terribly. Will they hate me for my candor and honesty? Well, uncomfortable they may be. I care not. One does not learn to face demons by hiding under blankets, by seeking a life of ease and pleasantries.
So now you see how I seek to form a bond with the reader: I will yank and push them right out of their comfort zone, with a tough shove and steely eyes. And when they plead most plaintively, I will pull out a six-foot spear and with a gruff and rusty voice declare: "Let's learn how to use this properly."
Then together we explore the strange landscape and mysteries. Do I tell them which way to go? How would I know? Do I describe the blades of grass, the pink flowers, the gnarly vines? Must I explain the way she smiles, the father's stare, the mother's cries?
Inexorably, I lead the reader deeper, past the familiar countryside, into the forest of unhappiness, finally reaching the dark forbidding gates of the dungeon of demons.
Slowly I let the reader touch the smooth opaque stone of the gate. I look into their eye and slowly speak the spell: "Whatever lies within cannot hurt you. I grant you invincibility, and I will be with you every step of the way."
Leaving behind the relative safety, the reader feels alone. While I light the way with my staff, sword in hand, he follows haltingly, expecting a menace in every crevasse, visioning an apparition at each flicker of light.
At last, his inhibitions freed, their bond broken by my prodding, his demons shriek and rush and attack the reader. His trembling hand drops the sword and clangs on the stone floor, but I parry each and every blow, commmanding the coward: "Pick up your sword and fight!"
Those who do, who don't run back in terror past the gates, past the woods, back to their bed and blankets, find the strength within to face their inner beasts, their own abominations.
Soon, for it does not take long, I find myself falling back, watching the fight. The hero grows and grows, his blows mechanical, his precision striking, his footing assured. Now it is he, or she, who leads me onward. They know where treasures lie, they sense their victory. Now at last, I gain my reward: transforming the weak who is afraid of the dark into a Paladin of invincible might. They too find their reward: rich gold of memories, gems of self-awareness, diamond of confidence.
When at last we emerge into the bright blue sky, treading upon the grass of manicured gardens I stare at their stature, and in comparison, I feel I diminished. Comrades-in-arms, companions of combat, fellow conquerors of nightmarish devils, our bond of trust and friendship is now inviolate. What we shared, few have dared.
I traveled with them in the depth of their depravity, knee-deep in the swamps of sins, climbed down dark staircases to repressed memories, met and faced ghosts from their past. They trusted me with their innermost fears, their most secret desires, their forbidden taboos. Now, dear reader, our bond is complete.
What was it that Rae said?
"In my experience, the information you get from actively interacting with other people (and writers) can be the most valuable knowledge you ever get".
Well, what did she mean by that, really?
Did interacting with writers get her that most valuable knowledge? Is interacting with othr people, actively interacting, really that important? Is holding hands, staring into the eyes of that special someone after a walk on the beach and speaking tenderly words of lifetime commitment and declarations of dedication more interesting and valuable than following along a TV show or reading a blog about leveraging coupon codes for financial gain?
Yes! A thousand times yes!
Are we sheep to be led by the thousands along the trodden corral paths of mass media? Are we followers of polished personal brands that strategically target our demographic cohort in a concerted effort to raid our piggybanks? Are we the clikers of like and retweet who, insecure, view the followership count as the validation of our online presence?
The big data companies, in their gargantuan efforts, are tabulating all, including, perhaps, the very air we breathe, tell what we collectively do as an organism. They turn around and sell this mountain of bits to media makers and shakers who, in their infinite wisdom, forecast the needs and desires of the great unwashed masses with sophisticated statistical algorithms and decide, on marble or mahogany desks, what, next season, will be hot or not, like it or not.
Is this the parasitic organism you wish to serve by producing works to their format, their specification? Will you fall prey to their machinations?
Or will you seek out real people, real writers, and let them into your life, deeper than anyone before, to form a bond computers can only dream of?
Writers are a special kind of crazy, understanding that it's completely ok to hear voices in one's head, that daydreaming of fantasy and carnal desires is work research, that spending countless hours alone is productivity, that exploring the boundaries of society is where to find money.
Computer hackers twist their minds rigorously to bend real machines to their will. Writers reach within madness to unhinge the populace from conformity. They are the hackers of the human brain, of long-forgotten survival mechanisms, of chemical factories, of visoneering subsystems. They subvert accounting systems of ages past, namely the letters of the alphabet, once used to tally sheep and bronze shields in the king's warehouses, and with these create images, video streams in full technicolor, with massive sound, symphonic orchestral scores, with touch and smell and feeling of prickling grass or the softness of a cat's fur on skin.
Computer-generated anything quickly becomes irrelevant, and big data is revealed for what it really is: another accounting system. Forget the novelty of pixel-based systems. They cannot compare with pre-industrial technology, they are merely a conduit.
On fancy paper with ink and quill Shakespeare wrote. Victor Hugo wrote. Vortaire wrote. Tolstoy wrote. But that's not all: Mozart, Vivadi, Liszt too used the quill.
Go see what Hugo Pratt did with paper and ink! Go see!
Writing is not modern technology, yet it is the most advanced technology. Writers are the true hackers: they push altering algorithms straight into human brains. They create worlds and gods and whole civilizations. They paint images so vivid Hollywood spends 200 million recreating them for the benefit of the dull. In the 60s, Frank Herbert wrote of worms that swallowed spice harvesters, of hard desert men who created an empire under the banner of Jihad, of betrayal, greed, honor, friendship, drugs, beliefs in strange religions, cults, and the inexorable grind of time. Hollywood and its computers still cannot match the imagery, the emotion, despite constant trying. They hope computer software and animation will one day allow them to capture the essence of a book published 50 years ago. Is this really the god you worship? This streaming-media consortium? Do you bow to NetFlix shows? Are you a slave to ESPN? Is your ritual pushing remote buttons as you enter you home to fill your house with studio noise? Arrgh! What are you doing to yourself?
I posit to you that perhaps your time would be better spent interacting with real people, either far or near, dead or living, who will enrich you through intelligent discourse rather than stip-mine you resalable data points.
Put aside the constant bells and whistles, the notifications of the need-to-know, and learn to lose your incessant self into another's mind adventure.
Not only will you disconnect long enough to recognize your body's natural rhythms, but by interacting with these hackers of the mind, these writers of words, you just might get that most valuable knowledge: the knowledge of your self.
Rae is such a writer. Let her guide you back to you.
© 2015 Christopher Mahan