Dear Dr. Ellie Arroway

Last weekend I attended ConFusion, a fan-run science fiction convention in the Detroit suburbs. As always, i had an absolute blast.  I hung out with all my friends, went to some panels, sat on some panels, went to some great parties, made some new friends. The promise I made to myself was that I would let myself stay in social situation I know how to navigate (helping at the Apex table in the vendor room, chilling with my friends, complimenting people on their beautiful outfits), and I wouldn’t push myself into social situations I didn’t want to navigate, such as introducing myself to people I don’t know. For that reason, when it came to asking for authors to autograph stuff, I mostly chickened out. I waltzed into the mass autograph session with not a single book in my hand, and said hello to authors I’m friends with.

I write stuff, but I am not a writer.

I write blog posts, book reviews, interviews, the occasional “essay”.   Last weekend an author friend very politely asked if I’ve tried to write fiction, or if I’d want to.  Well, writing fiction is hard as fuck, so the easy answer is No, I’ll leave that to the professionals, thank you very much!

Here’s the long answer:

I love falling asleep to music of varying intensity.  I used to fall asleep to whatever music was on whatever computer game my husband was playing. I judged his games by if the music was good napping music or not.  My sensory system has a lot of crossed wires to being with (fun!), and this can intensify if I’m half asleep, or if I am experiencing a sound that is new, unconventional, or much higher or lower pitched than I am used to.  You ever get chills up your spine when you hear a particular piece of instrumental music? It’s like that, but times a thousand.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Hans Zimmer lately – Dunkirk soundtrack, Inception soundtrack, Interstellar sountrack, etc.  He breaks a lot of  “rules” with his compositions, and most of his stuff completely freaks out my sensory system, so I dig it.  Listening to it is like chomping on a handful of Szechuan peppercorns.

However long the piece of music is, that is how long my experience is.

Sometimes I try to put words to what I experience.  That a particular actor’s very low voice feels like I’ve fallen to the bottom of the ocean and the atmospheric pressure on my skin feels like the worlds best weighted blanket, that a particular melody from the soundtrack of Interstellar feels like I’m tumbling up a spiral staircase and gravity is messed up and I’m falling up.  That I’m swimming, that I’m flying, that I’m swimming through the Earth, that I’m standing on the edge of the ocean and my feet are slowly sinking into the sand and I want to go out with the surf water, that music can sound like the buzz of a Szechuan peppercorn, that a certain pitch of a man’s voice can pull me under.  Words don’t really work here, because my metaphors (which are not exactly metaphors because in some sense I am being literal) don’t make any sense.   Communication only works if the other person understands what you are saying,  so words are not the right method of communication for what I experience.

When I’ve tried to put words to the experience, I end up with something nonsensical than can be read in maybe 60 seconds. A fully sensory experience that lasted anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes has been distilled into a few paragraphs that don’t make any sense.  Words, language, fail me because they are not the right method of communication for what I am trying to communicate.

You remember the movie Contact, with Jodie Foster? If you haven’t seen it, you should see it, it’s really good. The book is great too,  and even though they took SO MANY liberties with the movie, I actually like the movie more than the book.  Anyways, at the end of the movie, the main character, Dr. Ellie Arroway,  experiences something. She struggles to put it into words that anyone else will understand.  When she’s told that what she experienced (that to her, must have taken a few hours, at least), only lasted a second or so, she doesn’t know how to respond. Her sensory experience was distilled down to a second or so, and what she experienced doesn’t at all match the sensory experience of other people, and words, spoken language, doesn’t work at all for anyone to communicate to anyone else.  The end of the story is actually quite sad.  Words and spoken language quite literally fail humanity.

Dear Ellie, my experiences are completely different than yours, but sister, I hear you.