I Like My Hatred Like I Like My Coffee: Black, And Internal
“Because you are a slacker, and not very good at math,” Mr. Macaluso told me. “You’re failing Trigonometry because you’re not smart enough to do the work.”
This would have been bad under normal circumstances, but Mr. Macaluso had the kind of breath that could melt a cockroach. So I was not only being berated, but feeling that nasal tingle that only comes when the nerves in your sinus cavities are being eroded by toxic emissions.
I left Mr. Macaluso’s office clouded with hatred. I fucking despised that man for his awful haircut, his soup-stained tie, his sewage pit of a mouth, and his mastery of an arcane field of mathematics that he could never quite explain why it would be useful to anyone. He’d told me I would be a failure?
So I clawed my way into Trigonometry, one semester at a time. First, I changed that oncoming F to a D. Next semester, a C. Then a B, and finally I finished with an A.
Mr. Macaluso complimented me. What neither of us realized is that the best way to get me to do something is to tell me that I cannot, and then provide me with someone I hate in order to keep me going. I still despise Mr. Macaluso, even twenty-five years later, but I acknowledge him as simultaneously annoying and useful – the way a cow views a cattle prod. It concerns me sometimes that I’ve never been able to master the Light Side of the Force… but when you can’t be Luke you have to admit that Darth had some pretty mad chops.
Unfortunately, I’ve never had anyone I hated sufficiently tell me that I cannot write.
So in the absence of a viable enemy, I chose myself.
I say this because I had a long conversation at WorldCon with the redoubtable Cassie Alexander, who told me that all my self-hatred and doubt was going to “smother my muse.” She was concerned that my constant despite about my writing was, eventually, going to cause me to stumble into a vast desert of writers’ block, from which I might never emerge.
Thing is, Cassie knows a lot about writing. Her three-book urban fantasy series Nightshifted is about to come out, and she’s writing a magnificent series of posts on How to Write a Novel in Six Months, which I advise you all to read. And in general, she’s correct when she dispenses advice.
But for me, what drives me is in my inadequacy. It’s an advanced technique, certainly not for beginners, but the way I work is that I find what I loathe about myself and rub salt in that wound until I hate myself so much that it triggers my FUCK YOU I’LL SHOW YOU instinct. If I look at something I’ve done and see no flaws, then I kick back on the couch and start up a new game of Dragon Age – hey, I’ve done some good work, time to fuck around on Twitter! But if I look at something and notice a flaw, my HOW COULD YOU BE THAT STUPID kicks in. And for me, HOW COULD YOU BE THAT STUPID triggers an instantaneous, and violent, FUCK YOU I’M NOT STUPID I’LL SHOW YOU HOW TO FIX THIS.
There’s a reason I wear a white gold ring. It’s not that I’m exactly a fan of Thomas Covenant the character, famed leper rapist. But his white gold ring was the symbol of a vast, untapped power that he could only summon at moments of apoplectic purity of emotion; the rest of the time, he was helpless. And so it is with me. All of my tightly-bound neurosis is actually how I work, the way I channel my muse. My muse is not a flittering angel with hummingbird wings but a BDSM leather bitch who glares at me the first time I swing the whip and sneers, “Is that all you got?”
It leads to awful moments, I admit. Every time I proof a story that I’ve sold, I have to suppress the bubble of vomit that pops in the back of my throat, and then my wife has to physically hold me back from tearing the proof up and rewriting the story entirely. It means I hate doing readings, because I’m reading a tale that, to me, is nothing more than a handful of clever sentences afloat in a sea of flaming dog crap. And don’t even get me started on self-promotion.
Yet what comes out each year is better than the last. My prose is tighter, my characters more human. And I want to write every day, because when I sit down I’m doing battle with a grand opponent who wants to defeat me. You can’t write a story anyone will want to buy, it once said. Now it whispers, You can’t write a story anyone will want to read. Eventually, if I get enough fiction-fans to disprove that notion, it’ll be You can’t write a story that will win an award.
It doesn’t matter. That voice is my Macaluso, that shit-breathed fuckface panting my my ear, driving my fingers to the keyboard because this time, I’m going to do it. See that flaw? I’m going to make it a goddamned stain on the wall. You can’t tell me what to do, me. I’ll show myself. I’ll consume this black hatred and shit beauty, see if I don’t.