So, about forty thousand years back, there was this lesbian Neanderthal. Only this was before Lesbos, so, at the time, she would have been called by a more descriptive term. Probably something along the lines of, “She Who Is Both a Haver and Appreciator of Boobs,” or maybe “Woman Who Shops In the Men’s Section for Neanderthal Underwear, Not To Make A Statement Or Anything, Just Because It Is Really Comfortable.”
Something like that. Only, y’see, dating prospects were pretty thin on the ground for Paleolithic Havers-And-Appreciators-Of-Boobs, given that there were no book clubs or amateur soccer leagues. So she spent a lot of time moping around in her cave, checking Neander-Twitter and snorgling her sabre-toothed tiger. And also making eyes at the Cro-Magnon woman who was renovating the cave next door. Fixing up the Neander-plumbing, you know, all swaggering out into the yard in her mammoth-hide Doc Martens, with a bottle of Neander-Beer. And our Neanderthal Boob-Appreciator sat there watching her, all torn up and aching, trying to figure out something more interesting to say than, “Well hello there! I see that you have opposable thumbs! Precision grip, am I right? Hey, you want to go down to the river and watch while everyone else in my tribe gets devoured by eagles?”
So of course, in the end, she said nothing, just sat there and burned. And in the evening, while she was grilling up her dinner steak on her Neanderthal hibachi, she finally just put it into words: “God damn, I want to be squishing my bits against her bits right this moment.”
But then, it happened- something revelatory, something revolutionary. Maybe it was the culmination of years of gut-twisting frustration; maybe there was something hallucinogenic in the hibachi smoke, but whatever the reason, she stood up and said it: “God damn, imagine if I was squishing my bits against her bits right this second.”
That was all it took- that thought, plus a cave wall and a handful of red ochre, and after ten hours of fevered composition, the epic known as “Me and That Cro-Magnon Hottie Experiencing Wedded Bliss With A Cat” was born. This seminal proto-feminist work did not survive to the modern era, unfortunately. The Neanderthal pastor from across the mountain eventually got wind of it, had a patriarchal hissy fit, busted into the cave, and butchered it with a fat blue crayon. But it was too late. The word was out, and from then on, human minds weren’t just limited to the concrete and the actual. We had stories, and that meant that we had every world that had ever existed, and every world that could ever be.
The question isn’t why we make up stories. The question is, having learned to imagine things as children, why would we ever ever ever ever stop? Stories are the grace and the glory of life, the best thing about being a human apart from thick woolly socks and crabapple pie. They’re the thing that transforms a disconnected series of sensory inputs and firing synapses and muscle movements into a life. Or, as Muriel Rukeyser put it, the universe is made of stories, not of atoms. Any universe that you’d want to live in, anyway.
When you’re trying to write- especially if you’re hoping that people will pay you real cash money for the things that come out of your head- the temptation is awesome to think about what you should be writing. Something…better? Something new. Something more profound. Something that will reach down into the reader’s mind and stir it up or shake it around. Something that means that you’ve advanced the cause or made a contribution or enriched the world.
I don’t know. I’m not a literary expert, I am a silly person who dances in elevators because why the frack shouldn’t we dance in elevators, and who sometimes lounges around the house in chain mail, just because. Not much of a lifestyle coach, in other words. But the act of writing has meaning regardless of whether someone else is ever going to read it. That part is a bonus.
Way way back, back when I still thought I had a sense of dignity and was trying to preserve it, oh Jesus Hopalong Christ was I a twerp. When I was eight, I used to bring a Shakespeare play to school and read it in a very conspicuous place, just so everyone could see how very profound I was being. When I started to write, I wrote oozingly supercilious things that fell down under their own weight. I wrote verse about the oeuvre of Greek poet Stesichorus as compared with photography, and I wrote essays about James Joyce’s Ulysses that took the form of a day in the life of a woman trying to write an essay on Ulysses. I wrote more dreadful rubbish than you ever saw in your life, in other words.
Then I grew up and threw the whole dignity thing out the window and felt much better, and I read comics in law school and didn’t care who saw, and around the same time, said to myself, “Damn everything right to hell, I will write a book about pirates and the pirates will boink vigorously and also they will tie each other up, and everyone will be gay, and I will not write one line unless I feel like doing it.”
And that is more or less how I got saved. That, plus an extra large bag of jellybeans, and a few lectures on game theory. It’s kind of a long story.