I am sitting on a bed in a house in a village 15 kilometers from Serbia and 20 from North Macedonia. My back is propped up against the wall, my laptop balanced on my stretched-out legs, and I’m breathing deeply.
In through the nose, out through the mouth. Am I entirely happy with the novel I’m reading? Am I happy with any fiction that’s being written these days? Has Anglosphere culture simply shattered into the depressed and the psychotic?
I imagine my frustration at the entertainment industry as a clockwork robot the size of a football. I don’t need to hold onto that robot. I set it on the ground, and it trundles happily away.
A squirrel scrabbles down one branch and up another. Chickens grumble in the neighbor’s yard. My daughters are arguing about something. At least they aren’t playing video-games, their brains hooked into an endless loop of super-normal stimulation.
I shine a light on the fear: I am afraid that the girls will miss out on life. That’s either a real problem or it isn’t. If it is, I can solve it. After I’m done writing, I’ll spend some time with the older one on our “balcony zoo.” I’ll read another chapter of the Roald Dahl book with the younger one. Just this week, didn’t we finally get a kite up into the air?
I breathe and visualize my head as a bathysphere. Its windows are papered over and covered in dust. I clean the windows, exposing ever large vistas of calm black, winking with living stars. An association sparks between that image and the science fiction book I’m writing. It’s the third of a trilogy which has garnered very little popular interest, but which the publisher keeps paying me to write. And, although the reviews are few in quantity, some of them really got what I was trying to say. What about the fantasy book that the big name publisher picked up? What will be the reaction when that hits people’s shelves and phones? Given its content, some percentage of people will be enraged. Let’s hope the number of readers stays small…
I recognize my self-sabotage and name it. The lie that I’m telling myself is that strangers on the internet can hurt me if I anger them. No, those strangers on the internet are safely far away. My experiments online have built a network that is small, but deep. I’m increasingly able to enforce the rule: tell each other only uplifting things.
I count my breaths. In is 1, out is 2. Surface anxieties peel away to expose deeper, thicker fears. How can we move this summer and go to a Lisa Nichols conference in the Bahamas with our friends? Do Pavlina and I deserve personal development? Fun away from our children? How can we say “all right, grandmas, take care of our girls until we can come back and move out of the house you let us stay in?”
But that’s the problem. We can’t live somewhere were somebody lets us do anything. Pavlina needs to be able to close a door that nobody will bang on. I need a garden that nobody will uproot. Our kids need a house that’s stable and emotionally safe. And the grandmas need Pavlina and me to not resent them. We can still visit them, which is more than I can say more my parents.
21, 22. Damn, I was supposed to stop counting breaths at 10 and go back. I go through two repetitions and my mind clears enough for me to see. We’ll all stay on our bi-monthly viral protein boosters, and by Christmas we’ll be able to fly my parents to Sofia. They can enjoy our new house and some decent medicine. If their stupid American medical system won’t give them the DNA-based permanent vaccination, we have enough pull with the Bulgarian one to get them immunized while they’re here.
I bring my mind back the center of its black-glass sphere and start counting again at 1. I turn over the soil, uncovering layers below layers. For a while, my mind actually stops spinning.
Habit tells me when my ten minutes are up. I inhale and blink, looking down at my laptop. Today is Friday, which is my day to experiment. I’m cheating a little by experimenting with an ongoing project: a “technical comic” that’s a collaboration between me, an aerospace engineer, and three artists. Although I’m officially the writer, we all talk to each other about the script, which has gone through three major overhauls. We’ve deleted about 90% of our original concept for the project, but that’s a feature, not a bug. When you eliminate the mediocre, whatever is left, however improbable, must be truth. Or was that beauty?
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Daniel M. Bensen