We Are Tools

When I was 13, I had a crush on a girl. I also played Dungeons & Dragons. These things are not completely oil and water, but in general there are not too many emulsifiers that work in this recipe. So when I say “crush,” do not suppose that it was anything except wild swings of imagination kept jealously to myself — until now. Allow me to elaborate.

I bought an Exacto knife so I could trim the D&D lead figurines of mystical elves and durable dwarves that I painted for more realistic role playing games. You needed those figures to map out the battles. You needed the figures to look right, so that people understood what was in your mind as you described it. You needed a sharp knife so you could clip that halberd into a spear, scrape away that pathetic bandolier of throwing daggers, or add the gash of a flowing wound so you can show just how badass your ranger was.

I stared at that knife. I had owned a pocket knife before, but this blade was different. Evocative. It was a wondrous tool, and it told stories. I held it in my hand and figured that, should civilization end due to the inevitiable accidental nuclear exchange, and should the roving bands of mutant Mad Maxians get a lucky shot off before my clever booby traps exploded their vehicles, and should that lucky shot lodge a single bullet into some quasi-expendable organ of the object of my affection, then never fear. Her family would be distraught; her father, reluctant to let me take charge. But I am convincing, of course. I have an Exacto knife. Therefore, I am a surgeon.

Naturally I remove the bullet without bloodying her up too much, she fully recovers and realizes how super I was — and always have been, she realizes next — and I go on to lead the now tight-knit band of survivors on a journey of about 300 feet over the next hill, which is gloriously free of mutant raiders and just exactly right for settling down to repopulate the planet. Oh, and due to a freak accident, the female-male ration was about 5 to 1.

True story. I fantasized imagined that scenario many times, often with critical variations such as the exact male-to-female ratio. I was the hero. I was a surgeon. I owned an Exacto knife.

I think it’s built into our DNA to instinctively react as if a tool imparts a skill. I think we’re just built that way, probably because for evolutionary millennia good tools were hard to come by. Now you can’t avoid them, with capitalism-driven marketing portraying a seductive life of accomplishment if only you buy this or that tool. Don’t you see this in your life?

Buy some enamel-coated cast iron pots. You’re a chef.

Buy running shoes. You’re fit.

Buy a filing cabinet. You’re organized.

Buy an easel and canvas. You’re a painter.

Buy an election. You’re a leader.

Buy Photoshop and a tablet. You’re a web comic publisher.

Buy a camera. You’re a photographer.

Buy some writing software. You’re a writer.

That’s how it works. Right?

This is what I did today, instead of writing. I bought the software made for writers, and for 90 minutes I configured the preferences, read the tutorials, added bits of “research” to my virtual binder. All the while, I felt productive. I was moving ahead, doing things. I felt like I was really setting the stage, really getting to a good starting point.

But I could have been starting. Actually starting.

Lesson learned. Again. I’ll do better tomorrow. And I’ll probably need to learn it again the day after. Starting is hard. Maybe I need better tools.

I have discovered that the 2000-word target is good, and reasonable, but much more difficult than expected for one reason: I had been thinking about disconnected short stories. If a short story veers off path, you let it veer. You let it careen off the road and into the brush and mud, and then you dust yourself off and say, “What an interesting experiment!” You walk away and start the next one already on the road. But in trying to write the second part of Souchart’s story, I realized a new block I hadn’t anticipated: when things stitch together, you need to spend time stitching instead of writing. If you left it while you were off the road, you start tomorrow off the road.

This is why I wanted to start my practice a month before NaNoWriMo. Because there are a lot of unknowns to discover, and a lot of demons to exorcise. I hope I’ve properly drawn this pentagram and lit the candles. Tomorrow’s demons won’t know what hit them.

Go go go!