So here we are, poised at a moment of crucial tension. Do we embrace cyberspace as part of the natural world, with all of its opportunities and flaws, or do we keep it at arm’s length, as an unnatural guilty pleasure we should not really enjoy?
So to bring myself up to speed, I’m sharing that last chapter at Medium. Writers often share the first chapter of a book but they rarely give away the ending. In this case, however, the ending is turning out to be the beginning of something else. So here it is. Am I on the right track? I welcome your comments. If you like it, please give me a clap or two. It all helps! Thank you.
Somewhere in the late 1990s, I lost my faith in fiction. By then I’d published two novels, written two more, and had been an avid reader and writer all my life. But then, somewhere in the text-based virtual world of LambdaMOO, where you can be anything you want to be, and where all you need is imagination and the ability to type into a monochrome screen, yes, somewhere in there, I stopped enjoying fiction. After all, I was spending my days in a place so rich and strange that it was infinitely more creative and absorbing than Real Life, or so I thought at the time. Why bother picking up a novel? So, I stopped reading made-up stories, and I stopped writing them.
A year or two before this, I’d finished a novel about life at LambdaMOO, ‘The [+]Net[+] of Desire’, but my agent couldn’t find a publisher for it. One editor said it just didn’t ring true, and I guess in the pre-Tinder era of 1996 it probably didn’t, but in fact a lot of it reflected the real experience of many people I knew. Anyway, I put the manuscript in a box under my bed, and wrote ‘Hello World: travels in virtuality’ instead. It was a memoir/travelogue of cyberspace, and as a non-fiction book it allowed me to be as real as I liked, which suited me just fine.
I wrote more books, but still couldn’t face the idea of a made-up story which required a pact of suspension of the reader’s disbelief. Every now and then I’d pick up a novel, or start reading a short story in a magazine, but I’d soon lose interest.
However, in recent years, that interest has been creeping back. In 2009 I read a couple of old science fiction novels as research for ‘Technobiophilia’, and was thrilled to get that feeling of not wanting to put the book down. It was so good to have it back! I dipped in more and more, but still couldn’t countenance writing any fiction myself.
How I started writing fiction again
And then it happened. Last September, in Santa Monica, sitting in the Barnes and Noble Starbucks at the corner of 3rd Street Promenade and Wilshire, I suddenly felt empowered. I had been rather miserable, desperate to write about that very coffee shop, but reluctant to describe it through my eyes. I wanted to see it from someone else’s perspective. And as I sat at a table in the corner sipping a non-fat latte and hopelessly scrawling in my notebook, I realised there was nothing else for it. I needed to make something up. Someone. I needed to make someone up.
That’s what I’ve been doing for the last nine months – trying to write a novel. As befits the horrendous mind-twisting confusion of Trump and Brexit, its very tentative working title is ‘What’s Going On?’
What the novel might be about
It’s about many things I’ve never looked at before. Right now, the whole manuscript is a giant sponge for dozens of ideas which I’m regularly squeezing in an attempt to make some kind of soggy sense of the whole mess. What does Brexit/Trump mean? Where are we now? Where will we be? Why is it happening? What’s going on? Instead of directing energy at the obvious train-wreck around us, is it more important to pay attention to invisible undercurrents we don’t yet understand?
The process is going to take a while because I’m mostly exploring subjects I know nothing about. I’m also trying to shrug off my internal academic who keeps trying to shut me down by whining ‘but where’s the evidence?’ Guys, I think we’re way past evidence. Right now, I’m looking at intuition, emotion, and all kinds of unexpected stuff. I’ve no idea where I’m going but, in case you’re interested, here are some of the people and topics I’m following and thinking about:
Douglas Rushkoff hosts Team Human. a challenging podcast which roams far and wide. Set aside a quiet hour and pick a conversation. You will need your whole brain for this. Plus, Team Human is coming to London on 9th July with Douglas, Pat Cadigan, and Rupert Sheldrake. I’m going along. Maybe see you there?
Some years ago I went to a conference at Dartington College in Devon, England. Someone gave a talk about their artwork, and part of it involved haunting images of deer passing between trees as if they were in a liminal real/not real space. The artists spoke about the subtle world. I’ve never forgotten the magic or intensity of it. I’m trying to learn to see the subtle world for myself.
Mycelium, trees, networks. Check out the fascinating Paul Stamets who says “I believe the invention of the computer Internet is an inevitable consequence of a previously proven, biologically successful model. The Earth invented the computer Internet for its own benefit, and we now, being the top organism on this planet, are trying to allocate resources in order to protect the biosphere.” Paul Stamets TED Talk
This April I went on a Deep Time Dive led by Andy Raingold. Billed as a “sensory exploration of deep time which combines science, imagination, meditation, movement and nature connection”, it’s not how I usually spend my Saturdays, but I enjoyed Qi Gong under a spreading tree in the rain before we began wandering blindfolded and hypnotised by history, as Andy led us all the way back to the Big Bang, then forward to the present. We meditated a little, and wandered to distant parts of the property to set our intentions. The hard-boiled academic inside me was screaming but I refused to listen. I wanted to just go with the flow, and I’m pleased I did. It was very memorable and, I think, gently beneficial. It’s repeated in October, should it appeal to you.
I’m collecting webcam videos, mostly of animals. (#mprracoon was an unexpected bonus this week!) I’m not sure where this is going. Time will tell.
I’ve been gazing out of my window at the Isle of Wight, a few miles across the bay, and listening to this haunting piece of radio Under The Water
Finally, I’ve chosen this image for today’s blog post because it resembles my novel in its current state. I can’t explain why, but there it is.
A request. If you’re aware of any links, books, films, conversations, stories, lectures, or anything else that might contribute in some way to the stew of my novel, please let me know. I’d appreciate it. Thanks.
That’s enough for now. My main news is that there’s a novel on the way, it will be both technobiophilic and transliterate, and it will take a while.
“New ideas about how we manage a healthy wired life which don’t involve turning off our devices. I like the range of suggested ways to stay connected with nature as well as the Internet. This book enables me to feel good about making the most of the technological advances which offer us different opportunities to live life to the full.”
“I have always had a deep connection to nature. I don’t need to worry about how much nature I experience. I walk a lot. I run usually in lovely countryside. Yet having finished this book there are things I am going to change in my work environment. As a writer I need to glue backside to seat for many hours. Having just finished writing a book myself my eyes hurt from the screen time and I had to immerse myself in nature for a bit before I could even begin to tackle all that online marketing… blog posts, tweets, articles for magazines etc that books entail. I thought I would never write another book again! I think a few small changes to my writing space and I will be onto the next book. Thank you Sue Thomas. I will be recommending this to some worried parents too.”
“Virtual or natural worlds? Both please! This book is a great reminder to explore the fusion between our virtual and natural worlds. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. The book is full of great tips and activities for taking care of ourselves online and offline.”
“Really thought provoking. As someone who loves my digital life, it’s great to be told that I don’t need to feel guilty about that! I like the useful tips on how to create a better connection with my natural environment.”
“Humans are addicted to apps & devices engineered to attract & distract our attention, but we also are soothed by nature. We’re all conflicted about the amount of time we spend online, looking at our phones, and most people I know are increasingly ambivalent. So much of the critical writing about this dilemma is about weaning yourself, logging off. I like Thomas’ book because it strives for a middle ground — how to appreciate the natural world as a kind of antidote to the techno-trance.”
Feel better without logging off
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