In Which A Primer Is Sought

5 May 2003

What I need is a primer, and it needs to be called How To Avoid Psychopaths. It's not for me right now, but the situation is that one of my loved ones (due to the public nature of this journal, I can't say who) has to deal with someone who is really psycho (and again due to the public nature of this journal, I can't really say in what context, either). This person apparently does not have what I would call normal human emotions as regards his/her fellows, nor does he/she feel it necessary to feign them. And by normal human emotions, I mean -- well, gosh. Where do I start there.

I think it's normal to care about the people you deal with, to a moderate degree, even in a totally selfish way. You want your produce clerk not to have an exploding head, for example, because then you have brains on your cantaloupe, and who wants that? I would venture to go further with it. I would venture to say that if you have no reason to wish the produce clerk harm, you should regard him/her with a vague goodwill. If he/she has a happy family event, on the average, you should think, "Well, gosh, how nice." You probably shouldn't want to turn cartwheels for the produce clerk, but a small nod/smile would be appropriate. And if you see someone more often or in a closer context than the produce clerk, going so far as to grin and say, "Hey, that's great!" for good things, or, "Gosh, I'm sorry to hear" for bad things is good. Casually and whimsically doing things that are bad for the other person, not because you like to see him/her scramble but because you don't care enough to notice whether they're bad or good even when they're directly done to that person -- that's just not normal.

Note that I'm not expecting effusive behavior. I'm a Midwesterner, for heaven's sake; I don't expect gushing and hugging and repetitive hang-wringing. I don't want it. It makes me recoil. But some sense that, if I was falling off the planet, the person in question would stick out an arm to stop me -- that would be nice. With the person my loved one has to deal with, I don't get that sense. At all.

I was going to say that it's not that I expect people to be good and caring, but really it is exactly that, unfortunately. Deep down I consider it...I don't know, not really sporting to assume that people are, as a generality, nasty. Gives folks a hole to dig out of before they've even opened their mouths. So it's partly that I'm not a true cynic but also partly that I don't consider it polite to behave as if I was, which is something different.

At the very least, it seems like it's less effective not to at least feign a little bit of caring. If you're interacting with people in a work, hobby, or volunteer situation, and you're the sort of person who's out to use them, usually you can use them better if they think you care at least a little bit. Easier to motivate and so on. But no, my loved one has to deal with someone psycho enough not to even use people effectively. You can't appeal to this person's decency or this person's self-interest. So it leaves my loved one just trying to deal with it all the best way possible. Whatever that is.


Why are we unable to have just one problem with the paper? It's like calling to complain turns their switch to "screw it up." Yesterday they gave us no comic section. I called to say so; they lied that they'd send out a new one. And now we have no paper at all. (They really did send out a new one a few minutes after I typed that, though. Whew.)

I have dreamed of astronomy twice in the last week, and with it, Peter Scherbring. Peter was one of my astrophysics lab partners senior year. Nice guy, but not someone I knew well enough to keep in touch with him after I graduated. (He was a class behind mine.) And yet every once in awhile, I dream of astronomy and, with it, of Peter. I don't know what my brain is doing there. In these dreams, he's always someone I knew pretty well. In these dreams, I always know enough to ask after his little sister and that project he was doing. In real life, I have no idea if he has a little sister or what project he'd be doing now. In real life, I spent probably slightly less time with him than our other, equally pleasant-fun-interesting lab partner, Katherine. (Of the fourth lab partner, let us not speak just now. Suffice it to say that he was fond of feeding me the lyrics to Madonna tunes so that I could sing them and keep him entertained. Uff da mai.) Anyway, somehow I periodically have dreams of astronomy and Peter, and I don't know why. Five-cent psychology, anybody?

I took Astrophysics, it seemed at the time, because it was What One Did. I was a physics major. It was a physics course. Et voila. I now know that it was more of a safety option -- not grade safety, but course safety. I knew that there was a limited amount of crap the professor would deal out; I knew that there was a limit to how much he was willing to waste my time with stupid nonsense. I was safe there in ways that I would not have been in another department. I wasn't interested in doing astrophysics, and I'd already done a summer of it, so I knew I wasn't interested. But it was a physics course, and thus a safe haven. I wasn't fond of it anyway. But it was better than most of the courses I took in other departments. My worst physics course was Electronics, not because it had no interest for me but because the professor had violated the physics department agreement: that we would work reasonably hard, and so would he. That we could rely on him not to be on the same level as our Macroecon course or our Bible course; that he would take his job seriously and help us to prepare for something worth doing. He did not. He entirely neglected teaching Electronics while he was looking for another job for the next year. He had been a nice guy to TA for before that, but I was glad to see him go.


Sarah and Jeff got two new kitties! Very very cute. Not kittens, though, so they have the advantage of already being trained (I hope!) and the disadvantage of not being at their tiniest and most concentrated cuteness. I am jealous, in that they get fur-time and I do not. I would be quite snozzly indeed if we were to get cats. But they're still very sweet.

I discovered yesterday that I'm going somewhere slightly different in the Not The Moose than I thought I would. That's all right, though. I'm only about 135K into it, why should I know what I'm doing?

(Actually, the more I do this, the more I think I'm 98K into it and Part 3 is Part 1 of a separate book. Here's my thought: it's really freakin' long already. It's not nearly done. Not nearly. So it'd be crazy-long if it had the same three parts as originally planned. Parts 1 and 2 have the same POV characters and Part 3 has different ones. And I think this is key: I have reason to believe I'll be consistently working with an agent by the time I'm done with Parts 1 and 2. Which means that the agent can attempt to sell the two books together, so it won't matter so much if Part 2 ends tragically, because Part 4 -- which I didn't know I needed when I started writing this -- does not. And because Part 4 has the same POV characters as Part 3, and because it completes the character arcs started in Part 3, which weren't even an issue in Parts 1 and 2. And, as I said, does not end tragically. Which I know isn't entirely forbidden, but...two things here. One is that I think it's easier to sell books that don't end tragically. [Ooh, write to me if you disagree! I'd like to hear what you think.] The other is that I don't have a particularly tragic worldview. Tragic things happen. Sometimes they happen very close to us. But they aren't "what it's all about." And while books don't have to be about "what it's all about," tragic endings seem like the easy way out to me.)

(Still, 98K into the book, why should I know what I'm doing? Uff da mai. And I say this in a frustrated tone, but at the same time, I don't argue with the book. I don't insist that I do, too know what I'm doing. I just say, okay, all right, I don't. And keep going.)

(There is a part of me that thinks that I'm just saying this so that I don't have to finish dealing with Edward and Ansa and Sohvi and dive right into Karl and Riina and Avery. So that I can breathe a minute first. Well. We'll see. Breathing time may be enforced upon me anyway.)

(Is this enough parenthetical asides in a row? I think so, yes.)

I started reading Kate Wilhelm's Skeletons yesterday. Good stuff. I'm sure I'll finish it today. Even with laundry to do and hockey to watch and meals to cook and a book to re-envision somewhat thoroughly. A 98K-written book to re-envision somewhat thoroughly. I should be a YA writer. This never happens to YA writers.

Oh wait. I am a YA writer. So I guess, by definition, it does happen to YA writers. Well, crud. This doesn't happen to YA writers when they're writing YAs, though. At least there's that. But I will not throw the towel temporarily in and join Greg's YA dare, even though it would be really satisfying to write 30K of Europan adventure in the next couple weeks. No. I will press on with this book, and it's still going to be the best thing I've written to date. Eventually.

It's okay, though, because a) I don't have any major psychopaths to deal with myself today; b) I've already done most of the re-envisioning in my head, it's just a matter of scribbling it all into the poor, battered, bruised outline; c) I have a chocolate raspberry stick to fortify me (though not rosemary potato bread, as California molded that for me already, thank you very much, California); d) I can take five-minute domesticity breaks, or e-mail breaks, or Kate Wilhelm breaks.


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