Everyone’s heart beats for the three heroes we instantly assume from the title of this particular rambling. Each of us at some time has thought, “I’m a lone person in a universe that’s chucking nasties at me.” Or expletives to that effect. That’s why we want the beleaguered trio, Scorpion, the Twenty-Sided Sorceress or Serenity to win. We want that ant to move the rubber tree plant, that little red engine to make it up the hill. If they win against all odds, maybe we just might too.
But maybe that’s not the best way to read Three versus Infinity. How about if the Three weren’t the goodies but the baddies? What if heroism produced an infinite number of ways for an infinite number of beings (not necessarily armed with typewriters and the notion that Shakespeare exists) to defeat the Three? What if we were talking about the Three Failures?
Failure to Feel is something we hairy bipeds have used both to survive and to cripple ourselves. Being paralysed by fear isn’t always the most helpful response (although it is if you’re hiding). Fear is pro-survival. It says, “Take care! Watch out! Have some extra adrenaline!” Someone who feels no fear in the face of danger is missing the life-saving capacity of risk awareness. Not that endless “Risk Assessment” paperwork that cannot in and of itself save anyone from so much as a stubbed toe. No, I’m talking about genuine risk awareness.
Not all risk, you see, is genuine. Some is merely the perception of risk. I jump at spiders. Well I jump away from them, actually. In dear old Blighty we’re not at home to poisonous spiders. Try telling my body that. It’s seen a tiny creature that moves quite quickly. I can do the High Jump onto the table in seven microseconds. Which is a totally futile waste of perfectly good adrenaline.
I say I can do the Table jump. Nowadays I choose not to. You would think, me being (I hope) an evolved being, that while my body is no longer athletic enough to attempt such feats, that I could at least master my flinch reaction. And oddly enough, by the application of thought that says, “This is silly,” I have fairly well trained my flinch reaction to quite a small one. Sometimes now I can even ignore medium-sized arachnidae completely. Per ardua ad astra. (Because if ever we meet kind, compassionate aliens, wouldn’t it be horrible to start an intergalactic war because we don’t like their number of legs?)
Ah, dear old thinking. There it is, the middle one of the Three Failures. “Ooh, I never could do that!” “The shame! What will everyone think of me because I spilt coffee down my blouse?” (For what it’s worth, I once had a very successful interview, shaking hands on a jolly nice contract and only afterwards discovering I’d spilt gravy down my blouse before we started). Notice how the two oo-er sentences that start this paragraph direct your attention to the past or the future. I’ve got at least an inkling that the only moment I live in is this one. Yes, that’s the feller! No, he’s gone now. I’m in the next moment. And the one after that … And each one is the present. The time when you can either do something or not do something. And of course there’s gung-ho thinking, which can be a definite road to hell. You know, “I’ll just stick my hand in this vat of acid to see if it hurts” thinking. Like politics by slogan instead of compassion and community.
Where’s the last of the villains? Yep, there, cowering inactive in the corner. That’s the entity known as Taking Action. The trouble is, the entity is sheathed in a sort of sticky grey transparency called No. Or Not Now. Or You? Of course not! You’re not allowed. Or Not Until you’ve Cleaned Behind The Toilet. Its faces are many but this baddie has only one name: Inaction.
So what’s all this got to do with writing and/or the price of fish? To catch fish you’ve got to want to catch fish. Maybe it’ll help you move away from hunger or maybe it’ll add to your status. Or maybe you think fish are pretty. Or need rescuing. So you need to find out how to catch fish. And whether it’s likely to happen if you live in the middle of a desert. Reality checks can be useful – so long as you don’t misread their proportions. And then you’ve got to build your fish-trap, your net or whatever, get your bait and actually hie thee to a fishing-place so you can put your rod in the water. For hours and hours and hours, until you get the result you want.
Similarly if you want to write, you’ve got to write. Steinbeck used to start his creative days by just noting any old thing in a rambling sort of journal, which got him into the writing frame of mind, then off he went. OK, he probably had more time to write than most of us, but the hungry hunter hunts best. In other words, if you want it, you think how to get it and then off you toddle in pursuit of your fish. Or book, as the case might be.
Because there are a million stories out there in the big city. Stories that you write by how you determine to live. In other words, like my hero Paul Simon once sang, “If you want to write a song about the moon, just do it! Write a song about the moon.”
Go, Infinity of Possibilities! Don’t let how you feel, or think, or shrink from action, limit your real-life choices. Those misconceived Three might have been your villains but in the now you’re the one who can be your own hero. Adopt, adapt and improve. Yay you!