Wednesday, November 24, 2004

OD'd on Reali-Tee

Where have I been the last week, you wonder? I've been in a happier place, a place where things make sense and if I don't like the way events are turning out, I have the power to change them.

The names for this place are legion. First it was called Ambush, Pennsylvania, 1995. After that it was Washington, DC, 1997-98. Most recently it was Riverside, Maryland, date unspecified.

Now it's Sherwood, Maryland, 2019. It's a place where chaotic forces of evil wreak sporadic havoc on society, where the U.S. Department of Metaphysical Purity coordinates with the Vatican and Al Qaeda to control and eradicate humanity's new enemies--the demons and the Desperate. A place where 18-year-old chess master and aspiring Prom Queen Antonia Brennan discovers she's the daughter of the Devil.

From Labor Day through Election Day, I did not write a single word of fiction, even though [checking business card] that's what I do. It defines my sense of self. When I'm writing, I feel more me than at any other time, even as the act forces me to let go of myself.

But reality bites.

In particular, it gnaws away at creativity. When we see only what is, rather than what could be, when we consume and regurgitate the party lines over and over like copraphagous dogs, when we allow the media and the politicians to define us and divide us until we're no longer individuals, just labels with assholes--well, ain't no new synapses firing there, folks. Imagination, DOA.

I think that a fiction writer must maintain a certain distance from the real world, a certain objectivity that allows him or her to see or even experience a tragedy or heartbreak and have a small piece of the mind say, "I can use this!" The most important place must become the universe created inside one's head, at least during a first draft. It requires a certain degree of internal immersion.

But when one cares deeply about the real world--and more importantly, when one becomes involved in the real world and discovers that an individual's efforts can make a difference--it's hard to turn away. The world needs me, needs you, needs all of us to stay engaged right now. But staying engaged is not the same as becoming obsessed.

If reality is the drug, then the Internet is the needle and spoon. In the last several months, I've spent hours a day scouring the news sites, searching for signs of hope and commiserating with those who shared my beliefs. Once I started blogging, I felt like I had a responsibility not just to entertain, but to inform. And there was this nagging notion that if I turned my back for a few minutes, something terrible would happen, as if my gaze was keeping the world rightside up (Jean-Paul Sartre would have a field day with that one).

My name is Jeri Smith-Ready, and I'm addicted to reality. [Hiiii, Jeri]

I've got my 10-day pin (that's how long since I've watched CNN), and I remove the wireless card from my laptop except when I need to check my e-mail or look something up. I'm truckin' along on my first draft, which, if I really haul a-asterisk-asterisk, I'll finish by the end of this year.

Sherwood, Maryland, 2019 is a dark place. Maybe today will bring another demon attack, or maybe the DMP agents ('dumpers') will take you away for examination. Or maybe your boyfriend will decide you've become a liability to his coolness.

Don't worry, Antonia. I've got it all under control.


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Jeri Smith-Ready

Jeri Smith-Ready is a Maryland author of books for teens and adults.

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