On Setting Things Free

I’ve been playing chess on my phone during work hours. Initially, I started to do this because the writing I’m doing is kicking my heart around the room and I can only bear to work on it in small doses; a game of chess every 90 minutes or so stabilizes me and brings me back to base one, so that I can work on another small section of the book. But now I’m also playing chess because it’s become fun. I’ve named my computer opponent HAL, of course, and set him to his easiest setting. By now I’ve practiced enough that I beat him pretty quickly every time, but I’m not content to increase his difficulty until I get to the point where I can understand every move he’s making, and see the game unfolding a few more steps ahead of what I’m currently seeing.

It’s weirdly like writing a book. Even when things are going okay, I feel like I’m trying to catch up, straining to understand, trying to contain something that’s out of my control.

I’ve realized one of the reasons I love the Bourne narratives. It’s because of that wonderful story we like to tell over and over in different ways: Man creates a machine (literal or metaphorical) in his image for the purpose of doing what man can do, but doing it better. Then man realizes the machine has gotten too powerful or has become a liability. Man decides to shut down the machine — but man has created the machine too well. The machine is smarter and faster than man; like man, the machine wants more than anything to survive and was, in fact, made to survive; and though man created it, man can’t destroy it. It’s the most wonderful narrative paradox — the HAL computer, the Cylons, the agents of Treadstone, Outcome and Larx — we give things life, then expect that since we created them, we’ll be able to control them. We’re wrong.

And that’s also like writing a book. Every time I set out to create a book, I convince myself that I know its parameters, challenges, capabilities, and heartaches. “I will be in charge,” I tell myself. Then it gets a taste of what it means to be alive, grabs at life and roars into autonomy, and, when I try to cage it, kicks my ass forwards, backwards, and sideways.

Rather than trying to shut it down, I’ve decided to open myself to the heartache, be its facilitator, and see if I can’t help us both get to a better place. But it’s hard.

In the meantime, I’m keeping myself grounded by playing lots of chess with HAL.

Somehow, thinking of it that way is not comforting :).

Life is scary.

Carry on.