Friday, May 29, 2009

That Madness to My Method in the Spring

I have a long-standing fascination with the strange, the surreal, and the mad. I like themes of alienation and miscomprehension, mysteries that will never be solved within the scope of a story because they can never be solved. I like the idea of writing characters who aren't quite sane, either because they see things that aren't there and think thoughts that don't make any sense, or because they are the only ones who do see what's there and think the things that no one else dares.

If you know me in real life (and as you can probably guess from my blogging style), the real me is also fond of the off-beat, the eccentric, and the strange. I like to spice up my day with a little of the surreal once in a while. Nowadays I think it's a charming affectation, though I confess that in my youth it was a pretty obnoxious habit. Is it a good thing or a bad thing that my 4th grade students are fond of my invisible wolves, tales of mechanical ceiling-dwelling spiders, and penchant for handing out super powers?

Anyway, I've been known to approach these themes in roleplaying as well. A long-running Storyteller character in Dark Days, an Exalted game I've been running for the Abigail for about three years now is Zacharias, a (formerly) mad prophet of a Sidereal. Some of Zacharias's stranger comments ("very unprofessional... very, very unprofessional") have become relationship in-jokes. More importantly, despite beginning his career as a frustration for the Abigail's character (and the Abigail), he grew on us, to the point that the Abigail's character successfully derailed my plot, stopped me from killing him off, and quested to have his mind restored to him at great potential personal cost.

Other ideas to this effect drift through my head on a fairly regular basis. Magicians who have lost the ability to dream, granting them the power to create illusions at the cost of being a little crazy? A kingdom's last oracle, uncontrollably taken by fits in which she speaks prophesy, questing to prevent the doom so terrible that killed her entire family when they accidentally foresaw it? A homeless person in San Francisco trying to save a friendly cop from the lovecraftian horrors that took his mind? Golden.

Now, I know full well that real life mental illness is nothing to laugh at. What do I find so fascinating about psychological disease's fantastic cousin?

Part of it is probably just early exposure. One of my favorite parts of Madeline L'Engle's A Wind in the Door is the mad, scary scene where the angel takes on the Ecthroi, and my favorite vignette from A Swiftly Tilting Planet is Charles Wallace's soujorn in the body of Chuck Maddox, during which he must attempt to achieve his goal despite the body's severe brain damage. There's something about the struggle to make sense of the world when the world stops making sense and the challenge of effecting a change in the world when cause and effect break down that I find thrillingly elemental.

Part of it is certainly related to my experience of life. Blah blah blah, crazy family; the long and the short of it is that I often feel that I've had to create myself and my world without outside help (without any sane outside help, anyway). I see a thematic connection between that experience and a story about a character dealing with a world - or a self - that just doesn't click in a fundamental way.

The last and most important reason is the concept I named this blog after: the burning zeppelin experience, the moment of truth and drama where a character or a relationship is tested, burned, and purified. Narrative alchemy against a backdrop of magic powers and ray guns. I can't think of any struggle more powerful than the struggle of the higher part of the self against the lower. Fundamentally, that's what madness is: a mind full of possibilities struggling with the flawed brain that houses it.

And speaking of flawed brains, mine wants lunch. So, that's all for now.


Anonymous said...

"the moment of truth and drama where a character or a relationship is tested, burned, and purified."

If you really were on a burning zeppelin the odds are not in your favor, you'd probably be dead, forget relationship testing (you'd be DEAD), for get purification (again, DEAD). Burned - yes, to DEATH.

Happy Wednesday.

Anonymous said...

Well, yes, but this is fantasy. If I wanted to write a blog about mundane stuff it'd be called "The Serene Jumbo Jet Experience."

You're in a grumpy mood today.