I’m not the thing I used to be. (Or why change is the only constant.)

I’m not the thing I used to be. (Or why change is the only constant.)

This is a long one. Sorry.

I’ve experienced a lot of change over the last five years. Relationships have come and gone, I’ve moved home three times, I’ve seen entire lifestyles evolve from one thing into another. My livelihood has altered immeasurably, but the thing that’s changed the most is me—as in my identity, personality, the idea that coalesces as Colin.

It hasn’t changed from one thing to another, but instead, it’s devolved—or at least in the process of devolving— to what I’m not entirely sure. I have a suspicion, but I guess I’ll know for sure when it happens.

You may be wondering why I’m writing about this now. Here, on my author website. You may be wondering what this has to do with my books. The simple answer is it has everything to do with all of this because the thing that used to be Colin had built an image of itself as a writer. Not a singular image; they never are. All the identities we create for ourselves are made up of thousands of images, millions even. One could wrap up this process in a bundle called: Author brand, which is, ultimately, the same as ego or identity. We just use it as a tool to sell books to people, and it’s something against which I’ve always struggled.

I briefly touched on this struggle with a brand in my last blog post regarding how my tastes have changed, expanded so that they no longer fit into a neat genre box that aligns to my author brand. The industry as a whole promotes this idea at countless panels at conventions—among other equally lousy advice. It’s damaging and restricting, and yet it’s a lie that so many of us create images around to bolster our identity as humans and writers.

Over the last few years, I’ve been slowly stripping away these images. They often evaporate when you observe them and question their validity. It started for me at a very young age when I questioned the vicar who used to come to our school to indoctrinate and condition our minds to accept the concept of religion. It took minimal effort for me to see it for what it was: a collection of empty symbols created by the mind of men and women.

Later I questioned the education system and rejected it soon after leaving secondary school. I went to a college for a while but again felt a deep dissatisfaction there. When I left to go into the workplace, I saw for myself that education is yet another set of images we wrap around ourselves to create an identity. I then returned to study literature and creative writing with various educational establishments gaining yet more images.

These images were centered around a conceit of what a writer should be. It’s the crux of the schism between so-called ‘literary’ writing and ‘genre’ writing. When you strip away the symbology behind that, it’s quite clear to see there is no discernible difference. Those who cling to the ‘literary’ idea are merely propping up their image they’ve created for themselves as a superior writer, because that’s what most of this comes down to: my image is better than yours. I was guilty of that also, and it meant that I didn’t write as freely as I wanted. The image demanded I second-guess everything and measure the output to an imagined ideal—to other people’s images of what a literary writer is. Genre writing lately has a similar image, that of the rebel of the pulp spirit. “My word vomit is just as valid as your poetry.” The truth is they’re both the same: an expression of consciousness. I admit to judgement, but we all do, it’s how tastes are honed. My judgement, thankfully, is changing, daily.

Anyways, as I got into writing, I rebelled against ‘literary’ ideas and wrote SF. Again, that was a reaction to a conditioned state of mind. I would often say: I’m a cyberpunk writer. Or, a technothriller writer, or on the days when I couldn’t decide which image was the shiniest, just ‘science fiction writer.’

The truth is, none of those images fit correctly. When I looked at them closely, it was clear that they were as empty and meaningless as any other ego-created label.

So as with everything else, I stripped them away. Or to be more accurate: in the process of stripping them away. These things cling like barnacles.

I’ve also stripped away the notion of nationalism. I never understood why it was important to be proud of one’s country. Why? I was born here through circumstances beyond my control. What’s there to be proud of? A false label for a group of geographically close people? Makes no sense. Neither do borders, or maps, or country names, or the worst of the lot: flags. What utterly pointless and vapid symbols they are. All designed to condition one’s mind, to relate to and to become the thing the wielders of those flags desire from you—blind loyalty usually.

There are downsides to peeling away these layers. It means I have to live alone; my views, unfiltered by various images, don’t seem to be compatible with most people. Sports no longer hold any excitement for me anymore. Even though I still retain a small image of being a Tottenham Hotspur fan, the truth is, I’m indifferent. Why self-identify with yet more imagery and symbology that means nothing? Football fans like to pretend their team is somehow more worthy than others, creating yet more division and separation in the same way nationalistic viewpoints do. And the result of that? Violence usually. The creation of an ‘us and them’ image which obscures the truth—that we are all the same. Even TV and film has lost its sheen. I can no longer tolerate superficiality. Or entertainment for the sake of entertainment. I no longer play any video games. I flirted occasionally over the last few years but its always a short-lived and empty experience. The image/ego/whatever wants to like that stuff, to fit in, but below that image, I just find it all hollow and unsatisfying.

It has also meant that I’ve removed myself completely from politics. I don’t vote. I reject the system. Again, the entire system is created around the idea of division and separation. People self-identify as a lefty or a tory or whatever label applies. It’s yet another filter that obscures the truth.

The entity previously known as Colin therefore no longer exists in any tangible sense. Even on a physical level, a human’s cells completely change over a period of time (some people estimate between 7-10 years, but it’s ongoing all the time).

What about mentally? Isn’t there permanence there? Memories are just inaccurate images of a story we’ve told ourselves about a past event. Our memories bolster the images we hold of ourselves, but by questioning those images, we lose attachment to those memories and see them for what they are: an accretion of second-hand stories told after the fact. They’re not real. They don’t need to inform who we are any more than a flag or a random place name.

And so, with the letting go of memories and the other images, I’m left with the age-old question of ‘Who am I? The answer I’ve come to is that it doesn’t matter. I am what I am. The next question is: What should I write? The answer I’ve come to is that it doesn’t matter. I’ll write what I’m going to write. Then: Should I write at all if none of it matters? The answer is that it doesn’t matter: I’ll write or not write.

Now some people may find this viewpoint nihilistic, but it’s the complete opposite: it’s freedom. With no images to uphold or maintain, one is free. There’s no ‘me’ that requires effort to maintain. That’s not to say there aren’t practical issues with all this: I still need money for food, bills, and shelter (I couldn’t care less about luxuries or travel or status) and as a result, that means I still need to present my work in ways in which readers can relate. As an aside, I had considered an experiment of getting rid of my name altogether from the covers and metadata of my books. I might still try this at some point.

As change continues, it does mean that my books will change too. I’ve resisted this a great deal over the last few years as my ego frantically held on to the images it had created around who I was as a writer. When I look at my back-catalogue, I can see the change quite clearly.

I started out writing horror because I used to enjoy reading it. That’s as far as the motivation went. Again, I didn’t question it because I was wrapped in the image my ego had generated when it thought the idea of me being known as a horror author. That identity eventually crumbled when I realised the effects of my fiction: I had people say that it was hopeless, too dark, and they found it depressing. I experienced this myself with the ending to the film adaption of Stephen King’s The Mist. (I won’t spoil it here). Suffice to say I knew then I didn’t want to elicit that feeling in people.

So I moved onto my other first fiction love: Cyberpunk. I liked it because of the imagery it created; the sense of railing against a tyrannical corporate world etc. Some of that has value for sure, but in these last twenty-four or so months, I’ve realised again that my tastes no longer align to that collection of symbols.

On and on, I’ve covered different topics, explored different subject matter as collected in organised ways in which genres work and I’ve railed against them all. None of them hold a fascination for me anymore. No singular thing seems important. Especially with regards to speculative fiction.

This was the biggest image I’ve resisted: the separation of the contemporary and the speculative. The latter being my previous wheelhouse because of the images my ego had built up around it. As I’ve dipped in and out of various projects this year, I’ve come to another realisation: I no longer have that strong desire to speculate. I thought I did, conditioned myself to say that I did because it’s easier to market oneself if one fits in a particular box but I’ve always been uneasy there. I did it because I guess I have a talent of sorts for that kind of story as opposed to say a historical romance where my talent is absolute zero. But it was never quite right.

I’ve let go the desire to fulfill the image of a speculative writer. In fact, I’m letting go of the idea of being any particular kind of writer. As I continue to change and my tastes evolve/devolve, so will my subject matter. I know this will bring difficulties to the practical marketing side of things. I know that my disdain for networking and other expectations will likely impact on my career, but that’s all okay. The idea of a career is yet another image. In fact one of the biggest ones we hold. If I can’t make a living out of writing in the future, does that matter? It only matters in that it creates a dissonance toward the image I have of myself. Take that image away, and it brings freedom: no expectation of results; no obligations.

I’m not quite there yet, though, but I’m changing. And will continue to change as I drop more and more images my ego has created. For now, my work will likely concern itself more with contemporary issues, the search for relatable truths, self-reflection even. It probably won’t be as easily marketable or able to be classified as one thing, but that’s ridiculously exciting.

And that’s what it is all about.

There are many lofty notions (yet more images) enforced within the writing world along with the rotting hellscape of comparison. They’re a strangling vine we allow to grow around us. Some thrive within that world, and I wish them well, but for many, it’s a fast way to burnout or dissatisfaction.

And for me, I’m far more excited about being free in every way I can. Free of nationality, of politics, of identity, of ego (that’s a tough one admittedly), of reliance, of ‘shoulds’ ‘woulds’ and ‘coulds,’ of accumulation, of wealth, of desire.

Writing is just one aspect in all of this, but an important one. It’ll be interesting to observe where all this will take me. The one thing I do know is: I’m better off embracing the change instead of wasting months and years of my life with my thoughts railing against these images as my ego does all it can to retain them. Much better, and infinitely quicker, to drop them and move on, let the ego die and take identity with it.

I know this is long and rambling and probably makes little sense, but it is what it is.

TL;DR: My writing is likely going to be varied and weird from here on in. If you come along for the ride, that’s cool. If not, that’s cool too. You’re awesome either way.

4 Replies to “I’m not the thing I used to be. (Or why change is the only constant.)”

  1. Hey mate, I have gone into similar places throughout my life. In fact, each iteration of my adult life has involved a bit of stripping away old images and symbols from what came before. It is exciting!

    I’m currently in a comfortable space as a military sci fi writer as that brings me into contact with contemporary issues of importance and relevance. Being able to bridge my writing with what I care deeply about makes it a lot easier to get words on the page.

    Cheers,
    A

    1. I agree with you; it is exciting. I think bad things happen if we cling to images of ourselves. It creates a kind of reality dissonance. Which is probably where my issues with depression came from.

      I’m glad to hear you’re finding your place too. I think truly writing about what you (in the current moment) values is the sanest way to write.

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