“The Great Teacher” is a term I use for life experience, especially when experience takes the shape of a figurative slap upside the head. If one overlooks the obvious, and the obvious—by accident or design—makes itself unambiguously known, the lesson comes courtesy of the Great Teacher. An astonishing fact of such lessons is that, despite the awesome predictive power of a little forethought, the education often takes its student by surprise. This student, at least.
There are several plausible narratives that might explain why I work outside the mainstream of art and publishing. At this remove from first causes, though, the least subject to challenge is that neither my temperament nor my project can be adapted to prevailing commercial paradigms without serious violence to one side or the other. As familiars know, I work in a variety of media and forms of expression, on a project that develops in fits and starts on several fronts, and with ongoing, extensive revision. Not one piece will be conclusively done until all are done, or I die. Slowly, the whole moves toward realization, punctuated by releases of provisional texts, images and sounds that are more crucially communiqués from a process than one more catalog of merchandise.
Even knowing well that this unorthodox approach is necessary for achieving the realizations to which I aspire, cursed expectations of the market exert constant pressure on my good sense. Sometimes, this pressure and its expectations knock the imperatives of best practice completely from the Stikmantic noodle. This past fall, for instance, the oncoming holiday shopping season blinded me with its prospect of a sharp increase in circulating cash. Convinced on no good evidence that it would be possible to capture some of that lucre by rushing the long delayed new edition of Nod’s Way into production, I took an axe to the plan for the book in order to come up with something scaled back enough to see into print before an arbitrary deadline.
Problems cropped up in the production process, as problems will, but with a hard push, I kept movement on track, if bumping against the edge of the possible. Development had reached the point of requiring only a few remaining tweaks before uploading a file for printing. I was poised to make a major mistake.
It’s unfair, really, to blame market influence for turning my head, because, while the pressure is real, I am he who caves to it. A fervent desire to share the project as it unfolds works within, even as market influence presses from without. And, too, I admit to a wistfulness, a faintly piquant wish that someone somewhere will unexpectedly cross my palms with coin for these labors. It is I who am susceptible, knowing that here on the hard drives and work surfaces of Stikmanz Intergalactic HQ are as yet secret artifacts of incredible coolness.
A drawback of the breadth of the Habdvarsha project generally and The Hidden Lands of Nod specifically, is that all parts would be best served if there were six of me to do everything at once. The novels are enriched by dvarsh cultural materials; the cultural materials are contextualized by the novels. In a dynamic much like a dog chasing its tail, a new edition of Nod’s Way will increase the value of re-releasing Prelude to a Change of Mind, and a new edition of Prelude will underscore the significance of the oracle. Absent the miraculous appearance of an intimate, trustworthy collaborator, it’s a quandary unresolvable except by the sidewinding motion of my creative process.
Most days, this dynamic is simply part of the background as I work; however, the recent inconvenience of a failed computer brought the matter back into focus as a practical concern—even as it again shone a light on questions of method. Near the end of this past November, the six year old laptop that had been command center of the entire Stikmantic enterprise catastrophically failed. Happily, I had backed up the system the night before, but that was the last bit of good fortune associated with the incident for many days. A storm of miscommunication, misstep, holiday travel and massively inconvenient credit card paternalism resulted in a full month without access to the greater part of my material.
This is not to report that I had nothing to do. In the days before the event, I had printed copies of the most recent draft of the novelette in progress and the current state of the production file for what I thought was an almost finished reset of Nod’s Way. I had also begun sketching the underdrawing for a new illustration. Heavy pencil action on these three intermediate stages kept my hands occupied during computerless days. Even when editing, however, much of the mind flies free. Or, not free in this case, but back to the layout proof of that ancient oracle of the Dvarsh, Nod’s Way.
At first, it was a source of frustration, stalled in its final phases as a self-imposed deadline bore down and sped past. The frustration did not last. No rage or wailing would bridge the hiatus. Deliberately reframed, the stall became an opportunity to scrutinize every part of the almost completed book, and so I did.
Once working to deadline was eliminated as a rationale, the degree to which I had screwed up became clear. It was not that the execution was bad; it was that it no longer felt Dvarsh. I had simplified to such an extent that the book had become beside the point. The computer had failed in the knick of time. I had been kicking the reset like a pro, working with discipline, building momentum, determined not to yield to obstructions or inconvenience. Nothing less than a personal catastrophe could have idled the process. Honoring chance is an important aspect of Nod’s Way; at this juncture, chance came through for its oracle with flying colors. The more I examined the book I had set up, the more committed I became to uncompromising vision. Gynt’s friend, the button maker, has already melted the misshapen volume that almost was.
So, what now? Nod’s Way remains one of the currently hot projects in Stikmanzistan, albeit with no deadline. Work on a new edition continues steadily, and without haste. That, in a nutshell, is the latest lesson of the Great Teacher, and the newly inviolable rule of thumb for the entire Stikmantic endeavor: steadily, and without haste. As guiding light, this rule joins a promise with which I began the project over thirty years ago, that my goal as a creator will be always to enjoy myself. Fruits of these labors will disperse into the world as each ripens. This is exactly why I turned my back on big daddy paradigms. This is why I formed my own commercial entity. The only demands I have to meet are those of the work.
It is entirely possible that I’ll fail to complete some planned parts of the Habdvarsha materials, but, so what? I’ll finish what I finish. In the meantime, I cavort with magical beings, learn unspoken tongues and cross dimensions at will. Every single day these fumbling hands give each of those wonders a little more reality.
In concrete terms, my new story, “The Seven Jewel Bird,” is closer to a wrap than anything else on the table, although prepress for a new edition of Prelude to a Change of Mind is not far behind. These two titles will command a lion’s share of attention until they can be put to bed. Most of my recreational illustration of late has actually related to Nod’s Way; that will continue. Unresolved compatibility issues between the version of fontmaking software I had been using and the forcibly upgraded OS mean that I do not yet know how soon the font initiative will resume progress. Check back in a month.
Also unknown is any effective way to promote the titles I manage to steer into the marketplace. That worry remains in suspension, as I am utterly clueless. The most serviceable thought I have on the subject is that once I release a few more items, combined mass will begin to draw buzz. It’s a soothing thought while I wait on genuine insight. Or the miraculous appearance of an intimate, trustworthy collaborator.