CJW: On Becoming...
Every now and then there’ll be a new meme that spreads through author twitter about an author’s brand, or what themes they find they keep writing. I’ve seen variations go by a dozen times, easily, and I always scrolled right past each time because I had no idea what my response would be.
Being able to work out the answer to that question would mean being able to step back and look at a project subjectively, and I’m usually so deep in a project I can’t tell if it’s any good, let alone what bigger themes it might be touching on. But working through another edit on my current manuscript I finally figured it out… And it’s about damn time.
One thing I find myself returning to again and again is the idea of becoming.
Becoming could mean the terminus of a person’s particular transformation, but I consider ‘becoming’ more as the entire cycle of transformation itself. It is working to become that which you are supposed to be, but also realising that “what you are supposed to be” is a goalpost that is ever shifting – one that will never remain static and should never remain static.
In Killing Gravity there are at least two points of becoming. There is the most obvious one – a psilocybin-fueled evolution of Mars’ thinking that helps to unlock the full potential of her telekinetic powers; the mental shackles coming off so she can become her frighteningly powerful self. But there’s also the gentler transformation that starts in Killing Gravity and unfolds across the full VoidWitch Saga. At the start of Killing Gravity, Mars is alone and she likes it that way (or has tried to convince herself that she likes it), but there’s a point at which self-isolation is also self-harm, and she only realises that when the crew of the Nova (mainly Squid, of course) make the effort to connect with her. She could push them away, she could isolate herself again and again, but Mars knows that at some point she has to stop running, she has to let someone get close to her, no matter how much that idea frightens her.
That’s the becoming that occupies her for the rest of the trilogy. Becoming a real person with real connections, even if those connections hurt. She rages against MEPHISTO because they created her to be a weapon, but weapons don’t have friends, weapons don’t have families. And it’s those connections that save her from the fate MEPHISTO had in store for her. She deliberately embraces her own becoming, not the one they planned.
(And I’ve got an idea for a follow-up, but I don’t imagine I’ll get to it anytime soon. I need to spend more time studying anarchism, and then I need enough people to read the first novella trilogy that a publisher would give a shit about a later chapter of Mars’ life…)
With Repo Virtual it’s so obvious that I should have seen it before now; like the manuscript I’m currently editing, “becoming” is in both the text and the subtext of the book… You would have seen that recently I ran a giveaway in the newsletter for some paperback copies of the book, and one of the two quotes I use when signing Repo Virtual is “There is terror in becoming.”
(See, it should have been obvious. It took me writing that inside some copies of Repo Virtual the same week as I was editing a section about ‘becoming’ in the next book before I pieced together that this is my theme… Sometimes I’m not the brightest bulb on the Xmas tree.)
That quote above comes from the section of the book detailing the AI Mirae’s awakening. Again, this isn’t a one-time event; the ‘becoming’ being referenced here is Mirae reaching sentience, but that awareness is not the final stage of their becoming, but rather the first one. Sentience sets them on the path, lets them realise there is a self they can become. It’s only after that realisation they can begin to think about a future, think about personhood and what kind of person they want to be.
I think that’s potentially a powerful idea. It’s too easy for us to take our self for granted – take it as given that we are X or Y – but as well as terror, there is freedom in becoming. The ongoing cycle of becoming means you can grow, you can change, you can be in whatever way you wish. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s possible.
Now here’s the part where I move beyond looking at the theme in my work, and start to tease out why it’s something I keep returning to… The most obvious answer is that I see myself as a work-in-progress. I know we all are, but I think a lot of people don’t actively engage with that element of themselves and their experience. They simply exist, and they do grow and change, but that is incidental, or otherwise it’s tightly focused on one aspect of their lives – working out, career advancement, academic advancement, etc. But for me it’s something I actively think about.
I’m not necessarily saying this is a good thing – I’m not praising myself for this trait. In fact, the reason why it’s an active consideration for me is because I hate myself. I don’t even like saying that. I don’t like to admit it. I’m not always comfortable sharing these things because I hate the idea that people might think I’m fishing for compliments or anything of the sort. I’m only saying it because it’s true and has been since I was 11 years old. The single good thing about that self-loathing is the impetus it gives me to grow and change. I don’t know that I’ll ever change enough that I stop hating myself (it’s pretty baked in at this point), but I guess that’s one of the reasons why I’m in therapy…
It hasn’t always been this way – this becoming I actively work at today. My teen years were as wasted as most people’s. My twenties weren’t much better, but at least I was able to shed the worst aspects of the bigotries instilled in me by the church and our society in general. In my thirties, I’ve examined, explored, and/or let go of everything that I might have once identified as/with… Even to the point where “agender” feels like a pretty good encapsulation of my experience with gender after decades of feeling detached from masculinity and like that was indicative of something being wrong with me.
It feels odd to be in my late-thirties and rethinking something as fundamental as my own gender, but why does that have to be odd? Why do we tell ourselves we need to fit into these boxes just because we’ve always been in them? We’re allowed to grow too big for those old boxes, or just grow into an odd shape that those old boxes can’t contain. We’re not just allowed to, we probably should. We should recognise that we change, and that it’s a good thing. We should shed friendships and relationships that don’t grow with is but fucking savor the ones that do.
Becoming is a life-long project. Maybe that’s a little frightening – realising that even your self isn’t complete, isn’t static, that everything must change. Stability is something I find sorely missing in my life, and I can’t even look to myself to find it, because latching on to some stable self means the becoming is over. But I look to the people closest to me – my friends, and even my family – and I see us all growing as we grow older. I see us handling all sorts of troubles and challenges, and I see us coming out the other side as somehow bigger, more complete perhaps, closer to becoming our true selves. A lot of it hurts, and I don’t relish the pain for myself or anyone else, but we come through it stronger. We learn our lessons. We continue becoming. And that’s enough.