Titles by Kij Johnson are available for purchase online

I have been meaning to sort through all these old journals of mine, getting some sort of index of what’s in them. There are sixty or seventy of them, and they vary wildly from to-do lists to personal musing to story ideas and semi-artistic little scribbles. I have started this project before, but it’s pretty daunting, ten thousand or more pages, and thousands of them were me working through family of origin or other traumatic events. I never really had the resilience to get through before this. And this of course doesn’t include the 1000+ pages of my old LiveJournal which was pretty confessional back in the day, or when I used to use Facebook as a blog: problems for another day.

I don’t have to read every word of what I wrote, thank goodness; but even skimming I noticed a few interesting insights:

When I started writing, I made a conscious decision to become a fantasy writer after a lot of thinking. There’s a five-page list with comments in 1984 or so (which is a year before I always thought I started writing), where I identified all the genres I felt I could write. Fantasy, historical fantasy, and SF were on the list, but so were Regency romances, crime novels, and mainstream literary (though I called it something else). The Kij Johnson who wrote crime novels would have been a very different writer, I think.

I wrote a lot of poetry in the 1980s. I had been reading ancient and medieval Japanese poetry, and got into the habit of writing haiku, haibun, and tanka pretty much every day. Some of it was good; some of it now looks pretty hamfisted.

When I was processing something in therapy, I took literally hundreds of pages to figure things out. I would routinely go through a 188-page notebook in less than three months. Some of those insights are things I am still working on, so writing them down evidently didn’t always make them stick.

I love research. Love it. I obsessively read about topics before I started writing, but after that, I started taking notes (usually in my journals) from whatever I was reading. Some topics never went anywhere: I spent a bunch of time around 1990 trying to get a handle on some advanced math. I know I had an idea for a fantasy featuring a math savant with multiple personalities (Kij, what?), and I took a lot of notes that, these days, might as well have been written by a stranger.

I was depressed all the time. Well, sometimes I was anxious, too. Of course, the journals would look like that: I wrote when I was trying to make sense of things, and I was always trying to understand or get out from under depression. But even when my memory of a time is happy, my experience at the time was colored by depression. I am so very, very grateful things have changed.

(There are some 250s in a locked post over on my Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/posts/65246542.)

3 thoughts on “Past me.

  1. Bloody electronics… Now I don’t know whether my previous attempt posted, or I was e-dashed off here ala unwitting teleportation! Oh, well . . .

    This confession/sharing was quite beautifully Human. Capital letter, different meaning I’ve no doubt you grok perfectly well, and remarkable in that way writers have of lying naked on the table for critical examination (both introspective and “Oh, whatever, just go ahead and throw things at me”).

    Messy, but so is lasagna — and I would not trade that!

    1. Bloody electronics, indeed! I can never tell whether my comments or replies have happened as desired. It’s the nature of writers to observe subjects, and who is most readily available? I said I would never write about growing up in Iowa because it bored me senseless the first time, and yet, here we are.

      1. Indeed — “…and yet, here we are.”

        A couple of days ago I was watching a film with my son, “World of Tomorrow” by Don Hertzfeldt. The springboard of the first installment was the appearance of a grown woman in the presence of what appeared to be a four-year-old girl.

        “In the future you will be implanted with a perfect clone of yourself and eventually give birth to this clone,” said the woman. “Someday you will download yourself into this clone” her explanation went on as she described a sort of hopscotch version of immortality.

        The little girl, as small children do, had her own version of what was important in the moment. “Grandma?” she asked.

        “No, I am not your grandmother. In fact, in a way, you are mine.”

        There was a bit of time travel, and all the while the woman explained certain things about the future. Meanwhile, the child was distracted by colors, sounds, shapes, and the immediate marvel of the world.

        Finally, the woman pointed a tool at the child’s head and said “You are in possession of a memory I have lost. I will now obtain that memory.” And with that, she pressed a button.

        The child, with a dazed expression, said “That is me and mommy… that is me and mommy…” until the machine stopped.

        “Good,” said the woman. “This shall be of great comfort to me when I die.”

        Returned to her own time, the child said “It’s such a nice day,” before wandering off, still very much in the moment.

        As we finished, my 15-year-old son said to me “Can you imagine what that would be like? Trying to talk to a younger version of yourself, trying to convey all the wisdom and pertinent knowledge you’d obtained… only the younger You couldn’t understand. And honestly, didn’t really care. Can you imagine that?”

        “Look at me,” I said, “and repeat all of that. Please.”

        He did. Afterward I said “I want you to try and imagine that I can imagine that. That I DO imagine that. Almost every single day.”

        My son stared at me for several seconds before his face twisted in annoyance and his eyes rolled so hard I could feel it in my liver. He quickly grew irritable and wanted to move on to the next installment of the film.

        Because he didn’t really care about all that noise I was quacking. Because, of course, he couldn’t really understand the point he’d so insightfully made, not if it was coming from me.

        I wonder what it was about Iowa that bored you the first time? I’ve no doubt whatsoever there were horrifically boring things, along with all the other stuff that was perhaps less boring but also not such a delight. I can relate, given aspects of my own upbringing in Kentucky, the good and the bad.

        I also wonder what’s different about the Iowa-that-was, now, when you look back through different eyes that know perhaps “more,” but also perhaps just “differently.” For many, I would ask such a question with a bit of mapping already done in my own head, the result of being an armchair anthropologist. For you, having read some of your work, I don’t believe I would.

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