Imagine, if you can, the future as prophesied by modern action thrillers. The holy texts are movies like Demolition Man and The Matrix. Nicholas Cage is a prophet. Society, apparently, is fucked, but at least the music is still good.
The concert was scheduled for 90 minutes, but at least an hour of that was all music and applause breaks. How the heck was I supposed to tell a 200-page story in less than half an hour? Actually, I (like you) have been practicing condensed storytelling for years thanks to a 140-character limit on certain communication media. What I didn’t expect, however, was how this process would change the story.
We’ve all been there: Writing a brilliant tweet, but it comes out to about 250 characters.
The process of paring a thought down to fit an arbitrary container is frustrating, sometimes maddening. After all, if I didn’t mean all those words, why would I have written them? Yet as I started trimming each chapter down into just a few bullet points, I had to perform some painful artistic triage. The question that keeps popping up again and again is “what am I trying to SAY here?” I had, at most, 5 minutes between each song to explain a chapter that could be up to 40 pages.
Trimming those tweets down to the magic 140 (or less if you’re adding links, photos, etc.) is the jogging track for creative editing that you never knew you were on. The exercise of saying what you mean instead of whatever comes to mind is one that strengthens your storytelling potential. In fact, it can even broaden your vocabulary as you try to combine three words into one.
But as I condensed I realized that, for all the words I had barfed onto the manuscript, I had been missing key concepts that made for a much more compelling story. When presented with the bullet points of what I’d actually written, they often pointed to a concept I had either misarticulated or missed entirely.
It’s like mixing a song with a hundred instruments, then muting everything but the vocals, bass, and drums to find the foundation again.
In the end, I found with a better story than the one I’d written before taking the stage. Who knows, maybe I should condense each chapter into a single bullet point. A tweet. A word. Imagine that: A twelve-word novella. Maybe that’s some kind of bullshit zen ideal, maybe it’s just an academic exercise, but if Twitterization helped me this much, I’m willing to give it a shot.
Imaginary friends are kind of a misnomer, actually, they’re real. Everything is real- ghosts, leprechauns, Narnia, sparkly vampire teens… all of it exists. Descartes once theorized cogito ergo sum, which was really weird since he’s French and that’s Latin. I would go even weirder and say cogito ergo est. I think, therefore it is. Every fiction you envision brings to life a new Alternate Reality.
Have you ever daydreamed about a world of talking animals? Spaceships and robots? Hell, how about your own life as a lottery-winning, power-lifting, world-traveling sexual conquistador? Congratulations, you’ve given birth to a fully-functioning reality. Here’s your cigar.
I actually got this idea from Fazaar. When you’ve had an invisible friend long enough that he’s still with you during high school philosophy classes, you’re bound to start asking for a bit of biographical data. A child’s mind has neither the storage nor the desire for concrete details (like seriously, how does Dora fit all that shit into her backpack anyway?), but the adult mind requires more. It’s like we grownups are hard-wired to test a reality and either accept it or reject it based on its similarity to our own.
Case in point: You needed the Mr. DNA explanation to follow Jurassic Park, but all your kid gave a shit about was an island full of dinosaurs.
This bird, Fazaar, came from a world very real despite its genesis inside my head; I created his reality and everything in it. No, I’m not God- I wouldn’t want His job, WAAAAY too much responsibility, but the job is very similar. Just like a JPEG loses detail if you compress it again and again, my worlds are far less elaborate than God’s. If Fazaar has any imaginary friends, I’d wager that their world is even simpler than the bird’s.
What you get are subsidiary realities that can be infinitely deep, limited only by the set of details funneling downward from the top. If this world is the Crayola factory, then my job as a creator is to pass as many crayons down the line as I can to make Fazaar’s world more colorful. A few more links down the chain and reality becomes the 6-crayon sampler you get with the kiddie menu at Applebee’s.
Of course, this means that God’s probably got colors I’ve never seen before. What happens if a creation looks upward into the reality of the Creator and sees something that simply doesn’t exist down the chain? Madness. Genius. Inspiration. Weird colors that have to be explained using only the crayons that are native to this reality. Do you honestly think the book of Revelation is really talking about guys on horses and angels with bowls? This is shit we just can’t comprehend, explained through the filter of our native reality.
And, for the record, don’t ask me if there’s a reality above God. That’s one of those “unless He tells us, there’s no way to find out” kind of things.
The Responsibilities of Creation
So now I’ve got an English-speaking, ale-guzzling bird to look after. Hell, I can barely keep up with my cat. Do I need to daydream constantly in order to feed him, employ him, and make his life interesting? What happens when I stop thinking about him for a while? If I forget about him, does he die?
Deep breath. Calm down, it’s not like having children. The responsibilities of this reality don’t always apply downstream. Ethics are a tricky subject when you’re the one writing the rule book, so I won’t elaborate beyond this: how you treat your realities speaks volumes about your own psychology. No pressure.
In all seriousness, though, I believe that our creations live happy and/or miserable lives with or without our direct intervention. If you want to pretend you’re God for a moment, then answer this: Are you the fatalist who believes our Creator chooses your breakfast cereal and which panties you pull out of the dresser in the morning, or are you the nihilist who looks at our Creator like a deadbeat dad who gave us life and was never heard from again? Or are you somewhere in between?
Have you ever started a project, abandoned it, then came back months or years later with a brilliant idea to make it better? Managing your realities is kinda the same way- inspiration, incubation, intervention. Your creations can live easily enough in your subconscious and, with enough time, may just surprise you when you come back to them. Maybe you left them as a lonely steampunk outpost and came back to find a multi-national airship-powered federation.
Or maybe they’ve just been on pause. Remember: this is your reality, you control time.
So rest easy, create frequently, and don’t be afraid to talk to your creations and expand the level of detail that comprises their world. Next time I’ll cover a much more fun topic: Inviting Others Into Your Reality.
Images by Megan Giles and 52 Kitchen Adventures
Continuing their parade of awesomeness, the groovy folks at Pandora Radio have now added The Lives of Dexter Peterson to their library. This means that you can indeed hear high-quality tracks from the new album for free without the horrible musician-impoverishing guilt that comes from services like Spotify or Grooveshark. Go take a listen, create your own station, and maybe even discover some other awesome music in the process!
So the webcomic has now made it into chapter two, where Dexter becomes a wealthy land owner in the new world. When I first started writing The Lives of Dexter Peterson, I wasn’t exactly starting with zero research. As I’ve said before, the entire story was the product of NaNoWriMo in 2005, so I hadn’t outlined or prepared too much in advance… except for this section.
I love pirates.
As far back as 1999 I’ve been fascinated by pirates. You could say I was into pirates before they were ruined by Disney, but let’s just say I was into it before it was cool, man. Actually, it started during my first tour when I started playing churches around the Pacific Northwest. One of the first places I played was a tiny town called Port Townsend, WA, a place so gorgeous I really want to retire there. I found a little book called Under The Black Flag by David Cordingly, initially thinking it was a work of fiction like Wilbur Smith’s Birds of Prey. Nope… it was a thorough exploration of real pirates from the swashbuckling era we’ve all come to know and love.
And, apparently, grossly misunderstand.
Proving That I Can Read
There are a lot of details throughout the book that are really only there to prove I’ve done some research. I don’t expect people to think I’m an historian, but I do want enough credibility to help cement the reality in people’s minds. I initially set Dexter’s property in Port Royal, Jamaica. Again, thank you Disney, I had to change that between the first draft and the recent rewrites.
Another detail that remained was the pirate being hanged… John Teach. The name was used as an homage to the notorious Edward Teach, also known as Blackbeard. The first name was chosen for John Fanning, co-founder of formerly-pirate-haven site Napster. Sean Teach and Shawn Teach just didn’t sound as sinister.
Proving That I Hadn’t Read A Damn Thing
And then there was coffee. To be honest, as I was hastily writing this section I didn’t realize just how central a role that coffee would ultimately play. I just loved the stuff and figured Dexter would as well. Unfortunately, I hadn’t done any research about its origins in 2005, so I assumed that coffee came from South America. After all, Juan Valdez and all that, right?
BZZZZZZZZZZT. Wrong, thank you for playing.
It wasn’t until after researching the hidden liner notes for Beer & Coffee that I learned of the bean’s origins in Mesopotamia. Some say Ethiopia, some say the Ottoman Empire, but still… Coffee would not have hit the new world until well after Dexter landed there. Oops! Instead of a blunder, though, I saw this as an opportunity during the next rewrite.
Rather than eliminating that thread or sending Dexter’s men to Africa, I realized that a coffee plantation in South America might be the perfect anachronism. Somewhere out there is a reader who’s seen Good Eats or Modern Marvels episodes about coffee and knows that something is amiss when they find beans in the jungles of Colombia. When Dexter makes it back to the discovery site later, the anachronism hopefully makes more sense.
Shifting Reality Without A Clutch
Along with research issues, I had another challenge for this chapter: Dexter’s first shift. Yeah, he’s been snapping from one reality to the next for seven years, but this is the first time it’s happened for the readers. I had a lot of questions to answer that really didn’t matter back in 2005.
- Would Dexter’s personality change, or would he remain the same kid from New York City?
- Would Dexter change physically? Age? Race? Species?
- What would Dexter remember from one life to the next, and would he inherit new memories from the life he’d jumped into?
Ultimately I decided that Dexter’s personality would largely remain the same; trying to create an entirely new character every chapter would only confuse the readers (and myself). The approach I decided to stick with was something like being a tourist on an extended stay in a foreign land: After a month in Brisbane, you’ll pick up a slight Australian accent without realizing it. Dexter would be Dexter, but gradually the memories and personality of his echo-self would seep into his being.
The other big question I had to answer was what kind of book this would be. After all, in this chapter I’d be killing a man on public display. I could Disney-fy the experience and sanitize it for a sensitive audience, or I could attempt an authenticity that might squick some.
You know I’m perfectly fine squicking the masses, so the decision was made fairly quickly. The initial assault on the senses with the hanging of John Teach would hopefully stand as a beacon of harsh reality to contrast with Dexter’s science-fiction story line. If it took a horrifying scene to really cement that kind of reality, then let there be feces.
The side consequence of this, of course, was that I could showcase Dexter’s indifference to public executions. After all, he mentioned being on both sides of wars throughout history. He’s seen worse. With plans to write the next chapter about World War II, I needed to make sure the audience was aware of his desensitization.
So the body dropped, the smell came with it, and now you get to read about it as the story is slowly released.
Entry by Chris Heiden. This entry needs artwork!
My name is Dexter Jared Peterson. I am 26 years old and I live in New York City. In the last seven years I have lived 10101 different lives.
This day was a new experience altogether… My focus shifted as I noticed my tail twitching gently side to side. Flexing my paws, my well-sharpened claws move cleanly in and out of my fingers.
“Well this is different” I thought for a brief moment before a loud noise trumpeted across the field. My vision shifted instantly to my surroundings. Tall stone columns with innately carved figures of huge hunting cats encircled where I stood with a small group of juveniles. To either side I noticed a good turn out in the stands for this event. There was hardly any room left to sit.
I felt a sense of pride being in front of such a great crowd. This was my moment in the sun and I was going to make the most of it. My huge ears swiveled to focus on the commotion coming from behind the stands to the left. A procession of, what I could only compare to large bipedal lions, moved gracefully onto the field. In tow, at the end of a line, he could see a beautifully decorated and ornate deer. Ribbons of silver and gold hung from the deer’s carved antlers, sharpened to brutal points. Its glistening fur had been painstakingly groomed to perfection, its hooves polished to clarity and its delicate tail cropped short. With any luck, this prize would soon be in my possession. My mouth watered slightly in anticipation as my tail lashed from side to side.
“No, luck would not do today”, I thought. This would be my finest moment and I would let no one else get in my way. The other three youths that stood beside me would not stop me. Today, I would make my first kill and join the pride as an adult. The signal sounded once more. The deer was released and with a resounding ‘thwap’ to its haunches; it quickly began to disappear towards the horizon in a flurry of sooty dust.
I could feel my heart begin to race, adrenaline surging through my body. My claws dug into the loose soil to gain whatever purchase it held. My focus narrowed to a fine point as my ears precisely followed the prey. Everything else faded out of existence. It was just me and my deer.
The final signal sounded so loudly in my ears, I could swear I had gone deaf. Without even realizing, my body flew forward at an amazing pace, the arena already a speck fading into nothing. As I watched the deer running full force for it’s life, I could feel the other hunters also closing on the prey. It was surely a fair match. In fact, I was losing ground to one of my rivals. I pushed as hard as I could to gain ground, but it was becoming painfully obvious that another hunter would reach my deer first.
I could only hope that they made a mistake in their approach.
Before I could even fully form his desire, the other hunter tripped and fell, tumbling into a pile of fur and dust. Blowing the dust forcefully from my nose, my focus honed in to my prey. I was getting closer with each breath. I could see the deer making small subtle mistakes as it ran. It was running too hard. Soon, I would be close enough to snag my prize.
My heart was beating out of my chest, adrenaline blinding my focus, paws throbbing in abuse, nose so overwhelmed by the deer that I could already taste it. My moment was at hand. I had to act now or lose my chance till the next season. I couldn’t let the other hunters reach it before me.
As the deer took a miniscule misstep, I made my move. Focusing all of my remaining strength into a lethal leap, my paws stretched far, razor sharp claws extended in an ivory arc into the deers soft haunches. I sunk my claws deeply into my prey, pulling my way quickly onto its back. Too late, I realized my leap had landed me slightly off-side. With a flash of the deers powerful hooves, I found himself doubled over in pain, flying through the air. The surprisingly quick dismount left me little time to recover for the landing. I braced as well as I could, knowing in that brief moment, that I had failed. As my head came to meet the ground first, my world went dark.
Pain. Pounding, throbbing pain. I felt like I was dragging my way back from the pits through fire and thorns. My world spun. It took all of my focus to get it to stop. I was nothing but darkness. There was no Dexter. Through the blurry fog, a small noise rang to a piercing pitch. My ears twitched, the small tufts rubbing against something soft. Soft was such a contrast to his darkness. The weight of my body became a quick reality.
As a rush, I could suddenly feel everything once more. My eyes shot open to a blinding light. Blinking furiously to clear my vision, I realized where I was: The infirmary. What a personal shame. Not only to miss my prey, but to have to be rescued by the clan and nursed back to health like a young-ling. The dishonor caused me more pain that my damaged body.
I sat up in a flash and looked around. There was one other laid out in a bed in the corner, still asleep. I recognized him as the energetic youth that tripped over his own huge paws. I laughed softly to myself. At least I wasn’t the worst off from the chase.
Quickly noting my injuries, I knew I was not too bad off. An obvious wound from a sharp hoof was wrapped in tan gauze to match my fur. There were other minor bruises and such, and my neck felt like it had been broken while my head throbbed, but I knew I would be okay. I needed to get out of here immediately. The laughing eyes of my family and friends would be too much to bear. It was bad enough that I ended up in a soft bed for the infirm.
Rousing myself from the bed to my feet, I quietly made my way to the door. The sooner I could make an appearance at the banquet, the better. I walked as best I could toward the main hall. I made every effort to hide any discomfort, shifting my weight so I appeared to be perfectly fine. With any luck, I may be able to laugh this off with the others as an overzealous effort by the medics. I needed to retain whatever honor I could if I was to have any chance of a good future.
Entering the main hall instantly brought back a shattering migraine. Too much bright light and loud noise, I had forgotten how much of a celebration this was. To become an adult, be granted land, hunting rights, the right to court a female, all had come and gone so quickly for me today. But I would have no time to be depressed, as my friends and family were watching as I entered the hall.
Feinting a smile, I went to make the rounds and assure all that I was perfectly fine. I had reached my limit and it was beginning to overwhelm me. I knew it was too early to leave the party, so I pulled up a chair at a corner table. My body was worn from such a long day. I just needed to relax a bit. Using my arms to prop up my head, I rested on the table. My vision blurred while the room began to fade.
I sat up quickly, alert, as I felt a soft warm hand on my shoulder. Did I fall asleep? What was going on around me? It took so much effort to focus, but then I knew this scent without even needing to look. It was Alexandria. The most striking female I had ever seen. She had made her kill the previous season and was now an adult.
I had yearned to make this kill today to offer to her as a proposal. Knowing how I had failed, her soft touch caused me more pain than any of my injuries that day. I steadied myself, then sat up to meet her with a smile. She smiled back.
“I brought you some of your favorite coffee,” she said, as she placed a steaming cup on the table.
I could feel the effects of himy favorite brew just by its vibrant scent. It smelled of hearty soil, sweet water, chocolate and cinnamon. As I raised the glass to his lips, my troubles melted away. Perhaps, just maybe, I could still have the future I wanted, with Alexandria.
She pulled up a chair next to me and slid closer than usual. Placing her hand on my thigh, she smiled with her eyes and began chatting amicably about the day and the general blather. I was doing his best to maintain my composure, as the world around me faded slowly to darkness once more.
Entry by Deanna Rachel. This entry needs artwork!
Note from Matthew: Sadly, this one really doesn’t fit the canon since Dexter’s name never changes… however, Deanna took the time to write so dammit I’m taking the time to post it!
My name is Dexter Jared Peterson. I am 26 years old and I live in New York City. In the last seven years I have lived as 11,577 different people.
At the time of writing, I have currently found myself in yet another strange predicament. This is a natural occurrence for me, and as such, I am not unused to the conditions presented upon me during my past seven years of life. As such, each new life should not be particularly challenging, should it not? However, no two lives have ever been the same for me.
I have found myself in the body of what I can only assume is a scientist. Sadly, what kind of science is something I, right now, cannot quite figure out. The data laid out of the desk in front of me is quantitative data. It appears to be data about people. This, naturally, rules out Chemistry and Physics. I don’t claim to have the mind of a scientist, but I can safely say there are other sciences out there.
My name tag only reveals my name – no, my current name. It does not reveal my profession. However, when I wandered around a half hour or so ago, people appeared to show respect for me, greeting me in the hallway. I must be high-up in their ranks. Though, as always, I cannot be sure. “Good morning, Mr. Friedmann,” they greet. I reply with a nod, a show of courtesy to these people. I wonder how out-of-place I seemed to these people. I wish I could unlock the full potential of the brain I currently possess.
Perhaps I could, even if for a short period of time, attempt to figure out a way to stop the sudden changes. Even after seven years, the toll the flickering from body to body has on me mentally is grand. The effects are indescribable, yet at the same time, intriguing. I could write a novel of how this journey has affected me. But, I suppose, the diary does this for me. When I look in the mirror, I see a man. His hair is thinning and grey, his eyes tiny behind thick-rimmed glasses. Dark bags hang under his dark brown eyes, and I realize just how tired I am in this body.
The clothes are much too tight, I must admit. The form is large, causing me to waddle with each step. With every moment, the body shows me how it feels; hungry, tired, in pain. I am not sure how to soothe my temporary body, seeing as I have no indication of where food and a bed would be. For the moment, I will deal with the low rumble of my super-sized stomach, and the large yawns a hippopotamus would envy. I believe, for the moment, I could rate this body as livable.
So yesterday was Chartbombing Day for The Lives of Dexter Peterson. If you’re reading this, I probably didn’t need to tell you because I emailed, Google Plussed, Facebooked, and tweeted about it a thousand times yesterday. Now the dust is settling from the virtual cash mob of yesterday and it’s time to see the results.
Traffic Jam Session
The first and most easily followed result was website traffic. Thanks to Google Analytics I was able to watch real-time numbers throughout the day. Sometimes I’d see a tweet or a G+ post and go check out the stats to watch the bump, but more frequently I’d see the traffic number suddenly spike and then go look for what caused it. Many, many thanks to FurAffinity for all the traffic they sent my way, you were easily the #1 driver for this event other than myself!
Overall, traffic to my website jumped (wait for it) 1,058% yesterday. Obviously the majority were fellow Amercians, but the UK and Canada nearly tied for second place with Germany and others close behind. I was a little surprised to see a nearly even split between Firefox and Chrome browsers cruising the site since, to my knowledge, people only use Chrome for Google+ Hangouts. Eight of you were still using IE 6 (seriously, wtf?)
But you don’t really care about traffic, you want to hear about charts.
Bombs Away Part I: iTunes
The most difficult chart to follow was the iTunes Music Store. Like all things Apple, they don’t announce how often they update their charts, how they calculate positions, where an album is likely to end up, or what it takes to get on the front page. We just sort of had to stumble across the results whenever we could. I don’t know if anyone else saw a higher peak than we did (please let me know!), but when we finally did see movement, The Lives of Dexter Peterson hit #85 on the iTunes Rock chart (by the time I took a screen-cap it was at 87). As of this morning, it’s sitting at #127, but damn… we broke the top 100!
To give some perspective, that #85 put me higher up than Elton John, the Foo Fighters, and The White Stripes. While I only take pleasure (no small amount) in besting the latter, that should clarify the kind of league I was playing in. This is why I was pushing so hard for support from the community- to quote Oliver Platt from The West Wing, “this isn’t Arena League, this is NFL football.” The fact that I’m even visible on the rock chart at all right now is a victory, but breaking the top 100 is a badge that the Robot Army should wear with pride.
Bombs Away Part II: Amazon
I’ll start with the good news: As of this morning, The Lives of Dexter Peterson is currently the #1 best seller in Amazon’s Adult Alternative category. Boom! That’s far more than I expected to happen with this little stunt. In fact, the album hit some incredible milestones yesterday, but what matters most are the lasting effects. Amazon’s charts are updated hourly, so any victories could be rolled back in less time than it takes to watch Serenity on Netflix.
The current standings for the album:
- #1 in Adult Alternative
- #6 in Miscellaneous (seriously, that’s a genre?)
- #44 in Alternative Rock (think Green Day or The Black Keys)
- #225 in all of Amazon MP3
Think about it for a second. I am nobody (just like my Manifesto says). I do not have a record label, management, a publicist, or major investors. All I have are people like you who are reading this long, boring wrap-up because you like my tunes. You’ve put my new album in the top ten of a couple genre charts, the top 50 of a particularly competitive genre chart, and the fact that I’m in triple-digit standing in all of Amazon’s music catalog at all is nothing short of jaw-dropping.
As for the single itself, “I Wish I Were”:
- #1 in Miscellaneous (there we go again…)
- #4 in Adult Alternative
- #38 in Alternative Rock
- #382 in all of Amazon MP3′s singles
One thing that the iTunes charts lack is a “Billboard Hot 100″ equivalent. Amazon, however, calls it their “Movers and Shakers” chart. Thanks to the efforts of a ton of people yesterday, the album is still #5 and the single is #2 on the Movers and Shakers chart. This one, by definition, is temporal, but if you want to measure a surge, this is the best place to look. Oh, if only I could conquer the music world at 18,827% growth for the rest of my career. Hell, for the rest of the week, even.
I have no conclusion yet. After 24 hours, I’m humbled, stunned, and excited all at the same time, but God only knows what this surge will mean in the long run. I will certainly try this again the next time I release an album, but as one fan suggested on Twitter I will not do this for more than a day at a time. The amount of prep, coordination, and flat-out spamblasting involved just isn’t sustainable. People seemed excited enough about joining the effort for a day, but I’m pretty sure I’d lose a lot of friends if I did this all the time.
The one solid conclusion I can come to is really a confirmation of something I realized years ago: I have the best fans ever invented. Thank you.
In a nutshell, we’re trying to storm the iTunes and Amazon daily top-ten charts today. All it will take is a 99¢ commitment from you to make this happen! If we manage to push this song into either of the two charts, I’ll be sending out the exclusive Commentary Album to everyone who signed up at www.matthewebel.com/preorder. So what are you waiting for? LET’S BOMB THOSE CHARTS!
The Song: I Wish I Were
- Head to www.matthewebel.com/itunes
- Purchase the single “I Wish I Were” for 99¢ – Even if you intend to buy the full album, just buy the single first!
- If you signed up to buy the whole album, go back to www.matthewebel.com/itunes after downloading the single and take advantage of iTunes “Complete My Album” feature. The rest of the album will be discounted so you’re not buying the same track twice. This way “I Wish I Were” will still hit the single charts even if you’re buying the whole album.
- Let me know via Twitter!
- Tell your friends to join the effort!
- If you’d like to gift an album or track to a friend, go back to step 1 and click the triangle next to the Buy links… you’ll see “Gift This Album” or “Gift This Song” as an option!
Amazon MP3 Instructions
Single Track Only:
- Head to www.matthewebel.com/amazon
- Purchase “I Wish I Were” for 99¢
- Let me know via Twitter!
- Tell your friends to join the effort!
- If you’d like to gift an album or track to a friend, go back to step 1 and click “Give song as a gift”
Full Album Only:
For the record: I’ve never actually lived in New York City. In fact, when I wrote the chapters about Dexter Peterson living in New York City, I lived in Nashville and had only been to the Northeast once or twice. Now that I live in Boston, I almost feel like a traitor for opening the new album with what is effectively a love song for the Big Apple. Sing this song on a Green Line train after a Sox game and you’re likely to get more than just dirty looks.
No, I had good reason to start the story off in the distant, foreign land of NYC, but first I needed to dispel a lot of my own misconceptions. I know I may sacrifice “street cred” by saying this (even more so than putting “street cred” in quotes), but I’m strictly a middle-class suburbanite kid. For the past few decades I’ve awakened to the sounds of birds and lawnmowers, not car stereos and construction crews. To put myself into Dexter’s shoes I had to learn something about the largest city in America.
Don’t Believe Everything You See
I’m probably not the only one who based his impression of New York City on movies and TV shows. If Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Die Hard with a Vengeance, and 100,000 episodes of Law and Order are my guiding documentaries, then New York City is actually a pretty easy place to understand…
- The subways are controlled by roving street gangs who spray paint everything within reach and threaten everyone with guns and knives.
- Homeless people constantly wander around yammering to themselves and harassing people for change.
- Every street is littered with… well, litter. And people sleeping in boxes, used needles, obvious hookers…
- The sewers are infested with ninjas and Ron Perlman.
- Making eye contact with anyone, anywhere, for any reason will get you shot, stabbed, or both.
Big Apple residents, stop me if any of this sounds familiar. Maybe all stereotypes are formed around a grain of truth, but my few experiences actually visiting New York have been nothing like this.
Yeah, it’s crowded. Duh. But the impersonality of a major metropolis doesn’t completely degrade everyone’s sense of humanity. A suburbanite like myself has to get used to things like coffee shops with no bathrooms and traffic that ignores lines and signs, sure. The noise level is much higher and it never stops, but it’s not like Mayor Bloomberg has mandated that at least one jackhammer per square block must be running at all times. It’s just… busy. The subways are dirtier than Boston’s, but at least they run all night.
Where No One Knows Your Name
The important thing I noticed about the people of New York, though, is that they don’t care about you… in the good way. So many people from so many different parts of this planet live in such a small area that nothing really seems out of place. You can see a flaming queer in rubber shorts, an Orthodox Jew, an African in a dashiki, and a Muslim couple complete with long beard and hijab all waiting for the same bus. And nobody’s trying to kill each other (mostly they’re all just noses-down staring at their iPhones anyway).
Dexter could bump into all his former and future lives right there in Manhattan and nothing would seem out of place- WWII uniform, Antarctic parka, 1970′s lab coat, powdered wig… He wouldn’t even need to be near Broadway for people to accept such variety and move on with their lives.
Dexter himself grew up in Suburbia, just like me, but the Big Apple seemed like the best natural camouflage for someone living as thousands of other people. If he ever wakes up at home and can’t quite shake the effects of his previous life, he could still venture outside with little chance of anyone calling the police. I doubt he’d be able to do the same in Devil’s Lake, North Dakota.
Writing About What You Know
There’s no way I could claim to know what it’s like living in NYC, even if I grilled Ariel Hyatt for info. Then again, there’s no way Gene Rodenberry knew what space travel was like or Anne Rice knew what living through multiple centuries with no sunlight would do to a person.
I do, however, know what it’s like to feel lost. I know what it’s like to miss my home and my routine. I know what it’s like to be afraid of commitment and what it’s like to be self-centered. I know what it’s like to open up to someone for the first time and share secrets you wouldn’t even admit to your cat.
I know what it’s like to fall in love when you least expect it.
Like all science fiction and most adventure stories, The Lives of Dexter Peterson isn’t an autobiography. While “living in New York City” is a perfectly attainable feat, in my case it’s merely a backdrop to what’s really happening: A young man is lost in his own search for identity and no one- not one of the millions of people he calls neighbors -can help him figure out who the hell he really is.