All Alone With The Memory

Do you ever wonder what memory really, truly is? I often do, because it seems to be more like a river than a file cabinet. And as a writer, I am always drawing on memory for little details and simple snapshots of what the world is really like.

Except my memories are all wrong. And so are yours. If you don’t believe me, look it up. Here’s a place to start.


What I think I remember from my childhood and young adulthood isn’t, in reality, what I experienced at the time. This is the way memory works for all of us.  Let me give you a personal example.

When I was about six, a skeleton (as in a full human body skeleton) walked past my bedroom door. We lived in a trailer when I was young, and the room my older brother and I shared opened onto a narrow hallway that ran half the length of the entire trailer. It led to both bedrooms and the bathroom. My brother and I had bunk beds, and the foot of the bed faced the doorway into the hall. We also lived in Pennsylvania (as I do still), and winters here can be pretty rough.

So, it was a cold winter’s night, and I was laying in my bed. I think I had been asleep and something woke me up – perhaps a storm – but I remember looking down my bed at the door into the hall. I heard a creaking sound traveling down the hall, which I remember being footsteps. Then, remarkably, an animated skeleton passed in front of our bedroom door. As it did so – taking long, languid strides – it LOOKED at me! I can see this in my mind as clearly as I see the room I’m in while typing this blog.

The truth, of course, is very different. The creaking was the sound of the wind pushing hard against a flimsy single-wide trailer, and my mind interpreted this as someone walking down the hall. For whatever reason – probably because I have a freaky imagination – what my mind filled in as the thing walking was a skeleton. But it was so real! I wasn’t afraid, rather amazed, but it never actually happened.

That’s the nature of memory. I don’t need anyone to tell me this is a false memory; skeletons don’t actually walk around, thank goodness. But the fact that I refer to it in my mind as a memory and not as a hallucination or dream is an illustration of how our brains work. Or rather, don’t always work the way we expect.

So when you go to write, understand that the memories you are drawing upon are more likely to be false than true, at least in some respects. I remember clearly the day I married my wife, and the gist of the memory is totally accurate. However, there are details that I recall now that weren’t there, or were different then.  And my past is changed by my present, as my present, when it becomes just a memory, will be changed by my future.

Got it?


Giving Ideas to the Bad Guys

The past week has been rough here in America, with terrorist bombings, Texas explosions and shootouts in the streets of Boston.

And yes, before you say anything, I know we have it pretty good here. I’m not comparing us to other countries.

But it occurred to me that, just perhaps, writers like myself might possibly come up with some pretty nasty tricks that terrorists and the Anarchy-minded might exploit. For example, one of my novel ideas involves a terrorist attack at the beginning (chronologically) of the story. If I were to come up with a (pick one or more) easy/cheap/low-tech/insidiously clever idea that the terrorists use in their attack, what responsibility do I have if I publish it?

In other words, If I come up with a way that helps terrorists harm people, and it can be traced back to me, what am I to do with that information? Am I morally to blame? Am I innocent of all wrong doing because it was the terrorists that used my idea? How do I sleep at night knowing my idea was used to kill others?

I’m not aware of this actually happening (yet), but it likely will some day. And I’m also sure I’m not the first writer to consider this. And yet, as I think of this, a bigger question comes to mind, one that troubles me far more than my own personal angst.

If this sort of thing happened even once, or it became something the public worried about, then our deranged and dysfunctional lawmakers in Washington D.C. might see this as a chance to score political points by passing a law interfering with what fiction writers can write. I really don’t want to get political here – I’ve sworn off of talking about politics with anyone – but if one party decided to take issue with this concept now or in the future, they could attack our free speech rights under the guise of “terrorism”. It’s already happened, since 9/11; check it out yourself if you don’t believe me. Just look up the Patriot Act.

Anyway, I don’t know how likely this is, and I hope it’s not something I need to worry about. But as someone who expresses myself best through the written word, and crazy ideas, I can’t just let it go.

Just imagine the headlines one morning. “Terrorists carry out attack as described in the best seller by Stephen Dean Patterson!” Just imagine it going the worst possible way.

Death Becomes Us

This week has been rough. Not for me personally, but for the United States and for the world. Bombings, earthquakes, explosions, sinkholes and more. And whenever there is a large pile of death in the news, or in my personal life, I have to ask the question that my friend Andrew furrows his brow over.

What is the purpose of life?

He (my friend) doesn’t furrow his brow in trying to answer the question. He furrows his brow because he doesn’t understand why I ask it in the first place. He never reads my blog, but I’m just going to explain it for him anyway.

The question, I mean. Not what he doesn’t understand.

Confused yet?

I write because I am driven to do so. Oh, how I wish I had been driven to do so 20 years ago, but I digress. I write because characters that have been in my head for decades are screaming to get out, and new ones are lining up to take their place.

But why? Why do I do this? What’s the purpose of anything we do?

On one hand, there is no purpose. At least not in a material sense. Nothing I do now will survive. I could write the next MacBeth or Of Mice and Men and, ultimately, it won’t matter. Sooner or later this planet will be destroyed. And even if we escape from this planet, sooner or later every planet will be destroyed. The universe will end. Poof.

But that’s not my point. My point is this.

Regardless of whether my work (or anybody else’s) will live for a day, a year, a century or billions of years doesn’t explain why I write. It doesn’t explain why Beethoven wrote music, or Picasso painted. It doesn’t explain why a single mother of four gets up every morning to work two jobs just so she can have a lousy apartment in a bad neighborhood.

She, and everyone else including me, does it because some day we can’t. We’ll be dead. So, in the limited time we have available, we are moved to do things that are bigger than ourselves. Of course, not everybody is able to do more than the minimum. For some, the fact that we will be gone soon is a motivator to do nothing. And for some – I fear my friend is one of them – seeing the universe as pointless means they never truly push themselves to be greater than they could. Andrew’s done some great things in his day. He’s run some kick-ass Pathfinder games. I don’t want to insult him in any way possible. I have the greatest respect for him as a friend.

But I think in the dark watches of the night he might be inspired to paint, or learn an instrument, or write, or…something. But he doesn’t. He says to himself “There isn’t any point, so why bother?” I’m assuming this is his view based on actions and statements I’ve witnessed. But even if he doesn’t possess that mindset, there are plenty of others who do. And that’s a terrible pity, a horrible waste of potential beauty.

Andrew, if you wrote a book, I would read it. If you played an instrument, I’d listen. Whatever you would do, I would want to be a part of it. Because you and I will both be gone some day soon, and the seconds are ticking.

You see, what motivates most people is death, pure and simple. I’m not talking about a fear of death; that’s generally paralyzing. I’m talking about the poignancy of it. Without death, we are nothing. Without understanding the life we have is a gift, we can’t really appreciate how soon it will be gone and how precious it is. Without an end, there is no beginning, and no middle.

Death becomes us, and that’s a simple fact. At least for me, because it answers the question. What’s the purpose of life?

The purpose of life, dear readers, is to LIVE!

I love this pic! However, it isn’t mine. Credit due to whomever this belongs!

My Inner Feminist is Always Angry!

Fully Dressed Supergirl

Perhaps you’ve seen this picture already. Perhaps you haven’t. Either way, I want to go on record as saying this is a step in the right direction. A big step, mind you, but only one.

First, let me give credit where credit is due. The Supergirl image is one of several I found posted online. I credit the artist with some excellent work, and if somebody makes comics based on these images, I’ll buy them. This image, and several others like it can be found at this location;


Please check them all out, and see what others are saying.

So back to the big steps and little steps.

I am always bothered to see anything that shows women as less than equal to men. They can be different, and obviously are in many ways, but they are equal and should be treated as such. I held this view long before I had a daughter, but it’s become even more urgent since then. My personal Supergirl is my daughter, Tori, and she is fantastic. But like all young women, she is bombarded with impossible images and unrealistic expectations. She’s 14 now, and I see her struggling daily with external cultural cues about how she should look and behave, and they are universally unhealthy for her.

Every day is a struggle to make her feel she is just fine as she is, and doesn’t need to adopt a certain look, or wear makeup, or emulate the latest Pop Tart. Every day is a battle to deprogram her from what she sees on TV and on the Interwebs. Every single day. This isn’t a battle we should be fighting. We should know better. And I am not the only father that is waging the exact same battle.

Many of us will fail, and our daughters will live their lives thinking they are broken, or incomplete, or insufficient.

The Supergirl I’ve shown here is a step in that direction. She’s still skinnier than she has a right to be, and I won’t even go into the ‘blond and blue eyed thing.

I try in my writing to make strong female characters who don’t need men or society to stand tall. And yes, to the esteemed Brandon Sanderson, none of them will ever have a name starting with a ‘K’. They will have real, organic names, and real, organic hopes and dreams. And I write that way because I want my own Supergirl to know, always, that she is already ‘super’. She doesn’t need anything – or anyone – else to make her that way.

Maybe I’ll be one of the lucky dads. Maybe she’ll hear the message in time.