Oh man, writer’s block. It’s a real killer, right?
When I joined the Lodge, I really felt like it would be the answer to all my problems. We all do it, don’t we? Think that if we can just get to that elusive ‘point’, we’ll be sorted for life and all our problems will magically vanish and everyone will love us and we’ll have happily ever afters all round.
Well it absolutely wasn’t like that at all. Those first few rotations with the Lodge were really some of the most difficult for me. Suddenly there was all this pressure to create at a rate that I’d never had to before. I’d always taken my time, back in my little one bedroom studio in Calandira, making sure that everything I made was everything that I wanted it to be. But I didn’t have that luxury anymore. Now there were all these deadlines, all these comparisons being made to other artists in the Lodge, all this talk of performance measurement and market growth and the ancient curse and, man, just so much stuff! It was overwhelming, and there were more than a few times where I felt like I’d made a massive mistake. Careful what you wish for and all that.
You do start to measure yourself against others as well, and it can feel quite unpleasant when it seems like everyone gets it more than you do. I’d look to Eva and what she was achieving, and feel so, yeah, I’ll say it: envious. I felt so envious of the way she appeared to be doing so much better than I was, especially since she hadn’t been with the Lodge much longer than I had. It felt like she had all this knowledge and all this proficiency that I just seemed to lack, and honestly it was painful.
Things definitely got better when the Lodge signed Bayard. He came in possibly more blindsided than I had, and Shako actually paired me up with him as a mentor. I guess that was the first time I really felt validated here, like Shako saw something in me that I couldn’t even see in myself. Guiding Bayard through his first few rotations really helped me to prove to myself how much I actually knew, and gradually I started to feel like I deserved my place here.
But there was one area where I was still suffering, and that was in the actual creation of my art. As all the other skills I needed to learn practically became second nature, the core of it all, the very thing that justified my place here, felt like it was getting more and more obscure to me. I found I was writing from a different place, a place that didn’t feel like me, like the culture of the Lodge was seeping into the reservoir of my creativity and colouring it. Nothing felt authentic anymore, it felt artificial and strange. I’d torment myself listening to my old works, works I’d made with nothing to my name back when all of this felt like a pipe dream, and found I was capable of being envious even of myself. It felt like lost knowledge, that the part of me that knew it didn’t want to share the insight.
I needed an escape.
Fortunately for me, Shako agreed. ‘You didn’t think you were the first person to burn themselves out did you? We have a whole budget for sending artists on creativity retreats! Get out there, find your inspiration. Find your clarity. And take as long as you need.’
So there I was, on my way to Ephemera. It’s not normally the kind of place people get to visit due to the extortionate duties the Ephemeran government imposes on tourism, but the Lodge has close ties to the Cartel who in turn have ‘ways around’ the tariffs. I didn’t know what they were and I didn’t ask. I was just glad of the opportunity to take some time to try and clear my head.
Ephemera is this tiny moon in the Lunarspace — people always think it’s the smallest because they forget about Pax Minerva. Even Zephra does sometimes, which you wouldn’t think since its orbital proximity is crazy close (I love astronomy). I decided to come here because of how remote it is; everywhere else is either too noisy or too dangerous. It’s also one of the most spiritual places in the System, which I figured would be really good for inspiration. I always try and connect with nature whenever I can.
Just being in the rainforest, surrounded by the sounds of birds singing and insects chirping, walking through patches of dappled sunlight and feeling the warmth of the rain clinging to me, was so invigorating. It felt like coming home. The colours of the wildflowers, the taste of the moisture hanging in the air, and the smells… the smells were intoxicating. And I don’t say that just to be descriptive; they were literally inducing psychedelic visions.
As I walked along the jungle trail, I started to feel the ground twisting; my line of sight extended, so much so I felt like I was already ahead of myself and I had to keep stopping for fear of tripping over distant trees. Colours started to twist too, saturating and separating into primal values, values I can’t describe because they have no name. And then the voices, whispering at first but growing louder, louder and louder, a swarm of voices, louder and louder still, a cloud of insecurities in a thousand voices from the past. Everything I’d ever felt about myself, everything I’d ever heard about myself, everything that anybody had ever said to me, done to me, or taken from me, swirling around me in a blanket of impenetrable noise.
And then came the visions. Scenes from my childhood, scenes from my adulthood… scenes from last week. All playing out at once, folding over each other, through each other, interrupting and manipulating and reshaping each other, until my entire life felt like it had all been one, single moment, a moment in which everything and nothing was true, as though my existence had been an illusion: every thought, every feeling and every fear just brushstrokes on a canvas in a gallery of infinite paintings — of infinite interpretations. I felt myself evaporating, as if all these destructive ideas and beliefs I held about myself, all the insecurities that I thought defined who I was and what I deserved, were the fabric of my very soul, and now that that fabric was unravelling, I was falling, because who was if I wasn’t who I thought I was…?
And then in the centre of all these noises, of all these visions, a door… no, a window… glowing brightly, a source of constancy amidst the chaos. I pushed against the swell of feelings and memories and you aren’t good enoughs, pushed against the past in a desperate bid for the future, the promise of understanding, a chance to reach the other side. My body (was it my body?) was heavy, my head was swimming, my soul was thrashing against the current, and it was the window, or it was death. Not just any death. Terrible, eternal, existential death, the kind that would obliterate me from this astral plane, as if I had never existed.
I was breathless, I was exhausted, I was adrift on a sea of time and space and energy, and as the window swam in and out of focus, I gave in to the weight of it all, because there was no I left to fight. I was just matter, and I no longer mattered. Nothing did.
And so I collapsed.
All I remember of what happened next is that I was being carried. I have no idea by who, only that they kept repeating the words ‘it’s time’, over and over. I remember the feeling of being placed down (gently, that part seems important to mention) and lying beneath the stars, somewhere between life and death, between the halo and the abyss, for a length of time that I can only describe as timeless.
At some point — could have been five minutes, could have been five cycles — my body or my soul or whatever it was that ‘my’ was at this point made the decision between living and dying, and chose life. Sitting up (slowly, obviously, my head was still scattered across infinite planes of existence), I looked out across the most breathtaking vista, the likes of which couldn’t possibly exist in our reality. I realised that I knew without knowing that this was the Invisible Landscape, the arcane space between dimensions, the celestial foundation upon which everything else in every conceivable universe was built. For a brief moment I took this as a sure sign that I must have been mistaken about my survival, until I looked far into the distance and saw what was unmistakably Zephra and Khasgar. I couldn’t be certain, but it seemed like there was a good chance that I was still somewhere close to the existence that I knew, and therefore somehow still alive.
It was then that I felt a profound sense of terror.
At first I thought it was because I was staring out across the extent of all that is, and realising that this was the peak of my existence — how could anything compare to this moment right here and right now?
But when I observed that thought closer, there was no way that could be right, because there was a peacefulness to this moment right here and right now that transcended any notion of competition with other moments, and so to compare it to anything made no sense.
No, I realised that what was evoking this powerful feeling of dread was something else: something pushing against the flow of time and space, something unnatural and external and other, a dissonant note ringing out over a beautiful melody, a deep and insidious vibration that resonated across everything that ever was and ever would be, a promise of violence and of annihilation.
When I saw it, I realised that it was in fact much, much worse than that.
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