You can bar the door on your demons. They will find their own way in.

In one year, Shadow Unit will be over.

I can’t believe I just typed those words.

Well, not over, precisely, in the sense that it will never be revisited. We have some plans for the future, and even some bits written of what might yet come. But over in the sense that the five “season” plot arc will reach its culmination.

There are six episodes left.

When Emma and Will started Shadow Unit, when they invited me to join, I was a different person. I was in the middle of a divorce that was not messy at all, but the marriage had not been good for me. I had recently moved home to New England from Las Vegas. I was living in a tiny apartment with a deeply presumptuous cat, and I was daily dealing with the baggage of my failed relationship, my childhood trauma, and the wrecked and smoking landscape of a wrecked and smoking life. I was trying to lose weight, get out more, get healthy again, reclaim the athlete I had once been.

I was trying to become myself again. I figured I would always be alone, because I couldn’t imagine anybody getting inside my prickles and barriers. I felt like the worst person that had ever lived. And yet, for some reason, Emma and Will and Sarah and Amanda and the rest of the eventual Shadow Unit crew put up with me. Worked with me. Let me be a part of the wonderful game they were playing, the fictional thing they were inventing.

And the thing is… I put my demons into Shadow Unit. I put my horrors there–my hatred of the person my abusive past wanted to be, my fear that I had become that person, my knowledge that trauma never leaves us. My grief for the woman I could have been, if life had not been so determined to make me into somebody else.

That was hard, that realization that–to quote Tom Waits, because any opportunity to quote Tom Waits is a good one–”You can never go back, and the answer is no, and wishing for it only makes it bleed.”

The secret is in the subtext. You can never go back.

You can only go forward.

When I was a kid, I fell in love with a t-shirt that read “the only way out is through.” I think I was telling myself something. I think it was something important.

I’m not through–you’re never really through, not really. You can get better, but there are always bad days, trigger issues. Things that will make you wake up kicking in the night.

But I’m a hundred pounds smaller than I was. I can run eight miles. I can climb 5.10, if it’s the right 5.10. I can do a proper tree pose, and a wheel pose, and a handstand–up against the wall. I’m not on medication for my blood pressure.

Seven years ago, I couldn’t walk a mile without getting shin splints.

I’m 41 years old, and I can do a cartwheel.

I am learning how to love my career–the career I have wanted and worked for since I was seven years old–rather than hiding myself in it because it seems like the only safety in the world. And I’m learning to deal with the fact that like any life in the arts, there’s a world of things I can’t control. I have a nice place to live with people who love me, and I have about a dozen friends I’d die for.

I have health insurance, courtesy of the great Commonwealth of Massachusetts and its free-enterprise, self-employment, entrepreneur-promoting program of affordable healthcare. (It’s not free. It costs me $261.80 a month, and I am glad to pay it. Hang on, America: in 2014, with luck, you will all have this option.)

Somebody absolutely, breathtakingly amazing and brilliant and funny and caring and genuine and gorgeous loves me, and is not shy about saying so. (I love him too, but I am shy. God, what if somebody notices how lucky I am and comes and takes this all away?)

The difference between now and then is that now I have something to lose.

That’s scary, for a kid who grew up the way I grew up.

It’s even a reasonable fear. Everything ends.


Love. Mummies. Favorite books. Faith, hope, charity. The sun. The universe.

Luck runs out. Unemployment insurance. Summer grinds along until it suddenly glides into autumn, my favorite season. And autumn is brief and flitting and changeable. Hell, it just got here, and it’s nearly gone.

I have Shadow Unit to lose, too.

But the thing is, I can put these demons there as well.

And that is what art is for.

It’s a place to put the things you can’t bear to live with, because you cannot bear to live without them.


Posted: Saturday, October 20th, 2012 @ 12:07 am
Categories: Blog, Shadow Unit.
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8 Responses to “You can bar the door on your demons. They will find their own way in.”

  1. Jen Adam Says:

    Brava, you, for everything you’ve accomplished so far. And thank you for the stories ~ those that are over, those that are ending, and those still to come.

    Also, I feel like this:
    Somebody absolutely, breathtakingly amazing and brilliant and funny and caring and genuine and gorgeous loves me, and is not shy about saying so. (I love him too, but I am shy. God, what if somebody notices how lucky I am and comes and takes this all away?)
    all. the. time. :}

  2. Tam Says:

    Lovely. Thank you for this.

  3. Mike Says:

    Points in No Particular Order:

    Point the First: Thank you for Shadow Unit, you and the rest of the PTB. Just because. Thank you for a deeply engaging story arc.

    Point the Second: This, for me, is going into my Special Bookmarks Folder, along with your LJ post about writing that I have saved. The one that goes, “Get your butt in the chair and write some words. Then write some more. Then a few more. Then some more words. Because it’s easy to start a novel, but damned difficult to finish one.”

    Honest? Yes. Raw? Yes. Inspirational? Yes. Will it get better? Who knows? Do I want to try harder? HELL YES.

    Point the Third: I… Kinda want to politely disagree on this point: “I have Shadow Unit to lose too.”

    I don’t think you can lose something that you’ve put so much of yourself into. I would like to think that it’s more of a letting-go.

  4. stina Says:

    The fact that you have accomplished all these things can never be taken away from you. No matter what. The fact that you now know how to accomplish them again will stay with you too. So, the likelihood of replicating them is there and quite high. (I even believe that absolutely, breathtakingly amazing and brilliant and funny and caring and genuine and gorgeous people who love you only have the posibility to land in your life when you’re ready for them. So, there’s that.) I’m not sure any of this makes sense. (I’ve only had one cup of coffee. :) ) It’s intended to be reassuring. Whenever I wake up and that terror of loss kicks in, I think of something someone told me that Henry Ford supposedly said. In summary, that if everything he’d accomplished were to go away tomorrow that he could recreate it in five years. Because he knew how to build what he’d made. Mind you, luck and other people factor in. Anyone with any sense knows this. But it feels good to know that the knowledge is there. Being able to learn and apply what we’ve learned is everything.

    I can’t help feeling like we’ve a lot in common. Trust (trust in oneself and trust in others) is a Great Big Scary lesson. I’m honored to know you.

  5. Grey Says:

    So say we all.

  6. Traci Loudin Says:

    I only recently discovered your work, and as I said on Twitter, I really think Dust is the most unique speculative fiction I’ve read anytime recently. This blog post is an inspiration to me, as a writer, because it shows that no matter how far from the path we stray, we can always find a way back to where we want to be. Sometimes I feel like if I get too far off, I’ll never get back. But you’ve reminded me that’s not true. With enough determination, anything’s possible. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  7. Susan Scribbles Says:

    [...] ~Elizabeth Bear This entry was posted in Writing and tagged inspiration, quotations, writing. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

  8. Khali Says:

    Inspiring, as always.