I am an old witch. I live in an idyllic treehouse; it is wallpapered with my own works and built on years of self-hatred. It is lit by inspiration in the morning and shot through with self-disgust in the evening.
It is isolated, but if I shout I can hear voices reply. Food sometimes miraculously appears, not the stale food of before but nourishing, good food, that I cook myself. In the morning I do yoga (no room for treadmills in the treehouse) and three instruments of magic glow and talk to me and tell me that I am getting fitter. The treehouse is comfortable, is lit well, love lives in it from time to time. It has known many people pass through it. Some of those people took care of the treehouse, swept its floors, chatted to me a while, perhaps they saw that I was gaunt, hopeless and sad, but they were kind. Some trashed the treehouse, though then it had very little in it and the joy in destroying and breaking can’t have been enough, and some took things from the treehouse. The thing most often stolen from me were the jars of moonwater. They light up when the sun goes down; I painstakingly hold them above my head as I crawl up the spiral steps to the top to put them by my desk.
These moonwater jars are where the work comes from. Sometimes when you let people in, you are happy to host, but as they leave you look around, and they have somehow punctured the glass and all the contents have leaked into the slats on the floor. You learn to try to spot these people. These people slowly kill you and leave you with holes in your floor.
But what I did not get, in the early days, when I was building the treehouse, was a large number of visitors. People were happy to comment here and there on passing. They had some thoughts, perhaps, but they did not stay or even want to linger, even if the thoughts were cruel.
Now I have fully built the treehouse, and now that it looks more glorious and far away, people cannot find my doorbell and they produce stinger missiles to batter my door (since armoured). They know I am stockpiling moonwater and that I intend to use it.
I do intend to use it. This is a warning. I have moonwater, and I intend to use it.
Not so long ago, I endured fifty people stand outside my door and try to batter it down. They would cry at me night and day, “You should use your moonwater for this purpose! No other purpose is worthy! No other purpose is holy! You are breaking the rules of the moonwater and you do not deserve your treehouse. You are misusing the moonwater. Now you must die!”
But I asked them (despite their tone) “How do you know me, friends?” and they replied that they did not know me or my work. “But then why do you suspect I misuse my moonwater?” I said. They replied saying they thought I had used it to ordain a thing they thought was worthless. “Do you campaign against olive merchants, if you suspect you may dislike the taste of olives?” I asked. They replied saying they thought that I was more powerful than an olive merchant, as I dealt with moonwater. And that someone somewhere must be poisoning my moonwater so that I direct my attention to them. “But how do you know this?” I asked. “Do you have a machine that discerns the machinations of the brain? Do you have a device that conjures the intentions of the mind? When I drink the moonwater and create something I like, is it not a reaction to all things around me at once? No one has ever found a way to flippantly enchant another’s moonwater so profoundly that they made a work of art so powerful and amazing and specifically ordaining the enchanter that all the world took notice – unless the artist really believed it, and could explain so. And so then is it not just a telling of the truth of the artist? The spell is redundant if both the moonwater and the vessel are willing, and, in their own way, happy.”
They were not satisfied; they were convinced that there was outside sorcery. They wished that I would apologise and change to front a cause I did not believe in. They called for my burning at the stake, the stake my own treehouse made. But I would not come out of the treehouse. I stockpiled moonwater still, and was happy.
Time passed and I changed works; I began creating worlds from nothing, using the moonwater to conjure new people instead of illuminating those already here. Then a second crowd came knocking. This time, they knocked instead of yelled, which was a pleasant surprise. But there were more of them, much more of them, and they were disappointed. I still could not open the door; letting them in would mean that I would never be alone again, and perhaps all my moonwater would be smashed by accident in the flood of people into my abode.
I listened to them for a time. They did know my work. In fact, they loved my work. They were so attached to it that they would do anything to have it correspond to what they wanted to see in it. But they were disappointed; I had not been original enough. I had used old tropes. I had compromised on characters, let my moonwater be stale. And I was listening, though I could not open the door. Because they understood and knew my work. They had excavated every part of my arguments, they had seen my potential and my failure. But I could not open the door, because there were so many arguments. They yelled that they wanted an apology: and many of the arguments deserved one. I resolved to apologise and to get less stale moonwater in their earshot, but I was irretrievably broken in their eyes. The stale moonwater had forever stained me. But by the glow of the jars in the dark, I understood that this was my beginning, and that for years I realised that what I wanted was critique from people who understood me, not condemnation from people who did not. This is always why disappointment is more likely to give a change of thought – because more was expected, and the starting point was not hatred and fear, but love and understanding.
The night grew quiet, eventually. I thought all the people were gone. But one person remained. A small boy broke through my window, yelling, screaming, terrifying me.
Immediately he was at my throat, accusing me of ending his life, of hurting him, of being responsible for the breakdown of all of his plans and joys. He was so persistent at my neck I thought I might be close to death. I struggled with him, and eventually pushed him to the floor, bruises on my neck, and we both panted in exhaustion for a while.
“Why are you so stubborn?” he yells at me.
“I’m not!” I say. “I want to make you happy. But I have to make myself happy too. If I am not happy, then I cannot find moonwater. If I cannot find moonwater, I cannot make you happy.”
“Why did you do it?” he yells at me.
“Because at the time I thought it was the best way.”
“And do you promise to do it my way now?” he says.
“No.” I lick blood from my lip, bust in the fight. “Even the best argument cannot make a puppet of a creator. I am not you, and you are not me, and we both try our best to be heard. The only thing you can do for me is make your argument, and I can listen and make mine, in the shape of my work. The more convincing your argument is, the more convincing mine has to be.”
He thinks for a while, then nods. “You know, there are hundreds more people out there than me. And they all want to be let in.”