notes: @neilhimself says, in his experience, stories arise from confluence: werewolf lore collides with what we know of goldfish, say — or with chairs — what if a werewolf bites the chair in which you are sitting? What would next seem useful to have in such a story? Gaiman suggests, maybe snow? So the reader may be mystified by tracks of chair legs leading away from a dead body… I can get that far — but only that far. I’m not the sort to follow chair tracks off into a winter night. I would stall there, sitting by that dead thing in the snow. Given the choice, I usually opt to sit down and take inventory right where I find myself. And this is not experience. This is not story. This is explication.

When we are warm enough, safe enough, alone enough, what is not-us may even be rendered invisible.

Experience is, at first, skin deep. All the world is reduced to a single distinction (me, and not-me). This is the awareness possessed by plants, by fungi, by mold. We people, who like to think of ourselves as belonging to a higher order, take it to another level: We federate. We become a collaboration of our specialized parts. We have eyes that are attuned to visible difference — movement at the periphery; a ripple in the pattern. . We have ears that hear the knock in an engine, the crack in a voice. All the five senses report in like this, logging any bit that does not belong .

Then the wetware behind our senses evaluates detected difference. Is it a small difference or a large difference? Is it benign or dangerous? Lethally so? Or thrilling, but mild? What do we have here — a threat or a companion? Or is it food?! And we filter. In order to conserve alertness for differences that matter, we set aside differences we perceive to be irrelevant. When we are warm enough, safe enough, alone enough, what is not-us may even be rendered invisible.

Other higher life forms don’t wait to evaluate. Take the chameleon. Sensing difference beyond its own skin, a chameleon instantly transforms. Seeing contrast between figure (self) and ground (the Other, the proximal), a chameleon takes on the visual pattern of that which is outside itself. It neither flees difference, nor confronts it. It transforms itself instead.

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