Motes PlayedA Post-Self Story

Thoughts on Motes

Motes Played was written in a few short weeks at the end of December, 2023 and the beginning of January, 2024 in a burst of creativity. The origin for the story actually stems from a conversation that I had with my partner, whose system is named The Lament, on a drive from visiting eir parents down in Vancouver back home to northern Washington. In the span of about four hours, we made our way down through the stanzas of the Ode clade and spoke about what make them tick.

There are some known quantities. True Name is the politician, A Finger Pointing is the theatrician, Praiseworthy is the propagandist turned arts administrator, and so on. All of the stanzas have been labeled with their basic ideas, of course, and one of those was Hammered Silver being the center of all of Michelle’s feelings on motherhood.

What exactly does that mean, though? How does that play out in her head and her heart?

Our initial take on it was actually fairly negative. We decided that she had some very prescriptive ways of thinking about motherhood. There is caring, yes, but there are also Ways in Which the World Works. After all, Hammered Silver is one of the two who cut her entire stanza off from the eighth and part of the ninth stanzas, as well the Bălan clade, when Sasha worked to reclaim a more fulfilling sense of identity. Later on, this also included the first and then, once they took on Sasha as a stage manager, the fifth stanza.

However, we wanted to toy with those feelings of motherhood more directly. How does she deal with the lack of children on the System? How does she deal with her own feelings on motherhood? We decided on coming up with a good side and a bad side:

Well, we already know that there are intraclade relationships sys-side. There always have been, of course, though not always out in public. There have even been intraclade relationships within the Ode clade (and beyond just the stated examples in the Cycle), such as between Beholden and A Finger Pointing.

Not only that, but there were already family dynamics in the clade, with Motes treating A Finger Pointing and Beholden as her parents, Slow Hours as her sister, A Finger Curled and Beholden To The Music Of The Spheres (two long-lived up-trees of A Finger Pointing and Beholden) as her weird gay aunts, and Dry Grass as Ma 2.0.

Boom, automatic conflict.

I wrote in a flurry with The Lament’s help, finishing a chapter a day most days over a two week span, working at a similar speed to how Toledot came into being. Hypomania be like~1

Editing took a bit longer, mind, but was still a nice process, thanks to em, as ey read each chapter aloud to me, refined the story, and wrote portions of the text. Given how much the story means to em as well, it was a joy for both of us. I also got a few beta reads from within the Post-Self community which were, for the most part, really kind and understanding.

The last step on my end was typesetting and final editing pass (which I usually do on the typeset book), getting ready for publication, and getting a cover. I have known Astolpho in some capacity for a few years, though I had been a fan of his art for far longer. We connected in early 2024 and he was quite interested in helping this project come to fruition, so it was lovely to work together.

The story

I knew that the response to Motes Played would be complicated from before its inception. Its inception was bound up in that very complication. That complication is part and parcel of the book, after all: Motes is an adult — as everyone is, sys-side — and many around her would prefer that she look and act like it.

I knew that the response would be complicated, that it would make readers uncomfortable, would make friends or loved ones have some big feelings. I had those big feelings, too. Even after writing the book, after typesetting it and building the ebook (admittedly a mostly automated process), I struggled with the fact that I had written this thing and was thinking about putting it in front of others. There are no works of mine that are not expressions of vulnerability, but each is vulnerable in its own way. I was uncomfortable! Funding it with the Marsh Kickstarter was a way to force the issue for myself, to pit my pride in what I had accomplished against my fears.

So anyway, I hit publish.

Okay, but why a kid?

There are a few reasons why I wrote this book. First and foremost is simply that it was fun. I love the approach that a lot of children’s books take with language. All of that repetition lends an almost hypnotic air. You keep reading the same idea over and over being stated in different ways with different antecedents and each one adds a little bit more color to the situation. They slowly change the mood of whatever they are building toward. It is alluring as a writer.

It was also fun to play around with all of the differences that spring up through cladistics. We know Dear is the best worst fox and May Then My Name is a cuddlebug and True Name is a politician and E.W. is a Sad Boi, but if we start prowling through the other stanzas, what do we find?

Well, we know that A Finger Pointing is a theatrician. She is one of the administrators of Au Lieu Du Rêve, the little troupe she started in the early days of the System, but which has grown to a group several hundred strong. This speaks to all sorts of roles that one might pick up, some of them informed by their names and some not. Beholden gets to deal with all of the sound and music, If I Stand Still deals with lights, and Motes gets sets and props

It goes beyond interests or chosen profession (or, well, “profession”; this is the System, after all). Years bring with them individuation, and each of these cladists begin to shift as well. Just as May Then My Name is not True Name, neither is Motes A Finger Pointing. A lot can change over time.

This includes all sorts of different aspects of personality. A Finger Pointing remains her flamboyant, dramatic self just as Motes leans hard into these feelings of childhood. I wanted to explore something like this in more detail.

Finally, I have been fascinated with the idea of childhood for years. It is not the supposed purity2 of it, nor is it necessarily that my own was bad. What it was, though, is less than ideal. It feels like my childhood is something that happened to someone else. It is a thing that happened to Matthew, not to Madison. I never got to live a childhood as Madison, good or bad.

Honestly, I have little desire to do so now. It is not out of a desire to be a literal kid, myself, that I wrote Motes Played. I wrote it because that idea in particular — that someone would wish to just…go be a kid because they can and because it felt good — is fascinating to me. Motes decided that her role was to be the kid, the One Who Plays, and so she leaned hard into that.

She is also a criminal wanted in three states for playing Beat Saber too much.

I wanted to play with the whole idea, too: I wanted to play with the sorts of uncomfortable feelings that many experience when confronted with adults engaging with the world as children. I wanted to talk about how someone who spends so much time in little space deals with the fact that others hate her guts for it.

Now, about those big feelings…

I do not need to wonder whether the reaction to Motes Played will involve big feelings from others. I have already run into such, both within the Post-Self community spaces and among my broader friends group. At the risk of coming off as defensive, I would like to speak to those feelings.

First, one must consider the role of art. There are three general ways of interpreting art:

These are not hard and fast categories, of course, and a work of art need not fill only one of them. I think it is this last one that a lot of folks get hung up on, in cases like this. It is, of course, only a gesture that I provide my intentions in an artist’s statement, but there is very little about the book that is intended to be instructive: it starts as children’s books do because Motes presents as a kid, and it ends as children’s books do because, hey presto, Motes presents as a kid.

Instead, I provide a piece of writing which I intend to be escapist — I have mentioned the joys above — as well as representative. There are littles in the world. It is just a fact! People of all sorts engage with ageplay in all sorts of different ways. If Post-Self is to be a complete take on a future world, then I do not see why it should not include (thoughtful, sensitive, appropriate) takes on complete aspects of the world.

But even if it were instructive, what are the lessons to be taken away from the story?

And here, of course, are the lessons that it does not teach:

Usually, I am stuck on the number three being used to prove points — hendiatris, bay-bee — but I am not going to bother including two more points, because I suspect this will be the only one raised as a concern, even at the expense of any other characterizations presented within the book. After all, Motes also has a death kink that one of her caregivers loathes. She drinks even when presenting as a child. Beholden is an alcoholic and has destructive tantrums, lashing out at those around her. Hammered Silver is a PTA-mom-lookin’, HOA-president-ass bitch3 who abuses her not-husband, Waking World, and Waking World enables a lot of her bullshit.

I mean, look at her! Picrew by mischa.

I do not like the thought that this one sticking point will doubtless lead to strife. I do not like that it will get in the way of people’s enjoyment of the work. It is not my responsibility to somehow force readers to enjoy my writing. My responsibility as an author is to present the story.

It is my desire, however, to explain where I am coming from.

Where these feelings come from

If I am coming across as anxious, defensive, or even bitter, I guess it is because, to an extent, I am. I am trying to get better at not apologizing for everything, despite my people-pleasing tendencies. I will tamp down that urge in favor of explaining the roots of these feelings.

I began this essay by talking about my initial wariness at the idea of publishing this thing that I wrote. Since then, I have been struck with the occasional flash of such discomfort, but more and more often, I have been struck with a sense of pride. I like what I have accomplished. I like that I wrote in this vaguely children’s book style. I like that we get Odists interacting with Odists, and that even the narration is written in (admittedly somewhat gentled) Odespeak. I like that I had the chance to lean into not only my own plurality but The Lament’s. I like that I got to explore the more populous areas of the System through someone other than the relatively shut-in Bălans. I like that I had the chance to lean into this topic, even! It is fulfilling to write something emotional and difficult.

I remain anxious, I still struggle against defensiveness, and yes, I suppose I do feel a little bitter even still. These are a class of feelings that I try to keep to myself as I work through them. That bitterness, especially, is a reactionary feeling that speaks to complicated thoughts in need of processing, and this contrast between pride in my work and all those big feelings is, yes, plenty complicated.

If I sound at all bitter, then, it is because I have made something that I am proud of and yet also feel compelled to defend, and I resent that.

I resent that I need to be rightfully anxious. I resent that, by creating something in this idea-space, I run the very real risk of, at worst, having my personhood negated when I am declared problematic, a groomer, a pedophile, persona non grata. I resent that I do not need to consider whether I will be labeled these things; I am all but sure I will. I mentioned above that I have already had a conversation that touched on this. It led to someone reducing their engagement with the Post-Self community for a while.4 I resent that I risk losing readers, friends, loved ones. I resent that the oft-misused “death of the author” is only applied to the works one enjoys and derided otherwise, and so in this case, I will be reduced to my roughest edges and discarded by those who do not enjoy works such as these. The work that I put into it will be ignored in the face of this one fact regardless of my feelings on what I have accomplished.

I resent that, if I claim that Motes is nearly 300 years old at the time of this story, I will be accused of trying to weasel my way out of grooming accusations, regardless of the fact that dealing with grooming is part of her character and the plot. I resent that if I claim that the headmate upon which Motes is based is actually 38 at time of writing, just like this wretched body,5 and has simply leaned into feelings of kidcore, a portion of my identity will be declared wicked and manipulative. I resent that, no matter how loudly I say that I am aware of the broader context of CSA in the wider world, how abhorrent I think that is, none of that will matter in the face of that same imagined wicked and manipulative aspect. I resent that, no matter how nuanced my arguments on consent are6 — even within this very work! — the work itself will be declared, yes, wicked and manipulative.

I resent that one way I could avoid such readings are to make Motes miserable, to deny her happiness in her identity, to take from her her pride in herself and her growth. I resent that I might well be lauded for changing the ending of the book to have Motes give up, have her follow Hammered Silver’s suggestion to put away childish things7 and become other than she had been. I resent that a ‘solution’ in my straw-reader’s mind would be to replace joy with shame.

It is, as Motes puts it, annihilation. It is the opposite of reclamation. Rather than taking the bad and finding a way to reclaim the good in it, it is taking a thing that is good and making it not just bad, but reprehensible. It is taking things that one enjoys and not making them less enjoyable, but making them shameful.

I resent that.

This is what happens when Motes encounters annihilation.

If I sound bitter, it is because I am proud of what I have made, and I want to share it.

That aside…

I remain very proud of Motes Played. The story was fun to write, the characters were fun to write (and super meaningful besides; thanks plurality!), the responses were fun to hear, and I really hope that the book itself is received well.

It is my hope that this work is enjoyed as a work of escapism. I hope that a work that interrogates little-space and its role in the lives of those who engage with it all plopped into a sci-fi setting leads to readers interrogating the world around them. I hope that, if it is at all instructive, it is instructive on the joys of identity, the hedonism of ever becoming more accurately oneself.

I have come to love Motes, and I hope you do too.

Motes says: please enjoy~

— Madison Scott-Clary
April 29, 2024

  1. Okay, but having sciatica for two months probably helped. ↩︎

  2. I find ’the purity of childhood’ personally unnerving. It strikes me as an aspect of the oft-maligned purity culture. Kids can be mean. They can be cruel. They are creatures who act upon their base desires, for better or worse. I think this, in combination with its laws-for-thee-none-for-me attitude, has led to the “corruption of children” becoming a talking point of the right, those bastions of that very same purity culture. ↩︎

  3. I am contractually obligated to make fun of her. It is part of being an author. ↩︎

  4. Which is valid! Curate your engagement. Stay healthy with your media consumption. The Post-Self community explicitly welcomes a come-and-go, curation-friendly approach in all our spaces. ↩︎

  5. Remember that mention of sciatica? Yeeeah… ↩︎

  6. Many of those who do engage with interests and kinks often considered problematic think about consent and those potentially problematic aspects far more than most, even those who dislike them, I guarantee you. ↩︎

  7. The Odists are famously Jews; why is she quoting 1 Corinthians? But then, I suppose Paul was famously a Jew, too… ↩︎