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In the polyamory community, they speak of NRE (New Relationship Energy). It’s that fizzy-hormones state where you can’t think of anything but the new person and you leave steam burns on the seats of your chairs. (Believe it or not, denim has a melting point.)

If you are a slightly mad artist, however, you get hit with something much worse: affectional catalysis. Like the spoonful of baking soda added to a normally calm glass of vinegar, the new person’s presence in your life causes you to fizz over the edges of your container and spill across the kitchen counter. It’s a remarkably pleasant sensation considering how much damage it can do.

On the up side, it’s possible to get some excellent art out of it. (Ask me about my first published story some time.) On the down side, it can kill you.

Warning signs:

  • You need half the food and sleep you normally do.
  • Your neurochemistry is doing such interesting things that little vials of your cerebrospinal fluid could be sold at raves for quite a nice profit.
  • Your sexual secretions glow in the dark.
  • You cut yourself and the blood drips up, vanishing into the sky (or hitting the ceiling).
  • When clubbing, you notice people lighting their cigarettes off that spot on your neck where he/she bit you the night you met.

Important things to remember:

  • It makes you stupid. (The bad judgment kind of stupid.)
  • At the same time, it inspires you and makes you very creative.
  • Did I mention that it makes you stupid? (The really bad judgment kind of stupid.)
  • It has little to do with the person who catalyzed it, yet you cannot believe this while you are in its throes. (Trust me on this. I wrote my first sestina to someone who turned out, in the final analysis, to be a non-player character.)

How to survive:

  • Make food and sleep conscious priorities. Starving isn’t good for you, and fatigue poisons lead to psychosis. B vitamins probably help. Maybe some melatonin.
  • Do not make life-altering decisions until symptoms subside. Get stout friends to whack you upside the head with a large blunt object if you are contemplating relocation, marriage, breeding, or graduate school while under the influence.
  • Maximize creative effort towards things that you can salvage later, and get as much usable work out of the state as you can, because you may not have anything else to show for it after the crash and burn. Writing a sonnet cycle about the catalyst: good. Building a shrine to the catalyst: bad (unless it’s a cool-looking portable shrine and you can put it in your next gallery show or installation).
  • Use the manic phases to do useful work. Going to be up all night no matter what? Organizing your zine archives: good. Writing their name 500 times in metallic ink on black paper: bad. (If you are dotting the I’s with little hearts, just go kill yourself; that’s incurable. Make arrangements to have your corpse incinerated; that shit’s prion-based like mad cow disease.)
  • Maintain your network of supportive friends and talk to them about something other than the catalyst once in a while. This way, when the crash comes, they will be more likely to feed you whisky and let you cry on them than to point and laugh.
  • Remind yourself on a daily basis that: (a) your perceptions of reality are being distorted by a neurochemical cocktail so potent it could make Harlan Ellison act like Cyndi Lauper, (b) what the catalyst is actually like may be radically different from the way you’re perceiving him/her, (c) you have absolutely no control over his/her behavior, (d) you have precious little control over your own emotions, and (e) the one thing you can control is your own behavior, and it behooves you to do that for all you’re worth.

In theory, it is possible to come out the other side of this state with a decent friendship to show for it in addition to the art. In practice, it is far more likely for you to take a good look at the catalyst once the luminescent haze has cleared from your vision and be utterly appalled.

Maybe next time will turn out better. Because no matter how many times you say “I am not going through that again,” your brain chemistry will continue doing this to you every few years until you die.

So take your B vitamins and do not, under any circumstances, burn those sketchbooks. They’re your only compensation for N months of riding a hang glider through an electrical storm.

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