Sometimes I wonder if the stories you tell begin to tug at your life, begin to change it in some mysterious way. Not just that you learn from stories, though that can happen, too. But even deeper: Could it be that, by choosing certain stories, you draw to yourself the happenings inside them? So that your life begins to echo your stories?”
This quote comes from excellent book I finished last week called Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher. It’s a nice riff on the story of Sharhazad and the 1001 Nights, though she isn’t the main character. The main character is Marjan, a crippled girl with a gift for telling stories. Sharhazad is her inspiration. Sharhazad is running out of stories, but the 1001 nights are not yet up, and she desperately needs to keep the Sultan going. Not only so she will live come sunrise, but so the other women in the harem may have a fighting chance as well. The stories she is telling the Sultan are also transforming him in the process. Marjan shows up at the harem at just the right time to give Sharhazad a story, a story that not only saves one life, but many. The book gives many important lessons in storytelling.
Knowing that the stories you tell yourself and others and the stories you hear, read, see have an effect on reality is tremendously empowering. A vast ecology of media and information surrounds us in the data cloud. What stories do you believe? Which ones do you tell? Does your BS detector go off when you encounter one that has had a bucket of PR spin dumped onto it? Knowing the power of stories puts a tremendous responsibility on all who weave the world with their words. And that is all of us, whether we know and practice it consciously or not.
As I write my fictions, it is hard not to be aware of the larger processes at work, things going on at subsurface level. It may appear that I’m stringing sentences together, but the characters, settings, and scenarios actually start taking on a life of their own. Mathametician and Science Fiction writer Rudy Rucker knows about this, and he even has a term for it, “Blow Back”. I first came across the idea in his book Postsingular, where one of the main characters, Thuy, experiences the phenomenon of “Blowback” with a character from her metanovel. Yeah, metanovel. “Thuy’s metanovel is like a frenzied waking dream of activity. It’s a transformation of her daily reality into high art, it’s written in the style of Beat poetry with images and sounds. Accesing it is like having Thuy’s stream of consciousness; it’s like briefly becoming her.” (2) Blowback occurs when a character from her metanovel pops into her real life to giver her some timely information. The phenomenon is also broached in a short story called Visions of the Metanovel collected in Mad Professor.
How does Blowback occur to the engaged writer and storyteller? Through dreams and synchronicity, images come alive in this world.
What kind of world do you want to live in? What kind of life do you want to have? Craft the tales you tell as if they will be drawn into your life. Art is the mirror reflecting both ways.
“I’m not in the novel. I am the novel.” -Philip K. Dick
(1) Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher, Aladdin Paperbacks 1999
(2)http://www.rudyrucker.com/pdf/postsingularnotesposted.pdf See also his books Postsingular from Tor Books 2007, its sequel Hylozoic from Tor Books 2009, and Mad Professor from Thunder’s Mouth Press 2007.
Extinction has been on my mind lately. A lot. And survival. Of the human species and all of the others, plant, animal, fungus, & mineral species whom we share this world with. Yet even the tiniest fragment of a dream might clue us in to ways that we can turn the tide. Not only have I personally been dreaming of extinction but so has one of my daughters. It’s not surprising for family members to be dreaming in the same web. It’s not surprising for humans to be sharing the dreams of the earth, with the other species who share it, and those who have come before.
Fractals have been on my mind a lot lately. My interest in them was in part rekindled by following Rudy Rucker’s blog, reading his A Writers Toolkit, and two of his recent novels Postsingular, and Hylozoic, all of which I heartily recommend. The real fractal bomb dropped into my consciousness when I had the following dream:
As Samhain approached this year I was gradually and gently drawn to the ballad of Tam Lin, traditionally of Scottish origin. It started out on my honeymoon with my wife Audrey. We took two books to Maine with us to read to eachother during the long nights after days tramping around the forests and mountains of Acadia National Park. The one in question is “Fire and Hemlock” by Diana Wynn Jones. I picked it because it was said to be a romantic fantasy. While the action in this book is admittedly slow it carries with it the strong force of the otherworld. It is a retelling of the story of Tam Lin in a modern idiom. Admittedly, I have heard versions of the Tam Lin ballad before, most notably by Current 93 who are a favorite band of mine, but it was one of the few Current 93 songs I had never given much time to in their vast ouevre. So I was not altogether unfamiliar with it, but not very. During the second half of our trip we were staying with friends and family in Portland, Maine and progress on reading the book slowed until we got back home to Cincinnati. I hadn’t made the connection, until it came to that point in the story, that the final actions in the Tam Lin ballad take place on Halloween. It was the night before the vulgar, calendar Oct. 31st version of Halloween that we finished the book. It was a nice match up of events that was not planned at all, but was of course perfectly natural.
Now for a diversion, eventually returning us to the subject of the ballad:
On our last night in Maine I had a powerful dream:
I am walking out of the woods on a path I used to travel as a child. It is taking me into the Valley, a place of nature between two streets where I also used to play as a young child. As I walk into the Valley I feel the same sense of mystery and magic that I felt when playing there as a child. I see a house nestled in it and I go into it. Inside I realize that I want to live here. But this house already belongs to someone, the poet Gary Snyder. Yet it still feels right that I am there. There is a pile of wood outside for the fires that will heat the hearth come winter.
In the past year I’d developed a moderate interest in the poetry of Gary Snyder, for his naturalist mysticism, his involvement with Eastern cultures, and his views on community, the environment, in the grounding of experience in a particular place. Having had this dream, part of the action I wanted to take on its behalf was to delve further into Snyder’s work.
THE MAGIC MUSIC OF THE MOON
On my second day back at work at the main Library in Cincinnati, I read a nice article on Reality Sandwich about the ethnomusicologist, magician, filmmaker, and collector Harry Smith. As I read it I was thinking about how much the Beats have given to culture, the ways in which they shaped it, and how their own ideas were influenced by mysticism & magick. I was also thinking of how the Golden Dawn did this in a similar, seeding various ideas, concepts, and magick into the world. As I was thinking these things I felt the strong presence of the ancestors around me. This was all still leading up to Halloween, and so it seemed very natural that the ancestors would be near me. Maybe they are not my genetic ancestors, but are part & parcel of the spiritual of which I am a part. Among those whose presence I felt was that of Allen Ginsberg, and the next day, following intuitions lead, read “Kaddish” the long poem written for his mother. It seemed appropriate also that I would be reading a poem mourning the death of a mother, as my own Mom had passed away in the summer of 2008. She and I were very close, and indeed still are. In any case, by following these inner promptings I eventually wrote some new poetry inspired by Harry Smith’s conception of the Old Weird America and Allen Ginsbergs vision of a new America.
In the meantime I had started reading “Moon Magic” by Dion Fortune. All of the ideas from these various readings were cross pollinating in a wyrd brew. Various sections of Moon Magic seemed to be directly related to many of the motifs that we in the Hermaphroditic Chaorder of the Silver Dusk are working with. That shouldn’t be suprising really, but the actuality of it struck with new force, we being the Lunar Artistic counterpoint to the Golden Dawns Solar Science. Then a phrase leapt out of the book which was directly related to the way I had been thinking of the influence of the Golden Dawn and the Beats:
“We hold, we initiates, that we can bring a thing through from the Inner Planes into manifestation by acting it out symbolically. That is why ritual is used. Now if you and I were to work out together the particular problem I want to solve, it would be solved for the race, because we are part of the race, and whatever is realised in our minds becomes part of the group mind and spreads like ferment.”
I like this very much because what is a culture but a type of fermentation? And as my friend Oryelle said in an email, “maybe the beats were the Acidopholous.”
In the meantime I had looked up some audio files on the internet. Archive.org hosts a huge collection of recordings made at the Naropa Institute. I was very pleased to find recordings of Harry Smith talking about Pacific Northwest Indian ceremonies and a series of classes given by Gary Snyder. I was even more suprised, on the actual Full Moon day of Samhain, Nov. 2nd, to listen to his class, and lo and behold he begins to discuss the Ballad of Tam Lin. He even played a version by Fairport Convention. (a very different-textually & otherwise- C93 version here). His talks delved deep into shamanism, one of the most interesting parts being how a shaman (or poet) catches a song that can be used to heal the sick, and by extension the whole community.
Part of the way I honored these insights/experiences/etc. was by playing both versions (although there are countless more) on the radio. Today I decided that I am going to go a stop further and record my own version of the ballad, although I still have to decide on which version of the text to use. It will be more surreal and electronic than the other versions I’ve heard because that it is the way I am comfortable working musically, and I may re-write & synthesize various texts to produce my own version. Whatever I do I will be working to call forth the energies of the Otherworld and ground them further into this one.