Thursday, July 23, 2009

How is Unity expressed in story?

I love the unanswerable questions. And I love to learn as much as my subgenius mind can handle about everything we humans have so far come to know in our pursuit of answers to the unanswerable. Parallel passions--science and metaphysics--gradually led me to glimpse a perfect interweaving of current knowledge and ancient wisdom. Quantum physics intertwined with Advaita Vedanta. Spacetime as a metaphor for Oneness. Superstrings pointing to Nonduality.

Meanwhile, I labored away at writing stories. Imaginary characters with lives and hearts and pains all their own kept jumping up and asking to be acknowledged. Inspired by literary realism, postmodern and classic, lush or minimalist, I worked at exploring psycho-spiritual states and getting something both meaningful and beautiful onto the page. Then out of all that jumble rose the challenge that got my blood pumping at a whole new rate....

If everything is One, how is that expressed in story?

Well, it's been done, with various degrees of success, in all kinds of ways:
--exegesis of various cultural mythologies
--allegory or parable with a "moral"
--stories from the lives of famous gurus or holy men
--the conundrums of time travel (see my friend's book The High Priest of Prickly Bog)
--fanciful alternate realities like those of Italo Calvino
--narrative thought experiments ala Jorge Luis Borges
--straight science fiction: on other planets, things behave differently
--variations on the sword and sorcery genre
--human encounters with angels or extraterrestrials
--magical realism

Trouble is, none of these appealed to me. Or rather, they were not what I was doing as a writer. I wanted to write literary short stories, about us, ordinary people, our everyday tragedies and existential crises, the mundane epiphanies that move us all incrementally forward. Real life.

It was my invented characters themselves who offered me the key. Of their own accord they had began lurking on the edges of each other's stories. But I wasn't sure what that meant. Then one day as I surveyed the whole array of stories and fragments, a complex web of faint shimmering lines seemed to materialize before my inner eye. These people, like all of us, were connected by invisible threads, coincidences, ephemeral glancing touches, by which subtle influence was being exerted, life paths changed in seemingly tiny, but possibly powerful, ways. We were like cells in one giant body, all going about our business transporting enzymes from one place to another and effecting change on other cells, but with rarely a glimmer of awareness of our own impact.

To suggest this newfound truth seemed to me the best way I could express Unity. Still, just as in this thing we call "reality," the needs, hopes, dreams, heartaches, addictions, and loves of daily life are the foreground. To see the background is another level of perception altogether.

I'm entirely a beginner on the road toward Unitive Consciousness. But that vision of all human beings interconnected by a vast intangible network of influence, invisible energy lines weaving us together, became the engine driving the finishing, assembling, and publishing of my story collection.

So, does it work? Does it matter? Does The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility say anything useful? Can this odd combination of literary realism and esoteric philosophy create its own public? Or is it all a big illusion (delusion) in my mind? I really don't know. I hope you'll read it and tell me what you think.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Publishing = Creating a Public

My journey toward publication of The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility has been fraught with doubt. I've kept soldiering on anyway. But this past week I felt incredibly empowered by a new way to look at publishing. Here I quote writer/editor Matthew Stadler:
"In English, publication includes the word ‘public’…publication is the creation of a public. Publication is a political strategy. It is not an attempt to make beautiful objects. It is not an attempt to make an accurate record that can be stored and archived… There is no pre-existing public. The public that we hear about, which we think about often to our own discouragement, is itself a fiction created by political actors to lend moral authority to their choices. I am interested in publication because I want to create a public. I live in a culture, in a country, that uses the fiction of a mainstream public in many ways that I find discouraging, negative, and disempowering but I don’t believe the notion of and the experience of a public needs to be that way… It is imperative that we publish not only as a means to counter the influence of a hegemonic public, but also to reclaim the space in which we imagine ourselves and our collectivity. We feel lonely and powerless when we accept the myth of ‘the mainstream public.’ When we accept that fiction we relinquish our ability to form our own collectivities and draw hope from them.”

In the loud, clamoring marketplace, I usually feel lost and out of place. I don't write potboilers with zinger tag lines, so it's easy to feel invisible. But I've clung to an intuition that there is an audience for my work: a few people will love it, and then a few more, and a few more. Stadler's viewpoint gives some muscle to that hunch. I love the idea that I'm taking political action by writing what feels true for me ("market" be damned), then joining the self-publishing revolution to bring it to the world. How freeing to let go of that vast, oppressive cloud of "the mainstream public"! Each of us who creates is building not only a piece of work, but a network of invisible connections among those who admire that work: a new public, a new family, a new community. Large or small is of less importance than the nature of the connections. It is through such bonds that energetic shifts take place and worlds change, both inner and outer.

For bringing Stadler's ideas (and the quote above) to my awareness, I give a big Thank You to Shannon Yarborough and his essay "Why Do We Publish?" in The LL Book Review.