Monday, April 24, 2006

Surfing the Continuum

Columna Universalis. More on this image is at the end of this entry.

Notes from a droplet....

Late on Saturday night I rifled through my CD collection, knowing ahead of time that I needed my recording of Miklos Rosza's music that he'd written for the movie Ben Hur -- because I'd heard snatches of it in my brain. Like peering into the fridge and letting my body tell me what it needs -- protein, or green vegetables, or whatever nourishment will hit the spot.

This time it was brain nourishment. Soul nourishment. Muse music.

I snatched the headphones from my transcribing machine, where they'd resided for days, and brought them into the bedroom. Plugged them into my CD player there, slipped in the Rosza, set my journal notebook and glasses beside my clock radio behind the pillow. Lay down, put the headphones on, punched Play, closed my eyes, and listened.

I didn't sleep that night.

Behind my eyes a movie coalesced; all I had to do was watch and listen. Not Ben Hur but scenes from the novel I'm currently writing, #4 in a series. (I'm currently trying to find a publisher for #s 1-3.)

And then #5 in the series, a straight-line plot structure, as clear as #4 is muddy. From beginning to end. Part of it had already started coming in glimpses as I was writing the end to book #2, about a year and a half ago.

And then brief glimpses of the structure of #6 -- what will be the last in the series as currently envisioned. Like peering through binoculars at a very distant landscape. For the first time I've seen how and when this epic is actually ending -- which harkens back to a 15-line poem (Joseph Payne Brennan's "When Tigers Pass") that had inspired a short story, the first seed of this entire process, back in 1985.

Again, as currently envisioned. Sometimes things change as I work all the nuances into place. Book #4 is so convoluted that it might well split into different pieces. I don't know yet. But I console myself with the fact that part of the job of a first draft is to be sloppy.

The tricky part is remembering all the details of the visions, like remembering those of a dream, which is why I had my notebook and glasses close at hand. When the first set of visions cleared I turned on the light and scribbled. By the time I was done scribbling Mary was ready for bed; I turned out the light and lay down again.

Round 2 of the visions came pouring in.

I got up, took in hand the flashlight I'd put by the CD player in advance, and quietly gathered up the CD, headphones, notebook, glasses. Moved it all into the studio and scribbled more, now headphoned into the studio's CD player. Hours later, when I felt ready to go to bed, Mary was up after her "Sleep Part 1" (she tends to sleep in approximate 4-hour stretches).

I lay down again, this time without music.

Didn't make a difference. I lay quietly, immersed in Round 3. We had a play to go to Sunday afternoon, so when I rolled out of bed I knew I wouldn't roll back in again until last night. I continued scribbling until it was time to get dressed.

Our local theater is doing "Love, Sex, and the IRS," which was hilarious and wonderfully performed. Afterwards we had a bite to eat and headed back home, where I was finally able to get in a solid night's sleep. When I awoke I continued to get snatches, more details. More scribbling. This time the music in my head sent me scrambling for my CD of Prokofiev's Symphony #2 -- which I am headphoned into as I'm writing this.

My notes are like outlines, blocking out scenes or drawing broad-brush Big Pictures. Like the outline of a drawing, before one goes in and adds the subtleties of shadows or cross-hatching, finer lines.

One thing is clear, though. I may be the one doing the writing, the world-building, the character development and plot points and all the rest. But I'm not the one in control.

From my scribbles-after-the-scribbles (edited for presentation here):

Lying in bed, in the midst of these Visions, I felt the Continuum. The Matryoshka dolls, as it were, of creation. That as surely as I am writing these characters, I am one who myself is being written, and it is not a one-way street. It works both ways. I am surely not the first nor the only person who has felt this way -- there have been enough indications otherwise.

But I feel this as another layer in the Journey that began with my childhood fantasies, continued with those of adulthood, and that now deepens with this series of books. Going back to those childhood fantasies and the entity I called Everything -- the place where all fiction is real, with all its layers of interactions -- coupled with the Hindu Brahmanas concept of this world as Maya -- I am like one of the proverbial blind men feeling up the elephant. In addition to having their own adventures, the characters in my childhood fantasies had walked into other people's stories and interacted with their characters, and there is an entire literary form that re-casts and re-visions tales (e.g., Naslund's Ahab's Wife).

It's part of sharing the human condition -- all the visions and re-visions -- in whatever creative medium. We all create universes and our own personal myths. But it's the interactions, the sharing of those visions -- the ways in which they transform us and are then themselves transformed and interpreted and re-interpreted. We become greater than a single creator or group of creators, greater than the sum of our parts. We are swept up in that Continuum, which flows both (or more) ways. And I can get my brain around only a tiny part of that -- but on occasion I see a glimpse of a deeper layer of landscape.

It brings me back to 2 quotes: Julia Cameron's "We are here to nourish God" (which she writes can stand for "good, orderly direction") in The Artist's Way. And the quote on a book jacket I'd seen at the Israel Book Shop in Brookline, Massachusetts, years ago -- that Judaism is "God in search of man."

It's a partnership, a collaboration, all our visions feeding into a vast stream and influencing content and flow. And then we drink from that stream, whose components are also the building blocks of our souls. Individually, we are droplets, microcosms. Right now, as my brain tries to stretch into my current mode of thinking and tears of awe fall down my cheeks, I am listening to/drinking from the flow of a man who died 5 years before I was born. His music, unheard, lives on in the words I am writing here. This same music drove visions I'd had as a child -- different visions, seeds of the ones that come to me now, seeds of this current level/layer of reasoning.

The epic I'm writing is not something I am pushing out into the world. It is something the world -- the flow, the Continuum -- is pulling in.

Notes on the image up top

"Columna Universalis" was inspired by light reflections on one of my data CDs (see below). I'd first read about the "columna universalis" (the "Cosmic Pillar") in Mircea Eliade's 3-volume A History of Religious Ideas. In my own meditations the "columna universalis" sometimes takes the form of a bright, sparkling fountain of light.

Eliade, vol. 1 (From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries, pp. 41-42): "The agrarian cultures develop what may be called a cosmic religion, since religious activity is concentrated around the central mystery: the periodical renewal of the world.....The Cosmic Tree is held to be at the center of the world, and it unites the three cosmic regions, for it sends its roots down into the underworld, and its top touches the sky."

Volume 2 (From Gautama Buddha to the Triumph of Christianity, pg. 157): "The tree Yggdrasill, situated at the Center, symbolizes, and at the same time constitutes, the universe. Its top touches the sky and its branches spread over the world. Of its three roots, one plunges into the land of the dead (Hel), the second into the realm of the giants, and the third into the realm of men....Obviously, we have here the well-known image of the Universal Tree, situated at the "center of the world" and connecting the three planes: Heaven, Earth, and Hades."

Volume 3 (From Muhammad to the Age of Reforms, pg. 6): "In Asia, as in many other parts of the world, the structure of the universe is understood on the whole as having three tiers -- Heaven, Earth, Hell -- interconnected by a central axis. This axis passes through an "opening," a "hole," by which the gods descend to the Earth and the dead into subterranean regions. It is through this opening that the soul of the shaman is able to fly away or descend during his celestial or infernal journeys.... In the middle of Heaven shines the pole-star, which supports the celestial tent like a post. It is called "The Golden Pillar" (by the Mongols, Buryats, etc.), "the Iron Pillar" (by the Siberian Tatars, etc.), "the Solar Pillar" (by the Teleuts, etc.)....On the microcosmic plane, it is signified by the central pillar of the dwelling-place or the highest opening of the tent."

Original for "Columna Universalis": CD Shot #4

I was swapping out CDs from my computer when I noticed how the light from my desk lamp threw rainbow colors on the disc's readable surface. I started with this blurred macro shot. The center part of the CD is near upper left. The inside of my lampshade is reflected on the disc, over to the right.

First I cropped the image, darkened the colors a bit, and very slightly increased the contrast. I set the white to be transparent, then set the cropped image against a black background, which also extended the top of the image and created the frame.

I returned to my original photograph, selected the long rib inside the reflected lamp, and performed a rough trim, leaving various color reflections. After applying repeated watercolor effects, I rotated the rib and flipped it, to have the green and purple reflections at the top, before I incorporated it into the final image.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That might be worth losing a night's sleep for.

The photo fits with the spinning of your mind. Sort of like a rainbow top.

11:39 PM  
Blogger Brenda Clews said...

This is amazing. Thank you for sharing the ecstasy of this vision of your novels. How beautiful that they unfold this way. And I love the images that you have both taken and composed, their visionary quality.

9:22 AM  

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