Inspiration and Expiration
This and the two photos below were taken of a single rock. The rock, which Mary had picked up off the street, is about the size of a golf ball.
Wednesday morning, I think within the context of the Treaty of Versailles (we watch a lot of History Channel programs), Mary opened a conversation with the concept that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. That led to a discussion of heaven and hell -- how we can make our own heaven and hell on Earth. I expanded on the energies one puts out into the world -- how, for instance, we are still influenced by the cave paintings at Lascaux. How the energies expended in creating the Bible have been twisted in all sorts of directions. The intermingling of forces and influences.
At one point Mary said, "If you knew when you were going to die, I suppose that would make it easier for you to go into battle."
That got my cogwheels turning something fierce....
I deal with foreknowledge of one's death in my short story "Moments of Clarity" (Full Spectrum, Bantam Books, 1988), so philosophical meanderings in that direction aren't new to me. I almost died when I was seven. "Moments of Clarity" is one of two published stories that draw from memories of the car accident that had almost killed me. (My website has the other story, "Cog," which was originally published in Tales of The Unanticipated, Fall/Winter 1988.)
My mother died just after she turned 57. Next week I turn 48: four years older than she had been when she almost died after suffering her first heart attack (in 1969; I was just under 11). When I was growing up in the tumultuous 1960s I was pretty well convinced I wouldn't live past my 20s, sure that I would die a violent death.
Some years back I transcribed a lecture in which the speaker discussed what she called "the immortals": young people who engage in reckless behavior, as though they are and forever will be invincible. To those unlucky enough not to be invincible at a crucial moment, death comes as a complete surprise. This personality type fell opposite to my own. I grew up being a pretty scared kid.
On turning 30, a friend my age had lamented (I paraphrase here), "At least if I had died in my 20s, people would have said I died a young woman."
I won't even get into the fact that where I live now, my friend would be called "a young woman" at twice-30. When I turned 30 I was ecstatic because I was still alive, period. Everything from then on in has been gravy for me.
Do I still, at the tender young cusp-of-48 and in good health (knock on wood, kenahora), feel my mortality? You better believe it. I hold onto various superstitions that I fully recognize as such ("but what if..."). I've lost people my age and younger. I have things I want to accomplish before I die, visions I want to get from my soul onto paper and out into the world, and that need/passion/ambition drives me.
Before I awoke on Friday I dreamt that I was experiencing the last day of my life. An odd and somber dream. I was resigned to the fact that I was living my last day. I wasn't frightened but I was a little sad. Wistful. I had a white plastic pump attached to my left arm. It had no other external attachment but I could control whatever it was delivering by pressing down on its mechanism, which looked a little like a soup spoon. I was indoors, it was nighttime. I think a television was on but I don't know what it was tuned to. I think Mary was with me, but I'm not entirely sure; I think I was showing her how the pump worked. If anything the location and what feeling I had of time reminded me of New Year's Eve in Brooklyn back in the early 70s. Back then I sat on my family's living room couch, watching the televised broadcast of the ball dropping in Times Square.
Mary's statement Wednesday morning, "If you knew when you were going to die..." started me on a thinking jag that's another variation on a theme that's probably been around at least as long as humanity has. One can do all sorts of things with the concept, and I've been scribbling journal notes toward world-building.
My current series also deals with mortality. (Of my 12 published stories I'd say four deal directly with that concept.) In addition to individual deaths, the writing addresses species extinction: mortality in a big way.
I experience the interplay of at least three levels. There's the personal level, which gets back to my own experiences and superstitions. There's the macro-level/world-view/Zeitgeist, conveyed in such programs as the Weather Channel's It Could Happen Tomorrow, Forecast: Earth, and similar ilk across the TV basic cable band. Global warming, pandemics, asteroidal impact, nuclear war, what have you.
The world was coming to an end back in the 70s, too. Environmental degradation, population explosion, nuclear annihilation and the domino theory as personified in the Vietnam and Cold Wars were a few of the headline-grabbers then. A research project for another novel (drafted) had me poring through New York Times microfilms from that era. Journalistic language that I had taken for granted in the 70s struck me (in the early 90s) as being particularly strident. No wonder I'd been so scared.
I'd escaped into Star Trek. Mary had escaped into Chaucer and other classics.
Added to the personal level and the Zeitgeist is the level of story. My characters deal with death on a micro (personal) and macro (species) scale. Some are in denial. Some embrace their demise and seek to take others with them. Some try to save themselves and/or save others, both heroically and destructively. Some seek to transcend the inevitable. I draw my drama from the struggles among those different types, and from the struggle to survive and to love even though it may all be for naught.
In short, to a great degree my protagonists undergo the same blind faith that I do. Their journey is my own. My journey generates theirs. At some point the Muse/Divine takes over, the lines blur, and the interplay among personal/Zeitgeist/story whirls me around in a metaphysical centrifuge.
I am finally into the last chapter/denouement of Book #4. My early structural problems plus a shift in my main theme will produce a first draft of around 150,000 words by the time I'm done. That's a serious verbal bloat that I should be able to trim significantly in the rewrite. Telling the story has given me insights into what it really is about (or so I hope), but I've had to undergo that process of discovery first. In some ways I feel like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, being lectured by the Good Witch of the North: "You wouldn't have believed me. You had to find out for yourself!" Book #4 marks the transitional point in the series: from one generation to the next and from one set of coping mechanisms to the next. It's the major bend in the road. While the first four volumes cover a period of under two years, #5 will make a temporal jump, when the children have matured and are ready to take the reins.