It’s maddening, but I just can’t shake this feeling of oppressive gloom. The slide into winter doesn’t help, I suppose. With the going of the light in these northern latitudes I think we’re all prone to a kind of long dark tea-time of the soul, to paraphrase Douglas Adams. But there’s more to it than that and it’s not on account of a lurch over to the shady side of my occasionally depressive nature either. I scan the news feeds for something positive, something that speaks of brightness, expansion, largess of both spirit and human endeavour, but what I find instead are the peoples of all nations hunkering down as if for a storm, and I see grim faced, swivel eyed politicians, like comical Private Frazers in Dad’s Army, telling us we’re all doomed.
The local news channels, bless them, do try to inject an upbeat tone now and then – you know, those dog saves man from drowning kind of stories – but they always overdo it and end up drowning us instead in saccharine sentiment, which seems only to add to the sheer debilitating weight of things.
I suppose what it is is world events are reported entirely in a way that panders to the shadow within us, rather than the muse. The shadow is the dark side we project everywhere. See someone you don’t know and take an instant irrational dislike to them? That’s your shadow. A whole army of little daemons rush to do his infernal bidding, meanwhile there he sits at the centre of our being, rubbing his hands with glee while our spirits sink and we raise our eyebrows in despair at yet one more depressing headline.
Look, he says, we have entire economies in ruins, and an ever increasing percentage of the world’s population in chains to a financial system that emasculates and enslaves them while simultaneously shrinking their futures to a fraction of what even their grandfathers once aspired to. Then we have the earth convulsing with one natural disaster after another, and if that’s not bad enough we have an ever increasing number of bogey men supposedly stalking every street corner just waiting to rape and kill or simply swindle the innocents out of what little dignity they have left.
But then the muse stirs from her slumber and the shadow looks nervous because they don’t get on, and she always wins when it comes to an argument. She wrinkles her nose in distaste and casts about for someone to pull her out of the mire. Oy! Yea, you with the pen. You’ll do. Hoist me up will you? And then she looks at me and says: Well, is that really the kind of world you want to live in?
Of course it isn’t I tell her, but what choice do we have? I mean you must admit things look pretty bad. But she just shrugs guilelessly and says: Are they really?
Okay, I know where she’s going with this. And she’s right; personally, beyond feeling the pinch in my wallet, and at the petrol pump, I’ve no idea how bad things are because news feeds are just stories after all and, as recent events here in the UK would indicate, they’re not necessarily stories based upon facts either. But believe them or not the news media’s narrative does shape the story of our times, it weaves the contemporary myth and spins the Zeitgeist to which we are all unconsciously exposed and rendered suggestible to. But were the story of our times a novel, I think I might have set it aside with a weary grimace by now, somewhere half way through chapter one, swapped it for a copy of Jeeves and Wooster instead, or turned the telly channel over, away from the shadow-centric news, to find myself a decent laugh-out-loud movie, preferably one with a bit of romance thrown in.
No, says the muse, you want more than that. Laughter isn’t enough. You don’t want to simply lose yourself in a quick, shallow fix, like anaesthetising your rebellious, soul-craving spirit in the bottom of a whiskey glass. You want to feel a rush of pleasure in something. You want to feel yourself lifted off your feet. You want to be in awe of something greater than yourself. You want the earth to move.
So here, she says. Remember this. Remember me?
Of course I remember!
There’s some debate over exactly when this video was shot. As any fan will tell you, the band isn’t Fleetwood Mac. It is however, definitely Stevie Nicks, probably 1981, and her solo “Belladonna” tour.
What I love about this clip – apart from it being my favourite rendition of this song – is 5.6 seconds in. It’s the expression on Stevie’s face as the instrumentals start up and the crowd goes wild. What I see, what I feel in that smile, and in the sudden turning away of her head, is the kind of “lifted off my feet” rush that I’m sure I’ve felt too (though not in front of a crowd of thousands of adoring fans). When I watch this clip, I project something very strongly which seeks to share in that moment, and in some ways reconnect with moments in my life when I simply must have felt like that, when there was a visceral connection with something godlike, and when the earth simply moved, Goddamit!
Okay, so I remember. But what exactly are you getting at here, Sara?
Well, these things are spontaneous, she says. They’re unpredictable, and we cannot find them in the simple pursuit of pleasure, nor can we find them in other people, nor in physical experiences unless we’re open to that feeling in the first place and capable of knowing it for what it is. And if we are, well, we can find it anywhere, even in the middle of a financial crisis, and there’s no need to go looking for it anywhere special.
In ’81, I was both a Fleetwood Mac and a Stevie fan, and the muse definitely went by the name of Sara. I tended to project her onto girls who either looked like Stevie Nicks, or Carrie Fisher (AKA Princess Leia) in that gold Bikini (I know, I know, but I was young). Then she slips back inside my head and morphs into someone else, driven by the times and the shifting tides of my own psyche down the decades but, be she Sara, or Eleanor, or Beatrice, or even George(ina) these days, she’s essentially the same timeless, ageless phenomenon she always been, and she is the poet in my heart.
When words won’t come, or they tumble out in useless messy splats, I know the words are mine. When they work, when they light me up, I know they’re Sara’s, that I’ve managed to get my head out of the way long enough for her to do her stuff. And of course it’s to the muse we must all turn when we need lifting out of ourselves, when we finally see the shadow of ourselves haunting us in the vulgar glare of the daemon haunted news-media. She waits for that shudder of recognition, the vital insight we must each come to in our own way, before she steps up and says, would you like me to help you with that?
So come on Sara, help me. Where are we going with this?
Well, do you remember, she asks me. You were at the tea table the other night, you, the good lady Graeme and numbers one and two sons? Sure I remember. Number two son had been You-Tubing the Mayan Apocalypse, and asked if it was true, that the world was really going to end on December 21st 2012? The good lady Graeme thought to put his mind at ease by telling him there’d been at least a couple of apocalypses predicted for every decade in living memory, and probably a good few before then, and none of them had ever amounted to anything except a lot of hype and panic among those who subscribe to these things, and then turning to me asked what did I think?
And what did you say, Michael?
All right, all right. Perhaps I’d had a bad day, I don’t remember, but I found myself saying, rather unhelpfully, I hoped it was the real thing this time, then we needn’t worry about all this dark depressing stuff any more. I mean,… this bleating endlessly on about fiscal stability in the Eurozone, private sector pension provision, the crisis in higher education funding, and the abolition of retirement ages, it all sounds a bit weak when the time-wave’s about to collapse, doesn’t it?
Number two son hadn’t heard about the time wave theory. And if you’ll forgive me a moment’s tangential aside, this is what’s so interesting about the 2012 apocalyptic myth. It’s also what the muse seems at pains to point out to me this evening, unexpected though it is, but here we go anyway: it encapsulates the Zeitgeist very neatly and also gives us a clue as to how we can steer our way around it to better things just by picking and choosing the path we take.
If you’re not well up on theories surrounding the next apocalypse, there are two sides to the 2012 myth. One one side the sense of oppressive gloom some of us are feeling is a kind of premonition that’s supposed to have its denouement in a collision between poor old mother earth and a wayward wandering planet called Nibiru. Failing that there’ll be a reversal of the earth’s magnetic field, or failing that a massive solar flare will fry the pants off us. There are probably many other apocalyptic scenarios I’m unaware of, possibly involving aliens, but archetypally it’s very “Book of Revelations” and “End of Days’ish” and pretty grim stuff, and it all happens on the 21st of Decbember 2012. So,… we’d better splash out and have ourselves one hell of a party next year.
But wait: there’s another side to the myth, one more positive, and this is where the time wave comes in. I won’t explain it because it’s equally esoteric and bizarre, and possibly also involves aliens, but you can Google Terrance+McKenna+Time+ Wave if you’re interested in further reading. To summarise, this version of events has the dreaded 2012 date seeing a sudden quantum evolution in human consciousness, one in which “time” as a psychological concept collapses and everything happens simultaneously – or something like that – which is going to take some getting used to, but it sounds like fun. I think there’s also a scenario where the galactic centre lines up and shoots a beam of “enlightenment rays” at us – but basically we all go to bed on the 20th of December 2012 and then we wake up in the morning to a psychotropically enhanced version of reality and go: “WOA!”
I prefer the latter version, obviously, though I must add I don’t think we should bank on either possibility. My personal belief is that some form of shift in conscious awareness is our evolutionary destiny, but it won’t be sudden and it won’t be a quantum leap. It’ll be gradual and incremental, like it always is, and we’ll really have to work at it, generation on generation. But we have to want it too. And if we can’t remember what it is we want or even what it feels like any more, then let the muse remind you. After all, what kind of world do you want? If you don’t mind I think I’m with the muse on this one.
And finally, there’s one more thing, she reminds me, about December 21 next year and why nothing bad is going to happen. It’s my birthday, and she simply won’t allow it.
Thank you, Sara. Don’t you change, and don’t you ever stop.