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Posts Tagged ‘quest’

 

man writing - gustave caillebot - 1885I’ve been getting a sudden flurry of comments on Wattpad. They’re all roughly the same, telling me I’ve won Premier Membership but if you click the link it simply takes you to a story that “cannot be found”. It’s some sort of scam then, the purpose of which eludes me, but more of that later.

Wattpad is one of many self-publishing platforms now. I’ve been on there for ages, with mixed results. The Seaview Cafe topped out at around 4000 reads, which was great, but other stuff hasn’t been read at all. This is probably because I don’t game it. It’s a social network you see, and as with all such things you have to spend time building it up, virtual schmoozing and following others in order to get the clicks. But I’m socially inept, and prefer just to write.

Wattpad sells advertising. Writers use it as a vehicle for self expression, while readers read their stuff for free, and as we go along we all get served these adverts. Adverts are annoying, but so long as you can forgive them Wattpad’s maybe worth a look if you’re starting out, and you’re the chatty type, but best not taken too seriously because a writer needs to be careful they don’t lose their way.

The Wattpad model has changed recently, a kind of ‘premium membership’ being rolled out, a select group of writers testing a “paid” model. Also, if the rest of us agree to a subscription, they’ll spare us the adverts. Payment to writers is based on donations – we buy virtual coins which we toss into the writer’s hat if we like their stuff. I don’t know who those writers are, so I suppose they’ll have to be promoted in some way – sexy mugshots and all that, no English teeth, and no one over thirty five?

But this is beginning to sound like conventional publishing – about half a dozen chosen ones awarded most of the budget, and the rest dividing the pennies between them. According to the blurb, all writers will be able to join the paid ranks eventually, and that’s alluring if you’re chasing the idea of writing for a living, but unless you have millions of readers, you’ll be lucky if you make the price of a cup of coffee. And with the money of course will come the scammers, because they always find a way, and I suppose those spurious comments I’m getting now are the first exploratory wave of that.

But if Wattpad changes, or stays the same, it’s irrelevant to those of us writing the stories, because the important thing is always the story, I mean as it’s being written and experienced by you the writer, also in future years, when you’re revising and reliving the adventure, when maybe you start to wonder what the hell you were on about back then, or you realise how much your outlook’s changed, and which bits you thought were profoundly insightful turn out to have been merely stupid. Thus, in part, the story always serves you first. That’s your reward. There may also be a greater purpose, but that’s complicated and mysterious and, it may not be true, but here goes:

Most writers who’ve been at it for a decade or more already know the chances of making an actual living by it are zero, so you wonder why you’re still in the game, and that’ll take some time, maybe even another decade, and in the mean time, with luck, you’ll still be writing. My own vague conclusion at the end of this process is that writers, known or not, are explorers of the possibilities of imagination, and exploration is typically a human thing to do. And some of us can’t help it.

But more than that, all stories are based on a set of myths that rise from the deep unconscious, and there aren’t that many of them. We saw them first played out in stories from all those ancient civilisations – like the Mesopotamians, the Greeks, and the Egyptians – but they’ve been re-told in an infinite number of ways since, because times change and the myths need re-imagining for each generation. We writers needn’t be aware of this process, but if we analyse our own stories enough and dig deeply into myth we’ll find similarities. We’ll realise we’re basically saying the same thing.

And then there’s this theory that without an ongoing process of mythical renewal, the Gods might get the impression we’re no longer listening to them, so they’ll start stirring things up by unleashing troublesome daemons among us, hastening our decent into barbarism, so something fresh can rise from the ruins. So, creative types on this side of the divide try to avoid the ruination by placating the Gods, the Daemons, the Muses, or whatever by taking notes, by refashioning the myths to keep them fresh in people’s heads.

Well that’s fine, you say, but no publisher’s interested, so you stick your damned story online where you’re lucky if half a dozen people see it. What’s the point in that? Well, that’s not your problem. You’ve done your bit, and it may be that if only a dozen people see it, then maybe they’re the only ones it needed to speak to. And yes, all right, that’s romantic, and wishful, and a somewhat daring thing to say in the wrong company, but it has a certain mythical charm to it, and I like to believe in it.

But the main thing is writers on social media should be wary of getting hung up on the clicks, or the coins, or the comments, or whatever, because it’ll kill your craft, and they don’t mean a damn to your primary purpose anyway, which is simply to keep going, deep into the woods, every day.

 

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So I finish my last piece on the enigmatic way the universe sometimes reveals a glimpse behind the curtain of reality, hinting, by means of syncronicity, at perhaps more revelations to come. Yet my expectations are tempered by the knowledge that the way always closes before I can get to it, and I know all too well the impossibility of interpreting the signs. So I end on a note of resigned ignorance, and with the implied question: what now? And the day after, in the Charity Shop, I pick up a novel called The Zahir by Paulo Coelho and, reading it, the answer jumps right out of the context, but pertinent I feel to my own enquiry, and it says:

“All you have to do is pay attention; the lessons arrive when you are ready, and if you can read the signs you will learn everything you need to know to take the next step.”

But while this sounds like it should mean something, and I’m sure it does, the crux of the matter is knowing how to read those signs. Another problem is seeing the signs in the first place, because that involves living in a world where you believe magic is still possible, and for that you have to be at least partly insane.

Well, at least I’m okay with that.

Meanwhile I sense my world hanging by a thread as I always do at this time of year. It’s something to do with the fading of the light and the thought of the long winter to come. A problem with my gas boiler returns – one I thought I’d fixed some weeks ago and celebrated as a triumph of genius over calamity. The mobile phone I thought I’d fixed in similar vein suddenly manifests fresh issues, shooting at my confidence in my technical ability – and telling me if I don’t have that I  don’t have anything. And then the Mazda, my most treasured possession, symbol of a past personal rejuvenation of sorts yields more signs of its vulnerability to the outrages of fate and old age.

These are the normal every day trials faced by everyone, but to one attempting a retreat into the semi-contemplative life, each fresh manifestation is resented with a passion that should tell me more about the state of my affairs than it apparently does.

Instead Ego gamely tries to plug the gaps, make the fixes, maintain control, and all the while another part of me steps back and observes, neutral in the inkling that my life is about to take a tailspin, more systems flashing malfunction than can be dealt with. And that I feel it, that I fear the tailspin tells me much about the shoddy state of my psyche, and that I risk a plunge more fearsome than any I have known before.

But this is Ego again.

And I have the signs at least, so avoiding that tailspin is just a matter of knowing how to read them.

Or am just too eager to retreat into the nether regions of the dream life? and the world with all its stone throwing, is simply telling me: don’t go!

 

 

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slater bridgeA traveller in a strange land sits down to rest by the bank of a river. He’s unsure of the geography and has no map to guide his way. All he knows is he wants to cross the river to find out what’s on the other side, preferably before nightfall. He’s heard lots of stories about the land across the river, most of which he suspects are probably made up because they’re so contradictory, and everyone he speaks to on the subject has a different opinion, to say nothing of a variety of dogmatic beliefs, so he’d like to go there for himself and see what’s what. Strangely the far bank is shrouded in mist, so he can only make out the vague forms of rocks and trees. Listening carefully over the sound of the river, he can hear the calls of unknown creatures and, at times, more softly, something that sounds like voices and the laughter of a people at ease with themselves.

He’s anxious to make way, to cross over, but the traveller is a cautious man; for navigation, experience has taught him to trust only the evidence of his own eyes, that the natives hereabouts, although they speak his language, are notoriously unreliable when giving directions – sometimes helpful, sometimes deliberately misleading, and sometimes so self-deluded they might think they’re being helpful, when in fact they’re not.

All the traveller want to know is if there’s a bridge by which he can cross the river, if he can reach it before nightfall, and if he should go upstream or downstream to get there? What could be simpler?

A native comes along and the traveller asks him the question, to which the native confidently replies: go upstream, there’s a bridge just five minutes away and you can safely cross long before nightfall. But the native might be lying and the traveller is very tired – he doesn’t want to waste his energy with a wild goose chase, so he waits until another native comes along, then asks the same question. Go downstream, says the native; there’s a good bridge not five minutes away and you can easily cross, long before nightfall.

The traveller is confused. It would be more reliable to toss a coin or consult an oracle, than ask the natives. It’s not that the natives have ever been hostile to him, indeed they generally appear warm and friendly, but he suspects this is because travellers such as he always carry gold coins, and with a bit of guile, the more naïve travellers can easily be parted from them.

The third native who comes along says the same thing as the first, and the traveller wonders if he should go with the majority view and head upstream, until the fourth native agrees with the second. Then another native comes along and laughs, says there is no bridge in either direction, that all talk of bridges is the result of delusional thinking, and that anyway there can be nothing interesting worth visiting on the other side of the river, and why would the traveller want to bother himself with all that nonsense anyway? Instead he gives directions to a nearby village where he says a beautiful young woman, who he describes as his sister, will be very glad to entertain the traveller for a small fee. The traveller politely declines this offer and continues to wait on the riverbank for a solution to his dilemma.

But nightfall is approaching and, without shelter, the traveller is afraid of wolves, robbers and vampires, all of which the natives have assured him come out and prey upon the benighted. He knows the natives are not to be trusted in anything, but his own imagination will not allow him to ignore the possibility of something unpleasant befalling him after dark. Perhaps it would be wiser then to seek out that village after all and avail himself of its comforts, at least until morning.

But if he can find a bridge and cross over the river, he reasons, he might find a more comfortable resting place and a traveller’s inn that would have the good taste not to tempt him with dubious comforts, but instead offer a more honourable fayre. And from the contented murmur he can still hear coming from the other side, he suspects there are no wolves there, nor robbers, nor vampires, and that a man may sleep out in the open, under the stars without fear of being molested.

Another native happens along and the traveller wonders if this man can be persuaded to tell the truth in exchange for a gold coin. But there is nothing to stop the man from taking the traveller’s coin and still point him in the wrong direction (it wouldn’t be the first time). Similarly the natives are totally unreliable as hired guides, insisting on payment in advance, then like as not leading travellers into a trackless wilderness before spiriting themselves away just as night falls. Wisely, he lets the native go on his way.

Instead, the traveller cuts a branch from a tree, sharpens one end of it and drives it into the earth, to form a stout marker. Then, in bold letters, he carves into it the message:

Here I was, before I went wrong.

He tosses a coin for direction, and heads upstream.

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George and the Dragon  - Rosa Corder D G RossettiWe have seen how the material path in a man’s life is ultimately self defeating, and its rewards potentially poisonous to the quest for contentment and meaning. The other path, the quest of a man in search of his soul, is no less exhausting, but those men bound upon it can at least sit down for a minute in order to gather their nerves and catch their breath, without fear of being swept away by Ego’s ever pressing timetable.

The quest for Soul is something open to all men but it is a lifetime’s journey, no matter what stage of life a man embarks upon it. And we must be careful of our expectations too, for Soul is not another thing to be acquired and ticked off on the list of life’s little necessities. Indeed a man cannot “acquire” a soul at all, because he already possesses one. It is more the degree to which he is intimate with it that is the important thing, or failing that it is the degree to which he even knows it’s there. The soul is a man’s secret and most perfect lover. Pay her sufficient devotion and she will transform you; indeed she will at times blow your mind. Neglect her though, and she’ll make you wish you were dead.

For every man, images of Soul are projected out into the world in many forms, but the most recognisable is in the shape of the human female. It can come as a shock to many men that women are not as perfect and divine as our early infatuations with them would have us believe. I’m sorry girls but you can be as stupid, vapid, shallow, mean and vain as any man. You also snore and make the same bathroom noises. Women are, in short, human, but a man’s attraction to them, once piqued, can take on the proportions of a holy devotion. For a fervent seeker of Soul, in the guise of womankind, this can turn out to be,… disappointing.

In psychological terms, though he may not be aware of it, a man projects the soul he already possesses onto the form of another human being. He looks at the woman, but does not see the actual person before him. What he sees is an image of his own soul. If he’s lucky the woman will do the same with him and there is created the potential for a happy-ever-after story, provided the process of actually getting to know one another doesn’t upset the fantasy. But it doesn’t end there. Just because a man pairs up with a life mate, does not mean he is now intimate enough with his own soul to have finished with the quest. No. The quest is just beginning.

A man can be happily married, then discover to his surprise a deep attraction for another woman, or perhaps several other women. It’s important at this point he realises his soul is still at work, shape-shifting, drawing his attention to other aspects of himself, and to which he has yet to awaken. But these aspects are not to be explored by literally engaging with the object of his projection, more by withdrawing those projections and releasing the energy back inside of himself.

To be sure, this is a dangerous stage for a man. It can bring him down, ruin him on a string of affairs, or he can rise above it, withdraw his projections from the material world and give strength to the soul growing within him. Make no mistake, let loose into the material world, a man’s soul might easily destroy him, but recognised instead as a valued psychical partner, along with a man’s ego, she can transform him. In the alchemy of medieval Europe, this marriage of the King and Queen (Ego and Soul) gives birth to queer offspring and much else that is mysterious, even terrifying, but no one said this quest was going to be easy.

Withdrawing one’s projections from the world is a tricky business, and requires first of all the taming of one’s ego. Ego is an analytical genius, and will act on the evidence of its findings. Once it realises women are simply human, it can play ahead to the end scenario of divorce and acrimony, and hopefully step back from the brink before blood is spilt. Age helps too, also the realisation that there are certain things in life worth more than yet another failed relationship: a comfy sofa, a glass of red wine, a good book, a fine cigar. Yes, material things are sometimes to be appreciated, but a wise ego treats them also with circumspection.

Mythical quests in storybooks often involve the hero doing battle with a fearsome creature, say a dragon, in order to rescue a beautiful, flaxen haired, gym honed, damsel in distress. (George and the dragon nfor example) For dragon think Ego, for damsel think Soul. But a slayed ego is neither use nor ornament to a man, for in dealing with a freed soul a man needs his wits about him. In the alchemy of the East, if the female yin is allowed to dominate, the result will be a disaster. More properly the female receives the male yang, softens him, applies her wisdom and directs him in useful ways, but she is careful never to dominate the dance, or the direction of the whole will be subverted to an unfortunate end. An ego dancing entirely to Soul’s tune is not a pretty sight; it takes a man out of the world, makes him doubtful of his place in it, and narrows his horizons to no further than the rim of his spectacles.

Returning again to the Eastern alchemists of the Dao, man is seen as inhabiting a universe that is as much inside of him as out. He is seen as straddling the worlds of Heaven and Earth. Each informs the other, and a wise man pays heed to the dynamics of both. Too much of the material world and a man loses himself in the forms of the earth, finds himself trapped without a starship to blast him back home when the time is right. Too much soul and She reaches up from the dark lake to drown him in his own thoughts, overwhelm him with his own tortured imaginings. He dies to the world, before it has taught him all it can – for such, say the Daoist sages, is the only merit in living a long life.

A safer place for abstractions of Soul is away from women-folk altogether. Wise men have found it in the retreat afforded by the natural world, in the beauty of nature, the quiet of the forest, in the shapely mountain peak. All these things bear the likeness of Soul and she will call to any man who is sensitive to her presence. She will make him yearn for a thing he knows he does not yet possess, yet infuriatingly it is a thing he cannot see or touch or even adequately define. When I was younger I responded to such things with an eye for conquest, but conquest, like all ego-driven acts, leaves one hungry for more. Nowadays I see it more in stillness, and can rest more easily in the knowledge it is not a thing to be grasped by the intellect, nor through physical effort. It is an opening, both in and to nature. And through it, through this guidance of Soul, we realise the glimmerings we see in the mind’s eye are glimmerings of our own deeper identity, that the infinite beauty of nature is a reflection of our own God-given nature, one of infinite complexity, depth, and potential.

In choosing our way through life no matter which path a man takes, life is going to kill him in the end. But one path brings with it the essential knowledge of his immortality, while the other denies it entirely. The mythical quest is a journey whose outcome is far from certain, and most of us who attempt it keep getting eaten by the dragon. But to fail in one’s search for Soul, is not really to fail – indeed, it is to be expected, for how else are we to learn and grow? To fail on this path, is more to stumble by the wayside, but we find a faith in Soul is sufficient armour for the Dragon’s worst excesses, and no man who has at least once chosen Soul over gold, is going to be down on his knees for long.

She simply won’t allow it.

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