Thursday, October 27, 2011

More Massive Thoughts -- Big Pagan Rob

Thursday, October 27, 2011—Orange, CA

Not much new going on since my last post. I’m still buried in school and dealing with my hip/back injury, (which has gotten quite a lot better). I’m writing a bit: I’ve added some to the new Backwaters book. Not sure how I feel about it. I can tell it’s going to be a slower, more contemplative book than the other two and I’m still getting used to that, to writing with a mindset that accepts that slower pace. I have some ideas for short stories that have been rolling around my head. I’m thinking of playing with those for a while and letting the Backwaters book sit for a bit, as it’s feeling a little green, like I might have started it as touch early. I’m also thinking of working up some of my material for the Greece book, some squeezes based on the places I went. I’m really wishing I had more writing time—there are some ideas I have that really need to be played with on paper instead of just my head …

I’ve been doing some interesting reading lately (and, I believe, some interesting thinking). I’m in the middle of a book on European paganism I’m really enjoying. I’m also starting to dig into Grimm’s fairy tales. Though it may not seem like it on the surface, I consider these books to be closely related. One thing I’m interested in these days is the transmission of cultural consciousness. Specifically I’m fascinated with aspects of Western culture that have survived from deep in its past: something close at least to the bedrock of my cultural heritage. One of the hardest parts about being of the modern Western world is that we seem to have no understanding and little interest in what has made us the way we are—we are adrift in a sea of rapidly proliferating technology, which provides almost constant excitement, but very little nourishment. We have lost connection with the basics of life, like getting our own food and water and dealing with each other: life is series of housing tracts connected by strip malls, into which our necessities are brought in from the outside in truncated form: shrink-wrapped food and cultural interaction largely as something virtual (TV and the internet); so much of the time I feel that we’re simply consuming as opposed to living. I want to dive deep beneath this unpleasant surface and find, well, our soul, whatever that might be.

Part of the key to this for me is scraping off the thin, destructive layers of the religions of the book—Christianity mostly—which I see as odd Middle Eastern imports that have smothered so much of the indigenous European consciousness. The native Pagan beliefs and rituals of Europe were (are, in some cases) local, or at least highly adapted to the cultural-environmental matrix into which they entered. This, by definition, makes them more relevant to their practitioners than Christianity, which sees the divine as being separate from the “natural” world in many important ways, which largely sees humanity as something separate from the rest of the existence and everything else on the planet as being created simply for the use (and misuse) of humans. This is why it can spread so easily—it’s not really connected to any place, and therefore it can occupy any cultural space. The problem is that it occupies this space by in large part destroying the aspects of a culture that keep it in touch with the world around it. In other words, it takes people from regional, highly adaptive socio-ecological systems and deposits them into a global abstract belief system that by definition keeps them one step from their local environments. It’s not an accident that early Christian missionaries insisted that the sacred groves of European Pagans be cut down, for they represented a very tangible connection between local gods and day-to-day life in real environments, which is a massive challenge to a church that can offer no such local relevance. Christianity then means local subordination to an outside god, which goes in tandem with the outside political structures that brought it in. This is religious colonialism, an imperialism at the level of belief, that paves the ways for the loss of local control at not only the religious, but the governmental level as well—“Onward Christian Soldiers” is one of the most honest songs ever written …

All of this is an incredibly long-winded way of saying that I want to search for those fragments of my European heritage that have survived the Christian invasion of Europe. To understand who I am I need to hear the echoes of the deep past, maybe those of events going deep into the Paleolithic. A good first step in this journey, I think, is learning what is known about our Pagan past. I want to do this not only thru written records and archaeology, but also thru trips like the one I took to Crete where I can commune thru the eons thru Pagan landscapes themselves. I also want to begin sifting thru our storytelling tradition: for it is thru art that these ideas most likely have the chance of survival (albeit often in highly mutated form). The Grimm stories perhaps can’t trace their direct heritage any further back than medieval times, and they’ve also been deliberately Christianized in spots (often by the Brothers Grimm themsevles). But they are a good starting place to look for the echoes I’ve been discussing. After them? Hans Christian Anderson. Irish fairy tales. Arthurian romances. The Decameron. Beowulf. Icelandic sagas. And hundreds of other stories I right now have no idea exist. I’m just at the beginning of this journey, so much so that in many ways I really don’t even know exactly what I’m looking for …

What started this? All sorts of things, many of which I’m sure I’m not consciously aware. A big part of it, though, is the Backwaters books, which I’m now seeing as fundamentally being an attempt to reconnect with place, to break free of the globalist abstraction that I believe (ironically) is leading the planet to ruin. Who am I? I am man of Europe extraction whose ancestors invaded and colonized a lands to which they do not yet belong, after leaving lands they lost touch with. Like most children of this kind of colonial diaspora I’m largely free floating, from a place, but not really of it. My life’s work as a story teller, I’m beginning to see, is to help contribute to the immensely difficult task of turning that "from" into an "of" for us all.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Post in a Minor Key

Thursday, October 20, 2011—Orange, CA

Feeling strange today, a bit untethered. I found out that Irvine Valley college is going to be hiring a new full-time anthropologist for the fall. I will apply for his job, but I doubt I’ll get it (I’m not even sure if I want it). Assuming I don’t get it there’s a very good chance that there won’t be any more classes for me to teach in the fall, or that I will be cut back to maybe one. Either way, it will mean that it’s time for me to move on. I don’t know what this means, though. I want to be a free agent, but I’m also not quite ready for that move (or maybe I am but just don’t know it). I know in the long run leaving there is a good thing: my life is only sort of working now and there are lots of things I’d like to do I can’t while I’m so buried in work. Still, feeling the anxiety that always accompanies any life change. I’m trying to look at every change in life as an opportunity—somehow I know that I’ll use this as major starting point for something, something big . It will be interesting to see what that something is … And of course how will I pay the bills? An incredibly boring question that always seems to be popping up in life …

I should be ready to send the Backwaters books off to two publishers next week. Feeling very ambivalent about this: I’m not sure if this is the right thing to do. These days it’s hard to figure out what a publisher even is. Maybe I should just try and build up BSP and stay the fuck away from these teetering gatekeepers of the old guard. Do I need a publisher? Does any writer need a publisher these days? Why should I put my work in the hands of someone who probably won’t get it? My distaste for anything that has to do with marketing is also playing a role. I really believe on books finding their audience thru word of mouth mostly, thru a literary brother and sisterhood. The idea of someone hawking my books like their dish soap really bugs me. Fantasizing about building an audience up person by person, under the radar, away from the toxic inquiries of the mainstream media. “In dreams begin responsibilities” –Delmore Schwartz. Hmm …

I’ve been putting quite a bit of work into the third Backwaters novel this week. It’s far too early to say how or where it’s going, but I’m definitely enjoying the effort so far.

Still dealing with pain from my injury. It’s getting better, but slowly. I get the feeling it will still be with me to some degree months from now.

Burnt out on teaching, on having time to do little else. Back around to the beginning of this post, my fear/hope of a lost job. Once again, maybe I’ll just stay in Greece this time. Picked up a beginning textbook on modern Greek. Haven’t had time to delve into it yet. See what I mean?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Occupy Everything

Saturday, October 15, 2011—Long Beach, CA

Finally feeling better. Three weeks almost to the day of pain—which has been moving from my back to my hip to my hamstring in a kind of circle—finally broke a bit yesterday. It got so bad that I had to take three classes off so I could heal a bit. Now, though, I can feel that I’m on the way to being myself again. I can now definitely understand now how people with long-term pain issues can become addicted to painkillers or in extreme situations off themselves—continuous pain just wrecks your life and eventually starts taking away who you are.

Because of my injury there’s really been nothing much going on in my life: I’ve mostly just been trying to get thru what I have to to keep my life functioning. One big thing has happened, though. This weekend I broke ground on the third novel in the Backwaters series. It’s been welling up in my for a while, so I wasn’t surprised, but it’s still a great feeling to have it underway. I’m only a handful of pages into it , but already I like where it’s going. Also, ideas as to what I can do with the book are also flying thru my head, which can’t be anything but a good sign.

On the subject of the Backwaters books, I’ve started the process of finding a publisher/agent for them: I’ll have them off to Canongate, a large independent based in Scotland next week. I’ll also be trying Soft Skull, a smallish U.S. house based out of Berkeley. As usual, I’m not expecting anything, but I’m not pessimistic either: I know I’ve written something special and it’s just a matter of time before these books land in their proper home. I’m beginning to wonder, though, if maybe this “proper home” might be Burning Shore Press. I’m so soured on capitalism at the moment that I just can’t see how any publisher operating in that world will get what I’m trying to do; these novels are so beyond capitalism, so beyond the socio-economic structure of today that I don’t think they can find an audience except thru slow word-of-mouth methods—they need to percolate up thru things, like the cultural equivalent of groundwater becoming a spring. Then again, who know where things are going culturally?

For years—decades really—a lot of us have been wondering when people would finally hit the saturation point and start rising up and take down those who have created this incredibly exploitive world economic infrastructure, which is designed mainly to funnel wealth from those who actually work for it upwards to those who don’t. I think this saturation point has finally been hit. These “Occupy” protests that are now spreading around the world will just get larger and more radical. We want nothing less than to control our own neighborhoods, cities, countries, our own economic systems, our own environmental relationships—we want to control our own lives, in other words. I keep hearing people say how these demonstrations will fizzle out. I doubt it. So many of us have hit the wall—we simply have nowhere else to go: our futures are being taken from us, have been taken from us. When you have no future you fight in the present. The bailout of the banking system (with our money), for its benefit, not ours, combined with the collapse of the housing market and employment opportunities, seems to have been the final straw: it really brought home to the average person how things work. Now that this has happened people will start to really figure out why they work the way they do—the mechanics of how they’ve been getting screwed their whole lives, to put it another way. How things will proceed for this point is hard to say. I do believe, though, that we’re in for nothing less than a complete restructuring of huge aspects of government and economic systems. If these systems don’t exist to benefit the vast majority of us then what do they exist for? Once people get this one the whole house is coming down. I can’t wait until that wrecking ball starts swinging …