Monday, October 17, 2011

The Year of Thinking Magically: Learning How to Be Alone

This is a great analysis of Hollywood's
creative bankruptcy- go read it after you read this

It's been a difficult year for me in many regards but at the same time a very magical one. I'm beginning to think that's the way it works. The horoscope said something about Saturn in one house and Jupiter in another (or something), which I think roughly describes the way things are going.

A couple weeks back I was trying to decide which direction I wanted to focus my energies, since I had a wish list of interesting possibilities that had been brewing in my head. While I was mulling it all over, Miguel Conner contacted me and asked me to do an interview on Our Gods Wear Spandex and soon after I was invited up into NYC to film an interview for an upcoming documentary on superheroes.

Then another interesting sequence of events. I went to my doctor on Friday but he was called out on an emergency. I made an appointment for the next day at his other office. On Saturday I sent Mrs. Wibble to pick some things up at the art store while I saw the doc, but his office was a madhouse. The harried receptionist flashed her pretty eyes at me with immense relief when I offered to see him on Monday.

So I walked over to the art store rather than having the missus pick me up at the doc's (it was a glorious northern NJ October morning) and discovered an extremely useful book on digital illustration that directly answered a lot of problems I was stressing over that week (and a book I probably would never have heard of otherwise). To sweeten the deal I also got the X-Files/30 Days of Night graphic novel I'd been trying to find just a couple days before for 60% off the cover price (the store is in the process of liquidating its book stock). And now I'm no longer wondering where I need to apply my energies in the coming days. VoilĂ  - Magic.

Again, when I talk about magic I'm not talking about stage magic, nor am I talking about sorcery. I feel I need to repeat myself on this count since it's all too easy to be misinterpreted these days. I guess what I mean is an mode of thinking in which you figure out the rhythms and cycles of life and then tune yourself into them and let the magic happen and hopefully steer you through. It's when the unexpected becomes your navigator.

I know I keep harping on all of this lately, but it's not as if the cable talk shows are filled with pundits arguing about synchronicity or the use of divining the symbols that seem drawn to you. And to be fair I did call 2011 "The Year of Thinking Magically" in the first place, so it's not as if I'm dropping all of this on you out of nowhere.

It's all fine and good for chemists and statisticians to not think magically. I certainly wouldn't expect surgeons or air traffic controllers to start thinking about how to tune themselves into the collective unconscious. But those people don't read The Secret Sun, I suspect. You do, you probably want to have some positive impact on the rest of the world while you're here. If so, start working some magic and figure out how to spread it around.

Because if we don't start bringing some magic back into the world soon, we're all screwed. I can't say it enough.

When I was a teenager --like, literally soon after I turned 13-- I decided I was going to stop reading comics. That was kid stuff. I was more interested in rock 'n' roll and girls and getting high and putting some meat on my bony frame. I did that for a couple years or so and then dived back into comics with a passion that paled even my grade school days. I didn't realize it at the time but I needed that magic back in my life.



Mind you, that was a pretty damn magical time for rock 'n' roll, but at the same time a lot of the bands I liked were very political and arty, at least in their interviews. Mental masturbation in the form of pseudo-intellectualism was big back then and it depressed me. And though we idealize the whole punk and post-punk era today, there was a stultifying degree of pretension for pretension's sake.

Rock history tends to overlook how many of those great bands sold out to the mainstream or crawled so far up their asses with the crucial art poses (Gang of Four managed to do both) that they ended up being not much different than the prog bands they originally set out to replace. I spent a lot of time waiting for the next shoe to fall- which band that rocked hard in 1979 would go soft rock in 1982 or 1983?

Comics were a corrective in that they were deliberately lowbrow-- even the arty ones reveled in primitivism-- and id-driven. It was all will-to-power fantasy and there was a healthy dose of vestigial hippie magick around. There were no rules and nothing to lose anyway, which is always the best recipe for a creative explosion.

In the same way that we're living off all of that technology that hit the market in the days after the Roswell crash (surely a coincidence) or the stuff that was developed at Xerox PARC we're still living off that burst of magic and mutation that hit the comic racks in the early 80s. All of the big superhero blockbusters owe as much to the 80s explosion as to any other era. And that bled into the culture at large through video games and TV shows and all of the rest of it.

The guys who made all of that magic were all loner types who spent probably too much time peering into their heads and pulling out whatever popped up. Today we only hear about loner types when they kill someone.

But the magical traditions-- as well as the mystical ones-- all prescribe a lot of alone time. If you want to make magic, setting some time aside every day in which you enter your own cocoon is a good place to start. I spent a lot-- and I mean a lot-- of time alone when I was a kid and I still do today. I feel as if I encountered powerful yet invisible currents at certain moments in my younger days. I remember one particular long walk down the train tracks that ran through the salt marshes to my girlfriend's house that seemed particularly potent, though I'll never be able to say why.

So when Hollywood worries about why fewer and fewer people want to bankrupt themselves watching their crappy, thoughtless rubbish, they might want to instead create a nice Esalen-type retreat to send their writers and producers to where they can tune out all of the noise and learn how to write. I realize it's going to be some time before most of them start making magic again but you have to start somewhere.

And as heretical as it is to say this, people are going to have to recapture the attention spans that Twitter and the iPhone took away from them. Art is only as good as its audience and I think the audience gets the art it deserves. Nothing worthwhile can be written in 140 characters or less. Nothing worth reading can fit on an 2" by 3" screen. Experiencing any worthwhile art should be downright Tantric-- delayed gratification can be the best kind there is if done properly.

As much as we hear the transformative effects of mobile phones and social media, there's still a lot of time being wasted using technology as an amusements and it's disempowering us. It's ravaging our attention spans and our ability to process complexity. I'm no Luddite, but the sooner we get past the novelties of these shiny but ultimately useless toys the better off we'll all be. Not to mention our poor thumbs.

SECRET SUN READING LIST