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. Voilà - 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.


  1. When I was growing up in the 1960s we had a black and white TV set. We had three channels, BBC, ITV, and BBC2--which was faily new and had 652 line which mean clearer picture LOL

    Thing is they used to show AMAZING films, at a time you could watch them--about 9pm, and I was introduced to the greats, Fellini, Pasolini, and oths whose names I cannot remember--but what I know of as FILMS FOR ADULTS. Films that explore consciousness in deep interesting ways. And even me as a kid being dumbed down by the school trip could dig that, and I was entranced in this REAL filmmaking.
    but Now...........NOW. Hollywood has completely taken over and it SUCKS and i hope it goes fukin bankrupt and is set fukin fire too!!

  2. Lovely blog and perfect timing for me!

  3. The previous generation's "Godfather" and "Godfather 2" is our generations "The Wire", which, I am guessing, 75% of those who have seen it saw on DVD's at home.

    The magic of the movie theater still kind of exists when a show like LOST captures a nations attention, or, more recently Game of Thrones, when everyone knows everyone is watching at the same exact time.
    I'm thinking the newest model for Hollywood is to create serial TV shows that have the two-hour season or series finale released in the theater. An extremely savvy director could simply expand a film by televising 5 hours of story, and, of you want the payoff, finishing the damn thing for $10 a pop at the theater.

    Components of this model already exist, but if the execution is this explicit, you could force millions to go back to the movie theater, which is really what it's all about.

  4. Spot on Chris, the minimalist screen in itself is whack. The inter net has been a powerful tool to exchange energies and propose affinities with like minds. I for one have learned and accepted many ideas on this blog alone. Magic for me is reality manifested, the more the better. With our eyes affixed on the synchronicities that matter, and a heart that is full of compassion and wonder, anything is possible! Wish fulfillment need not contain any dogma or some stupid prayer for above. Create what you want from this life, Tame your ego,and reach for all seven stars. Dennis H.

  5. What an awesome blog post - thanks for sharing :-)

  6. I think this is the first time I agree with anything you have said. Good post!

  7. I remember begging my mom to let me stay up past 9pm so I could see Michael Jackson do the moonwalk on the Grammys. Now that was magical. It seems like were letting that kind of magic bleed out these days. I hope we can restore the imagination and the thrill before the Nothing takes us over.

  8. Good call, Professor knowles, on what Magic is & isn't. Heck, ever since I spoke to my (then living) maternal grandprents about such matters, it was clear to me when even a small boy that it runs in my family. So, that whole solitude thing, I think, is key to Gnoticing its veracity in our lives. When there're confluences of seemingly antagonistic forces at work, that's when I, too, have made the most headway. Reading this put me at the brink of tears, Chris. So, thanks, man, for keeping the light lit. Peace …

  9. Chris, you've hit a bulls eye again--Hollywood is bankrupt. When the bottom line is your guide, should we expect anything less? It will take a whole heck of a lot of magic to transcend the doggerel issuing forth from their dream factories. You are absolutely right--we must seize the opportunities to make our own magic. We can't rely on others or this society to supply the inspiration.

  10. "Today we only hear about loner types when they kill someone."

    Very true.

    I spend a lot of time alone. Not really by choice, even. I'd rather live in some fantasy city with a tight-knight community bustling with awesome people, artists, thinkers and psychonauts of all types after my virtual solitude of the past 10 months, only leaving the house to play music 3 days out of the week. But I will definitely agree, having a sort of hermetic seal on your personal interactions creates a personal mythology that can take you to magical places and all but eliminates any pretense that might develop from the ego wars between students.

    It's good for a while, but man, would I love to get back into civilization... Might sound weird, but after reconfiguring your personal reality, you want to take it for a test drive.

  11. Hey Chris,

    You make a lot of interesting points in this post. I think some of our most intense spiritual experiences come when we're alone. It’s definitely been this way for me.

    I find it useful to think of life as a pulsation or contraction; the dance of an invisible centre where awareness folds inwards and folds outwards continuously like breathing. I say this because being alone seems like a kind of ‘returning’ or folding inward. Everything becomes incredibly immediate and intimate– which is why we often occupy ourselves with boredom or distractions. Being alone, in this sense, is very powerful.

    Friends and family might occupy and enrich us, and we love them for it, but being alone is like being spiritually naked. Exhalation and inhalation both have their place, but I think most of us have the suspicion that the person we are when we’re alone is a slightly different person to the one that interacts with others – perhaps more primal somehow, contradictory, in communion with the questions of our identity.

    I don’t mean to labour the point or exclude the joys of togetherness – only that to be alone is to gather strength. Or at least, it should be. I like the idea of breathing as a form of strength; a gathering inhalation of resources, a pivot-moment of containment and then a joyful exhalation of skill.

    I like this image of strength because it’s humble and cooperative with its environment. How else can you commune with strange secret currents without this kind of quiet, steady strength?

    I love my family and friends and my girlfriend, but I always feel closest to ‘God’ when I’m alone. I usually have my most profound intuitions when I’m alone, when I have time to mull them over and tease their fiction from their fact.

    And as you suggest in the post, this requires patience, a willingness to be confused, and a decent attention-span.

    This is why I’m such a firm believer in reading as a simple, effective way to cultivate intelligence. Because when we read we don’t just read the words, we read the space between the words. We don’t just consume the text, we imbibe the subtext.

    As a writer, Chris, I know you'll appreciate the power of punctuation, for example. The power or meaning a comma or full stop can have. Anything to make the mind and soul more subtle, more dexterous.

    And the kinds of things you’re suggesting in this post herald this kind of navigability. They can open up avenues to powerful, personal magic.


  12. "Nothing worthwhile can be written in 140 characters or less. Nothing worth reading can fit on an 2" by 3" screen." Oof. the poets will probably want your head for that.
    Everything in our society today reminds me of the sci-fi highschool classic Farenheit 451, people are so caught up in the day to day hustle and bustle that it's weird and even seen as creepy to take a slow approach to life.
    I think it really speaks volumes about our society that people DON'T use twitter for poetry, the 140 words or less limit could be considered a challenge. In many cultures, especially in the middle east, poetry isn't seen as some weird thing that only cat ladies do in their spare time- it's something for everyone to be shared with your friends. Lots of people have some of the greatest verses memorized. Here of course if you went and did a feat like that you'd probably be seem as some sort of hippie or useless beatnick punk.

  13. chris,

    "Greetings in the Name of the Great Architect of the Universe."

    Jupiter is in retrograde in Aries and Saturn is gonna go to Libra soon. They will balance each other expansion vs contraction.

    Now as for the magical way of thinking. I remember in the Marvel X-Men the Animated Series the one where Apocalypse "steals" time by stumbling on to the axis of time he gives this speech to Magneto:"Thought is Motion and Motion is Time, they are two things of the same essence..." Some times the "timing" is so right that we are in the magical alignment and sometimes its way off. The alightment time allows us to think magically and be in the flow or the great Dao or Maat.

    First of all in your next post please answer this question, What is a God? Because the definition of a God is some times we take for free without thought.

    btw skulls and bones is 322 take the skull which is one and the toroso is 3 skulls the thigh is 2 skulls and the legs is 2 skulls.

  14. "Art is only as good as its audience and I think the audience gets the art it deserves."

    No wonder we've been treated to three horrible versions of The Three Musketeers in the last twenty years. The last one that I feel truly captured the danger and wonder of the Dumas' work was the one from the 1970s directed by Richard Lester with Michael York, Oliver Reed, and many others.

    And the problem with giving people more magic is what happened with LOST. Many people I know were angry that LOST could not be explained neatly with some science. They were genuinely angry that the show drifted into the spiritual and into mystery.

    Yes, the audience does get what it wants.

  15. amazing man, I concur, magick was afoot when I was a kid in the seventies and eighties... At the same time I am really excited by the fact that this same technology is finding it's way into the hands of the people. For instance what you can do now in terms of music production with just a few good mic's, a mixer and a computer! same thing for film making. At the same time like you said in the article; what has happened to the artist's personal vision... going up to the mountain alone and suffering and coming back with some magick for us? Why are we modern people so scared to not be "plugged in"? Are we that lonely that we need the fakeness of "fakebook" to make us think we have connections with people? I am not a writer, more of a musician, so I will leave the writing to you, I love your blog, keep it up!