Archive for October, 2013

She just had to finish that novel!

She just had to finish that novel!

Ah, tonight and indeed for a considerable span of time during autumn, the veil between consensual reality and everything else is thin. In places it cracks, allowing all sorts of things to slip through. Small children in costumes and the dead come immediately to mind, but of course they’re only the tip of the iceberg. There’s much more out there, or in here, depending on your analytical perspective.
Here’s a Halloween tale to ponder.
Charlaine Harris, author of a humorous mystery series, has received death threats after concluding the series at book 13. The announcement of the series end was made in May, and there was vituperative outrage from fans (?) then. But apparently something new has happened, because there’s a sudden outpouring of response to Harris and “author death threats” on social media sites frequented by authors, including me.
So what’s this about? The standard interpretation is that these people threatening mayhem and murder over mere fiction are obviously “wacko, loony, deranged, fill-in-the-blank.” Bottom line – they aren’t “normal,” which of course the rest of us are.
On one level that’s true, but here’s the thing. “Normal” is a closed system, a hothouse in which we are protected from everything scary, excessive and weird. But the veil (those steamy hothouse windows) cracks sometimes, permitting the entry of spooks.
Like the fact that, hey, it’s all fiction! The attachment of Harris’s readers to her characters is no less real than the attachment of many to movie stars, presidents or mythological figures. I know a woman whose house is filled with JFK memorabilia; she goes into full mourning every year on November 23 and cries at the mention of his name at any time. She’s not remotely “wacko,” has a happy family and high-level job. And would, at least in her mind, kill Lee Harvey Oswald or the conspirators actually behind the Kennedy assassination if she had a chance. As might thousands locked in a similar attachment, if they could blame the death of Elvis on anybody but Elvis.
We’re wired for these attachments to fictional/fictionalized embodiments of ideas and feelings. They happen only in our minds, contribute to our identities, never change and thus never betray us. And woe to anybody who messes with them!
As, in this case, the author who created them and, godlike, can put an end to them. In the realm between fiction and reality, it’s always Halloween.

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Europe and Desert 119Another memorial service yesterday – a wonderful one with an open bar and a live band, exactly what the deceased would want. Still, the dependable presence of that person, that mind, is no longer here, and that’s a loss no amount of “celebrating” can diminish.

Okay, it’s that time of life, but peers dying in significant numbers is… I was going to say “unnerving” but it’s not that. It’s more like a gradual free-fall as links to minds who share one’s world-view and require no explanations, vanish. Four of those minds have very recently taken off on the heels of eight previous flights – all smart, educated, interesting, feminist, socially and/or politically engaged friends/acquaintances. Leaving me with a strange awareness that if, as seems likely, I keep living, I’ll have to spend entirely too much time explaining what terms like “misogynist” and “sexist” mean even if Hillary runs and the Republicans design ever-nastier buttons.

It’s sort of like that September after high school when everybody leaves for college and you know nothing’s ever going to be the same again. Except this time they’re all off to some impossibly distant and fascinating grad school while I stay behind and write novels. Which is okay; I like staying behind and writing novels! But the spate of recent deaths made me ask where I got the grad school idea, which is weird but for some reason resonates.

I’d forgotten, but I got it from somebody named James Padgett (http://www.jamesepadgett.com/, who may or may not be a multiply-removed relative. Years ago I received, and declined, an invitation to be honored as his descendant at a church in Los Angeles devoted to his ideas. I’d never heard of him but was curious, looked him up and stumbled onto a story somebody should write. Because James, while about as far from “eccentric wacko” as it’s possible to get (he was a successful Washington, DC. attorney), rather reluctantly became a spiritualist, a medium who recorded 2,640 messages from his dead wife, Helen, and other spiritual entities. Yeah.

Of course James’s whole experience can easily be seen in subjective psychological/sociological terms – he was a stressed single parent, grieving the death of his wife, during an era in which spiritualism was widely popular among educated people. Even so, he feared professional censure and kept his automatic writing revelations private, which fact is significant. No cornball huckster deluding people for a buck, James just went on for nine years doing his thing, alone. There’s something to be said for that.

He transcribed all these messages between 1914 when Helen died and 1923 when he died, and of course spiritualism was all the rage back then, so he was taken seriously by the few friends with whom he shared his experience. And apparently still is taken seriously, since his ideas have contemporary adherents and an organization. The ideas are buried in heavily altered but nonetheless recognizable Protestant/Christian terminology (he was a pillar of his Methodist church in DC), but if you strip all that out, what’s left is a description by Helen and others of a tiered afterlife system that sounds more Buddhist than Christian. It also sounds like fun. Levels of awareness through which the soul must journey. Grad school! Buddhists would say, “ stream-enterer, once-returner, non-returner, and arahant.” For me it’s Baccalaureate, Master’s, Ph. D. and post-doc. Something to look forward to. Eventually.

Meanwhile, I wonder how my friends are doing every time I hear Pomp and Circumstance.

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