The Long Curve of Descent
One morning, when I was four years old, I was sitting on the third-floor back porch of my family’s three-decker. It was 1958, and Worcester, Massachusetts, was still regarded as the industrial heart of New England. Looking out, I could see smoke puffing from tall smokestacks, a freight-yard and a railroad bridge, hills with houses perched on them that rolled into the distance, and, a few miles off, on one of the highest hills, the gothic architecture of Holy Cross College. How wonderful the day was! I could not have asked for a more perfect moment. My grandmother had given me a large chunk of clay. And then, I was no longer looking out over Worcester; no, I was hovering above the Amazon, making snakes, canoes, and villagers out of the substance in my hands.
As I worked, however, I became frustrated. It occurred to me that I had succumbed to a creative block. I grew angry. I could not believe what I was seeing. My hands were small. My mind just barely worked. My imagination seemed like a blunt instrument. As absurd as it sounds, I remembered what it was like to create real snakes and villagers.
Since that morning, I have explored a variety of methods to get from the place where my feet are planted to the larger space that surrounds me, which is not, of course, mine in any personal sense. The path has been a labyrinthine one. My raids on the inexpressible have imposed many contradictory demands. Scholarship and meditation have opened onto vision, onto a mode of knowledge as intimate as it is vast. An ocean, of a sort, boiled, and I could feel the enormous pressure on my skin. Convulsing on the current, I was thrown here and there. Over time, the heat of vision has given way to a much cooler sense of transparency. But always, there are gaps, which demand that I let go of any sense of certainty, which also ask that the reader play a more active role. When a leap of association has been left hanging in mid-air, the reader should use his or her intuition to complete it, thus creating a connection that could not otherwise have existed.
Without gaps being left, and without the active participation they require of all involved, visionary writing may serve as no more than a travelogue. This approach has led some to accuse me of obscurity. Obscure my work may be, but it is not accidentally so, and I would be happy to be able to move more directly towards my goals.
In a critique of my essay “Memories of Mr. Trippi: The Trauma of an Urban Shaman,” Dave Hanson wrote:
So as you step in and out of the implicate order I can only suggest looking at your intention, honing your control, looking for opportunities to heal others, and seriously questioning everything you experience on the journey. I would like your writing more if it was more simple and direct, but that is me. I don’t know that just because something comes to us from ‘the spirits’ it is any more meaningful than the sound of the toilet flushing. I’m surrounded by people who ‘see things.’ I don’t understand the underlying meanings of most of it, so I plant more vegetables.
My dog died. I miss him. I can feel his body under my hand. My wife is working too hard and worries too much. I have a broken ankle and hate crutches. I can’t do what I love to do and when I’m back on my feet I’ll waste precious time. A Native American spirit showed me a painting I am supposed to do, over twenty years ago, and I haven’t done it…Can your visions help heal another? That’s all there is.1In August of 2009, I posted an essay in Reality Sandwich called “Memories of Mr. Trippi: The Trauma of an Urban Shaman.” “The Long Curve of Descent” grew out of an exchange with writer and shamanic teacher Dave Hanson. I have kept Dave’s comments exactly as they appeared. My response, however, has been expanded and revised a number of times, most recently in April of 2017. It might seem absurd to waste time and energy on something as insubstantial as an online forum. I take dialogue seriously, however. I like to be surprised. What sense does it make to prejudge the source of this surprise? I find that offhand comments—whether from forums or ongoing correspondence—can serve as creative prompts, which nudge me to see things from unexpected angles, to give form to my intuitions, and to say things that I might not otherwise say.
I responded: As regards “healing”: my small role as a healer has to do with the reclamation of collective memory. In my explorations, bits and pieces of lost history become clear, “as if lit for the first time by a brilliant star,” as de Chirico would say. For whatever it is worth, I then attempt to tell others what I see. For me, healing has to do with the discovery of our wholeness, which exists, to some extent, beyond us. This challenge is like the real gesture that we make with our prosthetic hand. There is water in a cup. It waits for centuries for us to drink it. Yet, though broken, we have never ceased to be whole.
Upon birth, having exited from the All beneath the stern gaze of Necessity, we are only allowed to bring a few meaningless details with us. One by one, the pages vanish from the book, as, earlier, our footprints had vanished from the ocean. Only mist marks the biodomes of the cities that we left. A buoy clangs, in the distance, somewhere. We have forgotten more than even the omnipotent are aware of, far more than they know themselves. Trauma locks the doors to the dark theatre of the body. We Are What We Eat: the bread of dreams, the sewage of the dead. The rest is junk DNA—or so our controllers would prefer us to believe. A strange presence guards the other half of each symbol.
I would speak truth to the powers that oppress us, who are not in any way the monsters that we think. As we breathe out, they breathe in, and vice versa. It is our pose of wide-eyed innocence that has tempted them to act badly. Our stealth has been impeccable; it has, perhaps, been TOO impeccable, by a factor of 10,000. We have shown few tells.
“Who are we? Where do we come from? What are we here for? Where are we going?” These are the questions that the writer and the artist have been hoodwinked by society into asking. Such questions are stupid. We should know better. It is possible that they constitute a crime against the Soul. In the stomach of each reader, I would plant and tend the acorn of Omphalos, the one intersection, in order to make the asking of such questions obsolete.
You correctly place a great emphasis on healing, but please do not underestimate the energies that one can transmit at a distance, or the shock of synchronistic knowledge, whose spark jumps from the writer’s hand. “You have just woven together about ten important things that I was thinking about today,” wrote one reader. “There is a project that I’ve been putting off starting for a year, and now you have pushed me to do it.” One well-placed action can reconstitute the Web. True, cyberspace is not hyperspace, but perhaps it can function as a crude approximation. And it is always possible that the one is—very sneakily—preparing us for the other.
You have asked, “Can your visions heal another?” I tend to view myself more as a catalyst than a healer—a role that has a higher percentage of the energy of the Trickster—but the two roles are related. The term “shaman” is used somewhat ironically in the essay. I would make no claim to be one, any more than I would speak casually about world transformation, as so many do. There are more than enough snake-oil salesmen. Preferring to learn from real snakes, I would reverse engineer the most dangerous of toxins. What the snakes do not know, the birds may be willing to volunteer, so long as one is open to the removal of one’s head. From long before Gobekli Tepe had been built, such birds have been looking for new spheres with which to juggle. They may or may not choose to return some version of the plaything to its owner. Neither snakes nor birds see safety as important. As goes the head, so goes the year from which it comes.
Jasun Horsley once pointed out that whenever I would go to write “2012” it would always come out “2112”—a kind of metaphysical Freudian slip. One antediluvian date is probably just as good as another. Can one individual be healthy if the world died long ago? As I probe my wounds, I am hesitant to give others the peace of mind that I do not allow to myself. Shock at one’s corpse-like decrepitude can be viewed as a big plus. “Vision” and “healing” may not always coincide.
Since the end of the Paleolithic Era, it is possible that we have been riding a long curve of descent, in which all things once transparent have become more and more opaque. We do not remember what our hands are for. Our speech is inert. Our intelligence cannot exit from the top part of the skull, a door whose key has been broken off in its keyhole, an aperture that lacks oil. Once, our story had been written on the leaves of a great tree. The leaves have been torn off. The glyphs on them are illegible, and the tree is now a stump. Preprogrammed from beyond the clockwork of the stars, the decline that we have experienced does not appear as such; no, some trick of perspective causes us to hallucinate an ascent.
Archetypes break like toys, left over from a childhood that never did exist. We discard them. We ask, “Why is it so difficult for us to see into the cosmos?” We speak loudly. We do not hear the response. The cultures that we dismembered have been sucked into a cloud. Their outcries circle, and then fall like rain. The last civic structures are consumed by a decentralized plutocracy. “Who put you in charge?” we demand. “Do you have any vision at all?” The answers we get do not correspond to the questions that we ask, or rather, they do not correspond to the answers that we want. “May you live in interesting times,” goes the Chinese curse. We do, for better or for worse, live in “interesting times,” in which we must reconfigure all traditionally fixed roles. At the age of 62, I am just beginning to figure out what my public role might be.
A role is a social construct, with a set of rules attached; society can make no rules that the Self is obligated to obey. Why should space concern itself with the shoe size of its mouthpiece? To point people towards what they know but have chosen to forget may be no more than an exercise in futility. Some types of exercise are almost certainly good; others, not so much. Still, I find myself at a perpetual beginning as I test the strength of my lineage, tongue-tied, a bit nervous, as naked as a child who has just stepped from the womb. And here I had pretended to have the answers to each question! “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself,” as Whitman said.
For such is the prerogative of the preexistent Voice, and of its vehicle: WE.
All periods cohere in the one moment of my Memory. With a shock, one notes that the old becomes new. By the power of my austerities I have vacuumed up all of the water from the ocean. Cities shine there. I am Death—the Shatterer of Worlds. My weapon liberates multitudes.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||In August of 2009, I posted an essay in Reality Sandwich called “Memories of Mr. Trippi: The Trauma of an Urban Shaman.” “The Long Curve of Descent” grew out of an exchange with writer and shamanic teacher Dave Hanson. I have kept Dave’s comments exactly as they appeared. My response, however, has been expanded and revised a number of times, most recently in April of 2017. It might seem absurd to waste time and energy on something as insubstantial as an online forum. I take dialogue seriously, however. I like to be surprised. What sense does it make to prejudge the source of this surprise? I find that offhand comments—whether from forums or ongoing correspondence—can serve as creative prompts, which nudge me to see things from unexpected angles, to give form to my intuitions, and to say things that I might not otherwise say.|