A writer, if they’re lucky, doesn’t know what time it is. A writer, if they’re lucky, doesn’t know which day of the week it is. Hours, days, weeks, months, are nothing more than Now… and Now is anytime. It’s any place the work is.
As Mary Magdalene, I studied in the Great Library of Alexandria. And when I was done filling my head with the knowledge of the world, I walked the land of what Rome called Palestine with Jesus. I was his teacher. I was his Beloved Companion. And we talked to all who would listen as I worked for seven years on The Secret Magdalene.
I was born during the last part of the fourth century to Alexandria’s leading mathematician breathing the air of of Rome’s Egypt as Hypatia . In my time, I was exalted beyond all women and most men, and then, still young, still fair, still revered by thousands, I was cruelly brought down by a few in a way hard to comprehend. And when that was done, the world tried to forget me.
I was pampered and rich, white and foolish in the city of San Francisco. It was the Roaring Twenties and I fell in love with a man forbidden to me, a man I destroyed in China Blues.
I was a writer, a woman who destroyed herself in a small town in a sweet slice of green called Vermont… or perhaps I recreated myself? Running from what I had done, I found a haunted hotel to die in. Or to live in forever. As I wrote Houdini Heart, I did not plan or plot or scheme. The work simply came with barely a change of word when it was finished. I don’t know if my hotel was haunted. I don’t know if everything is haunted, but I suspect it is.
Over my own years, the years I live as Ki, these things come to me. They are almost easy now. But only because I prepared for their coming. I learned how to write by reading. I learned how to write by writing. I took no course. I followed no rules but those that seemed mine. They were never mine. Story telling is ancient and all who listen know when a story is right and when it is wrong. They did not get taught this. Humans are born to tell stories or to hear them.
If the life you live seems pale to you, uneventful, unimportant, all that can change with a word. Even better, with thousands of words. Read them or write them. Better, do both. And you too will forget what time it is and your life will seemingly last forever.
Writers and artists have often stood up for social and political beliefs. They’ve been silenced for it, sent to Stalin’s Siberia or Hitler’s concentration camps for it, stood up against walls. Hell only knows exactly what the Chinese or Koreans or Muslim terrorists do. But it’s bad. I’m not that kind of writer. I love what artists make, I care deeply about our planet and all lifeforms on it that are essentially innocent of its destruction, namely very young children, all animals, most women. In the historical novel form I write about what I know is the answer to human fear and greed and the insanity that grows from these like tumors. In The Secret Magdalene and in Flow Down like Silver I write in the hope I am able to give people that answer: awakening. Not to set aside the ego. The ego is a necessary tool to live in the world. But we have exalted the ego high above the spirit. And the ego is afraid and it works not for the good of all, but for its own perceived safety and gain.
I become more and more political now. As a species we have been destructive in so many ways for so long. The Earth could, until recently, accommodate our selfish wasteful violence. But we are fast reaching a time when it can’t accommodate us. The Earth has known almost the complete eradication of life at least 6 times. Over billions of years, it blooms again. This time, the eradication of life will take us with it: the pollution of the environment, the death of the sea, the extinction of every sort of other living form but ours, Monsanto’s evil design on owning genetically altered seeds, outlawing the use of natural seeds, and poisoning the land with pesticides, Big Oil’s hideously irresponsible dirty oil pipeline across Canada and the US. These terrible things will not take the Earth. As ever, the Earth will survive. But we won’t. Short term greed and fear and the insane need for power will take us down as a species. So I become political… something I thought I would never again do after watching the calculating media’s (spurred on behind the scenes) destruction of the brilliant and caring Howard Dean as a presidential candidate. I sign almost every petition sent me by Moveon.org or Dean’s “Democracy for America.” Does it do any good? Yes, it does. Loss of votes means loss of power. Those who have or seek power care about this.
But there is really only one true answer to all this madness. For every soul on Earth to know its source, to KNOW it is divine. Well, perhaps not all, but for enough to wake up in love and grace and understanding that ALL is One. “Enough” means millions.
What we do to what we see as “others,” we do to ourselves. And others do not include only what we call human, it means ALL others: plants, other species, the Earth itself.
If only millions could awake NOW to what we truly are and to what those still asleep are doing. Pipe dream? Perhaps.
But then I am an artist, and artists are prone to Pipe Dreams.
Is there a high school, a college, an online “university” that does not offer a course in creative writing? Perhaps, but if you want to be a writer, you’re not going there. Courses in “creative” writing light a candle in your mind. You believe, you hope, someone can teach you to write. In some ways, they can. Sort of. They offer the tools of grammar. They speak of style and “voice” and symbols. They introduce you to those who’ve written and gotten noticed for their efforts. They evaluate and compare them. (A hopeless task to me, a disservice to the work, but that’s me. As all people are different in their similarities, so too are all writers. As an example taken only from myself… how do I compare Flow Down Like Silver, an historical novel about Hypatia of Alexandria, with Houdini Heart. Houdini Heart is magical realism, it’s horror. How do these compare?) They provide you with a platform to share your work. You listen to the work of others.
When you accept your degree, are you now a writer?
I’ve often been asked how to write. I have no answer but this: “Sit down and write.” Oh, I almost forgot. “Read what you consider the best. Emulate them. Do this long enough and there will come a day when you’ll find yourself writing in words coming from somewhere inside YOU.”
Albert Huffstickler, a Texan and a poet, once said, “My identity comes and goes. That part of me that doesn’t know who it is is where the writing comes from. Over that part of me, I have pasted a thin veneer called, The Poet. It is not what I am. It is what I do. I use words to describe what is going on in that part of me that doesn’t know who it is. That part is sometimes a cauldron and sometimes a very still place, like a deep lake and sometimes it is more like a wind. It is what I am before I was and what I will be when I am no longer. Left alone, I live with the truth that I don’t know who I am or what I am until the next thing appears to be written. I don’t know how to change this. If I could make that part of me that is constantly in flux into something measured and identifiable, then I would no longer write. I write out of the not-knowing-who-I-am. This is what I am. I am that-which-does-not-know-what-it-is. I am process. I am poetry.”
And that, profoundly and beautifully expressed, is the essence of writing. Or painting. Or music. Or or or. It’s what an artist IS. Their work. And it can’t be taught.
Sit down and write. It’s as simple as that. You don’t know who you are any more than Albert did. Or I do. No one does. Be process. Explore yourself.
A long time ago I began a book about Mary Magdalene. I honestly don’t know why. I’d never given her much thought. I am not a Christian. Truthfully, I do not subscribe to any religion. Religion, to me, is not spiritual. It’s a human construct carefully designed to control and direct the human desire for meaning. I long for meaning as much as anyone, but have never sought it from other humans. Dogma is dogma, no matter which religion we speak of. As for the Magdalene…perhaps if I’d known it would absorb seven years of my life, I might have set it aside and written a sequel to The Saggy Baggy Elephant instead. But day after day went by and The Secret Magdalene grew word by word, sentence by sentence. And then, one amazing morning, I honestly believed I had finished.
But something niggled at me, whispering: You are not finished. More would have their say. So back I went to the keyboard and out came Flow Down Like Silver. I wish I could say it “flowed.” But I can’t. To slip under the skin of Hypatia of Alexandria was no easy thing…especially with so little truly known about her. Hopeful speculations, unsupported hopes, dogged assumptions, but facts? So few, so very few. Hypatia and I struggled for three years. Less time than the Magdalene only because in researching Mariamne I’d found so much that applied to Hypatia.
This time I knew I wasn’t finished. I thought the Magdalene had more to say. And back I went to the words, a letter at a time. I finished that book. It’s called The Woman Who Knew the All. But when the last word was typed and I’d lifted my hands from the keyboard, I already knew it wasn’t right. I’d known it as I wrote it. Some of it was. Some of it was very right. But as a whole, no. Something was very wrong. I could not offer it for publication. So I let it rest quietly by itself. Perhaps when I went back?
And while waiting I wrote Houdini Heart, absolutely nothing like I’d spent years of my life writing and feeling and thinking about. Houdini Heart came fast. It did flow. And then it too was finished.
Back I went to the last of my trilogy of the Divine Feminine…simply words allowing me a way to think about what I thought I was doing. I thought The Woman Who Knew the All could be “fixed.” She could be rewritten, re-felt. But something in me said: This is not the voice that would speak. A new voice awaits you. Listen for her. I trust my heart. I trust what it whispers to me. So I left the Magdalene in her file and waited. A month ago, She came, the woman who would speak the last of what needed to be said. By me? Through me? Does it matter? I don’t know her name yet. But I do know the name she would call her book. THE TIME OF THE BEE. And I know when it takes place: in the last moment of the Goddess, almost 12,000 years ago.
Not what I expected at all. But whatever is?
To speak of freedom, one usually means freedom from the physical oppression of one’s fellow man (or woman…once us females get the chance and if we take it). Here I speak of a much more insidious lack of freedom, or slavery to come closer to the truth. To be burdened by something like our new corporate state is bad enough, but to be controlled by a system of belief is crippling. In Flow Down Like Silver, my true-life heroine, Hypatia of Alexandria, struggles against the blind beliefs of her students in the hope she can open their eyes to a broader deeper truth.
You and I, we all of us come dragging behind us as much “belief baggage,” and are weighted down with as many chains of unquestioned assumptions, as Jacob Marley’s ghost. We have to be. We’re human. And no human alive lives without a set of beliefs firmly embedded in their psyche, maybe even encoded in their DNA. Not only were we taught these belief-truths from the moment we opened our brand new eyes on this gorgeous world, we had them hard-wired in as a means to survival. Our assumptions about “truth” are the glue of our personal reality.
Come to Earth as humans, we all share human beliefs about reality–but modified if we are born, say, a Hindu. In other words, if born to Hindus, we should be Hindus. If born to Jews or to Muslims or to Christians or to atheists, we should all almost certainly be as they are. Arriving in a clutch of Born-Agains, we go through hell on earth–and pray for the Rapture to get us the heck out of here. Even born to the once-lovely Hippies, we come into this world trailing yards and yards of gauzy wide-eyed belief.
Unless we learn to ask questions.
Most of us have much to thank our parents for. Quite a few have a lot to complain about. As for me, I have really only this (which is both gift and curse): my parents taught me nothing. I missed out on the usual indoctrination. I can’t recall a single conversation about religion. Or one about social status, ie: racism. Or politics. Come to think, where the hell were my parents when I was growing up? Not parenting, that’s for sure. When they were around, I remember gossip. I recall fights. They weren’t exactly drunks, but the smell of liquor still makes me ill. There was always the television, and they certainly watched that. While they were doing all this, I was reading books. Even so, I had a roof over my head, and food more often than not. I had clothes and toys and whatever else a child needs to stay alive. What I did not have was cherishing. Or instruction.
All this became part of Houdini Heart, a book of supernatural horror heavily based on my youth.
As I said, this is a curse. But it’s also a blessing. I did not have to unlearn what was taught me as “truths.” I did not have to struggle to rid myself of my parent’s beliefs. I did not have to free myself from church or mosque or temple or even nude dancing in the woods. I held fast to no social dictum. I was born free of these things. And that includes the freedom to embrace any of them all by myself should they ever appeal. None of them have.
Which means I was born free to create myself out of nothing but my own thoughts and reactions to the Grand Mass Illusion I’d opened my illusory eyes on.
I paid a heavy price for this, but it was worth every anguish along the way.
Dear you and me,
Since we barely know ourselves, it’s hardly surprising to find we don’t know anyone else at all. We pretend we do, but in our hearts we know we don’t. And just as we create ourselves on the fly, we create others; those we invest the most in are those who make us feel very good or very bad. To some we give all the wonder we deny ourselves. And to some we accord all we think ourselves guilty of.
And to some we give divinity. We call them saints or gurus or avatars or a hundred other names. We are sure they know what we can never know, that they are what we can never be. And to them we hand over our very souls.
Writing Flow Down Like Silver,” I went looking for Hypatia of Alexandria…and found a dozen Hypatias, two dozen. Were any Hypatia herself? Were any even close? I doubt it. Those who have heard of her, revere her. And those who revere her do so for reasons that may never have had a single thing to do with the woman who knew herself as the daughter of Theon of Alexandria. Was she chaste as so many want her to be? Was she a “pure” scientist as those who believe in pure science insist she was? Was she young when she died? And lovely? Or was she, as others confidently assert, older, fading, no beauty at all, at best a commentator on the work of her betters come before her?
Known facts are like bone. If there are enough, we have a skeleton on which we can hang all the flesh we wish. But there are few known facts about Hypatia. Her date of birth, her physicality, her family beyond her father, whether she traveled or never left Alexandria, whether she was a Hellentist in body as well as mind, her actual work…none of these things are ours.
I muse on this as I remember my Hypatia. What do I know? What does anyone know? But as one of my heroes, Socrates, said: “To know one knows nothing is the beginning of wisdom.”
Oh, how wise I am.