Speculation

Speculation. Why do we speculate? Why do we wonder?

There was a time and place in history when it was believed the sun was a fiery chariot. If the chariot was driven too close to the earth, the earth would be scorched by the flames and be barren. Alternately, if the horses of the sun chariot pulled too hard on the reins and veered off course, the earth would be plunged into frozen desperation. It took a god to drive the chariot along the middle path of the heavens.

But, the stars are not made of fire. Fire is an oxidation process, a chemical process. Three elements are needed for fire to happen: oxygen, heat and fuel. Without one of these ingredients a fire cannot start or continue.

Stars are massive, luminous balls of plasma held together by their own gravity. For most of its life, a star shines due to thermonuclear fusion in its core which releases energy that traverses the star’s interior and then radiates into outer space.

Almost all elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were created by fusion processes in stars. Which means the stuff we are made of originated in the stars. But it took several millennia of questioning thought, testing, and speculation to come to this hypothesis.

We are a species of scientists and artists. We are dreamers. We speculate, imagine, brain storm, play, experiment, and problem solve. We are constantly curious and questing. We are constantly seeking the truth, but the truth is a slippery chameleon that changes with the environment. As new understandings arise they change the complexion of the truth. We must be ever curious and questing. We must be looking for the universal truth that will touch souls now and in the future. We must search out the theory that will revolutionize thought and move humanity’s collective understanding forward. We must remember once upon a time the sun was a fiery chariot and we still have not successfully managed to replicate the cold fusion of the stars.

The interests of this blog, my diary, lie in what is, what could be, what will never be except in the imagination, and what might be if the frame of reference is shifted a wee bit. I like to explore ways to nudge the point of view, the reference. I enjoy devious questions. Like, why? And, what if?

I will post my thoughts on writing, creating artwork, developing a creative habit, techniques to develop creativity, interesting information that I encounter in my wayfaring travels over the landscape of the internet, my adventures in trying to make money doing creative endeavors, and whatever else strikes my fancy because far flung ideas, images, and information combined together can lead to innovation.

 

 

Thoughts from Researching Lisa See

I was reading yesterday about the author Lisa See and her various writings and this spawned some different thoughts.

First, her autobiographical book about her family is entitled On Gold Mountain and it is the story of her family coming to the United States and settling in California. As I was reading about this book, I read something in an interview with Lisa See where she commented on that the book that people remember about World War II is the diary of Anne Frank. This is a book written from a very intimate perspective from the experiences of one girl as she is in hiding. Lisa See said something about how this kind of intimate view can sometimes illustrate a story more than the grand perspective.

So this inspired me to think about the intimate story versus the grand view. I was wondering about what kind of science fiction or fantasy stories could be told in the intimate view and what commentary on the current time, past time, or future might be made depending on the stories and the themes. What about an intimate novel told from the perspective of a girl who is a “slip-gene” daughter trying to escape oppression and war in a series of star systems and has been detained for questioning on a Federation space station for six months? What about the story of two brothers who have been captured in a raid on their planet and are being transported to become slaves? What about the story of a street girl who sells processing time that utilizes her brain and does brain damage but the processing time has benefits/minuses to be compared with her real time life?

I am still thinking about what kinds of things are possible and what stories might come from an intimate telling.

Secondly, I read about the background for Lisa See’s novel entitled Peony in Love. The book utilizes a classical Chinese opera called The Peony Pavilion that was first introduced in the late sixteenth century. It was very popular. It also spawned a phenomena whereby lovesick maidens wasted away. The opera is about a character named Liniang who sees her true love in a dream and wastes away and is then brought back to life by the love. Educated and isolated young women from the upper classes of China would see this opera and then waste away and die in hopes of having some control over their lives. These women had little control and were married to men they would never see prior to their marriages. The hope in starving was that they would get some choice in who they would marry. The opera also inspired another book that was written by the three wives in sequence of one man that was called The Three Wives’ Commentary. It was a piece about The Peony Pavilion and it was written by women. Lisa See wanted people to know about this book and other writings that were published in China by women– thousands of pieces of poetry, literature, and commentary were written by women and published in China at a time when little was written and published by women anywhere else in the world.

I had several thoughts that were inspired by learning all of this. One was about the circumstances around The Peony Pavilion and how this particular opera touched the souls of so many women and inspired a type of fantastical hope that caused their demise. The opera had a type of power because it was relevant in an incredibly meaningful way at that time and place. I am still thinking on what would be something that would touch so many in such a powerful way (and hopefully not so destructive a way) now in our time and place.

I was also just thinking about how the facts of things are sometimes obscured. For instance, I did not know that there were thousands of women writing and publishing in China in the seventeenth century. I know now and I will go looking for translations of some of their writings. The slippery representation of history via perspectives from the present is nothing new.

I was also thinking about the way that Lisa See wrote the character of Peony in Peony in love. Peony is a “hungry ghost” through much of the novel and a great deal about Chinese ritual, customs, and metaphysics comes through. This got me thinking in some different directions and I may need to email a friend or two to brainstorm with me.

Thoughts Released Like Birds

I have too many ideas fluttering through my mind all at the same time and they are playing tug of war with my attention to establish which one will receive the prize of my concentration. Currently none of them are winning so this post may be a little scattered. I am going to release them all in a flock.

Poetry
I awoke this morning with lines of poetry flitting like sparrows at the edges of my dreams. Must deal with the poetry. I wrote a few yesterday that did not greatly impress me, but the poetry nags at me sometimes until I work on it. Poetry can be worse than a spouse and much harder to clean up after.

Art
I was thinking on art last night and decided that I like the idea of art in the here and now. Something that takes on value for the uniqueness of being placed in a particular context and at a particular time. If I draw a chalk drawing on the sidewalk, it has a certain interactive life that a museum masterpiece will never have. It is by its nature temporally situated. Not timeless. Because even as a memory it will change and fade. It can only be actively encountered by someone who takes the time to observe it and remember it and maybe photograph it. It has to be experienced in some ways. If it rains, the art changes. If it is smudged by foot traffic, it is a new piece. If it is vandalized, it has been co-opted or enhanced. It becomes potentially a dialogue in any of these situations as opposed to being static communication. Further, does it change the sense of geography? I am not sure.

Culture
Is culture a function of geography or mind? I live on the North American continent and consider American culture part of Western culture as opposed to Eastern culture. But American culture is certainly not European culture and American culture is certainly not remotely like any of the tribal cultures of the native people that occupied this continent prior to the invasion of people from Europe. So what defines culture and where is it derived from? How long does it take for a distinct culture to arise in a geographic location?

New Orleans and New York have distinct personas and a sense of unique cultures. Writing from the American South has a unique regional flavor so to speak. The Midwest of America is really only unique as a region in its sense of blandness. So is this Midwestern culture? Recently I was reading about Theodore Roethke who grew up in Michigan and how his poetry has a definite sense of nature about it. Michigan, outside of Southeastern Michigan, is very rural. Would writing that comes from Michigan then have a rural, natural aesthetic? Or a gritty urban feel because of the factory culture and the automotive industry? What defines and creates culture?

Over the weekend I was in a discussion about cultural appropriation. It occurred to me this morning that as an American I am not sure that I can do anything but appropriate other cultures. The US is such an infusion of different cultures I think it is unavoidable. I live in Ann Arbor. We have a huge international community in Ann Arbor. There are several Asian and Middle Eastern grocery stores. We have Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Christians, and every conceivable religion in our small Midwestern town. I have met people from every continent on the planet in Ann Arbor and heard many different languages. I don’t know that I could describe succinctly the “culture” of Ann Arbor. Which part of Ann Arbor? Which subgroup?

I came to the conclusion over the weekend that for the purposes of writing fiction, I am nervous about the idea of cultural appropriation with the intent of creating a certain flavor in the fiction. I still feel this. I think if an author is creating a piece with a certain theme or intent and pulling a trope from the folklore of a culture it needs to be well thought out, respectful, and done in a quality way to preserve cultural meaning or expand meaning. Creating something that is shoddy is derogatory to the culture of origin and does damage. A superficial treatment of cultural elements does not introduce that culture to a wider audience or broadened anyone’s understanding, it creates misunderstanding. It also could lead to a type of overexposure and non-caring dismissal of the trope. As in the case of vampires.

I Worry for the Vampires

I Worry For the Vampires

Cultural appropriation in fiction has been happening for centuries. When entertainment consisted of storytellers roaming from one hall or keep to the next they used whatever interesting stories that they had heard along the way. They pulled from different sources to keep their material fresh and entertaining. They were no different than modern day novelists, they needed to earn their bread. Good stories spread far and wide and often are repeated. It is no coincidence that many of the Norse and Roman gods are similar to the Greek gods. Cultural appropriation is not to be faulted for the loss of a culture’s stories or creative inspiration. Cultural appropriation can keep cultural archetypes alive and be a source of ongoing creativity.

Tolkien was an English writer, philologist, and university professor who pulled heavily from Scandinavian mythology to create the world of his high fantasy novels. Even though he created a language for the novels because he was interested in linguistics and the structure of language, he still drew from images and tropes of the Scandinavian sagas to give his writing a base to structure his created world upon. His work was not the first fantasy ever created. Rosetti’s “The Goblin Market” is frequently credited with that distinction. Since Tolkien first wrote his fantasies, he has been often imitated to the point where the standard quest fantasy involving a dwarven fighter, an elven archer, a magic user, and a few other humans has almost become cliché. Brooks’ Shannara series was so popular in the later 1970’s around the time when the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons came out that it created a new genre that distinguished itself to publishers and was distinctly labeled “fantasy” fiction. The cultural appropriation from the Scandinavian myths that Tolkien began is forgotten as Scandinavian and has become mainstream to the point of being somewhat tired and in need of an infusion of new creative ideas. The trolls, dragons, ice giants, elves, and fearsome faeries of Northern European folklore have lost their ability to inspire fear. Most people who think of elves imagine helpful cobblers or cookie making corporate logos. Tinkerbell is the image of a fairy that springs to most people’s minds. The movie “How To Tame Your Dragon” recast the dragons not as monsters, but as misinterpreted creatures being bullied by another bad dragon. These mythic creatures have lost their verve. For now. Until someone new comes along and breathes fresh ideas into these tropes and transforms them to hit the cultural nerve of the time period.

Another trope of fiction more central to our ideas of what is horrific is the archetype of the vampire. Bram Stoker pulled from Eastern European folk traditions to create Count Dracula. When children dress as Dracula at Halloween, they little resemble the vampires from history who were poor hapless people who were killed, the corpses decapitated, or the dead who had had a brick shoved between their teeth to prevent them rising and drinking blood. Would vampires as a magical creature have been lost if Stoker had not written about them? They have inspired a great deal of creative fiction since the publication of Dracula. To the point where I worry for the vampires of our time period.

Cultural appropriation is not wrong. Cultural appropriation is a cultural process that automatically happens when different groups of people come into contact with one another and begin sharing ideas. Those whose job it is to entertain will pull from whatever sparks their creativity and sells. Stoker pulled from stories about Vlad the Impaler and Eastern European folklore to write a novel that was considered very risque for its time. It re-invented vampires and they have continued to be a creature that inspires writers.

However, fantasy tropes can be reduced down and lose emotional vibrancy by over exposure. Vampires were terrifying monsters in Eastern European folk lore and there are tales of shape shifting, predatory, once human creatures stalking mankind in a variety of cultures all over the world. The trope at its root has potency. It used to inspire delicious shivers of fear and held a tension of terror. Anne Rice in her vampire series took the faceless but fanged monsters of the vampire stories and breathed new life into them. Her vampires were tortured by the requirements of their survival. Or not. Lestat was fascinating because he seized life and drank it in at every opportunity. Without apology. And the irony was that he was a vampire.

And now.

We have Edward who steps out into a meadow’s clearing and sparkles in the sunlight. He cares completely for Bella and refrains from his dangerous nature in order to love her. Via Stephanie Meyer’s reinterpretation of the trope, vampires have become overexposed. They have been sanitized and reduced down to the safe romantic fantasy of school girls barely warmed with the first blush of womanhood. A vampire has become Prince Charming.

I worry for the vampires. Not because they have been uprooted from their Eastern European home, but because they have been burned in the light of overuse. Reduced from the powerful archetype that they are– were. Their fangs have been filed down for photo opportunities. I hope that a few monsters still lurk in the darkness and perhaps the vampire can be resurrected at a later date. They are among the undead. The basic theme of a creature that steals life energy out of need and to sustain itself, selfishly and unnaturally, has potential to be repeatedly reinterpreted throughout time as culture changes. This requires creativity and looking at the the trope with fresh eyes. Vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, dragons, trolls, giants, and faeries have not suffered because of cultural appropriation. As cultural motifs they have been spread far and wide and more people know of the cultures that these mythical creatures came from. As story elements they do suffer at times in their histories from overuse and a lack of creative handling. Just as corn hybrids need to be bred back to the ancestral maize of Mexico from time to time to restore strength to the hybrids, perhaps the cultural motifs need to be re-energized from time to time by a return to something closer to their roots and they need to be allowed to rest underground. Underground in the faery mounds and beneath tombstones. After that they can arise again to entertain and cause moments of terror.