On The Modern-Day Mystic.
Once upon a time, long, long ago, art, literature, science, philosophy, and religion were all a part of the same discipline. Call it mysticism. As our understanding of the world that surrounded us grew, each of these fields of knowledge expanded, and started to become distinct from one another. The mystics started to fade into irrelevance. When the priests, the scientists, and the philosophers went their separate ways, all that was left for the mystics were the arts, leaving the musicians, the poets, the artists and the writers all as mystics of the modern world..
This story, as oversimplified and apocryphal as it may be, is at the root of my dedication to the arts. They are a means to soothe the human spirit, a balm to the weary heart, worn down by existence. They are also a way to expose truth; a way to reach into a world that we sometimes perceive but cannot touch, and to bring back wisdom.
There was a time at which we learned nearly everything through story. Storytelling is universal across all known cultures and all backgrounds. Story has a powerful ability to teach and convince. Hearing or reading a story activates experiential areas of the brain, allowing the reader/listener to experience the events of the story on their own.
Story has given power and elegance to our religious traditions; it feeds a part of us that science and history can’t. Story allows us to touch the nature of humanity and then to share it with others. In cases of live storytelling, studies indicate that the activity in the listener’s brain begins to mimic the activity in the storyteller’s brain as they both experience the story, resulting in a deep and primal form of communication that neither party may be aware that they’re participating in.
And this power of storytelling exists in all of the other arts as well, because art and music and dance are all just different forms of storytelling.
I never thought I was going to be a writer growing up.
Everyone always made a lot of fuss over the fact that I was an artistic child, I thought that if I went into any creative field, it would be art. I mean, I wrote stories; I did so prolifically and never really stopped. It’s just that it was never really discussed as a part of who I was, or as a potential career.
It became clear early on that art was not going to be a career for me. It’s an expensive process, and the costs were more or less the same regardless of whether I was practicing or producing something useful. After I dropped out of college and started working full time, I set drawing aside. It was a hobby, nothing more. Eventually I stopped talking about it. Within a few years I had successfully shed that identity.
I love art, and I still do it sometimes, in between novels or for special projects. I even hung a show at a local coffee house a couple of years ago, the first time I’d displayed my art in public since high school. It was a success.
Writing stories, though... there was something that I was passionate about, that I loved doing, that cost nothing but my own time, and that was forgiving of errors.
After my first National Novel Writing Month proved that I could write a novel-length piece that people enjoyed (that first project had deep, tragic structural flaws, and will need to be rewritten entirely if it is ever to see the light of day), I wrote a second book. That one was just not at all good; not even worth hanging on to, really. I consider these my practice novels; they developed my writing skills enough that I could then start writing for readers.
I wouldn’t attempt my third novel until many years later. I wrote in the interim, in fits and starts, and cranked out a few short stories that are worth revising and maybe a dozen that weren’t. The third novel crashed onto the page; I wrote more than half of the rough draft over the course of one ecstatic week. I was in again, and since I was only partially employed following layoffs during the Great Recession, it seemed like a wonderful way to use my free time.
If I’m going to be a modern-day mystic, then this is my medium. Now, it’s time for the next step. This strange magic won’t work unless these stories are read.