Friday, August 15, 2008


One of the unusual themes in my life just now is "transformation."  For whatever reason -- or no reason at all, I suppose -- a great many things in my life are pointing to it, enough that I can't ignore it this time.

Oh, yes, I've ignored pointers like this before.  What usually happens is that I'll read or see something, that will spark a notion:  this is how I can be better.  Before it can take root, however, the momentum of the idea is lost.  The mundanity of existence reasserts itself.  I continue in the same unchanged mode as before.

This time is different though.  So many things have come together all at once, it seems.  It's like this:

I read King's Dark Tower books and that was an eminently satisfying experience.  I really enjoyed that there were three successive endings, and how each seemed just a touch more satisfying than the last.  That's put me on a Stephen King binge, and he's not always the most uplifting author.  However, I did take a brief break after Insomnia and before Richard Bachman's The Regulators (which ended on a surprisingly high note considering the rest of the story) to read a book by my favorite author of all time: Arthur C. Clarke.

Before his death, Clarke collaborated on a trilogy with Stephen Baxter, A Time Odyssey, the first novel of which was Time's Eye.  That book I did not get.  It was weird and oddly pointless.  The second book was Sunstorm, and this book was as different from the first as Clarke and Baxter's first collaboration, The Light Of Other Days was from the bulk of Clarke's work. (Clarke's storytelling is not generally known for its heart; his collaborations with Baxter help with that.)  In short, Sunstorm was amazing.

Clarke's work, like King's, is not always uplifting.  Clarke has a cynical view of humanity, particularly where religion is concerned.  His stories "The Nine Billion Names Of God" and "The Star" are the prime examples.  But even in Sunstorm he gets his dig in.  One of the assertions is that sunspots cause events in our brains that we consider to be religious experiences.  A point in the story was that there was an unprecedented, huge solar event in 4 BC that caused incomprehensible visions in a certain Jewish infant.

But that's not the point of this:  the point was that an impending solar event, off the charts deadly, transformed humanity.  Inspired to survive, a 7000 mile wide shield of lunar glass is built to protect the earth from the worst of the mass ejection, one that would cause enough damage to the earth to sterilize the surface miles deep.

It's not the story itself that electrified my thinking, but the way in which the characters in the story, and the dross of mankind itself, became a larger entity.  

On top of this, I read Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason's The Rule Of Four -- given to me by a coworker with the disclaimer, "I think you'll like this.  I couldn't figure it out."  It's a Da Vinci Code-ish story about two college students who are trying to find a secret message in a five hundred year old book called Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.  After all of the adventure is done, the authors add the what I consider the key passage, a montage of what happened next in the protagonist's life and how, with the arrival of unexpected news years later, a window to transformation was opened.

But that's not all!  I've watched the first season of ABC's Eli Stone, wherein the title character begins to have visions of George Michael that inspire him to go from cutthroat corporate attorney to common man's advocate.  Of course, the visions appear to be the result of an inoperable brain tumor.  The 13-episode story was lush, uplifting and filled with unexpected developments.  But the key theme for me from it was the transformation, not only of Eli, but of everyone around him.

In the fiction I've written, the transformation of characters is a recurring theme.  They seem to do it for themselves too, which has always surprised me.  It makes me think that they were trying to tell me something.  And maybe they were.  Ages ago I wrote an opera (or, at the very least, the lyrics for a musical).  I worked on it for years and finished it in a blast of creativity as I was finishing a round of therapy.  In it, the four main characters sang to each other about their lives and dreams.  I had bestowed the characters each with some of my own attributes.  The result, when I read it after it was done, was that I had four separate parts of myself talking to each other.

And the things they said...

Soap Opera (horrible title, I know) was finished just before I moved to Minnesota in 1990.  The Empty Space I "finished" five years ago.  They share the same message in many ways.  It's the same message as in Sunstorm and The Rule Of Four and Eli Stone:  personal transformation.

The real life catalyst for me was the brief query from a dear old friend I mentioned previously.  The idea has formed that maybe, despite who I have been, who I become is more...  More what, important?  More better?

If I told you that I feel like I'm waking up after a long, long coma it would sound trite.  But it would also be true.

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