OK. A few months ago, when one of my would-be committee members looked through a draft of my thesis proposal, he said, “That’s it?” He thought the ARTIST’S STATEMENT section needed to be “beefier.” I was caught short. I’d written past mock proposals in various writing class and thought I knew what they wanted. Besides…this was just a formality…surely hot new writer (such as myself) need not waste his time with this when the real work is to be done. Why spend anymore time describing what I was going to do when I needed to do it? Tonight, I sat down to add more “beef.” I guess it was something I needed to do. The old, half paged statement seems a pretty poor thing, now. So here is what I came up with…
“The next century’s task will be to rediscover its gods.”
“We have the right, and the obligation, to tell old stories in our own ways, because they are our stories.”
I like revisiting old things. Oftentimes, I refer to my creative research as “grave digging” – whether I’m shoveling through ancient mythology, dusty literature, or random thoughts in my journal. My processes inevitably involves taking the motley collection of body parts exhumed, and sewing them together, regardless of how much they might seem to clash, with big, messy stitches. Then, I throw the switch:
And sometimes the shambling amalgam wants to sing and dance and sometimes it lopes off to terrorize a village. Revision involves re-grafting and making finer and finer stitches, until there are no visible seams. Usually, I fall in love with my little monsters, despite some of their flaws, and have only, reluctantly, unmade a few (putting their parts back onto the laboratory shelves).
And so we have Souls Unsure. I did a lot of digging, found a copious amount of appendages, heads, eyes, and wings (voodoo spells, angelic lore, pieces of scripture, classic rock lyrics, bits of Dante, animistic concepts of carrion birds, and ancient Hebrew concepts of the underworld). I’m still sewing madly, still praying it will walk when I feed it lightening.
In my writing, I tend to talk to archaic gods and literary characters. Sometimes it’s to retell a myth or take another look at a famed story from the point of view of an unsung character who did not get much of a chance to speak the first time around (and is still bitter about it). Other times, the intention is a little more devious. If one reaches back far enough, one can grab concepts or characters that seem fresh and new to readers. Writers: conmen aren’t we all?
And so we have Souls Unsure. I sing the song of a sad neutral angel who only received a few sentences in Dante’s Inferno. I have summoned the Three Beasts of the Dark Wood, who still yowl and growl and howl that they are evil enough to deserve the role of lead villain. I visit and revisit the land of Sheol, an underworld older than Heaven and Hell, a place post death not done to death in literature. It gives me latitude to write what I want and its longitude lies somewhere past Pluto, in an icy vacuum bereft of the dead horses I don’t want to beat.
People often give epic poems a wide berth. Sometimes they think the epic is snooty or pretentious and stroll away. Sometimes they are intimidated by the big bad epic and walk on the other side of the street, trying not to make eye contact. It’s funny, because people still like epic poems, they just renamed them, gave them new masks. Audiences devour three-part movie trilogies faster than their popcorn, eat up multi-part Sci-Fi legends, gorge on comic books telling decade spanning stories (a medium getting better and better as the collective conscious slowly realizes the silly notion, that commingling images with words cheapens art, is false). Readers pore over Tolkien’s mythology and a Lovecraftian mythos that has grown larger than its original author.
And so we have Souls Unsure. I want to reintroduce epic poetry to readers, an old friend removing her mask. I want to tell an epic story in a modern mode, like a desiccated mummy strutting by in a cool leather jacket.
When vodou practitioners want history, they contact the loa, Papa Ghedi (a jovial spirit of the graves). Ghedi tells them many little stories, from many different perspectives, for he has access to the voice of all fathers and song of all mothers. The story circles back on itself. To the Haitians (and vodou folk the world over) history is not a line of facts, but a repetition of events from different sets of eyes – to hear a story enough times from enough sources, is to understand it. History is a spiral, not a line.
And so we have Souls Unsure. The main plot is told, in poetic form, by a voodoo priestess and a dark muse named Crow, but the story deviates into tiny prose interludes, told by all sorts of souls unsure, and the story curves back in on itself, making a spiral, the shape of a snail’s shell, the shape of the universe, the flight path of a scavenger bird circling over death.
The spiral of small stories is more congenial with my writing style. While I like my myths, I don’t often paint stories in epic brush strokes. I like small windows, quick glimpses of unsung heroes, microcosms brought to focus. And so we enter an epic poem that is not of epic scope, but told in tiny windows. This is not about the great heroes or legendary wars. Archangel Michael’s flaming sword is nowhere in sight and the Devil only gets a 666 word footnote. Rather this is a story made up of fleeting glimpses of those who fell through the cracks of creation. Souls Unsure is one of those composite photos, a large picture made up of carefully placed, tiny pictures. Squint your eyes and the little pictures disappear and a face manifests and peers back.
If it winks…then I’ve succeeded.
Hopefully that’s beefed up enough. What am I saying, they’re going to be so fucking astounded by it! 🙂 I mean…just look at that sentence about the beating dead horses in space. I use the mother of all clichés in a sentence about not using clichés. It’s genius! And, and, in the act of imagining space, without dead horses, you must first imagine space with horses. So I got you to think of a bunch of horse corpses floating through outer space (with any luck, the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey was playing in the background in your head).
Gosh…I should get back to work while I’m still full of myself.
Ride the highs and laugh through the lows (if you can).