ALICE HICKEY: Between Worlds by justin spring - HTML preview
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A few months later I was going through some new poems that had been posted on our web page and noticed one by someone named Diane Randall. I couldn’t place the name at first and then I remembered her eyes. I opened the poem and momentarily lost my breath. It was a response to the Witnesses Log myth I had written on our web page some three years before. I had completely given up hope that anyone would ever respond. I must have been crazy, thinking others would find the myth, read it, maybe use it to create their own myths.
Yet that’s how I had come to see the myth in those first few days: as a sacrifice of some kind, an offering, something others could take apart to use, to feed on. I even wrote a separate section to accompany the poems, stating what I thought the myth was to be used for and then asking any responders to code their entries a certain way so I could easily locate them among the hundreds of everyday poems entered on our web page. Here it is, word for word, misspellings and all, just as I had hurriedly entered it:
DATE: Thu Dec 14 00:13:44 2000
AUTHOR: JUSTIN SPRING
SUBJECT: THE WITNESSES LOG PART ONE JUSTIN S
A NOTE FROM THE POET
46 ALICE HICKEY
on the listeners log
this entry consists of a group of short poems that came to me over a period of 3
or 4 days. i somehow feel they belong on the web, because their is something about their texture and continuity that wants to be on the web so that a new community of poets can be created.
i would welcome the entry of similar logs by interested poets. the logs can be wholly composed by the poet or, a group of poets, or I hope, by also using any part my log in any way you want to.
In the long run, I hope that those who find the form and results interesting will see the possibilities of letting other artists us them as material.
if you wish to be part of such a group,
just make sure you fill in the SUBJECT
ENTRY at sign in to read: XXLOG.YYNAME
WITH XX, YY BEING THE LOGS VARIOUS IDENTIFIERS.THIS SHOUD BE IMMEDIATELY
FOLLOWED BY YOUR FIRST NAME AND LAST INITIAL.
thus my own WITNESSESLOGPARTONEJUSTINS.
THIS WAY WE'LL ALL KNOW THE POEMS CAN BE USED BY AS MATERIAL IN CREATING
I realized that if the web version of the myth was to be a sacrifice, it was a very strange one, because it was a sacrifice that would instantly replenish itself, like the many-headed beasts of old. I liked the idea—it seemed quite mystical. There was nothing mystical, however, as to how the myth would actually replenish itself. On our web page, as on most web pages, any keyed entry becomes Read Only as soon as it’s entered. No going back, no erasing, no remorse. Yet while it couldn’t be changed, it was free to be copied and then after you had acquired your own copy, it could be rearranged, edited, cut up, added to, subtracted from, thrown away, used as inspiration. For some reason I still love that idea, that the myth is indestructible, that only its “shadow” can be acquired, never its essence, like Plato’s Ideal Forms.
In those first few weeks I imagined the web version of the myth as a small, bright galaxy whirling blindly through the reaches of space. I know that’s corny but that’s how I saw it: that it had a life of its own. I had faith that someone, somehow, would find it and then respond, send a message back. After a few more weeks, I began to lose faith, and then after several months of waiting, I realized someone accidentally finding the myth on the web, let alone among the thousands of entries on our web page, was about as likely as one of those SETI projects
ALICE HICKEY 47
finding an intelligent transmission from outer space. I became a bit embarrassed by my “sacrifice” message on the web, but there was no way I could erase it without recoding the web page. It was too much trouble. I let it stay. Who was ever going to find it anyway?
And yet, years later, here was Diane’s response. I have lifted it from our web page word for word.
DATE: Fri Nov 21 10:18:48 2003
AUTHOR: DIANE RANDALL
SUBJECT: WITNESSES LOG PART-ENTRY UNKOWN
This in response to WITNESS LOGS, Not sure what PART or ENTRY number this is but thanks for the inspiration!
THE WITNESSES LOG
It’s not about the visitors.
It was never about the visitors.
The listeners lay in wait
In the darkness
That don’t exist without a witness.
We are the witnesses.
Nothing exists without us
Without our hearts
Our burning desire
Burning to connect
That’s why we witness why we speak
To the dark burning stars
Even knowing the visitors do not exist
The stars do not exist
The listeners don’t even exist –
It’s us, only us, that puts form and word and wonder To any and all of it
And we, ha-ha! Have no existence either
Just tears and desire
Form and word and wonder
And that creates the burning light
And is not
48 ALICE HICKEY
What really lifted my spirits was that Diane intuitively sensed who the entities were, something no one else had even come close to doing. Looking back at it now, and knowing what I do about her extraordinary psychic abilities, it makes sense she would have immediately recognized the world she lived in. But there was more. Not only did she give me a response, but a clarifying response, confirming many of my own feelings about the myth and what it has to say about us, the Witnesses: that without us there would be nothing—that we essentially create the world through the act of witnessing.
I located her phone number and set a lunch date. That was when I got to see Diane’s second face. I had remembered the shy, dark-eyed woman at the gathering, and she was still there, but there was someone else in Diane’s face. I sensed an immediate friendliness, an impish humor—the kind you see in children.
It was all over her face. She told me she had just moved into town. I found out she was a writer and that she worked with dreams. I also found out we viewed the world of the soul in much the same way: as a world of both darkness and light. I immediately sensed we should work together on some artistic projects but I couldn’t quite figure out what. We set some tentative plans to collaborate on some theatrical improvisations involving speaking and let it go at that.
When we got together to do the improvisations, I realized from the way she was improvising that she had extraordinary powers of empathy: she seemed to know where I was going before I did. In the intimacy of those improvisations—where nothing whatever is planned—I detected another dimension hovering in the background of her innate friendliness: a deep spirituality. It radiated from her in a quiet, unassuming way.
Jane detected it, too. We had all gathered one evening to do some more improvisations and Diane immediately sensed the movement of the Stream to which Jane and I were responding. Jane liked Diane; saw her as a soul mate. I began to think that speaking might be a way for Diane to engage a congregation in a deeply spiritual way if she decided to start a ministry, something she hinted at from time to time. We talked about it a bit, that it was possible, but I really didn’t know if that seed would ever develop.
Something eventually sprouted, but it wasn’t the flower I’d expected. In the weeks that followed, as we did more improvisations, I began to ask more about her work with dreams, and soon realized she had extraordinary psychic powers. I didn’t realize just how extraordinary until she gave me a short autobiography she had written. It seems Diane had been walking in and out of the psychic world since she was a child, when she first became aware of the “see-through people,”
as she used to call them.
It was obvious to me that the psychic world was a territory as familiar to her as
ALICE HICKEY 49
the house next door. I felt she might be able to help me with the myth. I told Diane about my problems in trying to explain it and asked if she’d listen to the CD oral versions of the Witnesses Log myth to see if anything came to her in her dreams. She agreed. I told her I was almost at the point where the myth was finally beginning to make complete sense but I was still baffled by the Listeners.
As I said this, I realized she might have seen only portions of the myth on the web, so I gave her the complete written myth as well as the three oral versions, and waited to see what would happen.
50 ALICE HICKEY
Chapter 13: Witnessing
December 2003, Sarasota
Almost all of the poets I knew had a hard time accepting the art of speaking, not to mention the Witnesses Log myth. If speaking seemed incomprehensible to them, the myth seemed even more so. Only the fact that I had written some very good poems kept them from dismissing me out of hand. They would begrudgingly admit that maybe speaking was OK, maybe, but perhaps it would be best to walk away from that other thing—that myth.
I couldn’t walk away. I knew that something from the psychic world had brought me to this precise place in time, and that this was not the time to pull back; everything would eventually come together. It was as if I were putting together a large jigsaw puzzle that still had some blank spaces—except I had no idea where to find the pieces that would fill them, or even what they looked like.
I decided to limit my losses by only looking at small parts of the myth. I decided to bear down on the Witnesses— try to fully understand who or what they represented. Were they humans, or Gods, or human consciousness itself? What does it mean to witness? I kept asking myself. I reached for the dictionary as a start, the web version of Merriam Webster in this case: Main Entry: 1wit·ness
Etymology: from Old English witnes knowledge, testimony, witness,… from wit to know
1: attestation of a fact or event
2: one that gives evidence; specifically : one who testifies in a cause or before a judicial tribunal
3: one asked to be present at a transaction so as to be able to testify to its having taken place
4: one who has personal knowledge of something 5a: something serving as evidence or proof
b: public affirmation by word or example of usually religious faith or conviction None of these definitions, which are essentially contemporary, fit the action of the Witnesses in this myth, i.e., nobody in the myth is going to court (2), or is a member of a faith (5b), or is attempting to prove something (3, 5a). Some of the definitions, however, are close—like 1 and 4. This is probably due to the fact they are very close to the original Old English meaning of witness (knowledge) and wit (to know).
But just try applying these “close” definitions to the template of the myth and see
ALICE HICKEY 51
how far you get before your head starts to spin. That’s because they are too specialized. None of them really fit the myth’s use of the word witness.
I decided to talk to Jane about it. I called her up. I could hear Al Green in the background.
“Jane,” I said, “I need some help.”
“Some help, I need some help,” a little louder this time.
“Jesus, Jane, turn down the music will you!” I yelled. “I need some help.” I could hear Al disappearing in the background.
“What does witnessing mean?” I asked.
“Witnessing, what does it mean?”
There was silence and then she suddenly barked, “It means observe and report, that’s what witnessing means.”
“Observe and report what?” I asked.
‘That’s a big order,” I said.
“You bet it is.”
“What do you mean by the present?” I asked.
“Everything that’s on your mind,” she said.
“If it’s on your mind.”
“If it’s on your mind.”
“The present is what’s on your mind. Got it, stupid?”
“I think so. Is that all?”
“What else is there?” I asked.
“Things that appear out of nowhere. Like the right path. Or God.”
I asked her how she could say witnessing was the observing and reporting of everything in the present. I told her it would be impossible for us to observe everything in the present, we would suffocate, like the man in Borges’ Parables.
“I didn’t say we observe everything in the present,” she replied. “I said we observe the present, and that the present is everything that is on our minds. ”
“What do we do, then, with what we’ve observed?”
“We remember it.”
“How do we do that?”
“We don’t. It’s done for us. It’s automatic, unthinking, like our breathing.”
52 ALICE HICKEY
“And then what?”
“We report it. We tell a story.”
“Because we can’t stop. That’s out of our control too. When it comes to witnessing, we’re like those tiny Moroccan desert rats that can’t stop fornicating.”
I didn’t know what to say. Fornicating rats aside, her explanation of witnessing seemed so simple as to be almost not worth considering. Then I began asking myself what the present really was, and what our automatic, unthinking, observing and reporting really entailed. At that point I began to see how incisive she had been.
I eventually came to see that if witnessing was the reflexive act of observing and reporting, it couldn’t possibly be random. We’d be worse than raving idiots. It became clear to me that there had to be an interest that drove our reflexive observing and reporting, an interest that was very deep.
And then one day, as I was tossing the interest associated with witnessing back and forth in my mind, I heard a voice inside me say, “serpent of interest” with the same knowing, clarifying tone I had heard many times in my life. Something in me wanted to see the interest that guided our witnessing as having something in common with a serpent.
It felt correct, but I had no idea why. I knew all the characteristics of snakes that were considered God-like by early man: the snake seemingly renewing itself by shedding its skin; the snake eating its own tail as a symbol of the interlinked mystery of creation and destruction; the snake’s association with the Other World
because of its cold-blooded nature. But none of these characteristics seemed to fit the template of witnessing.
I sensed, however, that something Jane had told me much earlier about the nature of the serpent might help me understand the serpent of interest metaphor that had just popped into my head.
At the time, I had asked her what she thought of the Witnesses Log myth; she had hesitated and then scribbled out on a pad: “like a snake / like a bone beneath flesh
/ bare bones / cold poem.”
Her cryptic scribbling had confused me and I remember asking her what she meant by stating the myth was “like a snake / like a bone beneath flesh.”
I’ll repeat the conversation that followed:
“I keep seeing a skeleton whose bones are perfectly articulated,” she replied.
“What kind of skeleton?” I asked.
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“It’s human but not human.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“The bones seem alive, wet, glittery. I can’t explain it any other way,” she said.
“What did you mean when you said the myth is like a snake?”
“That’s the part of the bones that’s not human.”
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“It means the bones are special.”
“Flesh swims on them, becomes alive.”
“What flesh?” I asked.
“The flesh of the other myths,” she said. “You know the ones: the myths where the hero walks through fire and survives, or talks to God and dies, those myths. The Wrath of Achilles, Black Sambo.”
As I tumbled that conversation around in my head, I finally got what she was saying. She had shot right to the heart of The Witnesses Log— that at its core it was a myth that mirrored the way myths are created—those powerfully-charged, unconsciously-driven stories that ordered our external and internal lives for millennia.
What she had seen was that The Witnesses Log is ultimately a mythic story about the nature of early human consciousness and the intelligent forces within it—
forces that allowed us to create stories that imitated and made sense of the mysterious forces around us and within us. And although those stories, those myths, no longer play such a powerful role in our modern consciousness, they continue—as Jung and Campbell have shown us—to hold sway over the deepest aspects of our unconscious lives.
Unfortunately, I still couldn’t quite bring Jane’s insight and my own serpent of interest into lockstep. I called her up and asked her if she sensed anything serpent-like about the instinctive interest that directs our witnessing.
“It’s the way the serpent moves,” she said, “the way it directs our witnessing. It’s the way female energy moves, effortlessly, the way it can insinuate itself so quickly—and so seamlessly—into our lives—like intuition, or insight, or love, or a poem. That’s why we can’t take our eyes off a snake: something tells us its movement is not of this world.”
54 ALICE HICKEY
Chapter 14: Mercedes Noriega
December 2003, Panama City, Panama
I had decided Panama would keep my mind off the myth, but I had my misgivings as soon as Pinga and I stepped out of the arrivals door. It was two o’clock in the morning and the airport was completely empty, like they were holding it open just for us. Outside, a long line of shiny taxis was waiting to take us across the new, expensive, four-lane toll road. Despite my best efforts to be positive about the myth, I wasn’t doing well. There were days I thought I’d never be able to explain it. It had been a long time. I was a mess.
The cab driver told us nobody used the toll road except the cabs going back and forth to the airport. It supported a lot of people, he said. We got the code. A few minutes later we were outside the Covadonga hotel. We dug deep, paid the driver and wept. The neighborhood was right out of a B-movie: the dark, hot streets were filled with the usual girls, cab drivers, drifters, dealers, you name it. I felt like I was signing into Hades.
Despite Pinga’s high hopes, we got nowhere locating the wreck. Just finding the old enlisted men’s beach turned out to be a problem. The army was long gone and the entire area had been cordoned off for reasons no one could explain. Every cab driver we spoke to had a different idea where the beach was.
When we finally found out where it was located, we bribed a guard to get in. I took one look at the water and knew we were nuts. It was rainy season, which we should have known. The water was muddy; visibility was zero. Even if the wreck were near the surface, which it was supposed to be, it would be impossible to find.
We’d have to come back in the summer when the water was clearer. “Maybe if we wait for a real low tide,” Pinga kept saying, “maybe we could spot it.” But it was just talk. We were fucked and he knew it.
Fortunately, the Covadonga had a small, 24-hour restaurant on the first floor that could take the edge off just about anything. We spent a lot of time there. When Pinga was drinking, he’d tell me weird, funny stories about Kiki. The one I always liked hearing was her dressing up like a nun and chain-smoking Pall Malls in front of the TV for three days before suddenly coming back from God knows where, or as she put it to Pinga at the time, “From it’s none of your goddamn business thank you.” He couldn’t stop hopping up and down.
Unfortunately, after a few more beers, he’d begin chumming the waters for Mercedes. He had sized her up immediately as a Mafia Dona: “Listen, she could call one of her buddies in the government to get us a survey of the flats. It would be easy for her to get them, her husband was an officer; believe me, she knows
ALICE HICKEY 55
what arm to pull.” I told him all that data probably went back to the states with the Army, but I’d try.
What I didn’t tell him was I didn’t have quite the pull with Mercedes he thought I had. That was long gone. She’d been eying me lately because her ledger on me had been consistently adding up to zero: dreamer. I tried to let Pinga down easy. I told him I was a bit on the outs, that she had become so pissed at me for screwing up a dinner in Miami that she’d called me out right in front of the doorman: “I know what you are: you are like the dogs that bark but don’t bite.” Jesus. I told Pinga I was glad she’d said it in English, not Spanish, because I might have missed it and smiled back like an idiot. He had a pained expression. He knew I’d smiled.
I’d promised Mercedes I’d make it up to her, take her out for some nightlife on her next trip up to Miami; and so, two months later, I drove over to have dinner with her. I felt like I was going to the gallows. She was right about the type of dog I was: I didn’t have the slightest idea how to find some exciting nightlife, or even what it consisted of lately, but I knew she liked the older, more established parts of Miami, so I took her out to a Latin or Spanish restaurant on Collins Avenue in North Miami (I can’t remember its name; I had found it in the yellow pages at the last minute). When I arrived at the restaurant, I felt like a man who had just received a last minute pardon. The décor was right up Mercedes’ alley: gold leaf and mirrors everywhere.
The young waitress, who only spoke Spanish, or had decided to do so because of Mercedes, took the order from her with a great deal of attention. I wasn’t surprised. I had seen it before. Mercedes had that aura of old wealth about her that Latin working women instantly recognized. She wasn’t to be messed with. So it surprised me that all of a sudden there was a great deal of give and take between Mercedes and the waitress. Some laughing. Maybe some jokes about the dreamer.
I asked Mercedes what it was all about. She told me the waitress had wanted to know if I was her husband and she had replied “No, he is just my nephew,” that was all. She laughed. But I remembered the waitress’ face. Either she hadn’t believed Mercedes or maybe Mercedes wasn’t being quite truthful, because I remember the waitress suddenly becoming very brazen and forward, like now it was one woman to another about this business of grinning gigolos. I remember the look the waitress gave me. I won’t even try to describe it.
That wasn’t all. We were about to drive away from the restaurant when Mercedes suddenly jumped out of the car and raced back inside. I went to the window to see what was happening and saw her run over to the waitress and touch her quickly with her left hand, then run back out to the car where I was waiting for her, looking the other way, pretending I hadn’t seen anything.
56 ALICE HICKEY
What had I seen, by the way? I asked her what had gone on back at the restaurant.
She looked at me as if I had a wad of gum on my forehead: “The young girl stole my Love, she touched me when I was talking to her about you. I had to get it back.” One thing about Mercedes, you never could predict when she was going to tell you the truth. She’d snap it out like a switchblade.
I had to wonder what had ever possessed me to think there was a psychic connection between us. She could have helped me; I was sure of it. But she was never going to reveal that side of herself now, at least not to me. That hadn’t been the situation, however, when I was a child. She would suddenly say things to me about myself she had no way of knowing.
One instance occurred when she was visiting us in the states during the late 40’s. I was about ten or so and she took me aside one night after dinner and said, “You won’t have to wear glasses in about a year.” She knew I disliked them. I had a severely crossed left eye that had required glasses since I was five. I thought she was just being nice. But sure enough, about a year later, my left eye somehow corrected itself in a matter of days. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know what to think at the time; I didn’t know anything about the psychic world, but I always paid attention to Mercedes after that.
By the time I was in my teens, Mercedes had stopped coming to the states, so I lost touch with her for some forty years. After my mother died, I had the impulse to visit her, reestablish contact. I knew something about the psychic world by this time, not a lot, but enough to know she was the real thing. I also sensed there was something she wanted to say to me.
It never happened. She was friendly and funny, but a wall had gone up. In all our time together she always acted the wealthy Panamanian matron, never showing me her other side except for that one time outside the restaurant, when she had suddenly realized the young waitress had been hunting her. It was a contest Mercedes wasn’t about to lose.
It was one of the few times I’d seen Mercedes slip. But she never slipped for long.
Mercedes had a fierce eye for detail. And one detail she never lost track of was my occasional, casual reference to the spirit world, hoping she’d lose her reserve and begin talking to me about it. But she never did. She’d simply laugh, like I was making a little joke.
I don’t know how long it took me, but I eventually realized that door wasn’t going to open anymore. Not as far as I was concerned. Maybe it was the fact I wasn’t a child anymore. After all, I was an adult now; people would listen to me. What did she have to gain by opening herself to someone like me, someone who wrote books — a dreamer? Let me put it to you this way: there was no way she was going to put her life in my hands. Ever.
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Then the whole treasure thing crumbled and Pinga’s gout kicked in just for good measure. It was awful watching the pain flood up his arm. He finally decided he had to fly back to the states, despite the fact that the flight change was horrendously expensive. I had four more days to go on my ticket and even less money, so I figured I’d stay. I thought I could sleep, read some books, but it was a mistake. I couldn’t sleep; the myth kept coming back to me. I became distraught trying to understand the Listeners. I thought I might be losing my mind.
I stayed in my room the entire four days except to go to the restaurant. My room felt more and more like a cell. It had one bed and one window with a big black television hung from the ceiling, like a monitor in a convenience store. I’d lie on my bed looking up at it like I was a mental patient under observation. It flickered off and on, day and night. Here are some thoughts from my journal made during those last few days in Panama. I had momentarily put the Listeners away, and was trying to clarify my thinking on some things the myth was saying about the Visitors. It didn’t make any difference. I was lost. Here are some excerpts from my journal:
The other Visitors
If you ask them,
they will let you hold their eyes.
If you do,
you’l see things
you can’t describe.
Not to anyone.
People who undergo a transcendent experience, a vision for instance, often cannot communicate it in a coherent, detailed story. They tell us a story, but it is one where they essentially bail out, and say: All I can tell you is that it happened but I don’t know exactly what or where or how or why. In other words, they might tell us something like this: I saw things, but I can’t explain them to you. Al I can tel you is I knew beyond all knowing that I was loved and lived in God. That is hardly the story our consciousness wants. It wants the details. It wants to know what the City of God looks like. And where God lives. Is it a good neighborhood, or not so good?
I don’t mean to make light of such inquiries, but for the person who has a vision, the reality and truth of that experience is often beyond logic, beyond explaining, beyond our systems of knowledge. And beyond stories, beyond communicating to others through words. If we are lucky, however, and are standing next to the person who has had that transcendent experience, the sound of their voice, the 58 ALICE HICKEY
sound of those words, the sound of that un-story, may bring us to another place. It was the sound, and not just the meaning of the words, that caused people to suddenly get up and follow Jesus and Buddha.
This shouldn’t surprise us. After all, in the stories we call poetry, the task of the words, the task of the story, the special task of witnessing, is to communicate the soul’s song, which is a song of feelings. There are times, of course, when people have transcendent experiences that they can communicate with words, experiences from which they can create stories. Think of Buddha or Jesus or Moses, all of whom brought back stories about the City of God, that is, stories about the nature of God and how we can align ourselves with that unknowable being.
Their stories, unfortunately, are all different, which is the nature of stories about the unknowable. In this sense, we might think of them as partial, or incomplete. Part of the reason for that difference, or incompleteness, is that a true story about the transcendent can only be communicated through metaphor. To add to that, there is this complication: in the face of transcendent events, even metaphors can break down. What we get are pieces of the unknowable: partial metaphors.
When we take them for an actuality is when we start mounting Crusades.
It would be far more illuminating and transforming to be able somehow to stand next to Jesus and listen to the sound of his Aramaic parables for a few minutes, even if his metaphors were “incomplete.” Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) time will not allow us that privilege. Stories are all we have. We, as humans, are locked into stories in the same way we are locked into time. To be human is to live in time and to speak in stories. Our stories can only swim in the river of time. They are inseparable.
So that if we are to make sense of the world, we must make sense of it through witnessing, through stories. To be human is to be a witness. We have no choice. A transcendent experience may inform us directly, but it may also leave us isolated if we are unable to form stories about it, which is the way we ultimately create an agreed upon view of the world. That is why people who have had transcendent experiences will attempt to tell us stories about them even if it means making fools of themselves.
The myth also states that the witnesses are always being visited. Another way of looking at that is to say that while the serpent of interest directing our witnessing is
always with us, other serpents of interest are always arriving as Visitors. These are the startling dreams, visions and voices that cause us to see the world in a different way. You might say those serpents twine around the serpent directing our witnessing—modifying, and in some cases, like that of St. Paul, replacing our original sense of the world.
That is not a new thought by the way; Shakespeare probably said it best: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on. ” Not made of, which is a nice New Age thought, but made on, which is a terrifying truth, because it implies we are merely the screen upon which the lens of the unknowable plays itself out. Or more precisely, we are not only the screen, but the audience as well. After all, God has been good to us. We get to watch our own story as if it were real. That’s what it
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means to be human.
I don’t know why it took me so long, but during those last few days I finally realized that perhaps the reason the myth was refusing to yield its total meaning was because the myth was an act of the soul, not the self. If I couldn’t consciously understand the song that resulted, perhaps it wasn’t time. Perhaps I would never understand it. After all, the soul keeps its own time.
I kept telling myself to be patient, it would come, and at the same time I wanted to take a long sleep. It was a very hard time. I was so scared. I remember staring out the fourth floor window of my room in the Covadonga counting the days to my plane, the myth spinning in my head no one to talk to the 24-hour television splattering the walls with light it was the worst time of my life.
60 ALICE HICKEY
Chapter 15: ISLAUGGH
March 2004, Sarasota
I had been waiting several months for Diane to get back to me on the myth, so when we finally got together, I asked if her dreams had revealed anything. “I haven’t had time to listen to it the way I want to,” she said. “My life turned upside down after we met. I’m struggling with some dark issues.” I figured either she wasn’t ready to listen to the myth, or she knew I wasn’t ready to hear what she was going to tell me.
In the meantime, Joan had come up to the states from Mexico. She asked if she could stay with me for a while, that the summers in Alamos were brutal. It was evident she needed a rest. She may have been living an expatriate’s life in Alamos, but just barely. Her health was not good. It was clear that the guides who had led her to Mexico hadn’t been kind. She simply couldn’t adapt to the way of life in Alamos and her Spanish was still non-existent. How she made it through the day I have no idea.
After she’d been with me for a while, I asked her to listen to the myth again, see if anything came to her, that I was very close to understanding it. I told her I was beginning to suspect that the reason the myth wouldn’t fit any mythic template I knew was because the myth was about very early, preliterate consciousness. But if such myths existed, I couldn’t find them. I was going to have to feel my way towards an explanation.
One of the things that had always bothered me about the myth was why it had come to me in the first place. I had felt from the start that the poems making up the myth were much more than personal poems. I mean the personal is in there, how could it not be? There were, however, certain aspects of the myth that suggested it contained elements from the collective unconscious.
That judgment call, of course, is a tricky, highly subjective one. Some might say the myth was nothing more than a hyper-inflated description of speaking—a lot of tasty nonsense put together by the poet’s unconscious. I have no answer for that except to say there is a restrained seriousness and elegance about the myth that doesn’t normally accompany such inflations. If the Gods were having their way with me, they were surely taking the long road around.
In the end, I had to go with my artistic sense that the myth had a much larger scope than the merely personal. I was guided in this by Jung’s study of St. John’s Book of Revelations. In it, Jung discusses the almost insoluble problem of separating the elements of John’s vision belonging to his personal unconscious from those belonging to the collective unconscious, which is Jung’s term for our
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common human memories extending back to the beginning of life itself.
For Jung, that separation was critical, as the elements from the collective unconscious constituted the true vision. My conclusion, after reading Jung, is that separating them is a minefield, one not easily traversed, no matter how good your detection equipment. It seems to me that in the end you have to go with the flow because the details, whatever they may be, are just soldiers carrying the felt truth of the vision, which is what is really important.
There is no doubt in my mind that this inevitable mixing of the personal and collective unconscious also affected my vision of the figure in the mirror. There were many possible meanings I could attach to his physical appearance—one being that his burdened aspect was a reflection of my own emotional state. I was not doing well: the recent failure of my second marriage and the isolation brought about by my having traveled so far from the norm were both taking their toll.
I asked Joan to listen to the myth again and tell me anything that might help me.
After listening to the CD a few times, she said, “The myth is just above the power chakra and just below the heart chakra, that’s what it felt like.”
“That’s great,” I said, “but what does that mean?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “It just feels like it’s stuck there.”
“Do you have any sense of the purpose of the myth?”
“To bring us closer to the body,” she said.
“What do you mean by the body?” I asked.
“The heart, feeling, love.”
“How do you know that?”
“I don’t know. I just do.”
“What does that have to do with the chakras?”
“That’s how the myth felt when I listened to it,” she said. “Like it was stuck just above the power chakra. It felt like it was trying to rise to the heart chakra.”
There was something that rang true about what Joan said—that the tone of the myth, the feeling of the myth, was of a speaker whose existence was bound up in courage and honor and desire but somehow lacking in love and compassion.
Perhaps that was a way of describing what it felt like to be me, and perhaps it was a way of describing how it felt to be in the bleak, unpredictable world in which early man found himself. Take your pick.
I told Joan about the poem Diane had posted on the web about the myth and suggested we get together sometime with Diane and puzzle it out a bit further.
Later on that evening Joan and I went out to a poetry reading and spotted Diane in the back row like she was waiting for us. We went for coffee afterwards and I asked Diane if anything had come to her about the myth. She told me a few nights before she had had a dream about entities locked in the creases of a dark stone called labradorite that she had stumbled upon, and she had immediately thought 62 ALICE HICKEY
of the Listeners. She said she knew we’d meet at the reading, she could feel entities crowding around her trying to reach me. She told me it was time.
We talked for almost an hour, and just before we went our separate ways, I don’t know why, I told Diane about my encounter with the figure in the mirror many years ago. She looked at me and blurted out, “Quick, write this down.” I pulled out a pen and started writing as she spelled out the letters: “I-S-L-A-U-G-----H,”
and then she stopped and said “No, it’s.… A-U-G-G-H, that’s it, I-S-L-A-U-G-G-H, that’s the name of the figure in the mirror.” That’s when I saw Diane’s third face. I looked at the strange string of letters, trying to figure out a pronunciation, and a voice inside my head said: “ee-slaw. ”
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Chapter 16: Jane Beats Me with My Own Myth
September 2004, Sarasota
When the myth first came to me, I was completely baffled. I wasn’t sure if it was about the creation of the world, of the God(s), of man, of consciousness, and if so, what kind of consciousness? Was it the consciousness of early tribal man, or modern man?
After a great deal of research, however, everything seemed to indicate it was about the creation and nature of human consciousness. The problem was I still couldn’t completely determine if it was about preliterate consciousness or our contemporary, self-reflective consciousness. Either way, I couldn’t quite make all the pieces fit. There was always some aspect of the myth, some puzzling phrase or omission or odd detail that prevented it.
Yet I felt it would eventually yield to my efforts. It felt true, and if it felt true, I knew I should eventually be able to explain it. I continued to examine it with a great deal of optimism and became so absorbed I seldom looked up.
Unfortunately, all of my attempts eventually ended in failure. What really began to bother me, even frighten me, was that just seconds before everything fell apart, I was absolutely sure my thinking was as solid as 1+1=2.
What made it particularly vexing was that whenever I felt I’d finally cracked something that had been resisting me and began to write out a rigorous explanation, I’d suddenly fly off in a strange direction, become lost, confused. It was as if the myth had some kind of power over my reasoning. At times I thought I was really losing my mind.
It wasn’t long before I began to mistrust my most trusted intuitions. I felt like I was really becoming unbalanced. There were days I became so worried about what was happening to me that I pushed the myth back to the far recesses of my mind. The only problem was I would occasionally glimpse it there, gleaming in the darkness, and that was enough to make me bring it back up.
Something in me just refused to give up. It got to the point where I began attempting to explain smaller and smaller sections of the myth, sometimes line by line, trying to somehow trap the point where I would begin flying off. I never could. I was still flying off, becoming lost. I didn’t know what to do.
When I wasn’t working on the myth, my mental and emotional stability seemed in reasonably good shape. I wasn’t sitting in a corner counting spiders by any means.
I guess you could say that outside of some particularly dark days when I thought I might be approaching a nervous breakdown, my creative life was in pretty good 64 ALICE HICKEY
shape. But I wouldn’t be telling the whole truth if I didn’t say there were days just thinking about the myth made me extremely uneasy.
I’m getting ahead of myself a bit in telling you this, but I eventually did figure out what was happening. It might seem like voodoo, but it wasn’t, at least not the common variety. It seems whenever I was faced with something in the myth that made no sense (which was often the case) my mind would invisibly “fabricate” a meaning, a sort of hazy, on–the–run explanation that made that part of the myth make sense.
Something like this happens, by the way, in everyday life when something we’re drawn to doesn’t make sense. One of the most common instances is what happens when we are drawn to a pop song we can’t quite understand. Out of the sound of the song (sad, happy, zany, manic) and the lyrics we do understand, the mind somehow manufactures phrases that seem to make sense and we’re happy as clams.
Usually we’re not even aware of the reflexive fabrication that has taken place.
Indeed, we may live with it for years, even a lifetime, unless the real lyrics somehow cross our paths. It’s perhaps a trivial example of the mind’s ability to fabricate meanings, but it’s a good indication of how far the mind will go to make sense of something that interests us.
I was being drawn to something a little heavier than a mush-mouthed singer, however. What was drawing me in, and quite forcibly, was a myth that consisted of simple, common words. I understood what the words meant—at least I understood what they meant at the moment to me, a 21st century American. As I was to find out, however, that wasn’t quite enough, because many words in the myth had meanings I wasn’t aware of.
Every culture generates a sea of meaning for the words that comprise its everyday language. It is an organic, ongoing, largely unconscious and almost invisible process that grows out of simply living with others. It allows us to know what words mean, not just in an elementary sense, but all of their possible nuances and associations.
Sometimes the structure of that sea of meaning is influenced by a more conscious process, such as the meanings assigned by dictionaries, but a sea of meaning doesn’t really need dictionaries in order to flourish, if for no other reason than dictionaries are pretty much an after-the-fact enterprise: a nice red cherry on top of the crazy, wiggling Jello of everyday language.