I first accessed the internet while doing a sabbatical film degree as a mature student in the 1990’s.
Struggling with basics, feeling the fool among bright young computer literates, I typed surrealism into the search engine, a subject that rhymed with my passion for transpersonal psychology and fascinated me. Take yourself out of your familiar environment, lose the original context into which your identity had been projected, then gaze and ponder. I had done precisely that. During my first year on the film course I felt displaced and, like my son at a stopover, did a trawling assessment of the oracular unknown.
I was going to write an essay, on how Freud’s work influenced art and film during the 20th century, a glittering subject that led me into a dreamlike maze. Each follow-up link on the screen led to another site – another artist, philosopher, writer, page after page, world after world opened until I was afloat in a sea of rich associations. Gripped by Alice in Wonderland sensations, I thought – unless I stick to the context of my essay, the web will suck me into a whirlpool. Exploring the unconscious for its potentiality and its poetic combustion via dis-identification was of course the surrealists’ impulse, to the ends of tricking the rational mind by using trance to break out of trance – which may well be the ultimate purpose of the internet.
One of the lies would make it out that nothing
ever presents itself before us twice.
Where would we be at last if that were so?
Our very life depends on everything’s
recurring till we answer from within.
The thousandth time may prove the charm. – From ‘Snow,’ by Robert Frost
I had worked as photographer on film-sets in a former career, so I grabbed the opportunity to study the ultimate trance in its historical context, and play with it. Manipulated by high-angles, close-ups, masking, dissolves, and cross-cutting during editing, underscored by sound, images could be displaced, speeded, up, slowed down or distorted. The surrealists were among the first to love fluid images, using them to disrupt unconscious processes of identification at the same time scientists’ deconstructed particles, and time, and space in good measure. The search within, long pursued in the east, was taking hold in the west.
Deconstruction is the prelude to creation. Having learned that we are conscious of only a tiny island of our psyche, much like we can only see the tip of an iceberg, had affirmed my lifelong desire of seeking what is behind the mirror of appearances. In that vein, I recall feeling an awesome sense of responsibility when I first held my new-born son, imagining that my every gesture, my every tone of voice, and even my very thoughts might subliminally influence his pristine being. I was quickly grounded, adapting to the routine of being present to my little one’s basic needs, and soon realised that he had brought along his own world from another sphere, and that beyond my stimulating mirror, he would shape his own destiny.
So here was a kind of baby – an essay on surrealism. To deal with the mass of on-line leads, I took capacious notes, plundered the college library, and relied on intuition to guide me through the process of writing, allowing the essay its own agenda. It was when I first acknowledged that my sixth sense made writing a pleasure. Years later, starting my first novel, responding to subtle influences became the only way I could write, trusting that the unconscious – rather like a digital binary system – condenses and displaces material that can re-emerge with the right prompts.
Spending several months co-editing a beautiful book of reminiscence about a remarkable teacher, printed as a limited edition (also available in E-PUB soon), I started my second novel, and forayed into the on-line publishing world. Armed with the intention of finding a publisher my trust deserted me. I felt suffocated by the genre jungle, the flood of how-to-does and the racing schemes offering self-publishing. I scolded myself for procrastinating, being lazy, not believing in my work, but nevertheless stubbornly held back. Having ordered a few print-on-demand publications by friends I made on a writer’s site, who had got their act together, I was disappointed by the poor presentation of most books – cheap paper, cramped layout, narrow margins and too small fonts. Is this how small publishers and self-pub schemes treat writers who spent years on composing their epic? My heart sunk. I observed my frustration, took stock and decided to relax and wait for a beacon.
In any case, I had been fooling myself, betting on the wrong horse. Being a published author has its perks, but what truly matters to me is the actual process of writing, which is alchemy, a sculpting of feelings, a release, being other than what is familiar, uncovering myths and creating new ones, digging for treasure, a journey into the unknown that reveals horizon upon horizon. A metaphor for my life, about the how, about the journey inside with my others, relationships woven from layers of experience into something new, each time, and time again … life writes its stories through us.
Apart from receiving vague out-of-the-blue proposals offering dubious contracts, I had two chance-encounters with publishers who welcomed a read of my MS, encounters resulting from surfing the web on the crest of my interests, often as unsubstantial as a keyword from a dream. It’s no different from how I live my live. Not exactly a structured approach, I sometimes scold myself. But for better or worse I don’t attach myself to goals, only to transitional containers, which could be an object, a character, a dream image or a place, and the rest follows. My stories emerge from kernels lying in wait, and they pursue their own agenda. I let them, and trust they will find a readership.
Like Stan Brakhage, one of the early experiential film-makers, I think of the deeply personal as universal and conceive of the real world as invisible ‘… thus in the physical or spiritual or light world all forms are beings – stones, trees, stars, streams, men, flames and turds are really facts of invisible presences. Mineral, wood, fire, water, flesh are terms of dense soulful sense.’
In this way, rather than going nuts, as I feared when first exploring the global mirror of the internet, I’ve made peace with it, relating to it as a spacious, time-freed being that interconnects all our stories and projections and offers its content according to the container I bring to it.