2010-11-16 - 6:13 p.m.
...every man has had in the course of his life some extraordinary experience, some dislocation of all we expect from nature and probability, of such magnitude that he might in his own person serve as living proof of Hamlet's hackneyed precept--but that he has, nearly always, been so conditioned to consider himself the most mundane of creatures, that, finding no relationship to the remainder of his life in this extraordinary experience, he has forgotten it.
This quote of a quote comes from "Suzanne Delage," an old, small short story by Gene Wolfe, itself probably forgotten by almost everyone and probably Mr. Wolfe himself. I don't know if I have read the book where the "original" quote came from, or if Wolfe invented the quote for the story, but I've certainly read the kind of book he's talking about -- "one of those... that can now be bought by the pound each month." Now, of course, meaning 1979 or thereabouts, since the publishing industry is no longer quite so free with trees, much less money, and there just aren't that many publishing slots any more for random books about whatever, unless, of course, they are penned by a celebrity's ghost-writer. For celebrities aren't content with owning restaurants or pretending to invent perfumes, they must also pretend to be writers.
So whatever...be it real quote, be it cleverly invented quote that teases at the brain, making you think, Oh yes, I've read that before? Now just where did I read that? the fact remains...this is the overlooked hazard of metaphysical experience. Everyone who has a decent grounding on the earth or enough affection for the earth to wish to be decently grounded in consensus experience -- we're all very much aware of the danger of wandering too far off the path into woo. We've all seen people go off the deep end and pretty much never come back. For this reason, given an opportunity to visit a site where "everyone who goes there sees a UFO" I chickened out. Do I regret it? Well, now that I'm far away enough that I no longer see anyone who has had a UFO encounter and haven't seen such a person in years, it's cheap and easy to regret it. But, at the time, having talked to people who had such experiences and seeing how it worked out for them in their lives-- no way, not gonna happen, not gonna take the chance of having my head turned around. I wouldn't have used this language then, but the risk/reward ratio didn't seem to be there. Yes, I would like to see a UFO for myself, but not at the cost of my connection to "reality."
But there's a chasm on the near side of normal too. It's the chasm of forgetting. Something strange happens, you create something truly strange through some magical practice or self-hypnosis or whatever, and then...you just forget. For years. For decades. Forever! I know that practitioner Al Manning wrote about this, more than once, but I'm too lazy to grab a relevant quote right now. He wrote, perhaps, too many books, and I don't think he was wedded to the perfect phrase, so perhaps a paraphrase will do. Anyhoo, he said something along the lines of, Look, if I gave you a golden key to a door with a treasure heaped up inside, would you say, thanks, man, I'll get to it later?
Uh, yeah, actually, you probably would, if the key was magical/metaphysical. And I'm not sure why. Although I have a theory. Uh oh. Here comes the woo theory. But in my experience, a lot of things magical seem to behave like a person (call it an invisible person, hell, call it an "entity" -- but do not call it "God," since "God" implies a large, all-powerful deity-type person, not a peer who just happens to be invisible and have different talents from you, which in my experience is the more accurate description of many of these invisibles) instead of like nature. Nature does not get bored if you ask for repeated favors; the law of gravity works pretty much every darn time you need it to. I drop a rock and it hits the ground, and I need never worry that the rock will suddenly fly up and smack me in the face instead. But, with magic, there's a sense that if you keep bothering whoever, they get sick and tired of you, and they stop taking your messages.
Or try it like this: If you practice a natural skill, let's say birding, with time you get better, and you identify more birds more easily, and you get a bigger list. But if you practice a magical skill, it seems like the first time you do a spell, it works really obnoxiously well. But, after that, it's like asking somebody for a loan. You come back too often, and they're totally sick of you. Practice doesn't make perfect when it comes to hitting people up for favors, and sometimes magic seems a lot like hitting up an invisible people for a big favor...
Do I really think there are invisible entities out there doing stuff for their own amusement and for the benefit of those folks they happen to like? To be honest, I can't quite believe it, but the universe certainly seems to act that way sometimes.
I would be surprised if anyone who finds this page can't remember some episode of high weirdness in their lives.
Oh, and as for Gene Wolfe? A great writer, and I sometimes regret I haven't made time to read more of his stuff. I've primarily read his short stories and novellas. But he spent five books during the height of the "cult of cruelty" era in SF following the story of a torturer, and while I read the first book (beautifully written by the way) I just didn't feel like going there. Eventually I think I'll read all his short stuff though. Then maybe the rest.
Oh gosh, and I've read so many good new books lately. So why am I writing about a re-read of an old short story? My crystals have me thinking about the mysterious. Watch out for crystals. They'll do that to ya.
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