Archive for June, 2007

The Kids are All Right

Posted in heroes, Political on June 30, 2007 by P. Dunn

This is what I’m talkin’ about. Sixteen year old Jesse Lange politely and articulately explains his opinion to Bill O’Reilly, who calls him a “pinhead.”

Jesse, you’re my newest hero.

Are You the Author of “Postmodern Magic?”

Posted in Weird, Writing on June 30, 2007 by P. Dunn

Holy cow, I got my first out-of-the-blue “Hey, are you the author of — ” thing yesterday.  I was working with someone I barely knew at this thing I do for community service (not the “busted with drugs” kind of community service but the “volunteering because it feels awesome” kind), which involves working with kids who are learning creative writing.  Since I’m also a poet, I talk mostly about poetry, but since I’m also the only counselor at the camp who has sold a book, I talk about the publishing process and the vast quantities of glorious, glorious money one makes off of royalties.  ahem.

Later, on the way to run an errand, the camp director — whom, as I said, I met essentially this week — said “Patrick, are you the author of Postmodern Magic?”  “Yes,” I said, “I certainly am.”  Keep in mind this guy is nearly twice my age (and I’m twice the age of the kids at the camp — it’s a neat mathematical thing), pretty clearly has never stopped in the occult section of his local bookstore, and probably wouldn’t believe in magic if it bit him in the bum.  So he had clearly googled me.  As part of a background check, I’m guessing, and that has had me chuckling for the last two days straight.  “So I guess you’re . . . Pagan?”  “Yup,” I said, “I certainly am.”

A moment of silence can have a flavor.  It can taste like a strenuous attempt to accept the odd, it can taste like cognitive dissonance, it can taste like the gap between two worlds that really can’t touch, no matter how hard one or either of us might try.

This year was the first the other counselors weren’t my friends, but absolute strangers.  We not only didn’t share a world view, I’m not sure we shared a reality, and our views of the numinous powers of writing were kind of — ahem — different.  I said to our female counselor, “I look forward to this every year; it really means a lot to me.  Often, it’s the high point of my year.”  She said “That’s really pathetic.”  But she didn’t see God in the face of these kids, when they found a way to say what they thought.  One of the kids told me that he had never, in his entire life up until now, found a way to feel like himself and write from what he really was, instead of what he thought he should be.   That’s God.  No wonder it’s the highlight of my year.

I didn’t make friends with the counselors.  They’re too far away from my world, in other orbits entirely, but I wish them well and hope they find pleasure in what brings them pleasure.  As for the kids — I am looking for a way to work with teenagers more regularly.  I think poetry has a lot to offer kids, a kind of magic so much more important than the invocation of the Holy Guardian Angel and so much miraculous and unlikely than the mere idea that a talisman might affect my world.

A Way of Being

Posted in Uncategorized on June 19, 2007 by P. Dunn

I’ve been reading some Carl Rogers lately, specifically A Way of Being, which is a collection of some of his later work. He becomes particularly mystical here, referencing the possibility of multiple realities and so on. But he also lays out a retrospective on some of his theories on learning and personhood, which are of course where my interest lies.

I’ve always been a bit suspicious of the idea that the goal of — anything really — was to “be oneself” or “get in touch with the inner me” or whatever. Mostly, I’m still suspicious of the language; a lack of usable terminology makes any attempt to talk about self-actualization sound like the worst New Age claptrap. But I’m now pretty convinced that this indeed is what the actual purpose of life is: to get in touch with what Crowley called the True Will, and what Rogers seems to think is an inborn tendency toward health.

What Rogers skirts around is that this true will means embracing criminality. If the rest of society offers only approval or disapproval, to become a person in his sense is to declare oneself an eternal rebel against society. It’s to become a criminal. And if we live in a place where the choice is between being sick or being a criminal . . . the choice is a hard one to make. (Of course, it doesn’t follow, please, that every criminal is mentally well — in fact, most of them are the opposite: they’ve embraced the wrong kind of criminality, the wrong rebellion, but the fact they embraced a rebellion at all is evidence of a true will working in them).

Okay, Vacation Time

Posted in Writing on June 19, 2007 by P. Dunn

I was hoping to finish the draft of this thing before I did a summer seminar on writing, but that’s clearly not going to happen, so I’m taking a break.  I realized after finally finishing the nightmare chapter from hell (“What is reality?  A thousand words.  Go!  And remember, someone will likely read whatever you write as ‘if it’s true for you, it’s true,’ no matter what you actually say”).

Then I realized, I’m writing about ontology and epistemology, not magic.  And I’m sure as hell not doing any magic, either.  So I’m going to take it a little easy for a few days, I think, do some actual magic, and then be incommunicado for a week.

Wednesday

Posted in Writing on June 13, 2007 by P. Dunn

There’s a pattern to this whole thing, you know. Monday, I get little done. Tuesday, I write ten fairly good pages. Wednesday, I stare at the computer for an hour and a half thoughtfully drinking coffee, write a page, throw it in the “scrap” file, and start over. By one or so, I begin to wonder if the whole project is actually worth it and if a collection of largely disjointed postmodern essays on magic is going to appeal to anyone but me and my friends. By 1:30, I’ll resort to grim determination and chemical enhancement (caffeine!), because I want to write seventy or eighty more pages before the end of next week. At some point, I’ll log on to complain on my blog.

And by 2:30, I’ll make cabbage soup and decide to spend the rest of the day goofing off.  I’m going to take tomorrow off, too.  Maybe go into to the City, visit a museum or something.  I need some stimulation.  This morning, I looked at my computer chair and thought “I have spent the last week sitting on that for twelve or more hours a day.”

Natural Semantic Primitives

Posted in Language, Magical Systems, Speculation on June 12, 2007 by P. Dunn

I find this theory that all meaning can be broken down into 61 semantic primitives — atoms of thought, if you will — intriguing.

I’m not sure this theory is about language, so much as it is about thought, however.  Could it be that we conceive of only sixty-one main ideas?

More interestingly, it’s about culture — it seems a clever tool for unpacking meaning, and whether these 61 words are the atoms of thought or not, it’s a handy algebric notation for trying to undertand a complex concept.

I’m tempted to try my hand at it.  Keeping in mind, of course, that I haven’t really read much of the theory in any formal sense, just surfed the page and glanced at a few articles at this point, so I’m probably doing it wrong.

Magic=

I want something to happen.

I do something like this thing.
This thing happened because I did something.

But something’s wrong there, I think.  Because this script could work for lots of things.  I mean, it could work for writing a letter.

I want to say something.

I cannot say something.

I do something like saying something.

Or it could work for superstition.  Or any number of other ideas.  What is it about magic that makes it not superstition and not writing a letter or acting in a play or doing some other symbolic action?

And of course each paradigm of magic would write a different script.  For example, the spirit paradigm:

I want something.

I say words to something/ something does not have a body/ something does not live/ something thinks.

Something makes something happen.

Or the energy paradigm:

I want something

I move something/ something often does something/ something does not live/ something does not think/ someone cannot touch something/ something is inside all things/ because of this, things happen.

This something makes something happen.

I’m sure I’m doing this wrong, but it is sort of revealing.  After all, the closest I can come to the energy paradigm makes me wonder if this isn’t just the same as the spirit paradigm.  I wonder if we boil down all paradigms to primitive semantic units, we might not find that they’re all the same.

I might have to pick up her books.

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