On a recent edition of the DisinfoCast, the popular podcast put out by The Disinformation Company, host Matt Staggs spoke with Teeming Brain columnist (and Disinfo.com contributor) David B. Metcalfe about parapsychology, liminal states, ESP, and various other matters. You can download the podcast in mp3 form or stream it directly from the site:
Not coincidentally, David’s Teeming Brain column De Umbris Idearum is devoted to exploring that very same nexus of subjects, issues, and illuminations, including ESP, parapsychology, liminality, science, skepticism, esotericism, the occult, religion, philosophy, and more. If you’ve fallen behind, catching up on it would represent an eminently worthwhile use of your time:
Elizabeth Gilbert on the inner creative relationship: “There’s a contract between you and the mystery”
Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2009 TED talk about creativity as a relationship between a person and his or her genius has now entered the lore of contemporary digital media culture as a singularly popular and significant framing of the central creative question by a celebrity author. Gilbert used her TED time to talk about the damage caused by the modern-day view of creative genius as an inner quality possessed by a few stupendous individuals, and she recommended a return to the pre-Renaissance understanding of creativity as an external force, entity, or intelligence that visits a person on its own schedule and for its own motives in order to inspire and assist with some creative act, after which it moves on to somebody else. We would be better served, she said, by dropping the modern idea of people as geniuses and reclaiming the ancient view that creativity means having and cultivating a relationship with a genius.
That was in early 2009. In the nearly four years since then, Gilbert has continued to talk about this concept in various interviews and writings. Most recently, she gave a particularly nice description of her evolving view in an interview for The Rumpus. Here’s the key passage, where she offers a new and useful metaphor in her idea of “the plow mule and the angel.”
She also gives excellent articulation to a point that I hammer on at length in A Course in Demonic Creativity: A Writer’s Guide to the Inner Genius (which is still available for free download over at Demon Muse): that working in creative relationship with a muse, a genius, a daimon, doesn’t entail sitting around doing nothing and waiting for inspiration. Your work, your effort, is what calls the genius to you (a point that has also been hit hard by Steven Pressfield).
Rumpus: I love your TED Talk about creativity. You talk about all the pressure creative people put on ourselves to be “geniuses,” and how that’s messed things up and given us an unrealistic amount of pressure, when in fact we should think of “genius” as a thing out of our control. Has that perspective made writing easier?
Gilbert: I’ve come to think of it as the plow mule and the angel. This is how I think of it: there’s a contract between you and the mystery. And the mystery is the thing that brings life to the work. But your part of the contract is that you have to be the plow mule, or the mystery won’t show up. It might not even show up if you do your work. There’s no guarantee. It doesn’t promise you anything, but I can promise you that if you don’t do your work, it won’t show up. That’s the only guarantee. It’s not going to wake you up in the middle of the night to be like, Hey, I’ve got this golden gift for you! It doesn’t do it that way. It needs to see that you’re giving the full commitment.
It’s the idea that I will do my side of this bargain. As long as I am able, as long as I have agency over my body, I will do my part of this, even when I don’t want to, even when I don’t believe in it. It’s gonna be a long life, hopefully. And so it’s all right to embark on a project that doesn’t work, and it’s okay to abandon one. It’s okay to recognize that you took a wrong turn, and to begin anew. It’s okay to write a book that gets bad reviews. It’s okay to write a book that no one reads. The idea is just to focus on how you want to spend your life. My intention is to spend my entire life doing this, so any one piece of it isn’t that important when you think of it in the long scale. Then when you open up that scale even further and you think of the entire history of human collaboration with the arts—my little piece of it is really insignificant, and that takes the pressure off a lot, too. I’m just joining a history of people who do this work. I’ll do it for as long as I’m permitted. I’ll do it to the best of my ability. It may not be successful, it may not be lucrative, it may not be well-received, but I’m gonna give it everything that I have, and then I’m gonna die, and then other people will do this. And so it will go. And what a wonderful way to live your life! What a great company of saints to join. And a wonderful team to play on: the makers. It’s worth a lot of trouble to get to do that.
— Rachel Khong, “The Rumpus Interview with Elizabeth Gilbert,” The Rumpus, October 29, 2012
Perhaps this goes to show that if you haven’t yet watched/listened to Gilbert’s TED talk, you really need to. Here it is. Carve out 20 minutes where you set aside all distractions and really pay attention to what she says.
Horror, religion, Lovecraft, sleep paralysis, fantasy, science fiction, consciousness, creativity, reality, the dystopian hazards of an uber-online lifestyle — these are all topics broached in an extensive new interview with Teeming Brain founder and editor Matt Cardin by fellow idea-driven horror writer Ted E. Grau at The Cosmicomicon. (Ted is also, of course, the author of The Extinction Papers for The Teeming Brain.)
The interview is extremely philosophical, personal, and lengthy. Here’s a taste:
As for why I ultimately started writing fiction, and why it has always been of the dark variety, I think interrogating the question itself shows that it is, at bottom, unanswerable. In fact, interrogating the question opens up a vast, murky, electrifying, terrifying realm of unknown and unknowable realities that hold all of us perpetually in their grip. This is along the lines of the thought experiment that Robert Anton Wilson recommends in, I think, Prometheus Rising, or maybe it’s in Quantum Psychology — and anyway, he borrowed it from Aleister Crowley, who said he got it from somebody else — where you stop, as in really and truly, for a long pause, and you engage in a deep questioning of the reasons for why you’re right there, in that location and circumstance, at that precise moment, doing what you’re doing and thinking what you’re thinking and feeling what you’re feeling. Keep pressing the question “Why, why, why?” to each and every answer that presents itself, and if you really dig down and follow this backward trail of causation and justification, eventually you’ll find, not just as an intellectual matter but as a startling existential realization, that you have absolutely no idea. You don’t know, ultimately, why you’re right there, right then, doing that. In a sense, everything about your life is just arbitrary, just happening by itself, and any story you tell yourself to explain why stands as more of a rationalization than an explanation.
What’s more, those unknowable reasons — which also, pointedly, include the reasons for why you are who you are — shade directly into the unknowable reasons behind everything else. The impenetrable mystery that lies behind the entire universe, and that makes it be what it is and do what it does, is not something you can write off as abstract and distant and unimportant for daily life, because it happens to be the mystery of your very own being as well.
I think the fact that I’m the type of person who instantly and helplessly goes for the über-philosophical end of things even when nobody’s asking for it — as in, you know, the way I’m going on and on right now in answer to your reasonable and straightforward question — is linked to why I write, and to why my writing always inhabits dark territory … Where do innate qualities ultimately come from? Instantly, the mystery of human personhood is all up in our face, and for me this leads to inevitable ruminations about the metaphysical and ontological origins of individual selfhood and consciousness, and the ancient idea of the genius daemon that makes each person’s life and self be what it is, and the Zen koan where the master orders the student, “Show me your original face, the one you had even before your parents were born.”
I could also mention the fact that I entered a very dark place late in college and an even darker one in the years following it, a development abetted by a kind of spontaneous initiatory experience into certain nightmarish things by the onset of sleep paralysis attacks that were accompanied by visionary attacks by a demonic-seeming entity. This permanently and profoundly altered me, and set the tone and direction for what I write. Or maybe it just realized what was always wanting to be written through me anyway.
— Ted E. Grau, “TC Blog Review & Interview: Matt Cardin Unleashes His Teeming Brain, Featuring New Monthly Column ‘The Extinction Papers,'” The Cosmicomicon, September 20, 2012
Image: “The Nightmare” (1781) by John Henry Fuseli, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
My interview with Dracula-and-vampire expert Ian Holt is now available at SF Signal: “The Vampire Is Always within Us: A Conversation with Ian Holt.”
Ian is the man who co-wrote Dracula: The-Undead with Dacre Stoker, Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew. As you probably already know, the book is the official, Stoker-family-sanctioned sequel to Bram’s classic novel.
Ian’s and my conversation took place shortly before my cyber-sabbatical of January through May, and when I recently transcribed it and readied it for publication, I was reintroduced to just what a treasure trove of interesting thoughts and subjects it really is. We talked about the nature of evil, the question of supernatural reality, the conflicting historical memories of Vlad Dracula that persist in the Eastern and Western European traditions, the Vlad Dracula materials housed in the Vatican archives, Bram Stoker’s lifelong unhappiness, the possible influence of one of his nightmares on the writing of Dracula, Ian’s and Dacre’s motives in changing the Dracula mythos, the divided response among their readers, the relationship of vampires to religion, and the true secret of the vampire’s enduring appeal as a fictional character. Ian is a walking, talking encyclopedia of Dracula and vampire lore, and I think you’ll probably find something of interest in his words. I know I did.
Four days ago, on October 11, I was the featured guest on Darkness Radio, the popular paranormal radio show originating out of Minneapolis on KTLK and hosted by David Schrader (of the Travel Channel’s Paranormal Challenge and Ghost Adventures). The topic was sleep paralysis, shadow people, and discarnate dark entities — all things I’ve talked about here at The Teeming Brain several times. As you know, I’ve also talked about these subjects and/or related matters previously this year on Spiritually Raw radio (twice), the Mancow Muller Show, and the Genre Traveler podcast, and in an interview with Waco Today magazine titled “Tapping into Darkness.”
Below is the podcast of my Darkness Radio appearance. It’s an hour-long show. David and his two cohosts did an excellent job, and it was an enjoyable conversation. Note that if you’re really into paranormal matters, you might want to check out their show archives for some interesting and out-there subjects and guests.
STREAM THE SHOW:
You can also visit the episode’s webpage to download the mp3 for later listening.
DAVID: When you’ve had these experiences, have you ever had the feeling that the beings that you’re encountering are not of a ghostly or supernatural ilk, but more of an alien or extraterrestrial one?
MATT: For me to talk about that, I pretty much have to say that my understanding of the alien phenomenon and the extraterrestrial phenomenon is really in line with a lot of what you hear from Patrick Harpur, who wrote Daimonic Reality. Or I’m sure you’re famliar with Jacques Vallee, or Terrence McKenna, and people like that. It’s possible that there are beings from other planets that are visiting us, but I really view the whole thing, and my experiences, too, more in terms of some sort of archetypal thing that’s happening in the psyche. So that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have an objective reality, but it’s an objective reality within the psyche. Jung was big on that: the objectivity of the psyche. It really is something real that we as ego selves are encountering as an “other,” only its otherness is somehow behind our own subjectivity.
A few weeks ago I was interviewed for the Genre Traveler podcast, created and hosted by Carma Spence. It’s now live and available, and Carma has created a cool page full of notes to go with the audio. Here’s the episode description:
This week I chat with Matt Cardin about religion and horror. Along the way our conversation touches on the role religious motifs play in the horror genre, the nature of horror vs. fear, the connection between religious experience and fear, gnosticism, the evolution of religious beliefs, the push and pull of spiritual concepts, sleep paralysis and more.
You can read more and hear the interview at Genre Traveler Podcast Episode 50: The Intersection of Horror and Religion.
Many thanks to Carma for a nice job!
My interview on the “Raw Factor” segment of this morning’s Spiritually Raw radio broadcast felt like it went well. Hosts Ajay and April proved to be excellent conversationalists as they talked with me about my central focus as an author (and human being) on the convergence of religious experience with horror fiction and film, and the tendency of horror to open out into religious experience, and my initiatory-type experiences of sleep paralysis and nocturnal assault that have underscored this connection.
You can listen to the interview on the podcast of today’s show. My segment starts at about 13:00 in the running time:
Also be advised that if I receive enough listener votes based on my brief (15-minute) appearance on the show today, then I’ll be brought back as a featured guest for a longer interview. You can vote for me by following THIS LINK and entering a comment in my favor — at which point psychic vibrations of gratitude will begin beaming your way and generating all sorts of positive synchronicities. (Did I oversell that? Sorry. But the gratitude part is real.)
Just published: “Meet the Author: Matt Cardin”
This is an interview with me at the blog for Dystopia Press, a new publisher of apocalyptic and dystopian fiction (founded in late 2009). Dystopia Press is run by Mark Long, who also created and runs TSTC Publishing, the official press of the Texas State Technical College system. He and I are pretty sure we met briefly at last year’s ArmadilloCon in Austin. In any case, we’re completely sure that we’ll meet up and share a drink next month at this year’s con.
He asked great questions. I tried to do them justice in my answers. Topics include:
- the origin of my combined interest in religion and supernatural horror;
- the inside scoop on how I got hooked up with Ash-Tree Press for Divinations of the Deep and Mythos Books for Dark Awakenings;
- my writing process;
- my advice to writers;
I’ve just been interviewed by the Lovecraft News Network:
The title does a good job of conveying the overall gist. The LNN’s Jacob Hodgen did a fairly amazing job of coming up with detailed, fascinating, and carefully targeted questions, so hats off to him.
The “Gods and Monsters” paper itself appears in my imminent next book, Dark Awakenings.
Topics broached in the interview include my reasons for tackling such a subject, the project’s relationship to my writing of the stories in Divinations of the Deep, the three-part test for deciding whether a text should be classified as horror, and the dismay that many conservative Christians may feel in response to a monstrous portrayal of deity.
Many thanks to my friend John Morehead, TheoFantastique’s ever-reliable creator, writer, and proprietor, for asking excellent questions.