Creativity and Spiritual India

Posts tagged “fiction

Ghostyard

“I won’t leave my body, I told myself, no matter what happens.”

Hi. I’m B.T. Lowry. Welcome to this week’s scene of the week, Ghostyard.

Ghostyard - Tim Green

by Tim Green

 

 

Listen here: 

I won’t leave my body, I told myself, no matter what happens.

A riverbank is a stupid place for a graveyard. The bodies are bound to get washed away over time. People go to the river to get clean, or take their water buffaloes to wash the dust off. It’s meant to be a pure place, and a purifying place. Some worship this river, or use its water to worship other gods. But that same water filters through graves. How can it be pure?

Stupid.

I slowed down as I neared the graveyard, keeping an eye out for the rowdy ghosts, especially him.

On the other hand, maybe it was a good place to bury the dead. I had seen fewer and fewer ghosts there, since I’d come as a kid. Ghosts tend to stick around their bodies, and if their bodies have washed away, the spirits can go on to whatever’s next for them. Another life, usually. I’d known most of the kids in our village when they were old.

That’s why cremation is good: the vessel is gone so the spirit moves on.

Usually. The one I sought tonight was old. Old and tricky.

I won’t let him fool me.

I looked carefully at the gravestones, taking in all the details. The crack there above the old woman’s name. I’d known her. Only dried flowers there now, a garland of red, yellow, orange, red, yellow, orange. If that old ghost made an illusion, he’d have to get every detail right to fool me.

He lives here. He knows the details better than me.

Never mind that. I’d just come to talk with him, ask him why he’d been causing trouble.

Was there a purple flower in that garland?

 

***

 

In India, ghost-knowledge is much more comprehensive than in the West (except the movie Ghostbusters, of course). Growing up in Canada, I sometimes wondered if ghosts existed. A glimpse of one, or word that someone had had even the remotest experience of one, was cause for gossip and fear among us kids. But in India they are categorized in many ways, largely according to the life they had while in a physical body.

If someone performs spiritual practices but also nefarious acts, for example they might become a powerful ghost. Those were often the worst kind. Sometimes whole families or even villages might be ghosts together, having been ripped out of their old lives all together by some violent event. There are ghosts fixed in trees, those who know they’re ghosts and those who don’t. Some are ‘for hire,’ and a dark tantric can incite them to attack living people. They can possess people’s bodies, and it’s easier if the people are weak-minded due to intoxication or mental illness.

Ghosts have their terms as ghosts, like jail sentences. Often they are living out what would have been the remainder of their life, which was cut short by a sudden death. It generally sucks to be a ghost, because they have the same sensory desires as they did in their lives, but without the physical senses to satisfy those desires. Powerful sages and yogis can release them from their terms as ghosts and send them on to whatever comes next, usually rebirth as a human or in another species.

Interesting stuff. Some day I’d like to develop a more complex story involving ghosts.

 

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to see this scene expanded into a story, then tell me in the comments that this is the one you want. If you want to see what I can do with a deeper story, pick up  my novel here, Fire from the Overworld. It is the story of two young mystics who fight to restore balance in their desert village, when war erupts among its spirit rulers. Feel free to sign up for the new scenes in your mailbox each week, along with guest posts, and my thoughts about living, loving, investigation and creation. 

This work is licensed Creative Commons, attribution, which means you can use it however you want, even commercially. Just let people know which bits came from me. Thanks!


In defense of Religion and Science.

“Instead of branding people according to which camp they’re in and which flag they’re waving, it’s far better to look at underlying motives.”

This week I’m pausing the scene-of-the-week series. I’ve been thinking about religion and science, and how too often we get caught up in pitting one against the other, as if they are natural enemies, or as if one is totally false and the other is a virtuous savior. Really that’s all bollocks.

Science Fish

Listen here: 

They’re wars, not religious wars

There is a popular saying, that most wars and death go on in the name of religion. This is often put forward by proponents of strict rationalism and its brainchild, science.

This is not true in two ways.

People usually kill each other for land, money and power. The two world wars were not religious wars. Stalin and Chairman Mao’s attacks on their own people were not religious wars. Taken together, these make up most deaths in the twentieth century. So statistically, at least in recent times, most violent deaths have not taken place in religious wars.

Secondly, wars that go on in the name of religion are generally not actually founded in the teachings of the religions in question. The Bible never advocated the Inquisition or the Crusades, nor the genocide that took place in the Americas. These were all done in the name of the Bible and  Christ, but if you look deeper you’ll find that was just a false front. Christ taught his followers to love their neighbors, not to enslave and exploit them, to take their land and replace their spiritual sites with your own. Actually the underlying reasons for these conquests was greed, and the desire for self-aggrandizement. Religion was just a front, not the cause.

Science wars?

On the other hand, a religious person might turn the tables on science and say, “Hey! You claim that so much damage has been done by religion, and that science is progressive and helpful, but science has done far more damage than religion ever has. Guns, the atomic bomb, nuclear plant disasters, plastic clogging the oceans, chemicals poisoning our rivers, greenhouse gasses heating the planet—these are all byproducts of science, not religion. Wars between humans are nothing compared to rendering the entire planet less habitable.”

But again, if you look deeper, you’ll find that the cause of these things is not science. Science is the study of that which lies within the realm of the senses or the extensions of the senses. Based on discoveries made during these investigations, various technologies can be made. These can be helpful or harmful, both in their manufacture and their use. Thus far, we see a mix. Science has produced medicines to save millions of lives, and weapons to kill just as many. The wheel and fire are also scientific discoveries, not just nuclear bombs and plastic, so even the foremost Luddite can’t write science off completely. However, most of the gadgets produced today—androids and tablets and wireless ear-pieces—are unnecessary and very harmful to the environment in their production. What is real progress? Is it the advancement of our immediate convenience, or our capacity to understand, love and give? Too often, the underlying motive for scientific progress is also greed.

Therefore let us not criticize religion or science. They each have their jurisdictions, and it’s not helpful to falsely pit them against each other. Instead of branding people according to which camp they’re in and which flag they’re waving, it’s far better to look at underlying motives.

 

Thanks for listening. Next week we’ll get back to our scene-of-the-week series.

If you want to see what I can do with a deep story, pick up  my novel here, Fire from the Overworld. It is the story of two young mystics who fight to restore balance in their desert village, when war erupts among its spirit rulers. Feel free to sign up for the new scenes in your mailbox each week, along with guest posts, and my thoughts about living, loving, investigation and creation. 

This work is licensed Creative Commons, attribution, which means you can use it however you want, even commercially. Just let people know which bits came from me. Thanks!

 


I see the future

“Jashan wove through the dense London crowd, trying not to catch anyone’s mind.”

Hi. I’m B.T. Lowry. Welcome to this week’s scene of the week, I see the future.

I see the future of anyone who looks at me - paul bica

By Paul Bica

Listen here: 

Jashan wove through the dense London crowd, trying not to catch anyone’s mind.

He felt someone looking at him, and met her gaze without meaning to. A middle-aged woman in frumpy clothes. Sensations and images swirled around her, of her birth and her birthing a baby girl and her life wove through his mind like a thread with a sharp needle: I loved tennis but I had a child and stopped playing to give her my love. Then her future: My husband will divorce me and my daughter will marry overseas and I’ll grow old alone.

The woman glanced away. They never noticed what had happened. They didn’t know their own future, only their past. Jashan turned like a dancer, moving fast through the crowd without touching anyone, thinking of his forest and wishing he were still there with Father.

A man bumped his shoulder. Jashan turned back to him. The man’s big lips drew in a frown. Jashan caught his eyes to see if the man was angry enough to throw a punch, then the man’s life played: I want to be boss of a little tech company but I’m an employee and have been for years. I’m trained to be friendly and never show anyone but the envy of my boss burns me slowly. I’ll become alcoholic but in my last years I’ll leave that and do community service gardening and try to let this burning ambition die down.

Jashan apologized, turned away. He’d seen much worse in the minds of the crazy people.

In the forest there had been none of this. A baby fern once told him: I will grow three feet into the air before I run out of my seed-energy. There won’t be enough light filtering through the canopy for me so I’ll wither away and die.

In some ways, lives in the forest weren’t so different from here. But here the events in people’s lives had a thousand accoutrements, branching out in all directions, incredibly complex. And they were also disconnected from themselves and from the earth who nursed them.

Jashan had seen a bear crashing through the bush once: I’ll be on my own in a new patch of forest but I’ll always think of the other cubs. We grew up rolling together and sleeping in a pile. As I grow older I’ll become solitary and hibernate more than six months a year and I’ll not hunt because of sadness and I’ll starve.

There was sadness everywhere, but in the forest it was simple, elemental. But Jashan’s Father had left there to save it from these people who loved machines. He hadn’t succeeded. Now Jashan was in London, the hub of madness, on his way to meet the woman who had presided over the destruction of his home.

He wondered what her future was, and whether he could change it.

 

***

 

I’m already working on  developing this one into a short story, regardless of what the vote is! My good friend Bala is helping, and his experiences with the conservative mental health system in the UK are sending the story in a new direction. If someone claimed to have powers in the UK, being able to read people’s emotions or future, they would likely be sectioned. There is an imagined norm, and deviance from that is a disorder.

Now while I don’t think the whole thing is bunk, and some people really do benefit from medication and therapy, I do think that our western world view is too limited to accommodate everything that’s ‘normal’ for human beings to experience. If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘Horse Boy,’ for example, you’ll know that autism is viewed very differently by Siberian shamans than it is by the medical profession. It’s true that some people don’t function as ordinary citizens, but don’t we need people who are out of the ordinary too, not just in one way but in many ways?

 

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to see this scene expanded into a story, then tell me in the comments that this is the one you want. If you want to see what I can do with a deeper story, pick up  my novel here, Fire from the Overworld. It is the story of two young mystics who fight to restore balance in their desert village, when war erupts among its spirit rulers. Feel free to sign up for the new scenes in your mailbox each week, along with guest posts, and my thoughts about living, loving, investigation and creation. 

This work is licensed Creative Commons, attribution, which means you can use it however you want, even commercially. Just let people know which bits came from me. Thanks!


Lonely

“When the constellations came out at night, they were still perfectly aligned with his inner sense of direction. The world laid itself out before him.”

Hi. I’m B.T. Lowry. Welcome to this week’s scene of the week, Lonely.

By Tuncay

By Tuncay

Listen here: 

It was all too easy, walking through these pines. Making lean-tos at night, trapping rabbits… Even the snow had a crisp layer which supported his snowshoes nicely. Fischbach peak could be tough to climb this time of year, but it was nothing that Hasran hadn’t done before. When the sun rose, it was always just where he thought it would be. When the constellations came out at night, they were still perfectly aligned with his inner sense of direction. The world laid itself out before him.

That night he came to the old cabin that he’d used last year on this same route. He tied the sled onto a tree trunk, out of habit from camping on slopes. The snow could shift and the sled would slide. It was better to be safe.

He creaked open the door. Inside, the cabin had degenerated more since he’d last come. Other men must have made camp there. New scratches marked the floor, and someone had even forgotten a tin mug.

Careless.

He went out and got his mat and blanket from the sled, then laid them on the bed. Coils sprang out in every direction but it was still better than sleeping on the floor.

He brought some dry wood out from the tarp. He’d have to leave some pieces here for the next person, though no one had left any for him. He melted snow to drink, and poured some of the boiling water into a bowl of oats and bran. Salt would be a luxury. He sat on the bed, and soon found himself staring at the doorway. It creaked in the wind, and light leaked around its edges as though heaven shone outside. Someone had carved a scene into the planks: a woman walking up a mountain.

Artists. Hasran wished for a moment that he had some hobby like that. The long nights were making him crazy, like Uncle had been crazy. The problem came in wondering too much what makes humanity tick.

 

***

 

When I was a kid, my family and I were cross-country skiing through a Canadian pine forest, when we came across an abandoned shack. The snow came half-way up its sides. Snow-laden pines surrounded it and the forest was preternaturally quiet, with the snow absorbing all sound. I clambered down into it from the surface.

The wooden planks on the walls had warped so that light streamed in. A cot took up a quarter of the total space, with rusty bedsprings coming out from mulched cotton. I imagined some hermetic trapper living there, or someone who just couldn’t find peace within civilization. It’s that experience which inspired this story.

 

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to see this scene expanded into a story, then tell me in the comments that this is the one you want. If you want to see what I can do with a deeper story, pick up  my novel here, Fire from the Overworld. It is the story of two young mystics who fight to restore balance in their desert village, when war erupts among its spirit rulers. Feel free to sign up for the new scenes in your mailbox each week, along with guest posts, and my thoughts about living, loving, investigation and creation. 

This work is licensed Creative Commons, attribution, which means you can use it however you want, even commercially. Just let people know which bits came from me. Thanks!


Ancient Evil

“I know, I know. But we are also mortal.”

Hi. I’m B.T. Lowry. Welcome to this week’s scene of the week, Ancient Evil.

Ancient evil - ROBERT HUFFSTUTTER

image by ROBERT HUFFSTUTTER

 

Listen here: 

We’ve haunted this land since before time began. When these castles were unformed clay and stone, we watched men build them up. Inspiring a spider to bite, tempting a street-boy to his first mugging, we helped them remember that death is close for them.

I know, I know. But we are also mortal.

Silence! Have you known one of us to die?

I’ve only ever known you, Mother. Who is that one, flying in now on a rotating machine?

Let me sense him… He is an investigator. He wants to know what happened here a thousand years before his birth. Ah, there is a scorpion. I’ll use that to—

Don’t kill him.

Oh? Are you sympathetic to these tiny creatures now?

It’s not that. I have no empathy. That would be strange. But curiosity… We’ve been inspiring snakes and scorpions for so long… couldn’t we control the urge of reproduction, or the impulse that makes men build these structures so high in such a short time, even though they’ll all die so quickly? Couldn’t we control those, like Uncle does?

We were not made to do that work, son.

Hmph.

He’s nearing…

Who made us?

 

***

 

As I write this, I’m in the Abu Dabhi airport, on my way to India. I tried to get into the US, spent some time in England waiting for a long-delayed Indian visa (I wrote ‘writer’ as my profession and they were afraid I was a journalist, which is for some reason problematic.)

I’ve recently finished a book called ‘The new green history of the world,’ by Clive Ponting. It’s a realistic re heavy look at the history of the human race and our relationship with the environment.

While the history presented in the book never questions western evolutionary theory, and I think it should, and it doesn’t take into account the possibility of civilizations more ancient than what’s taught in schools, it’s still an eye-opening account of at east of the last two thousand years. In the last five hundred years especially, and the last fifty exceptionally, it’s a history of unsustainable exploitation. We are in an extreme spot now, with the world’s systems breaking down. Our energy-hungry international commerce is mostly running off oil-power. The planes, the cars, the power plants. And it seems there’s not much of that left, and the world is heating up.

So as I’m sitting in this ultra-modern airport, typing away on my laptop, I wonder, how long can this last? Will government and trade break down, or will we transition somehow into another phase which, while more modest than this massively expansionist phase we’re in now, would involve substantial international travel and trade of culture and goods.

 

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to see this scene expanded into a story, then tell me in the comments that this is the one you want. If you want to see what I can do with a deeper story, pick up  my novel here, Fire from the Overworld. It is the story of two young mystics who fight to restore balance in their desert village, when war erupts among its spirit rulers. Feel free to sign up for the new scenes in your mailbox each week, along with guest posts, and my thoughts about living, loving, investigation and creation. 

This work is licensed Creative Commons, attribution, which means you can use it however you want, even commercially. Just let people know which bits came from me. Thanks!


Ghosts from 500 years ago, expanded version

Hi. B.T. Lowry here, fantasy author and videographer. Welcome to the first story developed from the scene-of-the-week series.
The scene which got the most votes was the short film, “Ghosts from 500 Years ago,” so I went right ahead and developed it further. I added more footage and brought in a ghost-king from ancient India and some deep thoughts. If the first part seems familiar, jes’ keep watching.

Here it is:

My special thanks go out to Erothyme, with Biomigrant and Emma Staarbird. Their excellent music is featured in the latter part of the film, the song “Pines and Leaves,” from the album, “Sound in the Living Current.” The whole album–and all their work, really–is excellent. You can find out more about them at these sites:

http://www.erothyme.com
http://facebook.com/biomigrant
http://biomigrant.bandcamp.com

Also, thanks to unnamed temple musicians of South India and Orissa, whose celebratory sounds also grace this film.

Thanks for watching and listening and reading. Feel free to look around the site, btlowry.com, for more scenes and such. You can also read my novel, Fire from the Overworld, and sign up for the new scenes in your mailbox each week, along with guest posts and thoughts about living, loving investigation and creation. Or you don’t have to do any of that, and we can still be friends.


Bouncing off Borders

Hi. I’m B.T. Lowry. Welcome to this week’s scene of the week, Bouncing off Borders.

Our World - DIBP images

Our World – DIBP images

Listen here:

I shuffled up to the immigration desk.

“Papers,” said a brawler of a man with a thick black mustache.

I furnished him with my passport.

He scanned it, said without making eye contact. “Why do you want to go to the USA?”

It’s a free world and this land belongs to no man, and to everyone. You people stole it from the Indians and they didn’t own it either. We’re all coming and going.

“Visiting friends,” I replied.
He frowned. “Don’t you have any friends in your country?”
No one belongs to any country or family. We’re all citizens of the Earth, and even more than that we’re  citizens of the universe and children of God.

“I do,” I said. “I have friends here too.”

He looked over whatever information was on his screen about me. “It says here that you’ve been to the USA before. You’ve been to many countries. Why would you want to leave your own country, stay there with your family?”

I have no country. I just happened to be born in some piece of land recently designated by a name.

“I like traveling.”

He made a mark on some sort of checklist, then looked back at the screen. “You said you’re a writer.”

“Yes.”

“Are you a journalist?”
“No Sir.”

He looked me in the eye for the first time. “Well what do you write?”

The whole world is an allegory. You just shift it left or right like transposing a song, or the down indicates the up, earth points to heaven. There’s no fiction. Every idea indicates something real.

“Well, I filled out the landing card.”

He nodded, apparently satisfied. “Do you plan on writing when you’re in the USA?”

“No, Sir. I only write in my own country.”

“While in your own country, do you intend to write about experiences that you had while in the USA?”

“Ah, no Sir. I only write in my own country about experiences that I have in my own country, Sir.”

“Very good.”
“Can I go in?”

“No. Policy dictates that every man should live in his own country.”

“So there should be no travelers?”

“Only on business.”

I closed my eyes, told myself not to yell at this man, not to attack.

I opened them and raised my hand above my head. “Charge!”

From the back of the immigration room, a force of war-horses five hundred strong sprung from hiding. Their riders, clad in exotic, angular armor, raised hooked blades over their heads as they charged into the USA.

 

***

 

This scene was inspired by my recent visit to the Los Angeles airport. I was welcomed by men who had a keen interest in me as a person, who wanted to know all the details of my life. They were kind enough to escort me around the airport, and even gave me my own space in a locked room with other guests. I got to see the inside of a police van, and was able to return to my home country much more quickly than I’d hoped.

This experience left me with an appreciation for the human conceptions of countries, borders, and also money, because it is largely the glow of money which keeps these constructs intact. How amazing it is that a country not five hundred years old, in its current incarnation, and which was largely stolen from the older inhabitants, now keeps people who were born in other places out! It is indeed a testament to mind over matter that these ideas govern our lives and activities. In this spirit, I have decided to name a constellation of stars after myself, and should anyone ever make it to that area of the universe, I will question them thoroughly and charge them an entrance fee.
Thanks for reading. If you’d like to see this scene expanded into a story, then tell me in the comments that this is the one you want. You can also grab my novel here, Fire from the Overworld. It is the story of two young mystics who fight to restore balance in their desert village, when war erupts among its spirit rulers. Feel free to sign up for the new scenes in your mailbox each week, along with guest posts, and my thoughts about living, loving, investigation and creation. 

This work is licensed Creative Commons, attribution, which means you can use it however you want, even commercially. Just let people know which bits came from me. Thanks!

 


The big ones, or how I got knocked out

Balloon racing by Les Chatfield

 

I’m going to take a break from the scene-of-the-week to tell you about the first time that got knocked out.

(Listen below)

 

I had the experience of looking back at all the major points in my life simultaneously. Actually there are not so many as you might think. Birth is obviously a big one. There were a couple in my childhood from 6 to 12 years old that stand out. A lot of things happened in between these big events, of course, but not unexpected stuff. Learning to eat, sort of eventually. Learning to walk, then run.

The first time I rode a bike without training wheels was a big one. My mom and dad pushed me off, me sitting there on the bike. I flew forward, pedaling hard, and I felt like I was flying around that parking lot, almost empty of cars.

Speaking of two wheeled vehicles, I remember going on a ride which was, in retrospect, extremely dangerous. I was to drive a miniature motorcycle in hoops around a thick plastic sphere, going up, upside down, down, round the bottom, up again… I only made it to the top once before running out of momentum. The motorcycle fell down on top of me, knocking me unconscious. When I opened my eyes, I was looking at the world from a new angle of vision, and I couldn’t remember the transition, how I got there. That was the first time I ever got knocked out. These events are like bubbles fixed to the string of my life. In each bubble the memory plays out in a seamless loop, changing a little each time.

You can listen to this being read to you here:

audio mp3=”https://btlowry.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/the-big-ones.mp3″%5D%5B/audio%5D

 

Or to download it, right click here and choose ‘save link as’

Next week we’ll start again the Scene-of-the-Week series.

Each week, I’ll give you a scene from a story, maybe from the beginning and maybe from somewhere in the middle. These stories will not be fully written, just the scenes. You can vote for which ones you want to have made into a full story in the comments section. 🙂


Five Main Events

Five by woodleywonderworks

Five by woodleywonderworks

 

 

(Listen below)

We’re taking a break from the scene-of-the-week series to take do a little retrospection.

I look back at the main events in my life. There are five, really. Birth, obviously. Adolescence as a whole. My first real relationship. Joining the temple, and leaving the temple. That’s it.

I wonder, if one or the other of these events had been different or had not taken place, who I would be now. Of course, some of them really can’t be removed, like birth and adolescence. But they could have happened very differently.

Birth is huge. It’s the starting point of our life, and we come in with momentum. A rocket launched eastward may turn and go northward, but not so easily as one which was launched northward to begin with. The starting trajectory of a person’s life is the angle at which they come into the world, and this affects the entire course of their lives. Of course, the choices we make in our life also change who we are, but if I were born into very different circumstances, I reckon I’d be a very different person today.

Why is a person born into her particular life? This is, if not one of the main philosophical questions that have been asked by different schools throughout the ages, certainly one of their assistants. Science would generally have us believe that we are products of physical evolution, that our selves as we know them now—our bodies, that is, and maybe minds as well, depending on who you ask—are the result of many, many years of iteratively evolving genetics.

This is, of course, not the only idea on the subject. Many people believe that the circumstances of our birth—including our parents, the stability of our country or lack thereof, our talents, our personalities, our capacities, our economic levels, and all other obvious and not-so-obvious trappings and attributes that we may possess—have carried over into this life from the one before. All these different kinds of momentum, they say, are carried in a subtle body, which surrounds and accompanies the conscious self from life to life. While this is all quite far out, it does explain a lot of differences between us all, which are attributed to chance by the former school of thought, without further explanation.

You can listen to this being read to you here:

 

Or to download it, right click here and choose ‘save link as’

Come back next week to get the next scene of the week, the first of those in the new round. You can say in the comments which scene you’d like to see made into a short story.

 


Genderizer

Broad bean media hand shake

Broad bean media hand shake

 

 

(Listen below)

I just couldn’t decide, so I kept running the genderizer back and forth, looking at myself in the mirror. At one point I left it in between, so I was half man, half woman. On one hand, it would be good to be a man when I met the CEO. I could grip his hand really hard when I shook it. We could joke about our wives, or talk about different beautiful actresses or singers. I could win him over, man to man.

Then again, as a woman I might be able to enter his confidence more easily. I could hear him out, sympathize with him, appeal to his softer side. I might remind him of his mother, or sister. Maybe his wife.

You can listen to this being read to you here:

 

Or to download it, right click here and choose ‘save link as’

Vote now or forever hold your peace! (until the next round)
Figuring this out as I’m going along, I’m closing the first round on scene-of-the-week, where you can vote for the scene that you’d like to see as a short story. Tomorrow’s scene will be the last one, So leave a comment on the scene you like the best, either here, on Facebook or Twiter, or as a message to me, and see that scene transformed into a story in an upcoming post.

What is… Scene-of-the-Week?

Each week, I’ll give you a scene from a story, maybe from the beginning and maybe from somewhere in the middle. These stories will not be fully written, just the scenes. You can vote for which ones you want to have made into a full story in the comments section. 🙂


Wolf in the window  

Gray Wolf by dalliedee

Gray Wolf by dalliedee

 

You can listen to this being read to you here:

 

Or to download it, right click here and choose ‘save link as’

It was alright until my bear broke through the barrier separating me from the mundane life.

Let me backtrack. I was there on the London Underground, Bakerloo line, going to work. I was reading a book of myths from my childhood. I held a book in front of me, changed the page sometimes in case anyone was watching. But my eyes were closed, with sunglasses on so no one would see. The stories were behind my eyelids, and so was I.

I sat with my wolf, Santoin. He’s not so impatient as me. While I looked over our map of the sacred mountain, he just sat by me, breathing and gazing ahead. He imparted stability to me, just by being there. By being so big and solid and fierce, all that and still loyal to me.

My lighter friends, bunnies and furry bears, crawled over logs and traipsed through streams and wrestled with each other like idle thoughts on a fluffy-sky day. I colored in the areas on the map where we’d gone already. The color came from my fingertips, light brown and sepia. We’d gone a long way.

We were just about ready to set out when one of the fuzzy bears climbed up next to me and reached backward, behind me where I couldn’t see, where he wasn’t meant to go, and he pushed a barrier which I’d forgotten was there, and his finger set a ripple going like he’d thrown a stone in a sideways pond.

My sunglasses fell off. I dropped my book onto a ridged rubber floor. The man next to me on the Bakerloo line looked over, fear in his eyes. What had he seen? Had Santoin crossed over with me, just for a second? I blinked in the fluorescent lights, reaching for my sunglasses.

 

Scene-of-the-Week

Each week, I’ll give you a scene from a story, maybe from the beginning and maybe from somewhere in the middle. These stories will not be fully written, just the scenes. You can vote for which ones you want to have made into a full story in the comments section. 🙂


Which life event would you like to change?

_MG_7809_sequence_01 by Hugh Letheren

_MG_7809_sequence_01 by Hugh Letheren

 

You can listen to this being read to you here:

 

Or to download it, right click here and choose ‘save link as’

Yes, Madam, please just sit there. No, It won’t hurt, but you will feel a tingling. Alright, we are initiating now. Yes? Just relax, it’s alright.

It’s done, Madam. We’re getting the results now… It seems you have had eight major events in your life. Birth, entrance into school, a fight with your best friend after which you never spoke with each other again, the first time you sang in front of an audience, ah… the commencement of womanhood, your first child, marriage, your second child, divorce… and here we are today.

We can change one event within the budget you’ve specified. I advise you to consider carefully. You don’t want to lose anything that’s presently dear to you. But don’t overthink it either; it’s impossible to predict all the ramifications of your decision.

Ah, you look like you’ve made up your mind. Which one would you like to change?

 

Scene-of-the-Week

Each week, I’ll give you a scene from a story, maybe from the beginning and maybe from somewhere in the middle. These stories will not be fully written, just the scenes. You can vote for which ones you want to have made into a full story in the comments section. 🙂


Ghosts of worshipers from five hundred years ago

This week the scene-of-week is in a video. I recently went to the magical land of Hampi in South India and was inspired to make this video about the ancient culture there, which was conquered, which has morphed into the people and customs found here today. I recommend you watch it and listen to it, but if you’d like, the transcription is below.

***

I look at these old ruins from above, this extensive temple which is crumbling in many places. The courtyard, now empty, must have been filled for celebrations. Deities would have been brought out on procession, accompanied by priests fanning them, offering them food, water, incense and flowers. People must have sang in the procession, beat drums and blown shehnais. Feasts were offered to the deities, then given to rich and poor alike. A king held ceremonies here, for good children, a long reign, and to please God. These dusty ruins were whole and alive. People lived here, they worshipped here. Some of the priests must have served in this temple for years, perhaps decades.

How can I just pass through this place when it had so much significance for them? How can I not stop to mourn their tragedies, and to wonder at the intricacies of their lives?

 

Scene-of-the-Week

Each week, I’ll give you a scene from a story, maybe from the beginning and maybe from somewhere in the middle. These stories will not be fully written, just the scenes. You can vote for which ones you want to have made into a full story in the comments section. 🙂


Scene of the week: Nature Woman vs. Tech Man

seeds by Peter Kaminski

seeds by Peter Kaminski

 

You can listen to this being read to you here:

 

Or to download it, right click here and choose ‘save link as’

A meteorite hurtles through space. There are dormant seeds inside it, but they need a home, a planet. They cannot change the course of the meteorite and must move indefinitely, until it hits another object.

After hundreds of years, it crashes into the surface of a small moon, orbiting a gas giant. The meteorite’s surface cracks open, revealing a shiny brown seed half as tall as a man. A day passes.

The planet is not empty. On the opposite side, now in darkness, tiny machines scour the ground. They dig in then produce more of themselves, using the elements from the ground. They move over the surface like grass growing, and one in a hundred taps down deeper, searching for water for their Master. He sits in a steel-and-glass palace a hundred miles behind them. He is surrounded by machines for building, breaking down, transforming, heating, cooling and a hundred other terraforming tasks.

The seed passes into night, then back into day. It cracks. Its edges fold out like beetle-wings. Inside, many smaller seeds surround one in the center, the largest. Many of the small seeds crack open. Roots go down from them. They fight against the hard earth. They push their ways into tiny cracks, then pry them larger. The roots use the last of their life energy searching for water for their Mistress, she who is in the largest seed. She who will make this planet her own.

 

Scene-of-the-Week

Each week, I’ll give you a scene from a story, maybe from the beginning and maybe from somewhere in the middle. These stories will not be fully written, just the scenes. You can vote for which ones you want to have made into a full story in the comments section. 🙂


Scene of the week: The Incarnator

River of light by webtreats

River of light by webtreats

 

You can listen to this being read to you here:

 

Or to download it, right click here and choose ‘save link as’

 

Bormeal hurtled through the streams of time, firmly gripping his hammer.

It was unsettling. Not the streams. They were beautiful in their own way. He felt like he were falling through thousands of horizontal rainbow waterfalls, suspended in an infinite void. No, what was unsettling was the fact that he’d lose his hammer. He loved it. It was part of him. It was huge, like Thor’s, and it could bash things really nicely. But even though he would still look the same as he did now when he landed—bulky, ferocious, hairy—and even though he would remember everything… he could not keep his hammer. Whatever god governed all this wasn’t very kind, not to Bormeal anyway.

When he looked up, things seemed to be going reeeally slow. The figures in the time-streams—so many faces and animals and births and deaths and triumphant moments—moved as though shrunk-wrapped and half-frozen. When he looked down, they all seemed to move reeeally fast. Whole lives came and went while he took a breath. On his own level (which was changing constantly as he fell) it all moved at a regular pace, like him. A man laughed with his family, another dug a hole for a plant. Crowds of people worked on huge stone buildings. They slowed down as they passed by him, as though they were falling upward.

As he neared Earth time, Bormeal began to discern the spiritual level of people on the planet. Incarnators saw the planet in different ways, but he saw this as a hazy, multi-dimensional, colorful graph. As he fell farther, he saw the structures of politics and nations. Blocky shapes bashing against each other with spasms and crashes, waddling across the world knocking each other around. By now, a second of Bormeal’s time would be around… it was hard to guess, but… an hour of time below. As he got closer still he could make out land masses, people milling around. Battles that were important only to the people in them, and some others alive on the planet at the time, if they were nearby.

Bormeal hit the earth, lost his hammer in filaments of light. He sighed, feeling alone without it. He looked around from the top of a hill in some semi-arid land. Scrubby grass and bald rocks. Cold and drizzly. A dozen goat-herders walked below, but they didn’t look up. Bormeal didn’t appear to everyone as soon as he landed. No, there was a proper sequence to things.

Generally, he first showed himself as an apparition, say, to a single crazy farmer. Then word got round. Everyone professed not to believe it, but everyone had their doubts. Then Bormeal appeared to a few folks in the saner section. Most of them wouldn’t tell anyone. Still, some would. Then he appeared to some of the leaders of whatever religion was prominent in that place. The monks and nuns wrote about him and distributed the knowledge to the faithful. That was pretty authoritative, but some people would always think them crazy—the proportion varied according to the society. Anyway, Bormeal would reveal himself, soon after that. Some would think he was a demon, others a god. He was neither, not the way they thought about such beings anyway.

Ah, one of the shepards had strayed behind the others. Bormeal manifested himself, puffing into the air with some nice effects around him, like yak-tails made of light were being whisked around behind him. He walked down, all buff and shiny looking, and approached the startled man.

This is part of the Scene-a-Week series. Each week, I’ll give you a scene from a story, maybe from the beginning and maybe from somewhere in the middle. These stories will not be fully written, just the scenes. You can vote for which ones you want to have made into a full story in the comments section. 


Scene of the week: Crazy Auntie

by mysterious conspiracy

by mysterious conspiracy

 

You can listen to this being read to you here:

 

Or to download it, right click here and choose ‘save link as’

The family’s old, crazy auntie held one finger to her mouth, glanced around as to indicate all the others in the house, and gave me a look could only be described as ‘extremely conspiratorial.’ She pushed her taped-up glasses up on her nose, adjusted the sari on her frail, skinny frame. Eyebrows raised, eyes wide. Grinning like a little girl.

She spoke to me in Bengali, still glancing around and grinning. I sat by my computer, listening. I couldn’t understand her, but it was eminently obvious that she was revealing her plan to me, telling me the whats and the hows and the whens. She’d carried out some trickery, somewhere in the house. Maybe she’d mixed ingredients in the larder. Maybe she’d stolen something. Maybe she’d said something to one person, something else to another. I didn’t know, but it was mischief, and I was in on it.

This is part of the Scene-a-Week series. Each week, I’ll give you a scene from a story, maybe from the beginning and maybe from somewhere in the middle. These stories will not be fully written, just the scenes. You can vote for which ones you want to have made into a full story in the comments section. 


Scene-of-the-week premiere: Throwing a guy through time

Boy throwing ball by Kasia

Boy throwing ball by Kasia

 

Welcome to the first of the scene-of-the-week series. Every week there’ll be a new scene, a glimpse of a potentially complete story. You get to vote which one you want to see as a full story in the comments below.

You can listen to this being read to you here:

 

Or to download it, right click here and choose ‘save link as’

 

Time Hucker went into trance using his special machine. His assistant Gerald, who he’d seen as a big, hairy boy a moment before, now appeared as a tiny ball of light. Time Hucker’s own body now looked luminescent, his arms glassy. He stood looking down as though from a high bridge. He took hold of the Gerald-light, held him in his hand as though weighing him, and looked down into the time streams. Gerald would take the streams seriously, once he was far enough in. Oh yes.

The trick was throwing him at just the right moment…

Each stream was a different color, flowed straight in its own direction, from horizon to horizon. They looked like a hundred thousand curving, translucent rivers, all stacked on top of each other. Their distinct colors—green, blue, orange, yellow—mixed with each other in ways that he still found amazing, though he wouldn’t admit it to Gerald.

Far, far below lay Gerald’s destination, the Earth timeline. Time Hucker watched, waited. Wait for it. Wait…

He imagined himself saying to Gerald, who was both his apprentice and nephew, ‘It is tricky to toss someone from one flow of time into another, Gerald. When I first started training, my teacher had me throw stones. From where I was, I threw a stone down into the faster time streams. It’s a bit like throwing a ball from a bridge, you see, and trying to get it to land on a particular square inch of grass. Tricky. Well, it’s actually more like that example, except gravity acts on the ball more and more, the closer it gets to the ground. Because you see, Gerald, time gets denser in the lower dimensions. Not like here.’

Savvy words, but then Gerald wouldn’t listen to such things, because Gerald was more interested in the pretty colors that the rivers of time made when they combined with each other. He liked to swim among them, diving and surfacing, seeing how the colors changed depending on where he was among the layers. Why, if Time Hucker would let him, Gerald would change the time streams, just for aesthetic effect!

If, however, Gerald were a good student, listening attentively, Time Hucker would have said, ‘When I threw them, the stones would appear somewhere in the timeline, very suddenly and moving very fast. Earth people would think them meteorites. Which they were, but from another time.’

Then Gerald would laugh at Time Hucker’s wit.

Time Hucker would smile and pat Gerald’s head affectionately. ‘But the problem, you see, is that people are much more unpredictable than stones. They can adjust their fall, like someone with a parachute, pulling at the corners to change direction. They can move left and right, even slow themselves down a little bit.’ His hands tightened on the Gerald-ball. ‘But they still had to move, very, very fast, Gerald. Like you will now.’

For Gerald was not an attentive student. No, Gerald had to be taught a lesson.

Ah! Wait for it…. wait…. hold…

With all his strength, time Hucker hurled Gerald down into the time streams.

This is the first week in the, Scene-a-week series. Each week, I’ll give you a scene from a story, maybe from the beginning and maybe from somewhere in the middle. These stories will not be fully written, just the scenes. You can vote for which ones you want to have made into a full story in the comments section. Sound like fun?


‘Fire from the Overworld’ available now!

(click to view)Fire from the Overworld cover final(click to view)


Everything is STORY

diversity

Photo: People from all over the world coming together for unusual and diverse spiritual, cultural and personal reasons

Here’s a question for all you thinkers out there: is there anything at all which cannot be contained in a story?

I say no, and here’s my case.

All types of people can populate stories

Characters can be theists, atheists, violent, philosophical, young at heart but old of body, young of body but old of heart, proud, humble, talented, foolish… you name it. The variety of people out there in the world and universe is the same as the potential variety of characters.

All knowledge can be contained in stories and characters

There are stories about math, arts, engineering, space travel, astrology, astronomy, mysticism and folklore… Indeed, the evolution and devolution of these subjects over time is also a grand story.

All places both real and imaginary can be settings in stories

You can set a story anywhere on earth, or under it, or in the oceans or in the air, or a combination of all of these. A story can take place between planets, on other planets, in a black hole, in an alternate dimension, or in a place transcendental to all dimensions.

We swim through stories all our lives

The newspaper is a collection of stories, with characters, settings and events. When we ask a friend, “How was your day?” their answer will be a story. Even if they just reply, “It was good,” or “It was bad,” that still tells us something about or friend and what they’re really going through. That’s part of their expression within a larger story. Our guesses about what’s really happening with them are stories.

Stories aren’t all fictional, but they’re all subjective

What?! How can real stories be subjective? Well, because they’re experienced by subjects–by people. A person’s personal experience, as well as their retelling of events will always be from their point of view. Someone may be rational and truthful, or may not even tell events according to their own experience. But we’re all subjects, and so whatever we experience is subjective. We’re in stories and we tell stories. It’s what we do. All fictional stories are based on real-life stories, even the really far-out ones. We don’t really create anything new–that’s my understanding. We recombine ideas in amazing ways.

There are stories everywhere, but in some places they’re denser

I’m in West Bengal now, in the village of Nabadwip by the river Ganges. I’m staying with some of my god-family who run a school for underprivileged kids. I’m learning a bit about how the different kids came to the school here. We’re working on a video series, with spotlights on a different child each month. Stay tuned for that, but in the meantime I’ll say that their stories are both extremely tragic and extremely hopeful.

Comparing tapestries

I spend a lot of time in India, and for some years have been going back and forth between India and England, in particular. Now there are stories in England too, but not like in India. I think of stories like threads in a tapestry. England has its tapestry, with its colors and density of strands. There is the history of the British Empire, there’s Christianity, there’s science. There is medieval England, and the pagans and druids in the ancient past. So there’s some great, diverse stuff going on. There’s no doubt about it. Canada has its story, the United States has its story. All places do, and they’re amazing.

Then you come to India. It’s also a tapestry of stories–of lives weaving together–but it’s extremely dense and colorful, and parts of it are very, very ancient. Here’s a short story I wrote, about reincarnation, poverty and brother-sister love.

I’m not the only one who thinks this way about India. Check this out:

A Rough Guide to India: “It is impossible not to be astonished by India. Nowhere on Earth does humanity present itself in such a dizzying, creative burst of cultures and religions, races and tongues. Enriched by successive waves of migration and marauders from distant lands, every one of them left an indelible imprint which was absorbed into the Indian way of life. Every aspect of the country presents itself on a massive, exaggerated scale, worthy in comparison only to the superlative mountains that overshadow it. It is this variety which provides a breathtaking ensemble for experiences that is uniquely Indian. Perhaps the only thing more difficult than to be indifferent to India would be to describe or understand India completely.”

It’s a land of extremes. Extreme wealth and poverty. Extreme depravity and saintliness, horror and beauty. Schools of thought which aim at total annihilation of the self, and others which aim at realization of one’s spiritual form and eternal relationship with a personal Godhead. There’s a history going back–depending on who’s story you take–thousands or millions of years.

Keith Bellows, National Geographic Society : “There are some parts of the world that, once visited, get into your heart and won’t go. For me, India is such a place. When I first visited, I was stunned by the richness of the land, by its lush beauty and exotic architecture, by its ability to overload the senses with the pure, concentrated intensity of its colors, smells, tastes, and sounds… I had been seeing the world in black & white and, when brought face-to-face with India, experienced everything re-rendered in brilliant technicolor.”

Stories stories stories!

Here in India, you might meet a man in a loin cloth with no shoes, living in the mountains. He’s studied computer programming in Bangalore, but left that to become a yogi. His grandfather practiced yoga for decades and, at the time of his death, his soul left his body out the top of his head with a small explosion.

One of the kids here in the school was separated from his mother for a long time by an abusive father. He become very introverted, but with the care of the teachers he’s become an excellent actor and helps all the other kids learn. His family are refugees from a war in Bangladesh which took place before his birth. It was, ostensibly, a religious war, but seems to have been more about land and power, unsurprisingly. He’s living now in Nabadwip where, the Vedic scriptures describe, a form of Krishna appeared about five hundred years ago, named Caitanyadeva. People from all over the world come here to worship Caitanyadeva. How they learned about Him is another story, how His teachings fit in with the vast array of teachings in India is another story. All these stories mix together in a way that I’ve never heard of anywhere else.

Nine Lives by William Dalrymple has one chapter for each of nine very diverse people here in India, from a prostitute to a divine dancer. I recommend it.

Really there’s just one big tapestry of stories

Do you disagree? Have you traveled around India, stayed with some families, learned about the history and philosophical/religious groups within the country? Let’s talk. The way I see it, there are threads of stories running all over the globe, but there seems to be a real nucleus in India.

Quotes

Mark Twain, American author: “India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only.”

I’ll end with a few quotes about this land.

Will Durant, American historian: “India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all”.

Romain Rolland, French scholar : “If there is one place on the face of earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dream of existence, it is India.”

 

If you disagree with me, please say so in the comments. If you agree with me, please debate respectfully with those who don’t. You can subscribe by giving your e-mail in the top right part of the screen. You’ll get a free mini audio-book/e-book too. And be sure to click the relevant links to share this around!
I’m publishing once every two weeks.

 

 


How creativity builds empathy

Life is diverse indeed

https://btlowry.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/creation-maintenance-destruction.jpg

Bad guys have their own motivations.

In nuanced stories, no one is just plain evil. That’s true in real life too. This ‘evil-doer’ is just carrying on the inheritances of a bad childhood. She’s trying to uphold tradition and order. He wants the land back that was stolen from his people generations ago. She’d determined to save her country’s principles, and the only way to do it is to rule it with an iron fist. An antagonist is a hero in her own mind.

Good guys have their faults.

An anti-hero has more faults than most. Clint Eastwood’s characters, Wolverine, the couple in Natural Born Killers, the dudes in Pulp Fiction. They’re so twisted that they’re protagonists but not heroes, in my mind. I don’t have friends as heavy as that, but most of the people I look up to aren’t perfect. I love them anyway.

Diversity

navadvipa-bengal-4

In any discussion or debate, it’s nice to see characters representing different points of view. It’s the same in fiction. It’s boring if everyone sees things in the same way, like a herd of animals. If a theme of a story is spirituality, it’s uninteresting if everyone’s of the same faith, and of the same flavor of that one faith. Rather if we have a cast of atheists, theists, polytheists, scientists and ex-believers, we can flesh out the issues in their discussions, conflicts, actions and reactions.

Straw men. Built to burn.

A straw man is a character who’s there just to prove his world-view wrong. His failure shows that his world-view is flawed. Now, a character may fail because his world-view is unworkable, because his opponents take him down. But he’s got to have reasons for doing what he’s doing. He’s got to make a convincing case, if only to himself, if the story’s going to feel realistic. I may be a theist, but the atheist in my book has to represent himself well.

An aggressive, angry person has their reasons for being that way. It might seem convoluted and hypocritical to me, or to other characters, but he feels he’s justified or he wouldn’t be doing it. I, or the character who’s convictions are most like mine, might vehemently disagree with the villain, but if I’m going to write that character convincingly, I need to understand people who have that nature.

Empathy

In order to write about people who think differently from me, who hold beliefs other than my own, I need to empathize with such folk in real life. I find that as I write more fiction, my appreciation of diverse kinds of people increases.

Bengali people are very different from Canadians

Bengalis and Canadians

I grew up in Canada. Right now I’m in West Bengal. Bengalis as a whole have a very different nature than Canadians.

Broadly speaking, I find Bengali people to be extremely social, family-based, emotional, and devotional. They’re expressive without inhibitions, well into gossip, devotional to the point where they’ll roll around in groups inside of temples, calling out the names of the deities on the altar there.

By contrast, Canadians are reserved, polite, pragmatic and individualistic.

People are a bit like their climate.

The sub-tropical lands of West Bengal are rich with intertwined, often competing life. Canada is cool, vast and sparse by comparison. There are fewer flora and fauna, and what’s there is starkly differentiated. The people are like that too. Everyone sails their own ship. They meet with others, then go on. They don’t like to huddle in huge groups for long.

I may come from a polite and practical people, but how fascinating it is to put expressive, deeply spiritual, collectively-minded people in my stories. Though it irritates me to be shoved aside in a temple, by an eager old-lady-pilgrim’s steel-bar elbows, when I think of her as a character in a story, it’s suddenly a fascinating scene.

artwork by Alina Gaboran

(courtesy of Alina Gaboran, used with permission)

It’s like artwork

If you’re going to draw a person on an object, at least in the post-renaissance style, you have to understand the three-dimensional shape of it, how light plays on it, how shadows fall on it and how it casts shadows, how the shapes join with each other. Some would say that if you want to really show the life of a living subject, you have to be in touch with that life in them. You have to empathize with them, then their likeness will come from your brush.

Diverse spiritual viewpoints

navadvipa-bengal-3

I just participated in a week-long spiritual festival here in Navadvipa town, West Bengal, India. It’s a beautiful place. The Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers all run through the land, dividing it into nine islands. We roamed from temple to temple, singing and dancing like mad. The festival is called the Gaura Purnima festival, celebrating the appearance day of the great spiritual personality, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (affectionately known to the elder ladies of his time as little Nimai)

An incredible diversity of people came to this little town

They came from around the world. Some are by nature creative and artistic, others scientific and practical. Some were born into spiritually-minded families. Others grew up in homes where such discussions never came up. Although coming to the same place under the same spiritual banner, people bring their own convictions with them. Some disagree strongly with others.

In all this sizzling pot of spiritual diversity, I found that my own writing of fiction helps me. The mindset of being a storyteller is allowing me to step back from the intensity of inter-personal drama. I can see it all as a story with an astoundingly diverse cast. With the detachment that comes from imagining it to be unreal, I can better understand people’s motivations. I can take what’s good in them, and the rest is spicy chutney. Certainly a story without conflict would be boring.

There’s a tendency in real life to make people fully good or bad, but in fiction it doesn’t fly. You want some gradations of motivations and selfishness.

Fiction is a kind of allegory, or simplified representation, of the real world’s in its infinite complexity. Often, it can help us understand, accommodate and live life.

How is communication even possible?

The diversity of people throughout the world is so great that I sometimes find it amazing that we can communicate at all. Yet we can, if we try, relate with people very different from ourselves.

Scientifically

Some say this is because we have parts of our brains which mirror the thoughts of others. We give them a temporary house in our heads, and thus come to understand them. By imitating their brains with parts of our own, we come to know them. 

Energetically

Energetically, we hear that people exchange energies when they communicate. Different colors and flavors of energy come from one person and make themselves part of the other. Either way, we take something of the other onboard. We make it our own in order to understand it.

This makes sense to me.

Human beings generally have two arms, two legs, two eyes and so on. There’s a kind of standard physical composition. Women and men aren’t that much different anatomically, except in a few key places. The physical diversity is built on the commonality. We’re much more similar to one another than we are different. Even the bodies of animals have many of the same structures as ours.

I believe that we also share a likeness in our fundamental makeup as conscious beings. We could say that we can understand each other because our fundamental makeup is largely alike. It’s not that we’re all one personality, but our personalities are made up of the same building blocks, arranged and shaped in different ways. I think councilors and psychologists would agree.

Spiritually speaking, I’ve heard we all come from the same source, and that we are wee versions of the supreme conscious entity. 

Most spiritual paths advise us not to judge or criticize others. My own path, bhakti-yoga, certainly emphasizes this. It’s said that if we criticize someone, the faults we perceive in that person will become our own. Conversely, if we see good qualities in others, those virtues will come to us.

Writing fiction helps me to understand and empathize with others. My spiritual path also helps me accept others, which in turn helps my creation of fictional characters. This then helps me spiritually. It’s a sweet back and forth augmentation of goodness.

Plus I’d go crazy if I didn’t get my creativity out somehow. I’m not ready to be a full-on monk just yet.

Thanks to the writing excuses podcast for part of the motivation for this post.

 

Have you got any thoughts on creativity, spirituality and empathy? Share them below.

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I’ll be publishing once every two weeks.


Fire from the Overworld by B.T. Lowry, a New Spiritual Epic Fantasy Book.

Fire from the Overworld cover final

New Spiritual Epic Fantasy Book!

 As some of you may know, I’ve been beavering away at my first fantasy novel for some years now. It’s about a young man and woman who are students of a master mystic, in a desert village. Their teacher travels from his body to the realm of the spirit-rulers, only to be captured by the gods’ enemies. The desert ecosystem swings out of balance. Plants and animals kill each other without reason. The two students discover that the imbalances stem from a battle between spirit-rulers in a higher realm. They strive to restore balance between their world and the higher world, and to regain their teacher. But to do so, they may have to sacrifice what’s dearest to them: each other.

I’m excited to announce that Fire from the Overworld will be available on the 21st of April, in print and digital formats.

What pre-release readers think about it

“Some writers are great stylists and will write beautiful stories that say nothing new or important.  Other writers are great storytellers whose tales are exciting but mundane.  Only rarely do we see a writer whose creates compelling, important stories with captivating prose.  B.T. Lowry is one of those rare authors whose work is not only compelling and moving, but also important to read.  “Fire from the Overworld” is a terrific debut!”

David Farland, New York Times Bestseller, Lead Judge for one of the world’s largest writing contests.

 

It’s like Carlos Castaneda on Brhad-Bhagavatamrta. On the brink of change, these young mystics show the potency of the inner journey and its effect on the world around us. (B.T. Lowry is) a story teller with the capacity to help us regenerate our conceptions.

-Caroline Tharp, Vice President of Gaudiya Vedanta Publications.

 

“Four Worlds” is a complex story that follows the lives of three young protagonists, as the structure of their world falls apart. The three main characters live in a rural town reminiscent of historic India. Yuvali and Héyowan are mystics and close friends who have grown up together, and Pradah is Héyowan’s older brother who will eventually take over for their father as chief of the village. The natural world has gone crazy–animals and men behave erratically, the crops are dying, and attack from roaming bands of codeless warriors threaten the very existence of the village. It is a fight taking place on both the physical plane–Pradah is training to be a warrior to defend the village from attack–and the spiritual plane–Yuvali and Héyowan appeal to the very highest of the gods for rescue. But when the line between good and evil blur, the three children must grow up quickly and make adult choices that will change not only the course of village life, but perhaps change all the infinite worlds ruled by the gods.

 

Lowry’s writing style has beautiful passages of description that easily transport the reader to the kingdom of Raiya. Here’s a brief snippet, when Yuvali is using the mystic powers of an ayur to travel outside her body:

The sand beneath her was liquid, or blowing in the air across the big world, skins on the surface of a great creature who was a ruler herself, and Yuvali was like the dust in the wind around her, blowing everywhere and mixing with the world’s winds. She loosed herself to the four directions.

Hands caught her, held her together so she could go on. Someone with her, keeping her whole. The tree grew closer; a branch caught moonlight as a covering cloud broke apart. Buds lined the branches, and spiky clusters of leaves. The silvery mound had a dark patch within it.

It was a cave.

 

Interspersed and inspired by mythology and oral storytelling, the book’s world has a richness that is the perfect backdrop to an epic story of good and evil. If you’re a fan of Tripathi’s Shiva Trilogy or are looking for a YA story similar to the atmosphere of Alexander’s MG-level The Iron Ring, you would enjoy reading “Four Worlds.”

-Alison McBain, Author. Published in Flash Fiction Online and Abyss & Apex.

 

Sample Chapter

I’m offering the first chapter as a sample. It is called ‘Flying,’ and it’s about Yuvali, a young woman and mystic student. She leaves her body as a practice, but is dragged by a mysterious force to distant mountains to witness a strange hunt.

Here is a link to read it online.

How to get the full book

Fire from the Overworld will be available April 21st from Amazon.com in digital and print format. I’ll announce here when it’s published. If it sounds up your alley, please have a read and tell your friends!


Riffing ideas between the different senses and the mind

Here come some techniques that will be helpful to writers, visual artists, musicians and all other creative types. They also help with collaboration between all of the above.

Recently I watched myself brainstorming for stories. My mind worked to form bridges between the diverse worlds of my senses: the eye, nose, tongue, touch and ear worlds. It’s like drawing analogies between different types of sensory input. (Plenty of examples to come) Sensory information can also correspond with concepts, characters and stories. Sound strange and abstract? Well it is, but if you can handle that kind of thing, read on. Here in this article I’m going to send off a few riffs using this brainstorming orchestra.

So let’s say you have ripples in a pond. This is a visual, radial image.

image CC by Rudy Salakory

image CC by Rudy Salakory

You could translate that into any number of radial designs. A cartoon explosion, radio waves, a sound pulse, or orbiting planets within a solar system. You could also make something where many radiating circles connect, but we’ll keep it simple for now.

Now let’s say you want to make those ripples into a concept. Perhaps power and influence is spreading from a central leader. Or maybe news of an event is spreading, through word of mouth and/or technology. Or the spread of radiation or heat, or a shock-blast. The ripples could be taken as patterns in the fabric of space-time.

Now let’s put one of these concepts into a story. Let’s translate the ripples in the water as news spreading of an important event. Something happens. People tell people, who tell others. Gradually a huge number of people know.

But what happened? Let’s see… We’ll grab another idea using a similar method and see if we can combine them. Let’s look for another visual pattern.

Here’s something you might see wandering around on a brainstorm walk:

Line of pillars CC Chris Smith

Line of pillars CC Chris Smith

They’re evenly spaced vertical units. What else is like so? Soldiers in a line comes to mind, or a row of planted trees. A musical rhythm in the ear-world, or in the touch-world, someone tapping on your arm. In the realm of concepts we have consecutive regular events, like the daily release of a newspaper? Or a regularly broadcast signal from another planet. How about contractions? They’re regular but coming closer together.

Let’s choose contractions; birth is a very primal, interesting event after all.

So the event is an impending birth, and the contractions are coming regularly, closer and closer together. Soon the baby will be born and news will spread. So we’ve made concepts out of two images, then combined them together.

Who’s the baby?

baby in tunnel CC Pamela

baby in tunnel CC Pamela

I don’t know yet!

Moving to the ear-world for a source of inspiration, let’s check out Ali Akbhar Khan, a Sarod master from India.

Here’s a track from his album Garden of Dreams. (It really kicks off at about 1:45)

Now when I first heard this song, the swirling, flowing, progressive qualities of the music brought the following scenario to my mind: I’m on a little raft in a small but powerful river. The river has bored through a mountainside in a pattern like an ant’s nest. I’m going over waterfalls, whipping around corners, going fast and slow. Kind of like this scene from Aladdin, minus the magic carpet and lava.

So back to the idea we’re brainstorming for. The contractions are coming closer. Someone special is about to take birth, and that news will be broadcast. What kind of person is taking birth? They’re on a river? What’s this music all about?

How to connect all this into something cogent?

Let’s take a step into the subtle and bring in the principle of reincarnation. This person’s not just popping into existence; they have a history before this life. That history’s been like a river-ride through a mountainside. Wherever they’re coming from, it’s been an adventure, with ups and down, slows and fasts. We don’t have details yet, but it’s getting interesting, isn’t it?

Let’s learn more about this person who’s going to take birth. There’s a saying that the story of your life is written on your face. Who has the most lines? Old people, of course. I spend quite a bit of time in India, where people’s faces are fantastic and diverse, so I’m drawn to search for people there.

Doing a quick image search for ‘Old person India,’ some great photos come up. We’re not worried about our character’s gender for now, so I chose two men and two women, just so I don’t get in trouble with either side 😉

Now looking at these pictures, I’m going to write some words down about each of them, all in one list. At this point, I’m not choosing physically descriptive words like ‘wrinkly,’ or ‘blue eyed.’ I’m looking for qualities that I perceive in the person. This will be very subjective.

old man 2

So here goes. For this picture (man with turban), I’ve got defeated, prayerful, peaceful, hopeless, experienced, kind, struggle.

old woman

For this one (woman putting on earring) I’ve got wistful, thoughtful, nostalgic, social, shy, determined. What would you come up with?

old woman 2

For this one (woman looking over her glasses) I’ve got funny, clever, naughty, ironic.

Inde, Madhya Pradesh, Orchha, vieil homme barbu // India, Madhya Pradesh, Orchha, old man with a beard

And for this last one (balding man with beard) I’ve got stoic, fixed, funny, spiritual, wild.

So if we put all the words together, we get this list:

Defeated, prayerful, peaceful, hopeless, experienced, kind, struggle, wistful, thoughtful, nostalgic, social, shy, determined, funny, clever, naughty, ironic, stoic, fixed, funny, spiritual, wild,

Let’s mix up the order.

Defeated, experienced, wild, struggle, ironic, naughty, social, prayerful, determined, spiritual, kind, funny, wistful, shy, stoic, clever, hopeless, thoughtful, peaceful, fixed, nostalgic, funny,

What would be some unusual qualities to find together?

How about peaceful and wild? This person could have two contradictory sides of them. Perhaps the peaceful side is dominant and sometimes they’re wild, or they could be mainly wild but sometimes their peaceful side could unexpectedly come out. Spiritual and defeated: perhaps a great defeat in their life led them turn to spirituality. Clever and stoic: these are both qualities that make this person a doer, someone who has the intelligence and determination to get things done. Or perhaps they don’t act much themselves, but just weather what life throws at them while deepening their understanding.

So peaceful, wild, spiritual, defeated, clever and stoic. That’s the kind of person who went through that turbulent ride in their previous life, and who’s about to be born as someone who is important to a great many people.

It’s this quality of person that’s passed through turbulent ups and downs in their previous lives, and who’s journey has brought them to the point where they’re about to be born again. They must be some kind of great personality, because news of their birth will spread like wildfire, far and wide.

Curious yet?

From there we could fill out other parts of the story, like who the child’s mother is, whether it’s a boy or a girl, what their country is, what people think they’ll do in this life, and so on. In this way we can develop an entire story out of ideas ‘transposed’ from one sense to another, ranging from subtle/abstract to very physical/sensory. My sense is that there is a structure underlying reality which makes all this cross-pollination possible.

You can also collaborate with others using these methods.

I did this with my friend Keli. We chose a word–a mood: ‘patience.’ He made a song for this mood and I made a video to go along with it.

So to conclude, this isn’t a system per se, but a kind of foray though what may actually be a kind of system of sensory information patterns interplaying with consciousness. It’s a way of crossing over between senses disciplines, finding unexpected threads to connect them.

A last note: hats off to the folks at Writing Excuses: Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal and Howard Taylor. Their podcast has inspired me a great deal. I’d recommend this recent episode about brainstorming. There’s lot of other great stuff there too.

Have you got any thoughts on creativity, idea generation and brainstorming? Please share your ideas about ideas in the comments.

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I’ll be publishing once every two weeks.

 

 


Fantasy and real life

Fantasy writing can be a huge allegory where all the races, places, people and events correlate to equivalents in our world. You could also look at fantasy worlds as being like alternate dimensions of our world, where all the qualities, places and events have been kinda mixed around and matched differently.

Of course this could be heavy-handed: “This guy’s obviously speaking about the cold war. The gnomes are the Americans, the dwarves the Russians, and the super-mushrooms are nuclear weapons. But why does he hate Russia so much?” or “Hey! This is really about the clash between baseball teams, not dragons and elves! This guy’s got an agenda! I want an objective story!!”

Now the way I see it, there are some great advantages to this one-step-removed-from-reality-approach. If an author stays away from blunt and simplistic expositions of one point of view, he or she can say a great deal about this world we’re in, without getting caught up in specifics of race, country and history which people feel really personal about. The moment I say Egypt, or France, or India, or Muslims or Africans or women, people with experience knowing or being those places and races will have a host of preconceived ideas. It’s harder for me to start fresh. But if I make a world and races up, drawing inspiration from this world, I might be able to show you a fresh take on things here.

On the other hand, if an author sets fiction set in this world, he or she can draw from readers’ experiences more directly. If you’ve been to London, if I just write a few lines about walking into Leicester Square on a sunny day, a whole picture replete with scents and sounds will come to your mind.

An author writing fantasy will generally try to have the best of both worlds: setting their story in an alternate world, but drawing many things from this one. A lot of the flora and fauna may be the same, as well as the laws of physics and ways that people interact, express emotions and so on. You can really only go so far from this world without losing your readers.

If you don’t believe this, please read the following poem I wrote in my own, newly invented language. It’s not in the boring Roman Alphabet.

fantasy-and-real-life-poem