The Novel: A Novel: The Editor

It’s just how his brain works. Pictures get blurry, numbers get scrambled, but words just make sense. They are the building blocks of thought, each containing a rich history, each a metaphor taking on new meaning as its foundations fade in the collective conscious, treasures revealed only to the dedicated sleuth. He thinks in words and rejoices to read his own mind, fascinated to see where the next plot twist unfold.

In earliest memory are conversations. He’s a child in a crib. We’re talking here, son. Okay, have a balloon. Daddy can I have a pencil? Sure. Daddy didn’t see it coming; do you? It looked so easy when Mamma drew the dog on the rubbery surface with a ballpoint pen, but pens are for adults; children get crayons and pencils. If only he had asked for a crayon. The balloon explodes, as does the child, the pent-up fears of medical procedures, mystery visitors and this strange environment bursting to the surface in a torrent of tears and screams.

He remembers conversations. Words are written in the neurons, anchoring pictures and defining the timeline. He has been editing this story for half a century, and now it’s all laid out, organized, chapter and verse. He has a sense of scanning the story every day: Now where is that memory? Did that really happen? Is there a more efficient way to say that, to free up memory? Is this pertinent to the story, or should it be cut? His brain holds a reference volume called “Know”, a first draft called “Used to Think”, a tickle file called “Maybe I Should”, and for entertainment, a skinny pulp fiction called “What If”.

Somebody said people think in pictures. He believes it only when comparing their sketches to his own, stunted little scrawls as likely to be scrawled 40 years ago as today. Where others doodle, he takes notes and writes limericks. Some people, he read it somewhere, actually think in numbers, proportions and measures. He gets geometry and algebra, but trigonometry is a mystery and calculus? Forget it! College is a breeze if you skip the math courses and double-down on philosophy. Otherwise, we’re toast.

Sometimes he thinks it must be delightful to hear the birds sing to mark their turf, watch the leaves as the air settles in to its cooler temperature, ready to grow still in the consistency of darkness. It must be nice to envision yellow fading to orange and ragged gray as horizon, sun and cloud enjoy their last dance of the day. For him, it’s a single word: “sunset”. There was one that day, one this, likely one tomorrow. Can you picture it? Not really. But there’s an essay on file here somewhere.

He’s a good student, quick with the essay. He’s a reporter, no, too much controversy, so now he’s a PR hack. What’s this, the internet? Oh, joy! How many words does this thing hold? Let’s see. Now he’s a webmaster, a low-grade pioneer in a strange new world. What makes it tick? There’s a rabbit hole in the rabbit hole, and now he’s a programmer, making up words and metaphors that talk not to people, but to a database and browsers. Language meets logic and pays the bills in wonderful ways.

Finally, words that don’t have to actually say anything, but literally do things. Grab datapoint A-7 from table 473, and if user X has clearance Y, let the user change A-7; else, just let the user see it. He revels to be the man behind the curtain, pushing the buttons and changing the world and earning the paycheck with very little human interface.

How wonderful, he thinks, this world where words talk to things and things respond! No misunderstandings, nothing open to interpretation, I mean what I say because I write the definitions. It’s an easy life. But it gets a little lonely in here. And even here, he gets tangled up in his words, eventually spending as much time untangling old connections as making new ones. Other people peer behind the curtain and mash the buttons, too, so he has to carefully label each one, dumb it down for those other socially awkward geeks.

Been there, done that; what now? He’s built an elaborate house of cards; better move out before it comes tumbling down. Let others shore up the tower. Time to move on.

The Novel: A Novel: Notions & Potions

She said that John the Baptist was Elijah reincarnated. He believed her. She was, after all, an aged, sage woman, a venerated teacher, and Mama always said listen to your teachers. He already knew that the shortest path to a grade went not through the heart of the subject, but through the heart of the instructor — and that was witchcraft of a sort, wasn’t it?

And, she had scripture on her side. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” It’s how the Hebrew Bible ends and the Greek Extension begins. And all that curse stuff — Coincidence?

He always loved Jesus, but he also loved candles. His favorite holidays? Christmas and Halloween. Jean Dixon and Edgar Cayce were professing Christians. Oral Roberts and Ernest Angley sold prayer cloths to drive out demons and cast spells with the widow’s mite. Grandma praised the Lord and threw salt over her shoulder. Magic words were common in his world, some so magical they could be spoken only in church.

And then there were potions. Cherry-flavored syrups to drive out congestion. Vinegar & honey at Grandma’s table; for persistent demons, add a dash of whiskey. Steamy, deep woods Kabalahs where grizzled men danced with shotguns and tended the fire, cooking up miserable prosperity in a sweet stew of mash, copper and floating possum. Grape soda on Sunday morning to purify the soul and wash down bits of cracker. Black-eyed peas, hog jowls and greens to kick off the New Year. Corned beef and cabbage on shamrock day.

With God, all things are possible, especially if you say the right prayer, sniff the right incense, bury a statue in the corner of your yard and know the secret handshake. The truth must be somewhere between the lines, or in the fine print of Egyptian footnotes censored out of the King’s translation for peasants. It must be in the story behind the story, hidden in plain sight, revealed only to those who understand the parable, who see the literal as symbolic and the symbolic as literal. It takes a special person to see the straight and narrow truth — and Mamma always said he was special.

And if God speaks in these pages, perhaps God speaks in other books as well. Maybe God speaks in tea leaves, lines on the palm, in the subtle nuance of the Anatolian bump — and wasn’t that a sign of Gypsy blood, anyway? If God controls the deal of the cards, then a prayer should be enough to purify the Tarot. God controls the shuffle, the cut, the interpretation and the tintination.

With imagination, discipline, practice and pure motives, he learned soar the Astral plane, slip harmlessly through the vacuum of space, and find his soul mate on a distant planet. As they discussed the similarities of Earth and Neptopolis, watched one moon set as another rose, sipped the juice of paisley fruit, saw their lives unfold in the oily clouds, he considered pinching the Silver Cord, watching it snap back to earth like a rubber band, burning the bridge to loneliness and mundane trouble. There were scheduled to meet with God-in-ecktoplasm next time; perhaps he would wait until then. Little did he know that the portal would shift, and this would be his last visit. He never even said goodbye.

Red candles, salt circles, scarab beetles, colored silk to could filter out raw emotions and store them in amber bottles; Jesus and Krishna and Gautama, Moses and Mahatma and Martin and Maharishi; Late night seances this weekend, teenage pentecostal prayer on tap for later. All roads lead to Rome, he heard, and if you’d rather see Venice, find another map. Childlike faith was an accident of birth, mature faith the product of archeology and research.

This is the soup in which he swam, eyes wide open, pretending to see. He sat on a pocket Blble, that Protestant rosary in imitation leather, and hummed a silent chant from the pew in the back. And in this whirlwind of notions and potions, he found no peace, no answers, nothing of note that he would dare to pass along. He remembers that time, those teenage years, as aimless wandering worthwhile only by the process of elimination. What did it all mean? This many words, and that’s about it.

The Novel: A Novel: He Walks the Line

He lives a life peopled with persons swearing to know this embodied God. He marvels to hear it, for many of those peopling persons follow a path quite different from the Way, seeming to exist not to serve, but to be served, to receive and take and gather into barns.

He beats his breast and cries, “Have mercy on me, a sinner!” They scowl and scoff and say, “Yes, you are!” He says, “I am but an unworthy servant, barely worth my wages.” They laugh and murmur, “You can say that again!” He says, “Here, you take the seat of honor,” and they say, “I’m glad you know your place!” “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled,” he reads. “But I’m a perfectionist!” they say.

They are not all of us, but sometimes, each of us is one of them. Sometimes, even he is one of them. We are children straddling the boundaries of a playground as we walk, reveling to be disobedient with every other step.

He lives a life peopled with persons beloved by this embodied God, and to that disembodied God as well. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The disembodied God shows God’s love by their very lives. The embodied God shows God’s love by giving His life for them.

But he is not God. The embodied God is only incidentally He. The disembodied God is neither He nor She. To insist on either is idolatry. The embodied God is incidentally He; it’s idolatrous to think the embodied God is necessarily He. Even so, the embodied God was necessarily Him, at the crossroads of history and humanity.

So having been told by God-enfleshed to love the other, love the enemy, treat each of them as he would want to be treated, he caters to his weak, sinful, needy, greedy self indirectly, vicariously, by instead catering to the weaknesses, sins, needs and greeds of them. He struggles to get this right, that seeming so wrong. He once thought he was casting his pearls before swine, but they are not swine and his gifts are not pearls. It dawns on him that what he’s actually doing is serving bacon to herbivores. Feed my sheep, but watch what you feed them.

Yes, he did see the motes in their eyes, but he struggles to remove the plank from his own. Don’t shoot till you see the motes in their eyes! Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. No commas there, and good thing. Let him, who is without sin, cast the first stone. Let him, who is without, sin cast the first stone. Let him who is, without sin, cast the first stone.

Do they understand? Chances are slim. Does he? Odds are even slimmer.

The Novel: A Novel: And So It Begins

His problem was that he actually believed it, this bizarre tale in which a virgin gave birth to a miracle worker who died a gory death and came back to life. He just couldn’t buy a version that said the prophesies had been misread and that the virgin was not so pure as her biographers claimed. He couldn’t fathom that the prophet’s body had been eaten by dogs, or that the rabbi had survived Roman execution to cement his reputation, then steal away to raise children in the south of France. Least of all could he accept that perhaps it was all a ruse to begin with, Babylonian mythology rewritten in Jewish terminology for an Ancient Greek audience.

He could see that these alternate renditions were feasible. He was no fool, though even a fool could find a dozen rational explanations for this legend and its impact on history. He knew that the version he bought was the pop culture favorite, and perhaps less believable than those alternate explanations. In ordinary thought it would take a great leap of faith to accept it. This was not an act of faith, for he could not bring himself to pretend to know anything. Belief, he determined, is an involuntary act, like trust, an opinion forced upon people by the circumstances of their lives. Ordinary thought would never bring anyone to accept it, but his was no ordinary thought.

If he could be said to have any faith at all, his seed faith was not in God, but in the Novel. He was reared on Creationism, weaned on Evolution, and fattened on a cosmology that had to posit something constant, like an Aristotelian Steady State in which patterns repeat and matter flows, or Saganesque Bang Bust cycle in which creation is sparked again and again as the Big Bang decays and gravity resets everything to center. These were comforting views, patterns of Newtonian Natural Law in which the Divine is not required, where strength is Darwinism and variety Marxism, a universe that was not Novel, but ordinary and repetitive, universal and ultimately uniform.

Sadly, a bit of dime-store research revealed that objects in the universe are being hurled away from the center at an ever-increasing rate of speed, the extremes growing farther apart more rapidly now than moments ago, no matter which now and ago one chooses or how close now and ago might be. There would be no Big Bust to follow the Big Bang, else objects would have to be coasting to a stop in preparation for the collapse. Judgment Day, if any, would come only once, just as Creation happened in the beginning and never again, each a one-of-a-kind event with no pattern to follow, no prototype. His faith in the ordinary was shaken; his faith in the Novel was beginning to emerge. What logic and intelligence rejected, factual observation forced upon him.

What could all this mean? It could only mean that all things came into being suddenly, in a flash of light, in a phenomenon that need not and indeed could not be repeated for this particular wad of stuff. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and the very next scene is not of that God ordering the universe, but rather bringing order to the chaos of a fiery ball of smoky mud on which life as we know it is as we know it. The plot thickens; the Novel proceeds.

And so, he decided, if this Novel universe could come into being once and for all, and if scripture could perfectly describe the cooling of a planet, the evolution of its life, and its observable simultaneous decay in completely non-scientific terms, then the once-and-for-all incarnation of God via virgin birth, God’s death and God’s resurrection in human form were not so far-fetched after all. He didn’t want to believe it; he spent most of his life running from it. But daring to embrace it as obvious seemed the easy way out — and a Way that held profound consequences.

For instance, if he believed that this God-in-flesh had actually existed, then it was relatively easy to accept its most documented rendition. Given that, he was forced to deal with the teachings of this God-in-flesh, meaning that self-preservation became an exercise in counter-intuition. To save his life, he had to lose it. To gain his freedom, he had to become a bond servant. The Novel became more novel by the minute as his life cascaded into a new order of behavior and motivation.

In the beginning was the Word. In the beginning and at the ending. Alpha and Omega. His life became an imperfect reading of that Word-filled Novel. It was not an ordinary life, nor an easy life, nor a particularly successful life by most measures. But it was a Novel life. Was … and is, for it is a life in progress, unfolding, twisting, turning, like a good read.