“…state my assumptions.” – Darren Aronofsky, Pi.
All of my writing, from my earliest diary notes to Guttershaman and beyond are, at heart, an attempt to explain & justify my perspective of the world to others in a coherent and hopefully interesting way. That perspective is… hard to explain simply. But here goes, again:
As I’ve noted elsewhere, I was a lower-working-class kid with a weird-shit-inclined mind. The laddish, beer-and-footie culture of my surroundings was not exactly comfortable (or even comprehensible) to someone like me. Lacking a set of positive influences in childhood that were amenable to my… soul I suppose, I had to find my own where I could. I found ’em in books, films, TV – SF/horror, occult and Forteana were the places where I found perspectives that simply weren’t available in my given culture. (It’s fortunate that my parents were not strongly religious…)
In those days – I’m talking the late Sixties/early Seventies – being into this stuff was like a red flag to pretty much every bully in school. I was The Weird Kid. The Odd Boy Who Doesn’t Like Sport. The Target.
Weird Kid survived, left school and home as soon as possible, learned some nasty martial arts, met others like him & continued to construct his personality out of bits from here and there. Eventually, there came a point where I sussed that I was far from being the only person who did so – or, rather, not the only person who would admit it.
(Most of us do it unconsciously, by osmosis – picking up social cues and tells from others. Many simply become mental clones of their parents’ beliefs and attitudes with very little variation – and people like that really don’t understand or condone people like me.)
I had defined my personality, my character, for myself – as it were. But that was just the start of the process. When I began meeting others who’d done pretty much the same, in the SF fan culture, I found my first true friends. (Even messed-up loners need a few friends.) The things that drew us together were Fan things – cons, pubmeets, zine-making… but in the midst of all this was the pleasure of finding the crossover between various factions – how many in the fan community were also into magic or kinky sex or tabletop RPGs. All of those have that roleplay thing in common – its universally found in those realms. We find the bits that work for us & abide by them. We rehearse them in a relatively safe space – be it a gaming table, a BDSM scene or a convention. And both our personality and our spirituality develop out of those rehearsals.
One of the biggest criticisms of this kind of approach to personal spirituality is that it’s ‘pick n mix’. It’s not always – sometimes a movie or music or film or movement really seems to pick us. And the right ones speak to us deep in our souls, like members of the faiths we rejected say their god speaks to them.
The big difference is that, unlike those with a received belief system, we can speak back to those parts of ourselves: game them, field-test them, befriend them; get the various bits to blend into, or share, mindspace. (At best… have them not squabble constantly, at worst. Well, worst this side of either monomania for whichever model you’ve developed… or simple raving psychosis, often followed by fleeing to a fundamentalist belief. Or full-blown multiple-personality disorder…)
The modern world – at what point you start to date that from is a tricky question – is a place where many are actively avoiding the traditions of the past, especially those of their parents, faith and culture. The Postmodern model gives a certain flexibility in doing so. My path to alleged adulthood is one way to do it – there are others.
But why? Why bother with all this? Why not just accept given wisdom, time-tested ways and paths? The reason for not just blindly accepting the Old Ways is that those ways, the Grand Narratives, have shown themselves to be untrustworthy. Unworthy.
(The fact that many not only abide by these institutions but wish to make them more conservative, more hidebound & dogmatic, is sadly clear – and to me, it’s just as clearly a reaction akin to future shock… running away from the complex range of ideas available, wanting to be told a relatively reassuring Single Truth to follow.)
I think every generation produces kids who just don’t fit their immediate culture – my beloved Tribe of the Strange. I was a fairly extreme case, but not as extreme as some. Where else can kids like I was go to find authenticity, when the ‘authentic’ past paths are shown to be fake at worst, riddled with hypocrisy and venal bias at best?
Once you decide your identity will not simply be a copy of your given kin and culture, you have to make it out of what you find. Affinity groups – fandoms, clubs, gangs, even political parties & churches & protest movements. The stories and songs and moments that stir genuine wonder or terror or other such highly educational, imprint-producing emotions. And once they set in and become your personality core, it doesn’t matter if they’re recent, or jigsaw, or even based on the whole cloth of pop culture and cheesy newage – they’re YOU.
Trouble is, once that’s set, you’re just another bundle of dogma – it’s just a different dogma from your dad. And adding in new layers over this – of fashion (or ironic rejection of fashion) or cause, doesn’t actually help the core.
The tools of chaos magic & multimodel approach – the occult version of applied postmodernism – provide some adaptability in this… but also offer traps to get stuck in, like any set of beliefs.
What makes the difference between a person who consciously sets out to explore alternate models of thought, dress, action as self-improvement, and one who draws on all the same sources just for sake of irony or peer-group membership? Attitude. The ironic hipster stance is a shallow thing. The search for ones authentic self through pop culture, SF & horror & comics & movies & games & even new religious paths can be valid.
It can also be utter wankery.
More, inevitably, later…