Hello, everyone. I am Ithaka. And this is Sponge, a podcast of absorption and reflection in the process of returning to or becoming our most unreal selves.
The theme for today’s episode is this: perhaps I should live my life the way I write fiction, especially the way I write fiction with so-called restrictions. That is something I absorbed while meditating recently, looking back on how I wrote “Random Word Grotesqueries,” “Agora Phantasmagoria,” and “Watermelon Love Song.”
In episode 22, I talked about how I write fiction. The short version is that I write into the dark, as Dean Wesley Smith calls it, and as I call it “walking in the forest.” I just… I just walk into the forest without a map. In one way or another, I walk out of the forest eventually. Sometimes it’s from the opposite side, and at other times it’s by returning to the exact same place where I began. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Truly, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what tastes other people have, and it doesn’t matter what taste I have.
This does not mean that the stories or what happens in them are unimportant. Rather, it means that, it doesn’t matter whether or not the story meets some notion of standard. This is just as in a human’s life, in which it doesn’t matter what attributes/restrictions are given to that human, regardless of whether they or the society says attributes/restrictions are good or bad, desirable or undesirable, and right or wrong.
Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter whether a person is tall or short, fat or thin. It doesn’t matter what skin color they have. This isn’t to say that such factors are irrelevant to how their life may or may not be shaped. This isn’t about equality. Or fairness. Or how we should be blind to differences because they’re frivolous. No. If we ignored all spectrums, then there would be nothing to perceive. Besides, notions, albeit false, are also real. In some ways, they’re more real because they are false. Imagine how much force went into creating something that isn’t even true. They may not be true but they can be very real. Laws are made based on notions of what is better and what is worse.
But, even so, at the same time, it does not matter. All those notions of different perceivable spectrums and the resulting good and bad, right and wrong do not matter. In the end, all lives are life and the elements in those lives are. They just are.
This used to be difficult to understand. Or rather, to be more accurate, I wasn’t trying to understand, because I didn’t need to. It’s perfectly possible to not think about any of this and live just fine. As I said, all lives are life. It doesn’t matter whether someone thinks about all this or not.
But now I think about this. And what would have been difficult, had I attempted to understand this earlier, happens to not be difficult because of other experiences in life. And conveniently, that is when I started thinking about this, and life, as always, gives me exactly what I need and want. It’s both. They’re the same, under the surface, under the conscious mind, in the unconscious.
My life these days is already becoming more and more just like storytelling. And I know that I’ve been mentioning this multiple times on various channels. Life is storytelling. Everyone has their own story.
But now I mean this even more literally. Life is a story. And fundamentally, it actually does not matter what story is being written, especially with stories in which it seems like the rules are set, but actually they aren’t.
And, at this point, I will give you more concrete storytelling examples. I shall tell you what the three seeds of today’s episode have in common. “Random Word Grotesqueries,” “Agora Phantasmagoria,” and “Watermelon Love Song” were all written using the same type of restrictions. And that process is explained in the preface of Agora Phantasmagoria.
Quote, “Sometimes I flipped open a paper dictionary at a random place and pointed a finger at the page. At other times, I clicked “Go!” on an online random word generator. Lastly, some friends and family members contributed a word each—never knowing the identities of the other words that I had already collected and would go on to collect in the future.
“Whichever way I chose, I lined up the thusly gathered words, neatly, in one row.
“Then I cut them up into chunks of three words.
“No switching out the words!
“No changing the order!
“Whatever fate or chance put the words in that order in that line, the game was to tell a story using each given set of three words as is, no matter how ridiculously unrelated the words may seem.
“The results are in this collection.” End quote.
So, yeah. This method of being given three seed words is how I wrote the stories in the collection titled “Agora Phantasmagoria.” It contains the English originals that have been written thusly. And “Random Word Grotesqueries” was written in exactly the same way, only, as Korean originals. And Watermelon Love Song is not a collection, it’s one standalone story. It was also written using the same method, by me being given a set of three words. It’s just that that particular story got too long, and also I like it. It’s kinda… grotesque and sweet. So it stands on its own.
Now, this explanation on its own might not be enough to convey what these stories feel like. So, I will use “Watermelon Love Song” as an example. Its seed words were posture, country, and watermelon. My task, the one I gave to myself, was to write a story from these three seed words.
The blurb goes like this. Quote,
“An extraordinary watermelon-saving spectacle, unfolding in the country of convicts where even the slightest bent back means immediate death.
“There is a country, which, in its entirety, is a penal nation. All convicts here cannot bend their backs whatsoever due to the chip implanted behind their ear, a.k.a. the “Proper Posture Torture.”
“The surrounding countries, which overflow with non-criminal civilians, air this torturous existence of the convicts in the form of a reality show to maintain social order. They want to suppress riots.
“But one day, a woman, who is about to enter Convict Country as yet another rookie, finds a watermelon seed at the entrance…” End quote.
So… as you can guess, it’s a ridiculous story. From the words posture, country, and watermelon, came about a story of riots, Proper Posture Torture, a weird reality show, and some kind of love story due to the watermelon seed. And this is how all the stories written in this method are. They’re ridiculous, but somehow they work.
And so… I was meditating and thinking about these stories, all written from three seed words. And I thought…
This is how we live life, this initial setup, this being given restrictions. When we are born, we are given a set of characteristics. We are given genes, we’re given a socioeconomic background, we’re given parents or a parent or none, and so on and so forth. And based on that, gradually, we learn to expect things. And sometimes we resist and sometimes we obsess. Either way, life becomes a struggle.
But if we were to instead acknowledge and fully accept? Then something like this storytelling method happens. Somehow, the story ends up being written, just as needed. When I was writing these stories, at first, I thought these seed words would limit the scope of the stories. For example, one set was golf, skin, and king. This was the very first story I wrote using this method, and I thought that surely the story would be restricted, limited in some way. But it wasn’t. In fact, in a way, the opposite happened. The weirdest little story was born. Its first two paragraphs are:
Quote, “When incest persists for many centuries, one of the results is that the chin may protrude and the arrangement of teeth may become chaotic.
“In a country where excellence in golf was a must in order to be crowned king, all the royal children had the unfortunate deformity of having thick soles. When swinging the club, lean soles were a requirement in order to firmly step on the left foot once the weight shifted from the right to the left. So, it was a royal tradition to skin the sole and perform liposuction at a certain age—like a coming-of-age ceremony.” End quote.
I mean. What? I never would have written this story, had it not been for these so-called restrictions that are the three seed words. So, although writing without any seed words is also freeing, and besides, can we really way that writing without any seed words is writing without restrictions, when we—the writers—do ourselves have life restrictions… despite such valid points, in a funny way, writing with seed words seemed almost… more like life. This was like playing a game with an avatar that has its very clearly-defined set of restrictions. Say, this character is a healer, this character is a warrior, and so on and so forth. But even with that, within that game character, the possibilities are infinite, and in a way, because of the restrictions, we—the players and by extension, the characters—do things that we never would’ve done, had we been some other avatar. And thusly, worlds unfold. We unfold the worlds. And each world is not the same as another. No two worlds can be the same. No two stories can be the same. No two lives can be the same.
Amusingly, this same sentiment is in the preface, although it was written way before I got interested in living life the way I write fiction.
Quote, “They are my maps of random—possibly closer to the workings of my subconscious than any other stories, because I faced the task of connecting the random dots, making sense of the senseless. With great likelihood, I sought comfort in what felt most natural to me. Perhaps I pulled up parts of my dreamscape to the surface of my consciousness.
“But then again, when challenged thusly, who can say that we’re ever ourselves? Maybe what happened was the opposite. Maybe this is me, driven to a most uncharacteristic, unrepresentative writing style.” End quote.
So, at the time of writing the preface, I wasn’t sure if these seed-based stories were more like me or more unlike me than other stories. I mean, it’s both simultaneously, but I think it’s more surprising that there is a possibility that they’re more like me, than the possibility that they’re less like me. In my mind, it’s the go-to expectation of the externally-focused worldview that restrictions create less freedom of expression, but do they? Apparently not always. There’s definitely the aspect in which I was almost… forced to show myself because the seed words provided restrictions, and thereby, they removed restrictions that I usually had. It’s a weird thing. I had to meet this random criterion—random, because I imposed it on myself. And because I had to meet this random criterion, I wrote some really weird weird things, which aren’t necessarily the same as the things I would have written, had these restrictions not existed.
And, how this ties to life is that… since I began meditating more seriously about 4, 5 months ago, I have become even more aware of how so very random labels are, and how random it is that I and the greater world obsesses over it or resists against it. Often, the obsession or resistance comes from the perception that certain labels create more desirable feelings versus undesirable feelings, without admitting or even noticing the feeling aspect, and only getting hung up on the external factor. For example, being stereotypically beautiful is supposed to generate desirable feelings, as opposed to being stereotypically ugly. But does it? What about people who are very beautiful but keep getting addicted to plastic surgery? What about people who are supposed to be ugly, but they radiate with life? What matters more, being beautiful or feeling oneself regardless of externals?
And also in the larger scheme of things, all of these can exist. It doesn’t matter. The person who is beautiful and is happy with it, the person who is beautiful and feels an emotional lack, the person who is ugly and is happy with it, and the person who is ugly and feels an emotional lack. They’re all part of the landscape. I am beginning to think that getting hung up on right and wrong, good and bad, desirable and undesirable, and even, oh, I personally like this and dislike this—is actually very impractical. Having opinions is very impractical, and it doesn’t even work. It doesn’t work, in that the stronger the opinion, the more of the thing you resist against, you will get. You can adopt the psychological interpretation of this, which is basically, “If you keep thinking about the red monkey, you will see red monkeys everywhere,” or you can adopt the spiritual interpretation of this, which says what is internal is reflected onto the external world. I think these days you can probaly also use quantum physics, but I haven’t had a reliable source for that, and quantum physics being in the territory of hard science, I think it’s probably worthwhile to look for a source, in that case. A huge part of science is that every claim must be externally verifiable, otherwise the theory is false. At any rate, regardless of which interpretation you adopt, I think it’s not that difficult to accept the broad idea that the more you resist against something, the more the thing will be in your way. And similarly, the more you obsess about something, the less it’s gonna appear in your life, because resistance and obsession are actually the same thing. If you obsess over beauty, it means you’re resisting ugliness.
So, having opinions is impractical. So is claiming to have no opinions but actually having really strong opinions. It’s the same way that surface resistance and obsession actually aren’t that difficult to manage. It’s the unconscious resistance and obsession that’s really difficult to spot, in some cases. This is, for example, when a person claims to want more money but acutally deep down, fears money. Or, when a person claims that they’re fine with the money they have, but actually deep down they know that money isn’t just money, money is a form of love. Literally money enables you to buy plane tickets and pay for the hospital bills of your loved ones. But it is possible to have great resistance against this concept, for whatever reason. And the stronger the resistance, in other words, the obsession for the opposite, and the more unconscious this resistance/obsession is, the more impractical the so-called opinion, which seems to have sprouted from intellect or logic or reason, becomes. One may claim that it’s just an opinion. It’s not. It actually shapes one’s life. And even when one thinks they’re on the “good” side, say for example, even when one is of the opinion that starving children must be saved—which is, I think most people would agree is an admirable opinion—even so, the more one obsesses over saving them and resists against being unable to save them, the less likely it becomes to actually save them.
Anyway. I am thinking, when life gives me restrictions, like the restrictions given to me when I was writing the fiction stories, then what prevents me from living my life according to my true core isn’t the restrictions, it’s my resistance or obsession. But it’s not easy to get over the resistance or obsession. This is, for one thing, because of what we learn as we grow up, from the world around us. The ego is great at keeping us alive, otherwise we’d be forcefully logged out of the game by the age three.
Another reason why it’s not easy to get over the resistance or obsession is purely because one doesn’t know of that possibility. Largely I fell in this category. I wasn’t much thinking about it. I wasn’t very interested in religion or spirituality or psychology or the universe as anything more than a poetic concept.
Last reason that comes to mind right now, for why it’s not easy to get over the resistance or obsession is that the very reason we’re here, instead of heaven or the divine love and light that is the oneness or whatever similar counterpart that you want to use, is to experience a sense of apartness. Even if you don’t have a religion or are into spirituality, it’s easy to imagine. The baby used to be happily content in the womb, and suddenly it’s thrust outside. The sense of separation is literal in terms of the physical experience. Even in terms of the soul, it’s literal. Even when you move from one house to another, as an adult, the soul effects are literal, the sense of separation. And religiously or spiritually, this is what it means when it’s said that we’re God’s children or we come from a world of oneness. Apparently we come from such a place, a place of brightness and warmth, and even if it’s unclear if that’s our origin, often the end goal of a religion or spiritual practice is to return to that place. To return home. It’s not surprising that from the get-go, from the beginning of life, there is inevitable resistance and obsession. We want to go home but we aren’t going home. Something is missing, so there is a feeling of lack.
The irony is that in order to go home, in order to reunite with pure love and light, we must let go of resistance against and obsession for the labels and their associated emotions. It’s the notions that create the absence of God, the separation from divinity, the isolation from the force that is the universe. Even in the secular perspective, say, the psychological perspective, or just common sense perspective—I think it’s easy to see that there is a difference between the thing that actually happened, and the suffering that comes from itnerpretations. For example, when a person breaks their leg, that’s actual physical pain that could result in very long long difficult suffering. But usually that’s not the worst part. The worst is the kind we imagine because of social notions. For example, the sense that we have become useless. Or that we might never recover. Or anger, such as, “Why did it have to be me?”
And, again, it’s not easy to let go of this resistance and obsession. The idea that one must have two working legs to be useful or loved or happy or all of the above is a deeply ingrained notion that has to do with survival. Yet, I am thinking, if life were to give me that restriction, even though it’s not easy, the best I can do then is to accept it. Not easy, but still. And this, not by telling myself some lie about how it doesn’t hurt both physically and emotionally, but really accepting it. And the difference in the subsequent life tends to be clear, both in the fictional realm and this physical realm, because in the end, everything is story.
But yeah. Not easy. There exists some deep, fundamental guilt in most humans. Everyone has this to varying degrees, unless they examined it and rose above it. I say this because, if everyone didn’t have this, society wouldn’t mostly consist of people who are so eager to fix themselves and the rest of the world. Always, something needs to be fixed. There is a problem, it needs to be fixed. An astounding level of fixing. Even as we know this is ridiculous, superficially, in our conscious mind, the level of resistance and obsession in the unconscious mind is astounding. It’s very possible for a person to die without ever encountering what was hitherto hidden in the unconscious mind. I tell you, I’ve had some amnesia-level memory erasing that only unveiled itself during meditation, like, last week. I was resisting and obsessing so much that I had basically wiped out some childhood memories. It’s kinda scary.
Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” This is exactly what happened.
And I wondered if I should read Jung’s work, because it seemed like such a good bridge between spirituality/religion and the mainstream fixing mindset of the superficial traits. I even began to read his works. And it’s interesting and all. But then, in the end, reading his work is less practical than me meditating. I concluded, for now, that I am better off actually examining my unconscious and maybe collecting some personal experiences that can be interpreted as successful in the external world, rather than learning theories. And by “successful,” I mean the usual sterotypical and external. More money. More health. More popularity. I don’t know. They’re useful, in that, say, when you can show you earned a million dollars as a result of a specific action you took, even the most superficially-minded person will at least spend 5 minutes to hear what you say.
In fiction writing, what happens when walking through the forest without a map is that I can feel that I am guided. There is a level of trust that is more than faith. It’s knowing. It really does not matter if the character meets the love of her life on page 3 or page 4, although the external world will keep trying to make it matter. Argh, it does not matter. It does not matter if the character doesn’t ever meet the love of her life. Then it will just become a story about not meeting the love of her life, and that’s that. That’s a perfectly fine story. If the character does meet her love and he dies on page 50, that’s sad, but that’s also that. It doesn’t matter. She will be sad, and he will be sad as he dies, but that story is just as valid as any story that ends with a happily ever after.
And if you write romance and only that, then, even then, within that restriction, the heroine could have red hair. She could have blonde hair. She could have black hair. It does not matter. Even if you write very specific romance, like, vampire romance, then you work with those restrictions. A vampire must appear, but maybe that vampire is from Asia instead of Transylvania. I don’t know.
No matter how many restrictions there are, the restrictions are accepted, fully. And within that, even then, the possibilities are limitless and all valid and in that sense, it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you do and it’s incredibly freeing.
I’ve often compared this to the Klein bottle. I am not familiar with its mathematical significance, but I like the concept the way I like the concept of quantum entanglement in a visceral way. The Klein bottle as I know it is sort of the 3D version of the Möbius strip. Just as the Möbius strip has no beginning and end, so the Klein bottle has no inside and outside. The feeling of walking in the forest is like being a Klein bottle. There is a teeny tiny hole inside me that connects to the great vast universe. Through that hole trickles in what is perceived as “inspiration.” All I need to do is to let it flow by clearing my mind. By emptying it. By not walking into the forest with a map, and instead, letting the forest tell me where I should go.
And somewhat eerily but also super excitingly, this is how it feels when I meditate and live from that state. It’s incredibly practical. I do this because it’s practical. This works.
There is the Klein bottle that is me, and it connects to the universe. Whatever is given to me, when I accept it fully, there comes a sense of peace, something akin to nothingness. Now, I doubt that this is something that means much to others, in that, I don’t think this is a… a state of significance that is described in religious texts. Like, I’m not awakened or enlightened. But there is a sense of peace where all thoughts and feelings vanish, not because they have been shot down with the glare of awareness—which is, oh, definitely something that happens when too much intellectualizing is involved—but rather, because they have been fully embraced. The feelings and thoughts aren’t hiding and their departure shows in life. They came and then they went. They may reappear, but until then, they are gone. And in that emptiness where I accepted the labels of sadness, anger, frustration, and so on and so forth, all these labels that are all deemed unworthy—that is when God or universe or whatever you want to call it, whatever force that drives us, fills it with something. Something that I never knew was inside me, but something that’s more me than any of the labels that I clung to or resisted against.
And, this has to do with free will, or lack thereof. We tend to think that if there is vanilla ice cream and chocolate ice cream, and we choose chocolate ice cream, that we made a choice. But did we? Why did we choose chocolate ice cream? We can attach various analyses. We can say, it’s because I like chocolate ice cream, because when I was 3, this was the flavor that my dead grandma picked for me. But why did Grandma pick it for you? Why not any other flavor? Why did she take you to an ice cream place at all? Why were you born in a country where ice cream exists? Why were you born after refrigerators were invented?
What’s free will anyway?
I don’t think there is free will at the deepest level. Meaning, free will beyond the choice of whether to resist or obsess. After all those labels are gone, what remains? What, I don’t know, inspiration, whatever we’re compelled to do, where does that come from?
None of us know why we do what we do, if we keep asking and asking. And this is probably why what I am thinking about now, at the conscious level, was already in the preface of one of these collections. It’s because the preface didn’t come from my conscious mind. It was written through my internal Klein bottle that connects to the greater universe.
And personally, I like being guided. It’s always been the biggest reason I write, especially fiction. From the perspective of the ego, it’s somewhat scary to walk into a forest without a map, but once I do it, once I get over that resistance, once in the forest, it’s much easier to let myself be guided. Being guided is like having a navigation that I didn’t need to pay for. The story always works, in life or on paper. On paper, I write things I never would have written, without the restrictions. And in life, it’s beginning to show that I live things I never would have lived, wtihout the restrictions that, at first, triggered resistance and obsession.
And now, I shall end this episode with the last portion of the preface from “Agora Phantasmagoria.”
Quote, “Either way, the dots are connected. The deed is done. Words that had no associations whatsoever are now forever tied together.
“For me, this binding process is one of the lovely aspects of stories. Once made sense, senselessness rarely returns. There’s always a faint trace of memory somewhere in the background, albeit shrouded by a hazy fog. I believe this sense of having made sense once upon a time is enough to guide us through the uncertainties of life.
“Scattered dots fill every tiny physical and mental space of our daily activities. Only in hindsight can we decide which dots to connect and which story to tell. But the awareness that regardless of the nature of the dots, humans will be able to connect them and tell their stories, greatly relieves me.
“Any dot can be connected. No, seriously, any dot. Meaning can be generated endlessly, if we feel so inclined. Now, that might be “good” or that might be “bad,” depending on the situation. (You certainly don’t wanna over-imbue an oblivion-worthy event with meaning and thus carry it with you for life.) But having the ability to chart maps through what looks like a world full of unavoidable fate or pointless chance is certainly a handy tool to have in one’s toolbox.
“And so, stories will always be dear to my heart. Without them, I wouldn’t know how to live.
“If you’re reading this, you’re likely a lover of stories too. Chaos, destiny, whatever life may throw at us, in stories, we shall find a way.” End quote.
And that is all for this episode. Thank you for listening.
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You can find a link to the full transcript in the show notes. Also, visit ithakaonmymind.com to find out more about everything else I do, besides Sponge.
Stay true, everybody.
- “Random Word Grotesqueries”
- “Agora Phantasmagoria”
- “Watermelon Love Song”
- Dean Wesley Smith
- Klein bottle
- Marco Martini – Pink Butterfly
- Yoav Ilan – Pulse of a Butterfly
- Mintz – Orlais
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© 2023 Ithaka O.