Gregory Foster on “In the beginning was the word”

Just the other night, a few days after the plane crash, here, in our city, I watched Richard Linklater‘s film “Waking Life” again. I felt I was the first person to watch that film after our terrible event. “Waking Life” is filmed as a series of loosely connected vignettes, the experiences of a young man learning about the dreaming. There is a sequence in the film, the gasoline man sequence, which struck me uncanny. This character, dressed in black, emerges from Quack’s down in Hyde Park, and begins a soliloquy about alienation and his perception of mankind’s pull towards darkness. He ends with, “I feel that the time has come to project my own inadequacies and dissatisfactions into the sociopolitical and scientific schemes. Let my own lack of a voice be heard.” Having doused himself in gasoline, he lights a match and ignites himself in front of a downtown office building. The animators evoke the image of the monks who committed ritual suicide by fire to protest anti-Buddhist policies in Vietnam in the 60’s. Or perhaps people dying in this way tend to resemble one another. I wonder if Joe Stack saw this film, for he aimed to take lives other than his own; the life, it turns out, of a veteran of the Vietnam war. Perhaps enchanted by the techniques and consequences of September 11, he tried to rekindle that tragic day, a day which seems much more tragic to me now that I have felt the sadness and uncertainty of an entire city whose identity and decency is suddenly exposed to question.

But this is Austin, and the sunlight shone the next day. I went running in Pease Park, running faster and harder than I have in months. I saw two fathers teaching their sons how to ride their bikes. People whom I pass every time were more friendly and open, looking me in the eye, peacefully. We seem to take tragedy, inter it, and sprout flowers from the graves.

I love this city.

So, I bring this up because it is a mystery to me why I chose to watch that film when I did. Mystery guides me. Where it is, I want to be.

I find our world full of mystery. I adore science and think it is our most magnificent testament to human cooperation across space and time. It satisfies our curiosity while helping us survive in what is thus far a very quiet universe (quiet like a library). I tend to agree with Douglas Adams that we’re probably just isolated in a backwater of the Milky Way Galaxy – or whatever the other indigenous call this place.

I also adore religion and spirituality, though I have had a hard time at that. Most religions seem to have trouble after folks desirous of control seek out the reins. Another film I watched recently was on the Ayahuasqueros, South American shamans who have for generations learned of the rainforests in relation with their plant teachers. It featured an observation by Stanislav Grof that all of the Abrahamic monotheistic religions as well as Buddhism (from a certain point of view) are directly inspired by rather mystical events. Lots of talking with angels, visions, burning bushes…really cool shit actually! Yet, all that cool shit became subtly glossed, and certainly discouraged as techniques for speaking with God. This suppression of means and confusion of goals, to paraphrase Einstein, overshadowed my willingness to find value within these traditions. The exoticism of Buddhism and Hinduism attracted me back, and then taught me. I have returned to the Abrahamic traditions to seek and find the diamonds in the rough like the world citizen Thomas Merton.

Both science and religion have a relationship with mystery and are continually in play amongst its mist and fog. The unknown beckons, and often it is best to succumb alone. In solitude, the Texan author John Graves tells us, you hear the big inhuman pulse the willful loners listen for. At times it seems like you’re /not/ alone out there. It’s hard to explain, and often very difficult to document: to bring back treasures from the depths.

I have enjoyed doing that sort of thing since I was a child playing computer games. In the 80’s and early 90’s, the screech and hiss of modems connected us to bulletin board systems to play games like Trade Wars together. But mostly we played solo games. We are the last generation to file our digital teeth alone.

My favorite kind of computer games were fantasy role-playing games: the Ultima series, The Wizard’s Crown, The Bard’s Tale. But my favorite was a little known gem called The Magic Candle. The Magic Candle was your classic Tolkien-inspired, turn-based, tile-mapped game. There were wizards and elves and magic and swords and fighting, quests to be completed, maps to be unfurled across the fog of unknowing. I would have the party’s wizard cast the Zapall spell from the Book of Zoxinn to throw scorching fireballs against all the party’s opponents at once. I (or rather my characters I guess) would gulp down gonshi mushrooms for a burst of magical dexterity, taking in the printed guide’s warning against picking all the plants in one spot lest nothing ever grow there again. And we would wait at the proper place in the Crystal Castle until the hour when the halfling gem-cutter Nimmo would suddenly appear, perhaps with new information for us depending on the quests we had completed, perhaps finally willing to lend his skill with the Ash Bow to our efforts.

All fantasy role-playing games are like this. And all are required to have dungeons. Dungeons are the proving grounds for your characters, stocked and magically replenished with monsters to kill, quests to complete, and treasure to enrich. Dungeons provide the friction against which your party develops strength through experience. You learn that exploration is an iterative process constrained by your capacity to plan, to retrace your steps, and to carry equipment and medicine. This feedback loop propels the game forward as your characters strengthen themselves to progress into more challenging and dangerous territory. You quickly learn your limits: stumble unprepared into a nest of Azraels and Hiblisses and you’ll see what I mean! Those guys don’t mess around!

This game would not have been half as fun without someone to share it with. My partner in mind was my best friend Jeff Horton. He’s the one who photocopied this manual for me. We had to do that since only one of us would buy the game from the computer software chain Babbage’s. You see, Babbage’s had a no questions asked return policy because in those days sometimes games just wouldn’t work. They’d let you return the software for in-store credit, sometimes honored with a skeptical look (depending on your charisma skill points). The high turnover rate amongst clerks (like a fresh crop of monsters) made it no problem to “rent” the game, take it home, copy it, and return it the next time in a rather iterative loop. So we played countless games but really only ever paid for one. Soon thereafter Babbage’s went out of business, and I’ve always felt a little bad about that. But our party was strengthened for subsequent adventure.

It turns out that dungeon delving is a useful trait to have learned for traversing the Internet. The Internet is a vast pile of stuff, nodes connected by hyperlink passageways. The ability to quickly find diamonds in the Internet rough is a sign of skilled navigation. Today I hone this skill as I craft my life’s work, a website called Entersection. Entersection is focused on the gathering, research, and publication of quality quotations. I read a lot. But there are more words than hours to read them. To help point the way towards quality, I knit Ariadne’s thread, I bake breadcrumbs, and I raise roadsigns. For example, this quotation:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you /not/ to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the World. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Most sites on the Internet will tell you that’s by Nelson Mandela, but it’s actually by Marianne Williamson, from her 1993 book _A Return to Love_. Disinformation will continue to spread across the Internet at a rapid cut and paste. But these dangers are well anticipated. Primary sources are being digitized, governments are opening up and becoming more transparent, and protocols are being hashed out to address the global game of telephone we all play.

To help, I will continue delving and returning to the surface with valuable gems. I’m digging down into fertile soil, sidestepping monstrosities, seeding flowers for times to come. I’m leaving markers along the trail for those seeking obscure keywords, guided by the Oracle of Google. I learn what works and why in the ways of words. I will write, and have written.

But more importantly, I will have made friends. I will have learned to communicate better. I will have accepted responsibilities, and offered my weight. I will harbor compassion, decency, all that is best in our kind. I will have moved us further along.

Thank you.
Gregory Foster as prepared for “Life, Extraordinary: An Evening of Autobiographical Monologues” and presented on February 27th, 2010 in the evening in Elgin, Texas amongst friends and family.

The gasoline man sequence in Richard Linklater’s “Waking Life”

Related Media: “the screech and hiss of modems”

Notes

“In the beginning was the word” was the title attributed to an earlier piece that was written and discarded on February 21st, 2010 at the writing group’s last meeting before its first performance on Saturday night February 27th, 2010. At that meeting of the writing group, we read, and as I plodded through the first bits of text I had been so excited about in the weeks before, this time it held no feeling. And I had to admit it was not directly autobiographical, and so I felt I was hiding, not giving enough of myself. The writing group helped me see the fertile ground around my history with computer gaming and that provided a spark and anchor. By this time the previous work’s name was already out there, and published. I don’t know what I’d call this one, maybe it’s not mine to call. Things just worked out this way, and I am comfortable not calling it anything. I’d like to let it grow.

Creative Commons Licenses

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“In the beginning was the word” by Gregory Foster is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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“Spider Rock 001″ by Gregory Foster is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://entersection.com/posts/813-gregory-foster-on-in-the-beginning-was-the-word.

Gregory Foster Posted on behalf of Gregory Foster on Sunday, February 28th, 2010 under Quotations, Source Texts.

2 comments

  1. wonderful! I remember those games and I remember Babbages.

  2. nice read. ah, how i love the way you write. wish you had more time to elaborate on the powerful references to waking life, religion and rummaging through basements for self knowledge. all potent.

    love love love. good job, friend.

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