The Great University

I was a student of literature in the Great University, which was similar in feeling to the arts departments of universities I've been in in real life, but twenty times as big, and teeming with millions of students, every one of them following their own stories with all of their energy. I was to be taught a seminar by a Professor Andrew Wyle, the subject being a forgettable book that I did indeed keep forgetting - for a while I was looking for a bookshop to buy it in, then I was looking for another student from my class who could remind me what the book was, and finally I was just searching for Professor Wyle so that I could talk to him. I think I wanted to talk to him about another student of his, a girl who was in trouble. She was in a panic because her fiance had broken up with her and was with another woman, and she was running through the corridors of the Great University unable to figure out what she should do.

The problem was not so much her love for her fiance, although that was part of what was causing the pain and panic - the real problem was the unravelling of the story by which she had been living her life. She didn't really have a backup and so she was going nuts, like a computer whose operating system has crashed. I realized this when I was exiting the university bookshop, still looking for Professor Wyle, and saw the throngs of students streaming to their classes, and then saw a famous old writer on crutches heading towards the bookshop doors. I did my best to hold the door open for him, but it was very heavy and I didn't do a very good job. He did get through through, and proceeded to a table without a word of thanks or even a glance at me. I didn't take it personally, because he had a reputation for being extremely antisocial and unpleasant. I noticed that people were joining him at his table - admirers and helpers, people who wanted to talk to him. He showed no enthusiasm for all of this and I wondered what made people want to be around him.

Then it hit me. He was a creator of stories. People need stories. It's not simply that they have trouble thinking without stories; they literally cannot live without them. Someone who creates new stories, like many types of artist, is let away with practically any form of behaviour because of what they can do. They are like priests, mystics and royalty all wrapped into one. A writer of stories can do what almost no one else can do: they can give you a reason to live. It could be a stupid reason or a beautiful one, but they are the ones with the ability to write new software for your mind. It can be anyone, any story, at any level of expertise in the craft of writing. James Joyce shares the same power with Stephanie Meyer and they give people the same gift. Writers express the gift with the powers that they have been given, and the story is the living thing, not the craft with which it has been created.

I was still looking for Professor Wyle, but now I was running with joy, and the sun was shining on the campus of the Great University, and all the hordes of students appeared to me as something different, a mass of energy directed and shaped by stories, and I realized that it was within me to be a writer and a creator too, and I felt that ability as an energy inside me, driving me faster and filling me with an urgent kind of happiness.

The Process

Eventually, I always end up being the strange one.
From normal beginnings, I end up lost
in your forest of meanings and your many roads
without endings, the labyrinths of your lives

and always this creeping cold in the heart
the organs growing numb and the throat closing
over years of gaining and losing friends
years of making the same old journey

from normality and acceptance to alienation
I push you away, I freeze you out,
I tell you, and myself, that I don't need you
because of the creeping numbness in my mind

beginnings of warmth and ordinary eyes and arms
and hard work and sensuality and laughter
as I encompass you and dazzle you, I become
what you project, I reflect your dreams

and then creepingly it begins, something cold
that I never before thought was my fault -
I look at forests and want to live there,
by the water. I look at the stars and want to go there.

I look into the deep water and want to sink,
sucked into the blue-black water and forgotten.
I rage through my dreams to find a true self.
I do not want to leave you behind.

I find myself on my knees in the night-time
clutching my own chest, unable to name my pain.
I pray to be good. I pray that I won't let you down,
that I will fulfil my promises and not betray you.

I don't understand what demon is in me
but it must be what tormented Bunyan,
the rotting core, what he called sin,
that made him believe he was the worst of men.

It must be what tempted Jesus in the desert -
that we have the Devil in us. That from beautiful
beginnings we destine ourselves for a Fall.
It must be what mocked Buddha beneath the bodhi tree.

I have done something to my own mind
and I don't think it can be undone. I travel through it,
I speak of what I see there, and I bear witness
to the dark places and the terrible beings that live there -

terrible purposes that I see in all of us.
The ability to kill, to rape, to demean, to betray -
as much the Dark Lord as the Hero, we are -
as much the silken liar as the wise magician.

The knife in the grey darkness of the hallway,
the killing word born out of bitterness,
the devil-rage as after years of surface calm
we suddenly rampage and reduce a family to wreckage.

All because we don't see the seething darkness of NOW -
we don't see how immense are the forces inside us -
how each of us is potentially angelic and demonic -
how driven we are every day by unknown forces.

How a tiny wound left untended can rot a limb
or a whole body. How there are voices inside us
that can damn or save us, if we will listen.
How complicated and perilous it is just to sit quietly.

If I betray you, I am so sorry, you have to believe me -
I never want to hurt you, or anyone, ever.
If I hurt my children, I will almost want to die.
I have no prayer other than that this should not happen.

What is the force that we pray to, but the living universe -
the incredible energy that destroys and creates
and discards all us poor shells and mechanisms in time.
Is that my God? Do I live and breathe that contradiction?

I would have gone insane years ago
and I could go insane now, if not for this journey
in words and images and sounds, this travelogue
of a psychic landscape, this map of dreams.

Every now and then I can feel the edge of it
memories of fever hallucinations when I was young
vast shapes crashing together in the air of the bedroom
hanging on to the reality of myself, barely

and then when I nearly died in my own mind,
sucked into a vortex, and cried out for my parents
to come into the bedroom, come into my life
and save me, reach in and pull me out of myself

wandering through Amsterdam streets with my friends,
sitting in a sunlit park as my mind tried to drown me
and I forgot who I was, forgot who they were,
remembered nothing except this strange story

of a boy who had journeyed to this time and place
and then been set free, set adrift and abandoned.
Behind the eye, a naked awareness, calm and fascinated
even as I fought panic and realized I was insane,

and that I might not be able to return.
My friends left me in the hostel and went drinking.
I slept and wandered in dreams again, where I was safe.
We all met again afterwards. I had remembered. I still do.

Nightmares of being committed to asylums.
Nightmares of killing a child, a lover.
Nightmares of forgetfulness, of loss and failure.
Through it all, a desperate poetry of redemption.

I didn't have to make this journey into the underworld.
I had a choice embodied by my parents - the one
a golem set at the entrance to Gehenna as a warning,
beautiful and cold and functional.

The other, a scared child lost in the wightwarrens.
I chose to go down in full awareness.
I thought that I was strong enough to handle anything.
Moriarty says that above all Christianity is the religion

that does not leave us helpless before the contents
of our own minds. And that is what I wanted -
to discover what darkness and light may be in me.
Now it rages below the surface and I can't ignore it.

I have a very narrow path to tread - not only that,
but I have set myself the task of recording the journey.
Very probably no one will ever follow. No one
will read the record of what I did to myself.

Still, I do what I have to do.