What next Big Sky?

19 04 2009

I don’t Believe much, although I believe all kinds of things. And I don’t Dismiss much, although I dismiss all kinds of things.

Yes, the caps signify one of the Big Issues: Is there anybody out there? Or in here, or laying about. . . somewhere? Anybody?

I mostly don’t believe, although it’s a congenial, changeable kind of unbelief, one which ambles in no particular direction and avoids no particular consequences. There’s a god? Okay. No god? Okay.

Either way. It’s not as if I have much to do with the existence of God or gods, or that gods have much to do with me. Maybe they look in on us every once in awhile, beer in hand, munching nachos and commenting on those crazy Grabowskis or McFees or Olapundes. And then they go back to doing whatever godlike things they do over beer and nachos.

Okay, so that’s a bit cute. And I’m also fudging on the notion that any god(s)’ existence is separate from us: What if they only exist because we believe they exist?

That’s the conceit which underlies Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a thoroughly enjoyable shamble through the back alleys of American beliefs and folkways. Some—many—of the old deities are nasty, and require a ritual of violence which, for the most part, has been smoothed away from contemporary religion. They’re not nice, and the people who invoke them aren’t always nice, but you nonetheless feel, along with the main character, Shadow, that the loss of these gods would, in fact, constitute a real loss. To forget the tricksters and warriors and shape-shifters would be to forget ways of being in this world, to lose mysteries and secrets and fortuna herself. And, in Gaiman’s world, the gods themselves are bereft, abandoned and small, trying not to disappear.

Even though I’m a big fan of reason, I’m not particularly surprised by my tender reaction to American Gods. As a child with an, mm, active imagination, my default position was that everything—and I mean everything—could think and feel. It wasn’t that I felt this way at all times, but that, when I wanted to, I could conjure up a sympathy with my favorite tree (an elm behind the garage, with a low branch for easy access) or cows in a field or the old cannon standing guard over the lagoon.

In fact, I don’t know that this was so much about my imagination as it was about childhood in general. Kids believe all kinds of nonsense—this is one of the delights and terrors of childhood—and readily share their stories with one another. And they learn not to share too much with adults, who at best indulge them and at worst tear their stories away and shred them. Grow up, they’re told.

As a child who experience the full range of delight and terror, I don’t particularly care to romanticize childhood. I like reason and explanation and science and the whole notion of demonstrable cause-and-effect. And I’m quite taken with the notion of chance and physics combining to form canyons, camels, and the cosmos.

But chance isn’t the same as fortuna, and the indifferent universe can disappoint as well as exhilarate. Most of the time I think, Well, we’re here for 70 or 80 years, and that’s it. If your life is to have any meaning, it’s up to you to make it, and even then, you might fail. Don’t count on anything beyond this world to bail you out of your sorrows, or let anything beyond this world to get in the way of your joys. Anything you have, anything you feel, anything you become is all here, is all you have.

And yet. And yet I think What if? I close my eyes and summon that child-sense of Isn’t there something more? You can see that in my writings today, that semi-constant questionof Is there something more? Wasn’t there something more?

I can’t put that there into words beyond the more; it is in fact beyond me, around me, running ahead and pulling up behind me. I walk under ladders and step on cracks and wish that there were ghosts and spirits and hope that not everything can be explained.

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One response

27 04 2009
Christine

I liked American Gods, too, distinctly better than most of his other books (which are consistently disappointing to me, though I keep reading them anyway). I like the idea of a human power of creating a being by the strength of our belief. There is truth in it, though to me the overall idea does not ring true, if you see the distinction.

We lost a lot when we lost our knowledge that everything – everything – is alive.

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