No. 7 >> The Mystery Issue: Get out your deerstalker.

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MAKING THE WORK // Writer as Oracle: A. Gets Woo-Woo

One day back in high school, the dad of a kid I knew asked me what I wanted to be. I told him I wanted to be a writer and that I already had a column in the local newspaper (earnestly titled “Healing Our Planet”). He asked me who I wrote for and I said, “The North Island News.” Of course that’s not what he meant, but I was unable to think of anyone else. He then answered for me: “God, that’s who. If you write for God you’ll never be disappointed. It’ll be easier on your soul.”

I was wary because I come from atheists who say “God” the same way they might say “Tampax”. However, the kid’s dad didn’t say God like a Bible thumper. Rather he said it warmly, as though talking about a nice Golden Retriever.

Now here is the kind of conversation A. and I have. I told him the anecdote about the kid’s dad and his question. We both thought it was a silly question, but then, as it goes, began to discuss it at length. I named some actual people that my current writing could be for, if pressed. I also listed some literary champions and companions. 

A., as is his wont at moments like that, got his clipboard and created a diagram. Examining it, he said, like it was the only natural deduction, “Well, it looks like a classic Greek mythological structure to me.”

“Of course, why didn’t I think of that,” I said, but I was kidding because who else would think of that?

“Here, at the bottom, you’ve got your mortals,” A. said, pointing to his diagram. “Then you’ve got your champions and literary companions, who are equivalent to Greek demi-gods or heroes, like Hercules and the chap who went through the maze. Then there’s the kid from high school’s dad’s God who is, well, God—the gods, like Zeus and Hera and all those people hanging out on Olympus.”

“And where does the writer fit in?” I asked.

“The writer is the oracle. The oracle sits outside of society. People would go to the oracle for answers, but instead of a concrete answer, the oracle provided them with riddles—or if you will, mysteries—that the receiver had to puzzle out for themselves. The idea was that, through the process of consideration, insight or understanding would be gained. I believe that writers, through our work, similarly pose questions for the reader to consider. If we had real answers, or believed that we did, we’d be polemicists or  politicians or social workers. Instead we’re oracles; through the very process of creation we embrace mystery. Same goes for other artists.”

“So the oracle is in service to the gods?”

“More that the oracle—depending on your point of view—has been blessed or cursed by the gods to perform their role. It was never the job of the oracle to worry about what impact their revelations might have had on the receiver. Just like it’s not our job to concern ourselves with how people interpret our work. Our job is to give them good riddles that hopefully lead to the consideration of deeper mysteries.”

“And this weird, romantic idea is based on classical Greek mythological structure?”

“I’m sure a classicist would say I got it wrong,” A. said, taking a sip of his tea.

“And it’s not self-important to think of oneself as an oracle?”

“No! If anything, it’s less solipsistic than writing for self. Being an oracle is all about getting yourself out of the way.”

And therein is the crux of the matter once again: it doesn’t matter who you write for, it could be for Zeus or another person. What matters is getting oneself out of the way of the writing—to be in service to the writing. To be part of the mystery.

 

READING // Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova

I'm just nerd enough to be attracted to a book called Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. Recently out in paperback, the book is by Maria Konnikova, a contributing writer to The New Yorker online who formerly wrote the “Literally Psyched” blog column for Scientific American. A Harvard and Columbia graduate (psychology, creative writing and government), Konnikova is also a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. Through the language and allegory of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, she explores the science of thinking. She delineates between the “Watson System”, which is fast and impulsive thinking, versus the “Holmes System”, which is slow and rational thinking. Reading about the “brain attic” (the Holmesian mind), I’m happy to have the eccentric Holmes as my current self-improvement role model. Deerstalker not included.

 

SEEN & HEARD // Dylan Reibling's Friend "Mike"

Recently, I heard a story on CBC’s Live Through This program that made me want to go all Nancy Drew. Here’s the gist. Dylan Reibling worked for an upstart internet service provider in 2000 where he met a co-worker named Michael de Bourcier (pictured in header image) and they became friends. Then, a couple years later, in one phone call, Reibling learned that his friend Mike was dead and that everything Mike had told him—including his name—was a lie.

Mike’s body was found in his Toronto apartment. Apparently he’d died of a heart attack. Police learned two things. One, that Michael de Bourcier was living under an assumed identity, likely taken from that of a boy who died in Port Hardy at the age of four in 1973. And two—perhaps even more shockingly—that he’d pre-paid his own funeral a week before he died.

Reibling says, “Had Mike not died, he would have gone one way and I would have gone another... But because this thing happened, he started taking up more of my mind.”

The power of mystery has drawn Reibling, now an award-winning filmmaker and interactive artist, in. He has hired a private investigator and is making a documentary about the unsolved case because he wants to know who his friend really was. I can imagine Reibling's documentary uncovering the truth about Mike—his real name and true history—but the riddle of why Mike made the choices that he made will remain ours to puzzle.