Tag Archives: God

Why stories compel the human soul

Stories don’t just distract us. Walk in to the average home and see how many ways we give ourselves to escape in to stories. Break down the 24 hours of the day and see how many of them we spend immersed in fictional worlds. Stories are a compulsion. For some, an addiction. If politicians ever looked seriously at them, we might have a War on Stories to add to the War on Drugs.

Why are we compelled by stories?

Hindu philosophy has a few things to say about stories. In Hinduism all you are is a story. A story being lived out by the super-consciousness of the universe which, given infinite time, will live out all possible stories. Hinduism calls that super-consciousness the Atman. The Atman – which we filter in to Western theology in bastardised form as god and / or the soul – is the creator of everything. Not because they make everything, but because they dream everything. After an eternity being super-novas or Emperors or planets or William Shatner gets boring. And the Atman, seeking variety, decides to be you. Or indeed me. Or your unremarkably dull housemate Colin who collects ring-binders. You might struggle to see why the Atman would dream itself the life of Colin, but given infinite time all things become more or less equally interesting. Even ring-binders.

We – that is the part of us that thinks we are who we are, rather than an aspect of the dreaming Atman super-consciousness – do not have infinite time. We believe our selves finite and we believe we live within constraints. In stories we can escape our constraints. We can be other people. Live other lives. Explore strange new worlds. We can be William Shatner. Or, at least, Captain Kirk. For the length of the story we are free of our self. Then we go back to being who we are. Wondering about Colin, and his odd affection for ring-binders.

We might feel a slight disappointment. A come down after the trip. But we shouldn’t.

When the story begins the Atman is FASCINATED. In some ways all the Atman is, the very essence of its being, is fascination with stories. That’s why you seem to disappear in to the story. The Atman, which is you, the part of you that is truly aware, is temporarily fascinated by the story unfolding on the screen, or stage, or in the book, or comic page. The Atman that once dreamed it was you, now dreams it is Captain Kirk. But. It has been Captain Kirk. It has been Captain Kirk a lot. And after an hour or two, it gets bored. It wants to be you again. Because you, of all the wonders of the universe, are the most fascinating story of all.

(This is, incidentally, why Hindu stories like the Mahabharat are so fascinatingly dramatic. And epicly long. They’re trying to tempt the Atman out of you and keep it forever.)

Does God have a place in science fiction?

If SF is grounded in hard scientific fact, and science is killing God, then what place does that leave for divine intervention in the pages of SF literature? When I tweeted this question, @MirabilisDave gave Arthur C Clarke’s famous dictum a twist, quipping that “Any sufficiently advanced technocrat will be indistinguishable from God.”

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Writing is hard, lonely, low paid work

I think we need to spread the following meme as far and wide as possible:

“Writing is hard, lonely, low paid work.”

It’s a stark message, and perhaps lacking some nuance. But it needs to be to impact the growing legions attracted to writing as a pathway to celebrity, status and wealth. Those people need deterring for their own good, so I believe those of us who know better should start propagating this meme.

So why would anybody want to write? Especially smart people who could probably do better if they just concentrated their effort on their day job?

I work with a lot of people who want to be writers. Over the years I’ve had to try and explain to myself what that desire is about. Writing has become confused with celebrity and status. But the truth is I think we write to learn and grow as people. Mastering the skills of writing, finding your story and your meaning, even making the long hard journey towards publication, are all good for our spirit and soul.

(I mean good here in the way Spartan society believed exposing babies was good for them because it turned those who survived in to hardy souls.)

If you learn and grow enough, you might write something which contributes a little or a lot to other peoples growth. At which point, such things as success, acclaim, wealth may start falling in to your lap. But it doesn’t matter if you ever get to that point, as long as you get the growth you need from your own writing. Sure, your ego will take a hell of bashing along the way. But maybe a good hard kicking is exactly what your ego needs. Maybe thats why you are putting yourself through all this anyway?

Which is why its so damn sad when people enter in to this endeavour purely for the ego trip. Because they are condemning them self to a hell of a lot of pain until they learn better.

How to eat a pomegranate

Pomegranate Fruits.
Image via Wikipedia

It is pomegranate season.

Which is a dangerous time for me. I have very little self-control when it comes to the kind sweet, tangy, fruit based deliciousness pomegranates promise.

Which is a meandering introduction towards the revelation that I have just eaten two whole, very large pomegranates. The first one was good. Bright scarlet berries and a sweet flavour. But the second one. Oh lord. This was God’s own pomegranate. Dark crimson berries so juicy that as soon as I cut it open it seemed to be bleeding blood. And tangy, like a cherry crossed with a lime.

One of the benefits of living in a diverse city like Leicester is that the residents know where to import the best fruit from. Wherever the current batch are imported from (I would guess Israel) the consequence is I’ve spent many evenings this week gorged out of my mind on fruit.

As a good friend of mie says, a pomegranate is more than just a fruit. It’s an experience.

But before you can get to that experience, you have find a way in. And as another friend says, the pomegranate is an intimidating fruit.

The best pomegranates are dark skinned, almost scaly, and irregularly shaped. Avoid pale, shiny round pomegranates. They will be artificially grown in big greenhouses. The berries will be pale and tasteless so you just end chewing seed. And it will be mostly pith anyway (more on the pith later). Not good. It’s this kind of poor pomegranate experience, often from a supermarket bought pomegranate, that puts many people off. Size wise, a pomegranate should be around the size of an orange of a big apple. Smaller ones can be tasty, but frustrating (I would have to eat three small pomegranates at least) bigger ones again risk being artificial and tasteless.

Assuming you can source a few good pomegranates, you are going to need a nice bowl and a good sharp knife. I use a paring knife with a short, fat blade. I’ve used a professional grade 12″ chopping knife in the past out of desperation, but as you will see, control is an issue. Oh, and somewhere comfortable to sit. And maybe some good music.

Carefully dig the tip of the knife under the evil looking stem on top of the pomegranate, then cut around in a circle. The aim is to cleanly detach this and dispose of it. It serves no further purpose.

Now, you’re going to make a slicing incision from near the top of the pomegrante, down to around two thirds of the way to the base. YOU ONLY NEED TO SLICE THROUGH THE SKIN, NOT INTO THE FRUIT ITSELF. Now, make another identical incision about one sixth of the way around the circumference of the pomegranate. Make a third small incision to join the top of the two existing one. Imagine this as demarcating a slice of cake.

With the slice ready, you use the edge of the blade to gently leaver it out of the body of the fruit. You should then get a whole chunk of berries attached to the rind.

In a moment you’re going to be able to eat some berries. But first a note on pith.

Pith is not, contrary to what my mother said the first time she gave me one of these fruit, lethally poisonous. You do not need to remove every single tiny bit of pith from every single damn berry, as I did, thereby extending the eating time to three or four hours. Pith is rather bitter and chewy however, so you do want to avoid it mostly. The best way to do this is to us your fingers to pick a cluster of berries off the slice and then eat them.

Go for it.

Good huh?

Once you’ve finished a slice, you will want another one. Repeat the incision and levering / lifiting process until you’ve eaten the berries from all six slices. Then you can dig in to the main body, unless you’ve been eating those bits as you go, which is actually how I usually do it.

The base of the pomegranate is rather wondrous. Assuming you’ve been methodical you will basically have a seventh, circular slice. Now, of you remove most of the pith, and then press the bottom upwards, the whole thing radiates out like some kind of pomegranate flower. Don’t admire it too long, it’s meant for eating.

Now at this point I usually get a second pomegranate and continue eating. If that was the second pomegranate, I debate having a third, assuming there are any left and reminding myself I will DEFINITELY feel sick afterwards. Which is why I’ve been writing this post, as I consider that question. And now I have made up my mind.