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  • “Do stories, apart from happening, being, have something to say?
    For all my skepticism, some trace of irrational superstition did
    survive in me, the strange conviction, for example, that everything
    in life that happens to me also has a sense, that it means something,
    that life speaks to us about itself through its story, that it gradually
    reveals a secret, that it takes the form of a rebus whose message
    must be deciphered, that the stories we live compromise the
    mythology of our lives and in that mythology lies the key to truth
    and mystery. Is it an illusion? Possibly, even probably, but I can’t
    rid myself of the need continually to decipher my own life.”

    MIlan Kundera

    There is something about the Canadian Rockies. What is it? Is it the way I can see millions of years of geology in the sharp slices of time that thrust up into the sky, as though these gargantuan upheavals happened only yesterday? Is it the feeling of awe and humility that comes when I realize how infinitesimal I am, and yet, in this humility, have a sense of the infinite power that we are all are part of, that has brought this immensity into being?

    John Muir wrote: “Oh these vast, measureless mountain days, opening a thousand windows to show us God.” So this morning, I pretend I am writing to you from Banff to remind you of how healing it can be to imagine oneself in the middle of thousands of miles of pine forests, glaciers and these amazing signatures from another time when great forces had their way with the earth. This is the thing about imagination: You can be anywhere, and you can be in that place, walk around it in your mind, bring it into consciousness and then see where your thoughts want to play.

    There is a lot to be learned from geology, the way it puts you in touch with our living planet. The way it helps you to understand your own glaciers, moraines, sudden slides and alluvial fans. Oh, that part of my life is moving so slowly! Oh, that is where a few small pines are starting a forest, over there in that pile of shale! Oh, I wish I could see around that bend in the river! We need this one on one encounter with the earth, just as we need to think about how, as artists, we shall continue to evolve through our sediments and synclines, our crumbling bluffs and meandering river beds.

    It has all gotten harder, and easier, too. History and her faithful handmaiden, Time, are forcing us to develop new theories about things, because the old theories do not fit any more. That is the frustration, discontinuity and exhilaration I am feeling now. That is what is forcing me to reflect on the purpose of my life, on the purpose of novels, poetry and art in general, and the uses of imagination, right now, while I imagine myself meditating on these magnificent mountains.

    Milan Kundera says that we veil reality by pre-interpreting it, and this pre-interpretation is like a curtain: “A magic curtain, woven of legends, hung before the world.” He continues: “Cervantes sent Don Quixote journeying and tore through the curtain. The world opened before the knight-errant in all the comical nakedness of its prose.”

    I agree with Kundera that it is our task as writers to rip through this curtain and reveal what it hides. Indeed, this is the task of the artist, the poet, the mystic, and even, in our time, the voyager through cyber-space who inhabits, as I do here, the etheric realms of virtual reality and the imagination. How shall we play? To what new planets shall we travel? And what new worlds shall we invent?

    (Revised and reposted 5-2-12)

    (Photograph by Alex in the 3-D virtual world of Second Life)
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