Douglas Smith Interview: Dreaming is a Power. Co-Presented by PlanetShifter.com Magazine & planetshifter.com
From: Red Bird by DS:
Without another word, Ikada strode across the sand to his challenger. Both bowed and in an eye blink drew their blades and stepped back into fighting stance, swords vertical in a two-handed grip. The samurai moved in at once, feinting a head cut but shifting to slash across the ribs. Parrying, Ikada slid his blade along the other’s, nicking the samurai’s neck. The man retreated, but Ikada closed again, pressing his attack.
Many times, Ikada came within a hair’s breadth of ending the battle but could not deliver a death cut. Bleeding from a dozen places, the black samurai now fought with his blade in his left hand, right arm hanging limp at his side.
Then Ikada, blocked on a vicious downward cut, dropped into a crouch to execute a perfect reverse spin. His blade slashed under the man’s guard, slicing a thigh. Grunting, the samurai fell to a knee. Ikada closed, sword raised for the final blow.
And slipped--on something in the sand. Something round and white. His blade swung wide from its kamai position. Still kneeling, the black samurai thrust upwards. As the point entered Ikada’s throat, Asai’s own throat gave his scream life.
Asai ran onto the sand, Silver Blade over his head. The samurai stood and grinned, no doubt at the sight of a man-child warrior. The two engaged, and the grin vanished. Asai attacked with such fury that the samurai could only parry and retreat. The black warrior stumbled. Asai beat away a feeble slash, and the man’s sword flew from him.
“I beg mercy!” the samurai cried, on his knees before Asai.
“Beg to the demons!” Asai spat. His sword sang across the neck of his foe. The helmeted head spun lazily in the air, drops of blood shining in the evening sun, to land in the sand.
Asai stared at the Silver Blade in his hand, unable to remember picking it up. He stumbled to Ikada, feeling for a pulse that he knew he would not find. Tears streaking his face, he picked up the object that had tripped the Warrior. A skull, a circlet of metal still attached, grinned back at him….
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Interview with Doug by Willi -
Do you understand what some writers and artists are calling "new mythologies"?
Actually, no. But the ancient myths were the way that humans tried to explain the unexplainable, and writers and artists are still trying to explain the universe and our place in it. Our myths simply change as we learn more. Science replaces myth, but each answer leads to another area of which we know nothing. Myths rush in to fill the void. We are story tellers and will always be story tellers.
What inspirational sources are in your tool kit?
I do (or try to do) what Julia Cameron calls "artist dates" (see her wonderful book on recovering creativity in our lives, The Artist's Way). Just some activity, often a trip to an art gallery or museum or a walk in the forest, that helps to fill the well of creative ideas again. And quite frankly, writers are writers because they are constantly seeing story ideas in everything. See my article on this on my web site.
Is Joseph Campbell's work and vision informing your stories?
Yes, "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" and also James Frazer's "The Golden Bough." Perhaps more indirectly than directly though, as one of my favourite writers, the late Roger Zelazny, was himself strongly influenced by Campbell and Frazer. Myths inspired much of Zelazny's work, and his work inspired me.
Can you offer us some symbols, songs or stories that speak in mythological terms for the Sustainability Age?
I'd point to the Cree and Ojibwa belief of the four orders of life and how the world was created. Here's a small extract from an urban fantasy novel I recently completed entitled "Spirit Dreams," which has an animal habitat / environment destruction sub-plot, and draws heavily on Cree and Ojibwa stories and myths. In this scene, the Cree spirit, Wisakejack, is explaining the creation of the world to a boy named Zach, a boy who will play a part in an impending and mysterious battle:
“In the beginning,” Wisakejack began, “Kitche Manitou, the Great Spirit of the People, dreamed of this world. Kitche Manitou knew that dreams are important, even for him, so he meditated on his dream and realized that he had to bring what he had dreamed into being.
“So, out of nothing--the nothing that we’re floating in right now--he made four elements--rock, water, fire, and wind. Into each, he breathed the breath of life, giving each its own spirit.”
Zach suddenly felt solid ground under his feet. Rain wet his face, and a breeze moved his hair. He felt the heat of flames and smelled smoke. He still could see nothing but mist.
“From these four elements,” Wisakejack said, “he created the four things that form the physical world: the sun, stars, moon, and earth.”
Zach gasped. A red sun sank over a broad bare plain of gray rock cut by a winding river, while a full moon peeked yellow-white over a tall, barren mountain under a canopy of stars in a black sky.
“Then Kitche Manitou made the plant beings, in four kinds: flowers, grasses, trees, vegetables.”
From the bare expanse of rock, a forest of huge trees and undergrowth suddenly rose. Zach sensed something primal about this place. Something old--very, very old--and yet, at the same time, something still new, virgin.
“And to the plants, he gave four spirits--life, growth, healing, and beauty.”
“He liked to do things in fours, didn’t he?” Zach said, looking around in wonder.
Wisakejack grinned. “See? You are learning. Next he created animals, each with special powers--two-legged, four-legged, winged, and swimmers--yep, four again.”
Zach heard chirping and looked up to see a blue jay on a tree branch. When he looked back down, the coyote from his first dream sat beside him.
The coyote’s outline shimmered, and Wisakejack took its place. He stood up, brushing himself off. “Last, Kitche Manitou made the People. Humans.” He raised a finger. “Last--not first. That’s your most important lesson tonight. The plants came after the physical world, cuz they needed the earth, air, rain, and sun to live. The animals came after the plants, cuz the meat-eaters needed the plant-eaters, and the plant-eaters, well, they needed the plants.”
“And people came last,” Zach said slowly, “because we depend on everything--sun, water, earth, air, plants, animals.”
Wisakejack grinned. “Yep. None of the other orders of life needs humans to survive, but people depend on everything. You’re the weakest of the four orders--something the white man has never figured out. But Kitche Manitou wasn’t finished. Because the People were the weakest of his creations, he gave them the greatest of all his gifts--the power to dream.” He looked at Zach hard, his grin gone. “You believe that, kid? That dreaming is a power?”
Is sustainability like a religion?
Wish it was, but I don't think we're there yet. Actually, considering the tendency of religion to prompt people to turn off their brains, I'm not sure I'd want it to become a religion. A way of life, of living, of looking at our place in the world would be nice, though.
What bands, films or authors stir your imagination these days?
A Toronto band, Metric, has become a favourite. I see over 100 movies in a year. Mr. Nobody is one that likely no one will have seen but that I'd recommend. Kind of Slaughterhouse Five meets Benjamin Button. I tend to listen to orchestral music when I write, with a special fondness for Vivaldi.
Are you a shaman?
Nope. I do write about Cree and Ojibwa shamanism in "Spirit Dreams." One definition of shamanism includes the concept that shamans are messengers between the human world and spirit world. Many writers have described the process of creating a story in those terms--of listening to whatever god or gods they believe exist and writing down what they here. As for me, I wish it was that easy.
Is alchemy a process that intrigues you? Do you actively use it?
No. And no. Except perhaps in the metaphoric way that all writers and artists do--transmuting ideas and impulses into creative works. Start with something, an idea. Follow a process that filters it through your life view and life experience. End up with something completely different from what you started with.
Are you seeing any shifts away from traditional religion to a more Nature-based view?
Yes, to some extent. I believe that the extremism rising in some traditional religions is driving people away from those faiths, and Wiccanism and Gaia-based beliefs seem to be gaining popularity in Western society, along with agnosticism, which is where I would place myself.
How do you connect mythmaking and innovation in your work?
I'm a writer. Writing is mythmaking, and the writing process or any creative approach is by definition innovation. Every writer writes in their own way, finds a process that works for them. Story telling is part of being human--I think that it is hard-wired in us. We will always tell stories to try to explain or process our world and what it means to be human. So we will always be building myths--stories that try to explain all this, lies that everyone knows are lies but enjoy by pretending they're real--lies that contain an element of truth and help to make it all make sense.
Alchemy is about the process of creation and transmutation. Are you praying or meditating when you write?
I don't pray. I don't believe in an interventionist deity. That is, I don't believe that praying to a higher power will prompt any such higher power that might exist to intervene in our affairs. Prayer as meditation can be powerful, but the power comes from within or connecting yourself to the greater life force all around us. When I'm writing, when it's really working, I'm not conscious of doing it. I just write. I guess that's a form of meditation.
How do you compare animal identity with human identify?
They're furrier?? Hmm. I'd probably reference the novel extract I included above. They don't need us. We need them. They understand how the world works in a way that we have forgotten.
What social values do you uphold these days; which ones would you bury if you could?
As I grow older, people mean more to me, and things mean less, which I hope is a good thing. And beauty--art, music, trying to listen to natural world around me and being in the moment with it.
Douglas Smith Bio:
Mr. Smith is an award-winning Canadian author of speculative fiction, with over a hundred story sales in twenty-four languages around the world. He has two short story collections in print, Chimerascope (ChiZine Publications, 2010) and Impossibilia (PS Publishing, 2008). He was a finalist for the international John W. Campbell Award for best new writer, and has twice won Canada's Aurora Award for short fiction. He recently completed his first novel, "Spirit Dreams", a contemporary fantasy incorporating Ojibwa and Cree legends, environmental issues, and his shape-shifting species, the Heroka. His website is www.smithwriter.com and he tweets at twitter.com/dougsmithwriter.