I’ve been rapping for about seventeen years, okay? I don’t write my stuff anymore, I just kick it from my head, y’know what I’m sayin’? I can do that. No disrespect, but that’s how I am.
-Young Churf, from Ratatat’s “Seventeen Years”
I was rooting around in my basement, and *finally* found notes from my first advisory group with Rachel Pollack at Goddard College. And dang, there’s a reason why the lecture she gave had been sticking in my head for almost four years now.
“Here are three models of the soul and the body,” Rachel told us, seemingly apropos of nothing, after a brief discussion of writing habits. Such an arcane occult topic might seem unrelated to writing, but no. They were intimately connected.
“Think of the soul,” Rachel went on, “as the essential quality of the story, while the body is the content and form of the story.”
If I think of writing this way, I imagine times when a single idea has carried into a variety of forms until it found the right one. Perhaps this is like how I function when I write journalistic articles: I query, and when an editor is interested in my work, I then flesh out the piece tailored to the market.
Consider the next soul metaphor: Instead of the body being a container for the soul, the soul instead secretes a body around it during the nine months of pregnancy. An accompanying Talmudic idea is that upon death, the soul is released and can move on to secrete a new body elsewhere.
What this means for writing, Rachel explained, is that what you want to say should be inseparable from the form in which you say it. I’m not sure if this is always true for me, but I like it as a goal. I like the idea that what needs to be said will secrete its own best form. When I am doing my best work, I feel this happening.
Rachel’s example here was Phillip K. Dick: his lifelong obsession over what is real and what is not, i.e. the soul of his work, kept secreting different bodies. So while he wrote a lot of different novels, many if not all of them shared the same soul.
Rather than focusing on What You Want To Express, Rachel suggests, you can open yourself up and let the story be primary in order to short circuit your own authorial control. I think this could be particularly salient when trying to fictionalize stories that are heavily grounded in your own life.
Rachel’s third soul metaphor was this: The soul is larger than the body. The body moves through life to give expression to the soul. “Allow the story to inhabit something larger than itself,” she said. And every story we tell is a part of a larger cultural tale that goes untold much of the time. So when I speak, I hope I am helping to tell a story about not only the time and place that my body is moving through to give expression to my soul, but about a time and place that’s bigger than my one body’s journey. Long story short, I think this is one reason why I write about fairy tales?!
Let me know if this makes sense or not. And what you think of it. If you want to read more of Rachel’s smart occult writing or science fiction/fantasy that busts open the mystical mysteries of the everyday world, check her out.