The Shape of the Book

Y’all, just as a relevant side-note, I have been trying now for two days to learn what settled on term there is to describe the religious person in a non-Christian, indigenous community who uses altered states to communicate and work in the spirit world. The problem with “shaman” is that it is a term specific to a northern Siberian culture. That’s their word to describe a specific community member. Think of it kind of like describing the person who delivers the religious teaching at the service of any monotheistic religion as a “priest.”

Sure, okay, if you don’t mind that some monotheistic sects actually have dudes called “priests,” that some monotheistic sects deliberately don’t have dudes called “priests,” and that other monotheistic sects and religions would find it bizarre and misleading and weirdly imperialistic to call their dudes “priests” when their dudes have actual titles they should be called. Plus, it tends to erase the meaningful differences between roles and job functions of the people who deliver the religious teaching in each subsection of monotheism.

So, there’s an ongoing controversy about the word “shaman,” and about applying it to people who seem to inhabit similar roles in various cultures throughout the world, since it isn’t what the people in those roles call themselves, except in the one case where it is exactly the right word. But I can’t find any consensus about what we might use as a generic term to mean “the community member who uses altered states to interact with the spirit world and who acts as a mediator between the spirit world and this one.”

I thought about going with “magician” in the old-school sense, but that’s just switching from one culturally-specific term to another. Though, in fairness, Hannah is kind of on a specifically European-American journey. So, maybe for the sake of this post, magician works.

So, when you are a magician of the “using altered states to interact with the spirit world” type, we can say there are some very broad strokes your journey from “regular” to “irregular” might take. You might have been born different, or seemed to be different from a young age. You might go through an ordeal where you feel you are torn apart and put back together. You usually go through some kind of apprenticeship and learn your stories and traditions. There’s singing. And drug taking. And hallucinating. And talking to dead people. And community building and reinforcing. And cosmic tussles.

I tried very hard to give the main character, Hannah, two arcs. The one she’s emotionally going through is her finally coming to terms with there being no way for her to be a part of the church she grew up in. But the literal, physical journey she is on is one of becoming a magician. I had to work it that way because otherwise, the emotional story was just too depressing–that you would go through all this shitty stuff only to discover that, in the end, you’re expected to become a metaphorical shit-distributor if you want to be a part of things. But in the end, she gets to be a literal shit distributor! Ha ha ha.

That may be funny only to me.

But I wanted her to have positive forward motion, for her to be becoming someone powerful, even if she doesn’t know it.

Anyway, I am anxious about it, as always. But the plan is to let K. have it for a couple of weeks (or more, if she needs) and see what she thinks and I’ll read some and think about other crap. It’s funny. The writing was easy and enjoyable. This part, though, I just don’t know about. I don’t know if I’m doing it right. I don’t know if I’m ending up any place that is making the book better. It’s weird. And I don’t yet feel like going through it is providing me with any great knowledge for next time. I think this part may just be unique for every project.

I don’t feel like I have a good internal sense of my own weaknesses as a writer. I know I can be a little convoluted. And I know people easily mistake my writing for fact and become upset when it’s not (ha, but let’s not rehash that old problem).

Ugh, I’m running late and long.

But mulling things over helps.