If you have just arrived at The Library in Purgatory, the first chapter is here.

"I never found the girl, I never got rich. Follow me."

~Leonard Cohen

Friday, May 9, 2008

Chapter I- Introduction

The Library in Purgatory

Welcome to Purgatory, or more specifically, the Library in Purgatory; which while possibly a part of, should not be confused with The Library of Babel. I am the Librarian. No doubt you are wondering where here is and how you came to be here. I’m afraid I will be of no help for either query, though you might ask the Silent Cartographer. As Mr. Eliot has noted, each arrives by his own way:

If you came this way,

Taking the route you would be likely to take

From the place you would be likely to come from…

If you came at night like a broken king,

If you came by day not knowing what you came for,

It would be the same…

And what you thought you came for

is only a shell, a husk of meaning

From which the purpose breaks

only when it is fulfilled

If at all. If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same:

you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.

—T. S. Eliot, The Four Quartets, Little Gidding

I am also told that each experiences their stay here in their own way, each experience differing relative to the individual and what they are seeking to learn, running from, or unable to see. In general terms, Purgatory has been described as below and, given my relatively short, but far too long, time here, I’m not inclined to disagree:

“The negative expression…is cosmic horror, such as experienced by those caught between the worlds of spirit and matter. Neither living nor dead, they are trapped in a nightmarish realm they can’t awaken from. On the spiritual dimension, this is purgatory, what the Buddhists call the bardo planes. Disincarnate entities who cling to people or places on the earth are trapped in this domain. …Many are in mental institutions, others suffer alone in their homes.”[1]

However, I can say that if you are here you are dead or nearly so, if not in body than in spirit. What you're to do here though is beyond me. The two most commonly used words to describe Purgatory, besides possibly “fucking sucks”, are trapped and lost; more acceptable terms for repressed and disassociated. The former is the inability to move, the loss of freedom; and the latter is the inability to differentiate yourself from the background. I believe that either or both of these lie at the heart of all the crisis/dilemmas of those who find themselves here, and recommend it as a starting point in your quest for answers.

How did I become the Librarian in Purgatory?

That is a good question. And if I knew who I was before becoming the Librarian I might actually be able to give you a better answer, any answer really. I can tell you a number of things that I have done, but I am not any of those— for example, I seem to write but I don’t consider myself a writer. It’s something I do but not who I am or how I define myself; a part but not the whole. I could tell you a number of rather remarkable stories and adventures of things I’ve done around the world, yet none of them are me, just things that I have done— the ripples surrounding the stone thrown in the pond. But what was the stone?

If I knew who or what I was then I think I’d understand where I fit in the world in relation to everything else. In this equation, for too long, I have been an unknown entity/quantity, an x, or maybe a why.

It all started with Colleen’s suicide, or maybe even later that summer when I was driving back from O’Hare and realized/heard, “You’re not who you’re supposed to be.” In reality though, it had started a long time before that, but it would take me many years to realize/see it, understand it…and that time in between was essentially a seventeen year road trip.

The identity of who I have believed I am/was has merely, or mainly, been a number of different and overlapping stories. The stories have been the ripples in the pond from where the first consciousness/awareness of me intersected the pool of reality/manifestation/action. I used to just be a story; that became overlapping or multi-layered stories— constructive and destructive interference arising, and since Twenty2 the Hard Way I have been the story of finding and then telling myself the stories I have been, both in AND out of the story, simultaneously; seemingly taking multiple perspectives at once—Schrödinger's Librarian, both alive and dead in the unopened box.

I once said that if I could make one movie, I wouldn’t shoot any original film but would tell some epic/heroic tale by splicing together scenes from existing films. In one scene the hero might be Luke Skywalker, Buckaroo Banzai in the next; you get the idea.

“In the West, you have the liberty and the obligation of finding out what your destiny is. You can discover it for yourself. But do you? … In a wonderful essay called “On an Apparent Intention in the Fate of the Individual,” Schopenhauer points out that, once you have reached an advanced age…as you look back over your life, it can seem to have had a plot, as though composed by a novelist. Events that seemed entirely accidental or incidental turn out to have been central in the composition. So who composed the plot? Schopenhauer’s idea is that, just like our dreams, our lives are directed by what he called the will, that self of which we are largely unconscious. We have been, he says, dreamers of our own lives, like Visnu on his seven-headed serpent.”[2]

So I have found myself in Purgatory, sifting through the various stories and journals on file in the Library here, splicing together tales to create my own, working my way to an understanding of that pebble tossed in the pond and the ripples that resulted from the intersection of the two; hoping to find my way out of this state of dis-content and dis-ease. When the tale is done, and good enough, I will move on, as someone.

To those ends, this story is Parzival’s; and everything here is true and none of it is correct.

In Search of a Better Story—3 A.M. Eternal of the Soul

The ego has been defined as, “the process of organizing the psyche,” the organizing principle, and, “self, that which gives unity to the mind.” [3] It has come to be my belief that the ego, as the systematizing process of the psyche, organizes the events, emotions, thoughts, and experiences of life via the creation, storage, cataloging, and comparison of stories, usually personal but sometimes archetypal; that stories are the ego’s way of understanding, connecting to, differentiating from, and organizing the intersection of identity/consciousness and reality. Underlying these stories are beliefs, almost completely unconscious, a near invisible foundational operating system for the Windows™ of our psyches; but that is a story for another time. Stories are how we make sense of life, the map by which we understand and navigate the world. We are our stories; or at least we believe we are.

The ego though, as an identity, is an illusion, Maya. We are not our stories, though we may live through them; we are not our egos, a concept of a process, though we have one. We are not who we think we are, nor are we even the stream of stories we constantly tell ourselves, almost always unconsciously, about our lives. Who or what then lies behind the stories, behind the stories of the stories of the stories we tell ourselves we are? Who am I if I am not my story? Where am I if the map is not the territory? Why this feeling of trapped and lost?

The Road Leads Where It’s Led

This is a story then; and also a story about a story(s). A story, a meta-story, perhaps even. And what is important here is not so much the story or stories themselves but how they go together like beads on a string, how each fits in its place, plays its part in the larger whole; for this is, ultimately, a story(s) about wholeness, or the lack thereof— Isis’s journey to find and reassemble the fourteen dismembered, scattered and lost parts of Osiris’s body.

More than that though, or perhaps inclusive of it, it is an “autotripography”, the story of a journey, or a path or road; and it is this, rather than any one character, which is the focal point. However, you will have to look hard at times to follow the twist and turns, often at least partially hidden from view by the characters, drama, tragedy, and comedy in the foreground; understand the story but don’t get caught up in the illusion.

Illusions Selling Illusions to Illusions

The story will never be the real thing. To move beyond trapped is to gain freedom, to progress past lost is to be found, and to venture beyond story, I think, may be to go from telling yourself a story about something to to consciously becoming the story, a story of your choosing, itself, the point where the difference between the story and the story teller, the known and the knower, vanishes— in the moment.

…the master surfer, he doesn’t surf the wave/story, the wave/story flows through him. There is no surfer or wave, only the Two-as-One joined in perfect harmony and unity. The wave is transparent to the master surfer and the master surfer is transparent to the wave. They both inform each other and point to, become something greater than the sum of their parts…the master is a master because he is visible but he is not there or because he is there but not visible; however you like it.

“His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him; he becomes, that is to say, an anonymity.”[4]

You Know the Way, It Cuts You Up…

It has been said that, “A warrior’s ultimate act is to lay down his sword.” So to for the writer, intentional or otherwise; for there is no act greater than to finally lay down the pen of unconscious storytelling, that which separates us from our lives and true Selves, and to write no more. It is the only thing I dream of…other than the nightmares. And so it goes…

So then, welcome to Purgatory. I hope you find what you are looking for; your peace. I would tell you that no matter why you think you are here that everyone is ultimately looking for themselves, in one form or another. I don’t expect you’ll believe me, or take me too seriously if you do; nobody ever does. Spend enough time on your own path though and you’ll come to see it though; and then maybe you’ll be the next Librarian in Purgatory.

“On this plain we saw an old gentleman of a worthy aspect, with a long beard, who drearily led a large following of some ten thousand men in black. He had a melancholy and hopeless air; and Mozart said:

“Look, there’s Brahms. He is striving for redemption, but it will take him all his time.”

I realized that the thousands of men in black were the players of all those notes and parts of his scores which according to the divine judgment were superfluous. …

“Thick orchestration was in any case neither Wagner’s nor Brahms’ personal failing. It was a fault of their times.”

What? And have they got to pay for it so dearly?” I cried in protest

“Naturally. The law must take its course. Until they have paid the debt of their time it cannot be known whether anything personal to themselves is left over to stand to their credit.

I was now thoroughly miserable. I saw myself as a dead-weary pilgrim, dragging myself across the desert of the other world, laden with the many superfluous books I had written, and all the articles and essays; followed by an army of compositors who had had the type set up, by the army of readers who had had it all to swallow. My god—and over and above it all there was Adam and the apple, and the whole of original sin. All this, then, was to be paid for in endless purgatory. And only then could the question arise whether, behind all that, there was anything personal, anything of my own left over; or whether all that I had done and all its consequences were merely the empty foam of the sea and a meaningless ripple in the flow of what was over and done.”[5]

Audiences know what to expect and that is all they are prepared to believe in.”

— The Player, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

The Librarian

2330 EST

23rd of February, 2009

The Library in Purgatory

Winners and losers, turn the pages of my life
We're beggars and choosers, with all the struggles and the strife
I got no reason to turn my head and look the other way
We're good and we're evil, which one will I be today?

There's saints and sinners
Life's a gamble and you might lose
There's cowards and heroes
Both have been known now to break the rules
There's lovers and haters
The strong and the weak will all have their day
We're devils and angels
Which one will I be today?

Are you happy now with all the choices you've made?
Are there times in life when you know you should've stayed?
Will you compromise and then realize the price is too much to pay?
Winners and losers, which one will you be today?

There's a light and a dark side
Standing at the crossroads, there we'll meet
There's prophets and fools there
The lies and the truth, will be at our feet
I got a reason to turn my head and look the other way
Its heaven and hell here, which one will I live today?

Are you happy now with all the choices you've made?
Are there times in life when you know you should've stayed?
Did you compromise and then realize the price was too much to pay?
Winners and losers, which one will you be today?

Which one will you be today?
Which one will I be today?

Winners and Losers[6]

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