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Friday, October 23, 2009

Mysterious Creatures

I have been reading a fabulous little book, The Mythical Creatures Bible, by Brenda Rosen, about dwarves, unicorns, Greek vs. Chinese vampires, Egypt’s Seth and Horus, Tibet’s wrathful protectors, Kachinas, Mayan Jaguars, and Quetzalcoatl. Perhaps I have done this intentionally, to get away from the idiocy of the healthcare debate, particularly on that paranoid cable channel, Fox News.

Yes, I tortured myself by watching a few hours of that alternate reality of mysterious and evil government plots, the grand wisdom and beneficence of big business, the machinations of the archenemy Obama, and blond, pithy talking-heads who know everything by knowing nothing. I wanted to see what the fuss was all about, but watching Fox News was indeed terrifying, while falling into the world of Child-eaters and Trolls was a delight. An ‘intentionally foxy, warped view of reality’ makes little sense, and is less fun, than a fantasy. The former attempts to fool me, while the latter edifies me about human nature.

As a child in El Paso, I loved the night. I imagined mysterious creatures lurking outside our doors, in the backyard chasing our German shepherds, Lobo and Prince, or perhaps on the roof emanating strange noises, afloat with the desert wind. I roamed the rooms of our house on San Lorenzo at ungodly hours, and my mother said I was a duende.

The darkest hours prompt the imagination of those ready to be prompted, and not already dead to the world of possibilities. I also think certain streets, houses, rooms, and corners elicit my impish as well as my wildest imaginations. It’s the darkness of a place, the absolute quiet that forebodes danger or the cryptic, and the remoteness of a situation, that you are alone and must rely on only your senses to escape if necessary. These characteristics transform places into fertile ground for the imagination.

Part of adulthood, the bad part, is when you stop looking for these places. Under a bunk bed with your child as you experience the magic of a good story. The reading light a small but steady beacon. The mind an unexplored country. The sore limbs of the street abandoned for a moment. This is one of the many things I cherish about my children, Aaron and Isaac: they have reminded me of being a duende, of seeing the world with unleashed curiosity and possibility, of wanting to learn about the struggle of heroes against demons.

After reading The Mythical Creatures Bible, in keeping with my current mood, I also reread Garcia Lorca’s lecture, “Theory and Play of the Duende.” Lorca talks about being possessed by an “authentic emotion,” within “dark sounds,” as when an artist or writer in a moment or a story ‘has duende.’ Different from a Muse or an Angel, ‘having duende or being with duende’ reaches into the artist’s blood, to take momentary possession of what calls you primordially. For Lorca: “The spirit of the earth.”

So I reread Lorca to think about the mysterious force he meant, even though he claims no philosopher can explain it. I believe him, but that doesn’t stop me from struggling with his words and possible meanings, from exercising my curiosity, and for a moment positing an answer I find worthwhile.

The process reaches deep within yourself, which I think Nietzsche advocated as well, to find a world, to experience your separation from the inanimate, to unleash the joy and heartache of being human, a place where skill and struggle meet ecstatically. I don’t know if that is where Lorca’s duende lives, but it is where I find I am alive.

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