Memes, Literary Schemes, and Dietary Extremes
First and foremost, amazon.com. At least for me, it has become the greatest research tool imaginable, and there is no way I could have written my book without it. Once I had instant access to every book ever written, my own little project took a a quantum leap forward toward its eventual fruition.
I don't know how other people write their books, but it's probably not in the way I did. For, just like my life, it was a matter of simply following where my curiosity led, and then trying to make sense of what I discovered. As I explain in the book, it all began as a skeletal vision during meditation of how the story of the cosmos might be told in one continuous, circular narrative. Originally, it had the working title of "Singularities," the idea being that the sudden creation of the cosmos out of nothing--the big bang--was followed by several more, equally sudden ontological mutations, specifically, the appearances of Life, Mind, and spiritual Realization.
Because the book began only as a "vision," I really had no idea whether or not I would be able to transpersonalate the vision onto paper. But at each step along the way--often with the assistance of amazon--I encountered the right thinker at the right time, to either reinforce my own ideas or help provide solutions to riddles I had been puzzling over, some of them for years.
When I started the project, I went to my personal library and pulled from the shelves every book, irrespective of the field or topic, that contained truths without which any vision of the whole of reality would be, in my view, incomplete. And when I say "truth," I don't just mean that in the banal, colloquial sense of the term. Rather, there is a way of knowing truth that is literally a physical sensation--call it the erotic effect of the logos, if you want. I'm sure many of you are familiar with it--when Truth comprehends you, rather than you it.
So I removed all of these shiver-inducing books from the shelves (my wife actually took a picture--if I knew how to post photos, I would) and literally placed them on the floor in no particular pattern, staring at them while waiting for Petey to tell me how they were connected to one another, how they comported with my hallucivision. The problem was how to unify the "truths" from these seemingly unrelated fields into a more generalized "Truth" applying to all of them, without reducing one to the other. In gazing at the books, it gradually occurred to me that they were obviously linked together by an evolutionary thread, in the sense that the cosmos was here prior to the biosphere, the biosphere prior to the emergence of self-aware minds, and minds prior to the discovery of non-dual awareness of mystical union.
However, as I explain in the book, if my own spiritual experiences revealed Truth--a point on which I increasingly had no doubt--then the question was not simply to explain how matter eventually came alive, started thinking, and realized its essential divinity. Rather, the central question became, what must the cosmos be like for such a transcendent experience to be possible? (And please, I'm not trying to set myself apart here--these spiritual truths are available to most anyone who seriously sets out to discover them, just as musical truth is available to you if you undertake the discipline of learning how to play an instrument.)
A related issue was the importance of envisioning the largest possible world consistent with spiritual reality, rather than artificially narrowing the world down in order to somehow wedge in a traditional notion of God. (Which, it seems to me, is what the ID theorists attempt to do. But even if ID did prove the existence of a creator, one must still engage in a spiritual practice to know anything about the creator. Spiritual truth is realized, not deduced or gleaned solely from books, including the book of nature.)
Again, the book was written in an entirely intuitive manner, in which I gave free rein to my freakishly hypertrophied curiosity. I would be in the midst of reading one book, see an obscure source cited in the bibliography, and instantaneously be able to look it up on amazon. There is no way this process could have been as free, fluid and spontaneous if I had had to drive over to some big research library and follow up on every single holy hint or ecclesiastical clue that Petey whispered into my ear.
For example, there was one point that I was fascinated with the topic of human sacrifice. Why on earth did every primitive culture known to man engage in this barbaric practice? There are surprisingly few books on the topic, but I was able to quickly get my hands on all of them--everything except for a "how to" manual, but I'm sure I could have found one if I had tried. During the writing of the book, I had at least several books a week--often several a day--arriving at the drawbridge outside my suburban liberatorium. Sometimes the books were helpful, sometimes not, in which case I would simply sell the book back on amazon marketplace.
Speaking of which, I probably couldn't have afforded to write my book without amazon marketplace. It's not that I have a fixed "budget" for my book buying. However, I was able to spend many thousands of dollars a year on books because I was able to actually sell the ones I didn't need, and make a lot of the money back.
But the primary benefit of amazon was that it allowed me to quickly follow up on a cognitive or spiritual trail when it was still "hot." I learned to pay much closer attention to the little flares that are constantly sent from above through intuition--little thoughtlets bubbling beneath or above the surface, waiting to be fished out of the formless infinite and given a voice. Often they don't come back. When they're near the surface, you have to relax your way into their realm and haul them out.
The identical thing is going on now with my present project. Once again it has begun as a vague vision that I don't know if I will be able to complete. But that's what makes it interesting. I would never want to write a book that I already understand, or has essentially been written before. It's another "meta" book that will require instant access to a whole range of subjects, so once again, my multiple daily visits to amazon will be central.
Four blogs I visit daily? Lileks, Little Green Footballs, ShrinkWrapped, and Dr. Sanity (I often leave comments on the latter three).
Four of your favorite foods:
Well now that's an interesting question, because it completely changed in July of 2004, when I was diagnosed with type I diabetes. Interestingly, that is the same month I submitted the final manuscript for my book and my son was conceived. In short, that fateful month represented a Triple Crucifixion of body, mind and soul.
That is, the end of the book was a real death, in that the vision that propelled me to write it had been the organizing principle in my life for several years. For that mad dash toward the eschaton to come to an end was a bit of a jolt. Took some adjusting, to tell you the truth.
And having a first child at my age--I was 49 at the time--was definitely a death. In fact, as I once heard Christopher Hitchens say, when you meet your son, you're looking at your own funeral director. Shudder! Then again, when you look into his eyes, you're also staring into eternity, into eyes that will be looking at the world long after you're gone, hopefully with some tools you gave him to do so in a deep and fruitful way.
On a more mundane level, fatherhood is the end of total self-absorption, which was actually okay by me. I was ready for the death of the old Bob. By completing the book, his work here was through anyway. He had done his best. Now it was time to allow someone else to be "bearthed and begaialed." One life was over. A new one set to begin. Plus, I'm old enough to know the secret of life. That is, you can never really fix your own life. You can only wreck someone else's. (That was a joke. Except for Palestinians.)
Right. Back to the food question. My diabetes has rendered the question moot. Before July of 2004, I might have responded "pizza." But my one post-diabetes experience with pizza made me realize that I'll probably never have it again. The white flour actually elevates your blood sugar faster than pure sugar, so I have simply cut it out. It has been relatively easy for me to be completely fanatical in controlling the disease, so that my average blood sugar may well be lower than yours. It takes a lot of work, but I would like to be around to see my son drop out of high school.
I guess I'm lucky, because I always loved eating as much as anyone I know. However, at the same time, I could also, to a certain extent, take it or leave it. Although I'm pretty slender, people would be amazed at the amounts of food I could put down. I could easily devour a whole extra large pizza in one sitting. In restaurants, I would finish my meal and two thirds of my wife's plate, all without gaining a single pound.
But now, in order to preserve what function I have left of my pancreas, I limit my carbs to what I need to stay alive, and stretch them out to six small meals during the day. No more eating contests at the all-you-can-eat Mongolian Barbecue with my friend Dr. John Corso, with bemused wives looking on at the grotesque spectacle. No more eating half a cheesecake in one sitting. No more wolfing down that 12" sub for a little snack.
But in a way, the diabetes is a perfect disease, if you must have one. It's not like dying instantly, or being told you have six months to live. And yet, unless you're an idiot in denial (which so many diabetics are), you must live with death shadowing your every meal. It's an end-loaded disease, so every dietary decision you make today has consequences 10, 20, 30 years down the line. Surprisingly, I don't really mind. In fact, I've never given it much thought. I just do what I need to do. I feel like those Buddhist monks who meditate over corpses in order to transcend death. For me, every meal is a meditation over my own sorry hide. You could say I'm a sorry hide and seeker.
Four TV shows you love to watch
Four places you’d rather be
Four albums you can’t live without