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The Universe Is Made of Stories

excerpted from PRONOIA Is the Antidote for Paranoia

The poet Muriel Rukeyser said the universe is composed of stories, not of atoms. The physicist Werner Heisenberg declared that the universe is made of music, not of matter.

And we believe that if you habitually expose yourself to toxic stories and music, you could wind up living in the wrong universe, where it's impossible to become the gorgeous genius you were born to be.

That's why we implore you to nourish yourself with delicious, nutritious tales and tunes that inspire you to exercise your willpower for your highest good.


"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination.
All other wars are subsumed by it."
—Diane Di Prima, "Rant," from Pieces of a Song


Astrologer Caroline Casey offers an apt metaphor to illustrate how crucial it is for us to hear and read good stories. She notes that if we don't have enough of the normal, healthy kind of iodine in our bodies, we absorb radioactive iodine, which has entered the food chain through nuclear test explosions conducted in the atmosphere. Similarly, unless we fill ourselves up with stories that invigorate us, we're more susceptible to sopping up the poisonous, degenerative narratives.


Novelist Ursula K. Le Guin decries the linear perspective that dominates modern storytelling. She says it's "like an arrow, starting here and going straight there and THOK! hitting its mark." Furthermore, she complains, plots are usually advanced through conflict, as if interesting action can't possibly arise from any other catalyst.

I invite you to rebel against these oppressive conventions. Wean yourself from tales that have reductive plot lines fueled primarily by painful events. Celebrate the luminous mysteries that have shaped your own life story: the meandering fascinations that didn't lead to tidy conclusions, the wobbly joys that fed your soul but didn't serve your ego's ambitions, the adventures whose success revolved around brain-teasing breakthroughs instead of exhausting triumphs over suffering.


"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there." —William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"


In The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, Robert Graves tells us that "In ancient Ireland, the ollave, or master-poet, sat next to the king and was privileged, as none but the queen was, to wear six different colors in his clothes." The ollave, he adds, was also a judge and seer, and tutored the king in morality.

In contrast, our culture relegates poets to the margins of every debate. After the terrorist attack of September 2001, for example, only Maya Angelou, in an ephemeral appearance on ABC-TV's Nightline, and Robert Pinsky on The MacNeil News Hour, managed to crack the procession of pundits, politicians, and lawyers that dominated the airwaves and shaped our experience of what had happened.

During the same period, leftist radio stations KPFA, WBAI, KPFK, KPFT, and KBOO, which define themselves as alternatives to the corporate news media, also offered newscasts monopolized by political analysis. It was rare to hear commentary from anyone who specialized in psychological, spiritual, or imaginal modes of perception.

If we of the rabble-rouser persuasion don't champion the ollave, how can we expect the culture of the living dead to do so?


"It's not until an event, institution, thought, principle, or movement, crosses the media threshold that it becomes real to us." —Todd Gitlin, Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives


"Though we don't have to believe what the media tell us, we can't know what they don't tell us." —Bernard McGrane, "The Zen TV Experiment,"


How did it come to be that what we call the news is reported solely by journalists? There are so many other kinds of events besides the narrow band favored by that highly specialized brand of storytellers. Indeed, there are many phenomena that can literally not even be perceived by journalists. Their training, their temperament, and their ambitions make vast areas of human experience invisible to them.

"Ninety-six percent of the cosmos puzzles astronomers." I loved reading that headline on the CNN website. It showed that at least some of our culture's equivalents of high priests, the scientists, are humble enough to acknowledge that the universe is made mostly of stuff they can't even detect, let alone study.

If only the journalists were equally modest. Since they're not, we'll say it: The majority of everything that happens on this planet is invisible to them.


The Beauty and Truth Laboratory is gathering a network of seers to report the news that journalists miss and ignore. We're tempted to call them "spies," since they've got to be on the lookout for what has become secret. They don't necessarily have to be covert in their operations, but they do have to be attentive to stories unfolding below the media threshold. Maybe it's better if we don't give them a title yet. That way we won't limit the kinds of people who can serve in this role.


In the early years of Christianity, there were hundreds of books interpreting the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. But by 325 A.D., a group backed by the political and military might of the Roman Empire had determined which few of the stories about Christ would thereafter be considered the canonical New Testament, and which would be regarded as heretical bilge. No better evidence exists for the saying, "History is a tale told by the victors." Keep this in mind as you strategize your way through your personal War of the Stories. Your account of events may have more truth in it than everyone else's conflicting tales, but that won't carry much weight unless you obtain the power to enforce your version.


"The world is composed of rival gangs of hypnotists, each competing for your entranced attention." —graffiti on the wall of a public restroom at Northgate Mall, San Rafael, California


"The news flies down its beam of dusted light." —Osip Mandelstam

To buy PRONOIA Is the Antidote for Paranoia, the book from which the above piece is excerpted, go to Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
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