|Written by Nathan D. Wilson|
I am a traveler.
Do I sound important? Or at least meaningful? I’m not Kerouac. And I’m not in sales. I travel like the flea on a dog’s back. I travel unintentionally, a very small cowboy born on a bull. I travel with the Carnival. Where it goes, I go. Its people are my people and its land is my land. Most of my time is spent on the tilt-o-whirl and occasionally in the squirrel cages. I couldn’t stop traveling if I tried, and not because of some kind of wanderlust, gypsy blood, a need for meaningful experiences, or a desire to see Europe’s castles.
I was born into the Carnival. I’ve done all my living, sleeping, playing, growing, and throwing up at the Carnival. When I die, I won’t escape it—not that I’d want to. Death is that black stripe above my head on the measuring board. When I’ve reached it, well, then I can go on the gnarly rides.
Just to be clear, I live on a near perfect sphere hurtling through space at around 67,000 miles per hour. Mach 86 to pilots. Of course, this sphere of mine is also spinning while it hurtles, so tack on an extra 1000 miles per hour at the fat parts. And it’s all tucked into this giant hurricane of stars. Yes, it can be freaky. Once a month or so, my wife will find me lying in the lawn, burrowing white knuckles into the grass, trying to stay on. But most of the time I manage to keep my balance, and I don’t have to hold on at all.
You live here too, which means I’m not special. We’re all carnies, though some people are in denial. They want to be above it all, above the mayhem of laughter and people and lights and animals and the dark sadness that lurks in the corners and beneath the rides and in the trailers after hours. So they ride the Ferris Wheel and at the top, they think they’ve left it all behind. They’ve ascended to a place where they can take things seriously. Where they can be taken seriously.
Let them have their moment. You and I can eat our corndogs and wait and smile. Solomon smiles with us.
The wheel turns. The earth spins and runs its laps. We all go around.
What the hell is this place? Just looking around, I can tell you that whatever is going on, spheres are a theme, and so are insects. We are on a sphere, spinning around a much bigger sphere (which happens to be burning hot enough to singe my face, even at this distance) while other spheres of various sizes do the same kind of thing, and a smaller, sad, little-dead-poet sphere with acne scars spins around us, lighting the night, causing the oceans to heave their bosoms and pant, and increasing violent crime (really). And our blue ball is primarily populated by small things with exoskeletons, no matter how you measure it. They outnumber us, outweigh us, out-vary us, and bite us more often than we bite them. If you find yourself a quiet little deciduous forest during the summer, you can sit still and listen to the clatter of their spoor falling into the undergrowth while chiggers creep carefully into your skivs. I have a friend who got some government money for doing just that.
If I were a publisher (which I’m not), and an agent (I wouldn’t consider unagented submissions) submitted a proposal for a fantasy taking place in this world, then I would tell him in no uncertain terms that I only handle important stories, realistic stories, stories believable in texture and character, and then I would tell him to try the pulps, maybe aim for a straight-to-paperback grocery store novel, target an audience more likely to believe something so far-fetched—an audience less likely to have college degrees. In that pitched fantasy world, the spheres would be so perfectly aligned, that when the moon passed in front of the sun, the two would be identically sized. And when the earth’s shadow fell on the moon’s face, it also would be perfectly sized to brown the moonlight. Yeah, right. Whatever. A bit contrived, don’t you think?
What is this place? Why is this place? Who approved it? Are the investors happy? The stockholders? Was this cosmic behavior expected? Am I supposed to take it seriously? How can I? I’ve watched goldfish make babies, and ants execute earwigs. I’ve seen a fly deliver live young while having its head eaten by a mantis. And I had a golden retriever which behaved like one.
This is not a sober world. A mouse once pooped on my toddler nephew, provoked by traps in the living room. My nephew thought it was a sheep. Bats exist. It’s not just a lie for children—caterpillars really turn into butterflies. Coal squishes into diamonds. Apple trees turn flowers into apples using sunlight and air.
I’ve seen a baby born. And, ahem, I know what made it. But I’m not telling. You’d never believe me.
There are various theories as to how and why this all happened, attempts at explaining the sheer number of beetles in the world, the stars, the lifecycle of frogs, the social behavior of fish, the meaning of love, life, and a really good hamburger. But in order to know why this is all here, a simple how is a prerequisite. How did this place happen? I live here, so it shouldn’t be too hard to figure it out.
Call in the suspects. Have them all line up, turn sideways and wait impassively while we look them over. But before you do, one thing should be made perfectly clear. There can be no easily believable explanation for everything I’ve seen in this little ball-happy universe of ours. Occam’s well-worn razor will do us no good. There will be no “simplest” explanation. A single world combining galaxies, black holes, Jerry Seinfeld, over 300,000 varieties of beetle, Shakespeare, adrenal glands, professional bowling, and the bizarre reproductive patterns of wasps (along with teams of BBC cameramen to document them), precludes easily palatable explanations.
A neutral observer would not find this world to be believable. Ergo, the cause of said unbelievable world must place similar stretch-marks on the imagination.
Step forward please. Turn to the left.
If I were an Apache Indian, I would tell you a story about the Creator rubbing his eyes as if long asleep and rousing himself to shape the world. He began with friends. When there were four of them, they clasped hands, the sweat mingled, and dropped out in the shape of a ball. They kicked it around, and the wind helped it expand until it had grown into our world. For all I know, they’re kicking it still. That the creative moment also served as the invention of soccer is a clever use of resources.
If I were Hawaiian the story would be about a love triangle, fury, despair, and a volcano’s revenge.
My Norse fathers (I’m sure there were some), understood that the world was a cold, hard and depressing place. At the beginning, there had to be an evil ice giant, chopped up by Odin and his brothers. They recycled his flesh, using it to create the world.
Or try this: In the beginning, there was only an egg, laid in or on or through chaos. After thousands of years, it hatched and out came Pangu, the creator. Pangu divided Yin from Yang, the earth from the heavens, and eventually, he laid himself down and his body became creation, divvying things up nicely—hair into stars, breath into wind, eyes into sun and moon. All of his parasites crawled off and became people. Which, given the history of civilization, isn’t too hard to believe.
Babylonians would get Marduk on stage, along with much begetting and the breasts of goddesses.
There are a lot more. I could behave myself, become academically cautious and we could walk through one after the other, each expounded thoroughly along with all of its variations. We could get into African, Mayan, and Australian Aboriginal versions, along with a few dozen others. Or we could move right on to the pervasive themes, those things which manage to crop up time and time again—order versus chaos, violent overthrow and creation by means of recycled dead, lots of blood, struggling gods and misguided affection. But even those don’t really get to the root, the common human itchiness when it comes to existence.
First, every culture has felt the overwhelming pressure of existence itself and the need to explain it. There’s a sort of nervousness through all of them, as if maybe we’re not supposed to be here and we all have to rehearse our story before the authorities come.
“We’re sorry . . . there was this ice giant,” we explain.
“When Pangu died, we had nowhere else to go,” we tell the cop.
“Don’t you like soccer?” we ask the judge.
Second, we don’t just feel the need to explain and justify existence, we also seem to understand that our explanation needs to be as outlandish as ourselves, as impossible as reality. This is no time for dogs eating homework. This requires some serious imaginative effort. Personable dragons, wind-inflated worlds, dying wolves, cosmic blood, divine urine, exploding gas—pick your cast of characters and create your own mythology. Explain yourself. Justify your presence here, the presence of the world. Even harder, explain the world’s personality. Find a single seed to account for it all. Sit by a campfire, or in a college lab, and spin your tale. Compete with the choir of old stories. Sign up your devotees and acolytes. Sculpt yourself something out of clay, add some odd anatomical detail and convince yourself that it needs a bowl of fruit, or a goat, or maybe that the volcano needs a virgin, that Zeus needs a shepherd girl (again). Or get a degree in philosophy, and ride that Ferris Wheel. Look down at the Carnival, be safely above our madly spinning world, the mountains, thunderheads birthing lightning while they roll, the smell of lawn clippings and fresh cut cedar. Hide behind big words, or listen to a child’s first laugh and know that this world is here, that you are in it, and that its flavors are deep and layered and its lights are bright. Know that it’s real.
Welcome to Carnival. Ride the wheel back down. Come out from the shadows and lopsided trailers. There’s a story to tell, a world of surprises and questions to explore, a personality often searched for to be unearthed and understood in the reality around us. And there’s someone behind it, uncomfortable answers to the how’s and why’s and what’s.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Through Him were all things made.
Welcome to His poem. His play. His novel. His comedy. Skip the bowls of fruit and statues. Let the pages flick your thumbs.
This is His spoken world.