Into the Ether

When I was a teenager, I was really into Kerouac and Ginsburg and William Burroughs and all the great things that come with discovering the beatniks… and was all, “We can’t stop here, this is bat country!” I only knew of ether as it related to recreational drug use (though your very curious author has never taken it). It wasn’t until years later that I fell in love with the beautiful worlds of science fiction writing and film when ether very obviously, and very quickly, took on an even more mesmerizing idea than a euphoria inducing hallucinogenic. As I began to learn about different theories of black holes and dark matter and traveling, “into the ether,” some seeds were planted in my mind. I think it’s taken me a few years to get to this point, so I will try to summarize, as best I can.

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Going back to when I was a teenager, I for some reason, had this theory that I could not call myself an artist. It was like complimenting myself. It was something that someone else had to decide, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder or whatever. Reading John Gardner’s, Grendel, reinforced (or perhaps created) this idea for me. [If you’re not familiar – Grendel is the monster from the classic epic, Beowulf – Gardner wrote a contemporary novel depicting the world from Grendel’s point of view.] At some point, while Grendel is observing the villages of men at night, he learns of a person which he refers to as, the Shaper, which the reader is led to believe is something like a poet or musician. Grendel doesn’t understand this man and marvels at his actions – playing a harp and reciting beautiful words that are difficult to understand. The monster comes to believe that this ‘shaper’ has simply discovered something which he can use to obtain fame and women, and the respect of the king. He says something along the lines of, “if the art were beautiful, it was the art’s fault, not the shaper’s.”

This was an idea that really stuck with me. Also around that time, I was really into Jimi Hendrix and I remember hearing him say in an interview that he thought of himself as basically the same as his guitar. He saw himself using the guitar as a tool, to translate vibrational frequencies of patterns and particular repetitions to create what we know as music. But to Jimi, there was something beyond him which was essentially feeding these patterns through him, which he would then feed into his guitar, which transmitted them through waves that hit our eardrums in a pleasurable fashion. So, in other words, it was not the guitar’s fault, or Jimi’s fault that the music existed, they were both merely tools in the process of translating them to a coherent language on this plane of existence. John Frusciante used to talk about this a lot too. How the music, sort of exists, whether we discover it and play it on a piano or a violin or guitar or drumpad or whatever. He used to have a blog which he spent some time writing about and describing ‘the creative act’ and how this process of tapping into our creative imaginations is something that is extremely valuable and important. If you’re as interested as I was about this topic, I highly suggest watching a clip from the documentary, ‘The Heart is a Drum Machine’ where John talks for about an hour about these ideas. Anyway… following this line of thought; Musicians and poets and artists are more explorers than creators.

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These were the basic principles which accumulated in my head over the course of maybe 5 or 6 years. And for the majority of that time and then some, my love for art and my love for sci-fi remained mutually exclusive. It wasn’t until very recently which I was able appreciate the connection between these two incredible worlds, which I started spending more of my time investigating, together. I’m realizing now, as I write this, that I should definitely write more about the connection between art and science. Maybe I will delete this sentence later but I need to remind myself, or I’ll forget.

Basically, what I want to accomplish or address by writing this, is the idea that there is something much more beautiful to be found in the world once we can understand and appreciate how intricately everything is connected. Well, okay I guess I won’t accomplish that in a few thousand words here on my blog… but anyway that’s what I think I have been trying to do my entire life and what, essentially everyone is trying to do, at the heart of every action. But I don’t hear very many conversations about it. And I’d say I seek them out, more than the average person. I do not think that the point to which I have come to is unique, I don’t think I am by any means even close to being the first person to ever consider these things. I only wish to articulate them with my own mind. Here was my epiphany;

An engineer works to create numerical models of an airplane, let’s say. In the time that this model is being created, the engineer sort of designs a small world, maybe a microscopic world that exists in the vacuum of his computer program, but a world nonetheless. Each time he goes back to work on this model, he goes into this world; where basic principles and physical laws and quantum limits are established to lay the groundwork for these experiments. Then let’s say that this engineer designs another model, and another… and another and soon the engineer has created dozens and dozens of dozens of these little worlds. Each one being created by one mind, with a similar creative touch, with the same basic laws and principles that govern the possibilities within each one of the worlds.

Then, an artist works to create imagery that conveys something… could be anything: love, frustration, an assortment of fruits or a portrait. Let’s say, for convenience sake, that this artist is an abstract painter. Every time the artist constructs a piece, a bit more of this world is created. Over time, the artist begins to establish common themes amongst the paintings- color combinations, shapes, harmonies of spaces and lines and hues that depict a part of this world that the artist understands. And with each new painting, the artist builds entire landscapes of thought and progression of mind… ideas and theories = principles of construct, if you will. The blueprint of this world becomes the language of the artist. Letters as colors, punctuation as brushstrokes or leftover residues from drops of water on the canvas.

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You have to learn how to speak and read, but you also must learn to understand very abstract concepts before these worlds hold any value to you. Like the concept of god- the idea that there is something or someone larger existing beyond our understanding and reach that offers retribution and moral direction, in some cases, or a glimpse of the infinite, nirvana and eternal bliss, ultimately (or the other thing). Or learning to understand god as something other than ideas which have already been described and documented by others. And so, too, the idea of god becomes another entrance into the ether. But each time we seek a thing which isn’t quite here, where is it? Where does the mind go? How is it that so many of us have been able to reach such strikingly similar understandings and questions? Do they not connect somewhere? The way that each time the artist returns to her studio, she is able to tap back into the worlds which she has spent years creating. Or the way that an author builds entire empires and universes that his readers can dive into… specifically described and intricately designed.

Now it’s time we talk about the ether. Maybe this is common knowledge to the philosophy majors out there, or to the stoners and self-proclaimed philosophizers and daydreamers of the world, but to me… this new discovery and connecting of the dots has enriched my life so deeply that I felt compelled to put it into word-form for whichever one of you creatures decides to read the ramblings of a madlady. I have come to understand the thing that I guess Freud would refer to as the collective subconsciousness of humanity. I call it the ether. Each time we enter a place where our mind is not exactly in the present moment of our third-dimensional reality on this actual planet of Earth – where do we go? I think Billie Eillish wants to know the same thing! So what happens? I definitively believe that we are not simply here, while our minds simply bounce from subconscious thought to subconscious thought in a mush of unrelated and unmeaningful experiences that don’t really amount to much at all. I don’t believe that our dreams are simply an unmeaningful combination of subconscious images and desires. It just takes a small fraction of time to begin tracking these things and documenting them in a way that allows us to understand the patterns (the pattern is the pattern!)

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When the artist paints, when the engineer designs when the author writes and when the disciple seeks god…  how do others come to understand the things inside of these worlds they have created? How do we come to understand these things when they come from someone else? Is knowledge simply and totally transmitted from one to another through languages like math or spoken or written words through shared experiences of holiness? What makes someone, who I have never met before, enjoy and understand a connection to one of my paintings? Do they just like the colors? Maybe. I’ve talked to a lot of people about abstract artwork; oftentimes people have a difficult time articulating why they like a certain piece of art. To enjoy something and to not understand why… is such a fascinating phenomenon to me. But regardless of whether or not you like a particular piece of artwork, when you experience it… what happens to you? Your eyes. Your heartbeat. Your emotions and the subsequent exchanging of chemicals in your brain. I just don’t believe that this is all a mechanical response. I guess I don’t really have any other explanation for why I am so sure of this… but it makes me wonder why we have the capacity to reach this point. Like a glass ceiling. I can only go so far… before the limits of my mind confine me. Perhaps it is this that intrigues me to continue chasing my tail.

The shaper, the engineer, the artist, the disciple… these worlds we create… do they not ever touch? What if instead of just believing that when we fantasize or dream that our minds let go… we considered what a world we could live in if we understood that it’s not a letting go it’s a connecting…into the ether.

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All images by E. Wendt

Elaine Wendt © All rights reserved. 2019.

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