Among his many theories, Carl Jung includes “synchronicity”. This may be defined as “the meaningful patterning of two or more psycho-physical events not otherwise causally connected”. I’ve known of this theory for several years, and have seen it operating not only in my life but in the lives of others. Now I realise how it can help creative writers too.Let me give you a few examples of synchronicity in my own experience.
Honesty and truthfulness – these are the outstanding virtues of a great artist. And as a creative writer I have in recent times found inspiration from two contemporary artists, Grayson Perry and Tracy Emin.
Why is it that we sometimes fail to express the person on the inside, on the outside? We can often be held back by self-limiting negative beliefs.
As a novelist I enjoy writing about relationships. I’ve spent years observing people’s behaviour in all sorts of situations – within romantic relationships, family relationships, within groups both informal and structured, at dinner parties or self-help therapy groups or in other group situations such as writing workshops. In my mystery romance novel “Mystical Circles”, I create a hothouse atmosphere within a closed community, where relationships and liaisons flare and flourish or fizzle out quickly. Much depends on the undercurrents of motive behind the behaviour and interactions of the characters.
Here is an extract showing the interpersonal tensions that may be found in the hothouse atmosphere of “The Wheel of Love”.
“Life is but a dream,” Rory said.
“You really believe that?”
“Of course. Who’d have harsh reality when they can live here?” he replied.
Oleg moved within range. “Life’s no different from what it was outside. Still goes badly for me most of the time.”
She glanced at him, bemused. “I noticed you last night in the barn with Beth, Oleg. Didn’t you two sort things out at all?”
He glared at her. “What d’you mean by that? Sort things out? How? And why were you watching us?”
She took a deep breath. “I can’t help noticing how much you care for her.”
“She doesn’t care for me,” he snapped.
Silence fell. She sought words. “Perhaps you’ve misunderstood her true feelings, Oleg. Perhaps you think too little of yourself. Be encouraged by Craig. He says you’re in tune with your higher self.”
“That depends upon what he actually chose to tell Craig.” Rory spoke in a snide tone of voice.
“Rory’s jealous,” said Oleg.
Rory moved as if he was about to strike him.
Juliet, alarmed, quickly stepped between them. “What’s up between you two?” she asked.
Rory looked surprised. “Nothing,” he replied, and sauntered on.
Then she turned back to Oleg. “What have you done to upset Rory?”
“Other way round.” His voice filled with self-pity. “It’s him who upset me.”
“Oh?” She ducked under a low branch. “What did he do?”
He looked dejected. “He asked me if I could possibly love him.”
Juliet took the risk of flippancy. “Didn’t you say ‘yes, as a friend? But I love Beth more’? This is, after all, a wheel of love.”
“No, I’d never tell him that,” he retorted, in a fierce undertone. “It doesn’t work that way. Not with Rory. He gets violent.”
“Oh?” She started. Her heart missed a beat. “Violent? D’you mean he beats you up?”
But Oleg was clearly unwilling to say more.
Juliet now felt a frisson of fear when she looked at Rory. She knew she shouldn’t judge anyone here simply on the basis of what someone else said about them. Even so… She would treat Rory with just a little extra caution until she knew him better.
But what she really wanted to know right now was: how did Craig mean to deal with all these conflicting desires? Was he really equipped to handle them? Or was this, for him, a dream he never intended to wake up from?
At a recent Writers Workshop which I attended in London, one of the delegates asked this question of all of us who sat at my table: “Is there anybody here who wants to become rich and famous?”
A silence followed, of about three seconds in duration, when it seemed that no writer present dared to admit to this hubris.
Then I spoke up, “Well, from the age of seven, I have wanted to become a successful published author and live by my writing.”
Nine pairs of eyes swivelled in my direction. Surely, by now, life had taught me otherwise? For what does it actually mean to “live by” your writing? It means a significant amount of reliable money, which flows persistently into the writer’s bank account over the course of many years.
And there is of course a universe of difference between living for your writing, and living by your writing. It is a popularly-held belief that that the word ‘novelist’ is synonymous with ‘huge advance and three-book deal’, and ‘bestselling author living in a mansion on an island with panoramic views of the ocean from his or her writing room in the tower.”
Nevertheless, you do need money to live. And if companies are prepared to pay a liveable amount of money, year in year out, to, say junior clerks and secretaries and post-boys, why should not the world also accord that privilege to creative writers? And of course it does, to a happy few.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you buy books secondhand, are you delighted when you pick up a book for a bargain? How do you believe the world should reward those who write books?
A US reviewer says: “What Juliet finds when she reaches the ranch is an oddly charismatic and dysfunctional group of people…. there are strange things happening in the commune, and when a priest shows up it further traumatizes the group… This loving and freedom-believing cult, while wonderful on the surface is a cauldron of deceit and depravity on the inside… keeps you in suspense… deals with how relationships are formed and how the smallest of happenings can shatter lives… Skillman is a deft hand at creating characters. If you are interested in people and their foibles, you will enjoy this book.” Read the rest of the review on www.amazon.com.
What is “Dynamic Meditation”? I describe this in my novel, as Craig leads a session for the members of his group The Wheel of Love. I observed this supposed “emotional release therapy” myself in the past, whilst investigating the practices and beliefs of the sannyasins who followed the guru Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh.
EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”
Dynamic Meditation took place that evening in the barn.
Surely, thought Juliet, as she stood at the rear of the spacious meeting room, with her portable recorder and mike, the original builders of this glorious sixteenth-century tithe barn would never have imagined that such use would ever be made of it. She gazed at the roof, a dazzling criss–cross of beams and wooden vaulting. Yes, the tenant farmer may well have held barn dances; but surely nothing of the nature of what Craig was leading his followers into right now.
By nine o’clock the lights had been dimmed, and the sound of heavy metal music echoed up to the roof trusses, ricocheted off the hayloft and rebounded all around the stone walls. The hayloft, or upper room, could be accessed by two spiral staircases, one at the west side, and one at the east. Juliet had positioned herself beside the foot of the west one. She was trying to make herself heard as she explained her digital recording equipment to Don. Following Llewellyn’s words, he’d clearly felt sufficiently emboldened to try this session, but meant to stay at the back watching and listening.
He moved closer to Juliet in order to hear her words.
“This machine is a Nagra Ares BB Plus,” she said. “I record on flashcards. Each has only about one gig of memory, not that much, so I’ve brought several for all my interviews.”
“And your mike? Will it cope with the noise levels?”
She laughed. “It’s omnidirectional. I’ll hold it as close as possible to Craig when he’s speaking, if I get the chance. Must admit I’m a bit doubtful whether I’ll pick up any speech.”
“Me too,” he said cryptically.
“However,” he continued, “Craig dropped me a few hints. So I steeled myself.”
“Certainly looks and sounds chaotic.” She gazed at the scene in front of her. She suspected that tonight would yield nothing her listeners could make sense of. But her concern for Zoe was far greater. What would her sister get up to with Craig in an atmosphere like this? And as for Craig himself, she’d be watching him very closely; for she found it impossible to believe he wouldn’t take advantage of his position, especially with the women, in such circumstances.
And as if to confirm Juliet’s worst suspicions, Laura, her hair wilder than ever, was already tearing off her cotton print dress. Juliet feared Zoe would soon follow her example. She and Beth, however, had so far both kept their lycra leotards on. But, to Juliet’s confusion, Zoe was curled up in a foetal position in the corner, sobbing as if her heart would break. Should Juliet go over and comfort her? Or was this all part of the Dynamic Meditation and meant to serve a cathartic purpose?
Her instincts told her it was the latter. The other members of the group were scattered across the available floor space, in a variety of postures and states of undress. Several danced; some had curled themselves into tight balls, and others writhed across the flagstone floor like snakes. Juliet followed Craig with her mike, as he strode around amongst them, looking authoritative and crackling with sexual energy, in a bottle–green leather jacket and Levi‘s, shouting at each in turn.
She recorded him as best she could, whilst trying to keep an eye on Zoe. But her sister, it seemed, won no more from him than anybody else; and neither did Laura or Beth. To Craig’s credit, and Juliet’s mystification, he seemed to share his attention equally.
His attention consisted largely of a verbal lashing. With each person he varied his remarks, depending, as he explained to Juliet a little later, upon their emotional situation. At Beth, who clearly had a problem with self-esteem, he hurled personal abuse; when Sam confessed fear and timidity, he compelled him to imagine the kind of exposure he most dreaded; finding Oleg full of anger, he provoked him to an even higher level of rage. The Slav then strode over to Beth and accosted her. Juliet watched closely. She’d already picked up emotions simmering between these two. What would happen now, in this overwrought situation?
But before she could satisfy her curiosity, her attention was distracted. Laura, in a desperate attention-seeking measure, had finally peeled off her lacy knickers. But even this failed to win a special response from the group leader. However, the same could not be said of Al. Laura then gave herself over to what looked like a Dionysian frenzy. Edgar rolled around the floor giggling hysterically, creating a surreal effect with his monastic appearance. James, too, added to the madness of the scene by kicking his legs in the air and screaming like a child having a tantrum in a high–street store, without any regard to the state of his tailored trousers or natty cravat.
The only question in Juliet’s mind was at which point one of the men would snap, leap onto Laura, and sexually assault her. Or settle for Craig instead, as some, in her view, might well do. She’d already begun forming opinions about their sexuality. It was when she began to focus on Craig’s, that she felt ambivalent. He was supposed to love her sister. But… Her mind went foggy beyond this. All she knew was it was a big but.
Meanwhile, miraculously, here in the feverish atmosphere of the barn, no assault, sexual or otherwise, ever happened.
Oleg now seemed to be performing t’ai chi; James was grinning inanely and blowing bubbles, and Al, who’d begun the evening in a benign frame of mind, was beating his head against the wall.
At this point Craig turned the music off, and Juliet hurried across to him with the mike. Before she could speak he plunged himself into a lotus posture, and apparently into a state of deep meditation. Meanwhile, the participants lay around weeping or working out their distress in whichever way seemed best, or emerging slowly from hysteria. So Juliet moved among the group members instead with her mike, though there seemed no need to ask any of them to describe their feelings to her. Eventually all sounds faded into silence. Juliet set her Nagra on automatic voice-activated recording. Craig allowed stillness to reign for several minutes. Then he opened his eyes, stood up, and, looking around among his followers, began to speak.
“This Centre has been going for exactly fourteen months tonight. Fourteen months from the day James and I moved in. In the time that’s elapsed since then, the Wheel of Love has become a tribute to the dynamic power of change.”
“Who has changed?” asked Juliet. “And in what way?”
“Guilt has gone,” announced Craig. “Feeling bad about yourself because of the negative messages you once received, is in the past. Your former life can no longer hold you. All that matters is now.”
His glance swept once more around the meeting space. “By coming here and joining us, you’ve shown you correctly identify your longing. You recognise your birthright. And you want to regain your inheritance. You seek spiritual experience in your own bodies. We all do. I’ll guide you to a place where you can say, not I believe but I know.”
Absolute concentration gripped the members of the group.
Then he said, “Remember, we create our own reality. That’s what I taught you. And what I stand by.”
The expression in his eyes intensified, as for a moment they settled on Juliet. Then they moved to the middle distance again. “What you give out, you receive back. Simple as that, once you’ve learned to understand and harness the universal system. Your new life starts here.”
With that he dismissed them all.
This morning I was listening to Howard Jacobson, comic novelist and Booker Prize winner, on Desert Island Discs, and among the many things he said which touched and amused me, the most striking was this, “I have always felt myself to be on the outside of everything, looking in.” He gave this reply to the interviewer’s question, “Now you’ve won the Booker, do you feel you’ve arrived? Do you now feel you’re on the inside?”
What a wonderful response she received to this question! And this seemed to me a true writer’s response. I identified with it absolutely. This is what I have spent my life doing. When I was researching for my newly-published novel Mystical Circles, I was an observer. I was on the outside looking in. I investigated many New Age spiritual groups and lifestyles and philosophies, and I always saw myself as being on the outside looking in – just as Juliet does in my novel. How anxious Juliet is not to get involved, not to be drawn in, to keep her objectivity as a journalist. It almost seems a personal threat to her to get involved. Yet as more than one character says to her, “You have to come alongside us to truly understand.”
My character the Rev. Theo sees this clearly. “I’m all about people on spiritual journeys,” he says. “I’ll go anywhere, come in on anything.” It is no contradiction to him, a young clergyman, to enter a New Age spiritual group and to come alongside the members of the community and to live as one of them.
So you, my readers, will probably have spotted the apparent contradiction here. Do I believe in being an outsider looking in? Or do I believe in getting involved, coming alongside? The truth lies in paradox. And this is the paradox Howard Jacobson embodies. Of course he is on the inside! Of course he has arrived! And yet – he has the soul of a writer. And so he feels always on the outside looking in.
Do you identify with Howard Jacobson at all when he describes himself feeling like this, despite being successful in the eyes of the world?