“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their Inspirations and Influences. In this feature, we invite writers to talk about their new books, older titles, and their writing overall.
Tomorrow is May 26 2016, and we will be launching our second season of Short Stories! Written by Kathrin Köhler, Application for the Delegation of First Contact: Questionnaire, Part B is the first in our First Contact line. To celebrate the release, we invited the author to talk about the story and about the motifs and themes that inspired it.
Give it up for Kathrin Köhler, folks!
“We do not have a privileged access to reality.”
–Joe Hutto; Nature, “My Life as a Turkey”; Aired: 11/15/2011 on PBS
It can create and destroy worlds, relate cultures and philosophies, create new ways of being. It ignites or crushes possibility. It can teach us about ourselves as well as perpetuate untruths. A powerful act, this–a magic, a science we engage in all the time.
And it’s an interest of mine, narrative–how it shapes our view of reality. Through story we create meaning, make sense of chaos. Through story we create nothing less than ourselves. It’s a process we wield to weave patterns, recognizable and relatable constructs through which we then clothe ourselves and view each other. And yet, there is much that is not included–“outliers,” information and ways of being that don’t “fit,” whole stories that aren’t told, and never heard. Stories are beliefs. Stories are people. And this exclusion is powerful stuff as well.
Basically, “Application for the Delegation of First Contact: Questionnaire, Part B” is about context, external and internal–about social assumptions, worldview, and about societal and personal constructs of self and reality. It’s about language, yet another construct through which concepts are codified and normalized to such an extent that we may find it impossible to extract one from the other. “Questionnaire” is about how we perceive what we’ve never known, and how we perceive what we think we know too well–the invisible that permeates us, our thoughts and cultures. Possibilities. Limitations.
By its nature, we participate in and perpetuate assumptions of which we are not even aware. In order to shatter that view (rather, non-view) I try to throw little stones into the reflective surface we call perception, normally so smooth as to appear like glass–but it is not–it is fluid, it can move and be shaped, refract and reflect a myriad of possibilities and angles and views. This flat non-view is the blindness caused by familiarity, by cultural “fixing,” and many other mechanisms. Most difficult of all to perceive, I believe, is that which we can not only see but which also appears to be monolithic: it is nevertheless a creation–namely, the self.
My strange little story represents the types of thoughts and day dreams I’ve had since I was that young child who listened to Carl Sagan tell of the possibilities of other worlds, other ways, the possibility that is intrinsic in all existence in the cosmos. I wondered how other forms of life experienced existence and time (I always thought rocks would experience time much much slower than we do–which is to say, that from a human perspective it would appear to fly by but for the rocks it would feel protracted, slow). I wondered how other forms of life might communicate, which sensory organs they’d use (because there’s how many senses, and to think that every being relies heavily on the same ones we do? Even a seven-year-old knows that that’s not likely), and what senses they might have that humans don’t or don’t know about. How could we begin to communicate with aliens with whom we don’t even have the basis of the same planetary context? But, my, if we could, what an experience that would be! Think of all we’d learn, how we’d experience again anew that which has been obscured in the mundane and relegated to background noise, how we’d have new thoughts and new ways of thinking to set our imaginations alight, what new amazing worlds we could create.
In my research for this story I read about the Aboriginal cultures and languages, and their philosophical worldview, the Dreamtime. I read that no Aboriginal language has possessive pronouns; rather, their linguistic construct is something like “sister-me” or “uncle-me” instead of “my sister” or “my uncle.” What a powerful narrative. In the oldest continuous culture on Earth, at that. How different from the Western, individualistic self-construct I was raised to create and believe in, and yet, there are wonderful similarities to a personal self-construct, a philosophy I have often dreamed of, which was fueled by Carl Sagan’s observation that “the cosmos is also within us. We’re star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” These connections are powerful stuff, too. They are expansive stories. Stories of possibility.
In Johanna Lambert’s commentary in Wise Women of the Dreamtime I read this: “The Aborigines listened through all their senses to the various languages that permeate the natural world–for example, languages emitted by trees, celestial bodies, rocks, wind, water, fire, shadows and seeds.” Here it was! A bridge.
Not all questions are answerable. At least, not in a yes-no, definitive, Aristotelian sort of way (because, let’s face it, that sort of worldview only fits a Newtonian world). Being faced with questions that cannot be answered, especially in our technologically sophisticated and logic-prone Western culture, may help us step outside a narrow (restrictive, insufficient?) flat definition of knowledge and “reality”. This is what I hope this story-questionnaire might help accomplish.
Why? Because you are vast. You do not end at your skin, but extend into the world around you. As Rumi wrote:
The center clears. Knowing comes:
The body is not singular like a corpse,
but singular like a salt grain
still in the side of the mountain.
About the author:
I am a 2013 graduate of the Odyssey Fantasy Writing Workshop. I live in Madison, WI where I attended college as a returning adult student and currently drive cab (where every day is filled with First Contacts of sorts). I was a child immigrant to the US, and as such, I often find myself writing about places in-between, exploring what it means to belong. Other interests of mine include how narrative creates reality, how we internalize social power structures, and how we interact with and view nature. In short, I’m interested in why we create the distinctions we create (e.g. me/not me, human/animal, relevant/insignificant, etc).
My speculative and literary poems have appeared in Interfictions, Stone Telling, and Strange Horizons, among other fine places. I have a short story forthcoming in Lakeside Circus.
Application for the Delegation of First Contact: Questionnaire, Part B. will be available on May 26 2015. You’ll be able to read the short story in full for free here on The Book Smugglers.