Knowing the Alien as Myself, Part 1

In the early springtime of 1994 I was soon to graduate from design school, this time hopefully with some practical skills that I could build a livelihood out of. The use of computers in design was something fairly new, even then, so up until that time, our instruction had focused on tradition means of drafting, cut-and-paste, and other mechanical and manual means. I’d found that my heretofore immature sense of the aesthetic had suddenly opened up – the use of these materials, the juxtaposition of shapes, shades, textures, the activity of such elements within a frame had come naturally, I think as a result of being for some time free of the more destructive forms of behavior I’d struggled with. I’d felt, when younger, that these things should be natural to me, but I’d struggled ineptly. But now as I worked I felt often a sense of something trying to express itself through me, an otherness that ran at odd angles to the world as I understood it, or failed to understand it, or the world as it seemed to be regarded consensually. I was once again outside of it. At moments I would be frozen by some chance arrangement that, though perhaps lacking in beauty, held for me some profound sense of this different perspective. Toward the end of my schooling, with the introduction of this technology and the use of software, the practice of design became a different game entirely. I could think and work much faster. It was in the midst of starting to work with page layouts and arranging texts that something started to happen, that I had something like a “download” of information from somewhere else. I began to see arrangements of overlaid texts quite vividly in my imagination, and this was wildly exciting to me. I don’t know that these texts themselves held any particular meaning – they were not literal texts, just vague blocks of copy in my mind’s eye – but in their layering and positioning against one another, somehow in the spaces in between and their dynamic relation there seemed something huge, an intelligence so vast and alien that any contact with it was enough to burn my smaller, more limited mind and change me, derange me, maybe both to open up and damage me. I was, in a way, activated. It had come not in the midst of any actual work but just as I was leaving school on one particular afternoon, walking through the parking lot to my rusty old Volkswagen Beetle.

I’ve often since then felt that my best work has had something to do with the transmission of an alien perspective, that perhaps this was partly the meaning of my fourteen-year-old’s vision of the very flat, very graphic glyph over the mountains. My perspective and the alien one are often similar, if we’re not the same thing. But we are also very different, and that is why I find its perspective so fascinating.

It is important to make note of the fact that my pursuit of this particular muse has almost never brought me any success commercially. On occasion, in certain fine art contexts, it has inspired some critical acclaim. But in my career as a graphic designer, it has almost never brought me, beyond the deep personal satisfaction and the excitation of trying to experience and communicate this thing, into anything but conflict with those that I am working for, with their worldly agendas and expectations. Perhaps that is my childish inability to see beyond my own goals toward my paying clients’ or employers’ needs, toward what I have actually been employed for. Perhaps what I call this muse of the alien perspective is really something far less exotic and much more commonly neurotic. Certainly that would be my ex-wife’s way of seeing things. But despite the possibility of an overly-rich fantasy life, there may be something more complex at work. Whatever it is, it does not seem much concerned with my adaptation to the conditions of societal norms.

NOTE: In his essay by “The Path of the Numinous – Living and Working with the Creative Muse” Jonathan Zap very precisely articulates this same dynamic within the creative personality, both in terms of its (the internal Muse’s) essential otherness and need for expression through the medium of the artist, and for the sense of disregard if not outright antagonism it has for the requirements of the quotidian. I couldn’t say for sure now if I’d heard this essay previous to my writing the above entry, but probably I had. What I describe in this implied context of the alien or UFO experience is a well-worn path of the mind relating to itself, although this invalidates the approach to the alien only insofar as the alien is considered as entirely and only literally. But I think that anyone who has experienced it, in whatever form, knows there is more to it than that. In my relation to what I experience as the alien, which is largely a relationship of creative imagination, the alien may very well be literal, but it is also certainly an intrapsychic phenomenon. It is my current thread of narrative exploration (or ‘hermeneutic’ as Jeffrey Kripal expresses it) that the wholly other, which the alien by definition is, is something existing holographically within myself, the dark side of the psyche, as well as the light in the sky, the color surface, the ephemeral movement, the sense of being watched, the derangement of the real. It is potentially both/and – myself while at the same time itself, whatever either of these ‘things’ are.