Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shalako Dolls

“Keep a good pen and a notepad beside your pillow, and write down your dreams. If the eyes are the windows of the soul, then a story is a glimpse into the mind of the writer."

Have you ever wondered if we’re living in the world of the future that we read about in comic books when we were kids, and that maybe we don’t even realize it because it sort of snuck up on us?The internet is a kind of teleportation; and a website is a kind of virtual castle.It is the front door of the house we present to the electronic world. I look at that door with electronic eyes, and listen with electronic ears. We speak to each other across vast distances, using electronic tongues, sometimes in many tongues.

By creating a fictitious character, and then manipulating that character in virtual space, it is a kind of ‘gaming.’ Some people create new, virtual, ‘realities,’ devoted to a certain fantasy subset; i.e. a ‘game-space.’ The most familiar example would be, ‘Dungeons and Dragons.’ The list of imitators is endless. The popular war-games are an artificial ‘game-space,’ kept within certain boundaries. You don’t just sort of run out of ‘World War Two space,’ and then suddenly find yourself in ‘Arabian Nights space,’ still blazing away with your assault weapon.But I don’t play games in that sense. I play games on the internet itself. It’s a numbers game, in that the more stories that Shalako writes, the more stories that he can submit, the more stories that remain in play; stories that cross in front of an editor’s eyes. Shalako is a brand name, it is a persona, it is a simulacrum, an avatar—a doll in a doll house. Shalako is my toy; my game-piece, and the world is a great train-set or diorama of the imagination. Louis B. Shalako is an avatar in real-time. I can send Shalako places where I dare not tread…I just have to remember that he’s pretty grumpy first thing in the morning and likes a two-hour nap after dinner—no, sorry, that’s me.

This game relies on information theory, game theory and every so often I toss in a dollop of good old chaos theory. Like any organic thing, the blog will probably grow by bits and bytes, ultimately deriving from some nanoscopic fractal incongruencies.

Over time, Shalako’s skills as a gamer; and as a writer, will improve. Incidentally, he’s about one hundred and ninety-seven centimeters tall, about ninety kilos, fifty years old, kind of shy, likes kitty cats and he has brown eyes and hair. Lately the hair is thinning a little on top, and it has always been kind of grizzled around the edges. If the truth be told, Shalako is a paradigm, a magnificent specimen of masculine pulchritude, and quite frankly his deep, rich voice should have been trained for the opera.An unpolished gem, unlettered and untutored, with the rough, soldierly eloquence of Ulysses, master of every stratagem, including the winning of the hearts and minds of the people, Shalako is the epitome of unarmed, non-physical combat in the world of slightly-skewed perceptions.People look up to him. While he was cast in a heroic mold which is hard to live up to sometimes, he is subject to the same temptations as the rest of us. He is aware of this bright inner light, burning inside of himself; this strength, which mystifies him sometimes…Shalako seems awfully young and vulnerable one minute, and the next minute he impresses one as the sort of kid who carried a blade in elementary school, but was either smart enough or lucky enough never to use it.

Not particularly gregarious, he wonders why no one has the courage to lead…as for himself, he simply can’t be bothered with consultation and building a consensus. He is a man of action in the best sense of the word.When the whole world is corrupt, what is a man supposed to do? Shalako has asked himself this question, and has come up with no good answer. Unlike the artist who does not paint, but is content to sit back and let it all be, Shalako feels the need to trim the shrubbery once in a while."Pain is the only reality, everything else is a cheap substitute,' according to Louis.I wish I new what the hell he meant by that. But I think he's just trying to write one really good aphorism and be remembered for all of history. Please bear in mind that to aspire to write is a fantasy, to actually write and market books and stories is an adventure – it is ‘reality,’ no matter how you do it. Any real adventure involves suffering, an unfortunate truism. Was a submission or a letter in a mailbox ever ‘reality?’ I say no—it was merely ‘real.’ It was also getting expensive. If Shalako had to pound the pavement to make a presentation, we would never have made this many submissions.Never.

Each submission represents one ‘move’ in the game. So far we have made at least four hundred and ninety-one moves in this phase of our campaign. Just to keep it interesting, we have several games in play at once…but that’s another story. Like any game there are risks and rewards, some tangible and some intangible. And like any game, it’s fun, too. One night, Shalako might launch himself out into ‘virtual reality,’ with the help of a server; which for the sake of argument might be located in Sarnia, Ontario. Next thing you know he’s in 'Toronto,’ or really in the virtual ‘space,’ of his invisible friend ‘Don.’ By clicking on a link on his site, it launches him across the Atlantic Ocean, at electronic speeds. Then he’s in ‘England,’ at the ‘house’ of ‘Gary,’ another invisible friend. By moving across the ‘room,’ with his manipulative tools, ‘the cursor,’ or ‘the mouse,’ he enters into what we call a ‘hall of portals,’ which is basically just a box on a screen. Viewed a certain way, it even resembles a floor plan.We click on another link, and then Shalako gets launched off to somewhere else he , or we want to be. (I get confused myself sometimes.)

Soon enough, he’s meeting another ‘mind,’ somebody or other on the other side of the world, and then we try to make our sales pitch—cold calling at both its best and its worst. Maybe it gets in your blood. But this is where any element of alleged skill might become a factor. It’s all a theory so far.Life is a game, and there are no rules. Shalako knows this, most people don’t. That gives him a kind of an edge, as the reader may well imagine. Shalako is tough as nails, but he has a good heart.It’s almost a kind of detective work in some ways, to find new markets and figure the people out.While some are spending fortunes on ‘search engine optimization,’ we just send a message right to where it needs to go—we don’t wait for someone to accidentally ramble past some site. We have our ears hung out on the line, from time to time.The funny thing is, once you’ve studied someone’s website, made submissions, read the rejection slips, you do actually begin to get an impression of that other person. You start to get into their mind, and perhaps under their skin. You start to understand them—and they start to understand you.We reveal a great deal about ourselves to an attentive listener. Every mind leaves its imprint upon its works.The terrible thing about Shalako is when he ties me up in a chair and makes me watch while he writes stuff. Shalako rides a big black horse which he picked out and captured, broke and tamed all on his own. I felt a little funny about that, but I have to let him learn his place in the world…I try to edit his work but he's just so wilful sometimes...it was a joy to watch him work that animal though.God, how I worry about him sometimes.

The Zuni Shalako is the festival of the winter solstice. It is a time of renewal and rebirth; a time of music, dance, story-telling and I suppose a little bit of feasting as well. This has some relevant personal symbolism to me, and you have to admit; it’s a pretty cool name.Shalako dolls are ten-foot tall constructions which are hollow, and operated by two acolytes inside. These symbolize the two forces warring constantly within a man. Perhaps we could call them ‘good and evil,’ for want of a better term. The thing works better when they cooperate! Perhaps the Zunis know something we don’t. The Shalako dolls are used in outdoor ceremonies. More secret rituals are carried out inside their sacred, bowl-shaped ‘kivas,’ special rooms which are a feature of every pueblo of consequence. They re-enact old myths, and legends, old ceremonies, for the magic of these stories is very strong. These religious observances are exclusively male, and outsiders are not welcome. It would cost my honour itself, to reveal too much, but this is the strongest kind of magic, the kind of magic that forges a bond between this world and another world where men cannot go. There are men who hold the keys to these doors. They are very old and very wise. They look after those keys very well. Kachina dolls are much smaller, and every Zuni child is given one. They look a little bit like a bowling pin, brilliantly painted in primitive colours, and no two are alike. They carry a certain spirit inside of them as well. But Shalako dolls and Kachina dolls are two different things.

Here is an Examiner article on visiting the Zuni Shalako.

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