Sunday, May 18, 2014

Shadows of Meaning

Today at church I saw something I hadn't seen before.

Let me be clear that that's not all that new of an occurrence.  I'm always noticing things I hadn't seen before.  Part of that is human nature; for some reason we tend to tune out a large portion of our background, and every so often part of it blips its way through and surprises us.  Another part of that, though, is my newly-awakened artistic side.  See, it wasn't till I started writing a lot that I really began looking around and wondering things like "what if?" and "what else is there?"

So I'll get to the point.  The church has a very artistic cross and bird piece at the head of the pulpit.  The cross is unlike anything I've ever seen; instead of two crossed pieces it's made of three round pipes that swoop up gracefully, each one heading off in a different direction toward the top.  It's not a cross, per se, but rather a trinity of tubes that gives viewers the impression of a cross. It's pretty cool.

The other bit is a series of multicolored bird-shaped pieces of metal strung from one side to the other on invisible cables that aren't quite parallel.  When the lights are on, it gives the impression, from the congregation area, of a flock of glistening red, blue, silver, and white birds streaming across the air above the pulpit.

I've seen that before.  What I hadn't noticed till today was the other flock of birds. You see, behind and below the vibrantly-colored flock is a similar set of blackbirds, all flying the same direction.

I mean, yeah, at one level it's just the shadow of the metal birds on the invisible cables.  I know that.  But if you forget about the cables, forget about the light sources and the physics that causes photons to go in straight lines and just take in what's in front of you, there are two flocks of birds.  One flock is brilliant and multicolored, while the other is mysterious and entirely black.  They're both going the same way, in the same formation, at the same time.

Metaphor?  Sure, but I won't bap you over the head with it.  While I was pondering its nature, though, I couldn't help but wonder if the artist had meant it to be there.  Had she seen, as we all did, a single gaggle of brightly-colored birds?  Or had she designed it to be a metaphorical brightness vs. darkness exhibit?

It was fitting that one of the pastor's side comments was about Bob Dylan, who, according to the pastor, has sworn up and down that his songs have no "meaning."  That's pretty interesting, if you think about how much meaning has been attributed to his music both by the civil rights movement and by the peace movement.

Could it be?  Is it possible to create something that has meaning that you as the creator didn't intend?

Simple answer: yep.  It is.

My own work is proof of that.  Once I was done with Ascension: Return of the Gods, and then Deception, the third book in the series, too, I noticed how much of a thematic nod I'd given the issue of what it meant to be a god, a demigod, or to have godlike powers.  One of my beta-readers brought it up to me, too, and I had to smile.  Did I mean to?  Nope, I just wrote a fun story.

Later, when I was nearly done with Prophecy: Elf Queen of Kiirajanna, the same beta-reader mentioned my thematic play on what it means to be a ruler in that novel.  Yep, she nailed it.  Did I mean to write a treatise on effective rule?  No, I wrote a story that has a guy who is an effective ruler (and yes, that will make for some interesting plot curls later on).  He's not even the main character. But I'm glad to have achieved that depth of meaning, with or without attempting it.

I mean, sometimes they're just the shadows.  Sometimes the shadows can be pretty also, in their own way, though.

Meanwhile, maybe others will read my books and notice the shadowy flock on the wall, too?


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