Once in a while, maybe a little more often lately, I find myself staring at whatever I had been doing moments before. Words or image, whichever, sit waiting, transparent from every angle except that of whether or not they matter. One foot goes in front of the other, activities unfold, and the universe being assembled tests the blinking lights of its constellations. I know exactly what I am doing minute by minute. At longer time frames, targets shapeshift, and move in and out of focus.
This truth keeps striving for all caps: the most challenging accomplishment may not mean anything to anyone else. Difficulty alone doesn’t make effort praiseworthy. It’s a lesson repeated often enough in these precincts that the dvarsh almost certainly have proverbs about it they have yet to share. A ratio without a metric, the farther one reaches beyond comfort, the more likely one will imagine the act of reaching is meritorious in itself.
According to lore surrounding Nod’s Way, a dvarsh individual owns several copies of the oracle over a lifetime. Every copy is handmade, either by the person who will use it or by someone who gives it as a gift. The first copy is always the one from which a child learns to write by imitating characters and transcribing text. Another is made at transition from childhood to youth. Later copies mark milestones in life, chase inspiration for new design, or—because the dvarsh are extremely long-lived and no book lasts forever—replace a dog-eared companion honored and retired. This has always been part of the story attached to the oracle, even in its first published incarnation.
Hovering over the material currently in development is a grand vision of the oracle replete. Bilingual, decorated, illustrated, filled out with tables of arcana, the scheme is to pull together an ensemble of words and visual elements that gives shape to its world of origin. This ambition lives in my mind as the grail of the day. Large parts of it are provisionally done, although, like everything Stikmantic, subject to change any time a scale falls from my eyes.
Other parts of the project have not yet formed. Mainly these are illustrations still to draw, but tables of arcana are not ready, and graphic elements continue in development. By that last I mean a bunch of stuff that could have served in a sufficient but unexciting manner is now getting weirded up and sprinkled with lovely dust. Illustrations, decoration and arcana together, there is still a ton in all stages on the assembly line. The grand vision of the oracle will not fruit this calendar year.
As a personal challenge, one aim of Nod’s Way is to accomplish what I did not manage with Dvarsh, An Introduction. Here is a second attempt to create a compelling, interactive work of my whole self. That is either its super power or fatal flaw. The ambiguity repeats a question unanswered with Dvarsh, An Introduction. Did I deceive myself about the conceptual layering I sought to build, or is the work so perfect a portrait of its author that his shortcomings cripple the product?
Given the different hats I wear as a creator, the best I can deliver reliably in any one sphere is yeoman’s work. That’s reality. Balancing demands from the moving parts leaves no time to chase greatness. Competence and solidity are sufficient ambition for a multiply-engaged author/artist. If mastery of a kind emerges from such practitional stew, it is from the aggregate, not the parts. If not mastery, there are, at least, chops to conjure strange beauty. Is it enough? During splendid immersions, I dissolve in process and all seems right, but there are also sudden stops when I look around and think wherever I am looks a lot like another rabbit hole, with no accounting of the calories burnt to get there.
An alternative I announced last month is an edition of the oracle less than the grand vision but filled with elements made already or close to it. Basically, the illustrations of the auspices will be deferred to later elaborations—a card set and, likely, a new version of the book. This deferral brings down production costs right now (fewer pages/no color) and makes possible a project that can realistically publish this year. The book will still be striking. It may be incomprehensible or awkward, but it will be striking.
Publishing this year is important only to me, of that there is no question. It contradicts my stated intention to work without deadlines, but, “I am large,” etc. The contradiction is really only in letter and not spirit. I don’t want to subordinate creativity to calendar, but the book I propose to make in 2019 is largely in the bag. Although drawings are not ready, a considerable body of work nearly is, enough that the book will be complete in itself. Whether or not it will be compelling, I have no clue.
That cluelessness is no small part of why I want to a release this year. Having utterly misjudged reception of Dvarsh, An Introduction, I cannot trust that an audience exists for a “fantasy divination system” constructed in a language no one speaks. Not that a cold shoulder will make much difference at this point. I intend to bring the whole landscape of planned invention—fictions, drawings, videos, artifacts—into being because I want to see it even if no one else does. Still, it would be nice to know if there is purpose to fulfill with the current Stikmantica apparatus. Narcissism deserves much less presence.