News & Politics

Free Will Fiction

Rob Brezsny's Free Will Astrology is often the first (and sometimes the only) stop for readers of many alternative newsweeklies. Owen Perkins interviews the astrologist turned novelist about his latest work of fiction.
He made it hip to turn to the horoscope.

Rob Brezsny's Free Will Astrology, formerly Real World Astrology, is often the first (and sometimes the only) stop for readers of many alternative newsweeklies.

Recent, Brezsny tells me and my fellow Taureans that it's time "to summon more high-impact modes of communication. How about squalling a home-made manifesto through a bullhorn or FedExing a half-burnt $20-bill covered with poetic demands? Better yet, put your face right in the faces of your target audience and speak the bald truth without a trace of anger."

Brezsny is also a front man rock musician, a father, and a two-time novelist. When we spoke earlier this spring, he told me that his new novel, The Televisionary Oracle (Frog, Ltd) was already 754th on amazon.com's best seller list (it has since dropped to 8,758th). Brezsny is not one to measure success by sales, however, noting that his first novel never rose higher than 8 millionth.

Citing Tom Robbins, Salmon Rushdie, Robert Anton Wilson and Don Delilo as his literary influences, Brezsny unleashed the pent-up prose that had previously been confined to twelve short paragraphs a week and set out to write a tale of macho-feminism. The Televisionary Oracle chronicles the adventures of an unnamed rock star who encounters Rapunzel Blavatsky, the leader of a cult-like tribe of goddess worshippers who lead the rock star on the path toward male menstruation. Brezsny writes and talks about his belief in the benefit to men and women alike of "honoring the menstrual cycle and dropping out of the frenetic routine for four days out of every month." When I told him that my alma mater Colorado College was ahead of the curve with their four and a half day block breaks each month, Brezsny was intrigued and enthused, asking "You want to picket with me and demand the right to menstrual periods?"

OP: Could you start by explaining the name change for your column?

Brezsny: There's a philosophy that I try too embody in my life which is the principle of "I die daily." What that means to me is periodically shedding the formulas that have worked for me in the past, whether they've become outworn or they just no longer fit in an appropriate way. I felt I wanted something that reflected more my radical commitment to astrology as a language that enhances one's free will and not, as many people seem to believe, something that militates or damages your free will.

OP: Is there any relationship to the time spent working on The Televisionary Oracle and this evolution in your column?

Brezsny: That, I think, is an essential part of the meaning of the book for me. Working on the book forced me to delve deeper into the quality of the voice that I wanted to develop as a writer. It translated directly into how I wrote my column. Being true to the command from my muses to write from a deeper level certainly made me a better writer and, I think, made my column of greater service to other people.

OP: To what degree do you think of the novel as autobiographical?

Brezsny: At one point my muses were flirting with calling it a docu-fiction memoir. It changes from day to day. Today I think of it as about 55 percent direct translation from my life. But everything ultimately comes from some facet of your experience. I had a writing teacher at the University of California Santa Cruz who told me that his approach to writing was to take some element of his life and mutate it so that it he couldn't write about it literally. For instance, if there was a man in his life that he wanted to write about, he would turn that man into a woman. Engaging the imagination to blend with his literal experiences made the writing more interesting.

OP: It's partly debunking the myth of writing what you know. Write what you know, but put it in a context that's different and challenging.

Brezsny: Otherwise it becomes too much of a journal entry. For me, that always feels plodding and overly literalistic and narcissistic. If the imagination gets involved it breathes excitement into it.

OP: Has it been your perception that changes in terms of thinking of the book as either docu-ficiton or pure novel, or have you actually been changing the text itself to reflect those different approaches?

Brezsny: The imagination is an underappreciated faculty. It doesn't have a really great reputation in our culture. Most people think of it as being the province of children and artists. But I regard it as everyone's single greatest asset. It's the faculty we use to make pictures of things that don't exist yet. It's what we use to create the future. In my spiritual training, the imagination is an organ by which you can perceive realities on the astral plane, or on the fourth dimension. So whereas the imagination can show us things that aren't literally true, they can show us things that are metaphorically true or true to the subconscious mind. In that sense, everything in the book is true for me, is a direct translation of my life in some way because it represents the truth of my life in four dimensions. For instance, Rapunzel Blavatsky began speaking very clearly to me on January 1st, 1994. She began speaking in my head. I'm not a person given to hearing voices in my head; I never have. She told me that she lived in 2071, and that she was communicating to me across time because she wanted me to tell her story. Anybody who is addicted to thinking that material reality is the only reality would say, "well, that's absurd. You're deluded." Because I believe that the imagination does convey realities in the fourth dimension, I think there is some aspect of that that's true for me. I don't need to believe it literally. That's an example of how I think.

OP: What do you identify as the sacred?

Brezsny: I'll answer that two different ways. In one sense, everything is sacred to me. The sense that there are things that are not sacred hurts my feelings, because I view God's creation being revealed in the smallest details of the life that I encounter and the biggest details, the grandiose visions, the epiphanies that I have. Sitting with my daughter on the couch trying to decipher the Word Jumbles in the newspaper, that's a sacred moment too. Likewise, even those moments that might be regarded as profane, I aspire to bring a sacred presence or awareness to those so as to infuse them with the presence of the divine. To answer it in a slightly different way, the sacred is most alive to me when it's blended with a sense of playfulness. I think there's a plague on the sacred caused by people taking themselves too seriously, people thinking that spirituality is only real if it's serious, sober, dignified. I resent and protest that sense of the sacred. I think that the more fun it has, the more playfulness it has, then the more authentically sacred it is.

OP: That playfulness shows up in your book with the recurring idea of the trickster.

Brezsny: Although Rapunzel's idea of the trickster is different from what I identify as some of the patriarchal approaches to the trickster, because a lot of the tricksterism in the west is a very mean-spirited tricksterism. It's all about getting revenge on someone. Rapunzel's notion of a prank is as a compassionate act. To trick people into becoming more united with their essential self, to seek some sort of unification that wasn't possible before.

OP: Did you begin the book thinking of it as a novel, or did it have some other form?

Brezsny: To be honest, I sat down to write the book in August of 1989. It was my effort to incorporate the ideas that I had developed as a rock singer in the band World Entertainment War into a really alternative fiction philosophical novel. I worked on that thing for five years and just never found a way into it. In January of '94, through a series of great epiphanies form various sources, I realized that what I thought the book was about, it wasn't about. It was at that point that I met Rapunzel. It was at that point that I realized that the way into the book was for me to write about something that was very shameful for me. Having been a staunch feminist for many years, having devoted a lot of my life energy to helping to regenerate the feminine in our culture, I had come to feel kind of an embarrassment about the fact that my male sexuality, my heterosexual male sexuality, was as powerful and out of control and rich and varied and celebratory as it ever was. I think that I bought into the radical feminist ideas that there was something inherently evil or distorted about male sexuality. So the point at which I began to write the novel was from that shame. I discovered that was a very evocative source to write from. The unfortunate thing was that I wanted to pack all this other stuff in, this philosophy, the poetry, the oracles, the manifestos.

OP: The book has three distinctive voices throughout, Rapunzel's, the rock star's, and the oracle's. Did you have a different approach for writing those different sections and finding those separate voices.

Brezsny: Just as when I write my column I somehow manage to become a Virgo when I write the Virgo column and become a Scorpio when I write the Scorpio hororscope, I entered fully into the characters that were speaking. Even the Telivisionary Oracle, I entered into a very different state of mind.

OP: Is there a process for getting into that state of mind?

Brezsny: You mean a conscious technique? Gosh, it's pretty intuitive for me. I'm not a strategic novel writer. I was writing the middle parts in the beginning and the beginning later on. I was following some inner guide that had its own understanding of what the organization was but didn't reveal to me that organization till the end. [Laughs]

OP: You have some clear restrictions in writing your column, including the limited size. But there's also the level of responsibility of writing a column that people turn to for some level of guidance and advice. To what degree were you able to break from that responsibility as you turned to fiction and a novel? Brezsny: You're right, I have a very heightened sense of responsibility to those who read my column, and I try to be extremely gentle and protect their free will and prevent them from projecting too much guruhood onto me. I think that I was a little more reckless in writing the book. It felt like a gamble. I don't know if people who read my column are going to enjoy the book, because in the column I'm always writing to you, I'm writing love letters to you. In the book, there's a lot of I statements. On the other hand, I do feel like the same moral vision that is at the heart of the column is at the heart of the book. No matter how wild my vision gets, it's always rooted in a sense of serving what's good. I view that as one of my most unusual capacities or tendencies as a writer. There are very few people who are good writers who aspire to have a moral vision. There are a lot of bad writers who have what I consider a sentimental and hackneyed moral vision.

OP: Can you imagine writing without that moral vision?

Brezsny: No. That wouldn't be true to my voice.

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