Monthly Archives: November 2018

A Spirited Campus

Hello again everyone!

I do hope you have all enjoyed my recent writings. I put a lot of time and effort into them, and they may serve as springboards to later discussions. If you did not like them, well then rejoice in the fact that I want to move on! There have been other projects stirring around in my head, and I have been wanting to devout some time to those ideas.

What kind of ideas? I am sure this is what you are wondering (or maybe about lunch?), so I want to briefly introduce you to what I want to talk about for the near future. I’ve been thinking about stories, especially spiritual stories. These are the kinds of stories that circle around us, and in many ways give structure to our lives. At the same time, they are informed by our own experiences and history.

Those are what I want to talk about for the next few posts. I have always been fascinated by folklore and mythology. In a way, folklore is the spiritual stories of everyday folks. Mythology, at least most Indo-European mythologies, tend to focus more on gods, kings, and heroes. Basically, people that have some status or standing in society. People that aren’t peasant farmers, for the most part. Or mill workers, miners, or other everyday working folk. Hey, that’s why it’s called folklore.

In no small way, this is how we encounter the spirits each and every day; in whatever ways they present themselves. Maybe it is the story of the spirit we met in the woods, or the spirit in the lake? Or, as with what I want to talk about today, the spirits we meet on campus.

Back in October my wife and I attended my alma mater, Michigan State University, for their annual event Apparitions and Archaeology. In short, this event is collaboration between the Campus Archaeology Program, and the MSU Paranormal Society. It gave me a lot to think about, and I want to tell you about that now. So, without further ado, I present some of the spirits of MSU.

Introduction

As way of a short introduction, I want to present some of the history of MSU. Surely, more can be found here. 

(Fancy Map Image, from our tour)

MSU was founded in 1855, as the first agricultural college in the US, and a pioneer land grant college. The first buildings on the campus were primarily built by students, from local as well as imported materials. Few of these original buildings still stand, as most either fell over or burnt down. (Built by students, mostly heated by wood fires and steam boilers.)

The tour included several stops at historic sites around campus, and so it was a fun kind of scavenger hunt. I do not have the space to detail all the locations, so I encourage you to visit the links provided at the bottom of this post. But before I get there, I want to talk briefly about how I will be framing this discussion.

The intersection of archaeology and animism is a fascinating way to look at the spirits on MSU. Not only are the spirits themselves possessed of agency, but they are also a very real part of the memory of the land. Each of the sites have very real material remains buried beneath the ground, as part of the earth memory. Like human memories, these are fragmented and incomplete. But at the same time, they speak to us. The past speaks, through archaeology, and through the folklore that lives on to this day.

The Spirits of MSU, are the spirits of a place, as well as the memories of the land. They are as much science as they are folklore. So let’s look a little closer, shall we?

Beaumont Tower/College Hall

(Picture Today/Southeast corner of Beaumont Tower, 1928. Photo courtesy of MSU Archives and Historical Collections. )

Prior to Beaumont Tower, College Hall, the first building on campus, was located at this spot. It was erected in 1856 and was the first structure in America that was dedicated to the instruction of scientific agriculture.

The tower itself was constructed where the northeast corner of College Hall once stood. Some of the foundation walls for the original building still exist underneath the sidewalks.” – CAP

I’ve decided to use quotes from the Campus Archaeology blog, because it gives you a brief history, and frees me up to talk about other aspects of this site. I was part of the Campus Archaeology program back in 2011. Part of College Hall collapsed in 1918, and if memory serves, part of its construction actually involved a stump under one of the load bearing walls. The early students didn’t have stump grinders, and really made due with what they had. That is at least part of the reason it came down.

But more than this, Campus Archaeology excavated part of the site around Beaumont Tower, and found numerous artifacts from College Hall, the very memory of the building that once stood. The foundations were still there, as well as cinder pathways. A blueprint of a memory, the spectre of a building that has long passed. The bones of a now buried construct.

Folklore tells of couples in 19th century dress walking around the tower, holding hands. Also, several sightings have been reported of a man with coattails in a stovepipe hat wandering around the Tower.

You see, the land below our feet is the ultimate complex system, which can have memories. It keeps the remains of old buildings like memories. And those buildings, may well keep some memories of the people that once inhabited the area. The spirits of people are remembered, and what is remembered lives.

Saint’s Rest

(Students outside Saints’ Rest ca. 1857. Image from MSU Archives. )

Just like college hall, Saint’s Rest was one of the earliest buildings on campus. It was originally built in 1857. Like so many other buildings, it was not long for this world, burning to the ground in 1876.

Campus Archaeology got to investigate part of the site, and made numerous discoveries. In addition to foundations and the basement, the team also uncovered a privy. That is, an outhouse, which was a source for a wealth of artifacts.

Why? Because if you drop something into an outhouse, very few people I know are likely to go after it. Which lead the CAP team to the discovery of Mabel, a porcelain doll that is believed to possess an ominous spirit. She is said to throw things from time to time.

(Mabel)

Besides Mabel, the MSU Paranormal Society has recorded several other incidents in the area;

For years, students dressed in 19th-century clothing have been seen wandering through the area east of the MSU Museum—where Saints’ Rest once stood. Another ghostly figure wearing overalls and work boots has been spotted, suggesting the spirit of a maintenance worker lingers nearby.” – Spartan Spirits

The ghosts of a remembered past, still looking for what was lost? Or something to fix?

Mary Mayo Hall

(Image from here)

The most infamous story is that of Mary Mayo herself, who can be seen wandering the hallways and playing the piano in the “Red Room,” rumored to have been used for satanic rituals and where a young woman may have died. The entire floor is now closed, but unexplained lights and figures often are seen through the windows of the 4th floor.” – Spartan Spirits

Mayo Mary Hall, unlike College Hall and Saints’ Rest, is one of the buildings that is still standing on campus today. Mary Mayo herself was a strong advocate for a women’s curriculum, and the women’s dormitory that bears her names was originally constructed in 1931.

Excavations in the area uncovered lots of early construction material, such as wooden plumbing and locally made bricks from the clay of the Red Cedar river.

Closing Thoughts

I’ve only touched upon some of the sites found on our tour through campus, and again I encourage you to visit some of the websites below for other pictures and additional information.

In closing, I spent most of the tour thinking about the intersection of folklore, archaeology, and animism. You see, there are many unseen agencies in our environment. Some of these are right below our feet, the actual physical memories of things that once were. Artifacts, old building materials, porcelain dolls that mysteriously have fallen into privies. These are the very real ghosts of our past, memories of the earth beneath us.

Yet, animism, says that the world is full of persons, many of which are other-than-human. Stories that have gained meaning over time, folk tales that may contain actual truth, or even the agencies of fanciful tales spun for the sake of an eager audience.

In my animism, those stories have a power all their own, their own special kind of agency. Whether they are spirits of the unseen, spirits of the spoken word, they have power. Power to shape our reality, to make us think about what once was. A story is the spirit of a memory, the spirit of a place.

Because reality is more than just what we can touch and feel, sometimes it is far less corporeal. Sometimes it is the memories of a place, and how we relate to those stories.

Thanks for reading!

Further Readings/Sources

Spartan Spirits

https://msu.edu/spartan-spirits/?fbclid=IwAR1fTxUBdRfgw-RrxF2RB84pVbSJlEj99jDHXDF_f2YXeqUopPNkwOSavyI#home

Campus Archaeology

http://campusarch.msu.edu/?p=6728&fbclid=IwAR1RxEoifv6_Xj2SXv6lgVn6XC8Y9MklK7gwJFR7gUHKRd4LyL5zGljWl1Y


Liminal Worlds: World Building

Hello again folks!

Have you checked out my recent book, Liminal Worlds? It’s available on Amazon, $2.99 for Kindle, or 14.99 for paperback. Now, if you excuse the plug, it is the world I have built for this book that I want to talk about today.

Call it a little peek into my writing process. When I started writing this book, I knew I wanted to create a “near future” book, with both cyberpunk and solarpunk elements. Some parts of the world would be very gritty, and run by big corporations, and other parts would green, bright, and sustainable.  I also wanted to build a world that would be recognizable to us today, but also far enough in the future that I could take some liberties.

I settled for about the year 2070, and a world that was in transition from a corporate ruled capitalist system, to one a little more sustainable and democratic. So if you don’t mind, I want to talk more about the elements that went into that.

Technology

Obviously, as with any science fiction novel, technology is front and center. There were a lot of technologies I really wanted to play with and explore the implications for a late century world. Renewable Energy is front and center in the world, and makes up about 80% of the total energy demand of the planet. This comes in the forms of wind and solar primarily, but also other forms such as hydro and geothermal power. Each city and country on the planet has the mix that best meets it’s own needs. Some of those needs are even supplied by space based solar power, which is then beamed down to planet.

Other forms of the power on the planet are things like Generation IV nuclear fission, and even nuclear fusion power. These forms of power make up the rest of the power in Liminal Worlds, for load balancing as well as certain high energy projects, such as the Berlin Space Launch.

While I have not explored it in too much depth, outer space is a big part of the world. In order to make outer space accessible, my world is home to a couple of space elevators, and items such as the Berlin Space Launch, which is a modified version of the StarTram concept. It’s basically a ten mile high magnetic lift system, that gives rockets and cargo a boost before they leave the planet.

Electromagnetic technology such as MagLev Trains also make up a big part of my world. Not only are most cars, trucks, and ships some form of electric vehicles, but also high speed trains and aircraft. There is in fact a world circling MagLev train, though this has not been touched on in the book. (Not yet anyways. ) Another concept I deploy is the EMLAR, ElectroMagnetic Launch Assist Rail; which is basically a catapult for short distance aircraft takeoff. The Berlin Space Launch is a much larger version of this.

Beyond energy and transportation, information technology plays a large part in the book too. The ‘Net is a massive information network built up from current forms of cellular and broadband tech, but also nanotechnology as well. The latter is central to the plotline (no spoilers) of the book, and makes the ‘Net of the book vastly more advanced than the internet of today.

Environment

I write a lot about climate change and environmentalism here at this blog, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that those issues are also front and center in my book. As the recent IPCC report states, we have about 12 years to mitigate the worst of climate change.

Yet, my book takes place about 50 years in the future, so where does that leave us? Well, in my world, we as a planet have mitigated the worst of climate change, though it definitely is still a factor in the background. My book is not utopian, and there is plenty of ‘ugly’ still in the background. Some cities adapted well to climate change, others didn’t. Same with regions and countries. Some simply adapted and mitigated better than others.

That doesn’t change the fact that the world has changed in five decades. Globally, humanity has continued to have to deal with the loss of species, pollution, and climate migrations. While on the whole, it is a ‘best case’ scenario, there is still a lot that was messed up, or that still needs attention.

I hope to flesh more of those details out over the coming months with short story writing.

Social/Economic/Politic Systems

What would a future world be without speculation on changes on social, political and economic systems? Liminal Worlds gave me a lot of options to play with some world building. In short, fifty years in the future, I build the world around two big trends.

First, the trend towards the breakdown of hierarchy. This played out in two ways, first there are more Nation-States in the world, though the tend to be smaller and more dependent on others. Also, it ‘broke down’ a lot of larger international organizations, such as the UN, the EU, and the US federal government.

At the same time, there has been a trend towards greater integrations, and more networked relationships between cities, regions and non-state organizations. This has created new alliances and partnerships where old ones have broken down, the most prominent of these in my book is the UN Global Council. The UNGC is basically a union of former countries, states, regions and cities. It creates a quasi-global area of integration.

Creating a future ex-US.

I am still working on a deeper project of mapping out my world, but I wanted to explore some of the ideas I used for the (former) United States.

First, I looked at the map from here;

Which helped me work out the diversity of the US, and identify some possible “fault lines” that might create enough tension to result in breakdown. The 11 US cultures was one was to identify those areas, and what a more broken down US might look like. (Even our current political climate is basically the red areas vs the blue areas on this map.)

I also looked at these two maps from here;

These two maps helped me to even subdivide the US into smaller units, centered around cities as the center of economic activities. As such, this left me with a world with ‘fuzzier’ borders, and less relevant Nation-States as the centers of power.

Another map I drew upon was this one of major US megaregions, which helped to even further refine my ‘core’ areas of narrative. For example, much of the Liminal Worlds takes place in the Great Lakes megaregion, and primarily in Toronto.

I know that was a lot to throw at you all at once, but it is my hope that you enjoyed this exploration of my creative process. Naturally, I invite you to pick up my book, Liminal Worlds, which is available on Amazon. That way, you can see more of the research and work that went into creating that world.

And more importantly, I hope you enjoy the story!

Thanks for reading!