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A vague ramble down the path of en-light-en-ment

(I’m not sure what all this means. But it seemed like a good idea when I wrote it.)

For the first time in a sad number of years, I opened the email file I labeled “RebelFire Futurestuff” and read. I’ve longed to go back and further the tale of Jeremy, Cedra, Rey, and the band RebelFire. I had (and to my surprise still have) notes for a sequel and at least one more. Unusual. Plotting is my weak point and I’m not good at thinking ahead. I also had links to articles on privacy and technology, philosophical concepts, etc. — anything that might come handy in future novels.

The first piece I read in my notes was brilliant — a full scenario for a grassroots rebellion in the U.S. Wow. What thinking. Unfortunately, that wasn’t mine. That was a note I’d credited to “Cat,” an online nym of someone of whom I otherwise have no memory. It was really good, though.

The second note I came upon was this — and I’ll tell you in advance that, four years later, I had no idea I could sound so ineffably profound — and I have no farking idea what I was talking about:

Jeremy the lightmaker =

Om namah shivaya

Shiva, destroyer of illusions.

The master who sheds the light shatters the darkness.

Jeremy, you may remember if you read the book, wants nothing in life except to be a “lightmaker” for the red-hot and then suddenly disappeared band, RebelFire. But Jeremy is, in a larger sense, a person who receives light (en-light-en-ment) from experience and other people, and transmits his own amplified light to the world. Shining light in dark places. Changing within himself, then leading change.

Or so he would have done, had the story developed beyond the first book. This second concept of lightmaker wasn’t intentional. It just … was.

Jeremy is also called “Reb.” Our only intention for that (Aaron Zelman and me) was the obvious: the kid’s a fan-boy for the band and the band is about reb-ellion. But I once received the congratulations of a beloved Jewish scholar, now sadly gone, for having the cleverness to imply that Jeremy, as an inspirational leader, is also a “rebbe or reb,” something akin to (although not exactly) a rabbi, if I’ve got my Judaica right. I thanked her humbly, but felt like jerk for taking credit for something I never previously gave one butterfly-wing of thought to.

So “lightmaker” suddenly becomes profound. This kid is not only bringing en-light-en-ment, but it’s of the divine variety (or again I should say, would be had the story continued. And somehow we did all that without consciously intending to.

So there I was, writing this mystical stuff. In those notes about sequels, I mean. What on earth was I thinking? Or perhaps it might be more apt to ask what on earth I was smoking.

“Om namah shivaya” is a beautiful and hypnotic chant used in the rituals of Siddha yoga, that’s become so popular you can buy about 10 different versions on CD or via download on Whether it means “Shiva, destroyer of illusions,” I have no idea and fear to check. Maybe it means “come join our cult”; I have no idea. It appears I made some connection at the time.

But where in the world did ol’ mundane me come up with a phrase like “Shiva, destroyer of illusions”? Unreal. It makes me feel like one of those girls in the movies who get possessed by things and eventually end up spewing pea soup in a 360-degree arc. Although once I get past that, I can relate to the concept of a master who shatters darkness, which is the precursor to shattering illusion.

A Clew to what the heck I was talking about comes in an appended note:

Oh. Just thought. The master who brings the light is always
punished, usually dies …

Oh. So that’s what I’m thinking. I’m wondering if Jeremy needs to die in some Christ-like fashion by the end of the series. But (tut-tut) the conventions of fiction simply do not allow such behavior in a hero. It’s always cheating when you kill off your protagonist — unless you do it in some biblical proportion and have The Great Uprising of the People follow in his death, after which Utopia thrives forever.

So clearly (or unclearly) I was thinking such profound stuff that I have no idea after the fact what I was talking about. But I was dead-ending myself, writer-wise. Down that plotted path I dare not go. Unless … well, enough of that.

In real life, though, the master who brings light is always punished in some way. Jesus wasn’t alone. You could almost stamp tragic en-light-en-ment heros out with a cookie-cutter, their fates are so often so similar. If they don’t get nailed to a tree they end up broke and starving in a garret somewhere.

(By the way, strictly an aside. My new home — crossing all fingers and toes that it does become my home — has a garret. An official arty type with the long, low-ceilinged room and the slanted walls. And of course the single dormer window looking out upon the street life — such as it is in the middle of nowhere — so the poor, tubercular starving writer can compose his epic opus and become a billion-selling author … just after he’s found frozen to death because his cruel Victorian landlord turned off the heat and he couldn’t even get a bit of coal for the brazier because he’d spent all his money on absinthe-drinking companions and voluptuous nightclub entertainers and of course paints, which he sometimes ate in moments of desperation. When he wasn’t too busy cutting his ear off. Yes, it has one of those garrets, Even though it’s not quite the same in a town of a few hundred blue-collar families. Definitely not Paris.)

Anyhow, as a general rule, life doesn’t go well for lightbringers. And you wonder why anyone wants to be one. They give us so much. But generally they gain nothing they, themselves can ever feel or measure. And it’s a complete crap-shoot. You could die for some hopeless cause and be revered for centuries as a shining hero of your country or your craft — but as my friend Debra habitually points out, you wouldn’t be around to know or care. Or you could suffer for decades, then vindication would come so late in life that by then you’d have become cynical about your craft or your country. More likely, you could be utterly forgotten or, worse, remembered only as some damn crank.

Could you write a book or a movie about a guy who spent his whole life failing — and then also failed at becoming a fondly remembered hero? Kafka could. Kafka could write about a man waking up one day as a giant cockroach. But outside of college lit classes most people wouldn’t want to read it.

What kind of person wants to live it?

One with supreme confidence, I suppose. One who believes — and never doubts! — that his ideas are The Ones, no matter if the entire rest of the world is against him.

But that kind of person … well, he’d better die or be shunted firmly aside before he gains power or influence. Because billions of people have suffered the tender mercies of men like that.

I started with fiction. But of course this question isn’t really fictional.

Is a person who sees himself as bringing the light ever actually bringing it? Or is the brightest light shone as a matter of course along the way by humbler people? Brilliant people, sometimes. But those who don’t have the ego to “change the world”? Those who, when the die, may feel they’ve accomplished nothing and who rue their own ineffectiveness?

I’ve often thought that an apt test of the credibility of a philosopher should be this: You, Mr. or Ms Philosopher, gather a bunch of people who agree with you, and you all go off and live your philosophy for five years. If, at the end of that time, you still think you had it right, up there in your ivory tower, then good. We’ll start to take you seriously. Until then … nope. You and your pals in academia have a good time playing mind games. But we’ll get back to you later.

The same should go for en-light-en-ment leaders. You get there and test your Utopia out, please. If we like it, we’ll volunteer to join. But don’t experiment on us, okay?


Um, thanks for getting all the way to the end of this ramble. As I say, I don’t know exactly what I’m getting at. But the subject of RebelFire came up several times lately. One person said he read it again this month, expecting it not to have held up. But he liked it. Another woman told me it’s one of her teenage son’s favorite books. I really would have loved to see where Jeremy’s life went after the book ended. And it really is all about groping toward the light — and hoping the light you perceive isn’t either an oncoming train or a false lighthouse beacon set out by wreckers.


  1. Pat
    Pat July 27, 2010 8:57 pm

    “And it really is all about groping toward the light — and hoping the light you perceive isn’t either an oncoming train or a false lighthouse beacon set out by wreckers.”

    Maybe it’s a REAL lighthouse beacon — so get up in that garret, please, and write “RebelFire II.”

    (I saw that garret window and wondered what was behind it, if anything. Am glad to know it’s not a sham, but a room that’s waiting for you.)

  2. Jim B.
    Jim B. July 27, 2010 11:21 pm

    It seems to me that those who are a nexus for change in history, usually don’t realize it or realize it late in whatever event that they find themselves in the middle of.

    There are, of course, exceptions, as usual.

  3. Suzan
    Suzan July 28, 2010 3:53 am

    I’m a writer too, and I believe your muse is speaking to you. I didn’t know you’d written a novel. I’ll have to pick it up. BTW, if you ever need a “reader” or “critiquer” for your work-in-progress, feel free to contact me. We starving-writers-for-freedom should help each other. Hope you find yourself in your garret soon, happily writing your sequel.

  4. Debra
    Debra July 28, 2010 7:13 am

    Regarding the fates of light-bringers, remember that Prometheus didn’t die … he just got his liver eaten out day after day. Much like those absinthe-soaked artistes, now that I think about it.

  5. Ragnar
    Ragnar July 28, 2010 7:30 am

    I’d love to see a continuation of RebelFire… can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had in the bars answering the “what/who is RebelFire?” while wearing my RebelFire T-Shirt. I have the CD that accompanied the book in my truck and the songs always are well accepted and lead to great conversations.
    For anyone not familiar, go to for the song.
    So PLEASE write away… just don’t go all Charles Bukowski on us 🙂

  6. Protector
    Protector July 28, 2010 1:58 pm

    “What kind of person wants to live it?”

    Sometimes we do things, not because we want to, but because we are driven to do so. It is a drive that has an ephemeral origin – don’t know where it comes from or where it goes, but it is there, and it leaves its mark in our lives and the lives of those whose paths we cross. That is the nature, perhaps the duty, of a lightbringer.

    “Could you write a book or a movie about a guy who spent his whole life failing — and then also failed at becoming a fondly remembered hero?”

    While people may not write about us or praise us for our labors, the effects of our labors endure because people are changed by our actions. Others take on a piece of us through their experiences with us or our writings. They don’t write about us – they become us, and we live on in them through their actions and words.

  7. Joel
    Joel July 28, 2010 2:20 pm

    “Is a person who sees himself as bringing the light ever actually bringing it?”

    Youch. I’m sorry you went there, Claire. All the great monsters – and most of the great clowns – of history were certain they were lightbringers. The worst thing in the world is when one of those got-all-the-answers academics actually gets to impose his vision. This way to the gulag!

    Sure would like to see a RebelFire sequel, though. But you knew that.

  8. JG
    JG July 28, 2010 7:25 pm

    I consider myself a philosopher. I must always be on guard against conceit, against any idea of leading the masses to any kind of utopia. I try to remember that every man who says “if we all do things MY way, there will be utopia” should be shot immediately. There are millions of narcissists and college professors spewing that BS, and thousands of politicians putting it into practice. Remembering that, I immediately derail any train of thought that could end up helping the masses, if only they do things MY way. Now, about living the idea with a few followers for 5 years before trying to get the public to try it, why even offer it to the masses? Anyone who wants power over the unwashed masses has some kind of a mental disorder. Power over herds of in-duh-viduals for what purpose? power itself? money? the entertainment of watching a world war? I conclude: Men who bring you promises of enlightenment, utopia, or prosperity in return for your unquestioning obedience are displaying symptoms of several different mental disorders.

  9. Pat
    Pat July 28, 2010 11:26 pm

    “Men who bring you promises of enlightenment, utopia, or prosperity in return for your unquestioning obedience are displaying symptoms of several different mental disorders.”

    Unquestioning obedience is the conceit of those who DO promise.

    Frequently the promiser starts out with true humbleness, believing in his cause (right or wrong, though it may be), showing options and methodology; then, caught up in his own rhetoric, he becomes a proselytizer, and can see no other way but his own words.

    (I often wonder what would have happened to Martin Luther King if he had lived; would he have become as zealous as, say, a Jesse Jackson? Gandhi stayed the course, but few others do. Politicians, too, begin to believe in their own power. I’ve lived in Connecticut and remember when Lieberman was a humble “servant of the people.” Now look at him.)

    “Enlightenment” is not on a par with “utopia”: the first is the result of showing, guiding, clarifying, a means of learning——while the second is Perfection at the end. It may be easy to confuse the two——or slip from one to the other——for both the “guru” and the “follower”, but they don’t compute.

    We libertarians often get caught up in the rhetoric of freedom, when “freedom” is perceived to be a utopia rather than a normal state of all living things. The light-bringer, who attempts to enlighten, is merely the catalyst for the follower to arrive at his natural state. He is not the giver, or producer, of freedom, and should not be perceived as one.

    And Claire, the “Cat” you refer to may be Cat Farmer.

  10. f42
    f42 July 29, 2010 9:54 am

    Amazing…..I went over to the bookcase and removed RebelFire to add to my re-read pile just last weekend.

    My guess is that the spirits are talking, and maybe you should put some thought into doing another when you get settled.


  11. Victor Milan
    Victor Milan July 29, 2010 11:26 am

    Joel is unusually perceptive. The greatest evil is always done in the name of the greatest ideals, by the greatest idealists. Those who know they are right, and know they work for the Greater Good, are capable of anything. Except, it seems, compassion for actual human beings.

    Claire, why not set up some kind of private mailing list and crowdsource your plotting to selected friends? Members of my writers group hold special brainstorming sessions to “plot break” new novels or even trilogies. Works. Is fun.

  12. Ben
    Ben August 4, 2010 3:04 pm

    Claire, I know you have many other pursuits, but I have been longing for the sequel to RebelFire for almost five years now. If you choose to write it, I’ll perorder 50 copies that day. Your contributions to my awakening have been invaluable over the last ten years. Keep up the good work!

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