How to ask for an extension for an essay
[To the T.A.]
HAPPY NEW YEAR and thank you for the mind-rupturing and profound class on Eliot. Our approach was incredibly effective and very accurately captured the essence without losing any intensity. Much appreciation for that.
I’m one of those unable to hand in the essay today: so I must apologize. I did email the professor about the possibility of an extension as I’ve been in Asia for December and when I got back, I had to hit the ground running with marketing and discussions for my old book that had been just freshly published, before my grandmother passed away a few days ago and the dawn of the final deteriorating condition of a friend of mine who had been battling cancer for many years. It has been a draining few months, and has left me quite empty and devoid of organized academic thought. I am quickly typing this after class, so I may not be the most coherent or even able to express in words what I would like to. But we’ve spoken after class a few times along with the professor, and perhaps if possible, I’d like to confess a little of my thoughts on the class (aside from what’s been going on recently) to you here. Of course, you have no obligation to read this monstrosity but I feel that you might understand what I am writing here, despite my lack of eloquence. It might appear like an excuse, but I admit I have been quite struggling with the course—though not with the content.
Indeed I had made the wonderful life-changing choice to take this course—I’ve always wanted to—and it is everything I am about and everything I’ve wanted to hear. But that is where the issue begins for me. In a sense, in the most straight forward and humble way intended, I confess that I am a writer aspiring towards the visionary or mystic tradition—though it may sound ridiculous to hear from someone of my age from my time. Every class so far and no doubt onwards from here is like being hit with the same thoughts that I’ve come to in the past two years, what I already intuitively know, what I can’t put into words, over and over again. It may sound like I am full of myself to say that, and I am not at all very well-read or well-studied or well-informed, but the writers we’ve been studying all have a place in my mind and within my understanding of the visionary and of the world. Our professor himself actually triggered a crossroads moment in my writing and in my philosophies and experience two years ago, to which I am eternally grateful to him for. And so to study each of these literary greats and visionary thinkers, it is like the confirmation of my own thoughts and ideas and my writing—which may seem like a good thing. There are so many things that we’ve covered in class where each time I realize I’ve actually written the same things into my work—particularly my most recent novel. It almost feels like it is analyzing my own work, and that is a very strange and awkward feeling. That’s not saying I don’t like to take apart my work or analyze myself—I often do—but being taught what I’ve written is a strange deja vu. Essentially, I feel like all that we’ve been covering is encompassed in my thought and vision of the world—only, of course, I may not have the skill or the method (yet, or ever) to put it into words the way these spirit-guides who have gone before us have. Though that is surely up to the reader’s or scholar’s judgment, not my own.
During the process of writing my latest novel, it was a journey of transcendence and a movement upward (and downward) in itself. I first started in the tradition of Kafka and Orwell in a sense looking at the oppressive system around us and criticizing the massive capitalist mechanism, resisting consumer culture and the conditioning hegemony of enormous complex forces that we cannot fully understand, frustrated with people who are satisfied with the mundane and existing for the gratification of the senses or just for existence sake, shutting out the possibilities of the vertical axis—I was somewhat obsessed with the physical horizontal plane of existence in a way. However, I realized, as I was writing, that there was no way to resist or escape or destroy such an immense system, and all the attempts in history with revolutions and restructure and redesign, whether it was the decay of Alexandria, the rising of the Roman Empire, the corruption and dogmatic cruelty of the Medieval Church, the Industrial Era and onwards to now, including communism and the occupy movements and riots and civil unrest and all these constructs that humanity seeks are not the answer, and never was. The journey in the novel through the writing process—which is also a journey of self-discovery—became much more inward and started having a tremendous verticality to it, rising up through the psyche into the spiritual, transcending the physical plane not operating on the physical plane…. My thoughts are chaotic at the moment, but you can imagine, writing through surrealistic dreamscape, through metaphor, symbolism, lots of intertextual references, references to art and music and literature and mythology and onwards, creating a spiritual journey for the character… before I came to a point (or my character came to a point) where he realizes (of course with references to certain schools of philosophy or traditions) that the entire world is made up of subjective perception and in a sense with the first person magical-realistic style of the novel, the entire novel and the cosmos that he perceives becomes so obviously a construct of his own, his own delusions perhaps, whatever he perceives begins to be put into question and the universe around is in constant flux and instability, he questions himself—and through writing this, I’ve come to realize the true direction that I, or my character, was seeking was upwards towards the visionary realm, that there was no truth in the physical, nor truth within the subjective self or inner psyche, and catapulting from the soul, is the only bridge to the visionary. It harkens back to the idea that the more abstract you get, the more universal it is, and the closer to objective truth it is.
Now, for me, the visionary, in my opinion is encompassing all that we’ve studied. I cannot see each writer or thinker as distinct anymore—this was something that I came to at the end of the novel and beyond, when I’ve realized what I’ve written and my readers and through my own personal reflection, I started to pull away even from my own novel. Everything to me, points to the same thing, everything to me feeds into the same thing, and everything is in constant communion and conversation with everything else. As you said today, the cyclic motion, the destruction, the creation, and so on. (these things are so hard to put into simple terms—don’t want to use any specific references here because I don’t want to align with any individual or strand of thought at the moment in this email). To put it simply, I see the cosmos as one enormous pool, through history, all of humanity, all human wisdom, all human consciousness, all human construction, all archetypes, instincts, spirituality and belief and creation, political movements, imagination, creativity, all art, onwards. It all to me feeds into one ocean. There is no beginning or end. All of time converges into one vision from my vantage point. However, what I see, in particular with our visionary literature course is that the human being has an instinctive drive to seek out the visionary realm, to seek the spiritual, mystic, transcendent realm. So when I see religion for example, when I see philosophies for example, it all looks the same to me, this innate desire to transcend, to rise up, detach from the horizontal. At the root, it is because we are the extra-dimensional caught in this physical broken limited dimension.
I am actually a Christian and deeply so, in very personal and experiential ways, but not in a dogmatic way, similar to Eliot or others perhaps, as I see a lot of so called Christians or Christianity participating in what is a very limited box and human construct of what God is. They would consider the entire visionary tradition and the course to be blasphemous and heretic. They might take the spiritual realm the Bible talks about, or Revelations and its visions as literal or, on the other extreme, as fable. I won’t go into details but in the past year I’ve grown closer to what it means to be “in this world but not of this world”, which to me summarizes a lot of the visionaries. There are many paradoxes that cannot be understood in a human sense in the Bible. At the same time, Christianity or the Bible itself, in my faith is considered truth and believed as infallible, and I do. But what I think is that what is in the Bible, with all of its incredible literary value and its paradoxes, its profundity and implications, its look and glimpse into the visionaries, is just what is necessary and what is the language available to the common man to connect to the bridge to the divine—Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for example, with all of its symbolic and literal implications of the crossroads, etc. Just like how Christ talked through parables, the Bible is a parable. God (or the divine) cannot simply speak of the truth, we cannot look at the face of God because we simply cannot understand or perceive or even survive with such full knowledge. The Bible is but a glimpse into what is necessary. Before I had studied other religions, through my faith, and through what seems to be natural affinity or sync (this seems to be the reason for some of my realizations through these years), I had reached the same conclusions as the philosophies and ideas of Buddhism, Zen, Taoism, Confucianism, and a variety of Greek philosophers and so on that when I did study them, I realized that I had thought of the same things. It again to me speaks to the fact that we are all connected to this collective pool of all human wisdom and consciousness, however high on the vertical axis, however low on the horizontal plane, and have access to the same intrinsic human wisdom.
But I’d like to move in another direction, if I discuss it in a scientific and theoretical manner—I don’t wish to, but there are only so many ways to attempt to describe the ineffable—then we would be looking at God or perhaps just to say the divine and the divine force and the “spiritual realm”, including the idea of heaven and hell, to be the extra dimensional. They are beyond time and space as we understand it. The spiritual realm, God, angels, demons, whatever people have tried to describe or name or put labels on are spiritual beings, which is to say, they are eternal beings, which is to say they are not of our dimension—they are beyond the fourth dimension. Which is why to me Eliot’s beginning of “Burnt Norton” is no surprise nor does it challenge me at all. It just is and makes entire sense to me, in a way that doesn’t make sense. Back to the scientific idea, there are multiple dimensions beyond what we know, string theory and all that. We are three dimensional beings trapped and limited by time, which can be considered the fourth dimension. Of course subjective perception of time may seem to cause discrepancies but we exist in the present and cannot exist in the past or future and time passes and we are finite into death. However death is only death of the physical body which is the container that grounds us and limits us to this three dimensional and very broken world. The soul that gives this strong desire to transcend is originally the eternal spark which means it is of the fourth dimension or perhaps beyond. So in a sense the vertical axis is the soul’s flight. A two dimensional being cannot perceive the world the way a third dimensional being (us) can. It is limited to the a singular point of the Z axis. But third dimensional beings do not perceive the limit of this Z axis, in fact we can exist on a large range of points along the Z axis. The fourth dimension adds another axis to it, the axis mundi, what we are trying to express, to put it in a simpler box of its own is the fourth axis to the X, Y, Z, coordinates. The paradox of past, present, future, is no paradox in the eyes of the divine. But for us there would be no way we could be able to comprehend, in the same way a two dimensional being cannot comprehend what it’s like to perceive as a third dimensional being. We cannot understand or put to words what it is like to exist and perceive in the extra dimensional realm. The religions and the visionary literature and onwards are all attempts to reach this idea and understanding. The paradoxes and confusion exist because we are not there yet, at least not until we are released and transcend into such a dimension after physical death. The transience of life and the world around is so inadvertently real to me. We enter the world empty handed and leave the world empty handed, the dash between the birth and death year of a gravestone is a blink in the view of eternity and our original spirit state belongs beyond this dimension. Whether it is Buddhism on the path to enlightenment by casting off the physical, or the elements and the way the world works in Taoism, they all point towards the extra dimensional cosmos—things beyond what we can perceive and then the desire to join this flow that’s beyond us. Only the limitations of human understanding tries to put schools of thought into individual labels, or controlled structures and system, it’s like trying to put the ineffable into containers and then taking the container as the whole and the all.
When I look at the writers on our course, the things they express are so profound and entirely reaching towards the transcendental and they express it in such genius, something that I still aspire to do but haven’t been able to yet. And when we sit down in class and analyze things, each is already ingrained in my consciousness, I completely agree and understand it, but yet each is something I fail to express in words—because I simply cannot. From what I may call my vantage point, I see the entire picture an entire cosmos before me and when I try to express it, either words fail me, or I feel like I am betraying what I see because words cannot contain it. When in class students speak up or we look at something very specific, it frustrates me so much, to the point of a headache because it’s just not it! It’s just not there yet. It’s just such a tiny grain of sand in the entire vision and spoken in a such a way that is so specific and limited that it absolutely drives me nuts. Yes that specific thought is right and all interpretations are right, but the attempt of doing that frustrates me… like if we cannot be on the same page as the visionaries and see the entire cosmos as one, I feel we are unworthy of picking it apart and looking at something specific. I feel we must see the entire picture before we zoom in, or we are just missing so so much. But the “full picture” (whatever that means, since we can never understand it) is different for every person and is not something that can be forced. The system and our upbringing and everything around us in this world, the horizontal plane especially in the modern era consciously and actively traps, imprisons and conditions people so they are unable to consider the vertical axis. Many of the students may have started from that point, perhaps now they are a bit closer to a higher consciousness, but we are still so so limited. Just technology itself for example. But yet, we are already a select group of individuals. The majority of the world will never ever see the visionary. And I so wish for people to see the entirety (again, whatever that means). And in a sense, I feel that way going through the course, more and more so. And that these writers are missing the mark too. And I myself miss the mark too because I too see only something limited. All the greats we look at, all these writers fail. They fail because they, well, we, are human. They all have their own spin on the visionary and then converse with one another, or criticize one another, but in a way they are forming their own constructs. They reach up and are only capable of reaching the sub-sphere just short of the extra-dimensional (because we are still limited here by our physical third dimensional bodies), this sub-sphere is the powerful ability of creativity and imagination and spirituality through our connection with our own souls. All such wisdom and the highest point of epiphany and enlightened consciousness only reaches the peak of such a sub-sphere. And all of human creation and imagination and experience all are part of the same ocean, the same whirling vision of the world around the axis mundi. We are still in the storm, in the eye of the hurricane, but we cannot rise above the hurricane fully. We can reach the top of it but we are not detached of it. When our physical limitations die, and we become pure spirit and eternal soul to join with the cosmos, to join with the divine, perhaps. These writers and everything we create and express, it is close to the “divine”—some closer than others, some more objective than others, some more unbridled, some more structured, some close to the middle, some swirling about—but not enough, because we are not. We can try to express it in so many different ways but we are all trying to express the same thing. Just like writing down Revelations, when the beings in that realm are so entirely inconceivable, unutterable and inexpressible, only metaphor and visual symbolism and this flawed attempt can be written down. And of course, I am no exception. My thoughts are very likely just another construct and another subjective way of perception, an attempt of describing something that cannot be understood or described, the great mystery. But I feel after writing my novel in the past year, especially working through this course, each passing day, I am pulling farther and farther away from the horizontal plane. I am pulling farther and farther into the transcendental and into the visionary and ultimately closer to the divine, or at least my perception of the divine. As this happens, the things below, on the earth and even everything in the collective pool of human consciousness, including the enlightened and the transcendental thought, becomes smaller and smaller and less significant, and flatter. Like on an aircraft pulling away from the ground.
I’m sorry for this long email. It doesn’t quite capture the extent of my thoughts or realizations, and was just a brief vomit of some of the things within me that I have not expressed to many people –– a close friend or two who are on the same wavelength I had managed to find more recently: no easy feat for sure. But I thank you for reading it and I’m sure you have your own opinion—especially being much more well-read and well-informed than I am—and you may think I am full of myself or full of delusions by now.
But after such a long email, it may sound hypocritical to say I cannot write. I’ve been unable to write for a long time since my novel that had been the cumulation of thoughts and also the discovery of many revelations. As an author or writer (to an extent), I practice the art of writing and I practice the lifestyle as a write. I do write quite often, as much as I can. Short stories, poetry, philosophical notes, what not. But they are simply practice and I’ve still been searching, soul-searching, world-exploring, reading and studying, as much as I can, for the next life’s work. I feel like the previous novel had been entirely divinely inspired and visionary fuelled, I had been in communion with the ocean of higher consciousness and imagination, in touch with the great mystery, but it had used me as a channel and came fully formed from the cosmos, then it got up and walked away from me. I am still searching for the next thing to write.
This is what frustrates me with the course as well. Reading writers who have expressed the ineffable in their own terms, and in my opinion, is both success and failure. My desire is to do the same, but I cannot, because I consider all their efforts to be part of me and my understanding. They’ve already done it and I realize that my attempts will inevitably be limited too. Now coming back to the topic of the essay or in fact, all the essays of the course, it goes against my very nature and my very instinct and desire. The more I draw farther away from the world and even the visionaries themselves, seeking a higher and higher vantage point, looking upwards (and downwards) at this immense extra dimensional cosmos, the more universal and the closer to the objective divine “truth” and therefore, the less specific I want to be. That is one of my issues. With the essay we are going very specific, into one visionary writer, into specific verses, into specific diction and technique, into one frame of reference and one visionary’s consciousness. That surely should be an inspiring and educational exercise, but for me, my entire being screams at me when I try to do so. Every enlightened writer, in fact, philosophers, religions, etc, all of humanity, again to me points at the same thing, to the cosmos which they cannot fully understand. I can only see things from the broad angle from above, because with the course as catalyst, it has pushed me further and further up higher. Like at this point I’m ready to pass on into spirit form if I could. But I am part of the cosmos, and the cosmos has its current and flow that I won’t understand, and the divine has its orchestration, precise timing and reason, and all of which that’s beyond me.
Secondly, academic essays I feel is inappropriate for discussing the contents of this course. I cannot attempt to write about such things if it isn’t through poetics. I did write about it in this email I guess, but in very broad and vague terms. If I am to get at anything more specific, it would have to be through poetics. The academic essay is very painful for me, not for any other course, but for this one in particular only. As I wrote the last one, I felt like I was crippling myself and blaspheming the visionary (not in terms of Christian ideas). Especially with the topics given, which in a sense sounds very broad and open ended, an essay still asks for an argument, either that or we end up paraphrasing (what the visionary writer had said, or what had been in discussed in class etc perhaps). Both of these things I find extremely difficult to bring myself to do. The former, how can I make an argument against/with a visionary writer when it is only one attempt and one angle at capturing the visionary experience or how can I make an argument about the visionary experience? It is an experience that in itself is already so hard to express poetically, let alone form an argument about it. From how I see things, it just is. Like the paradox of time, past, present, future converging into one, no beginning, no end, and accessing all of it all at once, because that is transcending beyond the fourth dimension and looking it from there. And the latter, about paraphrasing, again it falls short, not only in that we are paraphrasing one specific writer’s viewpoint, but it doesn’t do the visionary any justice and therefore is painful for me who feels arguably in tune and in communion and almost living in that realm, all the time. I’ve found it so hard to write even creatively lately because even poetry, art, all that we can create falls short of it.
Thirdly, may sound contradictory, but “emotionally”, especially with the coming and going of lives, the events around the world on the horizontal axis, even my trip to Asia and seeing life move around me, like being at the center of the axis mundi and seeing the chaos. The issue is that not many people see it from this view, and I’ve been finding myself extremely solitary and lonely in a sense. I can’t identify it with emotion, but it is almost a despair and I am clutching on to certain hopes but that is not of the world. Being in the world but not of the world. My hope remains in the visionary realm, in the divine however you want to call it. In any case, when I sit down to write, this tremendous loneliness settles, and it’s like I can see life and the world passing by, or frothing below me and there is no one else around. Everything I see in life now is so detached from me. Even the visionary literary greats are starting to seem transient and limited. So sitting down to write something like an academic essay especially, calls upon a very empty mind, not filled by anything, because everything is transient.
I don’t know what I’ve been writing all this time, or what the point of it was, so again, I apologize for leaving this with you and my lack of eloquence or coherent thought. For the course, this is university and it is an academic course, and there are marks at stake and other very horizontal axis things involved, so I know I don’t have a choice. We live in this world and we must do things that indicate we are still living in this world. So I must write this essay, and onwards, writing creatively, whatever the next project is—I must write I know. Despite the immensity that is beyond us, still we try. Still we all try to express the ineffable, if not for ourselves, to awaken others. So it’s not my intention to escape suffering, but to beg of your understanding if I might need a little more time with this. I realize the rest of the email now sounds like an excuse which is what I fear, but hopefully you did understand what I had said or can extract something from my mess of thoughts.
Again, many apologies, but much respect and appreciation for your wisdom and insight.