Life Notes, or, A Strange Little Story

I will divide this biographical sketch into three sections,
the first covering my formative years, which focused on math and science,
the second covering my early to mid-adulthood, which focused on writing,
the humanities, and general metaphysical and mystical studies,
and the third covering the current period in my life,
which revolves around digital art. There is some overlap.

Early years:

My full name is David Allen Camp. I was born in 1950 in Madison, Wisconsin,
a liberal university city 150 miles north/northwest of Chicago.
It is the capital of Wisconsin. The state government and a 40,000-student
university are the two main employers in this city set amid four scenic lakes.
Except for a few months spent in Colorado and Los Angeles, I have lived my whole
life in and around Madison, mostly attending classes and working at the university.
My father, the son of a small town police chief, was a banker.
He started out as an errand boy and ended up as a vice president.
He was hard working, frugal, and concerned with appearance.
My mother, a farmer’s daughter, attended a two-year teacher’s
college and had talent as an artist, although she didn’t pursue it.
Her sister made a name for herself as a watercolor painter in Iowa.
My mother was religious. I was raised a Methodist and sang in church choirs.

I was a quiet child gifted in math, science and art, though few knew it.
I had friends, but spent much of my time by myself inventing games.
I took sermons seriously and was my church's first altar boy.
At one point, thoughts of becoming a missionary filled my head.
That was the only thing that could have pulled me away from math and science.
I was torn between a desire to serve God or be a mathematician.

There were objective reasons for believing I could be a mathematician:
1. In 2nd grade I helped my older sister, an 8th grader, with her math.
2. In 6th grade I scored extremely high in a math aptitude test.
3. At the age of 12 I also learned of Pascal’s triangle and expanded on it
in complex ways to construct a powerful probability formula for my games.
This was graduate level college work. I didn’t learn the combinatorial notation
needed to write it down until I was 17, but I understood it at 12.
4. As a high school senior I scored among the top three in the state in several math
competitions and was elected a member of The Mathematical Association of America.
5. As a freshman at the university, I was one of six undergraduates on campus to
score well in a six-hour Putnam competition. I was the only freshman to do so.

I was not good at reasoning out problems in the usual, logical way. I was good
at problem solving, but my real strength was recognizing patterns. My secret
method was to work out the first three or four cases of a problem, observe the
embedded pattern, often revolving around derivatives of Pascal's triangle,
recognize the numerical formula, and then work backwards to construct a proof.

What effect did all of this have on my life? I did intensely enjoy working with
numbers and solving difficult problems, but I was arrogant in a way I now regret.
I believed math was the supreme discipline and that I was exceptionally good at it.
I was also drawn to theoretical physics and wasn't sure which field I'd end up in.
My hunger to understand the underlying nature of things spilled over into other fields
as well, including metaphysics, psychology, parapsychology, and comparative religion.
I was particularly interested in the relationship between consciousness and energy.

I stayed home to attend the University of Wisconsin because it was a good school, and
because that was economical, although I would have preferred MIT, Cal Tech, or Berkeley.
My grades were good, but I was extremely restless. That leads to phase two.

Writing Years:

There were several reasons for my fiery restlessness.
One was that I was strongly attracted to girls, but too shy to date.
Second, I was terribly bored with math proofs and theorems.
I still loved solving problems, but hated class assignments.
I wanted to do something more creative than that. I was erupting inside.
Third, I felt a spiritual emptiness. Christianity was no longer broad enough.
Eastern religions with their emphasis on consciousness made more sense.
Combine all of this with some drug use and involvement in the anti-war
movement on a campus that experienced riots, and it was a time of upheaval.
Math was too sterile. When the physics building I worked in was bombed
because it housed an Army Math Research Center, I was pushed further from math.
I reached a point where I actually felt guilty about my interest in it.

I considered art, music, and writing, and turned next to writing.
I wanted to write like Dostoevsky and Hermann Hesse, especially Hesse
who wrote about the same yearnings and upheaval I was experiencing.
I thought I could write like him because I felt so much like his characters.
I began work on a serious novel about a young, Van Gogh-like artist.
By my mid-20s I was married and settled into a routine of taking one
course a semester and working 30 hours a week at various campus jobs.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t as talented with words as with numbers and images.
I was good. I got into every advanced class and workshop I applied for,
but I simply wasn't very fast. It took hours to revise every page.

I kept writing for two reasons. First, I did have something to say.
I had settled on a mystical/metaphysical school of thought revolving around
planes and reincarnation, and I was using structure to represent this in my book.
At one point I considered writing four books constructed in such a way that there
would be twenty possible paths from the beginning of the first to the conclusion.
This revolved around my belief that states of consciousness are like rooms.
Second, I felt a strong connection with Dostoevsky, partly because his underground
man was so much like me, and partly because I encountered his name in dreams.

This is an example of one of those highly charged dreams:
I floated to his home in Russia. I knew it was his home, but saw no one.
Instead, I found two large bags of mail that were addressed to me.
I had more than a dozen dreams like this during my 20s, 30s and 40s.
I describe them as highly charged because each one left a strong impression.
Only once did I dream of any other historical figure, and I got the name wrong.
Upon waking I realized I'd associated the wrong name with a particular painting.

Because I dreamed of Dostoevsky so much and felt a strong affinity with him,
I had to consider the possibility that I had been him. I neither
believed nor disbelieved this, but I had to consider it as a possibility.
That was what kept me writing, the idea that I was continuing earlier work.
I wrote this into my novel, which revolved around dreams and reincarnation.

Truth is, that first novel wasn’t very good, and it was too personal,
even though it was fiction, so I set it aside after many revisions.
Then, around age 40, I felt an urge to pick up my pen again.
My novel re-emerged as a fantasy about a young shaman on another planet.
The characters and structure were better, and the story was more compelling.

The title I settled on was "The Inferno," because I was representing the
material worlds, including the physical, as a place of intense learning.
On the day I chose this name and typed it onto an actual title page,
I subsequently arrived at my job in a university library and found two copies
of Dante's’ Inferno on my desk, a new copy intended to replace a worn out copy.
This was the first ime in seven years at that job that I'd encountered any
copies of that Inferno, so I took it as a sign that I’d chosen the right title.
It was still Dostoevsky I looked to as a beacon in the forest, not Dante.

I was still revising my Inferno in 1996 when I began to do computer art.
I will get to the art shortly. My art led to many online contacts.
One such contact was a woman with a broad spiritual web site that includes
psychic advising. Upon encountering my work she told another webmaster
that I am one of the most significant spiritual artists of our time.
She also sponsored some of my art on his site, so when my Dostoevsky
dreams continued, I finally turned to her for help in interpreting them.
I wanted to understand why I was having them. This was her response:

"Hello David, I don't know much about this man except that Dostoevsky
was a writer and I have never read his work. However, my ignorance on the
matter actually makes my messages less biased and sometimes more accurate.
You were not Dostoevsky. However, he has chosen a small group of students
to guide, which you are among. Though he may not have painted, he was an artist
and he influences your art in all media. Though I am not speaking with him
directly, I am being told that on this Earth plane, he was a tortured soul.
In many respects, you are similar. He has chosen to serve as your guide for this reason.
His purpose is to inspire and collaborate. A non-psychic observation:
Dreaming of houses is usually an indication of visiting your own personality.
It does not mean that his house was your house, but perhaps he converses best
with you in a sleep state. This is truly a blessing for you to have this spiritual
being as your guide. However you must know the he is not quite the same being as you
have read about. I feel a certain violence about him that he left behind.
I hope this makes sense. I am also given the name Diante w/an accent symbol over
the "e" which I'm unable to show in this email. I am unaware of what
this name is or who it belongs to. Perhaps this was your true past identity.
Rev. Francine"

Now, I don’t put undue weight on anything that any one person says,
but what this response did was to free me from the nagging suspicion that
I might have once been Dostoevsky. The thought of him as a guide felt better.
I no longer had to match his work. Shortly afterwards, I finally saw him
as an external figure in one of my dreams. That put the issue to rest.

As for the "Diante" reference, I did think immediately of Dante.
I once tried to read his Inferno, and I didn't get very far.
I'd long since ceased to be Christian and did not like that undertone.
I simply can’t accept a religion where nice people are damned because they
don't utter a certain phrase while mean people are saved because they do.
I can not and will not accept that. Karma is much more elegant and fair.
So, I felt no desire to have been Dante and dismissed that part of the letter.

By June of 1998 I had finished my Inferno and posted on my art web site.
At that point I did still want to get it published. Response on the part of
readers was good. One person read it three times, another said it had changed
her life, and a third said he expected his grandchildren to read it. At a
writers’ conference I learned that my Inferno was too short to be considered for
publication in the fantasy market and that I shouldn’t have posted it on the web.
So, I let go of my dream of getting it published, left it on my web site,
and began to focus more on the art, which was more of a pleasure to do.
Up until that point I had thought of myself as a writer. Now I was an artist.


My early focus was math, but art was the other thing I was good at as a child.
When I was in 5th grade I did a carved block print that ended up
in the school music teacher’s living room as well as a city art show.
A primitive sculpture I did in 6th grade was also in a city-wide show.
vI had a talent for drawing, but I stopped doing art after grade school.
My focus was on math and science. I wanted to be a math or physics professor.

In a college physics class my hunger for art was ignited when the lights
were turned out and white light was splintered into colors by a prism.
I tried making colored cellophane and balsa wood sculptures to capture
some of that beauty in the form of colored cubes, but it wasn’t the same.
So, I settled on writing at that point in time because it seemed broader.
My hunger for art had to smolder a while longer. In my late 20s I did take several
drawing and design classes at the university and did register as an art major,
but writing was my focus. I remember being apprehensive in my first drawing class,
but I more than held my own among students who’d been drawing all their lives.
Scheduling problems and lack of space at home kept me from moving on
When I was 36, my second wife and I built a house in Verona, a small, near-by city.
I began teaching myself to paint in the basement there, focusing on smooth, well-blended
geometric forms, but when my second marriage broke up, I lost my studio space.
I had resumed writing, working on my Inferno, and that was my focus again.

I got my first computer in 1995, at age 45. It was 75 MHz, with 8 MB of RAM.
I initially used it for writing and games. Then, in 1996, I saw an advertisement
for CorelDraw 6, which included a crude 3D program that caught my attention.
I bought that set of programs liked working with images on my computer so much that
I bought more programs and began to immerse myself in art on that computer.
My initial work was embarrassingly stiff, but I enjoyed it. Then, in the fall of 1996,
Bryce 2 came out in PC form, and that set me free as an artist. I loved the way
it could simulate glass, metal, and water, as well as sculptural forms in general.
Pieces took many hours to render on my first computer, but I didn’t care.
By the spring of 1997 I had enough pieces to start a web site. It was immediately
covered in a local newspaper article. By the summer of 1997 some of my pieces
were good enough to catch the eye of the two webmasters I mentioned earlier.
At the end of 1997 I upgraded to a 300 MHz PC, and the art became easier.
I worked intuitively, experimenting with surfaces and atmospheres, keeping
objects to a minimum and looking for balance. A certain strangeness variably slips
into anything I do because of my interest in other-worldly things, but I often
worked out of a shear love of color and form. Images on a computer monitor have a
stained glass-like quality of light that I love. I like geometric sculptural forms.

Because I was still writing, I was only spending a few hours a week on art.
When I let go of the writing in mid-1998, I was able to concentrate on art.
I had no grand designs or goals for my imagery, I simply loved working with light.

In January of 1999 I upgraded computers again, this time to a 450 MHz PC,
and I began doing a 16-image online gallery every month. In April of 1999
I began my "Etherworld" galleries, with the idea of making my art more ethereal.
Then, in April of 2000 I began my "Greenworld" galleries. I was feeling an urge
to portray different planes on my web site through a complex series of galleries.

I was deflected in late September of 2000, after doing my sixth Greenworld gallery.
It began when a science fiction writer, Denise Vitola, emailed me because of my art.
We wrote back and forth, and one day I mentioned that I liked the work of
Dostoevsky and Hesse because of their spirituality, depth, and dualistic characters,
a theme central to my own Inferno. Then I went to work and, as on the day I chose
"The Inferno" as the title for my book, there were two Dante books waiting for me.
I do see Dante books from time to time, but no more than a few a year. It is rare.
On this particular day the titles caught my attention. One had to do with Duality
as a theme in Dante's work as well as his love of light, and the other spoke of a
"new life of Dante." I had just written of my own interest in the theme of duality,
and my life by now revolved around light in the form of art on a computer monitor.
This was the first time I realized that I had anything in common with Dante aside
from the title of my book. I began to look into the books and into his Inferno.

These two books were just the beginning of an intense flurry of coincidences.
Some were bizarre. I read of Dante's encounter with Virgil, and then I turned on
my TV and found myself watching a fantasy program where Virgil make an appearance.
This is completely meaningless by itself, but it was part of a larger pattern.
I am good at recognizing patterns. On supper break one day, a hornet stung me.
It was my first hornet sting in 25 years. My finger was still smarting at home
that evening as I read Dante’s canto where everyone is being stung by hornets.
That was not the mystical part of the experience. I left work early because of
my finger, and I ended driving into a rainbow at one point with the sun shining
in my eyes in the rearview mirror. Then I read of Dante's hornet stings.
It may sound silly, but seeing the sun and driving into a rainbow was moving.
I wouldn't have been in that place at that time if not for the hornet sting.

I didn’t read much in the Dante books, but I did learn that there are parallels
between his life and my life. He sought to embrace all human knowledge,
a laughable goal now, but not unlike what I wanted from physics, parapsychology,
and comparative religion. Lost or unrequited love was also a driving force for
both of us in our early writing. We both moved to a city named Verona in our mid-30s,
and we both began an allegorical work titled "Inferno" in our early 40s.
He was deeply bothered by the damnation of virtuous pagans. I had already gone
one step further. My companion for many years was Wiccan, a Pagan.
Dante and I both deal with planes, or levels of creation, and mathematical
structure and symmetry are equally important in our work. Some time later,
in the spring of 2002, I learned that in his first book, "New Life,"
he speaks of coincidence and special numbers in much the same way that I do.
Viewing his life and mine as two halves of a whole, both Western and Eastern
philosophies are represented, resulting in a wholeness and symmetry that
probably comes closer to the truth than any one religion or worldview by itself.
Finally, given his intense love of light, I’m sure he would have liked computer art.

This is only a sampling. There were dreams, too, like one where I held
a book written by Dante, and it was this life, the one I am living now.
My own Inferno had already spoken of such a thing. So, looking at all
of the coincidences in concert, including that first one, on the day I
chose "The Inferno" as my title, I took another look at what I had written.
It is about a young shaman who remembers earlier lives. In one of those lives
he was a writer, the author of a book describing the life he is currently living.
The writer’s name I intuitively chose was Danu. Given that "te" means "you"
in Italian, and "you" sounds like "u" in English, Danu can be translated as Dante.
I also discoverd after the fact that my character's name, Pietr, is similar to
Pietro, the name of a son of Dante who ended up as a lawyer in Verona.
The list goes on, as if something deep within me had been trying to communicate.

In late September of 2000, I was on the verge of burnout with respect to my art,
so my annual vacation to the woods of northern Wisconsin came at a good time.
It was short, but I had numerous, drawn out spells of déjà vu in the forest.
I not only recognized places, as if from a long-forgotten dream, I felt moments
of compressed time, seemingly the whole of creation there within in my grasp.
I could almost remember shaping the dream. I looked around at other people, and I
couldn’t help but think that they, too, knew that this is a dream and we are the dreamer.
I caught a glimpse of something I’d experienced over and over throughout eternity.

When I returned home, I set to work on a new project consisting of a set of
Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso, and Creativo galleries with renewed vigor.
I’d started the Inferno gallery before the trip, in response to the coincidences,
but I felt better equipped to finish the project after I returned.
Why the fourth gallery? I believe that it is within us to create our reality
in a very real way. The four galleries also correspond loosely to the physical,
astral, causal (past life), and mental planes in some Eastern systems.
I dated my Inferno gallery October 2000, Purgatorio November 2000, and my
Creativo gallery December 2000. I managed to fit in an extra gallery, so I
dated the Paradiso gallery Easter 1300, the time Dante returned from his journey.
Dante would have done the same. My theme galleries do not illustrate his work,
but rather my own views. They are linked to the four-by-four structure of images
within each gallery and to the structure of my Inferno, which is derived from
a quote in the Talmud concerning the devil’s number being "four times four."
I am after all portraying the lowest planes or states of consciousness in my book.

When I speak of "Eastern" mystical thought, I am drawing from various sources,
but talking mostly about ECKANKAR, a discipline revolving around connection
with Spirit in the form of light and sound. It was curious that in the midst of
all these coincidences, I was reading some passages titled "Soul’s Identity."
ECKANKAR speaks of this kind of coincidence as waking dreams intended to convey
a message or lesson. Part of my lesson probably involves aspects of my personality
that still need work, including excessive pride, lust, and passing judgement on others.
There is also anger in there from a deep hurt. I do understand that things balance,
and that each of us is something far greater than any one life of any one person.

There were three more Dante coincidences that should be noted. Denise Vitola
had a birthday in October, and a friend sent her a story as a birthday present.
The story was about someone who possessed the last copy of Dante’s Inferno.
The author knew nothing of me at the time. If a part of me was once Dante,
then my Inferno is, in essence, Dante's last Inferno, replacing the old one.

In December of 2000, when I returned the two Dante books I had checked out,
I found a new Dante book waiting for me on my desk. I tried to get rid of them,
and they came right back in a new form. The library hadn't even ordered this book.
It found its way to my desk on this particular day anyway.

Throughout all of this I was observing an additional strangeness in my emails
with Denise Vitola. Specifically, I would write about some subject in email
before I left for work, and then a book title directly pertaining to what I
had just spoken of would be waiting for me at work. One day I made note of this
to her and mentioned that she was like an oracle for me. She replied that she did
have knowledge or recall of serving as an oracle for a priest in an ancient time.
I decided to test my observation. I said give me one more sign, something specific.
Then I went to work, and when I got there, I found a credit for the Dante book I had
returned months earlier. This is the only time I ever received any kind of credit
for a Dante book, and it came seemingly in response to my direct request for a sign.
So, what am I to think? What would you think? Although I fear falling prey to a delusion,
I think I would have to be an idiot to ignore the signs, dreams, and coincidences.

And so what if it is true that some part of was me Dante, or still is given that
a part of us exists outside time? There is a core part of my being, a spark,
that was a core part of his being, but I am a different person now, with a
different body and brain. What should I do? The same as anyone else, learn from
my mistakes and continue to work at becoming a better vehicle for Spirit to bring
light into this world. That is where my art comes in. I am still in my infancy as
an artist. My work is unique and moving, but I have no wish to compare myself with
other artists. I’ve seen too much beautiful work by too many gifted people to do that,
but I do think that I have something to share. That is my goal now. My art is my way
of seeing inside. I have not yet been able to leave my body in a fully conscious
state, but people who have done so have written to say that they’ve seen places
I’ve portrayed in my art, so I am not imagining everything. I work intuitively,
following inner promptings in a never-ending quest for beauty and light.


The above was written in early 2001, before I began my project.
In October of 2001 I began a Divine Comedy Parallel Gallery
project which consists of 1,800 images in groupings of nine.
These are not intended to illustrate the poem, rather
they supplement it with the added depth of mirrored nines.
I did not realize until later that the number nine was
a pivital number for Dante in his first book "Vita Nuova."
Regarding strong synchronicity in my life, it has continued.
One explanation, a Taoist view, is that I am simply doing what
I am supposed to be doing, and so in harmony with the whole.
Another explanation, relating to between life accounts by people
regressed via hypnosis, is that these are pre-arranged "flags."
I will conclude with a statement I once posted on my Inferno page:


On the day I chose "The Inferno" as the title for my story,
I subsequently arrived at work to find that someone had
placed two copies of Dante's Inferno on my desk,
a new copy intended to replace a worn out copy.
I was not thinking of Dante when I wrote my allegory,
but dozens of new coincidences in the fall of 2000
forced me to take a look at his life. As it turns out,
we have much in common, including moving to a city
named Verona in our late 30's and writing an Inferno.
Both lives exhibit a strong interest in light, in the grand
scheme of things, and in portraying both light and dark.

In retrospect Danu, the name I intuitively chose for a previous
incarnation of the character in my book, translates as Dante
(te=you=u), and the character's current name, Pietr, is
strikingly similar to that of one of Dante's sons, Pietro.
All of these things taken together suggest a connection.
I acknowledge the superior artistry of Dante's work, but
I believe that my Inferno is more profound than the Comedy.
My Inferno is not bound by religious doctrine. It is about Soul,
That which is conscious, and the relationship of Soul to this world.

The Inferno is my only fiction. My mind is better suited for math (I was
elected a member of the Mathematical Association of America at the age
of eighteen) and the computer art I now enjoy. I love working with light,
but for a time The Inferno was my focus. I had to write it, absolutely had to.
You can believe what you want. I am not intellectually certain of anything
except for the fact that I am conscious, but I do have to consider that
coincidences and my own intuitive writing and art may be ways Spirit
communicates with my rigid, linear mind. My Inferno can be read purely
as a story, but if you suspend disbelief and imagine that it springs from
the same spiritually-oriented spark of awareness that is responsible
for the Divine Comedy, its meaning will be greatly enhanced.
When you're done, you can pick up your beliefs at the door.