All posts by Wendy

"String Web" woven sculpture by Machiko Agano

tracking Story through imaginal lands

I will tell you something about stories
(he said)
They aren’t just entertainment.
Don’t be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
All we have to fight off
illness and death.
You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.
Their evil is mighty
but it can’t stand up to our stories.
So they try to destroy the stories
let the stories be confused or forgotten.
They would like that
They would be happy
Because we would be defenseless then.
He rubbed his belly.
I keep them here
(he said)
Here, put your hand on it
See. It is moving.
There is life here
for the people.
And in the belly of this story
the rituals and the ceremony
are still growing.

– Leslie Marmon Silko (Ceremony)

* * * * * * * * * *
"String Web" woven sculpture by Machiko AganoIt’s an odd time we live in, relative to the time humanity’s been humanity. We’re different in the stories we tell, in our demand to be entertained.  We don’t recognize stories as Story, we call them Truth or fiction (lies), we pick them up and drop them again.  Our stories come and go so fast that we don’t learn them, we call them news. We learn to ignore them. It’s hard to see if ritual and ceremony are still “growing in the belly.”

Who passes down stories in families any more?  I don’t mean family stories, per se, but stories of ourselves nonetheless.  Maybe it’s a result of being a literate society, we find our stories in books. Or on TV. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, but I think it causes us to think that deep stories are separate from ourselves – they have to be in print, on paper or pixels, in order to be meaningful. How much is memorable, though, in the end? Is there life “here, for the people”?

Meanwhile, among the small talk, we learn to tell small stories to ourselves about ourselves.  My self-story, for some reason planted early into my psyche, was that my life had no story. That I was just a product of 1970s American suburban upbringing. Nothing to see here, move along.

“We are…less damaged by the traumas of childhood than by the traumatic way we remember childhood as a time of unnecessary and externally caused calamities that wrongly shaped us,” says James Hillman in The Soul’s Code.

But what about those of us whose childhoods seemed boring, fruitless, not full of trauma (real or imagined) except in how being given only the surface of things is traumatic?  I think Hillman is right to say this, “Our lives may be determined less by our childhood than by the way we have learned to imagine our childhoods.” The 1970s and 80s, suburban sprawl, school days, highways – all imagined, all imaginal and as such, full of Story. I have long denied them their right, have denied meaningfulness out of distaste.

I think I write merelCarry Me in Your Dreamsy to find Story. Every story I tell, whether in fiction,  non-fiction, poetry or drawing, is a search for a line, a thread of meaning, for something coherent. I believe that somewhere there must be signal in the noise.

As of today there are 6.8 million google hits for “I am a writer.” It’s the most commonplace thing in the world, it seems (almost one hit per ten existing human beings). Some writers become authors, some make a living at it. Some are entertainers, others keep their writings private (by choice or by inability to overcome the celebrity-to-crowd ratio).  Part of me sees the rightfulness in there being many story tellers, many makers of Story, and in the proof that we’re all creative. Part of me quivers at what it perceives as my lack of imagination (to create) and gumption (to share, or to promote)), at the sense that this has to be a competition for market value. Oh dread.

Meanwhile, the thread holds and I keep writing, here, in journals, notebooks, computer files.  Aren’t there enough words out in the world already? Maybe, but Story needs to be told.

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I finished re-reading Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony yesterday and am encouraged to keep finding my own ways of telling stories – telling the story in the way it needs to be told, even if it’s not the way it would have been told in the “old days” IS the ritual and the ceremony that can heal and make whole.

I needed to be reminded.

***
What do you know about stories and Story?
Can you hear what it is we’re whispering to ourselves? Does our entertainment tell us something deeper about ourselves?
What stories about your life have you had to let go?
Do stories help?

***
image sources : Creative Commons License Dominic Alves via Compfight
and Phoebe M-H via Compfight

Dan’s Documentary

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As you may or may not know, my husband is a cultural anthropologist who does research on a variety of topics including the cultural & ritual practices that tie people to place. He’s done his fieldwork in Tibetan regions of western China (mostly Qinghai province/Amdo) and in his first film (2011) he focused on a community’s sense of connection to sacred mountains and their perceived place in the order of things.

It’s currently available for free online viewing at Culture Unplugged.

About the film, Dan writes:

Embrace (2011) documents the ritualized relationship of an Eastern Tibetan (Amdo) community engaged in tantric practices, and the land that supports them. Engaging the deities of local mountains and the spirits of water and weather, a father and son share their yogic understanding of the state of their environment as a reflection of consciousness-in-place.

Please take a look if you’re interested!

The Trap of my Imagination, Where I am Safely Perfect

278_Spirialling_Steps_of_the_Amedee_LighthouseThis morning, as the end of a year approaches, I woke into an insight as framed in the last few days of reflection and consideration. The insight pointed out that part of me thinks it’s safer to leave GOTS and all my other bits-and-bobs of writing unfinished. I’m pretty aware of this pattern of stopping again and again though I’ve not yet  overcome it.

Fishing around for my motivation to finish GOTS I saw that there is a contradictory inner force pulling the strings, ruling through my own abstention from taking power, my own abdication.

GOTS has this strange quality of never, never ending, while simultaneously taking 60,000 words (so far) to go absolutely nowhere. It’s a non-story, in fact. But if I keep it unfinished, in a permanent state of “draft,” I never have to deal with that. A perpetually hopeful, childish, “I don’t want to grow up and finish something attitude”  keeps everything I work on in a state of incompletion.

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Short stories are always just drafts, poems are drafts, CTRH (my first “novel-thing”) is a broken mess of a draft that is, not surprisingly, without an ending. GOTS is so flawed that I can’t see my way to complete it because its “completed” state will prove that my writing is a waste of time.

I “refuse” to put action in the story (observing “it just keeps slipping away”), I never make something happen, and my characters don’t act decisively and with commitment (yes, my characters appear to be reflections of my own worst traits, don’t worry, I won’t force you to read it), because doing so would send them on their way toward being just as crappy in their final form. Short stories don’t get shown to anyone, they sit in rough or final drafts or are idealistically compiled into  fake “anthologies” which go nowhere though their mother has high ideals. Everything inhabits a fluid and open spot on my to-do list. Eternally in progress, unjudgeable, safely tucked away.

If that’s the case — and it is the case — now that I’ve identified the problem, what needs to be done to fix it? Two ideas popped up in the course of assessing this situation.

1. I need to submit short pieces to real markets and not just self-pub them (to my audience of 4 blog-readers). Self-pub is in the works for some things, but self-sabotage requires external assistance. If I rely on myself for everything, the process breaks down at some point – something stalls when that outdated mindset wants to keep everything “safely” In Progress.

2. I need to finish a crappy draft of GOTS. It needs to crawl to the finish line. I’ve come to judge it, to think poorly of it, to disdain it because it’s such a pale, broken simulation of what it was supposed to be and keeping it un-done allows my mind to hold onto what “it could have been” and what it  “could be,” the ideal I’m capable of creating in a perfect world where I’m a perfect me.

This means that, for my own peace of mind, to overcome this pattern of cowardice (always backing away, always turning tail with a cheery smile on my face as I look to New Ideas that don’t put up a fight), I have to start calling some things DONE. Play is all well and good and I love that part of creative work – that it engages playfulness – but at this late date, I also need to grow up a little and claim my work as *Something* and not just let it dissolve so I can avoid disappointment through avoiding completion. Not having done this and  always focusing on process, I’ve also avoided the kind of joy that is only available by wrapping something up and feeling the syncretic reality of process joined with final product.

brokenprototypes

It’s time to stop fooling myself with my fantasy world in which I pretend all is well in the workshop, that all the kinks are being worked out eternally, eternally in service of how good my ideal is and, “shhh, don’t look at the broken, misshapen, flat and unworkable prototypes on the factory floor. They’re not mine, I don’t know how they got there.”

If I want to inhabit my creativity, if I want to actually do real work and not live in my head (where it is very, very safe and very, very stifling) then I’m going to have to finish something and let it exist as itself in the world.

That’s what 2014 is going to be about.

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image credits: Amédée Lighthouse stairs, photo by Eustaquio Santimano, originally on flickr, here, but it wouldn’t load for me. It was also here. Creative Commons license.

the armless driver (WHO is driving this ship?) is also on flickr from donpezzano/Don Urban. Creative Commons license.

the little broken dolls are from the blog Ullabenulla. The blogger, Ulla Norup Millbrath uses such things for her own artwork (lesson: use it all, even the broken pieces!!). Not cc licensed, but hopefully use with attribution is ok.

Earthlings

In case you need evidence that we’re inherently suited to being on this planet here are some videos to remind us of the beauty, grace, and strength a human on earth is capable of.

William Trubridge – Freediver from The Avant/Garde Diaries on Vimeo.

Some months ago I read this article on the New York Times Magazine website. Like nearly everyone else who comes across the details of Kilian Jornet’s accomplishments, I was astounded and wildly impressed. I’m not particularly athletic and have never been a runner so to hear about Jornet running up mountains was already amazing enough.

I read with some degree of detachment, though,  thinking that Jornet was another example of the kind of mindset that causes people to want to “conquer” mountains. Statements like, “Jornet has won dozens of mountain footraces up to 100 miles in length and six world titles in Skyrunning, a series of races of varying distances­ held on billy-goat terrain” and “ On summer mornings he will set off from his apartment door at the foot of Mont Blanc and run nearly two and a half vertical miles up to Europe’s roof — over cracked glaciers, past Gore-Tex’d climbers, into the thin air at 15,781 feet — and back home again in less than seven hours, a trip that mountaineers can spend days to complete,” seemed to reinforce that.

As I continued with the article, though, I found details that made Jornet more interesting to me, beyond what his physical accomplishments inspired. My initial suspicion was replaced with respect when I came across descriptions like this, “His parents tried to instill a sense of humility and a deep feeling for the landscape. “Por las noches we walk out to the wood, the forest, without lamp,” Burgada [Jornet’s mother] says, describing how she sometimes took Jornet and his sister, Naila, a year and a half younger (and today also a SkiMo racer), out barefoot into the night dressed only in pajamas. Listen to the forest, their mother told them. Feel the direction of the wind against your cheeks, the way the pebbles change underfoot. Then she made her children lead the way home in the darkness. “All this,” she says, “to feel the passion of the nature.”

The article continues,

And this gets to the heart of Jornet’s talent. Observers and competitors describe him as someone who draws endurance and vitality, Samson-like, from being among high peaks. Runners who have served as pacesetters for him have told me with amazement how, when he was midrace at Lake Tahoe, Jornet didn’t run with his head down in focused misery but instead brushed the hairgrass and corn lily that grew along the trail with his fingertips and brought the smell to his nose, as if he were feeding off the scenery. Sometimes in his all-day solitary runs, stopping only to eat berries, he can seem half-feral, more mountain goat than human. He likes to move fast and touch rock and feel wild, he told me; he feels most at ease and performs best when wrapped by the silence and beauty of the mountains. He can’t abide cities for more than a few hours. The sea — its unrelenting horizontality — scares him. Leading long races like Western States, he’s been known to stop and exclaim at a sunrise, or wait for friends to catch up so he can enjoy the mountains with them instead of furthering his lead. “It’s almost insulting,” Krupicka told me. But it’s just Kilian being Kilian, Krupicka said. “He’s not rubbing it in anyone’s face. He’s truly enjoying being out there in the mountains, and he’s expressing that.”

I would love to see/read/hear Jornet’s own take on his experience, but maybe that’s best exemplified by his physical presence. The list of accomplishments is secondary in a way (at least to me) except insofar as they give a clue to the kind of connection he’s learned to cultivate and nurture through physical relation to and being truly embodied in a place.

More than once during my visit, Jornet compared the mountains to a lover. To really know a deep love, you have to give yourself completely to another, he told me, which means making yourself vulnerable.

kilian-jornet

“Be the field.”

My friend, Katharina (aka Cat), recently posted a talk on her website by young mathematician (and aspiring quantum physicist) Jacob Barnett. Barnett is enthusiastic about stepping outside  safe-zones, forging ahead beyond expectations and overcoming externally and internally imposed limitations. Coming from a teen who was diagnosed as autistic without likelihood of being able to manage independent tasks like tying his shoes, it’s worth viewing.

Cat asked her readers what they thought of his approach and I said:

“I think it’s impossible, as humans, to ever stop learning but the nuance … is that at some point you have stop being “a student” or an amateur or simply “practicing” whatever it is you do and get out there and do the actual work no matter how long or far it takes you. Or how many reams of paper it uses up. Either take your learning farther or ditch it and go a new way.

We (most of us) end up so inhibited and stalled by what we’ve been told that it’s probable we’ve trained our minds (and by default, our brains) that there are limitations and we can’t get beyond them.

Personally, it’s something I work on every day. I appear to be a significantly slower learner than Mr. Barnett, but that’s ok.”

Really, honestly, what could we each be capable of if we could experience, even momentarily, a lifting of those self-limitations. There’d be no going back.

What do you think?

Speaking of forging ahead and getting to work, Cat’s organized a fantasy-story  treat: An Advent calendar of short stories and recipes and music all available (1 per day) starting December first if you subscribe by email. Click here for more information and to sign up.

“Something inside you won’t stop loving the world, no matter what weather comes.”

In a beautiful, brief, meditative post on autumn and life’s tenuous tenacity, Charlotte Du Cann writes,

Some things you can’t capture in a photograph in a time of fall: the scent of woodsmoke, the perfume of a quince, the sound of the sea roaring in the darkness, a sky with bright constellations, the knowledge that once this was the time of the reed, now sere in the marshes, which was gathered to thatch the rooves of houses. A time of shelter from the storm and of waiting…

In her typically grounded-in-place writing style, she considers a downed thrush, still warm in her hands and what the un-photographable has to do with being

In a world that is fast losing its songbirds and its poets. On a day when you struggle to pick up the camera and go into the lane and photograph the colours and shapes of those things you write . . . . and yet you go. Because something inside you won’t stop loving the world, no matter what weather comes. It’s a covenant we made with the earth a long time ago.

Read her full post here, it’s really lovely.

Wander-Bird, where have you wandered?

I flew to California from Germany last week. It took me 25 hours of travel time and I hit the ground running. I’m here to help my dad figure out some options for living in a place that’s a little more senior-friendly.

My next two weeks are going to be filled with organizing some of his future move and helping get him more organized so that while he still lives in his house in the boonies, it’s at least somewhat convenient and functional.

My blogging time, not to mention my general writing and project time, is pretty limited, but I’ll be here when I can.

The Livingness of Things

(This is a repost of an article that first appeared on my old site.)

Stephen Harrod Buhner’s The Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature leaves a trail of tidbits to coax the intellect along on the path to heart-centeredness. Here are excerpts showing some of the landmarks. Food for the brain, if you will.

From subatomic particles to atoms and from atoms to molecules meeting, mixing and cohering into compounds, a profound ability to self-organize is present in all matter.

Bubblechamber

When a large number of molecules congregate in close proximity, the random motions of the billions and billions of molecules will at some point show a sudden alteration in behavior; all of them will start to spontaneously synchronize. They begin to move and vibrate together. They begin acting in concert, actively cooperating and become tightly coupled together into one, interacting whole exhibiting a collective, macroscopically ordered state of being. They become a unique living system of which the smaller subunits (the molecules) are now only a part. (36)

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These systems of organized matter are given the descriptor “living” because they exhibit the tendency to seek out and maintain balance between states of organization/reorganization.

At the moment this threshold is crossed, at the moment when self-organization occurs, the new living system enters a state of dynamic equilibrium. And to maintain self-organization, the system constantly works to maintain that state of dynamic equilibrium… (40)

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In our culture we usually find the notion of inert matter having “life” so foreign that I even have to put quotes around it here, as though it is can only be conceived as a sub-category of alive-ness. But matter engages in behavior that cannot by accounted for by chance or randomness – it has an intelligence (an ability to sense and respond to information) and a preference.

In that moment of self-organization, the system begins to display something other than synchronicity as well. It begins to act as a unit, to have behaviors. The whole, tightly coupled system begins to act upon its microscopic parts to stimulate further, often much more complex, synchronizations. A continuous stream of information begins flowing back and forth, extremely rapidly, between the macroscopic, ordered whole to smaller microscopic subunits and back again so that the self-organizing structure is stabilized, its newly acquired dynamic equilibrium actively maintained. (37)

In the case of the image below, some of the information being processed by the system includes temperature fluctuation.
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In self-organized systems, the information from the smaller subunit – which travels to the larger whole as chemical cues, electromagnetic fluxes, pressure waves and so on – creates a response in the larger system, which is fed back to the initial site as a new informational pulse. This informational waveform travels through the system affecting and altering everything it touches. And these informational pulses travel back and forth extremely rapidly, for as long as the system itself remains self-organized. (38)

mitochondria

Self-organized systems are living identities that engage in continual communication, both internal and external. They are not isolated, static units that can be understood in isolation. To examine them in isolation kills the living entity itself, and paying attention to the thing and not its communications – its balance-initiated information exchange – reveals very little about the true nature of what is being studied. (41)

From here Buhner continues to explore the ways self-organized systems (of all scales) are designed for interaction (inter-action, it’s not one-directional). Surfaces are complex and extensive (just look at that mitochondria) to allow for greater contact.

That fractal geometry is found in the surfaces of self-organized systems is important, for it is actually a highly sophisticated and crucial aspect of maintaining stability. The folding and fracturing that occurs along and between dimensions in living organisms allows them to couple with – to touch- the world around them at a nearly infinite number of points, a great many more than if their edges were merely straight lines. For when any organism wrinkles its exterior (or any interior) surface, it tremendously increases the area of that surface and the length of its edges. This increase significantly expands the organism’s ability to gather information from its external and internal environments. And when it wrinkles its functioning, it tremendously increases the number of possible behavioral responses available to it. Having a nearly infinite number of responses allows an organism to maximize its behavioral options for any potential internal or external environmental flux that its nearly infinite touching reveals to it.(41)

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When an organism or system has a repertoire of behaviors, ways it can respond to change (inputs and losses), the more resilient it is. This resiliency is behind the strength of diversity. Mere diversity (an agglomeration of differences) is of little use unless it can provide new paths and patterns of behavior to turn to. Again, this relates to self-organized systems’ constant dance of balance in which new balances can be found and maintained – never is this static.

meandering-river

Anything a self-organized, living system detects – anything that touches it – affects its balance. And this stimulates the system to shift its functioning, however minutely, in order to maintain its dynamic equilibrium. All nonlinear systems – all living organisms – are like this. And what facilitates their ability to respond to the minute touches of the world upon them is that they are not in a permanent equilibrium, not in a static state of being. They are poised, powerfully balanced, held in dynamic tension from one tiny fractal moment to the next. There is no one state to which they return when they are disturbed. They are always shifting, altering themselves, always about to fall into disequilibrium from environmental perturbations and always reorganizing – reestablishing a dynamic equilibrium – in new ways.(42)

This is why, in spite of a certain predictability or regularity to the form and structure of such systems, there is still vast difference. A cypress tree looks like a cypress tree (and not a sycamore), but every cypress tree is different for having lived its own life (which was informed by its parent material) with an immense amount of informational input.

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… it is the information, the meaning encoded within the perturbation, that is important, not the form in which it is delivered. The form is merely one possible language of communication out of myriad possibilities. In the end it is the meaning inside the behavior that is significant, not the behavior itself. It is not the chemical released, nor the movement of the body, nor the electromagnetic field that is important, but the information, the meaning that it carries. And for too long scientists have assumed that there is no meaning in Nature. As a result they have spent their time studying static, dead forms, when the communications of meaning themselves are the essential thing. (It is no wonder then, that after years of schooling, so many of us now believe that life is meaningless, or that scientists have made Prozac to help us not notice how we feel.) (43-44, emphasis added)

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All self-organized systems are, in fact, intelligent. They have to be. For they must continually monitor their environments, internal and external; detect perturbations; decide on the basis of those perturbations what the likely effect will be; and respond to them in order to maintain self-organization. (45)

All the millions upon millions of signals or perturbations that impact cells affect their equilibrium. They process the information encoded in the stimulus that pushed them back into disequilibrium and use it to generate behaviors that restore equilibrium. (46)

If you suspect that we only obliquely made it from the intellect to the heart (if we made it at all) keep in mind (ha!) that the heart of course is a self-organized system (made of other self-organizing systems) in dynamic equilibrium that is constantly “updated” with meaning generated from everything around it. It is, in fact, a meaning-making generator and a meaning-perceiving receiver. We just tend to propagate the notion that it’s a pump and only a pump.
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Image credits: First two images display results found in a bubble chamber used to track the paths of subatomic particles. Numerous copies exist online and I was unable to find the original sources, though the second is available here.

The third is from The Encyclopedia Britannica.

The fourth, the dual image, includes the caption:  Electron diffraction patterns observed from rapidly cooled (a) and slowly cooled (b) Al70Ni20Ru10 alloys. Image source: Ordered structures in decagonal quasicrystals with simple and body-centered hypercubic lattices, by Hiraga, K. et al, published by Elsevier on Science Direct.

Next is a picture of a mitochondria – an organism in a cellular universe. But a cell is also an organism, in its own universe (like an organ, say) and an organ is an organism in its own world or habitat as well (that can be kept alive outside the body in some cases), and what we conceive of as the individual is also an organism in its own universe… ad infinitum? Image found in several locations, including here (Science Illustrated – Australia – and they cite it as a Shutterstock image. In which case I probably shouldn’t post it, but it IS pretty!).

The sea anemone is from National Geographic.

The meandering river (the Williams River in Alaska) appears here, with credit given to N.D. Smith.

The 106 year old Mendocino Cypress shown here looks different from its relatives in Mendocino because of the efforts of a member of the Redwood Empire Bonsai Society  (I had trouble finding a good, unlicensed, photo of the massive trees in their native place. Next time I go I’ll see what I can do – though it may be a while).

Illustration of a neuron/connection by Patrick Hoesly