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April 2013

It's Offline Week here at Bumblehill

The laughing dog

Speaking of rest, work/life balance, and taking things one step at a time (as we were in Saturday's post), the week ahead is an Offline Week for me so that I can focus on a work deadline. Also, as long time readers know, I take periodic breaks from life online in order to make sure my roots are firmly grounded in the land underfoot and the life and community around me...which I think is a good practice in this digital age.

Tilly and I will be back on Monday, May 6. Happy trails till then!

The week begins...

"Benedicto: May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.”  – Edward Abbey (1927-1989)

The journey itself

(Do feel free to carry on the conversations in the various Comment threads, and I'll join in again next week.)


In praise of rest

Rest 1

"I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room." - May Sarton (A Journal of Solitude)

"Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected."  - George MacDonald

Rest 2

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” - Maya Angelou (Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now)

"In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion." - Albert Camus (The Minotaur)

Rest 3

"I said to my soul be still and wait... So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing." - T.S. Elliot

"By letting go, it all gets done."  - Lao Tzu

Rest 4Images above: Tilly living, as May Sarton advises, in the changing light of a room.


The language of illumination and memory

Memory 1

"I write in service of illumination and memory. I write to reach into 'the blind world where no one can help.' I write because it is a way of glimpsing the truth. And I write to create something of beauty." - Mark Helprin (The Paris Review)

Memory 2

"The light of memory, or rather the light that memory lends to things, is the palest light of all. I am not quite sure whether I am dreaming or remembering, whether I have lived my life or dreamed it. Just as dreams do, memory makes me profoundly aware of the unreality, the evanescence of the world, a fleeting image in the moving water.'' ― Eugène Ionesco

Memory 3

“We seem to live in a world where forgetting and oblivion are an industry in themselves and very, very few people are remotely interested or aware of their own recent history, much less their neighbors'. I tend to think we are what we remember, what we know. The less we remember, the less we know about ourselves, the less we are."  - Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Three Monkeys Online)  

Memory 4

"In the ordinary jumble of my literary drawer, I sometimes find texts I wrote ten, fifteen, or even more years ago. And many of the seem to me written by a stranger: I simply do not recognize myself in them. There was a person who wrote them, and it was I. I experienced them, but it was in another life, from which I just woke up, as if from someone else's dream.” ― Fernando Pessoa (The Book of Disquiet)

“You remember only what you want to remember. You know only what your heart allows you to know.”  - 
Amy Tan (Saving Fish from Drowning 
)

Memory 5

"Memory is a part of the present. It builds us up inside; it knits our bones to our muscles and keeps our hearts pumping. It is memory that reminds our bodies to work, and memory that reminds our spirits to work too: it keeps us who we are." - Gregory Maguire (Son of a Witch)

Memory 6

"All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that, remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place."  - Toni Morrison ("The Site of Memory")

Memory 7Images above: the waterfall on our hill, one of Tilly's favorite places.


The language of fairy tales

The Raven Su Blackwell

The Frog Prince by Su Blackwell

From a discussion with Joanne Harris (author of Chocolat, etc.) in the current issue of  The Write Place at The Write Time:

"Traditionally, the role of fairy stories has been to articulate concepts too emotionally difficult or socially subversive to be treated in a more explicit way. Originally part of a matriarchal oral tradition, they became legitimized as a more patriarchal literary convention -- much in the same way that traditional magic (feminine) was later absorbed by the (primarily male) science of alchemy before shedding its magical elements altogether and becoming the science of chemistry.

"Elemental fears, subconscious desires, sexual taboos are all at the heart of the fairytale; initially intended for an adult, rather than a juvenile audience, enabling folk with bleak and often unhappy lives to come to terms with their monsters, both literal and metaphorical, as well as offering them the hope that sometimes those monsters could be overcome. Since then, much has been made of the deepening division between the literal and figurative view of fairytale (in the same way that the division between science and magic has now become definitive), but in my view, the basic need for these stories is as great as it ever was.

"Like our concept of the divine, which has expanded over 2000 years to fit an expanding world picture, our acceptance of the supernatural has changed -- at least, to a point -- although I would argue that even three hundred years ago, fairy tales were not intended to be taken entirely literally. Every age has its monsters, be they werewolves, vampires, terrorists, AIDS, crazed gunmen or pedophiles, and every age needs to believe in the ability of human beings to defeat monsters, change their lives and ultimately be saved by love.

"I would argue, furthermore, that every age has its magic, too -- although our concept of magic has adapted to fit a more rational world. We now have a need to rationalize our need to believe in magic, as our world picture and our understanding of possibility continues to expand. But as the science-pendulum begins to swing back -- with particle physics seemingly bringing us back ever closer to what once was called 'magic,' I think that the literal-figurative debate will become increasingly less relevant, as will the division between 'conventional literature' and the oral tradition. These stories speak to the irrational mind, and therein lies their power."

(I recommend reading the whole interview here.)

Sleeping Beauty by Su Blackwell

The Girl in the Wood by Su Blackwell

From a discussion with me in the same web journal a few years back:

"As with myths and folk tales, a good fantasy novel is literally spell-binding, using language to conjure up whole new worlds, or to invest our own with magic. The particular power of the fantasy novel comes from its link with the world's most ancient stories – and from the author's careful manipulation of mythic archetypes, story patterns, and symbols. A skillful writer of fantasy knows he or she must tell two stories at once: the surface tale, and a deeper story encoded within the tale's symbolic language. Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone (for example) is, on one level, simply an English boarding school novel with a bit of magic thrown in; but below that surface is a classic narrative of the Orphaned Hero archetype. This second, metaphorical story is the one that makes the novel's appeal so universal, speaking to all children (orphaned or not) who navigate the treacherous passage that lies between childhood and adulthood. I don't mean that children's fantasy should be didactic, with a subtext intended to inculcate moral lessons – heaven forbid! But the magical tropes of fantasy, rooted as they are in world mythology, come freighted with meaning on a metaphoric level. A responsible writer works with these symbols consciously and pays attention to both aspects of the story.

"Jane Yolen once wrote, 'Just as a child is born with a literal hole in his head, where the bones slowly close underneath the fragile shield of skin, so the child is born with a figurative hole in his heart. What slips in before it anneals shapes the man or woman into which that child will grow. Story is one of the most serious intruders into the heart.' I believe that those of us who write stories for children or young adults should remember how powerful stories can be -- and take responsibility for the moral tenor of whatever dreams or nightmares we're letting loose into the world. This is particularly true in fantasy, where the tools of our trade include the language, symbolism and archetypal energies of myth. These are ancient, subtle, potent things, and they work in mysterious ways."

Cinderella by Su Blackwell

The Wild Swans by Su Blackwell

And from Ursula K. Le Guin's classic essay “From Elfland to Poughkeepsie”  (1973):

"[Fantasy] is not anti-rational, but para-rational; not realistic but surrealistic, superrealistic, a heightening of reality. In Freud’s terminology, it employs primary not secondary process thinking. It employs archetypes which, as Jung warned us, are dangerous things.  Dragons are more dangerous, and a good deal commoner, than bears. Fantasy is nearer to poetry, to mysticism, and to insanity that naturalistic fiction is. And it is a real wilderness, and those who go there should not feel too safe. And their guides, the writers of fantasy, should take their responsibilities seriously."  

Your thoughts?

Out of Narnia by Su BlackwellThe sculptures here, of course, are by the UK artist Su Blackwell -- for no look at paper art this week would be complete without re-visiting her splendid work.  From top to bottom: "The Raven," "The Frog Prince," "Sleeping Beauty," "The Woman in the Wood," "Cinderella," "The Wild Swans," and "Out of Narnia." Jane's quote above comes from Touch Magic: Fantasy, Faerie & Folklore in the Literature of Childhood.


A word on words

Susan Hannon

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”  - Diane Setterfield (The Thirteeth Tale)

"'Some people say the best stories have no words….It is true that words drop away, and that the important things are left unsaid. The important things are learned in faces, in gestures, not in our locked tongues. The true things are too big or too small, or in any case always the wrong size to fit the template called language. I know that. But I know something else too….Turn down the daily noise and at first there is the relief of silence. And then, very quietly, as quiet as light, meaning returns. Words are the part of silence that can be spoken.” – Jeanette Winterson (Lighthousekeeping)

Harriet Popham

"Colorful language threatens some people, who associate it, I think, with a kind of eroticism (playing with language in public = playing with yourself), and with extra expense (having to sense or feel more). I don't share that opinion. Why reduce life to a monotone? Is that truer to the experience of being alive? I don't think so. It robs us of life's many textures. Language provides an abundance of words to keep us company on our travels. But we're losing words at a reckless pace, the national vocabulary is shrinking. Most Americans use only several hundred words or so. Frugality has its place, but not in the larder of language. We rely on words to help us detail how we feel, what we once felt, what we can feel. When the blood drains out of language, one's experience of life weakens and grows pale. It's not simply a dumbing down, but a numbing.” - Diane Ackerman (An Alchemy of the Mind)

“If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?”  - Emily Dickinson (Selected Letters)

Raymond Queneau

"Personally I think that grammar is a way to attain Beauty. When you speak, or read, or write, you can tell if you've spoken or read or written a fine sentence. You can recognise a well-tuned phrase or an elegant style. But when you are applying the rules of grammar skilfully, you ascend to another level of the beauty of language. When you use grammar you peel back the layers, to see how it is all put together, to see it quite naked, in a way.” - Muriel Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog)

"I once saw a small child go to an electric light switch as say, 'Mamma, can I open the light?' She was using the age-old language of exploration, the language of art." - Ezra Pound

Victoria Semykina 1

Victoria Semykina 2

"The struggle of literature is in fact a struggle to escape from the confines of language; it stretches out from the utmost limits of what can be said; what stirs literature is the call and attraction of what is not in the dictionary.” - Italo Calvino (The Literature Machine: Essays)

"Everything in writing begins with language. Language begins with listening."  - Jeanette Winterson

15th century book with paw prints

“As I train myself to cast off words, as I learn to erase word-thoughts, I begin to feel a new world rising up around me. The old world of houses, rooms, trees and streets shimmers, wavers and tears away, revealing another universe as startling as fire. We are shut off from the fullness of things. Words hide the world. They blur together elements that exist apart, or they break elements into pieces bind up the world, contract it into hard little pellets of perception. But the unbound world, the world behind the world – how fluid it is, how lovely and dangerous. At rare moments of clarity, I succeed in breaking through. Then I see. I see a place where nothing is known, because nothing is shaped in advance by words. There, nothing is hidden from me. There, every object presents itself entirely, with all its being. It's as if, looking at a house, you were able to see all four sides and both roof slopes. But then, there's no 'house,' no 'object,' no form that stops at a boundary, only a stream of manifold, precise, and nameless sensations, shifting into one another, pullulating, a fullness, a flow. Stripped of words, untamed, the universe pours in on me from every direction. I become what I see. I am earth, I am air. I amall. My eyes are suns. My hair streams among the galaxies.”
  - Stephen Millhauser (Dangerous Laughter)

"There is language going on out there -- the language of the wild. Roars, snorts, trumpets, squeals, whoops, and chirps all have meaning derived over eons of expression. We have yet to become fluent in the language -- and music -- of the wild.”  - Boyd Norton (Serengeti)

Jodi Harvey-Brown

"How monotonous our speaking becomes when we speak only to ourselves! And how insulting to the other beings -- to foraging black bears and twisted old cypresses -- that no longer sense us talking to them, but only about them, as though they were not present in our world….Small wonder that rivers and forests no longer compel our focus or our fierce devotion. For we walk about such entities only behind their backs, as though they were not participant in our lives. Yet if we no longer call out to the moon slipping between the clouds, or whisper to the spider setting the silken struts of her web, well, then the numerous powers of this world will no longer address us -- and if they still try, we will not likely hear them.”   - David Abram (Becoming Animal)

“Perhaps it is the language that chooses the writers it needs, making use of them so that each might express a tiny part of what it is.”  - José Saramago

Emma Taylor

Art above: A detail from a paper sculpture by Susan Hannon (US); "Narrative Dress" by Harriet Popham (UK); One Hundred Million Billion Poems" by Raymond Queneau (France, 1903-1976); "Ships" by Victoria Semykina (Russia & Italy); pawprints on a 15th century book, photographed by medieval historian Erik Kwakkel; "Bambi and His Mother" by Jodi Harvey-Brown (US), and "From With a Book" by Emma Taylor (UK).