We begin to write with a sense of urgency that what comes to us in words must be captured before it slips away. Later, after struggling with all that is required – necessary? – To transform, translate, re-form, recast…, make what we have taken down into something…. We turn leery, reluctant – Is this the place for a simple comma? A new clause? A new sentence? A statement in its own right? We become reluctant to launch anything new. So much as yet undone. Why keep adding to the pile?
Surely, or so we might wish, hope, pray for it to be true, another opening can be found? A place where writing is both simpler and truly – ah, what a concept this truth! – truly more complex?
Growing up in a predicament we get past incredulity or we take refuge in madness.
This has been a difficult time to find the traction with which to continue writing about our predicament. What Drives Me points at an inkling – too amorphous to be called an insight – that continues to rise to the surface: Our social predicament, and all the horsemen it has unleashed, derives its force from the same sources as our private predicaments within dysfunctional families. Our social dysfunction is familial dysfunction writ large. Or, the opposite is true…. Most likely both are true.
However we approach our predicament we face a myriad of traps, evasions, and projections. It’s no different when we come to an opportunity to act within a practice. Except it is….
In a practice we interact with complexity outside the confusing complications that abound in our customary, conditioned state. Living inside our reactions it is difficult to see past the drama. After all, as we flail about we glimpse consequences, fatal consequences. This ramps up our fears and make us more brittle and unyielding. Hardly conducive to arriving at a breakthrough.
Within a practice we must still confront our reactions. The drama this unleashes can be intense. But, if we….
George Michelsen Foy asks this question early on in his extended ruminations in the form of a record, a log of a voyage. We join him on a quest woven of varied lineaments gathered over decades, facing questions ranging from the intimate and familiar to the latest discoveries of neuroscience. He takes us on a trail of discovery into the circumstances of his ancestor’s loss in a shipwreck that has haunted him throughout his life shaped by echoes of this event handed down in family lore and expectation. He’s found how this event has influenced the course of his life, his concerns, and even shaped his reactions to danger. Foy takes us through time and across space as he navigates our passage through what it means to navigate.
Art and craft, these two simple words do a fine job of naming two of the three realms of living. I’ve had some difficulty finding an equally straightforward and simple term to describe and name the third. For a while I’ve latched onto John Michael Greer’s “Theosphere.” It is literal enough. It describes a realm centered on our relation to the holy while studiously avoiding any of the abused and overused terms like religion or even the holy…. But it has a harshness to it. It’s not direct enough. Too disconnected from what it attempts to describe.
Recently it struck me that what I’d been aiming at is already covered by a word like sacred. Sacred is specific in the feeling it describes while remaining totally inclusive, embracing all of the ways we can approach whatever it is we may call sacred. It appeals because it does keep the emphasis on the feeling and keeps us looking at how we acknowledge and act on these feelings. This works in much the way art and craft do. Each describes a realm of activity and a broad aspect of what it means to be alive.
Of course, if we push to build an opposition between the sacred and the profane we do begin to lose some of that inclusion. Perhaps if we can see this more as a distinction than a division? We could also say there is an anti-art or an anti-craft. These attitudes and modes of action exist and form the same kind of distinction with their pairs as sacred does with profane. Technology as an attitude and an approach could be called anti-craft. Maybe “entertainment” could be the comparable anti-art?
Fragments show their edges. Edges that intrude into the illusion of completion. Edges that cannot be ignored.
Fragments insist there is more we don’t see. Can’t see.
Fragments show us how we “piece things together.” Even the smallest, most torn fragment leads us to fill-out its story. This shows us our contribution to what we make of things. Shows us that we’re building a story not consuming some outside totality. Shows us. Insists that we not forget that what we build on it has shaky foundations.
My thoughts have been circling around what may best be described as questions of purpose. This might be considered central to any life led with some degree of introspection. As with most things of value this pursuit has been short-changed by our culture’s dominant modus operandi. It’s taken quite a while to sort this out.
Not that it is sorted now; but certain features are coming into focus. I’ve known for a long time that working creatively in isolation is a frustrating business. It’s also an incomplete business. While a certain and even a prolonged apprenticeship may be required; until what we do has connected with others; it is not quite complete. We have not quite done what needs to be done. Doing what needs to be done is a definition of Purpose, Isn’t it? So we come full-circle.
That my calling has had so many seemingly disparate elements has not only confused others. It has confused me. Sorting out how the parts are to fit together – an activity central to all art, craft, to the workings of communion – has been a central focus in all I’ve done. A qualification, I guess, to tackle this job!
My work is on the cusp of a new phase. I can feel a fledging taking place. A plumage developing. A new competence. Not the confidence of tackling a familiar task; but a confidence that comes when we feel ready to do what we have not done before.
I was fifteen when I first read Moby Dick in a 48 hour long marathon sick in bed with a bad cold in a hotel in the Northeast of Portugal, reading, sleeping, then reading some more. It deeply affected my world view. I’m still finding out what it means….
Queequeg’s Coffin is a thought experiment. It is an intriguing image around which we might connect a conceptual stance with a pragmatic call to action. It does not presuppose what that action might be. Queequeg’s Coffin is a container transcending the motivation behind its origins.
Queequeg was Ishmael‘s bunk-mate aboard Moby Dick. As the juggernaut of Ahab‘s obsession takes Pequod’s crew further and further into imbalance and dis-ease, Queequeg becomes convinced he is dying. He commissions the ship’s carpenter to build him a coffin. Chips protests at this waste of his specialized talents; but relents and builds the harpooner a wonder of a casket, watertight, and ship-shape in every regard. Preparing himself to meet his maker Queequeg carves its top and sides with signs and portents beyond the crew’s understanding.
Ahab drives the Pequod to its destruction. Ishmael is the only survivor. He finds himself floating upon the vastness of an inhospitable sea. Queequeg’s Coffin rockets to the surface. Its inherent buoyancy could not be thwarted. It breaks free of the vortex threatening to suck Ishmael down with the ship.
Ishmael hangs on and then climbs atop Queequeg’s Coffin. This odd thing, begrudgingly crafted to carry a savage to another world, saves our hero, our witness, and carries him to safety.
I find this story eerily prescient. It has so many points of contact with our present condition.
We have at hand, unwittingly so, bits and pieces that might come in handy when our Pequod founders. Queequeg’s Coffin shows us that we cannot predict what will be useful when circumstances pass their tipping point. What had been an odd frivolity upon the sturdy deck of a powerful vessel may very well become the serendipitous bit of flotsam that saves us when our vessel plunges for the bottom, threatening to take us down with it.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Queequeg’s Coffin is that it demands humility. It dramatizes the impossibility of knowing. Keeps us from over-committing in advance. Reminds us to be on the look-out. So that when the time comes we may discover a confluence — another of Melville’s constructions — of Necessity, Fate and Free-will. It is this confluence that puts Queequeg’s Coffin within our reach.
If we remain alert. Absorb our act of witness and maintain our buoyancy of spirit we may be able to take advantage of what falls to hand. Queequeg’s Coffin may see us through.
This fact has been elusive. One effect of confusion is that we struggle to find some simple way to untangle it. The real lesson of confusion is that it is a sign we are perceiving complexity as complication.
Linear thinking and the Machine Model lead us to want to eliminate complication, or at least manage it. In this mode we don’t even see complication for what it is: Complication is a condition of perception. It is not inherent in what we are looking at. When we see something as complicated we have misunderstood complexity.
Reading this line Julien has posted on Mirrors of Encountersbrought a smile. I’ve never been complimented, even sarcastically, for doing this. I have been accused of it, even in so many words, over the years. It has cost me friendships and closed off acquaintances before they could develop. For decades I felt this as a curse, part of the corrosive self-criticism and aggressive disappointment that fueled a chronic depression and its underlying anxiety. It was another cudgel I could grab hold of and use to beat myself – and others – “…whenever my hypos (got) such an upper hand of me….”
Over the years I’ve found my need to chase down futilities has not abated. It outlasted the depression and the anxiety. It has become indispensable. It has reached a point where if someone were to ask me what I do, I would claim just this,
It’s becoming more clear every day that our predilection to interact by means of identifying with ideas and then battling to have our ideas prevail does not address any of the dire circumstances we find our selves in.
I see this as it touches on each of us as individuals. It divides us from each other, even as it divides our own selves. It promotes a view of the world and how it works that does not function. If it did, no one would need to convince me. It would be clear. Problem solved….
Instead, this view that we are separate and surrounded by problems in need of solutions that we then argue over and attempt to gather adherents for, has led to an escalating worsening of our conditions by any measure we care to take.
A personal website has many functions. It can be hard to sort them out. Most often they are advertisements for a Persona, a means to find a job, or a signpost in an attempt to reach a cohort of the like-minded.
Sometimes they are attempts to sort things out. The effort of presentation becomes a path of self-discovery. “Here’s where I’ve been.” Can be a good way to find where we might be headed. Or, at least to discover that we’ve been pointed in a certain direction. If it’s to be more than just a vanity project there needs to be an honesty, a sense of precarity, that what is chronicled is a journey and not just a triumphant parade.
The promise of the web has been inherent in a lessening of the friction – and cost – of making information available. It is easy – if we can afford to keep the lights on and have the time and predilection. We can place almost any kind of information on the web and send it out there.
Whether and how it is found is another story. The ease of entrance, the web’s widespread adoption, has flooded us with information. With the loss of authority of traditional gate-keepers, we’re on our own as we struggle to filter what we will spend our attention on. Everyone else is doing the same, and so, the chances of our actually being found are no where near as high as they might appear. Having been at this web-presence game for nearly ten years, I’ve lost any naive dream of “Going Viral!”